Did you know that there are many theories as to why the term ‘jack-o-lantern’ is used for our carved pumpkins at Halloween, but no one really knows exactly how the connection was made between some random fellow in England holding a lantern (Jack of the lantern) and a carved root vegetable in Ireland intended to frighten off spirits of ill will (gourds came later, when Europeans colonized North America*). The connection remains a mystery. Something that is not mysterious is the connection between enjoying a wonderful fall and being involved in nature-based early childhood education. This is a terrific time of year to be outside with children! Really, when isn’t?!
Fall in the northwest provides a plethora of spiders and webs of all varieties, mud of all consistencies, slug and millipede discoveries, PUDDLES, and so much more. We get to observe what may be the most gorgeous side of decomposition, as deciduous trees draw into themselves all that CO2-transforming chlorophyll, pulling the nutrients deep into their roots for later use, and let go of what they no longer need in a brilliant burst of color. Can you tell I love it? There is something about this waning time in nature that energizes me, and I’m not the only one. The sound of joyful engagement can be heard at any outdoor school across the region. In fact, moving our bodies to stay warm outside means, unlike the trees, we have to get even more active this time of year.
At Washington Nature Preschool Association, we’re getting more active too. Among many other things, we’ve been working on ways to build year-round connections between members, both virtually and in person. Through formalizing our membership, we hope to engage members who are in neighboring programs on a more regular basis (meet-ups/site visits/round-table discussions), and we hope to benefit from the knowledge, skills, and experience of our members in achieving organizational goals. As an all-volunteer collaborative, we truly value member participation. It is through our connections to one another and mutual support that we will be best equipped to provide high-quality early childhood education and the greatest possible environment for children to grow.
For the past four years, the WaNPA Annual Symposium has offered an incredible opportunity for people involved with nature preschools to connect in useful discussions about the topics that are important to us all. At this year’s symposium, from the panel discussion topic, Adapting Nature Preschool in an Era of Climate Change, to the breakout sessions (listed below), we began some meaningful and relevant conversations, but one day is not enough to cover topics that are constantly evolving. We want to support the continuation of these discussions and the sharing of resources regarding topics such as these:
Become a member! (it’s free)
As I drifted off to sleep last night, the words "new world" popped into my mind. There was something off about them; something not right.
When I first wrote this post, I used that phrase because I was thinking about the European tradition of the jack-o-lantern; I was thinking about how the North American continent was "the new world" to those who had previously only been aware of Europe, Africa, and Asia. This morning, I woke with clarity. The problem with that phrase is that it perpetuates the colonizer's story as the dominant story (the only history). So, that's why I changed it.
I almost changed it without saying anything, because I was embarrassed by my thoughtlessness and ignorance, but I'm a teacher and this is a teachable moment: I made a mistake, realized it, and amended it. This is what we have an opportunity to model for children. We do not have to be the perfect, authoritarian teacher with all the answers, an adult to be revered and never questioned; nope, we get to model being human and doing our best to be better.
Nature shows us that it's normal to be imperfect.
At last Saturday's symposium, Erica Calhoon and I led a discussion on how preschools can incorporate art into nature exploration. We divided potential art projects into three categories:
Ephemeral art- temporary art, usually made outdoors using natural materials. Examples include water paintings, mandalas, and ice sculptures.
Natural Materials- art projects that incorporate items found in nature. Examples include painted rocks, pressed flower collages, and leaf rubbings.
Plein Air- conventional art projects, such as watercolor paintings, done outside.
It was fun to share tips and hear about projects from other teachers. Here are our brainstorming posters, full of ideas to try:
What's YOUR favorite nature art project?
by Caroline Cook
One theme from the conference that surfaced again and again was the “sense of place” that we seek to develop in our children, and how the nature we grow up with shapes our values and character throughout our lives.
What, exactly, is a sense of place? Anthropologists, geographers, historians, and other social scientists have different definitions, but in general, a sense of place involves a connection to the land that involves both knowledge and emotion, and connects to the environment’s cultural history as well as its nature.
Our classroom already values place-based education; our daily observations and experiences in the park frame our literacy, math, and science curriculum. However, this year, I want to be more intentional about teaching my students that the Mercer Slough, specifically, is a special place.
Here are some changes we’re making to our curriculum:
I’m excited- as a transplant to Washington, I’ve been hoping to develop a deeper connection to Washington’s natural and cultural history, and now I have an excuse to be more intentional about it! Do you have special teaching practices that help children develop a sense of place? Please share them in the comments!
by Jess Brewer, preschool instructor, Nurture in Nature Preschool at the Tacoma Nature Center
Often, the word risk has a negative connotation and is something to be avoided or even feared. However, I was excited to see several sessions at the national conference that addressed and embraced risk as something to be encouraged and celebrated in outdoor preschool programs. Families of our incoming preschoolers at the Tacoma Nature Center’s Nurture in Nature Preschool understand that safety is our number one priority and while we do our best to prevent and predict hazards throughout our preschool day, risk taking is encouraged. As teachers, we can see the benefits of our students taking reasonable risks, but it can sometimes be a difficult sell to parents who are concerned for their child’s safety and well being. While attending a session about risk taking and risk assessment we brainstormed a comprehensive list of the benefits of risk which I wanted to share with you all as a reminder of why it is important to allow reasonable risk taking in your preschool program; and also as a communication tool for helping families understand why we promote risk taking.
Benefits of Risk:
-self regulation development
-confidence building, self satisfaction
-enhanced imagination, creativity
-partnerships, team building
-failure, coping skills
-cause and effect
-resilience, persistence, commitment
-growth, calculating risk
-proprioception (awareness of personal body movement)
Some questions to consider: What type of risk do you encourage and what do you avoid in your program? At the session, we sorted risks and hazards into six different categories: rough and tumble play, disappearing and getting lost, dangerous elements, dangerous tools, rapid speeds, and great heights. What safety measures do you have in place while students engage in risk taking activities? What will you do ‘find a way to say yes’ to your students and allow risk taking while at school?
Let’s continue the conversation! If this topic is of interest to you, please feel free to comment below and add your thoughts, ideas, and opinions.