By Erin Ramsay, student teacher
The students are busy exploring the environment during drop-off, on the morning of May 12, 2015. It is 9:25am and everyone appears to be involved in their own explorations and play. One student, who we will refer to as C., has been busy tipping over logs and finding living things underneath them.
He brings his creature on a stick, over to the facilitator, and holds it up for her to see. He states that he has found a worm, and closely observes the worm wiggling. “Let’s try and get it off. Maybe I should put it in my hand” he says, as he gently slides the worm into the palm of his hand. On page 38 of the Natural Curiosity pdf, Table 10: Inventory of Direct Experience Used to Foster the Ongoing Experiential Inquiry Spiral describes a concept referred to as “Science-in-the-hand”. This concept explains that “students engage in tactile exploration of objects and materials by touching them with their hands.” C. is learning through hands-on experiences of the natural world surrounding him. He is able to draw his own conclusions about how he would like to care for the worm.
“It’s a biting worm, they can bite you” the student comments, as he examines the worm closer. “Did it bite your hand?” the facilitator asks, and he responds, “ A little bit, just like this”. He places his pointing finger and thumb on the facilitator’s palm and slightly pinches, showing what it feels like on his hand. The Kindergarten curriculum explicitly states that students demonstrate “an understanding of the natural world and the need to care and respect the environment”, as an overall expectation. C. is demonstrating his learning through specific expectation 3.3, in the science and technology section of the curriculum document, by “dentifying ways in which he can care for and show respect for the environment”. Through hands-on, experiential learning, C. has demonstrated an awareness of how to safely observe his creature, and has passed along the information he has gathered from feeling the worm in his hand. The worm is busy exploring it’s new environment, and appears to be digging a hole into C.’s hand. To C., this may feel like it is trying to bite the palm of his hand. The learning experience could be extended by developing ideas as to why the worm would be doing this, and conducting observations of worms in various environments. The facilitator could extend on the learning by asking questions such as “Why is the worm biting you?” and “What else do you notice about the worm?”
The students and facilitators begin a morning meeting to discuss how the students would like the day to go. As a group, it is decided to head down trail 12 and go to some of the “Rocky-Mossy” areas of the forest. Another discussion topic, is how the students can avoid bugs. The students give helpful tips to their peers to avoid the mosquitos that are now present in the wooded areas of forest school. Avoiding wet areas, staying in sunny, windy areas, and putting on bug spray, are some of the great ideas students have developed to avoid getting itchy bites. The morning meeting is a safe environment for students to express their opinions, share information with their peers, and develop an opinion of what they would like to do during the day. Under the Social Development section of the Kindergarten curriculum, it is stated that students should be able to “demonstrate the ability to take turns in activities and discussions and under the Emotional Development section, students should “Identify and talk about their own interests and preferences”. During morning circles, students are able to build upon both of these expectations and share their feeling towards the days events. The students pack up their belongings and we are ready to set out for our adventure.
Photograph: A rocky, natural playground on our walk down Trail 12.
Along the path, C. notices a triangle sign that has an image of a snake on it. “Watch out for snakes” he announces to his peers, pointing to the sign, then looking around the forest floor. We pass another sign with a fire on it. “There’s the fire sign” C. points out, and explains that the sign lets us know “there is a fire ban this week”. After a couple of minutes of walking, stepping over logs, moving heavy rocks, walking around squishy mud puddles, and listening to the birds, we arrive at the first “Rocky-Mossy Place”. Our bags are set down and students begin to find a spot that they would like to sit for a snack.
Photograph: On Trail 12, just passed the triangle signs.
The energy increases, as C. explains to one of his peers that he would like to find a tree to climb. After snack is packed away, C and another student J., walk over to a fallen tree. It has fallen into a ditch, and the students balance their way down to the log. J. steps onto the log from the ledge of the ditch, holding onto branches for stability and C. walks to the other end of the log and lifts his leg leg up onto the log, while holding onto a tall branch with his left hand. J. balances along the log, holding onto the tall branches as he moves along, and C. crouches down to shift his body around a branch. He appears to be off balance, and sits down on the log with one leg on either side. He says “I’m going to get off here” and leans to the left side to find the ground with his left foot. C.’s boot becomes stuck and he hanging sideways, but persists with figuring out how he can successfully get off of the log. J. steps off of the log, and walks back up to the ledge, as C. finds a hold at the end of the log and peers inside. Through their play, the students have developed their gross motor skills. They have both “demonstrated persistence while engaged in activities that require the use of both large and small muscles” in the Physical Activity section of the Kindergarten Curriculum Document.
Photograph: J. and C. climb the fallen tree.
On the far side of the “Rocky-Mossy Place” students have found a garter snake. A large group of students are standing on some rocks overlooking the snake below. They have discussed with another facilitator how much space they should give the snake. C. walks over and the other students invite him to stand up on the rocks with them. They are discussing what will happen if they get too close to the snake and it bites someone. C. says “you will die”, and another student S. says “No, this is a garter snake”. The students begin discussing what kind of snake they think it is and whether a snake bite would kill you. C. finds a branch and places it on the ground close to the snake. Another student says “no don’t, it’s too close”. The facilitator asks what C. is doing with the stick and he replies, “I want to hold onto it, so the snake can get onto it and I can pick it up”. He observes the snakes and moves the stick up beside him saying “he is very still”. C. observes that “he is sticking out his tongue and touching that tree. Why is he doing that?” Another peer, E. answers with “he is trying to find food. He is trying to find another snake to eat.“ “No, snakes don’t eat other snakes, they find prey” replies another student L. “Ya, a good snake tries to eat a bad snake” explains E. and L. responds with “a prey is a type of mouse or rat, so they eat prey” C. responds with “it eats mouse and bugs”. C. crouches down and begins to open his backpack “I might have something in my backpack that the snake would eat”. The facilitator asks, “do you think the snake would eat people food?” “No” C. replies, zipping up his backpack. C. picks up a rock and drops it off the ledge so it lands near the snake. “Why are you placing a rock there?” she asks. “Because he is going to wrap around it” replies C. “This kind of rock makes him be very still”. The students continue to observe the snake and until E. explains that “we should give the snake space”. The facilitator extends on this comment asking students to observe the snake and see if they feel like it needs some space. The students agree and we head back to where our backpacks are located.
Photograph: Students are observing the snake.
The students are “listening and responding to others for a variety of purposes” as stated in 1.2 of the Language section of the Curriculum. They are exchanging ideas and thoughts with one another, and offering a variety of opinions. The students respond to one another and communicate effectively. They are “making scientific observations of creatures outdoors” and sharing their observations with one another.
As a student facilitator, I feel very privileged to have observed inquiry-based learning in action. The hands-on, experiential learning that the students are presented with at Forest School is incredible. I have thoroughly enjoyed learning to connect play-based, experiential, inquiry-based education, directly to the Kindergarten Curriculum. I am looking forward to examining these running records, audio recordings, photographs and tracking records to develop knowledge building circles and learn alongside the students about living things and creatures.