SOL mini-story & PSA: Drench your campfires & come back & do it again! (And again!)

We arrived yesterday prior to session to find two lovely young men from the Netherlands camping just outside our classroom boundary (it's a legal "dispersed camping" area within the national forest). They had a morning fire going to take the chill off & after some greetings & polite conversation I alerted them to the fact that we were under a Red Flag Warning & technically, they weren't supposed to be having a campfire. I spoke to how common wildfires are to the area (blessings to those in the Ruidoso, NM area currently being evacuated) & asked them to drench it to be sure it was out before leaving. They assured me they would.

These visitors were welcoming & kind so once the children arrived, we oriented them to this strange occurrence (of campers being set up in our site) & then met them. We listened to their language that sounded so different from ours, learned about all the windmills, canals, & tulips in their country, & told them (unsolicited) a thing or two about fire safety. They left within the hour & my intuition told me that even though the fire looked to be snuffed out, we had better take a closer look, so we gathered our Treeschoolers, grabbed a shovel & extra water bottle, & headed over.

Well, it took just one turn of the spade to see that it was still alive & smoldering barely below the surface! We took the opportunity to teach our Treeschoolers about the fact that the vast majority of forest fires start due to human error, how we are currently under a Red Flag Warning (& what that means), how the recent active winds could easily reignite a fire like this, & how to truly stamp a fire out to be sure it is dead. They expressed some disappointment at the fact that the campers "didn't show care to the forest" & wondered whether they "just didn't know" (they are from a country with lots of water). We poured & stirred & listened for sizzling hiss sounds & watched the steam & felt the piping hot rocks in the fire ring through our mittens & gloves. And.....the fire embers still glowed beneath a thin layer of ash. I told the Treeschoolers that I thought we needed more water to put this thing out & asked them where we could get more. They immediately thought of the large water jug we bring each week for mud kitchen. We got the jug & then poured & stirred & watched & listened some more, eventually snuffing it out with an army of Treeschoolers depositing little handfuls of collected dirt all over it. We then set an alarm for an hour later & did it all on repeat, again.

This is a prime example of how the forest/nature often delivers learning opportunities for us that are unexpected & delightful & in this way, we come to know the forest herself as another teacher. In this instance, the situation really allowed our Treeschoolers to think through all our teachings & experiences of risk vs. hazard (this was clearly a hazard), as well as our SOL rule-of-care. They quickly worked together to show their care for the forest by putting the fire out & no one complained about the lack of mud kitchen water for the rest of the day. (And... I feel pretty good about the stewardship skills these Treeschoolers are learning & know many will become the fierce future earth guardians needed as we move into the future).

~Miss Sally & the Wednesday Woodpeckers

*I wish I could have documented the entire experience, but I was busy co-experiencing it alongside our Treeschoolers in the moment.

(& possible shameless pitch, too, read on):

One of our Treeschoolers was super sad this week when she learned a favorite friend was out for the day. She had a little bit of a harder time settling into the session, which isn't typical for her, but eventually settled into a combination of time playing alone, time zipping in and out of other children's play, and time connecting with me (Miss Sally) a familiar and favorite adult.

When I touched base with her mama about this the next day, mama shared that they'd had a conversation about it. Apparently this Treeschooler shared, with a bright smile on her face, that she was "so sad because I missed my friend, but then I realized I had the whole forest to play with as a friend. And that's what we did, we played together the entire time!"

This gets to one of the core aims that drive my work (and the work of countless other nature-based educators): The nurturing and development of our future stewards of the earth. When you develop a relationship with the natural world – and learn to "play WITH the forest as a friend" – you grow up wanting to care for this planet and this world. The connection WITH nature is key here and different than some other ways our culture views the connection between humans and nature. This is a reciprocal relationship that develops; this little girl will likely grow up to identify as someone who cares a lot about the earth, but she will also grow up with a memory of what nature gave to her as a child and hopefully learn that nature will always support her, no matter her stage in life, should she continue to nurture the connection.

Witnessing this connection that deepens between our Treeschoolers and the forest (and all the other-than-human beings that live there) is such a joy, and also confirmation for this work. What we do as nature-educators often feels like a bold revolutionary act in these times of screens and technology, over-consumption, environmental degradation, and the overall excess and too-muchness in the developed world. Everyone benefits from the work of those who strive to care for this planet we call home (whether they are tiny Treeschoolers, or grown adults) and from anyone/everyone deepening their individual connections to the natural world. This is ultimately an act of "re-member-ing", while also being the very thing that will ensure our continued surviving and thriving on this planet.

If you work to connect children to nature, thank you! If you would like to support organizations that work hard to nurture this connection (there are many and they all need your support!), here are some links to some programs you can support in honor of Earth Day occurring this month on the 22nd, including SOL Forest School:

From your Treeschooling friends at SOL, we hope you have a wonderful Earth Day month!

image credit: a drawing for SOL by former SOL Treeschooler, now Adventurer, Nora Plum

It was all about the big trees today.

Immediately upon our arrival in the Cibola National Forest today, an Adventurer discovered this beautiful Ponderosa & instantly began pondering what had caused it's unique "beauty mark". The group consensus was that lightening had struck this giant, leaving it "more beautiful than before". The group was somewhat split regarding whether the lightning had passed up the tree from the ground, though, or down the tree from the sky "where lightning zaps from". There was some good theorizing going on!

Before long & without prompting, each child of the 10 took a moment to greet, touch, hug, & smell the tree (to those who aren't familiar with Ponderosas, they smell divine! Some say they've got a vanilla scent, some say butterscotch, some say they smell like cookies baking.... regardless, they smell divine!) each as if greeting a pet or a friend with fond familiarity. As I witnessed this moment of magic I couldn't help but to wonder, "Does the tree sense these children acknowledging & appreciating her"? I like to think so, just as I like to think that these children will forever feel drawn back into her comfort & shade. Once we arrived to our site called "Fallen Tree", the group was immediately drawn into exploring the fallen tree & building a fort with the tree itself as the eave of the fort's roof. Snack was eaten inside & the children made an agreement that "if everyone wanted to eat in the fort then no one could, because there wasn't enough room for the whole group". Soon after a primeval kitchen had been erected & stones were being used to grind things while soups cooked & cakes baked. A team added "insulation" (pine duff) to the roof, "home" duties & children were tended to by a core group of children, while others quite literally "hung out" from the tree branches. Forest school flow & bliss. It's amazing to watch primal roles & behaviors playing out & to witness the reset that seems to take place when children are able to engage in nature in this way. It's deep & meaningful in ways I'm just beginning to be able to put words to, but this article gets right to the bone of it:

~Miss Sally for SOL