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"Making Tracks" by Sally-Wren Stevens, SOL Founder & Director

Two forest schoolers practicing a new way to recreate animal tracks in the snow
Making tracks at snowy forest school with a unique method!

One late February day I ventured out into the Cibola National Forest to check in on the magic that is ever-present as our weekly sessions unfold. There had been considerable wintery weather in the East Mountains the weeks before, necessitating program closures, so the Tall Pines group I was visiting hadn’t been out in that “new” snow yet. I arrived to find all kinds of interesting activity taking place all at once: a group of children were very in-their-bodies while they used their large muscles to collaboratively roll massive snowballs that essentially grew as large as (or larger than) themselves, another group worked together to build a female snow person, complete with pine skirt & twig necklace, some giggled as they discovered what it is to posthole (& how it is sort of fun, but also exhausting, if you need to walk a long distance across a snow field), & still others were off doing different things in or with the snow in other areas within the designated forest classroom.

As I stood & just observed this for a moment- marveling about how in a forest school classroom dozens of things can be happening simultaneously in a way that I have never seen occur in a “regular” classroom throughout my decades “in the system”– something, or actually, someone, caught my attention out of the corner of my eye. I turned to find one of our Tall Pines children, a young, artistically creative girl who likes to spend a lot of time in solitary play, doing something very interesting in the snow. Her body was very, very small, still, & close to the ground, she held her hands behind her back, & she was leaning forward, face-first, into the snow, over & over again. I immediately thought, “Hmmmm? I wonder what she is doing?” & crept in for a closer look.

As I neared, I realized she was creating a pattern of sorts in the snow, with her tongue! I quietly alerted Teacher Dana, sharing with her what I was observing & she unobtrusively joined her on the ground, saying, “I am curious what you are doing with your tongue. Can you show me or tell me more about it?” This young girl immediately replied that she was making tracks. Teacher Dana then followed her lead & made some of her own tongue tracks, while there was some brief conversation around the animal tracks that had been spotted before, out in the forest (about a week or so later, this same group of children discovered fresh bear tracks, in fact!).

Teacher Dana’s attention was soon pulled elsewhere, but I was able to find an animal track guide & offer it to this child. She was very keen to consult it & when I checked in on her several minutes later before leaving, she had copied many of the tracks from the guide, making tracks of her own, in her own unique way, into the snow. Her tracks at this point were numerous enough that they couldn’t go unnoticed, so I asked her if she had a plan & how she was feeling as she left her tracks. She simply replied, “well, I want the forest animals to know that we are here, too, & we love them”.

There was something deep, reverent, & magical in her response…something that spoke to the concept of reciprocity in nature. Our children are often closer than we are as adults to remembering that we are nature & observing this child interact with the forest environment in this way, on this day, reminded me of this truth. It felt like her desire to make tracks for the forest animals was a thanks-giving of sorts that she was sharing back to the forest. It also confirmed for me that making our own tracks – in whatever way is unique to who we are – is as valuable as discovering tracks as we learn & play at forest school.

As we near the Equinox & all the new beginnings that the spring season brings, it also had me reflecting on the numerous metaphorical meanings of track-making & the ways in which I am currently “making tracks” in my own life. And it got me wondering, dear reader, in what ways do you hope to make tracks this spring & summer in your own life?

Sally-Wren for ~soulful outdoor learning~


Here is an awesome link that addresses the Science of animal tracking & how it can be a fantastic learning experience for children: Animal tracking science lessons: What kids can learn from tracks & clues (

A reflection from the field, by Miss Brie

There was a beautiful blue sky above us today in the bosque with our Treeschoolers, Miss Dana, and Miss Brie (subbing for Sally). We welcomed new Treeschooler Alma and we are glad to have her with us! Teacher Dana taught us to listen to our breath, and we sang lots of songs in the morning circle, and then we walked the boundary line with Alma to show her our new play space. There was lots of mud kitchen fun before lunch, and during lunch Teacher Dana read a book called the "Golden Rule", which spoke to how the rule is worded around the world. The wind started to get a little gusty, so we decided to pack up and roam from our site to adventure! This led to several instances when we paused to ask the group - where should we go next? We asked for ideas from the Treeschoolers, and considered each one. We then closed our eyes, asked our hearts what they wanted to do next, and took a vote. Since we did this a few times, we learned about listening to our inside voice, expressing our ideas and opinions within a community, and the democratic process. We came upon two fishermen who were very kind. We must have voted to watch them for 20+ minutes (that's long for this age!). Eventually one of the men caught a fish, and we went to see. The fish was bloody, and the man explained that the fish had swallowed the hook, which cut it inside. He was planning to take the fish home to eat. We watched him remove the hook and put the fish on a stringer. At first I'll admit I was worried as to how the Treeschoolers would react to this. They were curious, and perhaps a little scared, but.... mostly curious. I spoke to this without judgement, and spoke to how lots of people catch food for themselves (like my family), here and around the world. I asked the kids, "Do you eat meat at home? This man is catching his own meat! It's very fresh this way. Some people eat meat, some eat fish, and some do not eat meat at all". A few children shared that they love salmon and a few have fished before – even ice fishing! We were at a place this summer for a few weeks when the forest closed, called Sanctuario de Karuna. I don't believe we shared too deeply about the philosophy of the sanctuary with our youngest students last summer (it's a vegan-inspired rescue and sanctuary for farm animals that otherwise would have been slaughtered) and I wonder what those students might have thought about today's fish. I myself come away with a deep appreciation for clean water, wild fish, tradition, and yet also sadness, and much gratitude, for the fish.

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.

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