It was a fitting end to our time with this adventurous group of children. They were always ready to hit the trails and make discoveries. Some days we would only make it to the front of the school because the birds at the feeders or the caterpillars on a nearby tree were so interesting. On those days, we would watch, talk, investigate, and play nearer to home. On other days, the Explorer's would be ready for distant explorations. They would pick up giant oak leaves, sparkly rocks, acorns, sticks in the shape of Y or 7, curly pieces of bark, etc. while hiking to Berry Berry Island or the Cedar Swamp.
Cedar Swamp became the class's favorite destination. We'd follow the white trail until it reached the blue trail, then hike the blue trail past a vernal pool to the top of a small hill. At the top of this hill is a Stone Circle built to mark north, south, east, and west. The Explorer's love to climb the rocks in the circle. On the other side of this hill is the Cedar Swamp with a new boardwalk running through it, courtesy of a boy scout and his eagle project.
The swamp contains huge straight cedar trees with bark so soft and smooth that we all feel compelled to pet them. In early spring, the Explorer's like to watch the skunk cabbage poke its way out of the mud. "There's some skunk cabbage. There's more skunk cabbage. I see skunk cabbage. Why is it called skunk cabbage? Here's more skunk cabbage." This is the running commentary as we walk through the skunk cabbage.
Further down the boardwalk and deeper into the swamp, we see frog and salamander eggs in the water. And we see and hear frogs, lots and lots of frogs. The commentary changes. "Look frog eggs. I see salamander eggs. (Yes, the Explorer's can tell the difference.) Here are more frog eggs. I hear frogs. They are so loud! There they are, I see frogs. Look! Frogs!"
At the end of the boardwalk there is a root-filled clearing lined with benches. This spot became the Explorer's favorite playground. We named it Rootsaboxen, after reading the book Roxaboxen to them during one of our visits to this area. The book is written by Alice McLearran and illustrated by Barbara Cooney. Check it out. Great book.
When it came time to plan an end of the year celebration, Melissa and I wanted to include this special spot in our plan. We decided to create an Explorer's letterbox and hide it at the end of the boardwalk in the land of Rootsaboxen. Melissa wrote clues that would lead the class from the school, through the Cedar Swamp and to the hidden letterbox.
By the time everything was in place, it was the last day of school and it was raining. We continually checked the forecast through out the morning, looking for a break in the rain. No break. After lunch we checked on the class's rain gear. We were able to outfit everyone with rain boots and raincoats. Melissa and I convinced ourselves that the rain had let up a bit and it was time to head for the Cedar Swamp. The Explorer's happily followed us out into the rain. I could feel their trust and enthusiasm. The rain hadn't really let up, but it didn't stop us. We were all on a mission to find the surprise hidden near the Cedar Swamp.
Many times this year I have said, "This class hiked further the first week of school, than other classes hiked on their last days with us." I wonder about this. How did we cover so much ground with this class? I think the answer is that it isn't only the Explorer's who are learning in our classroom. Melissa and I have learned that four and five-year-olds can and want to be out on the trails. They enjoy the freedom to make discoveries and investigate new territory. They love being outdoors in natural settings, where they can pretend and play what children pretend and play. We have also learned to read the group—whose tired, who needs support, when to add a song or game, and most importantly, when to make tracks for home.
As we set out for parts very well known to our class, I smiled at this new twist—rain. Another first for all of us to experience together—hiking in the rain. Their trust and enthusiasm a gift that I gratefully accept. Thank you Explorers for a wonderful year.