Budding Naturalists

September 22, 2021

A kindergarten student standing in the forest holding a fern branch.

This week, Wheeler Kindergarten kicked off its Forest Day Program, a nature-based educational experience where students and teachers examine the outdoor classroom that is Wheeler Farm. This is how the Kindergarten teaching team describes the program, which spans 37 days throughout the school year, to their students’ parents and guardians:

Forest Days are an integral part of the Kindergarten program. They provide the platform for our inquiry-based science curriculum where much of learning emerges from what we discover and explore in and around the woods. The Wheeler Farm, our rural campus in Seekonk, Massachusetts, provides acres of natural landscape including hiking trails, fields, meadows, mountain and rock climbing formations, vernal ponds, and rivers. Very soon you will hear about places like the heights of Junebug Mountain, the banks of Fire Pond and the bridges over Runnins River.

Kindergarten students looking at various things in the forest. Two students in the foreground and looking down at the ground, while others in the background are walking around and crouched down to get a closer look at something on the ground.

Through Forest Days, our Kindergarteners learn what it means to be naturalists, developing a reverence for the natural world by paying close attention to the transformative flora and fauna of the Farm. They will learn the value of looking up, just as much as down, and near, just as much as far away. They will watch the ever changing landscape through the seasons and learn to pause in mindful moments while the unique sounds of the forest come alive on some days and on others, captivate us in a deep and beautiful silence. Your children will be foraging fungi and identifying foliage, catching frogs and spotted salamanders, digging for worms and insects, trudging through the mud and sliding through the snow. If they are lucky, they may even have a close encounter with a groundhog, a family of deer or even a Great Blue Heron. Our Forest Days are nothing short of magic and we are eager for you to soon see it through the eyes of your children.

Academically, our Forest Days are a major component of our science curriculum. The Kindergarteners learn skills in observation and inquiry, and how to take what they notice about nature and formulate questions for further research. We bring tools for exploration such as buckets, nets, binoculars, and magnifying glasses, as well as resources like field guides for identifying our various findings. We also chronicle our days out at the Farm in two science journals to integrate literacy. The Kindergarteners learn to create detailed and intentional sketches of their experiences and discoveries, label diagrams, and develop oral language and vocabulary skills through independent and dictated writing. We also incorporate daily picture book read alouds that emphasize the seasons, plants, creatures, and our overall time in the outdoors.

Kindergartens, with their backs to the camera, standing at the end of a forest pond.

Moreover, Forest Days are an unparalleled venue for the physical development of five and six year olds. Sensory play is embedded in everything we do and everywhere we go, and your children will have opportunities to run, jump, climb, and find their balance in ways only the woods can provide. The various terrain of the Farm is an incredible space for your children to take risks with movement and engage their bodies in exploration that will further develop their agility, flexibility, stability, and strength.

Finally, Forest Days enable us to connect with the wider Early Childhood community as Nursery and Pre-K are now stationed in Seekonk at The Nest, as well as the 6th-Grade Farm Program which rotates smaller cohorts within the grade level seasonally. We find many opportunities to safely play and build relationships with these older and younger Wheeler community members, and we occasionally gather in special events such as our Winter Solstice bonfire, where we throw our New Year’s wishes into the flames while we toast marshmallows for s’mores.

At the heart of it, all mud and mess and stinky socks aside, Forest Days are just really, really fun. Your children will learn and grow so much from this aspect of our program, and they will play in ways they cannot on a traditional playground. Our nature-based program is a complete experience of mind, body and spirit, and the Farm, as the school’s motto proclaims, will teach you very deeply that “the spirit giveth life.”

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