Dodge kids go outside every day, and most days we "go for a hike" together in smaller groups-- usually one teacher and six kids (a great, and unusual in early childhood ed, ratio, by the way). We often hear the same question, "Where are we going?" To which teachers often respond, "Where do you want to go?" This is a big question, in both literal and figurative ways-- Dodge is a big place and deciding about all sorts of things is a big job, but it gets easier to answer this question as the year progresses. Kids get to know Dodge Nature Center in a variety of ways. They learn about our playground, and then our immediate trails, and then those that are farther afield, and they also spend time navigating less trammelled wilderness, off the trail.
Nature Center, but by how their hiking experience changes when we leave the trail for uncharted territory.
All the hiking they do, creating physical pathways through space and time, accruing experiences, not only develops childrens' muscles and coordination, it helps children establish and strengthen physical pathways in their brains, connecting hemispheres and helping the various parts of the brain integrate and function faster and better. When children spend time hiking trails, we see signs of growth and development in these areas:
-control and regulation of their bodies (physical)
-control and regulation of feelings (emotional)
-forging connections and building attachments with place and peers (emotional & social)
-awareness of spacial relationships, emerging mapping skills (math)
-memory, recall, association and building context (general cognition)
-noting, interpreting and documenting experiences with teachers and peers (literacy)
After the first snow, I set out with a small hiking group. Their bodies were a little disorganized and they were playing a game of bumping and pushing. I elected to try a session of Dodge wrestling, but kids quickly abandoned that project. Someone started complaining about cold feet and another child didn't like the bunchiness of her new snow pants. With a measure of desperation, I drew their attention to a big deer track. I worked up a lot of enthusiasm about the track and said I thought it must belong to the big, goofy buck--Mr.Buck--we'd seen lately. A boy perked up, "Mr. Buck? He made you almost pee your pants! Remember! Where'd he go?" I looked around, "Well, I dunno, but he must be around here somewhere!" Then my little friend with cold feet took the bait, "How do we find him?" I threw up my hands, "I dunno! Where should we look?" "Follow his tracks!" said the boy. "That sure was funny when he surprised you. I told my dad you almost peed your pants!" Cold Feet said, "He went this way." And off we went, following her through the raspberry canes, across the frozen stream and under the pines.