Kids in the Woods is a month-long summer camp providing environmental education and cultural activities for a diverse group of young children examining the natural environment and their relationship to it and to each other through a hands-on activity oriented program. Children use both artistic and scientific skills to observe, identify and collect natural materials and processes and to diagram and record their experience through activities in visual arts such as clay, paint, drawing, collage, sculpture and other media including found objects in nature, and in literary arts such as journaling, poetry and story telling. Healthy eating habits are encouraged by engaging the children in making fun snacks such as fruit popsicles, peanut butter, and bagel faces.
Instructors: Three teachers lead the program. Lisa Sirgo holds a Masters degree in elementary education and Montessori certification and has worked extensively in public and Montessori schools. She is an extremely gifted teacher in child-centered experientially based teaching and learning activities. Laura Richens has a B.A. in Studio Art and an M.A. in Art History. She has extensive experience leading art workshops and tours for children at Lusher Elementary and Zilker Elementary School in Austin, TX. She currently serves as Curator of the Carroll Gallery in the Newcomb Art Department of Tulane University. Kara Tranchina is a student of the University of New Orleans Early Childhood Education Program. She has worked at Lusher Elementary for four years as a Kindergarten Assistant Teacher and as a Child-Specific Aide for a student with Asperger’s Syndrome.
Environmental Curator and year-round ASITW staff member David Baker also works with the children. He graduated from Louisiana State University with a B.S. in Botany. He has studied Hurricane ecology in Florida and Louisiana and worked for a private environmental consulting firm aiding oil field clean up projects using plants.
A Student’s Poem
I am a leaf
I am a leaf, small and colorful
I wonder why I am so tiny
I hear people step on me
I see the big tree that I fell from
I want to be back there on the tree
I am a leaf small and colorful
I pretend to fly back on the tree
I feel like I can run away from the
People about to step on me
I touch the branch of the tree
I worry that someday someone might take me off the ground and crumple me
I cry every time I am stepped on
I am a leaf small and colorful
I understand that people don’t care about me
I say that I am beautiful like the leaves on the tree
I dream of being back on the tree
I try to go back up there
I hope that I am not stepped on anymore
I am a leaf, small and colorful
— Vincent Flores-Aprill
A Teacher’s Journal
A very rainy day – the first day of camp. We begin our day by sitting in the loft and writing haikus about what we are observing around us. The children have some time to quietly observe the rain and the woods around us from this vantage point. Many of the children are familiar with haikus, and the few who aren’t pick up quickly.
Afterwards, Dave discusses nature with the kids and gives them a brief overview of what they may be observing in the next few days. He plans to introduce a different type of plant each day, starting with the most basic and moving to the most complex. The children seem fascinated by him. After this discussion, we take our first real walk through the woods.
He has provided each child with his/her own coloring book about what they will study. What amazes me is how each child responds to the information on his/her level. The older children want to know about every detail of the packet; they want to know exactly what color everything should be, whereas the little ones are happy to color everything on the page the same color. Yet in his or her own way, each child is absorbing what he or she needs.
After snack we take our own walk through the woods. We are lucky that the rain has temporarily stopped and the woods are beautiful and cool. The children now have an assignment: they are to act like a naturalist and simply note in their journals what they see in the woods. Of course, they notice the most fascinating things, such as a tiny spider web deep inside of a fern, or a small hole made in the mud by some unknown animal.
After this I read Robinson: The Pleasant History of An Unusual Cat. We discuss Walter Anderson and how artists use and are inspired by nature.
Today we start the day with Cinquain poetry, which is similar to a Haiku but has a different syllabic pattern. It has 5 lines instead of three and follows the pattern 2,4,6,8,2. The children’s poetry is beautiful, and I am always impressed by how well they catch on, even the very young children who don’t write yet.
Noticing that we were spending much of the day in a clay studio, several of the kids asked if we could work with clay, so today we made impressions with some of the leaves and flowers that the kids found in the woods. They loved working with the clay. They rolled in onto the object that they wanted to make an impression of, then they set it carefully over a styrofoam mold so that they made little bowls. As soon as the clay was somewhat dry, they identified the leaves and flowers that they had made impressions from, and inscriped the names on the back so that they would have a permanent memento of their time in the woods.
Later Dave spoke to the kids about Algae and Fungi, and showed them some examples. They love being able to observe and learn about these plants.
We begin the day day learning about trees, which Dave has brought examples of. He discussed the parts of trees, then he shows the children how to make rubbings and pressings of the leaves in their journals. They love this idea, and when one child gets the idea to give the book to Dave to sit on so that it would be pressed more quickly, the idea catches on quickly, and soon the kids form a stack of books on the stool, begging Dave to sit on them!
Afterwards the children all write a Tanka poems, which is another form of poetry similar to a Haiku, but this time the syllabic pattern is 5,7,5,7,7. Again, I am impressed by the ability of these kids.
This is also the day that we are taking the pictures for our Studio In The Woods Photo Album. The kids have been thinking about possible themes that they will focus on, that they will consider when they take their photos. Some examples of themes are: colors in nature, interesting things, and evidence of animal life.
I realize that because the kids will be excited by the fact that they have cameras, they will need assistance in slowing down. Therefore, I have decided to impose a time limit on them. They will only be allowed to take a picture every three minutes. This will force them to really think about what they want to photograph. They have also been instructed not to take pictures of each other or the dogs or cats. They seem to adhere to this restriction well.
The kids follow my cue extremely well at first, but after about twenty pictures, they start to take their pictures off cue. I’m okay with this, since they really seemed to put a lot of thought into those first twenty pictures.
Some of the older kids have even kept documentation in their journals about every photograph they have taken. I can’t wait until the pictures are developed!
Today we start by learning about flowering plants. The kids love being able to pull flowers apart and hear about wildflowers. After this, we discuss Fibonacci’s number and find examples of its occurrence in nature.
We end the day today with an I Am poem, where the children write poetry from the point of view of something at the woods. Again I am extraordinarily impressed by the poetry of these kids, and also by the depth of their empathy and their ability to see the point of view of a weed or a daisy.
Today we start with an acrostic poem, which many of the kids are very familiar with, and then we learn about Grasses, Sedges, Hedges (Wetland Plants) from Dave. By this time the children have become very adept at labeling stems and leaves in their journals. Even the very young kids have accomplished this ability, and are eager to start a new section.
When they’re done with this, the kids assemble their photo albums. I have asked them to contribute one photo to the group photo album as they assemble their own. The kids are thrilled to see their pictures and to create this book which will be anther reminder of their time in the woods.
Afterwards, we open the kiln and the kids also get to see their pottery for the first time after being fired. They are thrilled to see it and are eager to show it to their families.
In conclusion, I would like to say that I feel as though this camp has made such an impression on me. I have learned very much from the kids and from the woods. I hope to implement some of these things into my classroom for next year, although I won’t have the benefit of such wonderful surroundings. I feel that the children were better able to absorb what was taught in this beautiful environment. Furthermore, I feel that every kind of child benefits from this kind of experience. The urban children, many from Uptown New Orleans, benefitted greatly because they lack this kind of environment in their everyday lives, so it was a great priviledge for them to be exposed to the woods. At the same time, it was important for the neighborhood children to realize and learn about what existed in their own backyard. This has been a truly wonderful experience for me and I have relished every minute of it. I also feel that the children have gained a real sense of the beauty and the importance of the woods and hopefully this will stay with them for a lifetime.
— Darleen Mipro, 2005