By Carrie Komesch, Educator
This was the first week we had a preschool program running concurrently with our school-aged program. The two groups operated separately, each with their own designated log circle in a shady clearing that would serve as home base for the week. I run the school-aged program, so I’m not privy to the details and adventures of the younger students, however I’m comfortable asserting that I’m sure their week was just as exciting and educational as ours was!
Dropoff time on Tuesday was marked by a torrential downpour that I worried might put a damper on our individual and collective spirits. I was particularly concerned that the draw of the cabin might prove irresistable, however, as they arrived, the students all acquiesced to our requests that they gather at their respective log circles under large tarps that had been frantically erected minutes before. (Note: one of my personal goals for the year is to get better at tying knots!) At the start of our morning meeting, I put forth the idea that we could go on a hike even though it was raining. Everyone had boots and jackets and, as it turned out, the requisite excitement and optimism to democratically agree to such an adventure. We had them lighten their backpack loads (everyone is responsible for carrying their own pack on our quests, and since the students arrive—and rightfully so!–with clothing and supplies to withstand any unforeseen contingency, it’s easier if an educator helps them curate their belongings down to the bare necessities on the first couple of days) and by the end of our efforts, everyone had food and water and a hat, and bugspray and sunscreen as needed. By the time we added two tarps and some ropes to our load, the rain had ended, and we had two to three hours of sunny free play ahead of us.
The students were returning to a place of some familiarity, and it was interesting to see how their experiences the day before emerged in how they interpreted and understood the space the second day.
“Let’s put our bags by the fort.”
“Over here is where we found the bones!”
“That’s Bigfoot’s house.”
After a quick snack/water break, the students split off in a variety of directions. There is a distinctive gender divide in the group this week—not in a competitive or exclusionary way, but one that is definitely evident. The two older girls asked for permission to build their own structure away from the main group, with the small tarp and a few ropes. They worked independently until they had effectively strung the tarp across a tied line, at which point they sat down and snacked in the shade of their creation.
The two younger girls, with some input from the educators, created a smaller lean-to-esque shelter comprised of sticks and rope, and the boys worked collaboratively on a larger structure that used the base and lower branches of a tree to support their tarps and sticks.
Among the boys there was some semblance of organized labour and defined tasks, with certain students leading others to jackpot areas of dead branches ready for the harvest. Even the youngest boys were involved in either the active construction of the structure, or simply by learning how to play amongst the older boys without “getting in the way.”
The next morning, the meeting of our Wolf Pack resulted in a democratic decision to hike to what we call the Second Rocky Mossy Place. Having only been there myself a few times, I was eager to explore the trail and the area for personal interest, as well as to get a sense of what risks/hazards might exist, and what opportunities for inquiry we could stumble upon.
I wanted to ground our arrival by getting to know this new space with our non-visual senses. Sitting in a circle, everyone closed their eyes, and I led them through a guided exploration of the sounds, smells, and tactile elements of the place. After that, they were free to disperse so long as they maintained visual contact with myself or the other educator.
We had brought with us the building supplies we had used the prior day at the original Rocky Mossy Place, and some students chose to construct, others to run around and explore, while some gravitated to smaller groups that examined rocks and minerals, or wrote planning lists for what they wanted to do the next day, or drew pictures, or created tools.