Every Sunday, Doug Peterson writes a Whatever Happened To post, which allows us to reflect on memories and share experiences from the past. Today, I couldn’t help but write my own post, inspired by a Facebook message by Janet Raymond that my teaching partner, Paula, texted to me yesterday.
Unlike some of Doug’s weekly blog posts, I know what happened to this fallen tree. I don’t know all of the reasons why it was removed, but just like Janet, I realized that at some point it might be. The actual moment though brought me to tears. This tree was so much more than just a broken tree.
For me, this tree is where Paula and I learned to trust each other. It was instrumental in creating our strong partnership. When I first moved to Rousseau School, I was so excited about the forest that was part of its property. We could now take children to the forest without filling out permission forms and arranging for volunteers. Reading The Kindergarten Program Document, which was new at the time, I realized that outdoor learning was a key component of the Document, and I was excited to see the possibilities in this amazing space. Paula took me and the rest of the class to the forest area early in the school year, and a big attraction was the fallen tree. While I knew, and truly believed, that kids are “competent and capable” as emphasized in the Program Document, I couldn’t seem to walk away from the tree as children climbed and played on it. Was it safe? Could we trust kids up there? I still remember the day that I stood at the bottom of the tree and started this very conversation with Paula. She helped me see how careful students were being on this fallen tree, how they were only taking the risks that they were ready to take, and how they were safely supporting their peers as they climbed. She gave me the confidence to let go and to gradually step away from the fallen tree as students explored it. This was our first of many in-depth discussions that helped us see each other’s points of view and respect what the other person had to offer to the conversation. The magic that is our partnership now — six years in the making — began at the bottom of this tree.
This tree is where we helped show others the learning potential that can happen outside. It’s where we captured conversations around risk-taking and math thinking that extended to our indoor classroom. It’s also where we explored with Dr. McNeil, when he came from Let’s Talk Science, and helped us learn more about insects.
The fallen tree was also part of our incredible visit with Dr. Jean Clinton, four years ago now.
Yes, for both of these visits, we went beyond this one tree into the forest, but the fallen tree is where each one started. Our forest love began at this tree.
For the kids, the tree is where relationships began. Friendships started as children sat together on this big tree, enjoyed a snack outside, and socialized with each other in some different groupings than they might have in other areas of the classroom or outdoors.
The fallen tree is where children learned to support each other, while also becoming more accepting of each other. Sometimes it was about waiting for the child to climb down the tree while others might be able to move a lot quicker. Sometimes it was moving back off the tree so that a child that couldn’t get over the hump could get off. Sometimes it was cheering on those students that weren’t sure if they could do it, and letting them know that they had friends behind them. And sometimes it was being accepting of the fact that there was more than one safe way to get down this tree, and differences are good.
The fallen tree is where children learned to take safe risks. Time and time again, Paula and I saw that the risk-taking that happened outdoors transferred indoors, as children started to take risks in reading, writing, and math learning.
Yesterday, as Janet and I were texting back and forth about this blog post, she shared with me a great post that came across her Facebook feed.
For numerous students and families at Rousseau, this tree was their friend. It was one of those special relationships that are nurtured through each visit, each climb, and each social interaction there. I know that eventually everything comes to an end, and maybe it was time for this tree to go. My hope is that children and educators can find another special forest space — be it the nature swing, the big log, the mini-forest area, or something else altogether — where new generations of kids can have these same experiences that they had on this fallen tree.
At our new school, we don’t have a forest on the property, but the small trees in one space that our kids call, “the mini-forest,” and our world’s smallest “mountain,” have become the areas where our students connect, take risks, explore together, and support each other in different ways.
What are your memories of this fallen tree or other trees that might have been equally as special to you? At a time when COVID restrictions limit many interactions inside, these outdoor moments become even more important. Rousseau’s fallen tree might be gone, but the memories remain, and I hope that new ones can be made in the magical forest space where strong relationships for kids and adults began and were nurtured thanks to the loveliest of imperfect trees.
Beautifully captured ❤️ All my own thoughts, feelings and memories of the Fallen Tree are in this post…. So much more than a broken piece of nature. It represented a change in how I, my partner, and you and Paula all approached outdoor play and shifted to follow the lead of the children. We all, children and adults alike, take lessons forward from The Fallen Tree.
Thanks for the comment, Janet, and for the conversations that led to this post. You helped inspire it. It was also around this fallen tree that we grew as a kindergarten team — a team of four at the time, and later 5 educators — who all believed in the value of this outdoor learning and connected around ways to support and nurture students in this space. The fallen tree was loved by all kindergarten students, and with all of us outside together, children from multiple classes could socialize and explore in this one area. Friendships developed not just in individual classes, but across the various kindergarten groupings. Thanks for reminding me of another special memory.
There can be all kinds of reasons that trees get taken down or moved away. I just recently read of an elm tree that had to be taken down as opposed to the original plan of digging it up and moving it because of dead trunks. Your beloved tree might be rotting away or having something else going amiss with it. You don’t get into that in the post but dwell on the good memories and those will last a lifetime since you’ve taken pictures of them. That speaks so highly to taking lots of pictures.
At times, there are rational reasons for what you’re experiencing and other times it may be because someone with no attachment makes what seems like a logical move in their eyes since they have no emotional attachment.
Now that it’s gone, there’s nothing that you can do except remember the good memories and perhaps scan some old photos while you plan for what will replace it.
Thanks for the comment, Doug! No longer teaching at that school, I don’t have all of the details for why it was removed, and I have no doubt that there was a reason for doing so. As you said, it’s gone now, so dwelling on the reason gives little value. I’m grateful that I’ve captured memories from that tree that I can take with me and reflect back on even years later. I’m curious to hear from educators still there what might replace that tree and the thinking, learning, and growth that came from it. At a new school now, I know that Paula and I continue to try those magic forest moments, even in a very different outdoor environment.