Our staff team often remarks that, in terms of curriculum, our work at TNNS could not possibly be more emergent. Every day something presents itself as a topic for further inquiry: a change in the land or weather, a library book, a child returning from holidays, celebrations, dead animals, visiting teachers, a perfect stick, or an unexpected sighting of a Great Blue Heron…. the moments of noticing and learning are literally endless in every childcare setting, but especially so in an outdoor program. It can be difficult to know, as an Educator, where to focus one’s attention when there are so many possibilities. In reflecting upon the past weeks, I am aware that I have been assisted in negotiating this complexity by our practice of having ‘small groups’ and by the presence of Caitlan, our practicum student.
At TNNS we are committed to supporting the profession of Early Childhood Education by hosting ECE students from local public colleges. Extra helping hands are always welcome, but I particularly value working with adult students because I am forced to articulate my teaching practices: why I choose to present materials in a certain way; why I pay attention to some behaviours while ignoring others; why I insist upon reaching a site, or abandon a plan altogether. Reflecting upon and sharing my ideas with a student or colleagues stretches me to embrace new ways and new beliefs about teaching. It has been so rewarding working with Caitlan, since she is currently working at Fresh Air Learning in North Vancouver while pursuing her part-time studies. This has led to rich thinking together about how a particular place informs a particular way of working, as well as a sharing of practical ideas and knowledge.
The Eagles class has been working in small groups for the past month. “Small groups” means that each of us – Heidi, Emily and myself – work with the same 6-8 children for 1-2hrs, typically on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays. This allows for deeper relationships, more focussed attention, and a tailoring of our activities to particular interests and abilities. We are looking forward to beginning small group work with the Owls class soon. We have noticed that it takes a little longer for staff to become familiar with the Owls, and for the Owls to feel comfortable with staff, school routines and the land, simply because of the difference in hours spent together.
Finding our way – across the land, through the curriculum, over time, and as a teacher and as a student, is what I notice as I reflect upon this weeks photographs.
Having a pyjama party in the Eagles class came about after reading a Robert Munsch story the day before. Children were both excited to see one another wearing different clothing, and also calm and snuggly with one another and their stuffed animals. I was struck by how such soft surroundings supported softened interactions with one another.
Creating opportunities for fine motor development can be tricky when the weather outside becomes too cold for outdoor art without mittens. We are grateful, in these winter months, for the cozy Cottage, where we can offer sensorial work that develops strong finger and hand muscles, so important for future pencil grip and writing development.
A birthday celebration at TNNS includes a crown of ivy with a special treasure chosen by the birthday child. Together we sing and sign: “We celebrate your birth; and your place on the Earth. May the Sun, Moon, and Stars, bring you peace where you are.” Sharing tender moments together is at the heart of our practice as we nurture empathy in all our relationships with each other, the land, and all living beings.
Working with my small group, we have been exploring the land directly around the Cottage. Often we start with collecting our snacks and loading our wagon, followed by a stop at the fence for climbing, then a visit to either the ancient Horse Chestnut tree for some collecting, or to the tree with the STOP sign, which makes a very satisfying noise when banged with sticks! We stop at the old Cannery store, the white building northeast of the Cottage, always peer inside, and then negotiate the slippery deck and ramp overgrown with blackberry vines. It has taken much practice, but now these little people with heavily bundled little legs and bodies can confidently find their way over persistent prickle branches and through tall grass. Sometimes our walks start at our usual end points: I think it is important for all of us to literally, and metaphorically, find our way starting with both familiar and new perspectives.
One day, during our small group time, Dion found an onion flower on the ground near the stump circle. He knew what it was and attempted to find the place that it originally came from in the garden. He led our small group right past the garden to walk our usual route alongside the parking lot. When he arrived at the bridge and south side of the plastic covered field, Quinn pointed to the garden. Immediately Dion found his bearings, and we headed back north, this time on the field, to find the onion plants in the garden! We brought the seed heads inside for further exploration.
Climbing these rocks as a large group does not feel safe to me – too many people, needs and conversations call for my attention at once. But with a small group, extra adults, and when the rocks are dry, we all stretch out of our comfort zones to negotiate this challenging terrain. We take plenty of unhurried time to just sit and be with one another in this place, satisfied with our accomplishments for the day.
Thank you for reading!