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  • Wednesday, November 25, 2020 1:12 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    There are many ways to express gratitude, and gratitude routines are at the heart of forest and nature school programs. Try this LovingKindness Meditation (temp).pdf with children you love. It is a calming, gentle way to focus positive energy towards others. Teachers, parents, and children alike will enjoy sharing lovingkindess as part of their mindful practice, which encourages feelings of gratitude, compassion, and empathy.

  • Friday, October 16, 2020 8:11 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Kai Dickinson, Ellis Hollow Nursery School

    I have always been drawn to outdoor learning where the natural world invites children to experience serendipitous and endless child centered play. I was one of those children; catching frogs while muddying up long dresses, sticky summer days splashing in Skaneateles Lake, picking  grapes that exploded sweetness from the ripe fall sun. I was that child in the dead winter freeze who never wanted to come in for supper because I was too busy catching a feast of snowflakes on my tongue. Today the nature deficit saddens me; where are our forests, our neighborhoods, our right to play? The children have gone inside.

    As a teacher of young children I wanted to give my preschoolers the experience of immersive outdoor play, not just a half an hour at the end of each session. Every Wednesday in our five day a week, three hours a day preschool we would be outside in the elements: the sun, rain, snow and sleet. We name it “Wild Weather Wednesday.” It was a commitment and perhaps a distant longing. It was a process, my co-teacher and I waded through being in charge of sixteen little souls. How do we keep our sign in sheet dry, the kids warm, how do we pack up snacks, water and a million incidentals? Learn by doing, trial by error, good days and days built by grit, for us and the children. 

    Somehow we endured and our days outside became more meaningful than our days between four walls. Our learning was rich and our senses sharpened. Individual bodies, too small to carry giant logs alone, discovered independently they could roll them together to their delight. The children discovered how to build bridges, forts and how to make logs into seesaws. We saw life cycles, gravity and yes, cause and effect. Children and nature lead the learning while we observe their mighty minds.

    Our class was gelled by the time the sugar bush whispered through the trees, “run sap run!” The great manifestation: the running sugars sustain us. We experienced cooperation, problem solving, and the use of our bodies in ways we didn't think possible. We were enamored by nature and each other.

    A slip on the ice walking my family’s beloved fifteen year old labradoodle sent me away from bliss to surgery. Six screws and a steel plate in my left wrist and months of recovery to go. When I returned to the classroom, humbled, and broken, COVID-19 swept through our streets, cities and communities. Now under the Governor's order it was time to shut down, into silence, isolation and the unknown. Depressed, discouraged, trudging through. Pulling myself up by proverbial bootstraps, I needed to continue with these young connections, made now by a virtual world, far, far away from the woods.

    What were we going to do? Then my steadfast friend and co-teacher, stumbled upon the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. Could we afford it? Did we have the right credentials to be included? Was it the right fit for us and our program? Could we possibly turn everyday into Wild Weather Wednesday in a New York snow belt? Could the woods be our sanctuary while we waited COVID-19 out? It seemed daunting, but safer and healthier for us all. 

    I began my summer of isolation, online, enrolled in a nature education program. Counter intuitive, I know! Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools however, restored me, and helped me to remember who I once was and who I still am! ERAFANS gave me not only practical skills and a plethora of resources, it also gave me a community of like minded mentors and colleagues. Someone at ERAFANS said to us, “Once you go entirely out, you’ll never want to go back in!” I feel this now with my young students. The plan to become an outdoor school during COVID-19 may have just been the impetus to to leave our four walls behind. Being part of ERARANS gave me the validation and tools to do so.

    It is September now, and here in New York the maples are starting to drip with red,  the ganders of geese bid their farewell, and the spotted salamander blankets himself with leaves. The children run smiling and giggling bundled in polypropylene and wool, school has resumed. Already, after a couple weeks of school I am experiencing the great joy and freedom the children are experiencing. At our closing gratitude circle a young girl spoke “I’m sad we have Covid in the world but I'm grateful I get to be in the woods with other kids!” Another child spoke, “I am grateful for the trees, because now I know how much they do for us.” The curiosity and the learning is strong. To others the children may look like they are “just playing.” but I know it is so much more.

    Over the years, I have worked in all kinds of classrooms with different philosophies and teaching styles. In teacher directed environments I have found children can resort to an array of behaviors. I have witnessed disinterest, lack of focus, boredom, restlessness and even aggression. Emergent nature based curriculum on the other hand is patient, observant, communicative, collaborative and kind. It embodies seeing the world though the child's eyes and embracing their vision. 

    Children are self motivated by their own curiosity and then learning happens through playful exploration and expression. As a teacher it entails a keen mind and a creative connection to expand their interest. This kind of learning can be a moment during the day like, allowing a child to trail blaze up a hill of bramble, leading the way with confidence or other times it takes flight; a small bug, manifests into songs, plays, costumes, stories, and an entomologist gracing us with stick bugs, honey bees and praying mantises. 

    Emergent, nature-based curriculum is spontaneous, serendipitous, and resourceful. A joyful innocent learning that is gently cradled in a teachers arms. My “job” continues to cultivate the fertile soil of the minds and hearts of children. I hope to pass along the generational seeds of kindness, empathy and stewardship for each other and for our beloved Earth. I welcome this great responsibility and hope it withstands the test of time. I have found I am not alone. I have met many new friends among this path; sharing tools, sustenance and wisdom. I am hopeful that our toil and love will take root.

    Kai Dickinson is a co-teacher at Ellis Hollow Nursery School in Ithaca, NY. She currently holds a level 1 Nature-Based Teacher Certification with the Eastern Region Association of Forest and Nature Schools. 

  • Wednesday, April 08, 2020 5:27 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    It's an oxymoron if ever there was one. But in this moment of social distancing and online learning, nature-based educators are grappling with how to approach virtual learning for (gulp) preschoolers. It may be counter-intuitive, but there are a few things we can do to make this temporary transition a little smoother. After much dialogue with nature-based educators and directors across the country, we've developed a 3-part Framework for Nature-Based Distance Learning that just may help you navigate these digital waters. 


  • Thursday, March 26, 2020 10:09 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Despite the coronavirus and all its ugly repurcussions, spring is here. The Earth's generous spirit calls us to slow down and reconnect with her. With so much time in our quartined communities, the outdoors is a new kind of solace for us all. 

    Here we share two simple, fun ways to get outside and celebrate spring! The first is a mud paint recipe. Children may gather mud and play with it before, during, and after the mud paint is done! It's a wonderful for experimentation, both when making the paint and when selecting materials that you can use as paintbrushes (EX. paintbrushes, sticks, or pine needles). You'll get different results depending on the surfaces you paint on, too. 

    The second is a recipe that calls for a bowl of sunshine. Or, at least those happy, sunshiny forsythia blooms. This forsythia spring syrup is easy to make and requires lots of lolligagging outside to gather blossoms. Make sure you know what forsythia is before you forage and collect more than you need. In addition to syrup, you can also use the golden decotion as watercolor paint.

    There's no way we can wish away the challenges we are faced with at the moment, but we hope these resources offer nature connection and meaningful family time when you desperately need a breath of fresh air.

     


  • Wednesday, January 01, 2020 8:41 AM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    These resolutions offer some lofty goals to further your approach to nature-based education. The questions that follow each resolution are great for individual teacher reflection and/or discussion among school staff.

    1.       Stop talking to the kids. Yes, YOU! Resist the urge to narrate every moment of a child’s play. Children need space to get into their flow of play, and teacher narration interrupts this important work. While basic directions may be needed for transitions or for urgent safety matters, once children are engaged in unstructured outdoor play, let them play without adult interference. (Note: Trusting relationships with children are crucial. When we say ‘stop talking to the kids’, it is to underscore the importance of child-led learning, not to ignore the children we work with.)

    How much time do children spend in unstructured play without adult direction? How would you describe the quality of that play? Consider ways to offer even more unstructured outdoor play time.

    2.       Be picky about materials you use. Opt to offer far less materials, or none at all. We are often tempted to think we need lots of ‘stuff’ to enhance skill development. You’re not shirking your duty as a teacher just because you don’t offer lots of materials or activities, you are being thoughtful and selective about what children truly need for outdoor learning. Children can become more resourceful and reliant upon natural materials in the landscape (and each other) when we offer less.

    What non-essential items can you do without during outdoor play? Evaluate the materials you typically provide and adjust as needed to offer even more open-ended play opportunities.

    3.       Start talking to colleagues. Make a commitment to deepen collaboration with colleagues to discuss what learning and play looks like for the children you serve. Dialogue may be in the form of planning to build upon children’s interests, documentation of emergent learning processes, notable seasonal happenings outside, tools for authentic assessment, or individualized supports for children and families.

    What have been your favorite moments of colleague collaboration? How can you build on those moments to increase dialogue with colleagues in the new year?

    4.       Make diversity a priority. Nature-based education is disproportionately offered to families from middle- and upper- socio-economic status, and for predominately Caucasian children. We all need to work towards offering inclusive programs for children with diverse abilities, cultures, religions, and backgrounds. “They just don’t sign up” is a cop-out. It’s our job to go above and beyond to remove barriers for families so that all children can thrive in our programs.

    Who is not represented in your program? What can you do that goes beyond your current approach to include more diverse children and families?

    5.       Don’t judge parents. Every program has the mom or dad who is always ready to lend a hand. We are grateful for those amazing parents who volunteer to make our programs better! But many parents beat themselves up about not being able to do more. From the outside, they may seem like uninterested parents who are “too busy” to know what’s going on. The reality is that many families struggle to find a healthy work/home life balance. We can relieve some of parents’ stress and guilt by providing a more accepting, non-judgmental atmosphere and by finding alternative ways to help parents be involved without being present.

    What can you do differently to offer more options for working parents who have difficulty being involved?

    6.       Nurture your nature connection. Commit to weekly (or better yet daily) practices that help you become more attune with the nature that surrounds you. When you feel personally inspired and connected to the land, your potential to facilitate nature connection also grows.

    What can you do to deepen your personal nature connection in the coming year?

    7.       Tend your own fire. As teachers, we spend a great deal of time caring for others, and this is usually in addition to our roles as caretakers at home. Self-care isn’t an indulgent extra; it is an essential component to balance our physical and emotional needs with those of others.

    What are some ways you can incorporate 10 minutes of self-kindness into your daily routine?

    If you'd like support making or keeping your resolutions, reach out and let us know! We offer nature-based professional development that touches on all of these topics. Your local ERAFANS state chapter can also provide a network of support. Here's to a new year of adventures in nature-based education!

  • Friday, September 06, 2019 3:13 PM | Deleted user

    Written by: K. Airy 

    During the 80s and 90s, you’d have been hard-pressed to find a kid that wasn’t running around outside playing in the streets or at local parks. However, nowadays things are a lot different.

    The development of mobile devices and other gadgets have ensured that the average American child spends five to eight hours a day in front of a screen. Popular games like Fortnite have children spending more of their lives indoors in front of a screen, rather than exploring outside. The detrimental effects of screen time have been demonstrated in numerous research studies, but as a parent and educator, you can break the cycle and encourage healthy habits, like spending time outdoors, from an early age. Trading screen time for green time has many psychological and developmental benefits for today’s children.

    The long-term effects of screen time are eye opening. In a study being conducted by the National Institute of Health (NSI), 11,000 kids between the ages of 9 and 10 were monitored for 10 years and some of the preliminary results are intriguing. One of the most significant finds by the study director, Dr Gaya Dowling was that children who reported more than two hours a day of screen time got lower scores on thinking and language tests. As a result, excessive screen time can have a negative effect on children's academic performance. Other detrimental effects have also been linked to disrupted sleep and increased obesity. So, what are the benefits of letting children play outside?

    Whether it’s summer or winter, the benefits of going outside are both physical and mental. Monica Wiedel-Lubinksi notes how vitamin D from the sun is important for boosting the immune system and elevating mood. This becomes relevant for child development in the form of seasonal affective disorder (SAD). SAD occurs during the winter months where certain regions may see little sunshine, and can lead to depression and other mood disorders.

    Additionally, our natural instinct, known as biophilia, is a bond we share with all creatures and plants and has led researchers to believe that spending time in nature can improve mental health and promote healing. A study published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology found that at a children’s hospital in California with a healing garden had a positive effect on 85% of patients. Children reported better overall mental wellbeing after spending just five minutes in the garden.

    Studies have also demonstrated positive effects in learning and education, as well as mental health benefits,  as a result of being outdoors. A study conducted at the University of Stavanger in Norway on the effects of the outdoor learning found that students who participated in an outdoor education program reported significantly more intrinsic motivation to learn and felt more competent. Additionally, stress levels were shown to be lower among students who spent one day a week learning outdoors, compared to those who spent the entire week studying indoors. This is partly because outdoor environments offer a unique mental stimulus that captures a child’s attention. The outdoors also presents opportunities to exceed personal limits, like climbing a tree. Risky play also promotes important skills related to persistence, self-knowledge and problem-solving. 

    Maryville University indicated how increasing research in psychology and education draws correlations to improved learning and success. The message is clear: take kids out on a regular basis. Just half an hour a day is enough to catch kids' interest in learning and will have numerous other positive psychological and physiological effects.

    So how do we find ways to get kids outside in nature while not completely cutting them off from technology? The answer is at home.

    Parents can limit screen time and teach kids healthy habits early on by spending time outside as a family and keeping children’s outdoor time unstructured. Simple activities like playing in the park going out for a bike ride or having a picnic in your backyard, are enough to get children interested and curious about the outdoors. Day trips and camping vacations are a great way to have your children disconnect from technology temporarily and experience what nature has to offer.

    Children are naturally inquisitive and nature provides endless stimuli for them to ask questions and learn. Encourage children to find the answer themselves by asking engaging, open-ended questions. This way they will develop an authentic relationship with nature through their own exploration and experiences.

  • Thursday, May 16, 2019 10:49 AM | Deleted user

    Our pals at the Natural Start Alliance have published another fantastic (and FREE!) online journal. It includes an editorial from ERAFANS director Monica Wiedel-Lubinski, too. Enjoy this great free resource! Follow this link to check out the journal.

  • Friday, May 03, 2019 11:10 AM | Deleted user

    Written by: Heidi Reed, Director at One Forest

    As parents, caregivers, and educators we are in constant motion with baby-proofing, screening, and guiding our children through risks in their world. One risk that holds a lot of fear is that of a tick bite.  It istruly amazing how this small arachnid can cause such a big fear. The fear is real!  I have done extensive research on ticks, have completed my Wilderness First Aid training, and have spent much time in the outdoors.  Even still my motherly protective instinct goes into full worry mode when I see a tick crawling on a child’s skin and worse when it has already latched on.  Being in the woods and in many natural settings, ticks are inevitable.  However, there are some all-natural methods to keep your cool and stay safe.

    First, it’s about prevention.  It’s always good to try to wear long pants and long sleeves when exploring.   BUT kids love to get naked and I am not going to stop them from feeling wild and free!

    Alternatively, you can spray them with an all-natural bug spray with deterring essential oils.  I personally use California Baby’s Bug
    Repellent [10] for babies and Doterra Terrashield Outdoor Blend [11] for young children and adults.  Here [12] is some research the CDC collected on natural tick repellents.   Also, the EPA has a great search engine [13] that helps determine how long products last and
    whether they are better for ticks or mosquitos.
     
    Check for ticks after leaving a tick habitat.  Baths are good ways to secretly check for ticks during the tick seasons – March to mid May and August to November. They are looking for the warm areas on the body (behind ears, under arms, groin area, etc.).

    If you find a tick grab a pair of good tweezers, or use a tick remover, and quickly pull it out (as close to the skin as possible). Make sure that the whole body of the tick is removed - including its head.   It takes a long time for ticks to transmit disease into their host (your child).  If you remove the tick within a few hours of it attaching the chances of getting a disease are very very low.

    I like to keep the ticks we find in the season on a piece of clear
     
    tape for further inspection and study.
     
    Signs of Lyme disease are a rash around the bite location, a feeling of heavy body and limbs, and other flu-like symptoms.  If you suspect you have Lyme disease it is better to see a doctor sooner rather than later.
     
    It is important that we don’t create a fear of ticks in our children.  Being educated, aware, and respectful of these creatures is important, but I believe we can do this in a way of wonder. Finding the language that works best for you and your family can help achieve a playful wonder so we can foster the childs curiosity and respect rather than their fear. In our family we would say something like this “That silly tick found your skin.  We better
    take it off and put it someplace else.” … Or  “ Wow! That tick is really cool.  Let’s take it off your skin so we can get a better look at it.”  Then you put it on clear tape to observe the tick with a magnifying glass or microscope.
     
    There are three ticks that you can find in Virginia. 1) Blacklegged Tick, 2) Lone Star Tick, and 3) American Dog Tick. Some cool facts about ticks are that they are arachnids and not insects because they have eight legs and no antennae.  They are also an important part of their ecosystem providing food for birds, reptiles, and amphibians. Maybe you and your child can find more cool facts about ticks! 

    So get outside and leave the fear behind.


    TICK ID:

    http://www.vdh.virginia.gov/content/uploads/sites/12/2016/10/Tick_borne_Disease_Flyer.pdf

    About the Author: Heidi Reed, Founder and Head Forest School Leader of One Forest, a forest farm and woodland activity space located in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. When she is not leading programs in the woods at One Forest you will find her traveling, with her family, across the glob sharing her passion for nature. Follow her outdoor adventures on Instagram @one.forest


  • Wednesday, March 20, 2019 10:22 AM | Deleted user

    Written by: Rachel Schwartzman, Director/ Lead teacher of Forest Days

    “This is the log where I saw two worms come out.  I was a little scared to pick them up, but I did."

    On a recent day during an “indoor forest choice time,” many children chose to make maps. Maps can teach us so many things.  Through the map, we get a window into the child’s understanding of place, and how they are making meaning of their time in the forest.  

    • What do they remember?  
    • How do they arrange the landmarks in relation to each other? 
    • Are they including themselves and others? 
    • What elements from the natural have they noticed and where?   
    • Does their map show imagination or scientific representation?
    • What is chosen to be large and small?
    • What emotions have they included?
    • What is holding the most meaning to them?


    “This is the see saw that I made.  This is the log we always climb on.”






    “This is where we walk in.  This is the circle where we sing and these are the logs.  This is a tree and these are the seeds and that’s a squirrel.  These are the stick houses and these are the leaves.  This is the log that we climb up.  These are the logs that we have to step on.  This is me sitting down in my sit spot.”


    I find the making of maps to be a valuable tool for the teachers and the children toward deepening our understand of our work in the forest.  Ideally, we will return to map making throughout the year in many different ways.  Maybe we will make a model of our “forest school” back in the classroom out of clay or natural materials.  Maybe we will make maps of the best places to find acorns or seed pods.  Maybe we will make maps of the animal tracks that we find on our paths.  The possibilities are vast, and the format of representing thinking through maps is accessible, relatable and powerful!

  • Thursday, January 17, 2019 6:47 PM | Monica Wiedel-Lubinski (Administrator)

    Written by: Rachel Schwartzman, Director/Lead Teacher of Forest Days

    Through a steady diet of asking the children, “What do you notice?”  and “what do you wonder?,” the children’s perception of the environment and their role in it has dramatically changed in these 12 weeks.  We have moved from utilizing the space as solely playground (which is also important and valuable), to engaging with all that we see through the eyes of curiosity.

    Macintosh HD:Users:rachelschwartzman:Desktop:IMG_2406.JPGWe are forming habits of mind in the forest. Beyond the skills and facts that will surely accumulate, it is the orientation toward learning that we seek to cultivate most.

    Today, I had a long conversation with a child about a clump of soil with leaves stuck to it that he had picked up and brought to me.  Unprompted, he stated his observations: “The ice is never melting,” and “There are leaves stuck to this.” We looked closely with a flashlight and a hand lens to try to figure out more.  His genuine curiosity about this object he had found and chosen to pick up struck me. On another day, this would easily have been passed by, but today, he is paying closer attention to the environment.  He is choosing his topics of research. He is growing knowledge that will be layered on in the weeks to come. His relationship to the forest is becoming one of interest, curiosity and engagement.
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