Did we ever have a good time with the 3s!

We were awed by some superhero factoids about trees.  Did you know that a colony of aspen trees in Utah is the heaviest living organism on earth? And who knew our local cedars had so many superhero properties?  Anti-freeze in the needles, sloping branches to fend against heavy snows, incredibly strong and rot-resistant bark…Laura challenged us to find out about all the superheros in our own neighbourhoods.



Children were delighted to discover the smells and textures of their very own tree during a “blindfolded” meeting with a tree in Eldon Park.  Their challenge was to find the tree again after being led back to the starting place.  By zeroing in on their awakened senses, the students wrote quick poetic impressions.

the sound of the peaceful wind/the sound of the dogs barking/ and the lovely tall twisty branches


The beautiful sound of  birds singing/The big roots digging into the ground/ The feel of smooth heart-warming bark.


And Lian captures a haiku moment with: The bark cool/ a chill comes in and out

On the way back to Cleveland, a girl showed us her two hands filled with two different kinds of moss.  “They look just like miniature forests!”

We began by asking the students what they understood from the words of John Muir (an American environmentalist known as “The Father of the National Parks):

I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out until sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.

John Muir, 1913

We are excited to see how the eldest children at Cleveland will find connections to their inside selves, by going outside and finding a piece of nature that kindles their interest or sense of connection. An extra challenge is to see if the students have made any adaptations in their lives, similar to the adaptations their piece of the forest has made.  Laura has strong connections to Big Leaf Maples (just as the leaves reach for sunshine, she likes to see the positive in every situation)  and Shannon has a fascination with moss (feeling that just as moss absorbs water, she likes to absorb new information).  The 6/7s chose some interesting parts of the forest to work with…ferns, blackberry bushes, snow, cedar boughs, stones.  We look forward to their words!

One way to open your eyes is to ask yourself, ‘What if I had never seen this before? What if I knew I would never see it again?

Rachel Carson, environmentalist & nature writer 1907-1964

Mme. Zwart’s class enjoyed working in pairs in an “Instant Camera” activity that helps to focus observations and promote creativity.  One child took the role of camera while their partner played photographer, guiding the camera to take “pictures” of beautiful and interesting frames of the forest.

Then the children worked on creating their own alphabet books by going on a  forest scavenger hunt and finding words that started with the 26 letters of the alphabet.    The children worked imaginatively and intently to create some wonderful lines. We brought dictionaries in case children were “stumped”.  But instead they found:

D is for Drums of stumps.

A is for alligator roots.

F is for fungi stairs up tree bark,

G is for green, fuzzy tarantula of branches.

J is for a jail of wood.

Q is for a Queen’s throne of rocks

R is for Relish in its beauty.

X is for Xray vision of what once was.

How wonderful to start this week with the youngest of children at Cleveland!  We found and photographed letters in the forest with Mme. Berry’s Kindergarten classes.  The children used their senses to describe textures, sounds, smells and imaginative visual connections.  The letter “O” became an octopus with one eye who lost most of his legs, and the letter “J” was found to have lots of hands and earrings.  Careful observation led to spontaneous and joyful personification, rhyme, metaphor and storytelling.

Rachel Carson’s inspirational book “The Sense of Wonder” perfectly captures a young child’s sense of connection to place through venturing into the natural landscape in all seasons and weather. Carson writes, If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery of the world we live in.

Without a doubt, our own sense of wonder was rekindled by working with the children.

V is for Violin. The forest plays violin with its branches.  

It was an early afternoon in spring and I was tucked under a hemlock tree searching for smells with a group of energetic seven year olds. Wandering through the woods I saw three boys staring intently at the trunk of a tree and one of the boys was urgently calling other classmates over. “Catch it!” one of them whispered. One of the boys quickly cupped his hands around something and scooped it off the tree trunk. Next thing I knew the pack of them were running toward me. “Show her!” one called out. “What did you find?” I called back. The boy carrying the mysterious creature gave a giant grin and then said breathlessly “A lizard! I paused for a moment surprised. “You did?!” I asked and for a moment I wondered if there were indeed lizards here in the forest that I didn’t know about. In that instant I began to dance.  I experienced a flood of sensation that I knew was akin to what the boys were feeling: the rush of the possibility that lingered in the unknown.

I watched in suspense as this lizard catcher carefully spread his hands open to show me his discovery. I was shocked.  For a moment we all stood there quietly. My mind began to race pondering what should happen next. Then, with one quick glance a nearby parent tore open the silence “Oh a mayfly.” he said apathetically. Silence again. The grin took a downward turn. “It’s not a lizard?” one of them asked. I thought about it a minute more and before answering. I decided to join the dance to which I had just been invited. “It looks like a lizard of the sky.” I said. “The smiles returned. The next day at the beach, I was invited again as a boy called out “The rocks are moving!” He had seen his first shore crabs. 

The dance I had joined swung me humbly into a field of perception that I had long forgotten where lizards can fly and rocks can move. I spun into the importance of the unknown. As Whitehead said “Once we have labelled something, we stop thinking about it”, not only that but we also often “miss seeing what we cannot name”. In fact, we may intentionally avoid seeing that which we cannot name.  This experience helped me to “recall forgotten depths and summon them to the light of day” as Lefebvre says. What emerged from the depths was a rediscovered profundity in how I perceived and interacted with the world.

Around 9 years ago I was hiking with my family on a mountain trail and came to a halt when I encountered a common garter snake in the process of swallowing a banana slug.  With jaws splayed wide open and head bulging to what appeared to be bursting capacity, it took us a few seconds to understand that we were witnessing a digestive spectacle and not some undiscovered form of hybrid creature.  We were all fascinated and as the snake seemed to be incapacitated by its meal, we were able to sit down and watch the consumption of the slug for a good 15 minutes before the snake slithered away.  Having engaged our children in many outdoor learning experiences and programs, I must have already been introduced to the fact that snakes ate slugs, but the actual experience of discovering this fact in nature itself came as a great surprise.  And it was that surprise, an unexpected witnessing, that became a larger and transformative experience for me.  We were all engaged in the moment, we all had lots of questions, (how come the snake’s eyeballs don’t pop out? how does the slug defend itself?) but I definitely experienced a sense of import, urgency or being shaken out of the quotidian as we hunkered down and watched.  Time slowed, senses sharpened, awareness peaked to a degree that the experience was both spiritual and transformative for me personally; a landscape I knew extremely well offered me a strange fruit and as I took the time to observe and simply be ‘in the moment’, I felt a kind of alignment or repositioning going on in my mind and body.  A strong presence of the numen, peacefulness, mindfulness…it all sounds a bit hokey, but it came down to feeling awed by two interlocked life forms that were briefly and exquisitely present in a way I had not known before.  Today, I often attempt to use the natural world and its aesthetic qualities in my teaching practice.  I try and tap into this experience and others like it as a source of strength and inspiration.

Would love to hear experiences from parents/educators and children about any special moments they have had in the forest/nature.

In the spirit of collaborative inquiry, documentation and reflection, we have decided to keep a blog of our residency work at Cleveland Elementary. We are in the first phases of planning, and have been inspired by your community’s vision and hard work in ridding your local forest of invasive species.  ‘Free the Trees’ is a powerful example of stewardship, and we are honoured to be involved!

We have also been inspired by an American non-profit organization “River Of Words” dedicated to incorporating observation-based nature exploration and the arts into the education of youth.

Children are experts at creating visions of places they’ve seen only in their imaginations-places made real by the very act of creation. So what happens when you ask those selfsame kids to imagine places that are very real, to find the poetry in water and earth and stone? And what if they are asked not just to explore the simple beauty of a place, but to reveal its environmental wisdom, and find their connection to it?

You get children finding their place in the natural world. You get children who know that water doesn’t just come from a tap. You get children who know their “ecological address” as well as they know the name of their street or their town. You get hope.

-from Pamela Michael’s ‘Personal History of River of Words’

As we work to develop a residency that will speak to this idea of knowing one’s own ‘ecological address’, we are sharing pedagogies and experiences that we believe to be most rewarding for children.

Please feel free to comment on any post with information, insights, connections.

Laura Piersol is happy to have just moved back to the Fraser River Watershed. Sharing her love for the natural world is her main passion in life. She is an ecological educator and has worked throughout Canada and the U.S., most recently coordinating a city wide community mapping project in Lethbridge, AB. She has also recently worked for Stanley Park Ecology Society, Metro Vancouver Parks and the BC Sustainable Energy Association.

Currently, she is pursuing PhD studies at SFU in education and researching the proposed environmental school in Maple Ridge.





Shannon Stewart is a long time North Shore resident and writer who uses the presence of the natural world as a touchstone for her poetry and fiction. She has taught university level courses, ESL and worked as a resident author in numerous schools throughout Metro Vancouver. She is also a recent graduate from SFU’s Professional Development Program, which means she is now officially a TEACHER!

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