Our Spring semester 2021 is about to finish. It is a bitter sweet time for us this year, as we are also saying farewell to a few of our dear students whose families are moving out of state. Before the kiddos move away onto new adventures we wanted to give them another special experience to carry in their hearts after we part ways — a meet and greet with wolves.
In case you haven’t seen it in our previous posts, about twice a year we get together with the wolves (and people 🙂 ) of the Colorado Wolf Adventures for some close time with the wolves, as a part of learning about the role of predators in an eco-system, and the incredibly valuable role of the wolves specifically.
Our last 2 meet-and-greet with wolves had to be cancelled due to all restrictions around COVID. And so we were very excited that with the latest changes to COVID restrictions it became possible for us to get together with the majestic animals, before some of our students move off onto new exciting things in their lives!
At the end of February after 2 months of learning about African Wild Dogs it felt like the kiddos were ready for a new topic to learn about. They still very much loved playing with our African Wild Dog stuffies and vet and ranger supplies, but yet it felt like their minds were ready for something new to learn about and absorb. So at the end of African Wild Dog learning block we had a little graduation and our aspiring rangers “flew” on our make-believe airplane-log back to their home base in United States. And so I thought learning about animal tracks would be a logical new topic to learn about, as what rangers don’t need that particular skill, right?
Learning about animal tracks however didn’t click with the kids from the first go. But I was determined to find a way to interest them in it. And so I kept trying few different approaches to find the one that would click. Eventually I got there!
Even though, there are a lot of beautiful supplies and curriculums out there, but they are of no use if we as parents or teachers do not find a way to interest our children in them. And getting there often takes more than one attempt before one succeeds. 🙂
And so I thought in this post to share with you the process of fine-tuning and tweaking of our learning projects that we go through in order to establish the connection that will engage the children, make it fun and enjoyable learning adventures.
“What we learn with pleasure we never forget” ~ Alfred Mercier
Learning about nature is an essential part of our program. Not only we believe in the importance of children learning about natural world and the need to protect it, especially in our times when species are disappearing so quickly. But also nature-based learning is a wonderful way to touch upon many disciplines while keeping them all tied in together, thus avoiding the pitfall of disassociated learning.
“… nature-based learning is a wonderful way to touch upon many disciplines while keeping them all tied in together, thus avoiding the pitfall of disassociated learning.
So this winter our nature learning was dedicated to African Wild Dogs. All of the learning activities were play-based and were so much fun for kids and us. I’m excited to share it here with you. In the process of this play-based learning we touched upon zoology, animal anatomy, geography, basic veterinarian tools, as well as learned how to use radios, compass and stethoscope.
Here is a little video covering some of the moments from our 2 months learning journey. And below it you can find more photos and details about our activities.
“Children have a natural affinity towards nature. Dirt, water, plants, and small animals attract and hold children’s attention for hours, days, even a lifetime.” – Ben Hewitt, Homegrown
We are excited to share the news that our forest school has adopted a pack of African Wild Dogs in order to help this wonderful, but critically endangered species to survive.
Further in this post I tell a little bit about how this adoption came about. But first, I wanted to share this wonderful documentary about African Wild Dogs. The documentary is by Kim Wolhuter, and I highly recommend his other nature documentaries.
“Dogs in the land of lions” film
If this video fails to load you can find it available for free here on PBS.ORG.
Each year we celebrate Winter Solstice with the children at the forest school. Our festivals and celebrations always have a touch of magic making them a special experience for the children. Last year during our Winter Solstice celebration we had a surprise visit from Father Winter to our school cabin in Palmer Lake. This year we ran into Tomte — from the Yule Tomte and Little Rabbits story — in the forest.
We also find ways to make the celebrations meaningful, where children are rewarded for kindness and care towards other people or animals.
We are very excited to announce that we have added weekly rock climbing classes to our forest school program. It has been a dream of ours for some time. All of out students have always been so excited for any opportunity to climb — be it on a boulder, a log or a tree branch. And climbing onto things is often mentioned as one of their favorite moments of the day when they return home.
So after figuring out few logistics, I’m very excited to make rock climbing a new weekly activity in addition to our other exciting activities. The rock climbing is done under the supervision and instruction of professional rock climbing guides.
This post is about 2 1/2 months overdue, but I wanted to share an update about the new location for our forest school program. As of August 2020 we have moved the program over to the Southwest side of Colorado Springs. The move came as a result of a number of trail closures and restrictions in Palmer Lake where we used to operate. It was an ongoing and developing situation throughout the summer, and eventually we felt we could no longer offer there the beautiful outdoor experience that is the essence of our program.
Our new location for the forest school program is about the same distance time-wise for anyone living in Colorado Springs south of Monument, and is significantly closer if you live in the central part of the city and further South. In fact this location was our primary choice for a nature-based school when we first conceived of it 2 years ago, but due to zoning rules in Colorado Springs we could not set it up there the way we wanted at the time.
If you are looking for a beautiful craft with fall leaves to do with children I got a wonderful little art project to share with you. It is a rather simple, but very beautiful forest craft. And it requires minimal supplies that don’t come from the forest, and could be easily done in an outdoor setting.
Over at our school cabin we usually have various logs and old branches left from pruning of the trees, or from dead old trees that got taken down. I had a stash of slices from an old aspen trunk and this craft was a perfect use for them. If you would like to try this craft, but do not have a slice of wood handy, you can use a piece of cardboard from one of your latest Amazon shipments. 🙂
When it comes to curriculum I try to keep things flexible. Sometimes I will have a curriculum planned out concerning a particular topic I’d like the children to learn about, but most commonly I look to the children for cues about what we should be learning about.
I recently came across the following brief summary of the Reggio Emilia philosophy on education and found it expressing my own views very precisely:
“The Reggio Emilia philosophy values the child as central to their own learning, not simply an empty vessel waiting to be filled with knowledge. Children are able to pursue their own interests and revisit and build upon ideas at their own pace.” [source]
I usually bring a few books with us on our hikes and let the children chose which ones they’d like to read. Recently one such book was about snakes, lizards and salamanders. And surprisingly the biggest hit for all the children became the Gila Monster — a large venomous lizard living in Arizona. The children right away started coming up with different pretend games being Gila Monsters. One girl interpreted Gila Monster as a “Yellow Monster” and her favorite game was claiming a rock where she would sit being a “Yellow Monster princess”. Children are truly magical creatures! 🙂
Our outdoor school program in Palmer Lake has a little cabin right by the mountains. The school cabin is used solely for the purpose of the program, and not as a residence. It is a charming, almost fairytale-like environment with a beautiful outdoor space for playing under the canopy of majestic evergreens, working on art projects and learning about nature.
“In every gardener is a child who loves to play in the dirt. In every child is a gardener ready to grow.” ~ unknown source
In our Palmer Lake outdoor school location we start every day in the forest where children spend a few hours playing and exploring in the mountains. Around lunch they return to the school cabin where we work on a variety of different projects, such as playdough sculpting, watercolor painting, sewing. And gardening and tending to plants is also one of our essential activities there. As a part of that we have a small greenhouse, each child also has a small garden allotment where they grew snap peas and we also have a beautiful pollinator -friendly flower garden.