Autumn delights

The most obvious component of Autumn is the changing of the leaves. Some kids already had some vocabulary for why this happens and shared it with their classmates during circle time. I love hearing them learn from one another. We teachers filled in the rest explaining the process of photosynthesis and the purpose of chlorophyll. We then acted out being trees with leaves that drink the sun in the summer, but drop them off in the winter.

We talked about the difference between deciduous and evergreen trees while reading a book that depicts both types of trees. A few of the kids know about the Larch trees in this area which provided an opportunity to talk about their unique seasonal process. Again, awesome to hear them explaining these things to each other.

The main focus of this exploration was finding evidence of Autumn outside. After discussing things we might look for outside, we ventured out and were not disappointed by the vast array of colorful leaves on the trails. Students collected them, piled them, jumped and rolled in them.

While out searching for colorful leaves, we discovered an abundance of mushrooms popping up from the forest floor. This inspired a lengthy exploration of fascinating fungi. The students were excellent foragers and found a basket full of mushrooms our first morning out.

We prepared field journals for them and each child had the opportunity to document their findings. Students drew pictures, traced mushrooms, and wrote about what they found. They practiced writing descriptions of mushrooms in their field journals by asking for letters to trace or how to spell the words. We worked on these for a whole week by choosing various trails to forage on and then documenting our findings. 

To support outdoor mushroom exploration, Teacher Candice brought in a variety of mushrooms to taste test in the classroom. Students were invited to taste five different types of mushroom over the course of a few days and record whether or not they liked the taste. We also smelled the mushrooms and compared their physical appearances.

Pumpkin Season

Our long awaited pumpkins finally grew! I think it’s safe to say they were the jewel of our garden. When we planted seeds back in the Spring, almost every child insisted on planting pumpkin seeds. Not all those seedlings made it, but we had more than enough to give us a good little harvest. If you visited the garden this Summer you saw all manner of squash and pumpkin vines taking over the majority of ground space. It was beautiful chaos. Over the last month especially, the kids have been peering through the leaves to find the pumpkins as they emerged from their blossoms.

Thanks to all who helped at the work party, our garden was cleared away for the winter and the pumpkins finally picked. in the pictures below you’ll see all the creative ways our kids played with and explored the variety of pumpkins (and a few rogue squash) in the open garden space.

Abundance in the Orchard

As Summer transitioned into Autumn we discovered the small orchard was full of pears and plums. What a treat! Andrew, Tierra property staff, tipped us off when he shared a bagful of fruit with us one day. He suggested we check out the orchard for ourselves and we are glad we did. While the fruit was ripe, we made a few trips to snack and harvest during September.

The orchard is located along the road near Tierra Village. From school, we hike the Coyote house trail and then continue to the road down their driveway. The small grove of fruit trees are situated in full sun on the edge of the hay field. It’s a delightful place to spend the morning. Each time we went we snacked on delicious pears and juicy gold and purple plums. Apologies for any plums that came home squished inside a backpack! The kids were so excited to share them with you.

Pedagogy of Play

This Summer I had the opportunity to participate in an online professional development conference called the Pedagogy of Play hosted by Sally Haughey, founder of Fairy Dust Teaching. It was over 15 hours of training from 14 different play experts across the globe. I’m excited to share with you some of what I learned.

Deep Play 

The play workers movement in the U.K. defines play as “a set of behaviors that are freely chosen, personally directed, and intrinsically motivated.” In play, children are in control of the content and intent of their play (Haughey). Put another way, “play is defined as any activity characterized by freedom from all but personally imposed rules (which are changed at will), by free-wheeling fantasy involvement, and by the absence of any goals outside the activity itself (Bruno Bettelheim).” 

These definitions rang true for me and what we do at Mountain Sprouts. It can be challenging to embrace true play based education in light of looming academic pressures, but I was reminded that children at this age really do learn best through play. When we allow kids to explore, experiment, and create on their own terms, they learn so much more than we could ever teach them. Our job is to support their learning by providing an appropriate environment and supplies, to create safe spaces for them to take risks, and to reflect back the investigations they’re working on. This leads me to my next point… 

Stop Interrupting!

When we bombard children with questions or assumptions about what they are doing, we interrupt and draw them out of their deep play. Who knows what learning or inquiry we interrupted or cut off too soon? It’s easy to think that we should be interacting with, or more accurately entertaining, kids all day, but it does them a disservice. Check out this article by Teacher Tom (a Seattleite!) to see the benefit of leaving kids alone. 

Conflict in the Classroom

As adults, a lot of us feel uncomfortable with conflict, but learning to handle it is an important skill that kids need to learn early. Our classrooms are a safe space for kids to express emotions, explain feelings and decisions, and find solutions together. Children experiment and play socially just like they do with physical materials. When a child repeatedly builds with blocks and then knocks them down, it’s part of their learning about blocks: building, cause and effect, patterns. gravity, etc... In social play, children learn how to interact with each other; they’re learning the cause and effect of words, emotions, and actions. When a child tells another child, “you’re not invited to my birthday party!” they’re testing to see what will happen just like they want to see what happens when they push a block tower over.

When dealing with conflict in the classroom, adult involvement should be minimal. A teacher should absolutely step in if a child is going to be hurt physically or emotionally, but we have to be careful not to insert too much adult authority. When adults bring their power into a situation, it can send behaviors underground and kids will wait until we’re not paying attention to act up again (Michael Leeman, presenter). Instead, we teach children who feel victimized to express themselves. This empowers them while building compassion and empathy in the offenders. We teach kids to advocate for themselves by encouraging them to say things like, “that’s not okay with me,” “I don’t want to play with you when _____,” and “ stop. I don’t like that.” Empowering children to use phrases like these also brings in real world consequences for their classmates. Children are impacted more by hearing a friend tell them to stop than by being told what to do by a teacher because of the possibility that classmates may not want to play with them if they continue their behavior. When we give children social tools and refrain from stepping in (that is, being more comfortable with appropriate conflict in our classrooms), we support their social health.They’ll have faith in their ability to handle conflict because they’ll have practiced responsibility for their own life and experience. 

Ditch the Plastic

Kids learn and experience more when they have access to a variety of loose materials, especially natural materials, rather than plastic toys. Even shaped differently, plastic often looks, feels, and smells the same. Plastic toys are often over stimulating with excessive use of sound and lights. We live in a synthetic world where many things are made from or covered in plastic. These types of toys usually have one purpose or goal so children don’t have to be creative in how they’re going to play with it. Children need authentic, natural, and varied experiences (Curiosity Approach). Open ended materials encourage creativity, imagination, and thinking outside the box. Many of the trainings in this conference shared creative ideas for using found objects, natural materials, and recycled props. Here are two that I recommend checking out:

Garden Discoveries

There are more than just vegetables growing in our garden. The kids regularly spot lizards, but rarely do they get to hold them. This little baby was quite unafraid of us and had no qualms about being picked up and held. In the spirit of stewardship we put it back when we were done investigating. What a cool discovery!

We also got to finally pick some veggies that have been taking a little longer to mature. You can see below that one of our kiddos is holding a bag full of squash, corn, green beans, and one green pepper. For snack the next day we chopped it up into a yummy “cowboy caviar.”

Marigolds in Full Bloom

Not only are our vegetables ripe for harvest in the garden, but the flowers are too! We have an abundance of marigolds this year that have not gone unnoticed. Over the course of a few days, kids gathered flowers and cooperatively sprinkled the petals around the bench in our garden. The more they sprinkled, the more vibrant the color became and others were enticed to join in. Before we knew it we had a lovely orange, magical carpet. What began as a sensory exploration in the garden turned into a imaginative play space where kids wished on magic stones and attended weddings.

I loved seeing the skills that went into creating this magical space. First, the girls who began it all had to learn how to pick the marigolds without pulling the whole plant out of the ground. When a few of them figured it out, they helped direct each other and coached their friends in using proper picking technique. They had to work together once or twice to replant a plant before moving on. They cooperatively carried flowers across the garden, puling out and tossing petals on the decided upon pathway. When other classmates became interested, the original players created space for them to join in and showed them what they were doing. There was room for new ideas too, like putting petals on the bench and not just on the ground. Almost of their senses were involved from feeling and handling the flowers to smelling them and feasting their eyes on the beauty they created. It was a spontaneous and intricate play event that left everyone a little bit happier. I wonder if the petals will still be there this week!