By: Heidi Widmer (with contributions from Heather Stark and Dave Verhulst
Winter solstice is fast approaching. At Forest Play, the return of light is timed with a transition of our storytelling characters in our 4-6 yr old program. Leif and Autumn, who the children have come to known as the “fall elves”, retire from their duties in the forest for the season and invite the winter elves, Snowflake and Icicle, to take care of the forest and its inhabitants for the winter season.
Caring for the plants and animals is a gift that the elves share with the forest. In our stories, that gift is reciprocated as trees, plants and the animals that live in the forest provide the elves the gifts they need for their well-being and safety: food, shelter, water, friendship, belonging and purpose.
Gift giving and sharing are important daily practices at Forest Play. After each session of Forest Play, we share a cup of tea steeped in wild edibles harvested earlier that day - rose hips, spruce needles, juniper berries and Labrador tea have been favourites this fall. We also take time at the end of the day to share what moments or gift we received that day in our “Story of the Day” routine. As we head into the season most readily associated with giving gifts and sharing, we would like to share the physical, emotional and social gifts nature presents us at Forest Play.
When the children in Forest Play explore their physical surroundings in the colder months, they receive gifts in many shapes, sizes and experiences. The natural world gives the children the gift of fallen logs to maneuver over, ice to slide on, snow drifts to wade through, hills to slide down, wild edibles to harvest, fresh air to breathe and wildlife to observe and imitate. The adventures of the fall forest elves, Leif and Autumn, exploring their physical surroundings by sliding down slopes like the river otters or sprinting away like a snowshoe hare frequently weave their way into the children’s play. There is no better place for children to build physical literacy and stamina than by running and sliding through the forest imitating the animals who live there!
Nature also presents us and the children with the gift of space to process feelings and develop emotional and social well-being. The children are able to interact with one another outdoors through rough play, imaginative play and risky play to process and express their feelings of fear, love, patience, frustration or happiness. Developing the skill of processing and understanding emotions takes time and often a little coaching from trained mentors. We have seen tremendous growth in the ability of children to process their feelings in productive and positive ways this season!
During play, children develop their emotional intelligence and well-being as they navigate their feelings and witness the emotions of their peers. Sometimes, frustration occurs while climbing up the hill at the end of the day when they are tired and hungry. It may be hard on the first day, but after they do it, they realize it is possible and the next time it is a little easier because they become stronger emotionally and physically. The search for “the perfect stick” takes patience and if it is lost or misplaced, they learn problem solving techniques and also how to help each other when in need. The joy the children express when they find “the perfect snow slide” echoes throughout the forest…sometimes for over an hour!
When the children engage in imaginative play, it often involves modelling after a mother/father and baby animal scenario. In role play, the children are able to experiment and strengthen their self-awareness and social well-being as they act out feelings associated with caregiving, responsibility, being lost or injured, reliance, independence and acceptance. As children help one another up a slippery slope or put their backpacks on, they are practicing interpersonal communication skills and further strengthening their connection to one another and social well-being.
As we prepare for the winter elves, Icicle and Snowflake, to appear on winter solstice, we want to wish you a happy holiday season filled with opportunities to explore the abundant gifts of nature.
Happy New Year!
Heidi, Dave & Heather.
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Stories from the Forest
Alpenglow School's Kindergarten afternoon programming works in partnership with Nature's Tracks Forest Play. Nature experiences should be fun, magical and facilitated in a way so that children feel safe and supported as they explore the edges of their world. The program is built around cycles in nature and the life stages children naturally move through. When children are connected to the natural world, they are more connected to themselves, they are happier and more hopeful.