After work began on the trees in the classroom, we spent two weeks buzzing with energy about our classroom forest. Trees went up onto the walls around the room, and our apple tree hung right in the middle. Because of its delicate nature (it was made of paper, after all), we made sure everyone who came along knew not to touch.
Using small groups of children, we set off to create the other major components of the forest that the children had decided to make: the pond, the train, and the secret playground. Mud and trees were incorporated into all of the areas, because we see those all over the forest.
It was decided that we should be able to go into the pond; and paper is too delicate and would rip. We talked about what our clothes are made out of, and how strong it is. The children decided to use fabric and paint it the colors they saw in the pond: green, blue, and brown.
The finished pond included cattails along the banks (which were originally referred to as sausages).
The train is an important feature in our forest; commuter trains zoom through the forest every 10 to 15 minutes. It was natural to draw it on long paper, and to place it up above our heads. We walk through a tunnel to get to the secret playground, and the train runs over that tunnel, so the children decided it would be way up high, and close to the playground.
The trees were places all over the classroom, and the branches made the forest pop out of the walls. While hanging the trees in places designated by the children, they also decided to give the trees a three dimentional effect. By the end, trees were all over the walls, and the branches were attached to the walls and then out to the ceiling.
As we were constructing the forest from our "What Should Be In Our Classroom Forest" list, one girl asked about the mud. Where will the mud be? How shall we make it? The first idea was to use the mud in the sensory table. We could get in the table and then walk around on the floor! This was a moment when we had to have the children brainstorm a little longer. The children talked about the color of mud, and how we had made the pond out of fabric and paint. The idea of using a shoe dipped in brown paint and printed onto a piece of fabric became the vision.
It was executed using one of my wellies. This was one morning when parents were quite intrigued by the set-up at the art table. A few parents complimented me on my creativity, and I had to say that it is their children who have the best ideas, not me.
The final planned component was the secret playground, which is a playground in the Sonian Forest. It was decided that instead of drawing or painting it, like we had done for many of the other parts of the forest, it would be built from blocks, and the structures would stay up for a few days. The planning process included a lot of drawing and looking at photographs. Then I worked with a small group of children to tape off where the different parts of the playground would be on the ground in the block area. It was an interesting experience to talk about the birds' eye view that we were taking on the playground, and they children were not totally prepared for that understanding. But in the end, spaces were planned.
The next day during choice time, children chose to go to the block area and work on different parts, including the airplane, the slide, and the picnic tables where we eat our snack. Children gathered blocks from all around our classroom and we borrowed from other classrooms as well, so a few kinds were used.
At this point, the classroom forest as it was planned was finished. But some unexpected weather put a twist on our plans.
We got a light dusting of snow in December, and making snowflakes became all the rage. They were taped to the windows, and as we began to run out of space, we began getting requests to hang the snowflakes. I spent at least thirty minutes one day standing on a table with a roll of tape, with a steady stream of children bringing me snowflakes and yarn to hang from the ceiling. Just like that, it began snowing in our forest.
With just a few days left until our winter holiday break, and since we were in a place that felt like a conclusion, we decided to celebrate the hard work in the classroom. The children had been talking about wanting to show the forest to their former nursery teachers, and to their friends in the other preschool class. This soon evolved into siblings, and siblings' teachers; so we had invitations to make! Every class in the Early Childhood Center was invited; and every class that had a sibling of a child in our class was invited. We came in on the final day of the first semester and got everything ready: the secret playground got a few more details, the pond was straightened, and the snowfall got heavier with a few last minute snowflakes.
The children were excellent tour guides, and our guests loved the forest. Many of the older children knew about some of the different locations we had made and recognized them before the preschoolers even said a word -- and that made them so proud. Sharing the work with others really brought the project together, because the children showed their expertise.
Here is a video tour of the classroom forest:
Throughout the course of this project, everyone was a writer, a mathematician, an artist, a hiker, a cartographer, a biologist, a researcher, and a member of an amazing think tank. Although we took down our trees and put the blocks back on the shelf, this topic is bound to resurface in some form. We have not been in the forest as much as I would prefer, but we'll be back in soon. In just a few short months, the forest floor will be covered in bluebells, and we just might have to show our appreciation for that in our classroom. We'll see what emerges!