Three things I learned this week: 1) If you want to stay young, hang out with a bunch of five year olds, 2) Five year olds love to tell stories, and 3) all the stories include the words poop, pee and fart (just kidding, I already knew that one).
It was my first time offering the AutoCamp Yosemite Forest School, as an experience provider for AutoCamp Yosemite. I’m not quite sure what brought me to offer such an experience. Well, I do actually. It was really Tim’s idea that we do this together. He came up with it when we were at an event at AutoCamp. There may have been wine involved. I mentioned it to my contact at AutoCamp that night, and somehow, here I am, all by myself. Not unusual in my house – he’s the idea man, I execute.
Forest Schools have been around for quite some time, maybe under different names, and with a focus on outdoor learning. Children are encouraged to learn practical skills in a natural setting through play. A key feature of organized Forest Schools is a long-term commitment that takes place throughout the year.
So, while called Forest School, my experience is more of an introduction and my goal is to encourage and promote children’s love of nature. I had two hours with these kids, and through past experience, two hours can seem like a lot of time to a five year old. So, I plan more activities than I think we can fit in, and then understand that we may not get to them all. It all goes back to our time in Haiti when we had to fill four hours with a room full of 50 kids or more, and ran out of things to do at two hours. YIKES!
Here’s a bit of what our two hours together looked like:
I started with a brief introduction
My name (“some people call me Susan, some call me Susi, and my grandkids call me Bubby”. They settled on Miss Bubby), my favorite food and color, and the names of my cats. Then they did the same. I introduced the talking feather and explained that whomever was holding it was the only one allowed to talk at that time.
I helped them to settle in
These kids were very outgoing and excited, so focusing on their breath helped them to calm down a bit. They started out silly with quick little in/out breaths, but I kept at it for a few breath cycles and that’s all they needed.
These kids were whip smart, and, at five years old, already knew all their senses. So I took them through each one, one at a time, with their eyes closed (except sight of course!). I asked them to yell out what they noticed, and I let them guide me on when it was time to move on.
Nature Hunt/Forest Art
I had prepared a sheet with a list (including pictures) of items to collect, a scavenger hunt of sorts. This helped them to really notice what was around them and they even found the elusive feather. Then we created art as a group – the idea was to help them to work together. But kids are all so different and while one is very intentional, the other might be uninterested.
You really can’t have a program for five year olds that doesn’t include paint! These rocks, I told them, had two purposes: they were worry stones, and they were story stones. Once painted, I had them ask the rock to hold all their worries – if they were sad or nervous, or upset, or angry, all they had to do was hold the rock to their heart. That was the worry stone. Then we lined up the rocks on the table, and shared a progressive story about them. I began – once upon a time, there were three rocks … They loved this part and were so creative. I think we told four or five different stories, some scary, some sweet and some just silly. This is where the talking feather came in handy.
This was the part to burn off a little energy. How does a bear move? How about a deer? We moved like rabbits and eagles and snakes and then finally trees. It was all well and good until they decided they were beavers and cut me down!
We ended the session with some tarantula cookies that they created, fruit and juice, followed by a book about the environment and inclusion called Bird Boy.
This format seemed to work for this age group. With two five year old grandkids of my own, it was easy for me to relate to what might keep their interest. The challenge will be with my next group, which includes a ten year old. My plan is to enlist the help of my 11 year old grandson for ideas.
By the end of the session, the boys were ready to see their parents. They seemed to enjoy our time together, and the parents were very grateful for the break. As they were collecting their goodies, one of them slipped and fell, but the worry rock came to their rescue. As for me, it was a lot of very gratifying work and it went by way too fast.