A sit spot practice is a simple way to enhance our observational skills, learn about our surroundings, make discoveries, come up with questions, and connect ourselves and our daily lives with the natural world around us.
Other creatures are living their lives all around us all the time, and the changing light and weather patterns are constantly sending us helpful information. As we become more aware of nature, especially our immediate surroundings, we become more connected to the other beings we share the world with, and also this dynamic inanimate world that we share with them. Though it may seem obvious, these animals, insects and plants are individuals with their own temperaments, territories, families and routines. To some extent, we can become participants in their stories, which are perennially unfolding on the landscape. And we can recognize them as influencers in our stories as well.
The way to start a sit spot practice is simply by spending time outdoors sitting in quiet awareness, usually in a particular place in nature that we visit over and over again. By visiting the same place in nature many times, a relationship is developed; you get to know the place in all kinds of weather, many times of day, throughout the seasons, and from a variety of your own states of mind. At Fiddleheads in-person school we practice a communal sit spot every morning at snack time in our regular snack spot. It is a quick daily practice with young children and their short attention spans, but over time it adds much depth and richness to all our other studies. This practice, perhaps more than any other individual activity, effectively builds an emotional bond between our students and the natural world.
Now as we continue at Fiddleheads this fall with online only learning, I am happy to find that sit spots are a practice that easily translates to at home learning. A sit spot practice can be a great practice for families to take up at any time, but the benefits of perspective that a regular practice brings seem especially poignant these days. A sit spot can become like an anchor in your life - a place to settle down, cultivate present-moment awareness and a quieter mind, and to observe the flow of reality occurring around you. It is powerful to watch the cycle of the seasons unfold from a place of continuity. It is engrossing and enlightening to get to know your non-human neighbors. There are complex layers of life and activity around all of us, even in urban neighborhoods. From my yard in SE Portland I have become familiar with the daily and seasonal lives of a pair of Anna’s hummingbirds, a family of raccoons, several squirrel dreys, a pair of great horned owls, a population of crows, a pair of red tailed hawks, a solitary cooper’s hawk, and a great numbers of other birds that pass over and through each season. I watch the blooming schedule of the spring flowers and observe the plethora of pollen and seed events unfolding. I follow the winds and witness the weather. I could go on and on. There is a lot that we can learn by spending a few minutes a day sitting quietly in observation even just in our own back yards or on our porches and stoops.
To begin a sit spot practice with young children, we want to present some simple guidelines. Role modeling has an incredible impact. It is best to plan to do this practice with your child. A sit spot practice with young children only takes about 5 minutes a day, so it shouldn’t be a big burden to incorporate in, especially with a little planning.
Sharing! We also like to take the opportunity to share the things that we find in our sit spots and see and hear about what others are noticing in their practices. The facebook online learning group is a great place to do this. It’s so fun and inspiring to share these discoveries!
In lieu of a graduation, some special little presents went out to the Fiddleheads Class of 2020 today.
May they be happy, may they be healthy, may they be peaceful, may they be filled with joy.
I hope that this finds you well and secure. The pressure is certainly on us all this summer, and I hope that everyone is finding some time for peace and levity and appreciation of the enduring beauty and order of the natural world.
I have some important news. I have decided that Fiddleheads in-person school cannot happen in September and we will instead continue with improved, more comprehensive online programming for those interested in the fall, and will delay to a planned January start date for in-person school. It has been very, very challenging for me to come to this decision, but there are three main factors influencing it and I want to explain how I came to make this call.
1. Community transmission rates and the effectiveness of the state's current response in tracking and containing the virus. I receive daily updates from OHA (Oregon Health Authority) and our state representatives and I have been studying them closely since March. We all know that this virus has the capacity to spread exponentially. I have been watching the Multnomah County numbers of daily cases increase every week over the last month from the 30s to 40s-a-day range up to the 70-90s-a-day range. The OHA acknowledges that for every case confirmed or presumed, there are 7-10 more that go unreported. This increase and the sheer volume is troubling on its own, but that combined with the testing and tracing situation gives me pause. Testing capacity, availability, and testing rates are failing to meet the necessary threshold to contain the virus without exception in every state in the US, including Oregon. Another very concerning factor is that Oregon's contact tracing efforts have so far been a failure. Senator Michael Dembrow acknowledged in his daily newsletter yesterday that now community spread is the main driver of new infections, and in most cases people are not sure how and where they are getting ill and the virus is not being effectively tracked and contained. Oregon's efforts and success at fighting the virus has certainly been much better than most states, but unfortunately that doesn't seem to be stopping us from being in a very questionable place to start school again. The state released a model a couple of weeks ago that was circulated by the OHA and our local representatives. It projects Oregon possibly reaching a dangerous threshold with the virus in the next couple of months. You can download the study here https://lnks.gd/l/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiJ9.eyJidWxsZXRpbl9saW5rX2lkIjoxMDYsInVyaSI6ImJwMjpjbGljayIsImJ1bGxldGluX2lkIjoiMjAyMDA3MTEuMjQyNDk2NTEiLCJ1cmwiOiJodHRwczovL3d3dy5vcmVnb24uZ292L29oYS9QSC9ESVNFQVNFU0NPTkRJVElPTlMvRElTRUFTRVNBWi9FbWVyZ2luZyUyMFJlc3BpdG9yeSUyMEluZmVjdGlvbnMvT3JlZ29uLUNPVklELTE5LVByb2plY3Rpb25zLTIwMjAtMDctMDgucGRmIn0.HfXtKxQefZAF_2AwGb52ol9XDFEXedi6KyXJ4QvEgKU/s/685836080/br/80943110947-l. This local situation of increasing, uncontained and untraced community spread is an insecure and risky situation to be in for entering into a routine of gathering groups of children together for close activity on a daily basis.
2. What we don't know. There are some encouraging studies about viral spread in children, and the most recent ones continue to support the conjecture that young children get seriously ill less often and spread the virus less effectively than older age groups. They do still get ill though, and they do still pass the virus to others, and there are many unanswered questions about the long term effects of the virus on children's health, so there are still many reasons to be cautious. There is little to no hard data concerning outdoor transmission, but it makes sense that the virus is much more difficult to pass outdoors, although we can't say that it is impossible.
I want to outline the details of reopening preschool. All childcare and preschool facilities in the state are certified by the Oregon Early Learning Division of the Oregon Department of Education, which I will refer to as the ELD. The guidelines for reopening and operating during a pandemic are put out by the ELD and are informed by the OHA. The ELD guidelines are designed to make childcare safer and to guard from large outbreaks in childcare facilities. But childcare facilities are necessary for the economy to function, so the guidelines are not designed with the objective that no one will ever become ill at daycare, they are designed to help childcare facilities stay open and to contain and isolate infections before they spread to the entire facility. You can study the documents here if you are so inclined. These are the basics of the changes and requirements for operating during the pandemic:
-Children must be contained in small groups of 10 or fewer. These groups cannot change or vary. They must have one teacher that is their main teacher. They cannot share space indoors or out with other groups and must remain separate at all times.
-There can be no volunteers or outside visitors in the classroom.
-Children exhibiting any sign of illness cannot attend school. Temperature checks and intake questions are required at check-in every day.
-There is a specific cleaning regime (which is not really very different from a normal cleaning regime for childcare).
-There is a square footage per child requirement for indoor space.
And there are additional guidelines for reporting illnesses etc., and some additional paperwork. That is pretty much it, though. At Fiddleheads we would of course follow these required procedures and can meet their guidelines, and we would go beyond them to spend as much time as possible outdoors. But that doesn't change the fact that children will be gathered together, playing in close proximity for hours a day, and given local infection rates and what we don't know about outdoor transmission and the overall long-term health effects of the virus on children, I see risk gaps in this plan that definitely give me pause right now.
I also want to talk about the wearing of masks. Although masks are not required by the ELD in childcare and preschool settings, it is definitely safer to interact with masks. But for young children this poses many problems and I am not considering using them routinely at Fiddleheads at this time, and I want to explain why. First of all, it is developmentally inappropriate to expect young children to be able to wear masks all day while playing with friends. Some children can do this, but most won't be able to. Masks will get taken off and it will be a challenge to keep them from getting lost, wet, dirty, and mixed up with other people's masks. Not only would it be physically challenging for them to try and deal with masks, it would be emotionally challenging and potentially detrimental. Young children need the social cues that they get from seeing their friends' and teacher's faces. Having everyone's face covered would be disorienting and would disable some of the important social learning that children need at this age. The emotional impact of this could be significant, and not in a good way. Requiring children to wear masks for extended periods of time and to manage themselves socially without those facial cues, and thereby asking them to do something developmentally inappropriate, something which is outside of their natural range of ability and which goes against their social and emotional needs, can be psychologically damaging to children and this is not something that I am willing to undertake at Fiddleheads.
Even with the state's guidelines and all of our additional efforts and considerations at Fiddleheads, the major weak link that I see in any current reopening effort is the fact that children will be playing at close range, and will be interacting closely with teachers, all without masks, at a time when community spread is rising and uncontained, and we don't know definitively how being outdoors protects us. If we knew that outdoor transmission even without masks on was very improbable, if community spread wasn't what it is now, if daily infection rates were at a steady or a decreasing number, if the virus was closer to being efficiently tracked by testing and if contact tracing was more effective in Oregon, then I would feel fine about the risks involved in reopening Fiddleheads. Nothing is risk free, but there is good reason to believe that we can conduct a safer school experience than most by staying outside as much as possible. What we cannot do is create a wall against what is happening in the larger community. The local situation is not favorable for reopening now, there are some major unanswered questions about the virus, and there is so much at stake with the health of all of our students and families that I don't currently feel comfortable taking even the diminished risks that we have at Fiddleheads as an outdoor school.
3. Community sentiment. I heard from about 70 percent of enrolled families on our survey, and some others reached out to me individually. Over half of the families that I heard from are probably or definitely not ready to send their children back to school this fall, and even among those that are, many of you have some understandable trepidation. In a small sampling I am finding similar sentiment among our waitlist. In order to operate at this time we would need to be licensed as an emergency childcare facility, which would be possible to do as I previously outlined, but the reality is that we are not an emergency childcare facility, we are a community school. If I am having these doubts and concerns, and most of you are, too, then it is not yet the appropriate time to reopen.
The plan is to re-open for in person school with an early January start date.
I am so sorry for the disappointment that this will cause, and believe me, I doubt that anyone is more disappointed on more levels than I. There are several options from there, though, and I will need to hear from you about which way you want to go.
1. Let me know if you would like to be part of online learning this fall. You can read more about the program here. Your original tuition deposit will count toward the fall semester tuition. If we have enough enrollment, we will open up other options for circle time, too.
2. Let me know if you would like to wait and save your place for a January start date. If you want to do online learning in the fall and start in person school in January, then as I mentioned above your deposit could go toward the lower cost of online learning in the fall and you wouldn't owe in person tuition until January. If you want to skip online learning and just wait for in person school to start again, that is fine, just please confirm your place with me. Your tuition deposit will still go toward your annual tuition, the first payment of which would be due in January, and the tuition will be prorated to subtract September through December fees.
3. If you need to look for something else and Fiddleheads isn't going to work for you at all this year, please let me know that, as well.
Thank you so much for sticking with me through this very long research paper/persuasive essay/tome of an e-mail. I look forward to and I wish you all well. May we all be happy, may we be healthy, may we be peaceful, may we be filled with joy.
I hope that this message finds you well and safe and able to enjoy your summer. My family has been very grateful for time and space outside, our garden, our favorite books and movies, and the beach.
Since the end of school, with a little more space and time during the summer, I find myself with a persistent sense of being overwhelmed. Perhaps you do too. While we all continue with many unanswered questions, still things are moving ahead at Fiddleheads and we seem positioned to remain a thriving institution next year. Even with all of the uncertainty, I wanted to reach out to the school community and let you know what we are doing and the plans that we are working on for the fall.
For the past two weeks Arielle and I have been interviewing candidates to replace Ginger for next year. It continues to be gratifying to see how many skilled, talented and insightful people show interest in working at our school. We will hire someone this week and I will let everyone know once everything is final.
I have been in touch with the Oregon ELD and we are preparing to apply for our emergency certification to be able to open in the fall. So far it looks like we will be able to fairly easily meet all requirements.
We will still be providing aftercare next year. We will be sending out signup info for that at the end of this month.
Some things will be different this year due to the state's early childhood regulations for programming during a pandemic. We will not be able to keep all of the kids together and function as a large group, but instead we will be breaking into two smaller "stable groups". This is the current accepted early childhood method for providing care to young children during the pandemic. Social distancing and mask use are not possible to effectively or safely achieve with young children, so instead the strategy is to limit exposure. This means that we will have two stable groups of 8-10 kids, each with a designated teacher, and these groups will not fluctuate members and will not share space with each other. Your child will be in contact with only the other members of their small group. At Fiddleheads we are taking the added precaution of bringing the program entirely outside as much as possible, including putting cubby spaces outside and creating sheltered spaces outside for the children to eat lunch in inclement weather. Also, we are going to skip cooking day for the time being and keep to our normal forest schedule on Fridays.
Because we cannot socially distance with young children, we will all be reliant on our small groups, our outside time, our sanitary practices, and each other and our own personal responsibility to stay safe and healthy. The health of Arielle and I and our new teacher are statistically the most at risk from any infection at the school, and we must all recognize and remember there are people of vulnerable health in our immediate school community. As we get closer to opening, I will send out some guidelines for personal safety that we will be requesting that all families follow to the closest of their ability to respect each other and keep each other safe.
Some pandemic inspired new initiatives that we are moving ahead with at Fiddleheads are our online program and a new kindergarten program. We are finalizing plans to launch our online program to new families, and we will offer the option of attending school online to any current families who do not feel safe having their child attend in person school. We are also planning a small, low key kindergarten program 3-4 afternoons a week. We are working on the details of this program soon. Let me know if you might be interested in sending a child. This will not be aftercare, it will be designed to get some socialization and outside play for the kids while also working on the basic reading, writing and math skills addressed in a more traditional kindergarten.
I usually base our school calendar on the pps calendar, but I am not sure if that will work this year. I'm waiting to see what pps decides, and I will try to get a Fiddleheads start date and school calendar out as soon as I can. While we are putting a tremendous amount of work and care into preparing school next year to be as safe, healthy and resilient as we can, I am also reading all of the time, watching numbers rise, following the rt factor, and waiting to hear what the state leadership and the public schools decide to do for the fall. As with everything these days, we just need to take things one step at a time.
Some really great news is that while my family left our house in Oregon and have been renting it out since late March, our last tenants left and a new Fiddleheads family moved in for the summer. Kristin and Dave Prukop and their sons Nathaniel and Sebastian are currently renting the house while they are having some renovations done on their nearby home. Their youngest son, Sebastian, will attend Fiddleheads next year! Kristin has volunteered to plant the garden for us, so that we will be able to have a garden to come back to for school in the fall. I am so grateful!
And last news, I had special posters and t-shirts made for the kids moving on from Fiddleheads this year in lieu of a graduation ceremony. I'm sorry they have been so slow to arrive, but the t-shirts should come next week and then I will get them out in the mail to everyone. I still hope for an in-person meetup sometime if we can.
Best wishes for a great July to you all and I will be in touch soon!
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be filled with joy.
We have been continuing to talk about urban wildlife this week. We have talked about turtles, slugs, snails, salmon, and we will talk about snakes tomorrow. So many of the spring animals that we learn about go through profound metamorphosis in their lives, and for the last month or so we have been learning about those changes. We will continue this theme next week with our study of butterflies and moths. These transformative creatures are a poignant way to finish the school year, and to reflect back on all of the learning that has happened for each child and the changes that have been brought about. We encourage you to take some time to reflect at home about metamorphosis and change and about the ending of the school year and the welcoming of summer. At school we usually raise and release butterflies for the end of the year, and the freedom of watching them flutter off into the sky mirrors all of our hearts as we step into the warm, welcoming days and unstructured time of summer. We can't do this together this spring, but I wish you some closure on the school year and a joyful release into the new season in your own way.
A few business things as we look ahead to our last week of school next week:
Please let us know asap if you would like to do the summer program from June 15th to July 24th. We have had a few signups but we need a few more in order to make it work, so let us know if you are thinking about it.
It is hard for many of us to think about ending the school year with little closure. We are preparing special gift packages and messages for all of the Fiddleheads students that will be moving on to kindergarten next year. We will be sending them out in the middle to end of June.
These have been very difficult months for so many of us, including here at Fiddleheads. We continue to make progress toward opening again in the fall, and are pursuing the new certification that we will need in order to do this. I feel hopeful and optimistic. We are fully enrolled right now for the 2020-21 school year for in-person programming. We look forward to connecting with everyone again in person in September!
Thank you all so much for your continued engagement and support through this challenging time! If you have appreciated our online learning program throughout the spring, please let me know what about it you liked. Your feedback will be very helpful to the school.
We have decided that we will continue offering distance learning lessons to families interested in online school throughout the next school year, even while conducting in-person programming. To capitalize on the hard work that we have put into creating an online school program this spring, and to help support the school through any other possible interruptions in in-person learning, we are actively looking to enroll new families into this online program for next year. You can read about the program here. Please help spread the word to any families looking for this kind of programming. They may be people living outside of our school area, or maybe they have health issues that keep them from engaging in more public life during this time, or maybe they are choosing a very cautious path for the school year ahead. Whatever the reason, we believe that there are probably families out there looking for this kind of programming right now and we are hopeful to connect with them. Thanks for your help.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be filled with joy!
We've had some fun this week studying amphibians, and learning about their fascinating, hidden lives. Many amphibians are common all around us, but we don't often see and hear them. Amphibians can be indicator species of the health of our local waterways. It's been interesting to talk about them with the kids this spring as we continue our explorations of creatures that undergo profound metamorphosis in their lives. We can draw so many social, emotional and physical parallels in our own lives with metamorphosis that we see in the natural world.
There is no school on Monday for memorial day, and the last day of school will be Friday, June 5th. Please let me know by June 1st if you would like to do a summer session of school from June 15th through July 24th.
Have a great weekend and enjoy the onset of summer and the opening up of the world a bit in whatever ways feel right.
Stay safe and happy,
How are you doing out there? I know that my kids have kind of hit a wall on social distancing this week. I hear the same from some other people too. They are frustrated with screen interactions, bored, lonely. It's so hard to see kids going through that, when we want them to be playing outside with friends and enjoying springtime together. At my house we got some bows and arrows, a new swing, and we're going looking for some tadpoles soon. I know that we'll get through this. Every childhood has its adversities, and the best path that we can take for ourselves, and the best example that we can show our kids is to make lemonade out of lemons. Keep looking for what is special and extraordinary in a good way about this unprecedented time together.
We've had some good bug lessons this week! We talked about transformation and metamorphosis in an insect's life cycle, about predator and prey relationships, about insect defense mechanisms, and about insect aversions and the creepy feelings that bugs can give us sometimes. Today we have a lesson about walking sticks and camouflage. Next week we'll be talking about springtime baby animals, then moving on to focus on amphibians.
I want to thank so many of you for your continued support of Fiddleheads and for staying in touch when you can and letting us know how you and your families are doing. As this strange time goes on and this unusual school year gets closer to wrapping up, it's nice to be able to hold onto some threads of continuity.
I want to share some tentative good news as well. I have seen a draft of the ELD guidelines for reopening early childhood programs, and it looks like we will be able to have something resembling normal programming at Fiddleheads in the fall. There is a long road and much that can happen between now and then, and the details are all not clear yet, but Oregon seems to be proceeding with prudence, and that makes me feel cautiously hopeful for being able to resume regular school without big setbacks.
Have a great weekend everyone and stay safe. May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be filled with joy.
Some scenes from online learning this week:
I hope that this finds you all well and secure and able to enjoy the springtime. It's been great to connect when we can and hear about your own nature experiences and adventures at home. I hope that enjoying nature and experiencing the little pleasures that we can discover and enjoy in our small daily worlds is helping you out and keeping you going.
We've had a lot of fun starting to learning about more types of bugs this week. There are so many bugs in this world, way more than any other creature in kingdom animalia, and there is so much to know. We are touching on some of the key ecological points about bugs, and we have been taking bug lesson requests. This week we talked about bugs in general, bug bodies, bug movement, and then we focused on beetles, ladybugs in particular. Tomorrow we will finish out the week on dragonflies and insect life cycles. Insect life cycles are one of my favorite aspects of studying insects. It gives us a whole new perspective on bugs that we know, (we know a ladybug as an adult, but could we recognize it as a larva?) And to us mammals, it's really kind of amazing to imagine a life that contains such different stages and drastic transformations.
It's been interesting to hear which parts of distance learning have been working for all of you. We have a dedicated circle time crew, which is a joy to Arielle and I, but I know that some kids, very understandably, find digital socializing to be unsatisfying and frustrating. I've been glad to hear from so many people who are continuing to enjoy the lessons at home though, and I encourage you to stay in touch and let us know how online learning is working for you and if we can improve anything. We are very, very grateful to have been able to rely on our community so far, even in these troubled times, and we will be so grateful to continue to be able to do so.
At the end of May we will be sending out special care packages to our preschool friends that are continuing on to kindergarten next year. If any of you have any other ideas for ways to celebrate while social distancing we are open to them.
We will be deciding this next month if we will continue programming into the summer. Please let us know if you would be interested in this.
May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be filled with joy! I really miss seeing all of your faces in real life.
Enjoy some images from online learning:
It's been really fun to move from pollinators to a more direct focus on bees this week. Bees are so interesting! I feel like every time that I do this unit I learn something new. And we have to much to be thankful to them for.
Next week we will begin focusing on other bugs :)
I know that probably everyone's lives are so crazy on so many levels, I know that mine is. We are all trying to navigate a myriad of pressures, both mundane and existential, and constantly adapt to new information and circumstances while navigating our families into a very uncertain future. Decision fatigue is real right now for sure. It's been a thing of value though to continue to share community and to continue to focus together on observing and learning about the nature around us as a school. As recommend with online learning, take from what we are offering and do what works for your family and is fun and helpful. And if you need extra motivation, just keep in mind that taking the time to focus on the non-human world can be very relaxing, healing and can offer some much needed perspective.
For the time being and possibly through the summer we will be continuing with online learning. Stay in touch and let us know how it is going and how you are doing. We are always interested in hearing about how you are and how Fiddleheads programming is working for you. If you haven't joined online learning yet and want to or if you have any questions, let me know.
I've been thinking about how we might celebrate the end of the school year for the conifer class students that will be going on to kindergarten. I plan to send all "graduating" students a special letter and package in June. I would like to plan an in person "graduation" gathering for the end of the summer, and we can make plans for that later on as what is socially possible becomes more clear.
Stay safe everyone. May you be happy, may you be healthy, may you be peaceful, may you be filled with joy.
Some images from online learning
I hope that this finds you all well and secure. These challenging, anxious times do draw on. Please be gentle with yourselves and your children. I hope that you all can get outside and find inspiration and comfort in what you observe.
We had a lot of fun this week creating lessons and finding learning resources for you all on pollinators. I love this unit, because it falls right in between digging into the luxurious decadence of flowers, and opening our eyes to the intricacies of insect life starting with bees. Learning about pollinators is a logical bridge between the two, and while it is not a well worn path in early childhood education, no one can fail to appreciate the magical interconnections all around us that are revealed through the study of pollination. We hope that you were able to take advantage of some of the resources, and if you didn't get to them together, (Roan and I have still not done most of the lessons from this week yet so I know how it goes), then keep them in mind to check in on anytime. As you probably know, all online lessons are available in the google doc that we send a link out to every day from the zoom meeting invite. Just scroll down to find previous material.
Next week we will be learning about bees.
Fiddleheads is ready to offer online learning to new families too during these socially distanced times. We are no longer bound by enrollment numbers, and having new families involved would help to support the school, so pass the word to anyone you think might be interested. We have several levels for enrollment, you can check it out on our new web page.
Some scenes from pollinator study :)
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.