By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Lead Teacher
The first few weeks of Nature Preschool have started off with a busy buzz and hum as the two classrooms, Sweet Gum and Sycamore, have filled with children, conversations, artwork, lunch boxes, water bottles, and more. It may seem silly but every September I am reminded how the beginning of the year reinvigorates teachers and classrooms as new personalities come together to build a community. It is loud (as it should be), it is busy (many moving bodies), it is messy (children’s hands at work), it is full of questions, thoughts, and ideas as the pieces of the classroom puzzle are beginning to fit together.
Part of what makes Nature Preschool so special is our outdoor space . We incorporate nature into the children’s vision of community and with walks and hikes allowing room for the children to be guided by the curiosity. So far, we have begun identifying trees and using our observation skills to examine leaves, branches, and bark. Just outside the back door of the Sweet Gum classroom is a beautiful sweet gum tree. On our first visit to Tall Trees Playscape, we showed the children this tree and the leaves and explained it was a sweet gum! The children immediately identified this as their special tree and they collected leaves and created a collaborative collage. They began to whisper secrets to it and now visit on a daily basis to check in before we venture on the trails!
The Sycamores have also been exploring Tall Trees Playscape and nearby favorite spots including Founder’s Grove. They have been identifying the parts of a tree and put together a tree puzzle showing where the roots, trunk, branches, and crown belong. This month, the Sweet Gums and Sycamores brainstormed and shared words related to community and began to identify the parts of our community – people, materials, indoor and outdoor spaces. The children drew pictures of their communities, shared phrases on a large word web, and explored with community blocks – building houses, bridges, and hospitals with our own wooden pieces. We’ve also learned about the different roles we have in our community.
To help the children connect with this idea, we introduced Mother Earth – our classroom caregiver who watches over us and takes care of our classroom and the plants, animals, and environment. She guides us through our routine and works with us to build kindness, compassion, safety, and respect towards one another and our environment.
We discussed how big the world is and thought about what that meant. In doing so, we asked the children if we could help her. They said yes! Then, we toured the activity centers in our classrooms, exploring the materials in each space. Inspired by these tours and the idea of responsibility, the Sweet Gums decided to make “responsibility rocks” and brainstormed ways to help out in each center. The Responsibility Rocks are decorated with a picture and name for each important job the children decided on, such as botanist (our plant waterer), zoologist (our fish and hermit crab caretaker), floor sweeper (collecting crumbs), snack and lunch helper (food preparation), kindness helper (smile maker/peacemaker), and block engineer (keeping our building blocks organized). The Sweet Gum children have connected with their individual roles, which change weekly, and are happy to help each other out with classroom tasks! The Sycamores loved this idea too, and created their own version, using slices of wood – “tree cookies!” The children are developing a sense of self and confidence as they begin to recognize their own impact on others and our space.
This is a great way to establish teamwork and cooperation, especially at the beginning of the year, when we are building the culture that will define our community for the rest of the year. When the children develop interpersonal awareness, it becomes easier for them to develop social and life skills which they will use throughout their lives. The Sweet Gum and Sycamore classrooms are excited to see where our wonder brings us next.