A week on the river with ten children ages seven through nine, kids that I had never met before. Would they want to walk the river for 2 and a half hours a day? Would they want to discover plants? Play in the mud? Would the water be cold? Do they like to draw? What would we do?
These were a few of my questions leading up to the Creek Exploration class. I had walked the river earlier in the month and came up with a list of plants that they might ask questions about. I had them flagged in my Handbook of Nature Study, Plants of the Pacific, and a new resource to me, OSU Extention Office, Field Ecology Cards (Look These Up; wish I had them when kids were younger.) I browsed through NotebookingPages.Com (Affiliate Link) and printed out a few Nature Journal Pages, and then went over to the Handbook of Nature Study.Com site to print out a few lessons that we had done in previous years to the plants that I thought might spark interest. Google Drive helped me with all of this, making a spreadsheet that I printed out and had linked to my phone to have a quick answer.
If you’ve been following along for long – it’s not really the answers I am looking for, but rather the questions. Handbook of Nature Study, the book, is an invaluable resource of observational questions. I looked through the sections while making my spreadsheet to remember a few triggering conversation starters.
- Red Alder
- Skunk Cabbage
- Oyster Mushrooms
- Red Huckleberry
- Miner’s Lettuce
- Wood Sorrel
- Yellow Wood Violet
- Shelf Bracket
- Salmon Berry
- Queen Anne’s Lace
We had fun the first day with open observation. I found a project on Pinterest to use Duct Tape for bracelets. Creating a loop with the sticky side out makes it fun to collect little leaves and flowers. Students were challenged to find many different shapes. The final minutes of our walk, I collected as many shapes as I could find and kept them loose in my pocket. When we were back in the building, after snack, the kids matched the leaves to the shapes, transferred them to paper with ink stamps, and looked at them with a microscope. It wasn’t long before the boys found all sorts of burrowing animals and eggs in the leaves.
During the planning week, I looked up several Pastel Projects on Hodgepodge Mom’s Pinterest Page. We only had time to do the Creek Pastel – which was intended to be a Forest Path, but the kids modified it. All of the drawings below were done by 7-9 yr olds with very little instruction. Always a super fun project. She also has Minion Photos, Shark Photos, all kinds of fun.
We studied the rocks and the three different rock types. That’s when class started for me. This cutie lil gal was eager to inform me that there are 4 different kinds, and I had forgotten/didn’t know about Drawing Rocks. We spent a fun part of that day, and many after, looking for different colors of drawing rocks.
Joyful. I could fill an album if I had taken a photo of every drawing. . . .
Seriously. Following these explorers around was a blast. Their conversations, creativity, free play, zany stories, and adventure filled spirits really speaks well to the school, the Neskowin Valley School, a Place Based Education. We use quite a few of the same educational materials, and they share the open, hands on, creative learning project based objectives.
Speaking of projects. I saw a little bag on Pinterest that I thought would be fun to make with the kids. However, we only had about 15 –20 minutes of table time per day. Not a lot of time for sewing blanket stitches or such. Then a friend explained the hobo sack style, just stitching up a circle. Back to Pinterest I found this project. One Circle, Holes punched 1 inch apart. We used yarn and a plastic needle. All of the kids were able to make a different colored pouch. (I cut and punched the felt before class.)
We talked about treasures – finding and collecting for a Nature Table. This pouch was great to give perspective of what to collect to bring home. Something that could fit inside the pouch. Pinecones, Rocks, Sticks, Leaves, and Seeds were brought back. (Note the knot in the yarn, this makes it easier so that the ‘bowl’ doesn’t open flat and contents will not spill out. Pull it tight to close.
Each morning we gathered in their super cool retro playground. Notice the amount of open space. Most play areas are now a small square of steel and plastic. There is a large field, the size of the area you can see in this photo extending the area out. We played some super fun getting to know you games. The Day Camp was open to new kids, while the School Children were still there in session. I needed to get to know them all. If you are looking to do a co-op, we played quite a few follow the directions games as well. Fun ways to instill safety and group participation.
One favorite activity was Predator / Animal. We talked all week long about being quiet and observing before splashing to see what was in the area. We stayed still for 30 seconds to observe our surroundings with our ears. We quickened our eyes to seek out hiding places and notice how well the birds and animals blended in. On the south side of the river was an old growth forest. We played the hide and seek game, trying to blend in. Each round we played, the hiders made it seriously difficult for the finders.
Thursday was our Boat Making Day. I wasn’t too sure how the younger kids would do with the Origami boats. The idea was taken from a Curious George book, and instructions were found online. We made them in two different types of papers and tinfoil. My friend (the school Director and my helper for the day) made a chart for the predictions of how long the boats would float. When we returned, we filled in the actual timed observations and created an average. Super Fun. Remembering that 6 of the kids are in their academic school year – super easy to pull math into a Creek Exploration week!
I found the two flowers below on my camera roll. I do not have a name for it, and have not had time to look it up. Any ideas?
The Bracket Fungi were abundant on the creek trails and in the forest.
All week long we looked for Crawdads/Crayfish. We found several tiny critters, 1-2 inches long and flat, but no real crawdads. On the last day – after ‘The Longest Hike’, a few minutes before the day was done, I spotted a large one! I was carrying a boot so I let it swim up into the boot, then the students made a tiny pool out of rocks and we let poured the crawfish into the pool to observe. He was a fiesty lil guy. Pinch Crazy! It was an exciting way to finish a 2 hour hike, and the last day of camp.
I think I gathered enough information to last several weeks at the River. We touched on the plants, birds, fish, and rocks that were pointed out by the students. Often one on one, not as a whole group. There were many salmon fries in the stream, which lead to a lot of salmon vs trout. Oh to have a vin diagram poster in my pocket to sort out differences and similarities. Sigh.
If you are looking to host a nature hour with your family, co-op, or school – it can be quite simple, and should always be – Natural, Observational, and Relaxed. Charlotte Mason gives me the inspiration along with the Handbook of Nature Book. Kids must be interested, not coerced. The more time spent observing, the more their questions will multiply. Focused Intentional Learning should only be about 15 minutes of an hour of study and observation. Study should come from specimens that they can observe up close, preferably a 4-8 inch sample. Field Guides should be brought in for the older ages to learn the Latin, and more of the specifics to the species. There are countless notebook pages on the sites I linked above to help you get started, or like my youngest son prefers, keep a blank page journal handy with colored pencils to create your own drawings and write down your observations. Each week on the Outdoor Hour Challenge (Handbook Of Nature.Com) you are presented with one object to find and explore with a guided nature activity. We’ve been doing these since about 2009, and they created our crafted intentional nature time frame of mind.
I hope this inspires you to go out and spend some time on a creek this fall!!