Kids need conflict

This post was written by Orcas Island Forest School teacher Kimberly Worthington:

4.7.16 OB ZMBCo-existing in the same area, one child plays with a long stick & another child plays with small twigs

Heather Shumaker is a mother, author, and advocate for free, unstructured play in homes and schools. She is the author of two books on renegade parenting: It’s OK Not to Share (Tarcher/ Penguin, 2012) and It’s OK to Go Up the Slide (Tarcher/Penguin, March 2016).

Shumaker’s perspective in regards to the importance of children experiencing conflict in play is particularly important to the forest school model of education. “Kids Need Conflict,” Shumaker declares, in order to learn vital social skills used throughout one’s entire lifetime. “Spontaneous free play provides countless chance to encounter problems. Free play lets children interact with one another and confront conflict firsthand.”

At Orcas Island Forest School, teachers readily offer guidance & support to children as they navigate their way through conflicts around sharing materials & ideas, communicating their needs & wants, collaborating in play, navigating physical space, and in expressing emotion to their peers. The key is to empower the children involved in conflict to talk with one another directly, allowing every child the opportunity to internalize the conflict, the resolution process, and the success & peace that follows.

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April at Forest School

2016-04-20 10.58.43One of the days we spent frolicking in the meadow

April was full of sunshine, practicing our communication with one another, and imaginative play themes.

All winter we played and walked in the meadow under grey and rainy skies so it seems fitting that we welcomed the warmer weather by mostly staying in the shade of the forest.

As the school year goes on and the children grow—physically, cognitively, and socially—we encourage them to take more ownership over their interactions and communication with other children. On a daily basis, this means less teacher intervention and more of: “Tell your friend how that made you feel” and “What do you need them to do?” The children are also communicating differently with their teachers. Their play area has increased in size as they are able to call out “I’m over here!” “I’m walking by the shelter and then coming back!”

2016-04-20 10.50.29-1Three children working together to dump a bucket of water

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“Materials” at a forest preschool

If you’ve ever been in a preschool you’ve probably seen a brightly-lit classroom with lots of toys, books, and other fun educational materials. Maybe a large rug patterned with the alphabet or roads and houses (on which children “drive” the small cars found in one of the bins). There may be sensory tables or a classroom pet. Paints, crayons, markers, chalk, paper. All of these materials have a purpose—they teach letters, numbers, shapes, colors. They help with fine motor skills.

forest glueAt Forest School, sap is also called “forest glue.” This child is helping “glue” small bits of tree (leaves, needles, sticks) to the trunk of this Douglas fir.

If you walk into our “classroom” at Forest School, you’ll see a very different picture. Our environment is mostly brown and green, with splashes of other colors coming and going as the seasons change.

We have wooden blocks made from wood scraps. We have tweezers to help with fine motor development. We have magnifying glasses and several bug-collection containers to aid in the children’s exploration of their environment. But that’s the extent of the materials that we brought in.

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March at forest school

This month it really started to feel like spring. Warmer days, more growth on the plants, and at the end of the month a whole week of sunshine!

kidswithfrogOne day at the pond we caught a Pacific Chorus Frog! (It’s also known as the Pacific Tree Frog.) All the children had a chance to hold it and experience its soft, wet body. We talked about how to keep our bodies calm and treat the frog gently, and when we were done looking at it the children released it back into the tall grasses from where it had come.
2016-03-03 10.39.38*Worms are especially fun, with their “squiggly” movements. The children dig them up from the cold, damp soil, sometimes excitedly showing each person and saying, “Look, I found a worm! Do you want to hold it?”
2016-03-18 08.49.24Friendships have deepened over the past six-and-a-half months. This month I noticed a lot of small group cooperative play, each group shifting to include different children throughout the day, week, and month.

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Signs of spring

2016-03-03 09.24.56 copyThe forest floor is bursting with spring growth

It’s easy to notice the changing of seasons when you spend five days a week outside in the forest. Slight changes in temperature, the dampness of the ground, light filtering down through the trees, the variety of different kinds of insects, arachnids, and other invertebrates, all give us clues that our bodies begin to pick up on.

The children were eager to look for signs of fall back in September, so earlier this month as we began our approach toward the vernal equinox (March 20th) I started pointing out the small buds and tiny bright green leaves I was noticing on the plants. The children, all of whom are well on their way to mastering the art of observation, started picking up on things themselves.

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February at forest school

This month the weather we experienced ranged from cold rain to warm sunshine and everything in between.

Early this month we began the process of making forest tea. Although we’ve been talking about the trees and plants in our forest since September, Kimberly and I made sure the children could identify what was edible and what was not. We’ve been adding varying amounts of cedar “leaves” (actually called “scales”) hemlock needles, fir needles, pine needles, salal leaves, Oregon Grape root, and at the end of the month some Oregon Grape flowers that had just started to open.

2016-02-02 08.55.46

Tree Identification:

  • Douglas fir: Thick, grooved bark. Green needles that come out on all sides of the branch and are all the same length.
  • Western Redcedar: Bark that looks striped and peels off in long strips. Flat, green “scales” (not quite needles or leaves).
  • Western Hemlock: Smallish chunky bark. Flat green needles of different lengths.
  • Pine: Long needles that grow in groupings of two or more.

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Nature books for kids

We’re halfway through the month of February, and on mid-winter break at Forest School. Here are two links to some fantastic nature books for kids:


childbyfireWhile the others are off playing nearby, one child is captivated by the small flame we’ve coaxed from some sticks.
Photo by Ryan Weisberg

January at forest school

This post was written by Orcas Island Forest School teacher Kimberly Worthington:

In early January, after two weeks away, we returned to our Forest School home with much eagerness & excitement. Clad in rain gear, hats, gloves, and boots, we dove right back into playing, exploring, and rediscovering the joys of many cherished forest spots. It was as if the children were tuning in to special moments & memories that had rested dormant through the winter break.

(1) FortThe “big fort”

The “big fort” was immediately re-entered into! Collectively, we strengthened its walls, covered up any holes or cracks, and added fallen leafy branches for additional coverage. Inside, the children created a game of hide-and-seek, exploring their understanding of predator-prey relationships, as they hid deep in the fort’s core from “animals” in the forest. Before any one child left the shelter, a very faint, whispered question would catch my ear, “Can we come out now?” To which the response from another child (or all children) was an exuberant “Yeah!” followed by clambering and running around, or a quiet and serious, “No, not yet.”

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How children play: a look at David Sobel’s “7 design principles”

In chapter 3 of his book, Childhood and Nature, writer and educator David Sobel states: “Just as Howard Gardner has identified a set of intelligences in children, I have identified seven play motifs. Regardless of socioeconomic status, ethnicity, or ecosystem, children play in similar ways when they have safe free time in nature.”

These seven types of play are
1. Going on adventures
2. Descending into fantasies
3. Shaping small worlds
4. Developing friendships with animals
5. Following paths and figuring out shortcuts
6. Making forts and special places
7. Playing hunting and gathering games

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A look into the fascinating world of spiders

This essay is a guest post written by naturalist, photographer, and spider enthusiast Amy Wilson:

One of my greatest joys as a naturalist is the opportunity to teach folks about creatures they may have some apprehensions about; creatures such as birds, insects, snakes, and my all time favorite, spiders.

Usually my spider introduction goes a little like this: “Eight legs, two body parts…” and by this time I usually have at least one person in the group shrieking, “spiders!” Now, at this point in the interaction, whether that shriek is motivated by joy or fear is a mystery.  Many studies over time have shown the amount of folks who enjoy spiders (like myself) is relatively proportional to the amount of people who would describe themselves as being phobic.  However, those two categories combined only account for 6% of the population. The majority of the general public falls somewhere on the scale of indifferent, apprehensive, or fearful.  At one point in my life I would have told you that I was firmly planted in the category of apprehensive.  That is, until I worked for an individual with not only a passion for education and nature as a whole but also a specific interest in spiders.  It took a few guided “nature nerd” moments with spiders before I started to gain an interest in learning more on my own.

After about 6 months I was confident enough to go out in search of spiders and spend time just watching them.  I began to pick up on patterns of movement and even silk usage.  Then the game changer—I began to pick up on family characteristics.  Now, I don’t mean family characteristics in an anthropomorphic way, but in a taxonomic way.

I thought I might share with you the list of questions I ask myself when identifying what family a spider belongs to.  Think of this as a quick guide to help in narrowing down four of the more common and interesting (in my opinion) spider families you will come across.  I would also like to note that these questions assume your specimen is perfectly intact and originates in the Pacific Northwest.

My first question is: Does this creature have 2 body parts, 4 pairs of legs, and lack a distinct pair of claws? If yes, then more than likely you have a spider. If your specimen has a pair of distinct claws then check out pseudoscorpions, whip scorpions, and scorpions.

An orchard orb weaver sits in the middle of its web. Photo by Amy Wilson

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