Fiddleheads Forest Grove Dispatch: Sunny Days, a New Science Unit, and an Exploration of Friendship

March 6th, 2015 by Kit Harrington

The sun is shining, mosquitoes are buzzing, and blossoms are bursting open everywhere we look; it could just as easily be June in Seattle, but the calendar still tells us it’s winter no matter how incongruous that may seem. Students at the Fiddleheads Forest School are taking full advantage of the seasonal changes. The warm weather has meant that we are continuing to discover lots of mushrooms and fungus in and around the forest grove classroom. Stout slimy red-capped mushrooms and skinny stemmed little brown ones abound, but we are still uncovering occasional surprises here at the Washington Park Arboretum, like the astoundingly bright burst of buttery yellow caps we discovered off Azalea Way with the Magnolia class or the bulky purple mushroom we discovered growing under a spruce in the Mountain Ash Meadow with the Cedar class.


Despite temperatures more  suited to May, Fiddleheads still enjoyed learning about the "art of contrast" in the Winter Garden

Despite temperatures more suited to May, Fiddleheads still enjoyed learning about the “art of contrast” with Sarah in the Joseph A. Witt Winter Garden.

We have also noticed an uptick in bird activity in and around the forest grove. Children in both classes spent a week in late January mimicking bald-eagle calls and behavior and incorporating it into their play. The eagles were going through a courtship phase, right on track with last year when we noticed the same sort of activity. Many of the children are remembering and looking forward with excitement to the time when the owls will hatch their little ones. Sarah recently uncovered a roosting spot for one of our barred owl friends, and we now stop to peek in on our sleepy owl friend whenever we take the trail to the stone castle. We’re anticipating the moment when those baby eagles and owls to start fledging in just a few months and have our fingers crossed that mama and papa owl will bring their little ones back to the forest grove again this year!

In science, we started out the year with a unit on our bodies before delving into the vertebrates theme that we will be continuing throughout the winter and spring. In early childhood we teach from the concrete to the abstract, and work to make new concepts as accessible as possible by relating it to the direct experience and world of each child. Therefore we began our study of mammals by examining humans specifically. We introduced numerous materials to the classroom for different learning levels and interests. We started by learning the major external parts of the body with a 3-part card matching activity. To complete this material, children matched the picture and then the word to a card featuring both. In this way, students not only learn the parts of the body, but also strengthen the discriminative ability that is a perceptual underpinning of early literacy development.  A picture-to-picture body-part matching work gave the children the opportunity to name and match the body parts with the rest of the body. Games and songs like “Simon Says,” “Head, Shoulders Knees and Toes,” and “The Hokey Pokey” help to reinforce kinesthetic as well as cognitive awareness of body parts and helped to our hearts pumping and our bodies warm on the cold, wet days.

Our unit on bodies segued quite nicely into discussing difference during the week of Martin Luther King Jr. Day. After drop-off, each of the children used a stamp pad to make a thumb print on a card with their name. We laminated these cards and used a magnifying glass at to examine them at circle. After taking the time to look at each Kit asked the class what they noticed about the fingerprints. In both the Cedar and Magnolia classes the immediate answer was “They’re different!” The children learned that indeed every human has his or her very own special, unique fingerprint and that no two prints are the same. We discussed the many ways in which our bodies our different, our voices are different, our needs and interests are different, and our families are different.

Taking a closer look at fingerprints.


Children naturally approach the concept of “difference” in a very straightforward and earnest way; as they see it, difference is interesting and remarkable and important and very worthy of discussion. It is, after all, what makes each of us unique, and how we define ourselves in relation to others. In both classes the children agreed that different hair, or skin, or eyes is just that—different. It doesn’t make us any better or worse than anyone else, they noted, it’s just who we are. The children also felt very strongly as a group that difference is important, and that if we were all the same “we wouldn’t be able to tell who anybody was from each other!” as one student exclaimed at circle.

Building a body from the bones up.

Building a body from the bones up.

We continued the conversation about difference as we learned about our internal organs and the important jobs they do. The children appreciated that no matter how different we are on the outside, we all have the same organs inside our bodies, and remarked upon it as they completed different activities. We used a model of the human body  in an object to picture matching work where children learned the names and functions of the brain, lungs, heart, stomach, liver, kidneys, and large and small intestines. A giant puzzle of the human skeleton and musculature offered us an opportunity to work together and problem solve as a group.  The favorite new material by far was a felt work with which the students built a person from the skeleton up; personalizing it with different skin, clothing and hair.

Throughout all of this we reinforced an awareness of the many things that our bodies are capable of—climbing, crawling, jumping, and running through our forest surroundings. The increased awareness of our bodies allowed us to develop new extensions in other areas as well. For example, we recently began engaging in mindfulness practice before heading to our magic spots, and one of our favorite new activities is to use our “mind flashlight” to think about and focus on how different parts of our bodies are feeling. This sort of understanding helps children to develop a heightened awareness of themselves and their own needs.



After spending a month learning about human bodies, the transition into our current mammals unit has been fairly straightforward. We began by learning the characteristics of mammals with the first verse of a song about animals that we’ll continue to add to throughout the spring:

Mammals have lungs that breathe the air

Warm blooded bodies that have skin and hair

Mammals give birth to their living young

Mothers feed milk to their daughters and sons!

We accompanied our lesson about characteristics with the chance to see and feel the fur of a real mammal, a very old Peruvian Jungle Cat pelt that Kit brought in. We learned that almost all mammals have some kind of hair or fur; even whales and dolphins. As a group we worked together to sort pictures and objects representing animals. Many children have taken the time to do the work on their own, and then color and complete an accompanying worksheet of mammals of the Pacific Northwest.

Kit explains how to look for signs that mammals might leave around the arboretum.

Kit and a group of students discuss characteristics of  some of the mammals they might find signs of around the arboretum.

In and around the forest grove we’ve been actively searching for and identifying mammals and looking for clues that mammals have left behind, such as middens of dove fruit scraps left by squirrels, or muddy tracks and scratched tree branches from raccoons. We’ll continue learning about mammals and how they are alike and different from ourselves, as well as the sort of homes they occupy, their life cycles, and their prey and predators. Sarah will be teaching us all about animal tracks, and we’ll focus on finding and identifying different mammals that we might encounter on a daily basis here at the arboretum.


“What zone are you in?”

In our social and emotional curriculum, we have been continuing to build upon our knowledge of zones and feelings with a “Zones Check In” chart. Children have the opportunity to put how they are feeling up on the chart each morning they are at school. The chart reinforces the children’s awareness of the Zones and offers an opportunity for the children to discuss their feelings with the group. We’ve also replaced the old zones necklaces with new ones that feature feelings on them. These further reinforce the connection between different zones and feelings and have created renewed interest in the material. We are continuing to work on developing executive functioning skills by practicing setting goals, making and sharing plans, and using flexible thinking. Throughout the day children are encouraged to work as a team, and when something goes awry, we remember that by “working together, we can make it better.”


As we move into the second half of the school year the children are approaching friendship in new and increasingly developmentally advanced ways. We have been incorporating a number of different activities, materials, and discussions that explore and reinforce the concept of friendship in preschool. As a group we have been singing songs about friendship including “The More We Get Together,” and “I Think You’re Wonderful.” At circle we read and discussed the books “Join in and Play” by Cheri Meiners and “How to Be a Friend: A Guide to Making Friends and Keeping Them” by Laurie Krasny Brown.

Valentine’s Day was a perfect opportunity to practice looking outward, and we introduced a friendship bracelet activity where children practice braiding and then give away half of what they made. We recently read the book “I am Generous” by David Parker, and are continuing to introduce new activities that focus on making our friends feel good. As teachers we are modeling and highlighting and reinforcing that doing something for another person often feels better than simply engaging in an activity for our own satisfaction.

Friendship bracelet braiding encourages the development of fine motor skills

Friendship bracelet braiding encourages the development of fine motor skills

In the coming weeks we will continue to focus on activities that support the development of empathy. In addition, we will begin building an inventory of tools that we can use to help navigate unexpected situations- our social skills “toolbox.” We’ll also be continuing to expand upon our mindfulness practice and take it out into the wide world around us. The sights and sounds and smells of spring are here, no matter what the calendar says, and we are looking forward to following the progress of fiddlehead fronds, sniffing stinky skunk cabbage, and spying new sprouts and saplings as they surge out of the mud. As weather allows we’ll begin documenting more of what we are seeing by nature journaling as a group. February may just have ended, but already it’s shaping up to be a spectacular spring here in the forest grove.

Best Wishes,

Kit and Sarah

2015 Spring Park in the Dark Dates

February 26th, 2015 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

Night time is special at the Arboretum – the people and cars are gone, and the nocturnal animals move about. Night hikes are a chance for us to explore our senses, search for crepuscular and nocturnal movements in the forest and learn about night-related animal adaptations. Programs are designed for families with children aged 5-12 though all ages are welcome! We will meet at the Graham Visitors Center (2300 Arboretum Dr E)
Hikes are always from 7:30-9pm on the Saturday nights listed below:

2015 Spring DatesNight Hike Image

  • April 11th
  • May 9th
  • June 13th

Cost is $8 per person
Register online or call 206-685-8033

Pre-registration is required. This allows our instructor to properly plan and prepare for each class so that you and your family can get the most out of it. Drop-ins are not accepted.

Stories from the Forest Grove: Childhood, Wildness, and Learning

November 26th, 2014 by Joanna Wright

Joanna Wright is a long-term substitute for Fiddleheads Forest School. Here she reflects on the essence of Fiddleheads and its context within the blossoming movement toward experiential, nature-based learning.


On my first day at Fiddleheads Forest School, one of the preschoolers leads me to his “magic spot” to meet the owls. “Up there, see that bulge?” We peer into the hemlock canopy. “That’s a mother owl and her baby. They’re sleeping right now.” By his evocation, the inquisitive face of a barred owl appears in my mind’s eye. “I have some bones from the owl pellets, they’re in here.” He kneels down purposefully and lifts a single scale of a pine cone, revealing a small pile of rodent bones stashed underneath. To anyone else, that thumb-nail-sized scale is just another bit of forest floor. To him, it’s the lid to his treasure chest, and a link to the owl friends perched above him, keeping him company in his magic spot.

Fiddleheads Forest School, an outdoor preschool in the Washington Park Arboretum, is among a small but rapidly growing number of early childhood learning centers offering what Richard Louv has called “Vitamin N” — opportunities for developing connection with nature.

There is no shortcut to nature connection, no cheap, quick way to acquire it and be done. Real relationship with the natural world arises from direct, open-ended experience. Fiddleheads and other forest preschools come out of an understanding of early childhood as a unique time for this kind of experience. Full of energy, creativity, and curiosity, young children are tuning into the world through their senses; the familiar yet ever-changing environment of our forest grove classroom offers a rich landscape of discovery.

In his recent talk in Seattle, Jon Young, founder of Wilderness Awareness School, emphasized that children have an innate capacity for nature connection, and to grow that capacity they need unstructured, unsupervised time outdoors. They also need reciprocity; mentors who will listen with genuine interest to their stories and observations, and ask them questions that lead to new experiences, new questions.

While “unsupervised” is not realistic in many settings, including ours at Fiddleheads, we use clear safety boundaries to enable freedom of exploration. Curriculum is used to support child-led learning.

There is plenty of open time in our day, during which the children choose what they want to do. Play is the children’s serious work. In an organic way, they engage in activities according to their interests and energy levels, as well as the dynamics of the group. As teachers, we support the children’s engagement by actively keeping our perception open to what is really going on for them, and promoting skills that can help them when they encounter the edges of their comfort zone, knowledge, and awareness.

Curricular elements are called forth by the ecological and social dynamics in class. Science and art projects help us delve into and express our observations of the natural world. A “peace table” creates a space for reflection and conflict-resolution. Materials are brought in, complimenting what the forest provides, with which to exercise fine- and gross-motor skills. There is a strong social/emotional element throughout, using tools for self-awareness, self-regulation, communication, cooperation, and celebration of individuality.

P1030486One of the few things structured into every day is time in our “magic spots.” Each child has their own magic spot, which they return to over the course of the year. The only “rule” during magic spot time is that no one can disturb someone else who is in their magic spot. Sometimes, a child in their magic spot will turn their attention outward, using their senses to explore what is around them. Often though, the children use the time to turn inward, sometimes talking to themselves, enjoying uninterrupted time in their own company. While each child’s magic spot is within eyesight of a teacher, we give them enough distance to have the sensation of safe solitude. This is a rare opportunity in childhood today, and witnessing it makes me realize how vital it is. They are invited to stay in their magic spot as long as they wish, and when they return, we have circle time and snack, sharing stories from our magic spot with the group.

The kids at Fiddleheads have taught me many things, including how to have fun outdoors, no matter what the weather. During the week of downpours in early November, we all checked our “puddle armor” (rain gear) and went splashing and running through the Arboretum. We caught raindrops with different kinds of buckets, plastic ones, tin ones, becoming percussionists in the storm. We measured puddle-depth with sticks and turned giant magnolia leaves into boats. One day after school, I was biking home along Lake Washington in a deluge so thick I could hardly see, and found myself laughing out loud, flooded with joy, welcoming the rain. I would be warm and dry soon enough; for now, I was fully feeling the world’s wild weather. The capacity for such raw delight has always been there in me (and is part of what brought me to teaching), but for it’s accessibility in that moment, I have preschoolers at Fiddleheads to thank.


The rain was followed by a cold snap — clear, blue skies, frosty mornings, and air that nipped at our noses and toes. Suddenly, many more leaves came down in our classroom, carpeting the ground in browns and golds. We went on long hikes to keep warm, buried each other in leaf piles, examined exquisite ice crystals that popped out of wet ground, shaped like clumps of spaghetti. The mushrooms that we had been watching all autumn began to give themselves back into the ground, visible reminders of the cycle of life.

One day, we found a dead house finch in the forest grove. It caught the interest of several kids, who spent much of the morning observing it closely and talking about what might have happened to it. They decided to place it in a little hole in the ground under the magnolia tree, choosing not to cover it, so that they could watch the decomposition process.

After a tender delivery of the bird to its resting place, three of the boys transitioned seamlessly into an imaginative game in which one of them was a dying bird, being cared for by the others. I watched from a distance as they wrestled with this encounter with mortality. When I described the scene later to one of the boy’s parents, she said the family’s cat was quite sick and elderly, and they had been talking about how it might not be alive for much longer. We wondered together about the connections the boy was making between the experience with the bird and his beloved cat.

Meanwhile, winter deaths and dormancies are accompanied by signs of life; indeed, they are experientially inseparable. Falling leaves are revealing winter buds, reminding us on the coldest of days that spring will come, and that the trees know it. How deeply calming it is, to be surrounded by those non-judgmental, patient, rooted beings that give the forest its shape and texture. Many of them germinated there before we were born and will be there after we have gone. It seems to me that their simple, powerful presence is inherently grounding for the children and adults alike.

I feel fortunate to be a part of the Fiddleheads community. I am excited to see how it develops, and curious about the blossoming movement of which it is a part. What are these forces, drawing us back to the forests, the wetlands, the wildness of inner and outer landscapes? Who will we become, if we listen, if we respond? Time will show us. The children will show us.

A Day in the Life

August 20th, 2014 by Lisa Sanphillippo

you are outside. The sun is shining, illuminating the new growth on the western red cedars. It’s been a great growing season and the plants at Washington Park Arboretum are thriving. The backdrop of evergreen trees is a lovely frame to all of the native and non-native plants in the collection. Now, if they would just get here!

Akoloutheo 4-18-14 36

Photo by Lisa Sanphillippo

Just when you thought you couldn’t wait any longer, here comes the bus holding 60 scheduled school-aged children just bursting with energy and excitement to be out of school and outside on such a fine day as this. Today, you will be teaching 15 of them the Native Plants and Native People program. What is native? What is invasive? Who was born in this state? Who are the Puget Sound Salish People? The kids get engaged by the questions you ask. You are showing them their participation and input is valuable.

You will focus some of their amazing energy into a running game about what it is people need to survive. After they have run out some of their shenanigans, you might point out that most everything folks need to survive comes from plants. And with the Puget Sound Salish People, they didn’t just use any old plants; they used plants that are native – original to this place.

Photo by Jacob Smithers

It will surprise you how many of them know what a western red cedar looks like. The J-shaped branches and the flat leaves are very familiar to most of them. But, you can still teach them about western hemlock and its different length needles and puzzle-piece bark. Douglas fir might be new to them, too. Though, once the children see the deep and creviced bark and the way-up high branches, it will be hard for them to forget. Maybe you will tell them the story of the mouse looking for a safe home during a forest fire using the cones of each to differentiate and describe the three trees. You know that story will create a great memory for them about how to identify all three trees.

You will show them artifacts made by local Ethnobotanist, Heidi Bohan. They will get a chance to touch and hold a model of a cedar weaving, fishing spear or canoe bailer. Each made to demonstrate how plants can be used to create a beautiful and useful object that could help a person survive and thrive. When you ask the kids what they use in their everyday lives that is made from plants, you are impressed that the list they give you is so long.

Photo by Jacob Smithers

When you show them to salal and Oregon grape plants and tell them about how berries from each were mixed together along with huckleberry to make a delicious berry cake sort of like a fruit roll up, you can see that they are almost ready for lunch! To distract them, you get them going on the hands-on activities.

This is your favorite part, because they have to work together as a team – just as Puget Sound Salish people of the past and present – to understand how to use a fire bow and drill or to build a single wall of a plank house or to learn how to cook food below the ground. It’s a great distraction because they’ve forgotten about their hunger for a moment as they dig in to the task at hand.

Jacob Smithers

It’s nearly the end of the program, now. You gather them together and ask each person to tell you something they learned or liked from the field trip. It is thrilling how many of them remember that the western hemlock makes sunscreen, how Douglas fir has mouse butts in the cones or that homes can be made without nails.

You thank them and walk them back to the start where their bus will come for them and take them back to school. You hope they will remember today as a positive and fun day. You hope the time here will aid them in their classroom work. Most of all, you hope they will continue to love and learn about plants and one day be a person who advocates for and serves the environment.

You head back to the work room to talk with your fellow guides about the kids and their chaperones and to put away the activities and props from the program. You are tired – sheesh, kids take it out of you – but you are proud to be a part of something important and worthy.

This is the kind of day we get to have at University of Washington Botanic Gardens Washington Park Arboretum. Is it the kind of day you might like?

Our Volunteer Garden Guides bring their knowledge and skills to teach about native plants, forests, pollination, photosynthesis, wetland plants and animals, ecosystems and habitat. We provide training, curricula and enrichments so each person is confident and comfortable teaching.

Consider donating your valuable time and expertise to connecting kids to nature through field trips. We welcome you to be a part of our incredible team of staff and volunteers. We can tell you will fit right in.

  • UW Botanic Gardens Volunteer Garden Guide Training begins September 5th with a kayak tour of the Washington Park Arboretum and continues the following week.
  • For more information about becoming a volunteer and training, please contact Lisa Sanphillippo, School Programs Coordinator, at 206-543-8801 or

Buzza-Ruzza, Buzza-Ruzza: A Visit from The Bee Lady

June 9th, 2014 by Sarah Heller, Community Programs Coordinator & Fiddleheads Forest School Director

FFS6Most have us have been stung by a wasp or bee at some point in our lives, and many of us have an innate fear of flying insects with stingers. Personally, I was stung almost every year of my life between about the ages of 5 and 18. It never swayed me from spending all my free time outside, but I did cower at the familiar buzzing sound of nearby wasps.

At Fiddleheads Forest School we are lucky enough to be a short walking distance from an apiary located in the UW Botanic Gardens’ pollination garden. We inquired with the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association (PSBA), who manages and maintains the apiary, if they’d be able to come teach us about the bees. On May 29th & 30th Elaina Jorgensen from the PSBA taught both Fiddleheads Forest School classes all about bees. She affectionately became known as “The Bee Lady” and her enthusiasm was contagious. As we settled down on the grass in front of the garden Elaina put her hand in her shirt pocket and said, “Can you guess what I have in here?” as she slowly pulled out a small jar with a queen bee inside! She showed the bee around and told us that this bee was just a few hours old, it had just been born. Then she reached into her other pocket and pulled out another queen bee and this one was only a few minutes old!FFS1

When we asked what their favorite part of the bee lesson was, the kids responded with:

–          Holding the boy bee (drone bee)

–          Seeing the queen bees

–          Watching baby bees hatch in the observation hive

–          Learning about bee predators



My favorite part of the experience? Seeing all the kids dress up as little beekeepers:FFS3FFS4

These lessons immediately inspired dramatic play involving all the kids and the teachers too. As we were walking away from the pollination garden to the nearby vegetable garden to wait for parents, kids were choosing their roles in the hive. Once we got to the vegetable garden some kids curled up as larva bees, other kidsFFS2 took on the role of nurse bees to care for the larva and another set of kids took off as worker bees to collect pollen and nectar for the hive. The queen bees established themselves in different areas (for different hives) and the nurse bees brought them food too. This imaginative hive scene has returned day after day back at the Forest Grove. Now, larva bees change and grow into nurse bees, the nurse bees change into worker bees and so on. Comb structures have been built for the baby bees to be in and also to make honey in.

The kids asked Elania if bees have any predators because we’ve been experiencing a lot of predator/prey relationships with our owl family feeding their 4(!) new babies and observing our praying FFS5mantises hunt (all for a future blog post). The Bee Lady told us about bears, wasps, and birds. Guess what stuck with the kids? BEARS! So now some kids choose to be bears that raid the hives of honey every once in a while. The kid-bees know that bees only sting once and then they die so they do a lot of buzzing and chasing of the bear, but very little stinging. This is an aspect of the bee-play that feels heavily informed by the bee lesson because pre-bee lesson all the kids could talk about was how bees sting.

One of the big take-a-ways for all of us is that the girl bees (nurses, workers, and queen bees) are the ones with stingers. The daddy bees (drones) do not have stingers. During the lesson we got to hold a daddy bee and for those of us with some bee-fear this was quite exhilarating! The kids have been teaching everyone they can what they learned, but this key fact – that there are bees without stingers – is most often shared.

The UW Botanic Gardens’ Pollination Garden is located at the Washington Park Arboretum just behind the greenhouses south of the Graham Visitor Center. The hives are maintained and managed by the Puget Sound Beekeepers Association. We’re lucky to have such hard working pollinators on site and an incredibly valuable educational resource.

FFS8Puget Sound Beekeepers Association (PSBA) was founded in 1948 and exists to promote common interest and general welfare of beekeeping, to protect honey bees, to educate beekeepers, encourage good bee management practices, and to encourage good relations between beekeepers and the public. If you’re interested in learning more about what they’re all about check out their website.

Thank you Elaina (aka The Bee Lady) for taking the time to teach us all about BEES!

Step Outside This Summer

February 4th, 2014 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

Summer Camp at the Washington Park Arboretum is starting its fourth year with more weeks and themes than ever. Kids from 6-12 years can go on weekly adventures featuring bugs, birds, frogs, trees, weeds, and even an art and cooking show.

Learn more about the 2014 Summer Camp at the UW Botanic Gardens!


Fiddleheads Winter Series

December 19th, 2013 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

A new year brings new faces, fresh starts, and a new Fiddleheads series! Join Teacher Kate this winter in exploring the Washington Park Arboretum using all of our senses. Each week will be a different theme including:


  • Rain, Water and Mud!
  • Ice and Snow
  • Hibernation
  • Nature Through Our Noses
  • Sounds of the Forest
  • Roots, Shoots, and Bark
  • Decomposers Are My Friends
  • I Can Be A Scientist
  • Dinosaurs and Fossils
  • Signs of Spring
  • Turtles, Beavers, and Wetlands
  • How Animals Move


So this winter, join us for a class of nature connection activities and outdoor play. Each week’s activities include art projects, games, learning stations focusing on fine and gross motor and pre-literacy skills based around the theme, as well as hiking and exploring the park and letting the children’s interests lead the way. Fun for parents and their preschoolers!

Classes meet Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, or Fridays from 10am-12pm at the Washington Park Arboretum. More information about the classes.

$18/class for 1 adult and 1 child. Additional child: $9/class.

Discount for 6 or more classes! ($14/class, $7 for additional child)

Register online or call 206.685.8033



October Dispatches From the Fiddleheads Forest School

October 30th, 2013 by Kit Harrington

Bucket OIMG_7597IMG_6859

What is it about the autumn that generates so much nostalgia? A season evoking such emotion somehow always manages to pass in a blur. It marks the end of lackadaisical afternoons and the start of the annual decent into the cooler, more introspective months.  The way I see it, fall is the natural steward of the New Year. We begin afresh: in school, in season, in time. Fall is about possibility, and that being given, there is no lovelier place to be than surrounded by preschoolers.

EzraThese past weeks in the Forest Grove have been filled with observations of our changing surroundings.  Children this age are just beginning to have an awareness of the passage of time, and autumn therefore provides the perfect canvas for that initial introduction. We literally see the passage of time echoed in the ever sooner sunsets, the coming of the rain showers, and most particularly, in the changing and falling of the leaves and the mushrooms that burst through them on the forest floor. Contrary to life in a traditional classroom, in the forest school the change in seasons literally alters our landscape. Bug HuntTaking the time to draw attention to these changes and allowing the children the opportunity to explore and experience them first hand encourages the development of a heightened ability to discriminate the subtle nuances of the environment, and is therefore a very important part of our curriculum indeed. When we bury ourselves in giant maple leaves, or collect seedpods with different size tongs, or compare and contrast mushrooms, or close our eyes and listening to the new sounds of migrating birds, or choose a specific tree to visit weekly, we are ensuring that these changes do not pass unnoticed.

In addition to the science of our IMG_7586surroundings, children in the forest school have been learning to discriminate feelings, thoughts and the social and emotional need of individuals as well as of a group. We have begun using “The Incredible Flexible You!” social thinking curriculum to better understand why we choose to act in certain ways, and how that impacts those around us. I never cease to delight in the expression of independence and pride on the face of a child who for the first time verbalizes a feeling and then is able to follow that up with an explanation of “why I feel that way.”

These thoughts and ideas are powerful, not only for children but for adults as well. Sarah and I have learned at least as much about social interaction as the children have- there is so much to know! Remy makes nature stickersRecently, we have read the books “Thinking Thoughts and Feeling Feelings,” and “The Group Plan,” and have incorporated activities in regard to these topics into our daily lesson plans. Here in the forest grove, we can already see the impact it is having on the children, who ask to hear the stories again and again and who have begun using their hand to demonstrate a “thought bubble” whenever they discuss a thought they’ve had.

In the Magnolia class we’ve seen an incredible group dynamic develop. The children take on large-scale projects together and successfully navigate complex imaginative games. It is exciting to experience the change that has occurred as these preschoolers become increasingly less reliant on us and more reliant on one-another. There is a sense of independence, responsibility, and pride among all of the students, and it is reflected in the way they interact. They shout out roles and tasks and pass them back and forth, taking turns without needing to be asked. They incorporate new members into the play as they arrive. photo7They take time to solve conflicts and listen to one another’s words. These are self-confident, self-directed kids, and they go out of their way to help one another problem solve and achieve success. In so doing, they are able to take on new and greater challenges, and take full advantage of the educational experiences available to them. As a teacher, it is absolutely thrilling to stand back and observe each morning as everyone greets one another with a hug or a smile and then get right to work- these kids don’t need to be told what the important work of the day is- they are creating it themselves.

The Cedar class has been taking advantage of all the outdoor classroom has to offer. They really want to know everything about their classroom and how to engage with it. We go on spider-web hunts and are astounded at how many are to be found high in the cedar trees above us. We learn that Native Americans used cedars to make shelter, fishing gear, and even clothing, and then we fashion braided bracelets from long cedar “ropes.” We collect a menagerie of mushrooms by the nurse log and make spore prints with them, discussing the how and why of the images left behind. We work together to fill a basket with heavy stones, use our combined power to heft it upundefined high, check to make sure that the “danger zone” is clear, then laugh and clap as it comes thundering down to the ground with a satisfying “thunk.” On a walk we find a print in the ground and throw out suggestions as to what it might be- a lion? a dog? a coyote? -We decide that it probably isn’t a lion and continue on, hunting for more clues as though they were our prey. In the mud pit we’re moving our bodies to accommodate one-another, making space while making mud-cakes. We join together to roll a large log up a hill, then collapse exhausted on the ground. We build fairy houses and furniture for our fort. We use binoculars to spy into the trees and search for birds, discovering a chickadee nest outside the classroom boundaries. We sing songs as a group and take turns singing songs for one another. We are learning and growing by the minute.

WalkingDespite the speed with which the autumn blazes past, we have accomplished much these past weeks in the forest grove, and have loved every second of it. The funny thing I’ve come to realize about this quirky season is that indeed, time passes quickly, but if you take the time to really stop and appreciate them, the moments within seem to last forever.

Kit Harrington and Sarah Heller



Kids’ Photo Contest Winners!

October 16th, 2013 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

We had a remarkable showing this year at the 2013 Kids Photo Contest.  A big thanks and round of applause to all the great kids that entered! We have selected our winners in 5 categories.

Artwork will be displayed at in the Graham Visitors Center on a rotating basis, and for the month of November, the photos will be on display at Katy’s Corner Cafe located at 2000 E Union St Seattle, WA 98122. Although not everyone who entered won a category, every contestant will have a photo printed and displayed.

See all the pictures in our Flickr Group Pool!


Dylan Totten 4 color

Taken by Dylan, Age 4


Logan Cox land

Taken by Logan, Age 10


John Totten 5 arch

Taken by John, Age 5


mystery kid 3 animal

If this is your picture, please email with your name and age!

New Places

Maeve Anderson 16 ArchTaken by Maeve, Age 16


Garden Design: Planning for Spring!

September 3rd, 2013 by Sasha McGuire, Education Program Assistant

Does the impending bleak weather have you feeling down? Sign up for one of our garden design classes to stay positive, and hopeful through the blah months! Learn about attracting wildlife to your yard or window, and making a safe and exciting garden for your little ones!

Wildlife Habitat Garden Design

Courtesy of Emily Bishton

Courtesy of Emily Bishton


Bring birds, butterflies, and bees to your yard! Learn the steps of choosing plants and features that fit your yard, and fulfill the daily needs of wildlife all the while keeping pests at bay. Whether your goal is to design a new garden or to incorporate new habitat features into an existing garden, you will enjoy this practical approach to sustainable success. Wildlife habitat gardens have kind of a beauty that plants alone cannot provide!

Bring photos of your own yard for personalized advice!




Child-Friendly Garden Design

Courtesy Emily Bishton

Courtesy Emily Bishton



Turn your garden into a safe and inviting place for kids. Learn to make unique places for nature exploration, and design the garden so that it “grows up” along with your child. Even learn how to involve your kids in food gardening.  Attendees should bring photos of their garden for personalized advice, and they will also receive lists of child-friendly plants and plants to avoid.




And as always, you can register online or call 206-685-8033 for more information