The Hunt for the Red Headed Woodpecker: A story of exploration, imagination, calculated risks, and a few tears

As part of our weekly homeschooling schedule on Tuesdays, we meet at Clyde Shepherd Nature Preserve for Free Forest School. We started just like every week, at the trailhead with everyone else. We headed down the path towards the bird feeder area, when we heard a familiar “tap.tap.tap.tap.”. Calvin gasped and looked at me, “A woodpecker!”


Last week, Calvin didn’t even make it on the trail before having a meltdown. So, this week when he headed down a trail away from the group, I didn’t argue. We stopped every few feet when we heard the tapping of the woodpecker’s beak on the tree.


About 10 minutes into our search for the Red Headed Woodpecker, we stopped hearing the “Tap.Tap.Tap.Tap”. But, upon looking to our left, we noticed a stream. Just then, Calvin remembered the alligators! And, we had to find the high ground so they couldn’t get us! And, we were safe…. but not for long! They came back to get us! AHHHHHH! We were pirates trapped by the imaginary alligators of Clyde Shephard Nature Preserve… until Calvin go the urge to go to the beach.


Part of the philosophy of the Free Forest School, and one that my husband and I have tried to empower our child with since a very young age, is allowing children to take calculated risks. By having their own success and failure, they learn and develop independence. So, when Calvin asked to go down to the beach of the stream, I told him that I would not go down to the beach but if he felt it was safe that he could. He looked at his rainboots and decided that he wanted to splash in the water, and down he went. (I was close enough to rescue him from any real danger.) Everything was hunky dory until *PLOP* he took one too many steps in the wrong direction. Into the stream he went up to his knees, his rainboots filled with water as did his green eyes looking up at me.


I helped pull him out, and upon realizing that I had no spare socks for him in my bag, I replaced his socks with my own. I put his sopping boots into my bag, and we completed out hike with a cold little boy on my shoulders.


I still feel like today was a success, even though we had to leave the hike after the first hour.

  1. Calvin made it to the hike without a fight or a freakout.
  2. He made a conscious decision based on an observation that he made. (I want to hike this way because that’s the way the woodpecker sounds are coming from.)
  3. He engaged in imaginative play, promoting his cognitive, social-emotional, language, and creative skills.
  4. Calvin took a calculated risk, and succeeded (and failed).




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