My parents protected and shielded us from their increasing hardships and sorrows. We had many friends and were allowed to play in our quiet neighbourhood without restrictions. After the war, only a few people could afford cars. There was hardly any traffic. Most people travelled by bike, streetcar, train or horse buggy. Special forest trams would take us out into the beautiful surroundings for hiking or other outdoor activities. On weekends my mom prepared a simple picnic lunch, and we would either go by tram or on the back seat of my parents’ bikes out into the forests.
It’s incredible how far we could hike at an early age. My dad would goad us on by promising a pop-like beverage if we made it to the next village or any other destination he wanted to reach. Picking berries or mushrooms would supplement our diet. However, at that time, I was not too fond of mushrooms.
Located close to our home was a public outdoor swimming pool in a beautiful forest setting. My father was a passionate swimmer, and he taught us to swim before we even entered school. I inherited my dad’s passion and went to the pool every day during the open season, no matter how cold the water was. Even before I was six years old, I was allowed to go there on my own without adult supervision,
In the winter, we would get lots of snow. Every day we would spend hours tobogganing with friends down a steep street in our neighbourhood. At suppertime, we would trudge home tired but with glowing cheeks looking forward to our big warm tile stove and my dad’s nightly stories about the great explorers and inventors of the world.
Article reprinted from the ‘Rural Root’ Publication
Erika has been a classroom teacher for more than 10 years and previously worked as a park naturalist and environmental educator. Currently, Erika teaches in a K-3 classroom in Edgewood, part of the Arrow Lakes School District (SD10). During the past 7 years, Erika and her students have been going for weekly outings walking, skiing, snowshoeing, stomping, tramping, strolling, sauntering and discovering that outdoor experiential learning can be fun. Erika is also on the board for the Columbia Basin Environmental Educators Network (CBEEN) as well as the Local Pro D Chair for the Arrow Lakes Teachers’ Association.
Back in September we collected a variety of nature materials to create self portraits with. Students were tasked with the challenge of using only objects from nature to make their portrait. It was inspiring to see the student’s faces jump out from the page. From a head of blond curls made of curled birch leaves, a long straight side ponytail made of grasses and a wide toothy grin of ghost berries or a students were able to use nature to show their physical characteristics and some personality. We used white craft glue to stick these portraits onto heavy cardboard. We also gathered sticks to spell out our names with and glued these to cardboard. Both of these projects are on display on our Wonder Wall, a place where we explore and ask questions about the world around us.
During one of our walks students each collected a fallen leaf. We gathered at our meeting spot under the Pondering Pine and reviewed what symmetry means. During this time students gave me their leaves and I cut them in half along their axis of symmetry. The leaves were then taped into our Nature Notebooks. Students were asked to draw the other side of their leaf. Pencil crayons and shading techniques were used to try and match the drawn side to the real leaf. Students were then had to label parts of their leaf and write a brief description of their observations. To preserve the leaves in the journals we placed a small piece of clear shelf paper directly over the taped leaf and pressed firmly to seal.
Each student has a special bond with their Thinking Tree. These trees are chosen each September by the students and these trees become of place for journalling, observation, quiet exploration and occasional group play area. We try to visit bur Thinking Trees once or twice a month. It never seems to happen as frequently as we’d like. In order to carry a piece of our trees with us we made special amulets. We are fortunate enough to have a kiln at our school so we used regular clay. Air dried clay would also work for these. Back in the classroom I pre-rolled balls of clay about the size of a bouncy ball. In the forest students flattened the balls against the bark of their tree. We tried to find interesting patterns to press the clay into. We also poked holes in the top. Once dried and glazed we tied these to our walking backpacks. Students with extra time found other patterns including leaves and insect holes to make other amulets. These were made into necklaces and keychains.
Shortly before the Winter Break we made these Winter Solstice stars. During our walk students were asked to find 5 sticks about the length of their forearm and width of a pencil. We collected dead sticks from the ground. Using colourful yarn or natural twine we wove and tied the ends together creating a star shape. In order to maintain the shape we also tied the sticks near the middle where they crossed over other sticks. They weren’t too hard to make but definitely required teamwork and an adult to get them going. While I helped students with their star, the other students wrote in the Nature Notebooks about what they thought their Animal Personas were doing to prepare for winter. Animal Personas are animal names the students chose to use during our Walking Wednesdays and Outdoor Exploration activities. We have names such as Dr. Hornet, Sir Bobcat and Queen Owl. The stars looked great hanging in the window of our classroom.