“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.
Last year in this blog I have shared the recipe we have used that included flour, vegetable oil, salt and citric acid. It was a good recipe. Also, importantly, it was a zero-waste recipe, so you could make it using the ingredients that come without any plastic packaging.
But since then we have simplified our play-dough recipe which now only uses flour and salt. We found it work just as well, in some ways even better. It appears that the acidic ingredient makes the play-dough more silky to the touch. But at the same time it seems like the dough is a bit more springy, so as kids try to roll out out into think sheets or spaghetti-like shapes it shrinks back. The salt-only recipe allows kids to roll it out into very thin sheets or strings.
So, I’m going to share our new recipe here, and also will leave our old recipe up on the website as well, in case you’d like to try it out. In that blog post you can also see the organic plant-based ways to give your DIY playdough beautiful colors. And also has a list of our favorite supplies for kids to use when working with play-dough.
With the hot and dry weather conditions it seems like the leaves started turning colors early this year. And as leaves that started changing colors will fall off shortly anyway, we feel collecting them for crafts doesn’t go against “Leave no trace” philosophy that we try to instill in children.
This past week we collected some very beautiful yellow leaves on our hike. I wanted to share here few simple little art projects we did using those leaves that the children loved. The projects could be done both while on a hike or nature walk, or at home/classroom. The only thing that wouldn’t work out in the forest is glueing the sticks as they require a hot glue gun. But the sticks could be substituted with grass stems, as those tend to be straight and smooth.
Outdoors or indoors
This week we did 2 version of crafts using leaves — one was just laying out leaves into different patterns while on our forest hike. And the other one we did once we returned to our school cabin and had paper and glue available to us. I think next time I’m going to bring kids nature journals with us and a bit of glue, so we can make a few leaf pictures right into their nature journals during a break on a hike.
One of the projects we worked on during COVID lockdown this past Spring was expanding our outdoor classroom space.
As a forest school we spend first half of our day in the forest and mountains. But around lunch time we hike back to our school cabin for some learning projects.
Even before COVID outbreak we did most of our learning projects outdoors, rarely going inside the school cabin during the warm months of the year. We already had a set of tables and benches built underneath and around a beautiful evergreen in the school yard. There we had all our meals and worked on the art and craft projects, see two photos below.