Saturday, 14 June 2014

Remembering Rocks:
Mapping Treasured Places and Spaces Outdoors

The Spark:
When the seasons changed and the wintery frost and snow melted away to reveal the earth beneath it,  we noticed small collections of rocks scattered in clusters here and there throughout the forest floor.
 These small rock collections appeared, as if by magic, and then grew into wonderful groupings that were ever so carefully chosen and placed into a specific collections during the children's free play time.  The children became secret collectors of special rocks and their act of collecting almost went unnoticed until the rock collections grew and grew into a very noticeable interest/obsession.  And so, our rock inquiry began.

On this day, we adventured outdoors to our "Adventure-Rope Tree" to look for some living forest food for our snail terrarium indoors.  We were using the ropes to access the area at the base of an incline when we noticed two rocks neatly placed at the base of the tree.  I asked the children why they were placed there and they told me they were REMEMBERING ROCKS.

I asked them what that meant and they told me that they used the remembering rocks to mark locations in the forest that they loved to go to and to point the way for friends to find.  These treasured places and spaces then became ceremoniously blessed with the placement of a remembering rock at the site where it is located.  We then began to learn about inuksuks.  As each child visited the locations for the first time they would collaboratively add a stone, carefully balancing one on top of the other to create an inuksuk.  We will be mapping these "loved spots" within the forest on a large mural.

Here is how our inquiry unfolded:

1.  Rock collections beginning to form:

2.  Children choosing special rock:
"This is my speckled rock."

3.  This is our Adventure-Rope Tree:

4.  Remembering Rocks:

5.  We learned about Inuksuks:

6.  Mapping with Remembering Rocks:

Thursday, 24 April 2014

Presence Rocks:

Children Learn, Explore, Play With Rocks

The Spark:
We started looking at rocks after noticing whorl patterns on the shells of our snails and decided to venture outdoors to look at patterns in nature.  Rocks caught our special attention!  Exploring the many facets of rocks is such a exciting endeavour because rocks come in many shapes and sizes that the variety seems endless.  

We have decided to build a rain garden that includes a variety of rocks and plants.  Rain gardens stop rain water runoff and help to filter potentially polluted water with the use of plants, rocks and soil.  

To start this provocation into rocks, we begin by reading the book, Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor.  In the book she describes the ten rules for finding a special rock.  

Whorl pattern on snail shell

Speckled pattern on rock
"This rock looks like a giraffe!"  

Stripped pattern on rock

Take Action:

1.  Read the book, Everybody Needs a Rock by Byrd Baylor:
Have the children listen to a reading of this book on how to find a special rock.

2.  Go outdoors:
Get outdoors and find a rock.  You may have some difficulty yanking the rocks out of the ground, especially in spring, so bring out some small digging tools.

3.  Play a game called EVERY ROCK IS SPECIAL:
This game is designed to demonstrate that everything in nature has a special quality.  When they have their rock, let them notice what is special about that rock.  Why did they choose it?  They should keep what is special about that rock to themselves.  What we find special about things in nature is very personal and what we find special in something may not be special to others.  It may consist of the rocks colour, shape, pattern, smoothness, and so forth.  Place each child's rock into a bag and shake the bag.  Dump out the bag and see if they can find their special rock.  If they find it then they have found their special rock.

4.  Presence Stones:
The presence stones are used as an introductory provocation for looking at rocks.  Each child writes their name on the rock.  Everyday, upon their arrival, the child finds their rock and places it in the attendance basket.  Placing their rock in the basket is a symbolic gesture for their presence in the class and honours that child's presence as part of the group.   

Follow us as we adventure into the world of rocks!

Tuesday, 15 April 2014

The Forest Terrarium for Snails:
Dialogues with Place, Space, and Time

The Spark:  
Viewing the forest in miniature evokes images of tiny, magical creature living their lives out in places that are not usually observed by most people within the everyday bustle of human life.  This forest terrarium for snails, albeit small with respects to the vast expanse of land, rocks, moss and other woodland features, offers a peek into the life of a tiny earthly creature that can be found in most neighbourhoods at this time year, the humble but beautiful snail.  Springtime evokes a feeling of youth, of reawakening, of rebirth and renewal.  We are just in time to witness these tiny creatures wake up from their winter slumber and to create dialogues between children in place (the snail burrowing in the soil in nearby nature), space (the woodland terrarium), and time (springtime.)

Follow us as we embark on this this learning journey as the environment truly becomes the third teacher and authentic connections are forged between the child in place, space, and time.

Say hello to Shelby...

This is Shelby in his forest terrarium.  We found Shelby after he was caught in a very turbulent whirl in our salad spinner.  The salad was removed and consumed and there lay Shelby, a little tattered and worn.  Was he alive?  We created this woodland terrarium, went on an outdoor safari to find other snails (land snails), placed them all in the terrarium and waited.  Then we saw this (see image above)... Shelby.... alive, well and on a slimy trek across the forest moss in his terrarium.

How to Assemble a Forest Terrarium for Snails:

1.  What you will need:

*  A clear glass terrarium with the largest diameter that you can find
(you will get the best results with a larger container as your terrarium will hold a capacity for a more varied landscape for your snails as well as create more interest for the children)
*  Small bedrocks  (you can find small rocks outdoors)
*  Snails (you can find land snails burrowing in the mud outdoors)
*  A bag of organic soil (at this time of year the forest soil may be too compacted and wet)
*  Moss and lichen
*  Forest plants such as ferns (research local vegetation for your area)
*  Fungi (We do not recommend that you come in contact with any fungi without the advice of an expert.  At this time of year there are no visible fruiting bodies in our local woodland so we purchased mushrooms at the local grocery store)
*  Natural elements found in nature (sticks, bark, rocks, stems...)
*  A fine mist atomizer
*  Water that has been sitting out at least twenty-four hours

2.  Begin lining the bottom of you terrarium with a layer of small bedrocks:

The layer of bedrock will help absorb any water in the soil as plants are watered and keep the soil from completely compacting.  Snails do not like the soil too wet.

3.  Land Formations:
When adding your soil this would be an opportune moment to learn about land formations and those found in a woodland setting.  For added interest, make sure you have elevated areas within your woodland design.

* Children can learn about land formations and can draw-out and plan a landscaping design for the snail terrarium.

4.  Add in the local plants, moss, rocks, bark, lichen, twigs, :  
Go on a nature walk to explore the flora in your local woodland.  Only collect living specimens of plants for you terrarium with the roots intact.  Do not add rotting or decaying green matter to you terrarium as it may increase the amount of time you need to change your soil.  Everything that you will be adding is slowly breaking down but some natural elements break down faster than others.  You can create a list of local flora in your woodland and highlight those that you think your snail might enjoy.    

If moss becomes too covered in slime from the snails tracks then remove and replace to keep the environment fresh.

5.  Add the snails:
Do not close off the terrarium with a lid unless it is propped-up to allow for air circulation.  Our terrarium has a lid but we do not restrict air circulation to our snails and we also leave it open to allow for free access to our fern plant that sits adjacent to the terrarium with overhanging leaves.  Since snails are nocturnal, we will be tracking their nightly forays into the forest terrarium and beyond.

6.  Watering:
Keep your terrarium plants and moss watered but not soaked.  Spray the insides of your terrarium daily so as to keep the atmosphere humid.  Use water that has been sitting for at least twenty-four hours as snails are very sensitive.  Snails do not need a water source but we do have a small, flat shell that we fill with water each day.

7.  Feeding:  
Snails love eating green leaves and fungi.  We add a fresh slice of mushroom daily and remove old slices.  We are also in the process of researching ways of providing fresh, living greens for our snails.  

8.  Returning your snail to the wild:
This terrarium should be considered a temporary living space for your snails.  Even though snails can live up to five years, I am sure they would prefer to live in a boundless and thriving natural environment as found in a woodland setting as they did not arrive in your terrarium as per their request.  Creating a ceremonial celebration on the day that the terrarium contents and their living inhabitants are returned to the wild is a wonderful way of showing respect and care for all living things and recognizing what they have shared with us and how much we have learned from them.  It also allows you to demonstrate an model empathy and care for all living beings.  For example, if you are assembling your terrarium now and want to work towards Earth Day and then decide how many weeks from that date you can mark a day for the celebration to occur.

Follow us as we embark on new discoveries and share in the joy of learning in an outdoor classroom...

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Get Inspired: Spring Nature Connection 

The Spark:

Spring is just around the corner.  Let's play!!  Make this tiny four-leaf clover charm to wear as an emblem for spring and to welcome the coming new season.  Children take small steps in leaning to crochet tiny charms.  Learn, make, wear.  Builds self-esteem and boost confidence.

Kick-start the coming new season of spring by going outdoors on a spring scavenger hunt and don't forget to wear your new four-leaf clover shamrock charm!  Let's muster-up new questions, embark on new adventures outdoors, follow new hunches, wonder about a coming new season, spot changes outdoors, imagine, play and embrace all that is changing around us.

Crochet a Four-Leaf Clover Charm

Spring Scavenger Hunt

Wednesday, 19 February 2014

Map Your Drawings Into Snow Art: 
mapping, geography, orienteering, snowshoeing, physical fitness, art, winter activities

The Spark: 

Have you ever followed animal tracks in the snow?  Or dropped on your back in the snow and flapped your arms and legs to create a snow angel? Or simply run across a freshly fallen bank of snow to create your own tracks?  We have... and it's loads of fun!

We have been looking at structures and habitats and have noticed that animals, without realizing it, create a sort of mapping pattern in the snow from their habitat to their feeding spot, to their play spot and so forth.  They sort of map out their neighbourhood without even realizing it!

So, we have created a "critter town" map on paper and have begun an exploration of mapping as a process of looking at the land and plotting it on paper.  But, what of the reverse?  How about drawing something on paper and then plotting that drawing on land?

Follow That Hunch:

"I want to make a drawing of the snow angel that I made in the snow but can I do the drawing first?  I have a hunch it can work!"

"I have a hunch that if we follow the squirrel tracks then we can see where he goes all day long and know what he does."

"Don't walk on the tracks or you will mess up their town."

"This morning there were no tracks and I ran across the snow and made my own."

Take Action:

* Before you begin: We recommend that you read Snowy Valentine, by: David Petersen

Snowflake Snow Art

1.  Draw a simple shape like a snowflake and measure the largest angles as well as each line to the centre of the snowflake:
For our first attempt, we sketched the snowflake freehand as a 'drawing'.  You can also use a protractor to create more elaborate and exact drawings with older children.  Measure each of the angles to the centre of the snowflake.  We tried to measure the smaller ones at the end of the snowflake design but it was too much for us once we got outdoors so we took creative licence to draw (with our snowshoes) freehand.

2.  Make sure your drawing is to scale before you get outdoors:
Since every measurement that you take will be from the end point of the snowflake to the middle of the snowflake, then if the measurement is 30 cm, for example, it will be thirty snowshoe steps.  Our scale was 1cm= 1 snowshoe step.

3.  Plot NORTH, SOUTH, EAST, AND WEST on your page:
The top of the page should be considered the north end and so forth.  This plotting will help you with the orienteering outdoors when using the compass.  If you are working with small children then just use the compass to find your first direction north.  For the angles, you can make cardboard cutouts for them to use.  Otherwise, use your compass outdoors when finding true north as well as all of the marked angles on your drawing.

4.  Getting to your "snow art" site:
Take your compass, snowflake drawing, and snowshoes outdoors.  Walk to your site with your boots on.  DO NOT USE SNOWSHOES TO GET TO THE SITE.  When you reach your starting point find true north with your compass to orient you towards your path.  Make sure your drawing is always facing in the correct direction.  North is always north, south is always south and so forth no matter how you turn your body while mapping.  A teacher, parent or caregiver should always have a photocopy on hand so that they can double check the angle measurements before you take your steps in the snow.  Remember:  You cannot erase a mistake in the snow so double check the angle and the number of steps.

5.  Latch on your snowshoes and head towards true north, counting out your steps towards the centre of the  snowflake:

6.  How many steps to the centre of your snowflake?
Each snowshoe step should equal one centimetre:
Make sure to mark you centre point when you get to the middle of the snowflake as this will serve as the point where you measure all of your angles with your compass.  If you are working with smaller children, then use cardboard cut-outs of the angle measurements to make each consecutive snowflake branch.

7.  Take creative liberties:
This snowflake came form a freehand drawing so let's get creative with the smaller angle branches at the tips of the snowflake.  We had a difficult time measuring the smaller angles with our compass so we "drew" them in freehand with our snowshoes, of course!

The Finished Snowflake


Monday, 10 February 2014

Nature Connection Activity:  Knit For Peace: 
 I Heart Nature Tree Charms

The Spark:  

The more time children spend in nature, the more connected they become with their surroundings.  Compassion grows and actions of love and caring for the environment and the creatures that inhabit it become visible.  Each new day brings new observations and discoveries.  As the seasons slowly change and a new cycle of reawakening begins, let's launch a new challenge of love in order to see thoughts and ideas turn into actions of love and compassion for nature.  We all need a little more nature in our lives.  

Doing and making are acts of hope.  As hope grows, we begin to see that individuals can affect change.  Let us craft peace, understanding, and love through non-violent, compassionate action.  Be the change you want to see in the world. 


To plant a seed and see it grow.
To breath the forest air every day because trees make it clean for me to breath.
To plant an apple tree, my favourite snack, and I will share the apples.
To not step on bugs and especially not ants.
To put spiders out of my house in a cup and not to kill them with my shoe.
To see if birds need more seeds outside in their feeder.
To not wreak a spider's web because that is it's house and he will have to make a new one if it comes down.  

Take Action: 

1.  Make a heart-shaped tree charm:
Crochet this easy tree charm in the shape of a heart and embellish it with a found nature object.

Tree charm

My tutorial for how to make a heart-shaped tree charm

Monday, 27 January 2014

February 14- 17, 2014 Take 
 Part in the 2014 World Wide Great Backyard Bird Count!

Here is your birding badge upon completion of this quest:

The Spark:
It all begins on February 14- 17, 2014.  It's the Great Backyard Bird Count!  It's time to make your contribution to nature by becoming a citizen scientist. The best part of it is that it is so easy to do, inexpensive, educational, it's a great outdoor/ indoor activity, and it's environmentally friendly.  It has turned into one of our great passions and a newfound hobby.  Familiarize yourself with birds, brush up on your birding skills and submit your bird checklist.  Since we certified our outdoor space as a wildlife habitat, we have become increasingly conscious of our fine feathered and furry friends that share our natural green spaces throughout our neighbourhood and beyond. 

A Bunch of Hunches, Queries, Interests and Questions:

Can we make a list of how many different kinds of food that birds eat?

What do they eat from plants and trees?

How many different kinds of birds live in our neighbourhood?

What are their names?

I have a hunch that the birds know we are here and that we feed them.

I have a hunch that if I build a bird house then more birds will live beside my house.

Where do I have to go to see the most birds?  Do I need to go on a hill, climb a tall ladder or a tree, do I need to hide?

Where are all the birds at night time?

Can I plant flowers for my birds?

I have a hunch that I can have these birds as my pets forever.

Start Your Quest:

1.  What is birding?
Birding is becoming one of the most popular outdoor hobbies in the world.  Birding is easy for all ages to enjoy.  You can learn about different birds, classification, feed preferences, migration, landscaping for bird, geography and photography.   

2.  Safety:
Before you begin birding please make sure you purchase window decals in order to safeguard against birds flying into your windows as they come in for a landing on your feeders.  Also, please ensure that you do some research on animals that prey on birds.  Luring large numbers of birds to feeders makes it easy for predators to hunt.  Place your feeders accordingly.  

3.  Woodworking:
Birding can enhance your enjoyment of woodworking crafts.  You can make a bird house, a feeder or a nesting box.  

4.  Photography:
Many birders love photographing the birds they see.  You can make a neighbourhood bird book with the photos that you take.  Brush up on your bird pics and photo techniques.  

5.  Hike or snowshoe outdoors:
Birding fosters a love of the outdoors.  Strap on some snowshoes or fasten on some hiking boots and take to the outdoors to try and spot as many birds as you can.

6.  What will you need?
good eyesight
a simple field guide
binoculars (optional)
camera (optional)
some knowledge on feeders and what to safely feed birds

7.  Be environmentally friendly:
Because birding is mainly observation, it has a very low impact on the local environment.  Eliminate chemical pesticides and fertilizers on lawns.  Add plants to your green space that attract birds.  Help to establish bird habitats by providing shelter, a place to establish nests, water, and food.  

8. Pets:
Wild birds are amazing "PETS."  They can be enjoyed in their own habitat, your neighbourhood, without capturing and caging them... and that's the way it should be!!

9.  Here is how to take part in the GREAT BACKYARD BIRD COUNT: