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Forest School for Wee Ones

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Last summer it occurred to me as I watched my three boys running down the trail that what would we do once fall came? Would we stay inside and while away the months? I didn’t know. I knew the two youngest were ready for preschool (the oldest, well….beepbeep the big yellow bus calls for him!). Yet, the last thing I wanted to do was make them sit inside quietly all day. It just didn’t seem to me to be what is right for them.

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The age of 2 to 6 is so fleeting. They learn so quickly, but don’t need a strict learning schedule. Let it happen, let it come to them. ABC’s can wait. In the traditional sense.

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Let it be them finding a stick and doodling in the dirt.

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Or playing in a stream, even though you really want to keep walking. You never know what they will find and then show you. You might even learn something.

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But I found a happy medium – an all outdoors preschool. Even in the often drizzly Pacific NorthWest, it can be often quite nice even in the offseason. Don’t get me wrong, you do need to be prepared for the elements, but kids love it once they get used to it. We go in the sun, the cold, the rain. The only time school closes is if we have a wind storm (since it is in the woods). I have found over the months even I have embraced the weather in a way I used to not. Put on rubber boots, rain pants, a wool sweater and a jacket and go out! Sometimes I get comments from other adults that “how can a child like THAT?” and I realize only too sharply how we put our own prejudices onto our kids. If I were to tell them enough times it sucks to be in the rain, they will believe it. (Don’t get me wrong….I still prefer sunny days. Hah!!)

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The school Walker & Alistaire attend is held at our local Arboretum. It has a meadow, forest, trails and developed gardens, and is next to the large park in our town that has a large lake and plenty of wildlife. (All the good ones too – even cougars, bears and coyotes roam this green belt quietly, that exists between the foothills and town).

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Learning? It is learning hands on. Climbing, scampering, building, questioning why everything is there.

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What I have watched and noticed over the months is how sure the boys have become. They have confidence they didn’t have before. The walk on rocks, skipping over them. They climb trees. They don’t stumble like they did before when hiking.

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A warm jacket, a hat and your backpack – not a lot more is needed besides a smile. Maybe a fresh apple? Yeah.

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We make simple toys, with the parents pitching in to create them often.

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Dirty hands? All good. That simply means it has been a good day.

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In the Arboretum there are many native Evergreen Huckleberry plants, that are quite large (one is many times bigger than me!). Walker loved in fall and late fall picking berries for our morning meal.

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Toys don’t need to be fancy or be emblazoned with a TV show logo. Wood toys inspire them to use their imagination! Even more if they help in building them.

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As for me, I have learned so much in the past 8 months. With every season I see plants and berries I had never noticed before – and ones that are edible as well. At times I have noticed I am getting an education as well, especially on my co-op day I do weekly.

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The school has one little area with cover, a gazebo. We eat our meals here and sometimes have a story as well. There is always creating going on.

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And even in the middle of winter, there is life around. Moss, lichens…..

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And small children walking through it.

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Even in our nature crafts, I am learning a love of everything around me. Even in simple corn cobs.

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Or what can one do with a wheel of wood, cut from windfall? What is easy to see as garbage a child sees so much more.

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Children don’t have to live on chicken nuggets, fries and pop. The school makes meals – and after all that running around the are ready to eat. My co-op specialty is a tasty bowl of oats. Depending on the season it might be soup, or rice as well. Before school lets out there is a snack – be it apples, carrots from the local farm or maybe hot potatoes that we cooked over coals during class. I personally loooooove potato day 😀

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In winter we spent time making treats for the animals and decorated the area for them.

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One joy was creating a worm bin with the kids.

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And field trips to places kids can love! Children don’t “need” to go to aquariums or zoos. Especially if there is a long drive involved. So the field trips are close in and where they can run around. This one in late winter we went to a nearby state park. A million rocks to throw into a river, trails to run on…..

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And maybe some marshmallows to roast with their friends. Because really, we don’t need much more than that!

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