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Tuesday, November 3, 2015

A New Path in the Forest

Children in central Vermont schools have had many ECO outings at this point in the school year. The routines of getting dressed and backpacks packed with snack, water and scientific journals are established. The children are now familiar with what it looks and sounds like when we get to the open field at the edge of the forest. We stop. We listen with deer ears. We smell with our bear nose.
"Did you hear that bird?"
"I hear cars."
"What's that I smell? Is it wood smoke?"
 "I smell winter coming."

Kindergartners and 1st graders at Northfield Elementary and Twinfield Elementary enter the forest and know exactly where to go.
 "Base camp is this way!"
Northfield Elementary 
 Follow the path covered in White Pine needles. Go up the hill through an old apple orchard. When they arrive, they hang up backpacks on The Backpack Tree. These students have been building a working memory of the natural landscape around their school. They walk the same way to their ECO base camps every week, yet as the seasons shift so intensely here in Vermont from autumn, to stick season, to winter, there is much to observe and inquire about along the way. The five senses are totally engaged in this simple routine of moving through the forest and thus creating new neural pathways. Simply put, the students leave the worn path of the school hallways and step foot on ground they have never been on before. Each week the new path to the forest gets more defined and clear. Students pick up on other animals that travel these trails and the changes along the way.
"Look at this deer print! The deer are traveling to our camp!"
"This puddle wasn't here last week! Do you the water in the creek?"
"It's sad. The leaves have no color. Now they are brown on the ground."
"I think the wasps won't be on the apples this week,..it's too cold,..but we should still be quiet."
The forest welcomes them, but asks that what they find they leave there. Every time we go back to the forest,  the students are strengthening their knowledge of place. This new place is full of learning and discovery and it's very exciting!

In October we experimented with creating our own forest recipes.  We asked the students, what does it take to make a healthy forest? Trees, dirt, sticks, leaves, rocks!
Then we asked about the animals. Do animals live in this forest? What do they need? Food, water, shelter!
Children were soon off gathering ingredients to make a forest recipe. With the guidelines of not collecting living things, children searched for water, collected the tiny seeds from pine cones and dug into rotting logs. They also wondered if they could gather the sun and some oxygen,..can we do that?!
In small groups children opened up their own forest kitchens equipped with bowls, measuring cups, spoons, spatulas and of course muffin tins! Errands were being run back and forth across the forest and with that new pathways were being formed. More questions were asked and more discoveries made.
"Water! Water! We found water! We need it for our forest!"
Gathering the water became a whole group task with problem solving around how to transport the water back to the kitchen.

Carrying water very carefully

Soil and  water make MUD! Cupcakes? 

Children easily transitioned from a concrete lesson to producing an imaginary forest laboratory with their minds set on preparing for a larger feast. In preparing for this feast you can hear the children using scientific language and applying new methods of learning. They are experiencing cause and effect based on their own curiosities and fascinations. Concoctions? Potions? This is where science and art blend together, beautiful! In the forest kitchen children are:

We continue to follow the paths the children create in the forest. The path to wonder and inquiry. 

Forest Soup
Examples of the forest, different RECIPES! 

Chefs in action

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