Category Archives: Curriculum

Learning about animal tracks with children — what worked and what didn’t

learning animal tracks with children outdoor learning activities at the forest school

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.

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Our African Wild Dogs inspired learning

“What we learn with pleasure we never forget” ~ Alfred Mercier

Colorado Springs forest school

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.

Colorado Springs forest school

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.

Video

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.

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We have adopted a pack of African Wild Dogs

“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. Continue reading

Child-led learning:
Arizona unit

Colorado Springs outdoor learning school and nature kindergarten

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! 🙂

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Our pollinator-friendly garden at the school cabin

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

outdoor school colorado springs

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.

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Waldorf inspired letter lessons with Adriana

“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.

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Learning About Birds, part 2

“Art is a place for children to learn to trust their ideas, themselves, and to explore what is possible. ~ Maryann F. Kohl

Welcome to the second blog post about our bird-focused curriculum from January. In this post I want to share with you all the beautiful artistic projects the children created during this period while learning about birds.

When creating our curriculums we try to plan the arts and crafts projects to parallel the current learning theme, as it helps children to connect deeper with the subject we are learning about, practice through art their new knowledge and make it their own.

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Learning about birds, part 1

Learning about birds at Colorado Springs nature kindergarten forest school nature preschool in Palmer Lake

Learning about nature and developing closer connection with it is one of our fundamental goals as a forest school or nature kindergarten. So we dedicated the month of January to learning about birds and it was such a hit with the children so I wanted to share with you what we did in this past month.

It was a slow-paced and fun learning block stretched over the entire month of January to give the children plenty of time to connect with it, absorb the new knowledge and enjoy all the activities we had prepared as a part of it. To keep learning fun and engaging without taking away much time from children’s free and active play we always try find ways to carry out our lessons and activities both indoors and outdoors. The learning blocks are brief (5-10 minutes at the most) and occur few times throughout the day, incorporating either a story, a game, or arts and crafts project.

As we ended up covering a lot of ground, I thought it would be best to separate this topic into 3 separate posts. Here is part 1.

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Learning about wolves

learning about wolves in Colorado Springs Real Red Riding Hoods forest school

Our wolf study was done with children ages 3-9 years old and turned out to be a great success. We noticed that through the time we spent on the subject using play, crafts, stories and live interactions with these amazing animals, the children have picked up a great deal of knowledge. And their perception of the wolf has formed based on actual understanding of this animal and its characteristics, rather than ages-old biased folklore, movies and general misconceptions of the ‘big bad wolf’.

We are very proud of the results accomplished, and are planning to return to the wolf study again later in Spring, around the time when pups are born in the wild.

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