November 2016: Fall's End

November was the last month of our fall session, and with a week off for Thanksgiving it was a short one. By this point in the year all the campers have settled into their routines and projects, so anytime there’s a break or free time (which is often!) they run straight to the bushes, field or forest to jump back into the game or project they were working on. Our Sprouting Roots are often seen climbing trees, pushing their own limits and encouraging each other to reach a new branch each week. They will sometimes request one of the teachers to be a spotter, but understand that they won’t be lifted on or off the tree, so they have to work out how to climb up and down through trial and error, or by watching a friend. They are also often seen carrying sticks and rocks for various building projects - forts, nests, bridges or traps.

Our Homeschool Roots are frequently seen running through the fields or trees in the midst of one of their imaginative games, which often include the entire group and can last for several days or weeks. They also enjoy organizing group games, such as Fire in the Forest or Tree Tag. They have had a lot of practice in their leadership and communication skills by working through all steps of organizing a game: proposing the idea, recruiting friends to play, organizing into teams, and going over rules, all without teacher intervention. We encourage the children to communicate and work through their concerns or issues with each other, rather than through a teacher, and I regularly overhear them talking through the rules of an invented game and clarifying differences of understanding rather than shouting about cheating or unfairness. This is so good to see in a group of this many mixed-age kids!

We spent the first two weeks of November focused on decomposition, which is a particularly fun topic to explore in the fall, when leaves cover the ground and mushrooms are popping up all around. We felt the soft, spongy wood of decaying logs and snags (standing dead trees), compared newly fallen leaves to the mushy, ragged remains of those that have spent a few weeks on the ground, and looked for the holes and trails of wood-eating insects. We noticed many stages of decomposition, from newly fallen logs to mounds of earth that are just distinguishable as ancient stumps. Our Sprouting Roots loved hiking and pointing out everything in the process of decomposition - as it turns out, much of what we can see in our forest is actually in some stage of decomposition! We had a discussion about how the world would be without decomposition - all the dead plants and animals would pile up and cover the earth, leaving no space for anything new to grow. Thank goodness for all the animals and fungi that help break down old matter so it can become something new!

In our second week of decomposition, our Sprouting and Homeschool classes each spent a day at the Mossy Knoll, searching for decomposers or detritivores such as millipedes, roly polys, slugs, worms and fungi. We turned over logs and gently dug through the leaf litter, then used our magnifying glasses and bug boxes to look at all the critters and fungi up close. The children also loved experimenting with the magnifying glasses, stacking them on top of each other to see the change in magnification, holding them close to their faces or stretched out at arm’s length and noticing the change in perspective. We talked about worms and the important role they play in soil creation, then looked more closely at soil itself by collecting soil samples from different areas of the park. We took time to observe the color, texture, smell and make up of the soils, then compared them and recorded the findings in our nature journals.

The theme for the last week of our fall session was Harvest, which we tied into preparation for winter. We talked about the animals, such as mice and squirrels, that harvest nuts and seeds then store them for the winter. With our Homeschool class we read the book “Frederick” by Leo Lionni, in which all the mice store up food for the winter except for Frederick, who stores sunshine, colors, and words. We then discussed the sorts of things, tangible or intangible, that we would want to take with us into the winter. With the Sprouting Roots we read “Blueberries for Sal” by Robert McCloskey, and compared human harvest and food storage (canning) to how bears store food (as fat that they can burn all winter). We did creative movement as Sal, bears, squirrels and birds all preparing for winter in their different ways.

Since this was the week before Thanksgiving, we brought in a special emphasis on gratitude. We had a thankfulness circle each day, where everyone had a chance to share what they were thankful for. The kids had many sweet answers, such as siblings and parents, animals and things in nature. One boy said he was thankful for his nature journal - he knows the way to my heart! We also had imaginary Thanksgiving Feasts, where everyone chipped in collecting forest materials to represent their favorite dishes - madrona berries as cranberries, pinecones or a large rock as turkey, pinecone scales as nuts, leaves as mashed potatoes, etc. It was fun seeing the campers take on different roles, such as collectors, bakers, directors, decorators, host/hostesses and guests. Everyone had a job to do, and they all worked together to make the feast a success! Before “eating,” we again said some “thank yous” to everything and everyone that made the feast possible - from the earth, sun and rain that grew the food, to all the people who helped put it together.

With the end of our first session of the year, we the teachers had a chance to reflect on what a wonderful group of kids we had this fall. Everyone contributed so much to our classes, bringing their own knowledge, insights, interests and questions to help build up the collective experience of the group. The parents were also amazing this session, staying on top of the weather and making sure their camper was prepared each day with the clothing, food and supplies they needed, as well as modeling positive attitudes about the cold and wet. This preparation can make all the difference! It has been such a joy getting to know and learning from everyone this fall, and we are so thankful for everyone who contributed to making this happen!

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