The forest is a special place which has become deeply rooted in the identity of the Early Years Centre learning community. Each class spends weekly time dedicated to exploring the outdoor environment where children are able to learn with and through nature.
The focus of the school wide Arts Fest this year, “Collabor-Art” was an opportunity to work together across the Early Years Centre with children, teachers, as well as the grade eleven students who supported us with the documentation of these experiences.
Our aim was to explore the sharing of thinking that the children have around the time that they spend in the forest. We took time to listen and to identify their emotions, as well as observe their explorations while engaged in outdoor experiences. There was much dialogue during forest encounters as well as connections made through reflections back at the classroom.
Some children reflected on how they might feel in the forest while others considered the types of sounds they might experience.
Masha: “I heard birds, maybe little birds”
Jake: “Peeping and clacking”.
Naomika: “Sounds like different kinds of birds. Yeah, I hear, one goes, cheep, cheep, one goes cheap tweet tweet. Like a blackbird, a crow, a woodpecker”.
Eleonore: “We could make a nest for the birds. They’re chirping”.
Izumi: “I feel happy (in the forest) because it’s dark and we can play there”.
The auditory component of the forest environment emerged as an important theme for many of the children. Some groups visited the forest in different types of weather to observe and experience how rain, wind and other natural forces might effect the way the forest sounds. The grade eleven students recorded and videoed these observations.
Children also reflected on how they like to spend time in the forest.
Alex: “Building dinosaur dens with my friends and also balancing on the big log and jumping from the log. I also liked when we built a bridge on the stream”.
Adeline: “I like building little tents so we can have our snacks inside it. It’s so fun to carry the big heavy sticks to build the big tent”.
Oliver: “I like building a tent and also a bridge on the stream. I like to make a rainbow with sticks in the forest”.
The children’s comments expressed their clear ideas about how they like to make choices about spending time in the forest. They demonstrated strong understandings of opportunities in the forest setting as well as a sense of personal agency.
The multi-sensory and beautiful woodland setting inspires a sense of wonder and creativity. During our visits leading up to the arts days, we listened for the rich dialogue, meaning making and theory building of the children.
Charles: “My boots can stick on the surface (of the wet, squelchy mud)”.
Wille: “There is a baby goat near my home. I’ll feed him with these flowers (indicating the dandelions and buttercups he has picked)”.
Lily: “These flowers are for my clay forest. The purple are the most beautiful ones because they love the sun. They love everything. Can we bring clay to the forest? I want to make my clay forest now. Look how many flowers I have! It’s going to be a true forest”.
As a teaching team, we spent time considering our observations and discussing how we could re-propose what we had seen in the forest back to the children upon their return to school. We had noticed previously how the children enjoyed bringing items back from the forest and placing them in the courtyard. Taking this interest in mind, wooden boxes were provided, and we invited the children to leave their forest treasures with the growing collection of natural materials following each forest visit. Soon we had abundant pinecones, grasses, rocks and sticks of all shapes and sizes.
The re-proposing of the interests that the children had demonstrated in the forest provided an opportunity for the creation of art installations reflecting our connection with the forest. The Early Years Centre classes collaborated with some Grade 11 students, who documented the process with technology, including stop motion video of two installations, a slide show of a photo compilation and a film.
Key Points of Interest
In the forest, we observed that some key points of interest emerged. The children engaged in wrapping, threading, creating designs/structures and noticing details in different ways. The invitations to revisit these themes in a different context back at school provided the children with opportunities to build on their ideas and create deeper shared understandings. There was a sense of synergy as the group collectively worked toward larger creative goals connected to our group identity.
Celebrating our Work and Identity with Families
After the Creating Days, the children were highly motivated to share about their experiences. We invited families to a special evening of forest inspired installations as well as a walking visit to our forest space. The classes prepared delicious snacks including guacamole, homemade bread, fruit kebabs and more. We noticed a pride and commitment to describing the project and the ways the art and forest were present throughout the Early Years Centre. The children eagerly showed their families around our shared spaces and it was a beautiful evening of shared connection built around the children’s work and our identity as a community.
Text by Andrea Mills
Photos by Rebecca Smith, The Early Years Centre team and ICS Grade 11 students
Videos by ICS Grade 11 students