Monday, 1 August 2016

the seven (million) wonders of the world

A photo of one of the kids (my daughter or one of the cousins) from our week with family on Cook's Bay, the shallow southern end of Lake Simcoe quite near where I grew up. A mink family was nesting in the rocks just beside the dock, and we often found evidence of their feasts such as this discarded claw.

While my daughter was happy to hold and examine the claw (as seen in the top photo) she was happy to leave this large crayfish alone to rest, perhaps moulting, in the rocks beside the dock.

I saw this wonderful list today, posted by the National Trust in the UK. It was followed by links to apps to download, all to help families keep track of their activities as they completed the list. It occurred to me that this might have been in response to the now-ubiquitous Pokemon Go game that has kids and adults alike running about outside, trying to gather as many Pokemon as they can and earning points for mileage like a gaming fitbit.

I rather love the list, as I see many items on it I consider "must do" activities with students in class and with my own kids. I laughed to see items such as: No.25 make a grass trumpet which so delighted several students in our class this spring.

In April, after many attempts, one student managed to get a loud sound from her "grass trumpet". She was immensely proud of herself, and patiently taught her friends her strategy (which differed from mine). By the end of the week, we had a band of three. (click here to witness 3 students sharing their new-found noise-making skills).  

It reminded me of a conversation I had a few years ago, with outdoor education enthusiasts and friends Rob Ridley and Heather McKay. Rob is a treasured mentor of mine, an outdoor educator who gently prods us adults to go further, no matter where we start in our journeys outdoors with children. His visits to our class are a big hit - students who chorus "tweet the Ranger!" whenever we discover something surprising on our walks around the school, well those students greet Rob like a rockstar when he visits. Rob had shared a blog post back in August, 2014 about those priceless moments of childhood spent outside, which with the following invitation:
Go ahead, ask your kids – what do they feel every kid should experience outdoors by a certain age? Let me know! (see post here: Nature Time Before the Age of...)

 Heather did just that, and wrote her own love-letter to learning outdoors, "Where the Wild Things Are". She invited readers to ponder:
What have you been thinking about trying in your life?  Maybe it’s time to take that leap of faith….

Heather's post was particularly meaningful to me, because our families met up for an afternoon during the trip she wrote about. We had met once before, at the Hawkins-Inspired Conference in Ontario, but while it was a playful experience it was in the company of adults. This time, with our families away from home in full vacation mode, we were making discoveries about our children alongside them as we played in tidal pools and enjoyed the vastness of the ocean.

I wrote about my own aha's from that trip, mainly around self-regulation and the development of an environmental awareness that is possible when spending whole days on end outside. I hadn't responded to Rob's and Heather's queries, not in writing, but I had taken notes in my journal from the trip. Today, seeing the National Trust's #50things inspired me to go back, dig up what the kids had said when I asked them for their "must do by 12" submissions.

My daughter (then 7) suggested:
catch (and release) a crab
eat something you helped catch
climb a big tree
see a falling star
watch "shift change" (birds to bats: sundown, when the swifts swoop down into their chimney nests while moments later the bats come out for the night)

My son (then 13) suggested:
swim "au natural" under the stars
tent in a backyard
bike a "sneaky path" (his name for the deer trails and narrow footpaths where a kid can travel unseen even while standing)

My own (2 years ago):
swim in an ocean, a pond, a river, a lake
jump off of a cliff to swim
save a bird (window strike)
call a squirrel or bird out into the open
follow a wild creature for as long as possible without disturbing it (mink, beaver, muskrat, raccoon, rabbit, chipmunk, heron)
Today I add a new fascination of mine, one that has developed over the last few years as I've rediscovered my earlier love of geography:
follow a river or creek as far as possible - discover its headwaters, its mouth, and travel its winding curves through a forest or through urban landscape
 I realize my new submission is a difficult one for younger children, but a wonderful goal to set as a group, such as a family. A few weeks ago, when we spent our time near the southern tip of Lake Simcoe, we talked about what we saw as we watched the sun go down over the bay. The kids now know much more about the larger lake that spreads northwards, our spot being like the fingernail on a large hand, pointing down towards Holland Landing, and wrist meeting Lake Couchiching in Orillia. They felt the cold waves in Kempenfelt Bay when we spent a beach day in Barrie, and compared that to the warm shallows of Cook's Bay where we were staying. We heard a loon call at night, further south than we ever thought a loon would summer. On our way home, we crossed familiar waterways marked on the roads, and sighed when we crested the last hill before home, as Lake Ontario came into view, huge and blue before us.

Getting outdoors together, whether with a class or with family, allows for kids to see things they might not see if playing alone or with friends. Being in wild or near-wild spaces helps us all slow down, notice life of all kinds around us.

Our tent being dismantled on our last day at the lake - obscured from view, the dock and rocks where the mink scampered daily. Click here to see the mink on the move, or here for a friendly visit from various local creatures.
The "full buck moon" seen through binoculars. Photo by my daughter. We stayed out as late as we could each night (mosquitoes being quite good at chasing us indoors or beside the smoky fire) to watch the "shift change" when swallows went to roost and the fast-flapping bats came out.

Sunrise as seen from our tent. Worth waking at 5 AM.

Me replacing a poor little catfish we found on the lawn. I thought it was dead, as I found it some 3 meters from the shore on the grass, but when I picked it up to inspect it, it gave a powerful "flip!" and I nearly dropped it in surprise. We had been watching herons, osprey and terns fishing all week; it was likely one of these fishing birds that dropped its wiggling prey.

A damselfly nymph I caught (or did it catch me? It did follow me while I swam) that was very spooky while swimming, but upon closer inspection became obvious after a blue adult damselfly landed on my arm. The kids were fascinated to discover something completely new. Truth be told, I was too.

As I'm writing, my other open tab alerted me to the fact that someone had replied to my tweet, sharing the #50things list. Heather and Rob were chiming in with new ideas for how to grow and share our lists with others.

Here we are, at summer's half-way mark, and such a lovely long month ahead to try new things. Next week my daughter and I will once again spend a week at Swan Lake with the YRNC for this year's Rhythm of Learning in Nature, and I will compare notes with fellow eductors from Canada and around the world. Won't you add your own "must do" or "must see" ideas here?

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