“An understanding of the natural world & what’s in it is a source of not only a great curiosity, but great fulfillment.” David Attenborough
Over the last few months, my daughter and I have been exploring our neighbourhood. On one of our evening walks, we discovered a beautiful space! A place where we could hear the birds chirping, the sound of the wind in the trees, water flowing and the calming sounds of silence. We began to enjoy weekly explorations together in these woods, venturing down the various paths, amazed by the beauty that was so close to home. Reflecting on what continuously brought my daughter and me to this place, I was excited to be able to offer the same experience to the children and educators, when we returned to the centre. As a Pedagogical Leader, I often see my role to encourage and provoke the educators thinking, in the same way that the educators provoke thinking within the children.
Interested in taking up my idea, the educators invited me to accompany them and the preschoolers as they headed to the woods. I was curious to see how the children would engage, what they would notice, the sounds they would hear, what they would explore, and where their interests would take them. Immediately upon our arrival, the children were immersed in all that nature had to offer. They began to venture up steep hills (mountains), climbing over tree branches and giant roots, and navigating various rocks that were in the water, in order to get to the other side, and continue on our journey. We could hear the children’s voices, “we did it!’ “I can help you,” and “we can do this.” Listening to the encouragement and positivity that was coming from the children really helped us to gain an understanding of the children’s desire to help each other. The children were reaching their hands out to others, offering strategies and ways to negotiate over bridges or rocks, and offering any support they felt was necessary, “here, take my hand,” “watch your footing,” “here is a stump,” and “step here”.
“The very first time going in the forest, I was nervous and a little weary. A huge forest with large hills, big roots, and running water. As we explored further and deeper each day, I was amazed and inspired with all the learning, growing and connecting that we were all getting from these experiences. I experienced my first time ever going barefoot in a creek, I was inspired through the eyes of the children. As soon as we’d get to the creek, our children would rip their shoes and socks off and climb in. As they invited me in I was nervous, but once again, their bravery and wonder inspired me to jump right on in with them. The children were competent and capable of so much, so inspiring. These moments turned out to be my favourite part of the summer!”
Breann Forsyth, RECE
As we walked further into the woods, we approached an area that offered water, which the children were anxious to explore. They quickly sat down and began to remove their shoes. Slowly entering their toes into the cold water, only hesitating for a moment, as they regained their balance. Within seconds I heard, “Tina come in?” I quickly removed my shoes, as the child reached for my hand. Together we embarked on a journey into the water, using our balance to steady us, as we stepped on and over rocks. Some rocks were slippery, others unsteady, and some a little sharper than others. We continued to walk in the water, giggling and splashing, neither of us interested in leaving the water, or this moment. This was new, this was exciting…this was exactly what we needed. We needed this time to recharge and reconnect with nature…to reconnect with each other after so many months apart.
With reduced ratios due to Covid, we have been able to spend uninterrupted time outside, exploring nature, knowing and valuing how important it is for children. We fully embraced this opportunity to slow down and genuinely follow the lead of the child, as they led the way through the woods, stopping to pick up sticks and tossing rocks into the water along the way. We were finally able to let go of the time restraints, and feeling of needing to return to the centre. What a gift this time has truly been!
After our initial visit, the children continued to invite me to join them on their journey into the woods. Each day was an adventure, as we embraced new paths and new opportunities to test our limits, seeing each other’s strengths and watching as the children led us to their newest discoveries. Our visits to the forest were full of magic and wonder. New relationships between children began and confidence grew. We witnessed the children’s strengths becoming more evident as they worked together to decide which path to take, who was going to lead and how to get there successfully. We were able to revisit and reflect together on previous experiences and discoveries, using this knowledge to support and further our inquiries. Each adventure was full of wonder and adventure seeking, while being truly present with the children.
“Following the children’s lead helped me develop the ways of teaching I was coming to discover on my own: the environment and the children themselves do the educating. A branch breaking off a tree; muddy hillsides to climb; a favourite toy or book a child wants to share all represent examples of an invitation that was ever-changing, unplanned, and ultimately meaningful.”
Melissa Mackay-Smith, RECE
As we continue to explore the woods, I’m curious how much of the journey is about revisiting the paths already taken, or the relationships which were created? Was there a special place that you revisited during Covid?
Tina Thompson, RECE
Pedagogical & Cultural Lead- Compass ELC Courtice