Environmental Stewardship

While reading about and discussing animal migration, we discovered that some species are forced to migrate due to changing environmental factors. Walruses must move their families as temperatures rise around the globe causing their needed ice flows to melt.  The children were deeply concerned about this.  One child explained that this occurs due to global warming.  He shared that people all over the world are using gas and making smoke that goes up into the air and makes the temperatures go up.  Another child mentioned that sometimes there is trash in the water, as well.

This conversation inspired the children to invent some very creative machines to help clean-up the Earth.

Little Ornithologists

It is certainly Spring.  We’ve been keeping an eye on our feathered visitors for a few weeks now.  The mother Canadian goose made her annual nest on the island situated within our pond.  This Monday, we discovered that she had left her nest.  We had to search around for a bit, but we finally found her!


Upon returning from our Spring Break, we noticed two new inhabitants near our pond.


We have been watching them from afar and are beginning to formulate questions about our new feathered friends.  The goose above can be found sitting on the pond’s island, visible from the both the pond and fireplace decks.  The other goose can frequently be found hanging out on our sled riding hill.  We can easily observe the former from our Nature Playground.

This morning, we asked the children where they thought the geese might have been before arriving at our school


We had answers ranging from “Up north” to “Hawaii”.  The children noticed that some of the ideas held connections.  Many places were warmer than Pennsylvania and a few listed the same state.  One of the students added that geese like to go where it is warm in the winter and referred to it as “hibernation.”  This set other children on their toes, with their hands waving madly in the air.  It took us a few tries, but eventually we figured out that it is actually called “migration” and that hibernation is something different.

Our new questions are:

Who hibernates? Who migrates?

We’ve asked the children to help us figure out where to find the information.

Awesome Falls

The Drive for Big Body Play

2015-12-09 (48)You never know what kind of learning opportunities will pop-up when we are outside.

As I watched a few of the children in our “circuit” (a square-ish path of logs to walk on), I became curious when I realized they were throwing themselves over the logs. Each child landed safely on the other side, though sometimes face first. The wood chips surrounding the low height provided ample cushioning for their exploits.

At first, I considered stopping the game. Might they land on someone else? Would they throw themselves with such force that they injured themselves? Yet, as I quietly observed, I saw them make allowances for space between each other. I noticed that they actually used a lot of self-control when they launched themselves into their Awesome Fall. Each child was working on controlling all of the muscles in their bodies to allow for an “unpainful” landing. Most were noticing where their own arms and legs were in relation to the others. Even when a small “puppy pile” ensued, it was 2015-12-09 (56)generally gently achieved.

Obviously, these children are in need of big body play. They are not allowed to wrestle at school and they’ve been having a terrible time figuring out how to play tag and football safely. The need to throw their bodies against a force and catch themselves as they fall is very strong in this group.

You might ask, “Why would any child need this kind of game?” They need it for learning, of course.  These children are learning to control their muscle movements.  They are exploring the force that needs to be applied to effect a desired outcome.  Coordination is required to get your whole body over the log.  Empathy must be practiced when landing in close proximity of a friend.  Just telling children to “be gentle” doesn’t always work.  They need experiences where they can practice “gentle” and “rough” so they can comprehend the difference.  Finding safe ways for them to practice these skills is exhilarating.

“OK, Marie, I get it. Their muscles are developing memory for the physical actions,  their social skills are being flexed, but what about intellectual learning?”
I’m glad you asked.

2015-12-09 (55)Even though it appears to be haphazard, Awesome Falls has begun to develop rules and strategies. In the early stages of development, this game included two people.  They tried a few different vantage points for their falls.  Together, they weighed the hazards of each site.  This involved lots and lots of language.  It also required problem solving. Ideas had to be compared and contrasted, weighed against outcomes, agreed upon and tested.

After a while, many more children joined the game.  The teamwork involved to keep this game safely working was immense.  With more bodies, they discovered that directionality and timing were important.  The group agreed upon starting cues and worked on what you should do with your body once you are on the ground.  They began sharing strategies for the best fall.  Special types of falls received names, creating new labels for abstract concepts. In fact, each day we see new developments in Awesome Falls.

I wonder what they will come up with tomorrow?

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More on Big Body Play:

What is Big Body Play? – Frances Carlson

Good, ol’ fashioned fun!

021215_8227 Looking for something to do indoors with your Pre-K darling? How about an old fashioned game of Go Fish.  We’ve been playing this game a lot lately. Practice some laughs, sportsmanship, number recognition, self-regulation, logical thinking and quality time all in one swoop!021215_8221

A Walk In the Woods

Today’s post is written by our first guest blogger, Jenny McClarren.


Parents, family, friends, and neighbors of WT met for the annual “Walk in the Woods”. This tour offered participants a chance to enjoy family time, bond with friends, and experience the beauty of nature offered throughout the Northbound Trail.

The journey began at the front of the Northbound Trail, led by tour guide Mr. Cooper. He opened the excursion by explaining the birth and on-going expansion of the Northbound Trail. The trail was created and designed from the visions of students. Students continue to voluntarily work diligently on continuous expansions and improvements.  
The amount of trail that gets done is all based on student interest and the time they want to commit to it. The students have been so passionate about this project that we always end up doing more than planned,” Cooper explained.
Fifth grade students have the opportunity to create a legacy project, which will stay on campus forever. Many of the legacies left can be found along the Northbound Trail. Two years ago, students designed an entrance sign, which marks the beginning of the trail.
After learning the history of the trail, Mr. Cooper explained that earlier in the day, three different colored skeletons went missing. He encouraged children to find and collect hidden bones along the trail. The children were challenged to find all the missing bones and put three skeletons backtogether after the hike.
The families were led to the first stop of the evening – Pioneer Village. Upon arrival, everyone was encouraged to gather around the campfire for the story of the “Deck Monster”. The Deck Monster lives under the deck by the pond, and is infamous for capturing physical education equipment – specifically the soccer balls and tennis balls. All participants were comforted as Mr. Cooper explained that the monster has no interest in capturing children or teachers.
Also in Pioneer Village, Mr. Cooper shared an occurrence of cross-curricular learning the third graders were able to experience. While reading Little House on the Prairie in Language Arts, and learning about the history of the pioneers in Social Studies, students took an interest in “notching” – making notches in logs so they fit firmly together. This interest sparked the first project to be completed in Pioneer Village – a log cabin built from the ground up. Students were able to exercise their interests throughout the construction. Some enjoyed notching, while others enjoyed clearing and leveling the building site, or pounding the ground into a firm dirt floor. Throughout building the log cabin, students gained an appreciation for the pioneers and the characters in Little House on the Prairie.
Participants of the hike were then led to different educational “way-points” or learning stations along the trail. The first stop was a giant spider web. This station is used as a team-building exercise in physical education. Children are challenged to make their way through the giant spider web. The catch is – each hole can only be used one time and then it becomes closed off. The children must work together to create an effective plan to get everyone through the web. Using spotting and climbing skills, children help each other through the highest parts of the web first.
Next to the giant spider web is Mr. Cooper’s self-built off-trail challenge course. The course is a compilation of ropes anchored to the trees. Children use this station as an obstacle course. Different activities in this course offer children a chance to use problem solving skills and teamwork.
The last stop of the journey was Yoda’s village. Mr. Cooper envisioned a space on the trail to collect left over building supplies, trash, and materials to show children that these leftovers do not just “go away”. While placing materials there, one student mentioned the space looked like “Yoda’s Village”, and thus the name was given.
The evening was brought together at the end of the trail. Mr. Cooper explained the ongoing efforts to continue construction of the Northbound Trail.
The evening offered perfect weather, and beautiful fall foliage. The walk was a great bonding experience not only with each other, but with nature as well. Thank you Mr. Cooper for the wonderful tour!

Magical Moments


One of the most exciting aspects of an outdoor classroom are the magical moments that occur spontaneously. A few days ago, a group of Pre-K students found this lovely creature creeping along in the mulch by the stage. 092314_5565

We spent some time trying to name its distinguishing characteristics.  Then, we leafed through Peterson First Guide to Caterpillars of North America and found a possible match.


092314_5562Our best guess was that it was a Luna Moth larva.  The children scooped up some surrounding vegetation and lovingly placed it in a clear creature box.  Just to make sure we had the right environment for our caterpillar, we added leaves known to be a favorite for this squishy, green larva.

The next morning the children were excited to check on their newest friend.  This is what they found:


There was some initial disappointment that our caterpillar was no longer active in its temporary habitat.  However, once we discussed the monumental metamorphosis going inside this bland little leaf ball, the children forgave the wee bug.

We have decided that the cocoon must be returned to its natural habitat as soon as possible.  We read that the Luna Moth pupa must stay in its cocoon all winter long.  We are pretty sure our classroom will not reach the required winter temperatures.  Although we are sad that we will not get to see the beautiful moth emerge in the spring, we  are pleased to have witnessed this small bit of magic along the way.