On our last walk to the forest, the children learned that the new paint markings were indeed the precedent to roadwork as they predicted, but specifically it was for a new sidewalk not road, that led them down the hill. They learned that the vine charcoal that they made on the fire the week before worked perfectly for drawing new maps. They learned about a fascinating phenomenon that only happens in the Spring — the oak pollen, dogwood and tulip poplar petals collect in the eddies on the creek and fool the eye (but not the hand, foot, or stick) into thinking that there is solid ground that can be stepped on. They learned that they could follow the deer path and not get lost. The children also learned that if you fall in the water, you will get wet.
What? That is still in the lesson plan at this late date? With so many forest adventures under our belts? Why yes it is. Because each person has to come to that hard lesson when it happens. And it happens.
This two-feet-in experience happened as we were gathering to head back to the school, so you know what that means, it was an “everything was going so well, until . . .” moment. He howled, standing there with knees locked, back rigid. He had made a perfect two-point landing so only his feet and legs were in, just barely missing the hems of his shorts. It was pretty impressive really. I couldn’t go to him because I had only just given the two whistles and was holding on the path with the other children gathered. Two co-opers went to help, first one lifted him out and to a flat rock, then the other talked him through, negotiating an easing to the incredible insult of water on “These are NOT water shoes!” by removing his socks and putting back on his wet, not-water shoes.
Through co-oper magic, she was able to get him to the path, but he stood, rigid legs and still crying, signaling that he would not, EVER-NEVER, walk back to school in wet shoes. Ever. The other children, who you know how it is, have never cried or been frustrated in their entire lives looked back at him, shrugging all while turning forward, pushing against my arms, desperate to be released to run back along the path to home for our whistle game.
I bent down and told them, “Look your friend is crying. He is very upset about his shoe situation. I need to talk with him to get him back on track. Wait here.” You could feel their muscles relax, they stopped pushing forward and I was able to walk around them. Here is the thing that the co-opers knew already and that we all know — when a child is that locked in and it is a public locking-in, she or he cannot find a way out. It is a very lonely feeling to be that public in your misery or mistake. This is why I still don’t know what each co-oper said to get him to the next step, first out of the water, and then out of his wet socks, because they instinctively lowered their voices when they talked with him, meeting his wails with gentle negotiation, acknowledgement, and ideas for solutions.
And the beauty of the cooperative model is that there is more than one adult ready to step in. So it was that on this last forest trip, each parent was able to contribute to his moving forward, farther away from the insult of “Everything was going so well, until…” that it just took a moment for me to move around the clump of children to get to him, standing as far as he could from the other, terribly dry, children to talk with him. I bent down, holding up my fingers and I counted out all of the good and totally cool things that happened on this day. I didn’t call them that, but each event I named were golden moments, things that he was able to do and accomplish on this day. I found 6 things that I had seen him do, 6 things that would not have been possible if we had not come out, and then I got to a 7th thing — falling in the water. It is important to note that the 4th thing was crossing — successfully — the very branch bridge he fell off of and without that crossing, he would not have gotten a 5th and a 6th cool event. The 7th thing, falling in the water was pretty bad what with the non-water shoes situation. True. So true.
I asked him if — in the scope of his day — there were more good things or bad things that happened to him. I held my fingers up to show him. See, the thing is this one is moved by numbers, by math and reason. He looked at my hands and did the calculations. I added for good measure, “There will be more of course, we haven’t even gotten to the whistle game for the way back.” That did it. He was ready to go. He said, “Well, it is hot and this will keep me cool.”
And that folks, is what we call a wrap. Two rounds of the whistle game and we were back on the hill walking up and away from the forest and the creek with all of the lessons it has given so freely to this group of children, their teacher, and their parents.