It began with the discovery of a tealish-green piece of wood by a student in Jean Bressor’s Brewster-Pierce Nature-Based Preschool class. Students kept finding this mysteriously stained wood throughout their outdoor-centered school day. They created a special shelf in their classroom to hold their growing collection. Jean would ask the children, “What do you think is happening? Why is there this green? I notice that it’s when the wood is already dead and wet.” While Jean was thinking it was part of the rotting process, students were coming up with their own ideas: an animal peed on it, someone painted it, grass got stained on it. After a five month learning journey of noticing, wondering, and researching, they discovered the mysterious stain was the mycelium (the network of fine filaments) of a fungus – aptly named Green Stain Fungus, or Green Elfcup. While the greenish-blue cup-shaped fruiting bodies are usually seen July to late October, the stain can be seen year-round on decaying wood. Jean felt the joy of allowing students to take the lead of their learning. She says, “It’s a funny balance as an adult. How much do you provide facts and how much do you journey with them to figure things out?”
Jean says COVID was the “kick in the pants” to getting outside consistently. And she has been seeing many benefits. She’s observed her students reach higher levels of socialized play outside before they do inside. She sees sensory needs being met more easily and naturally, with students free to jump, roll, climb, and play with sand and rocks. She sees less attention-deficit behaviors outside because children are allowed to follow their interests. Jean sees huge benefits of students being able to calculate their own risk and do their own risk analysis in active play (Jean likes to call this active play instead of risky play as it is not inherently unsafe). Children are able to actively use their bodies and negotiate how high they can climb, how far they can jump, and if they can they walk across the log without falling off.
Jean says, “Instead of constantly saying, be careful, be careful, it’s icy! I would sing – ‘Ice is slippery, ice is fun!’ We would just sing that when we got near ice and that would cue them up to notice that. Saying what we notice, instead of telling them what to do.”
Just as her class follows the footprints of deer, rabbit, and fox to simply see where they lead, Jean is open to what students are drawn to and follows their lead.