By Shannon Dryden, Nature Preschool Manager and Sweet Gum Classroom Lead Teacher
Stars are a practical and magical symbol for children and adults alike. They are a mystery of the sky, full of gas, providing us with light, and are still something that we don’t yet fully understand. They are a symbol of hope, something to wish upon, or a picture to represent many holiday celebrations this time of year. With the dawn of the winter season upon us and the upcoming winter solstice, Schuylkill Center just held its annual Winterfest, a star themed family event welcoming Schuylkill Center Nature Preschool families and community members alike to join together in discussion, crafts and night hikes.
After spending the first part of the year getting to know one another, the Sweet Gums and Sycamores now are more comfortable at Schuylkill Center with their families, teachers, and friends. They now feel connected to the Center and acknowledge their roles as learners, planners, and leaders in their environmental interaction. We decided to share our experiences, and give the public a chance to get a sneak-peek at Nature Preschool by offering a special craft activity at Winterfest.
In preparation for Winterfest, the preschoolers began the week talking about the event, this special occasion to celebrate the changing of seasons. This prompted them to take the lead in sharing ideas for crafts and what we could do on that day. We shared the theme of stars with the children and invited them to tell us what they know about stars. The children immediately began saying things like, “They are big!”, “They are hot”, “Some are yellow and some are not!” Their curiosity was piqued as they began asking questions such as “How many stars are there?”
It is exciting to see such an interest and hear these responses. It also shows how one connection can motivate spending more time outside (just looking up at the sky). This offers children and families a way to have shared experiences in a space that they are comfortable, and it allows the Nature Preschoolers to share what they’ve learned. As teachers, we saw how the children were getting excited about the stars, and about planning for Winterfest, so we invited the Sycamores and the Sweet Gums to gather sticks and natural materials for nature crafts at the event. We engaged in many discussions and readings on stars during our meeting times and began talking about the color and shapes of stars.
At Winterfest, many of our preschoolers gathered with their families on a crisp Saturday with smiles and an eagerness to study stars with hands-on fun. Some recognized the hand-picked branches, green pine needles, and pinecones and began positioning and gluing all the pieces together on a “star wand.” Others chose to design their own telescope, making a covering with a metallic and reflective surface for stargazing throughout the evening. Moon sand was also a popular thing to play with, as the soft moldable dough provided a stimulating texture to explore.
Take a look at all the fun and interactions between the teachers, children, and their friends at Winterfest! The happiness on the children’s faces shows how a simple gathering can mean so much more when you share it with people who care about one another and allow time and space to truly be present in the moment. Enjoy every moment of this winter season and be sure to take a step back as your children take it all in!
Children Need Nature is a monthly blog column from our Nature Preschool program. Read more posts here.