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Monday, December 19, 2016

Finding Light in the Dark

“Hey, something is following me…” We’re heading out to Deer Camp. The sun is shining, the mown path is unusually green in a meadow that has otherwise turned November brown, and the boy at the back of the line with me tugs on my hand and points behind him. Indeed. We are being followed.

By our shadows.

This was the spark. This playful observation inspired conversations, jokes and games that captivated the entire group. Strung out behind us in the low morning light, we were being stalked by our own shadows. But nothing is more delightful than shadow tag. Have you ever played it? We run, pounce, crouch, hide in the shade (“shadows can’t survive in the shade”) and leap out again. Chasing each other’s shadows became such a popular game this fall that there were even requests for it on overcast days...at which point we had to look sadly at the ground all around us and realize that this game came to us only under particular circumstances.

On rainy days we try to stay on the move. Moving bodies are warm bodies. So instead of heading straight to Deer Camp after Loose Parts, we take the long way through the meadow and visit the rock.  Everybody loves the rock.  It’s just big enough and steep enough that climbing it (and sliding down it) is challenging without being overwhelming. Often at Forest Preschool, the children naturally break into smaller configurations during play: swing or mud kitchen or Bear Hill.  But there is something about the rock that pulls the group together.

On this day, after a few minutes of exploration, the cry goes out. “Flood!” Water rushes in around our feet and everybody scrambles, panting to the top of the rock. Helping hands are extended to each other – “Pull!” “I’ve got you!” – and no sooner has everybody arrived safely at the pinnacle, than a shark is discovered in their midst and the children scatter again – a screaming, laughing panic and flurry of bodies.  We teachers try to mostly stand back and enjoy the commotion (though sometimes we are dragged to safety in the nick of time as well). 

These are the golden moments. When the children create their own play and immerse themselves in it.  Sometimes it’s an energetic game like Flood at the Rock; other times it can be something quieter, more solitary, maybe building a house or mixing mud smoothies. What’s most important is that the children are able to come to these imaginative moments. It is in these playful spaces, in what adults call “flow” that the brain lights up. This is where joy happens – and deep learning.  

As teachers, we make spaces, and sometimes we help connect the dots.  We create stories each week that are inspired by the discoveries and interests of the children, and we use them to make connections, expand ideas, ask more questions. The emergent “curriculum” this fall was also enriched by some planned events that all happened to circle around food and warming our bodies.  Nothing takes the chill off like pressing apple cider, cooking soup or popping popcorn over a fire.  Sumac tea made from sumac seeds harvested at the beaver pond was a new experience for most!

Now December brings us snow and more adventures together.  We’ll be digging shelters, sliding down hills, tracking animals – staying warm, and certainly finding some joy.

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