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.
If you are following us on Instagram you’ve seen that we stayed quite busy during our temporary closure due to COVID-19 guidelines. Over the 3 months that the school was temporarily closed we built a green house, added a large flower garden, set up a beautiful new outdoor classroom and most recently I replaced a fence to go with our new sign.
I haven’t shared anything about the fencing project over on Instagram, as it was probably most exhausting of them all 🙂 Our old fence was badly bent by the deer jumping over it. And as I was in the process of installing our new sign I wanted the fence to look the part. So after some time spent on Pinterest I chose this look for the new fence. It didn’t seem too complicated. But while it wasn’t particularly complicated it did involve a lot of heavy work. And so it is going to be our last building project (at least for June :))) as I actually already have a few more on my mind).
I’m very excited to finally get a chance to post about our new school sign. It’s been in the works for close to a year, as I had a very specific vision and it took time and finding the right people to make it come to life. But at the end it turned out so beautifully and it reflects the school’s ethos very accurately.
Creating the sign
I worked on creating the sign as the side project, so the overall process took a long time. I started on the process back in August 2019. I wanted a beautiful wooden carved sign for the school with our logo on it. After some search I can across this wonderful company “Foxwood Signs” whose work was exactly what I envisioned. However, it turned out that it would not be possible to transfer our original logo, as it was a custom watercolor painting. So the next step was to get the logo re-created in a format workable for the sign carving process.
“What we learn with pleasure we never forget.” ~ Alfred Mercier
One of our favorite aspects of the Waldorf preschool teaching approach is introducing a topic by means of a story. It is such a great way to spark a child’s interest and to invoke their imagination from the very start. It creates a perfect foundation for further study of the subject. This is something we try to use as much as possible in all our curriculums, whether we are learning about birds, wolves, or alphabet letters.
And so today I wanted to share with you how this approach is implemented by our wonderful teacher Adriana Carlson in her letter lessons – that are very loved by all the children at the school.
For some time, I wanted to share with you about our beautiful Waldorf watercolor classes led by our Wednesday instructor Milana. This technique is called wet-on-wet watercolor. It is beautiful and simple, and even the youngest children of preschool age can create incredible artwork and learn about colors in the process.
In a classic Waldorf approach the art class is introduced with a sweet story about the brush that goes on to play with his friends Yellow, Blue and Red. Through this little story chidden learn how to correctly use a brush and to wash the brush between different colors. Each child also gets to name their brush. You can hear the introduction story for the children in the video at the end of this post.
Roughhousing. I am probably not alone among mothers who internally cringe from the idea of the excited active play young boys love so much, also known as roughhousing. As a mother of boys myself, I have my fair share of getting kicked, stomped and elbowed just about everywhere by a pair of two excited little boys jumping on top of me usually while I’m still waking up in the morning.
But at the same time, I remember just how much I loved roughhousing with my own dad as a child. My brother and I jumping like wild monkeys all over him for hours was one of my favorite pastimes, second only to playing dolls with my mom.
“Play — especially active physical play, like roughhousing — makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” ~ Anthony T. DeBenedet, MD and Lawrence J. Cohen
And when it comes to working with the children at our school, we can see over and over again that for the majority of them, especially young boys, it is the most beloved way to play and interact with each other. It is true that sometimes one of the wrestling participants might get pinned to the ground too tightly, or stop enjoying it while others are still carried away piling up on top of each other. But at the same time, as we see how much they enjoy it and how they bond over these kinds of games we do our best to accommodate such interactions, making them safe by directing kids to play away from sharp objects, use the large floor mat when possible, and inconspicuously watching them while ready to intercede if they get a bit carried away.