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Nature Notes Journal - January 2020

We entered the Forest in the New Year full of fresh ideas! With our feet now firmly rooted in Winter, the children had more practice managing their gear and getting to know what they needed to stay warm in the woods. Our Roots made peace with wearing their mittens, our Branches hovered near the fire, and our Acorns were frequently observed running up and down the trails for warmth.

Teachers packed extra sweaters, fleeces, and accessories, blankets for snuggling near the fire with a friend, and warm herbal tea - good for the soul. We saw lunches transform from finger foods to hot oatmeal and soup in thermoses, and hats change from the baseball variety to knitted with pom poms. It was clear that we humans had "adapted" to our changing weather.

Discussions continued around hibernation and migration, as we observed honking geese overhead, robins that seemed to appear too soon, and thick-coated deer and foxes as they moved among us in search of food. Frozen puddles, mud-cicles, and lingering snowflakes from the first snow of the season added new elements to our play, sensory discovery, and gross motor movement.

We began the new month with a new focus of map making. Map making builds spatial awareness skills in children and helps them to understand their place within a larger world. To begin our conversation, the children were encouraged to share what they already knew about maps. Far and away the best known map among young children is a pirate map, but they also noted understanding of maps that are used in the car for directions (although chuckles were raised when learning that 'when we teachers were their age,' we didn't have phones to tell us how to get places, we had to read paper maps!) The children were introduced to other kinds of maps through the book, "My Map Book," by Sara Fanelli. They were excited to try making their own.

For our first week of the study, the children created "Owl Maps," which focused their attention on what they could see with their 'owl eyes' while seated in their individual sit spots. The children were taught to make an 'X' or an 'O' depending on their skill level to mark in the center of their paper where they were sitting. Then they were shown how to draw simple symbols to represent what they were seeing in front of them, behind them, and on either side of them. Trees, sticks, pine cones, and shrubs were the most frequently reported.

For week two, they created "Fox Maps," which focused their attention on what they could hear with their 'fox ears.' From their sit spot, the children represented his/herself on the center of their map this time with an 'X' circled by an 'O.' While seated silently, the children listened carefully for sounds around them. When they heard something, they marked the sound on their map with an 'X' in the place where they heard the sound originate. When we interpreted the individual maps together during our 'share-out,' it was clear that the blue jays in the west were upset about something!

For our final week of mapping, the children were challenged to create "Mind's Eye Maps." For this task, the children were led on a mindful journey to the very top of the tree canopy where they perched as their favorite bird. They were to use their keen eyes and look down upon the forest floor below. From this branch, they took flight soaring high above the children playing in the forest below. Their maps were the picture of what they saw from that perspective.

The mapping unit has been met with much continued interest and enthusiasm from the children. Our oldest Oakers have extended their understanding of maps in a forest context by discussing left versus right, north, east, south, west, and various geographical maps- from street views to global layouts.

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