Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Honouring the Will of the Child:
Re-imagining the Role of the Sit Spot

Not Every Story is Written In Words: Using a plum bob or conifer cone to mark children's interests 

Have you ever observed a child transfixed on the goings-on of an anthill?  

What did you do?  

Oftentimes, we ignore a child's interests during their play time, rushing them on to some other place or event or we base learning around the teacher's interests rather than the child's.  In doing so, what the child notices and is interested in is forgotten in a flash as quickly as it occurred.  I am not suggesting that we stop at every anthill viewing but rather to become ever more mindful of the child's quest to learn by making discoveries based on their own interests.  To honour those moments as meaningful and worthwhile keeps the quest element alive in childhood as it is an integral part of a child's drive towards unearthing new discoveries and their willingness to engage in new experiences with an amenable heart.  Jay Griffiths describes the questing mind of the child in her book Kith or the North American version A Country Called Childhood: Children and the Exuberant World as,

     The questing mind must be quick to sign, signals and clues, running with, flickering with, lit with wit until paths of the mind work like paths of the land-they lead, they join up things of significance, they lay down patterns, they invite, they hold memory... The quest is the absolute opposite of enclosed childhood. ( p.266 Kith)

The quest is like tinder for fire, it ignites the spark that keeps learning alive.  When we honour the child's will in the moment of their sparked interest it is as though we are extending a fine filament, as fine as spider's silk, drawing the child to delve deeper into leaning.  It is not the environment that is prepared.  The environment exists at it is and the child makes discoveries within that environment based on their interests.

So, what do we "do" when a child sees an anthill and why is an anthill so important?

String a plum bob, plum-line, plummet, or conifer cone on a branch to mark the child's interest.

By honouring the will of the child we mark their interests as valuable instead of trivial, unimportant, petty or insignificant.  This salient moment can shape the way children view themselves as confident and capable learners.  Use a plum bob or conifer cone and string it from a branch or create a twig structure to suspend it from and hang it above the child's point of interest (the anthill, in this case).

A major component of Forest School ethos includes the idea of getting out of the child's way.  The child's interest in the anthill signifies the moment the child realizes that other lives exist other than their own, a very exciting revelation.  The theory theory, also known as Theory of Mind comes into play as the child begins to think about others thoughts, feelings, emotions, and intentions as separate from their own.  It's a sort of mind reading that develops overtime beginning as soon as age three, and the ability to recognize other minds is something that is absent in some autistic children or children under the age of three.  Animals act as pathways to thought and most children are naturally drawn to them.  Gail F. Melson speaks about children, animals and Theory of Mind in her book,  Why the Wild Things Are.

Understanding animal minds and feelings is not just an intellectual exercise in deciphering a radically different subjectivity.  The sensitivity with which children can do this is basic to there humane regard for animals.  Attunement to animal bodies and minds speaks to how well children can feel with and for animals and their environments.       (p.94)

This moment (realizing that there are other minds living out their own story) has been coined by John Koenig in The Dictionary of Obscure Sorrows as Sonder: The Realization that Everyone has a Story.  

Not Every Story is Written in Words-How Learning Unfolds

 Learning at FS is joyful and playful.  It unfolds in an experiential manner and connects children to the land through stories that are shared, experienced and created.  The story of the ants in the anthill is experienced by the child and the other children in the class, if they are so inclined, as a shared moment through the use of the sit spot.  I mark the the point of interest with a plum bob also called a plummet, or a plum line, or I just use a conifer cone.  I tie a line to the plum bob or cone and hang it from a tree branch or the children  build a stick structure that supports the suspended cone in the absence of a tree.

Re-imagining the role of the sit spot or magic spot, the children are invited to choose one of these special spaces when we make time for sit spots and to revisit them often as the seasons change.

I invite the children to sit around the anthill and become artful observers in the lives of others.  To consider the lives of others, to imagine what is happening and what will come, what they need and are doing.  I invite them to sketch in their nature journals, to build around the site as they see fit, they doodle, paint, create structures, and watch as the little anthill changes when it rains, and when it is sunny, and as the seasons unfold.  The children create, imagines, play, and learn from this special place as they visit and re-visit it as it evolves through the changing seasons.

Exploring Special Spaces Outdoors:

 This is a project where we explored the reimagined sit spot with pill bugs or potato bugs.  We found them living under rocks and overtime, the children built a rock town for them.

Exploring Special Spaces Indoors:
I was honoured to participate as an educator in residence and a member of the York Region Nature Collaborative in the ThinkinEd March break event called The Art Of Play.  All of the materials used to create are non-consumable and recyclable.  Children participating in these wonderful events enter a community of learners that are consumer conscious and do not take away made crafts.  As in the atelier of Reggio Emilia, children are presented with beautiful materials to choose from and explore.   Reimagining the role of the sit spot, we began indoors in a backward sense with a single plum bob suspended over a round, green dot.  We watched this solitary green dot evolve into many magical and special places created from the imagination of children.  Children nurtured these special places by adding tiny creatures, pathways, plant life, rivers and streams, and fairy homes.

The child nurtures a special place:

As seen above, it can be an anthill, fungi, blooming buds, lichen, mossy trunk, mini habitat, tree roots from felled trees, sprouting plant life...  The child will lead you to their interest and the learning will stem from there.

How does the space change over time?
How does the changing weather affect this space (if outdoors)?
How does place impart meaning to the child?
How does the child view their own story unfolding?
How does the child view the story of the creatures in this space unfold?
How is place affected by both stories?
How are the story of the child, their classmates, and the story of the ants entwined?
As they children build empathy for the space and it's inhabitants how do the children impart meaning to it?  Do they add to it without disturbing it?
Does the space change? Expand? Connect to other special places?
Is a new space developing?

Establishing A Community of Learners:

I would like to establish a place where we can share our experiences, ideas and learn together as a community of practitioners. If you are a practitioner in a nature-based school or preschool or if you are a teacher that is incorporating nature based programming into your classroom curriculum, or if you are a homeschooling parent incorporating nature-based programming with your children you are invited to share your blog post with this new community of learners.  If you have written a blog on sit 

spots, please email me your blogpost link with a photo that will represent your blog and I will link your blog posting to this site with the goal of having a virtual meeting place for sharing ideas that stem from place-based, play-based, environmental inquiry, experiential learning in nature.  All you have to do is join this blog and then send me your email at snch.natureclubs@gmail.com 

Monday, 23 February 2015

A Reflection on Materials in Place and Time:
The Secret Life of Rocks

Forest School is a magical place where children are given time and space to play and imagine, where the learning is child-led and the will of the child is honoured.  The model for learning consists of repeated emersion in a woodland setting where the use of tools and learned skills foster autonomy.  The learning model is in no way linear and ever element of the learning process that takes place in a Forest School setting unfolds overtime, transcending seasons in an environment that is convivial, reciprocal, and filled with free-play and discovery.  

Fostering a participatory culture of learning where ideas are easily manifested, shared, and allowed to develop is an integral element present in Forest School ethos.  It has been said that three elements are necessary for a participatory culture to emerge, those being:  a low floor, a high ceiling, and wide walls.  The learning environment (the materials) must be easily accessible, there should be lots of room for growth where one idea is added on to another in order to allow for development, and you must be open to diversity of expression and diverse pathways to learning.  Well, Forest School has neither floors, ceilings, or walls but contain all of these essential criteria.  Dare I say, the sky's the limit in a Forest School setting?!!  

Materials in Place and Time

Diana Fedora Tucci www.dianafedoratucci.blogspot.com
This face rock was found by the children and they used it as a place marker for a woodland hopscotch game.

The child's connection to the land deepens over time as they immerse themselves upon repeated visits to lush forest settings.  The materials that appear before the child are endless and the possibilities for learning lie beyond the boundaries of any predetermined curriculum as the child's imagination and will to learn is boundless.  This giraffe rock, named so because of it's distinctive markings, became this child's pet rock and spent the day with her at Forest School each and every day.  At the end of each day she would find a special spot on the forest floor for her rock to stay and wait for her the very next morning.
Diana Fedora Tucci  www.dianafedoratucci.blogspot.com
"This is my giraffe rock.  It's my pet." age 3
Playing With Patterns
The patterns on this rock inspired the children to use a type of typography whereby they began classifying different rocks in their collections into grouping of the striated ones, the speckled ones, and so forth noticing the different patterns that mineral deposits form on rocks at they are formed.  This method of reading the world through symbols expanded into imaginative play sessions using rocks, and many wonders and hunches about how rocks are formed, how they get their distinctive patterns, and especially how different patterned rocks end up side by side on the land.  They found baby rocks, mommy rocks, and big daddy rock, eventually calling them pebbles, rocks, and boulders. They chatted about which rocks were still babies and which ones still need to grow, which ones had cracks in them, which ones broke and why.  Many stories were spun and they became the subject of their creative play which was amazing to witness how this material in the context of the land imbued meaning to the child the then permeated their imagination during playtime.

Playing with Cracks in Rocks
The children's interest in rocks developed even further when they found a rock almost split in two and deduced that one rock can form into two rocks.  We chatted about how water can get into the tiny fissures and then freeze and expand in the wintertime essentially splitting the rock eventually into two.  This rock became their fissure 'mascot' rock as they connected to it because it had a distinctive "mouth" crack on it.  The children referred to it as the faceless face rock.  The children became increasingly confident in their exploration of this material in the context of the land as they noticed ever crack in every rock and the fissures about to break a rock in two.  Pirates slid down broken rock faces, ship mates jumped over splitting cracks and even warned each other of potential danger of stepping on rock surfaces that were just about to snap off.  Every crack and fissure spoke to the child. Big or little, they noticed them, jumped over them, ran their fingers along them, and even lay patterned rocks over their length (as seen below).
Diana Fedora Tucci www.dianafedoratucci.blogspot.com
The Faceless Face Rock
patterned rocks on rock cracks

Expanded Learning
As time went by the children began finding different markings on a variety of other natural materials such as tree bark, leaves, stems, plant material, feathers, snail shells and so forth..... These materials were never presented to the children, they were never part of a lesson, nor did I coax the conversation out of them at any point.  These observations were made by the children of their own free will on hikes into nature and during play.  The children shared hunches and spun stories about how the marking got there.

The Story Inherent in the Material:  Every Mark Tells A Story
My role as a Forest School Practitioner came into play when I provided this group of children with a story.  I often tell this one.  I ask the children to compare the surface of their own skin to the surface of the rocks, tree bark, snail shell, leaf and so forth.  Locate a marking such as a scrape and share the story of how that marking got there.  I had a small burn mark on my arm that I got when I reached into a hot oven to remove the pizza tray.  I fell off my bike and scraped my leg.  Relating the idea of markings to the child's own life drew a fine line of connectedness between what they saw on the materials in the natural surrounding of place and then personalized it by reflecting on themselves.  

Searching For Story:  The Secret Life of Rocks

Me: "What is this you are doing?"
Children:  "It's our smushing station."  (smushing not smashing)
Me:  "What happens at the smushing station?"
Children: "The rocks line up and then we smush them."
Me: "Why?"
Children:  "We want to see what's in their guts."
Materials inherently carry meaning.  The children smush the rocks and then talk about markings found within, the story within the rock. 

It has been said that the true test of whether someone has learned something occurs when they take the knowledge given to them and use it in a new way.  In this sense, moving away from a copy and paste learning mode to embodying knowledge and using it to formulate and draw new conclusions.  The knowledge that is gained exists within the materials in the context of place and time.  Here the children are making meaning from direct experiences in a playful and tinkering sort of way.  But, this is by no means a mindless or trivial act as it demonstrates creative thinking at its best.  I'm currently reading, Distributed Creativity:  Thinking Outside the Box of the Creative Individual.  The premise of this book deals with the creative actions of many distributed between people, objects, and place and how the outcome of that collaboration is greater than the sum of the creative individual.  In their collaboration, through the free exchange of ideas and inspirations they become active participants in forging new paths to learning, paths that interest them greatly.  When they contribute their thoughts and ideas they shift from being passive consumers of information (being given information, memorizing it, regurgitating it as a measure of intelligence), to active participants who see that their thoughts and ideas affect change on the world, be it only in a small ways.  Through each tiny step real, independent, forward thinking begins to emerge.  Children make a shift from being the AUDIENCE to becoming CREATORS in their own learning process.  They move from someone who follows instructions and fulfills expectations to someone who has gained a new lens on how to think creatively.  The child' relationship with their environment then changes dramatically.

Wednesday, 5 November 2014

November:  Autumn Haiku with Kids

"Leaning" into Haiku

Autumn is a time of year that stimulates the senses.  Movement is in the air, change is occurring all around us, and the seasonal colours are brilliant.  This time of year has inspired artists such as The Group of Seven, to paint the most exceptional works of art.  It's the perfect time of year to express yourself creatively through art, poetry, writing, photography, collage, and printmaking.

Haiku (HIGH- coo) poetry is a centuries old Japanese art form, created in the shape of a small verse.  Traditional haiku are often about nature or the changing seasons.  They are meant to convey an emotion with the use of just a few words.  

A haiku poem has a total of 17 syllables divided into 3 clumps or lines.

five syllables
seven syllables
five syllables

Here is a fun lesson on syllables:

When working with small children, it's fun to "lean" into writing poetry instead of attempting to get it right the first try.  "Leaning" is a way to take small, achievable steps towards a larger goal.  These small steps help you work up to something more complex like writing haiku, even though the haiku poem is small and seems easy to write.  When you actually get down to it, it may take a lot of thought and planning to get into a poetic frame of mind.  

"LEANING" into Haiku

1.  Begin by choosing a season:  Autumn

2.  What will you focus on:  Autumn leaves

3.  Read, review, and discuss out INSPIRATIONAL AUTUMN WORD LIST (below.)

4.  Dress for the season an go on a nature hike.

5.  Tell a story by making a journey stick.

6.  Get creative:  Find a sit spot and visit that spot over a period of time to see how things change, to make observations, to take note of what you see, to remember, to collect, draw, sketch, take pictures, paint, glue and so forth.

7.  Play a game:   PERSONALITY... PERSONALI- TREE.  In autumn, trees can express their personalities by changing into flashy clothes!!  Look at the different trees to see if you can spot some awesome personali-trees.  Take out a camera and try and snap some shots of the most awesome personalities in trees.  How have the autumn leaf colours added spark to the trees?

8.  When the child has created their work of art they can begin writing or telling:

Tell what they see using just a few words (it does not have to be 5 syllables)
What feelings can they express when they see their work of art (happy, sad, excited...)?
What do they remember?
Other students might want to create their own short verse as well.

This does not have to be a haiku poem yet.  Working towards creating poetry allows students to create and to think creatively without the stress of having to produce a perfect finished product.  As you continue to follow these steps and "lean" into haiku, you will observe that the children will express themselves in a more creative and deeper sense.  The children's learning will unfold in an environment that is creative, nurturing, repetitive (in an open way), ongoing, and is responsive to their creative thought process.  

Have fun creating and learning outdoors!

Thursday, 9 October 2014


Have You Seen the Woolly Bear Caterpillar?

The Spark:

The middle of October is drawing nearer and these most interesting tiny creature can be seen scampering on the ground in nature.  It's the woolly bear caterpillar!  Careful!  You'll have to watch your step or you'll miss one as they scamper across the path at your feet.  Try not to step on them because the woolly bear caterpillars are on a mission.  Their mission:  To find a warm winter retreat under a rock, log or a piece of wood.  Follow one to see where it goes.  They sure seem to be in a hurry to get there.  

Wonderings, Hunches, Creative Thoughts, Ideas, Up-close Observations

1.  The Woolly Bear Hypothesis (Myth and Storytelling):

There is an old myth that goes something like this...  As the autumn months draw on, the sight of these tiny creatures predicts the arrival of winter.  The more woolly bears we see, the faster we should expect the cold weather to arrive.  If you are able to observe a group of them, you will take note that they have black and brown bands of coloured needles on their body.  The more dark bands they have the colder the coming winter and the fewer dark bands means that the winter will be mild.  Also, the thickness of the dark bands is said to be important.  The thicker the band the harsher the weather.  

How many woolly bear caterpillars can you find?
Make a graph that shows how many dark bands you counted on each.
Make another graph that shows how many caterpillars had thick bands.

2.  Make Observations in the Woolly Bear Caterpillar Science Laboratory:

If you would like to collect a few woolly bear caterpillars for observation, please be mindful to return them back to the exact spot where you found them so that they can quickly get back to the work at hand... finding a warm abode to overwinter in.

3.  The Woolly Bear Caterpillar Creative Journal:

4.  The Woolly Caterpillar Predicts Winter Weather:  


Based on the information you have gathered from your observations above, can you predict the coming winter weather?

Will the coming winter weather be cold or mild?  What do you think?
Make a prediction.  

What you will need:
1 string
2 eye hooks at the top of the wall to tread the string
3  tags with the children's names on each at the top of the string
4  tiny eye hooks as weights to be tied to the end of the string
5  each child should find a woolly bear caterpillar

5.  Let's explore Cryogenics and Freezing:

Click on the connection below to view video:

6.  Creative endeavours (arts and crafts):

Make a woolly bear caterpillar with pipe cleaners use brown and black to create the dark and light bands.  How many dark bands and how thick will they be?  

Use these pipe cleaner woolly bear caterpillars in the coming mapping project.

7. Let's explore habitat (social studies, geography):

Where did you find your woolly bear caterpillar?  Woodland, marsh, grassland, forest, park, hillside...
Map out the natural areas in your community according to the above noted groupings.  Use your woolly bear caterpillars made from pipe cleaners and pin them on the spot where you found them.  What kind of habitat will your caterpillar over-winter in?  Where will he find his home?