Your STEM Questions Answered
February 23, 2017
If you were able to join the recent Natural Start Training Webinar on Early Childhood STEM led by Fiddleheads Forest School, you know that the Fiddleheads team shared many great ideas, and there were lots of questions.
The Fiddleheads team graciously agreed to respond to some of the questions we couldn’t get to during the webinar, and we’ve posted them here so that everyone can see what they had to say.
Still have more questions? Our full-day, hands-on workshops at our Official Training Sites give you the opportunity to explore this and other topics in nature-based education more fully. Learn more.
Q: Can you expand on the nature journals you use in the classroom? What do these look like? How do kids interact with these journals?
A: We purchase waterproof paper, cut it in half and bind them with a rubber band and a stick. (See video below on making a book with stick binding.) This makes it easy to add pages. We also have a cover image we print out on one page that has a place for the student's name. So the journals are the size of a half sheet of printer paper.
The journals live in an accessible container in our forest classroom so the children can seek them out. Sometimes we will prompt the students when they make a discovery: "You found such an interesting track! Do you want to document it in your nature journal?" If they ask, we will help them add words to describe their drawing or tell the story of what they discovered.
We have done whole-group journaling activities before where we will go to an area and have the children find something in that area they want to add to their journal. It's a pretty open format and one that some students are very drawn too and others aren't at all. We find it is the older students who are attached to their journal and frequently want to add on to it as a book of their adventures and discoveries.
Q: Is there a basic way to determine topics, themes throughout the day? Week? Month? Etc. I imagine those themes dictate which materials you have to prep each day.
A: We determine topics through a combination of what is going on in the natural world at the time, the seasons (different topics for the wet cold months versus the warm summer months), and interests of the students. We do a little planning ahead with general monthly topics that very generally rotate on a bi-yearly basis (though some are the same each year) and then adjust based on what the students express interest in and what nature is presenting us with. Sometimes we choose the theme and the kids are really into it and it becomes a two-way street—kid-driven and teacher-picked. Sometimes we choose a theme and then the forest fills with fungi and mushrooms so we abandon the theme to learn about the fungi because that is what is going on right in front of us.
Q: How extensive is your training of your teachers?
A: Our teachers are trained through hands-on time in the classroom shadowing experienced teachers as well as extensive, in-depth coverage of training topics through meetings and presentations with the director. New teachers are generally paired with experienced teachers in their first year.
Q: Do you have an example of your daily schedule?
A: Our daily schedule looks like this:
9:00 - 9:45 Drop off, choice time
9:45 - 10:00 Circle time
10:00 - 11:30 Choice time, adventures/walks, snack
11:30 - 11:45 Storytime
11:45 - 12:00 Lunch
12:00 - 12:40 Group work, magic spots
12:40 - 12:50 Clean up
12:50 - 1:00 Songs
Q: At four hours a day, do the children go to another daycare/school after or before the nature school? If so, how do the children do with the transition?
A: A few of our students do transition to afternoon care/programs. We are their morning program so we don't see/experience the transitions the students go through to his or her afternoon program
Q: How do you keep tools, field guides, books, art materials dry in a rainy climate?
A: For books, we remove the pages from the spine, laminate them and then re-bind them with binder rings. For field guides, we get fold-out ones (kind of like a map) and laminate those. Art supplies are on stumps under our large tarp awning. We put out fewer science tools on pouring-wet days, but since our classroom is under evergreen trees we are sheltered somewhat from the rain. If it's pouring we'll keep the microscope packed away, but our magnifying glasses, lumiloops, rulers, scale, etc. are all functional in the rain. During school breaks or after a particularly wet week, we'll bring our supplies inside and lay them out to dry.
Q: What are some field guides that you would recommend?
A: We use regular local field guides with the kids. You can find a variety of types of field guides at Acorn Naturalists.
Q: Are there any additional resources you can recommend to help support early childhood programs? (eg: reference sheets, Power Point, websites, books, conferences, etc.)
A: Here are some resources we suggest:
- Rachel Larimore's webinar “Developmentally Appropriate Practices for Early Childhood Nature Play Programs”
- Everything on the Natural Start Alliance's webpage
- The Nature-Based Preschool National Conference in Seattle this summer
- Forest and Nature School in Canada: A Head, Heart, Hands Approach to Outdoor Learning
- Nature Preschools and Forest Kindergartens: The Handbook for Outdoor Learning