I was asked to share some basics about our Nature School time, so I thought I'd pair it with a regular set of pictures. Of all the weekly tasks in our school rhythm, Nature School is the one that I try hardest not to miss. It is this time which is really healing to me, which has the best memories attached to it. There are times when the children are grumpy, but we are nearly always glad we have gone out and often a little sad to go home.
We went to White Top yesterday to fly Roan's new kite. It's a sled kite from Premier Designs and I ordered it from Nova Natural Toys. The kite has no frame to break and flies in winds about 10 mph. We were probably in about 10-20 mph winds yesterday. It was perfect and the kite stayed up in the air a good long time. My dad, who is by now an expert flyer of the amateur kind, says this is a great kite from a reputable maker. All that aside, Nature School!
Most weeks, we go in the mornings after our basic routine is completed. Sometimes, we have our movement circle and Willow does some work with her story, and other times we just go. Morning trips are shorter, naturally, and there are many times that we are gone for just a couple hours. This is certainly true on very cold days, which I think would be below thirty for young children. I believe I would stay home when it's colder than twenty, simply as a safety precaution and a consideration of the clothing we have on hand. Yesterday was an afternoon trip, since it takes about 45 minutes to drive to White Top. I timed this for our usual rest time, and Roan and Laurel slept in the car.
I choose places based on what suits my mood or what I feel the children might need. It's a balance between the two, since teacher health is very important. I also base my selection on what the climate of the spot is like--it's better to choose the woods on a cold, windy day and so on. I felt we needed an open place with good winds, and that I wanted to see White Top one last time before March. The weather there was perfect for this time of year, as odd as it might seem. Nature School won't find me braving dangerous roads in icy weather. We'll stick closer to home when it's snowy.
Having packed too lightly some weeks, I make sure to overpack most of the time. Yesterday, it was around fifty degrees at home, and it was in the low forties on the mountain. Considering the wind, some of us wore two pairs of pants, and we all wore thick socks and boots (I wore felt shoes). Cold feet are nothing to mess around with. The supply list was hats, mittens, and parkas to keep out the wind. We wear snowveralls (as we call them) when it gets below thirty. I often apply Weleda weather protection cream when we are going into cold and wind. It's easy to get wind burned here.
Snacks are simple. I think I can get Willow to go anywhere if I bring a thermos of tea, usually herbal. We got some wee mugs from Montessori Services for Christmas and they are just perfect. The size is a little humorous, but it's really less to spill. I sometimes make peanut butter crackers to take along, but I also think hunger is the best sauce. Meals are cozier and eaten better after we've been out in the weather.
When asked if I have an agenda, I often don't. If I do, it's something really, really simple. As Ranger Brandy, I found people really just needed a starting point when they were in the woods. So, climbing a big rock, building a simple den, or walking in the stream easily expands, and the children are happily integrated into their own discoveries and fantasies. Laurel was quite the narrator yesterday afternoon, and she is well-versed in moss and baby trees and fairy ponds. There's generally very little direct instruction, but it's obvious they have learned a lot from the land around them.
I do often take my flute along, weather permitting. I use this as a time to work on some new songs we'll need or pick out things to use in future months. Since I am free from the pressures of home, it's easier to do. Sometimes, I knit, but I also keep in mind that I need to explore and enjoy, too!
Ideally, I try to stay until one of the children says they are ready to go home, truly ready. There are times that a sudden shower comes up and cuts things short for us (like when we don't have umbrellas, but they live in the car now), or when we got a late start and need to get home to cook a meal. Mostly, though, it's a fairly free time and I try to keep my expectations out of it. We've had only one time where it simply didn't work out at all, and we had to drive home. We went back another day and had a marvelous time. It's not all sunshine, but it's also teaching my children that nearly all kinds of weather is fine to be out in, with careful preparation.