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   Children in the Forest
      A essay by Aggie Moser

The creek behind our Meeting brings nature in close.If someone asked me to describe what I would consider a perfect job for me, I might describe the one I have now.  It involves working with children from 3 1/2 to 17 in a forest setting. Curriculums vary according to the age and interest of groups of children.

Particularly popular with the schools and home school groups which schedule trips to the forest, are curricula involving water study. Ideal is a day in mid to late April.  After discussing some preliminary information with the children (No, we don’t have bears here, as long as you’re good. We DO NOT stamp ants in the forest. The first person to screech  eeeeeooooooooooooouuuugh” when he or she sees a “critter” has to carry me back up the hill, etc.), we walk to the stream which runs through the forest.

We discuss what creatures might live in and around the stream, what things they need to live, and how we can go about observing them without causing harm to them.  We take small nets and buckets which we fill with stream water to streamside. We place the nets in the flow of the water and lift structures—-stones, leaves, sticks—-which might shelter creatures. We carefully remove creatures which have accumulated in the nets and place them in the bucket of water.. 

This is the time when I’m most likely to hear the “eeeeeooooooooooooouuuugh”s.” It’s also the time when excitement runs so high, that I’m constantly cautioning children not to run, not to step directly in the stream, not to use sticks to poke at the animals.  It is, perhaps, the most perfect moments of complete absorption in subject matter to be had. Each child is taken with the “critter” which seems to have magically appeared in HIS net and immediately wants to know what it is.  Concern for the “critter” is also immediate. “Mine’s eating his”. 

It’s time to take the creatures in their buckets up to the benches, where we carefully place them in pans to observe and identify. We have charts to help us identify, as well as small magnifying glasses to look at animal features---the gills moving on the back of a mayfly nymph, the exquisite workmanship in the precisely cut leaves, and small glued sticks of a triangular shaped caddis fly larva case,  the innards of a translucent crane fly larva.

Gradually, we identify most of the creatures and discuss what they might eat, how they move and how they are tied together in a community in the water.  And we discuss the process of metamorphosis. Most of the creatures we’ve found are the beginnings of what we know more commonly in their winged forms—-dragonflies, craneflies, damselflies, mayflies, etc. But they spend most of their lives in the water. The stream is their nursery.

There are children who can focus on nothing but the acquisition and status-endowing property of “their” critter. There are children who are incredible “knowers,” having lapped up every nature program on TV.  There are children who are afraid of this unfamiliar situation.  There are children who just want to make sure they find something.

There are children who have been primed in the classroom for just this moment to display all they’ve learned. There is even the child who stares in mute wonder at all he did not previously know existed in the stream. And for each child it’s as though none of these things did exist until he happened to discover them.  

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