Every Child In the Woods

Posted October 24, 2014



Richard Louv prompted an important focus on the benefits of nature play with the publishing of his book in 2005, Last Child in the Woods; Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder. In the last decade, there has been an increasing amount of research on the cognitive, emotional and physical benefits of unstructured play in natural spaces. The All Seasons staff came to this school convinced of the value of nature play, and probably enjoy this part of the day as much as your children do. We see the research data written plainly in the faces and bodies of the children—the feeling of freedom and discovery, joy and confidence.
In 2008, the National Toy Hall of Fame inducted “The Stick” into its lineup of all-time best toys. Increasing numbers of nature play areas are being constructed, (see the article on the wall by Amy’s desk) including the Minnesota Zoo’s 30,000 square foot play space due to open in 2015.
As the notion of what constitutes an optimal playground for children has shifted, the question of safety has been raised. Danish educators, who follow a more open schedule and unstructured approach with young children, adopt the attitude of being “as safe as necessary, not as safe as possible.” Somehow the great outdoors has come to be seen as more dangerous than riding in a car, climbing stairs, or playing sports. We acknowledge the dangers involved with those activities and, for the most part, while taking some precautions, we conclude they are worth the risks.

Most injuries from outdoor play involve minor scrapes and bruises, yet parents and caregivers can often be heard to call out to the child climbing a fallen long—“Be careful!”  But All Seasons parents have entrusted their children to us and to this nature-rich environment. Right outside the classroom door, you’ll see a “stick box,” where children’s sticks are deposited when returning from outside. Several forts, a teepee, and two tents are visible throughout the grounds. A couple years ago, Amy’s dad constructed a wooden frame for the children to build onto, and additions and accessories continue to be created by each new class of students. Countless fallen logs and trees fill the woods, ready for climbing and transforming into hideouts and homes. Boulders provide chances to balance and jump and hide. The Meadow and Pines are environments with their own flora and fauna, and pretend play backdrops. Rain gardens, ephemeral pools, and “The Swamp” provide chances for water fun.


What about safety? Goggles are worn when hammering new planks onto the boulders house. Children can climb trees and branches to the height a teacher can reach. No one eats anything unless the adult gives permission (blackberries are a favorite wild snack in the summer). “Stick training” includes: no touching sticks to another person, always ask first if your friend wants to sword fight, one stick per person, long sticks must be dragged or used as walking sticks. And—children come when they are called.
But we teachers have found that most children monitor their own safety, and err on the side of caution rather than risk. We probably spend more time saying, “I bet you can do that,” rather than, “Don’t do that, it’s dangerous.” Our role is that of a guide, a facilitator, an observer, a cheerleader, and sometimes a playmate. Most of all—and maybe most importantly–we share in the wonder, the curiosity, the pleasure, and the peace, that spending time in the natural world brings.


The Process of Becoming a Cohesive Group

Posted October 7, 2014

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Forming, Storming, Norming, Performing…

We have one month of school under our belts.  What does this mean in the life of a classroom?  As any parent or teacher can tell you, every day is different, but there are certain predictable stages that a class (or any group) goes through before they can functional optimally.

Typically in this stage of becoming a group, team members are polite, anxious and excited.  They don’t know other members of their group, they don’t know what to expect of others, nor do they know what is expected of them.  Children returning to the school for a second or third year may have less anxiety simply because they know the rules and routines, however, they truly need to establish an entirely new identity as one of the older children.  No longer is it productive for an older child to be a follower, as most of the leaders have all moved onto kindergarten.  Younger and new students’ brains are on overdrive as they learn “the rules” of the school and the routines of the day.

This is the phase when the wheels can fall off the cart without tenacity and determination on the part of the teachers.  The formal polite behavior diminishes as children become more comfortable with each other and boundaries are pushed, both against the rules and against each other.  In any group, there is bound to be conflict, as it is not possible for groups of any size to agree on everything.  “I wanted that toy!”  “Why do you get to be the mom?”  “Why do we HAVE to have group time/snack time right now?”  “I don’t want to put away the toys.”  Frustration can build and tempers flare when things don’t go the way someone wants them to for too long.  This is the phase where the consistency and support of a great teacher are essential to maintain the peace and to continue to grow.

Gradually, the group moves into the norming stage. This is when people start to resolve their differences, appreciate others’ strengths, and respect the authority of the teacher.  Everyone is now committed.  Consciously or subconsciously, it is a given that we are stuck with each other and we will be next week, too.  There is always an overlap between storming and norming, as new issues always arise.  The group needs to revert back to storming before returning to norming.

This is the stage when all the hard work has paid off, there is minimal friction, and things are functioning smoothly.  It doesn’t mean there won’t be conflict or “storming” any more, but typically it is short and things can revert back to normal.