This fall, Friday afternoons arrived with a great sense of anticipation - both for Forest Play leaders and for the children. Many of the children in our Friday afternoon programs for 6-10 yr olds have been with us for many years and we love it when they arrive bursting with questions and a list of things they want to do: "Can we carve?, I want to finish my sword. Can we play camouflage? Can we go to the canyon today? Can we play Hunger Games or Busted today? Will there be time to go to the creek?" The passion and the exuberance they show when engaged in the activities is a sign that these children are exhibiting one of the attributes of connection that we aim to foster at Forest Play: Full Aliveness. As described by Jon Young:
"People with this attribute live fully in the moment. They put everything they have into what they are doing without 'pulling any punches' If you’re going to sing, then REALLY sing. If you are dancing, then REALLY dance!”
The children in our Friday afternoon programs love challenges and projects - whether it is building shelters, honing their skills to blend in with the forest, making beautiful art with yarn, rocks and elements from the natural world or learning new skills like carving. While engaged in their passions, we notice where their edges of knowledge, skill and awareness are and when we meet them next, we work to help them move beyond those edges so they can deepen their sense of aliveness.
"When children are out in nature, all the senses get activated. They are immersed in something bigger than themselves, rather than focusing narrowly on one thing, such as a computer screen. They are seeing, hearing, touching, even tasting. Out in nature, children's' brains have the chance to rejuvenate, so the next time they have to focus and pay attention, perhaps in school, they'll do better. "(Richard Louv)
Fall 2020 gifted us with one of the warmest autumns we have experienced since we started Forest Play in 2011. The warm weather, yellow leaves and golden grasses provided a beautiful and comfortable backdrop to introduce your children to Forest Play, to start building connection to nature, self and others and to establish our daily rhythm. The process of building connection is fun, rewarding and grounded in foundational routines that research and practice tells us helps children to be happy, healthy and resilient.
We started our season with a focus on “Owl Eyes.” Owls have a highly developed sense of sight and by using our owl eyes, we can see many things at once - what is in front of us, what is in the sky, on the ground close to us and to our sides - all without moving our heads or eyeballs! Our days began near the parking lot at Quarry Lake, children ran to hide in the willows or in the trees in the nearby forest. As other friends arrived, we were challenged to find those who were hidden and we saw first hand how owl eyes helps us detect movement and find the hiders more easily. Games such as camouflage, Eagle Eye, Lynx and Hare were all enjoyed by the children. Each game involved on a combination of hiding, seeking and improved our sense of sight.
Following a couple of weeks that focused on sight, we moved to expanding our sense of hearing with “Deer Ears.” Deer tracks are a common sight in the soft mud, and it is not rare for us to see a deer moving quietly through the forests and meadows while we play so the children are familiar with the prominent ears of the Mule Deer. We cupped our hands around our ears to mimic the deer and noticed it magnified the sounds around us. Putting our "Deer Ears" into practice, we attempted to sneak up on each other while blinded by our touques and found we could indeed “see with our ears.” Hide and Hear was a fun adventure that involved going off into the woods with a group armed with some sticks to make woodpecker noises while the other group came to find us by following the sound. As always, each game was transformed by the individual interests and creativity of the children and we had many variations that involved voices, rocks, flutes, running through the woods and following sounds that kept moving around the forest!
More recently, we’ve moved to our sense of smell and heard stories of how smell dominant animals such as bears, wolves and even skunks can help us see the forest in a new way. “Smell cups” were developed by the children by crushing different things they found in nature (sage, grass, spruce needles, mud, rocks) and then sharing the resulting smells with friends and Forest Play leaders. We also explored tracking a scent through the forest that was left behind by some very strong smelling children and adults who had a distinct onion-y smell to them!
Now that the first snow has fallen, we’re seeing, hearing and smelling new adventures. The smell of wood smoke from our stove will probably comes home with each of us and will hopefully carry with it memories of our warm shelter and adventures building snowmen, snow trains, slides and other creations.
It is said that stories live on the wind and those who are aware and whose senses are alert, can catch the story that needs to be told in that moment.