Oct 292014
 

Part of OCP’s strategic plan stresses engagement and cooperation with the wider community, and one of our favorite ways to get involved is to participate in the many local festivals in our area. Decatur hosts a number of family-friendly festivals throughout the year, from the nationally recognized AJC Decatur Book Festival over Labor Day weekend to smaller, neighborhood-sponsored events like the Oakhurst Arts & Music Festival, held in October in Harmony Park. OCP volunteers at the children’s sections at both festivals, as well as at the Decatur Earth Day Festival, at the Wylde Center, and the Decatur Beach Party, in downtown Decatur.

These four festivals give us a chance to meet our neighbors, share our story, and be a part of the community building that happens when organizations come together to celebrate—whether it’s celebrating books, art, music, or the environment. For the past two years, our booth at the Decatur Book Festival has featured a selection from our carefully curated library and a collaborative “progressive story,” where kids (and adults) can each contribute a sentence or two to create a whimsical—and often hilarious—tale. Because literacy is an important part of our days at OCP (from reading aloud to kids to finger plays to sharing stories), we are always excited and honored to play a role at our local book festival.

For the other festivals we participate in, we brainstorm creative crafts that use recycled and compostable materials to highlight our emphasis on green, environmentally friendly practices at OCP. At this fall’s Oakhurst Arts & Music Festival, we were at the Kid Zone making toilet paper roll maracas with all the kids who stopped by. This neighborhood fall festival is always a great event, with food, music, art, kids’ activities, a parade, and other performances. We often get to see not only current OCP families but also alums of our school, and of course meet lots of families from the surrounding community. In the past, we’ve also created pinecone birdfeeders, toilet paper roll binoculars, and vegetable-stamped fans with children who come to our festival booths.

We value our partnerships with local organizations and try to get involved in a variety of ways. To celebrate fall, we recently installed a caterpillar “scarecrow” at the Wylde Center garden in Oakhurst. The caterpillar, made up of pumpkins decorated by all of our classes with recycled materials, will be on display for the Wylde Center’s member event on November 2. Please stop by and enjoy it with your kids while you can! You can see more photos of our insect friend on our Facebook page.

Aug 082014
 
August 1 marked the last day of summer camp at OCP, and what a summer it was! The third year of OCP Summer Camp was our most successful yet, with both classes—Bumblebees (ages 3-4) and Dragonflies (ages 4-6)—full nearly every week. Our fantastic staff, made up of a camp director, two lead teachers, two assistant teachers, and one general assistant, created one-of-a-kind experiences for their campers, built around nature-based themes like the rainforest, gardening & insects, and reusing & recycling. It was a time of exploring, playing, learning, making new friends—and finding creative ways to stay cool in the summer heat!

In keeping with our emphasis during the school year on being good citizens of the Earth, the summer camp teachers found innovative ways to explore nature and the environment. The Dragonflies teachers introduced their kids to “The Living Rainforest” by helping them create a mural depicting the forest floor, the understory, the canopy, and the emergent layers of the rainforest. They built a shoebox tree up to the ceiling and made butterflies and snakes to flutter and slither around it. During “Young Scientists” week, the Bumblebees’ classroom became a laboratory, where the kids rotated through a variety of scientific stations learning about electricity with balloons, sound waves with liquid in glass bottles, germs with a black light, and gravity and force with rulers and tops.

“Farm to Table” week was a hit with everyone—the Dragonflies created a grocery store and farmer’s market, and all the kids were invited to shop. They learned about where food comes from, how it’s grown, and how it gets to our homes and tables. The kids cashiered, shopped, and reshelved. Best of all, they got to milk a “cow”—created with a broomstick, latex gloves, and evaporated milk. They capped off the week by making food together—bread and butter in the Bumblebees’ class and muffins in the Dragonflies’.

We loved having OCP kids and alums and new friends from the community join us this summer! Stay tuned for news about upcoming summer camp plans!

Apr 232014
 

Here’s the second edition of our up-and-personal visits to OCP’s classrooms this year.  Let’s learn about a very special part of the Sparrows’ day…

What do you get when you cross a class full of three-year-olds and a deck of yoga pose cards?  You’ll have to visit OCP’s Sparrows class at the end of the day to find out!  Susan Diamond uses yoga in her closing circle at the end of each day to calm the energy of the class as they prepare to go home.  The benefits of yoga are well-known, and those benefits are not just limited to adults.  Many studies have shown children to derive the same benefits from yoga.  For children, yoga can improve body awareness, which helps in strength, flexibility and balance.  Yoga teaches children how to breathe and quiet the mind, which promotes peaceful energy for better listening and attention.  In addition to physical balance, yoga also teaches children balance between busy time and quiet time.

So the end of each Sparrow day plays out something like this:  The kids have played outside and come in for lunch.  The last few “careful” eaters are encouraged to pack their lunch boxes away.  The more efficient eaters are instructed to put away their post-lunch free play toys, and all are invited to the mat for closing circle.  Susan pulls out the yoga card for the day and explains the pose to the children.  Two or three children get into it right away and go through each step as she introduces it.  One child watches skeptically.  One child immediately becomes overly interested in her shoelace and another announces he does not want to participate.  “That’s okay,” says Susan, “we are happy to have you when you are ready”.  By the time she reaches the end of the instruction, all Sparrows have joined in and each is engaged in his/her own interpretation of the pose.  Each student has come to enjoy it in his or her own way.  It is the perfect end to their wonderful play-based learning, and we appreciate Susan for giving our kids that gift.

The yoga card of the day is…

Warrior II!

Mar 222014
 

By Sarah Toth

Children are wiggly. Anyone who has spent time in a preschool classroom knows that sitting still is a skill few kids have mastered.  But, this is a good thing!  Physical activity is essential for children and their well-being.  Moving their bodies strengthens their hearts and bones, regulates their blood pressure, and contributes to overall physical health.  Exercise also helps strengthen kids’ minds.  It improves mood and stimulates brain growth, making kids feel better and learn more readily.  Studies show that children who participate in some form of regular physical activity have better problem solving capabilities and have lower levels of cortisol, a stress induced hormone.

While “exercise” may conjure thoughts of monotonous treadmills, unattainable goals, and damp and smelly gyms, physical activity with kids can be fun and pretty easy for everyone!  A simple walk down a nature trail can turn into a great adventure for budding explorers or scientists.  Get your kids moving with anything from a game of hide and seek to a gentle bike ride.  With easy access to many beautiful natural areas and parks in the greater Atlanta area (find some great ideas here), there is no shortage of opportunities to get outside and enjoy the spring.

In addition, here’s an opportunity to get some quality body-moving time for the whole family: OCP’s 7th annual 5K race, Beat the Street for Little Feet, on Saturday, May 3, is quickly approaching!  Held in the Oakhurst neighborhood of Decatur, this race is especially family-friendly, and there are several options: a 5K race with a jogging stroller division, a one mile race, and a “tot trot” for the youngest kids.  We also hold a post-race celebration and awards ceremony, including a children’s party with activities and music.  Nationally known, local artist James Dean draws a special “Pete the Cat” image for our race shirt each year, and this year’s Pete is one of the best yet (all pre-registered runners are guaranteed a race shirt, and the “tot trot” runners each receive a Pete the Cat “medal”).  To register for the race, please visit www.ocprace.com.  (And if you have an interest in sponsoring our race, please email OCP parent Kimberly Head Amos at 5k@oakhurstcoop.com.)

Being active as a family helps kids embrace their need to run, bounce, climb, and play, and it fosters a love for physical activity that children will carry into adulthood.  Parents are great examples when it comes to exercise and fitness.  So gather your family, embrace your inner child, and get moving!

Dec 012013
 

by Nan Schivone

OCP families have had a fantastic time hiking together this fall.   There is nothing quite like the combination of fresh air, abundant nature and light exercise.  Children are encouraged to enjoy the outdoors at their own pace.  Grownups are encouraged to slow down and either engage with, or simply observe, their child’s free exploration.

One of our six guiding principles at OCP is that nature is revered and integrated into many aspects of the child’s experience at school.  In keeping with this, our green curriculum is based on three intentions: to help children feel a connection to nature; to encourage curiosity about the natural world; and to demonstrate ways to be environmentally conscious. OCP green family hikes offer an opportunity – and a simple reminder – to make time for nature reverence and integration into life outside school.

In his book Wild Play, environmental educator David Sobel discusses the useful concept of talking locally.  In essence, this is talking to children about nature, paying attention to their words, especially metaphors, and then helping children apply those same ideas in other contexts.  Sobel posits that these conversations making connections with nature, using children’s own words, are a critical part of environmental education.  Family hikes are a perfect way to provide these primary experiences of nature that are so important to talking locally.

Here are five kid-friendly hikes in Metro-Atlanta where you can walk among tall trees, view mountains and mighty rivers, listen to birds, get muddy, inspect insects, wade through creeks, climb rocks, skip stones, collect pine cones, or simply breathe in fresh air.

(1) Clyde Shepherd Preserve

Logistics: Park at the intersection of Wood Trail and Pine Bluff.  Head down the Hardwood Forest Trail and make a loop connecting to the Wetland Meadow; and then at Indian Rock, take the Pine Forest trail to the Creek Trail, looping around to the start.  The entire loop is about 1.5 miles and weaves through several types of ecosystems with loads of opportunities to climb rocks, build forts, and watch for birds, turtles, etc.  There is a wonderful bamboo grove in between the South Fork of the Peachtree Creek and the Beaver Pond.  The trail is not stroller friendly and can get very muddy.  Parking is free and there is no entrance fee.

http://www.cshepherdpreserve.org

 

(2) Stone Mountain, Venable Lake loop

Logistics:  Park at the children’s playground.  Head down the white Cherokee trail past the fence at the end of the playground and loop around Venable Lake from the south, staying on the white Cherokee trail. Turn left on the orange connecting trail, circling the lake and heading back towards the children’s playground.  The total distance is around 2 miles.  There are interesting trees, mushrooms, insects, gentle sloping trails through the forest, a gurgling creek with tiny waterfalls, views of Stone Mountain, a serene lake, and an old stone chimney.  It’s not stroller-friendly.  The children’s playground is a great place to hang out after the hike and have a picnic.  There’s a fun wooden structure and a large grassy area around shelters with picnic tables. Parking at Stone Mountain Park is $10.  The annual parking pass is $35.  Note that Robert E. Lee Blvd. is one way, so don’t pass the children’s playground or you’ll have to drive the long loop around the mountain. Note that children’s playground and this hike are separate from the developed more-touristy area of Stone Mountain Park. Also note that there are many wonderful hikes here, including the very popular (and very busy) hike up to the top of Stone Mountain.

http://www.stonemountainpark.com

 

(3) Chattahoochee River National Recreation Area, Johnson Ferry Loop – Northern Half

Logistics: Park in the lower parking lot, past the self-pay bay, towards the shelter (and bathroom/ river put-in area).  Head down the hiking trail and wind to your right following the blue blazes, hugging the river and then walking through the forest to make a loop back to the parking area.  This hike is really interesting for children because there are great views of the Chattahoochee River, tree falls and benches to rest upon, creeks to wade in, lots of birds, turtles, and beavers, and a nice boardwalk at the end. The total distance is just-under 2 miles.  It’s not stroller-friendly.  Parking is $3 cash. You have to use the self-pay envelopes at the entrance to the lower parking area.  Note that there are many hiking/boating sections which comprise the Chattahoochee Natl. Rec. Area; this is but one of them.

http://www.nps.gov/chat/index.htm

 

(4) Davidson-Arabia Nature Preserve, Arabia Lake loop

Logistics: Park at the Nature Center parking lot.  Walk towards Arabia Lake on the Forest trail (E-yellow blazes) and loop back towards the parking lot on the Mile Rock trail (F- marked with cairns, also known as South Lake trail).  The loop is about 2 miles.  It starts in a pretty deciduous forest with some interesting undergrowth, and then mid-hike is a lovely small lake, with a gentle granite slope – which a good place to stop for a snack.  On the way back, the mile rock trail, like the name implies, is a fun jaunt over mostly-flat granite.  There are many opportunities for kids to climb and jump around, and get ahead of the grownups for some independent exploration while still in full view. This trail does not accommodate strollers.  Parking is free and there’s no entrance fee.  This area connects to a longer bike path, for another day.

http://arabiaalliance.org

 

(5) Sweetwater Creek State Park, Mill Ruins

Logistics: Park at the visitor center lot.  Head up the blue trail behind the visitor center and connect up with the red trail at Mill Ruins, looping back to the parking area.  This hike heads up a slope through a beautiful mature forest and leads to the historical mill ruins and the gorgeous, rushing Sweetwater Creek.  There is an area to wade into the water off the red trail and some boulders to climb on as the trail winds back up to the parking area.  This trail does not accommodate strollers.  Note that parking at Sweetwater Creek State Park is $5, and you have to pay in cash.  The annual parking pass is $50, which you could use at any state park in Georgia.  Note that the entrance to the visitor center and this hike is at the main entrance, but it is after the entrance to the lake and general store. The lake is a fun place to canoe and fish, if you’re in the market for an activity for another day.

http://www.gastateparks.org/SweetwaterCreek