Tag Archives: nature

The Dead Duck

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So yes that’s a picture of a dead duck. A duck the children found on the beach. A duck I tried to keep them away from. A duck I was worried little fingers would poke. As I tried to usher the children away from this duck a child stood their ground and said “But we have to do something. We can’t just leave him here!”

“Well what do you think we should do?” I asked.

“We should put him in the Ocean.” I was told.

“Well okay.” I said “But I am not touching it so we need to find a long flat piece of wood.”

The children searched the beach for the right piece of wood. It was found rather quickly and I slid the duck (without touching it) onto the long flat log. We walked it down to the water’s edge. I had visions of sending the duck off in a Viking style funeral sailing it out on his wooden pyre. (there would be no fire in this ceremony though) It would be a more sailing off into the sunset type funeral.  I place the log on the water and hold one end.

“Should we say something?” I ask.

“Goodbye dead duck. We will miss you.” Says a little girl.

As I go to launch the duck into his last sail across the sea, he falls off and I am left with his body lapping in the waves by the shore. I was always taught to be respectful of the dead creatures we find. So as I try to push him out to sea with my failed pyre I find myself apologizing to the duck.

Finally the duck starts to drift out to sea. The children are wishing him well. “Go to the sunset.” one little girl yells to him.

WP_20131011_009 (768x1024) Eventually the children and I walk up to the driftwood where we were first playing.  The children start talking about death and the duck.

I ask “What does it mean when you die?”

“You never see them again.” says a little boy.

I listen as they talk about death with such honesty. I am moved by their openness to discuss it. I have had a year full of death. I have had to say goodbye more times then I cared too this year. With all this death I had been witness to I had never once engaged in such an honest and philosophical conversation. As I listened I could actually feel a swelling of emotion. There I was on a beach trying not to cry over a dead duck.

A young boy comes up to me, puts his hand on my shoulder and says “Danielle its okay.” And I brace myself for it, that big truth this child is going to share with me. “There are lots of ducks out there.” he says.

 

 

Something Pink

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A beautiful spot. Peaceful. Loons glide on the lake, turtles sun themselves on rocks, hundreds of electric blue damsel flies hover over the shoreline. There are maybe 9 people in truck campers and trailers on the entire lake, just a perfect spot.

Off in the distance I spy something that seems not to fit. It is pink. Am I seeing Barbie pink? I look more closely, and yes, there is definitely something Barbie pink over in the distance. I stand and squint and then I know what it is. A child is driving a Barbie pink motorized mini car over the sloping hills. Oh my gosh. Is this how children are connecting with the natural world?

The discordance of the pink mini car in this secluded natural spot is jarring. But who I am I to be judgemental?!  For all I know the child had spent most of the day looking at bugs and rolling in the long grass. And why do I suppose that rolling in the grass is the best way to be with nature?  I know many families enjoy dirt bikes, ATV’s and other motorized vehicles in the outdoors and have strong ethical and spiritual connection to their environment. I cannot suppose there is a ’pure way’ to be outdoors. I cannot suppose that this child’s outdoor experience is somehow inauthentic because I don’t like pink mini cars!

So I reprimand myself. Maybe seeing a Barbie car out there at that secluded lake was a good reminder to me that there are many ways to connect, to be with and enjoy the outdoor environment. That the issues of connecting children with nature are complex and filled with contradictions.

 

But it sure was pink.

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The Heart Shaped Leaf

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“If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow.”

Rachel Carson

 

Yesterday while outside a child came up to me with the glimmer of excitement in her eyes.  She was clutching something in her hand.

“Danielle I found a heart shaped leaf.” She unrolled her fingers to reveal a small green leaf in her hand.

 I asked if I could take a picture and she excitedly said yes.  We talked about where she found it, what kind of plant we thought it might be and if we could find a leaf book that would help us figure it out. She proclaimed she had such a book at home.  Plans were made to do some research. She then excitedly went to show the other children. Soon heart shaped leaf hunts had started and theories were being constructed on why the leaf was heart shaped. The moment was but a small fraction of my day but it has stayed with me.  As I sat at my computer last night preparing to write a narration on our explorations outside, I couldn’t help but pause and just look at the picture.

I found myself in a deep state of reflection. I thought about the opportunities that are constantly presented to the children and I when we go outside. I found myself trying to think of a parallel experience in the classroom.  Treasures have been found but usually I put them there. Rarely do we find something that is surprising to everyone in the room.  Except for maybe a spider or a bug, which did originally come from outside.

I found myself thinking of a classroom visit I did a couple weeks ago where the teacher said excitedly to me “We are trying to spend more time outside. We are allowing more natural play and learning like the nature kindergarten.” I wondered later in an email to her if teachers felt like the nature kindergarten was legitimizing outdoor play. Yes she replied.

I thought of how I have observed play that continues to be revisited over long periods of time.  I am talking months here. Children engaged in play that they designed.  Trying on roles of strength and vulnerability to see how they feel.

I thought of all those times I decided to go outside even when I didn’t want to and how almost always I was thankful I did. How something amazing and/or unexpected always presented itself.  Like crows breaking into our backpack and flying off with our snacks, a young falcon in a turf war with said crows flying and dipping overhead, a sap tree that magically turned blue after the first frost, the Camus lilies that bloom in the spring and make our green hills seas of blue and I thought about how I couldn’t of planned any of that.

I can create the loveliest stream with fabric, tape or paper for the children to jump over in the classroom but I cannot recreate the sense of accomplishment they feel from jumping over the deepest darkest mud puddle.

I can give them climbing apparatuses to challenge their bodies but I cannot recreate the mind body connection a child builds from running on the rough unpredictable surfaces you find in nature.  

I can plan elaborate treasure hunts with beautiful jewels to be found at the end but I cannot recreate the sense of wonder a child feels when they find something as special as a heart shaped leaf.

What is my role then?

I remembered Lella Gandini’s wise words she shared with us this fall “It is not the job of the teacher to be prepared, it is the job of the teacher to be ready.” This is what I believe outdoor play requires of me, to be ready.  It requires me to look at the world with fresh eyes,  be ready to think with the child and embrace my sense of wonder.

 

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder without any such gift from the fairies, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in” 

Rachel Carson

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Dirt

I had the great pleasure of going into the forest with a group of children last week. The educator led us all to a spot with dirt hills, big, dusty steep hills. The children whooped up and down as the dirt billowed around them. The climbed hand over hand on the steep parts, and the slid down on their bottoms.

Then she led us to a spot with a giant rope swing and more dirt hills with stumps and logs. Kids balanced on the tops of stumps, walked across the logs and poked sticks into all of them. They experimented with the rope swing, some highly skilled at standing on the knot at the bottom, others happy to hold it and walk in a circle.

We came back to the centre dirty, sweaty and with a few blackberry thorn scratches. It was marvellous.

All this leads me to think of a statistic I recently came across: outdoor play structures, you know the kind with bars and railings and a slide, are vacant 87% of the time when children play.  Of the 13% of the time children played there they:

•used loose parts together with the structure 5% of the time

•played underneath it 4% of the time

•used it as intended 3% of the time

•used it for prospect 1% of the time

And here’s another finding: aggression between children increases when no manipulable material was provided in their outdoor play space.

I am not surprised by these findings, are you? I think hearing the stats just confirms what we already knew. Kids want to mess around with the stuff on the ground. They want to dig, sift, sort, mix, move, pat, splat and plop.

Not all of us have access to a forest, but we can all get dirt!  Dusty, messy, malleable, ever-changing dirt.  And it’s dirt cheap. Where I live a cubic yard of dirt costs about $28……a bargain. What else could you buy for $28 that would  deliver that much play value? If it’s delivered by a dump truck, even better.

A yard of dirt in a corner of your yard….what do you think?

 

Lots of great big dirty blog inspiration is out there…..

Mud Play at Let the Children Play

Evidence that mud is good for you!

Stomping in the Mud

And the Grand Finale…..

 

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The Pretties Revisited

So the children have embraced the table setting practice. One day when I was getting ready for snack a child offered to help me set the table. I asked her if she wanted to do it herself. She responded enthusiastically with a yes.  I quickly put a tray together of my materials (no shelf yet). She went straight to work. When the other children saw what she was doing they wanted to help but Helen wanted to do it herself. So I asked the children if I should make a sign up sheet.They said yes.

So I quickly created a sign up sheet. At our group meeting that day I let them know I would leave it on the table and they could sign up for a turn. Everyone rushed to sign up.

Each day the children took seriously the task of setting the table. Each child had their own style, some were less is more and some children were of the belief that more is more.

The tray I put together of materials for the children to create a centre piece.
A child setting the table. Notice the beautiful cherry blossoms she brought from home.Another setting with flowers brought from home.

 

 

Another setting with flowers brought from home.

We have started a new tradition as well. When we sit down to enjoy our snack at our beautiful table we thank the child who set it.

The parents have gotten excited about it as well. I leave the table set for pick up time. The other day I had a parent take pictures of the table her child set. Parents come with flowers for the table sometimes as well.

“Arranging a bowl of flowers in the morning can give a sense of quiet in a crowded day – like writing a poem or saying a prayer. “
Anne Morrow Lindbergh