All posts by Mr. Jay

Jason Hamzy is an artist, educator, and co-owner/operator of Little Schoolhouse in the Woods outdoor preschool. He has been running Little Schoolhouse with his wife, Lee for four years. In that time, he has completed his teaching degree, earning a Bachelor's Interdisciplinary Studies Pre-K through 5th. In spite of all that he learned in college, Jason is amazed at how much he has learned from his wife, Lee. Her experience of more than a decade of working with children, in a Waldorf setting, and at home, has shown him what true dedication to the education of the whole child is all about. The kids call him Mr. Jay, and he hopes that he is fortunate enough to hear that name for many more years.

A Look Back at Little Schoolhouse in the Woods’ Past Year.

by Lee Hamzy

It’s gone so fast!

I find myself looking back over the past year here at Little Schoolhouse in the Woods as we come to the end of the 2022/23 fiscal school year. Our school years always seems to go by so fast. I often find myself wondering, could we have done more? We never did this or that. It is nice to reflect on all that we have accomplished and enjoyed throughout the year.

I try to keep a list of some of our productivity outside of our normal day to day with our students.

Here are some of the events and accomplishments:

~ We had our back to school potluck. We shared food and started creating a community!

~  We hosted a plant foraging walk/talk with Rob Greenfield on 9/21/22. We had approximately 24 people in attendance. It was a lovely evening and we enjoyed meeting new people.

~Mr. Tumnus our sweet Nubian goat passed away on  9/21/22. He was a big part of our day to day and is missed.

~ We spent time collecting black walnuts throughout September . We then the dyed black walnut t-shirts in late September.

~ One of our students’ amazing mother, Kristen Renzi, came to school on 10/17/22 and taught us about the celebration of Sukkot, We built a sukkah with Kristen and our students Kristen, and ate a wonderful snack inside of it.

~On October 15th we hosted an Open house, We had around 26 families attend.

~On 10/28/22 we held our school’s Jack O Lantern walk. We had approximately 75 people in attendance!

~ The next evening , 10/29/22, we held an alumni/ community Jack O Lantern Walk, with approx. 40 people in attendance.

~ We were lucky enough to host 6 amazing Miami University students. Working with their professor Dr. Jaccque Daugherty (and our Board president), they visited our school and met some of our students. After their visit they spent time applying for Adams Legacy Foundation grant in late August.  We were received an acceptance to apply for this grant. We then were awarded the grant for $20,000!

~ Katie Waits,  Mary Dudley , Jason Hamzy, and Lee Hamzy applied for Boots on the Ground grant on October 30. While we did not receive this grant we learned valuable lessons from this process.

~We applied for Westwood Works grant to host a community winter solstice celebration. We did receive this grant, but did not end up accepting it as it was past the event’s time.

~ We did Yoga every other Wednesday with Liz Virgo throughout our school year. Our students loved this so much that half way through the year Liz started offering yoga to our two day a week students every other Friday. We are so incredibly grateful to Liz for this opportunity!

~ We applied for the Cincinnati Urban Agriculture grant on 11/25/22.

~ We raised  $613.68 on t-shirts sales through Bonfire with our #kindness matters shirts for giving Tuesday Thank you, Mr. Jay for the awesome art work that he donated for these t-shirts.

~ On 12/21/22 we hosted our Winter Solstice lantern walk. Our nature trail was filled with candles and transformed into a magical experience.  Fourteen of our students and families came to this event. We had approx. 55 people in attendance. We also had a couple of alumni families join us!

~ We received the  Cincinnati Urban Agriculture award for $902. With this award we were able to buy plants to replace the grass in the front of the school with a pollinator garden. We also purchased beautiful stepping stones to walk through the garden to access the school. We could not have done this without Mr. Jay. He donated his time and rented a sod cutter and did all of the labor!

~We received a $500 grant from Ohio Department of Natural Resources. With this grant we purchased a few more stepping stones, plants for our food garden and hosted the Bug Man.

~Little Schoolhouse in the Woods hosted our first student teacher, Sarah Cowly, from the University of Cincinnati. She joined us every morning, four days a week, from January through April. We enjoyed having Sarah.

~ Kristen Renzi joined us on 4/10/23 in the morning. She gave a lesson on poetry for National poetry month. Our students loved this and talked about it for weeks.

~We held a fund raiser  Hike-a-thon. We thank Katie Waits for doing all of the organizing for this! We hiked at least 5 miles during our week at school. The week ended with a community hike with around 25 participants .

~ We hosted a May Day celebration on 4/30/23 . We had 14 students and 59 family members and guests, attend our May Day celebration. Our students danced the May Pole for their families and we enjoyed refreshments and time to socialize.

~ The Ariel Quartet came to play for our students and families during the school morning. All of our families were invited. If I am being honest on this one, I did not count how many families were in attendance, because I was in awe myself! Thank you, Ariel Quartet.

~ We hosted the BugMan, which was part of our ODNR grant. Many of our students and their families joined us. Mark was excellent and brought a lot of insects for us to experience in person.

~ We had our end of school year potluck. We hosted 14 families with around 55 people . It was a lovely time.

~We held three weeks of summer camps. These camps filled within a couple hours of being on sale in February. The were led by Lee and Jay . There were  39 students for these three camps.

~We are in the process of running summer programming for the first time ever! This is made possible through our Adams Legacy Foundation Grant.

Did I forget anything?

We hired two summer counselors to host our summer programs. These  completely free four, two week camps. These camps are provide for children in our neighborhood, Westwood, Cincinnati, Ohio!

~ Westwood Grows and the Cincinnati Permaculture Institute came and planted a “food forest” for the Westwood community by the entrance to the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods. This food forest is available to any and all walking down Montana Avenue.

~We are completely enrolled with a large  waitlist for the 2023/24 school year.

~ We already have over 40 families who are interested in attending our open house inOctober for the 2024/25 school year.

~ We hosted a get together for the class 23/24 on 6/6  for 12 students, 7 siblings, and 17 parents.

Wow! That was a lot!

This is a list of the things that I can remember that went above our everyday amazing days here at the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods. We had 16 students enrolled for the school year of 2022/23.  Our 17th student moved to Singapore half way through the year. We spend our days at Little Schoolhouse in the Woods hiking, playing on our beautiful grounds, singing dancing, storytelling, eating good food, and delighting in one another’s company.

I am grateful for this life, I am grateful to be a witness to so many amazing children. I feel so much hope for our future knowing these amazing humans will be our leaders one day.

Community Pumpkin Walk 2022

Community Story Time (w/JackO’Lanterns!)

Every year, we carve as many JackO’Lanterns as we can and then line our Nature Trail and let the students come see them all lit up in the evening!

We take a short hike on our trail to see a bunch of JackO’Lanterns lit up! We tell a story (not spooky) and maybe sing the Five Little Pumpkins! This is great for younger children, siblings and their families. We have so much fun!




Winter Time at Little Schoolhouse

Fresh Approaches to Wildlife Viewing!

What an exciting time it has been for us this schoolyear! While we generally eschew technology for analog methods, we have embraced the 21st century with a wildlife viewing camera! While my personal goal is to capture images of a flying squirrel (I’ve read there are more of them than the gray squirrel, but they are more elusive because they are nocturnal!), we have been enjoying solving the mysteries of what visitors we have when we aren’t around. We have mostly seen possum and racoons, but anticipate more animals as we gradually exit winter and enter spring. This is incorporated in an ongoing lesson on the biodiversity of animal species right here in our backyard of Mt. Airy Forest. A big helper has been the Ohio Department of Natural Resources. They offer a wide range of learning materials and resources. The best part: it’s free!! If you aren’t taking advantage of this wonderful resource for your outdoor classroom, don’t waste another minute!

We have also been able to fulfill a longtime desire to tap our trees! Mary Dudley, agriculture education teacher at James N. Gamble Montessori High School (and one of our Board members!) visited us a couple weeks ago with a student and another associate, Howard Zuefle of Verdure Landscaping, LLC, who loaned us the materials and helped us tap our trees! Mr. Z worked with the children to ensure there was understanding and gratitude for the gift of the sap that the trees were sharing with us. The children were almost as excited as we were! Boiling the sap and allowing it to cool, we have enjoyed a little treat by simply sipping the sap. We can’t wait to try and make syrup! I wonder what we’ll try it on…

We continue to feed and watch the birds, though the ice and snow have forced us to put away our bird watch box, which contains laminated photos of the most common birds and some recently purchased monoculars. It is marvelous how many birds the feeders attract, especially during the winter months. We enjoy noting the various birds that we don’t normally see during the other parts of the year, especially the number of cardinals, which tend to flock to our feeders during the winter months. Interestingly, we noticed far fewer cardinals in the past couple days compared to the past several weeks! Maybe it’s a sign that spring is around the corner!

Little Jack Frost!
The amazing natural world! This is hoarfrost.

We have been loving winter, but are already beginning to dream of Spring!


Mr. J

Time for Spring Ephemerals!

Ohio Ephemeral Flowers

by Lee Hamzy

Now is the time to hunt Spring Ephemerals. Spring Ephemerals refers to perennial plants that emerge quickly in the spring and die back to their underground parts after a short growth and reproduction phase. In a deciduous forest, like ours, they grow before the trees have their leaves allowing sun to reach the forest floor. This is a very short amount of time, so take advantage of the timing, and head out today and for the next week or so.

Here is an excellent Ohio Spring Wildflowers downloadable field guide from the Ohio Division of Wildlife.

Please remember, these flowers only grow once a year. Please stay on the paths while out searching and do not pick them! We want them to be there for many springs to come. Take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints.

How many can you find?

Here is a list of the ephemerals that we often see here at the Little Schoolhouse in the Woods or in nearby parks. Refer to the field guide for pictures to help identify them. Remember to look at the leaves, several flowers have look a likes. Happy Spring hiking!

Harbinger- of -Spring
Spring Beauty
Blood Root
White Trout Lily
Rue Anemone
Red Trillium
Jacob’s Ladder
Virginia Bluebell
Wild Blue Phlox ( can also come in pink)
Marsh Marigold
Lesser Celandine (highly invasive, not native)
Wood Poppy
Dutchman’s – breeches ( one of Ms. Lee’s favorite 😉 )

A Note from Mr. Jay- Are you interested in a formal lesson plan for grades 1 through 3, but easily adapted for older and younger students? I use Ohio New Learning Standards and the National Geographic Learning Framework to create a formal lesson plan. This is good for any teacher whose administration requires formal lesson plans, or for alternative educators who seek academic language to support their strategies. Let me know what you think in the comments below. I love feedback!

Ephemeral Flower Lesson Plans

Thanks and I hope you enjoy getting outside with your children!

A Fun Activity for Promoting Fine Motor Skills: The Magic Cord

If you would like an activity that is simple, fun and helps promote following instructions and perseverance while developing fine motor skills, try making a Magic Cord with your children!

Magic Cord
Our daughter, Faith, holding a Magic Cord

This activity is excellent for teaching children how to follow instructions and develop their fine motor skills. They must hold on tightly to the ends while they are twisting them together. Watch out! The strings tend to fly out of their fingers as they practice tightly grasping with their fingers while alternating hands. You have to start over, sometimes several times. They also must grasp tightly as they pass it back to the teacher. Don’t get discouraged, but laugh and enjoy the process. Model how much fun it is to try and how the next time, it will be easier. Keep doing it until it is well twisted.

  1. Take three or more pieces of colorful yarn at least 2 feet long, or more, depending on your preference, and tie them together at one end.
  2. Have child hold the knotted end while you hold the loose end.
  3. Have the child begin twisting their ends in one direction. You begin twisting your end in the opposite direction. You can count to 100 or sing a song, but twist it a lot. It will start to fold, so you’ll have to hold on tight and keep it pulled straight while you continue to twist. If you drop it, pick it up and start twisting it again.
  4. Grab the middle of the twisted string and have the child hand you their end. You hold both ends and countdown “3, 2, 1”. Then you let go  of the knotted end while holding onto the loose ends and the knotted end. The yarn twists up into a thicker string. Tie all the loose ends and the knotted end so that it won’t come undone.
  5. Voila! A magic cord! 
The Finished Magic Cord
The Finished Magic Cord

This is a great open-ended object for playing with or makes a cute necklace or bracelet.

NOTE: Actively supervise children so that they aren’t napping with it, putting it around their neck or putting it in their mouth or wrapping it tightly around their extremities.

If you would like a formal lesson plan for your administrators or because you’d like more details, click here: Magic Cord Lesson Plan

The knotted end of the Magic Cord
This is the end of the Magic Cord after you have tied the loose ends together.


Fossil Hunting Lesson Plan (Cincinnati region)

A collection of fossils from a recent creek walk.

I recommend this lesson plan for folks in the Cincinnati region. These fossils are common in the creek beds all around southwest Ohio. In this time of school closures and physical distancing, getting outdoors in nature is the perfect way to beat the house bound blahs! Steer clear of the playgrounds and go out into the woods or creek walk.

Here are some  beautiful natural places in Cincinnati you may want to explore:

  1. Caldwell Preserve
  2. McFarlan Woods in Mt. Airy Forest (scroll down the page to see)
  3. Winton Woods
  4. French Park
  5. LaBoiteaux Woods

I wrote this lesson as part of my National Geographic certification, and I am sharing it here with you. I hope you get outdoors with your child or students and enjoy learning a little bit about the history of this area while doing some hands on, fun, nature-based activities.

Some great places to check out would be:

These three links will take you to some ID sheets to help you sort. Laminate them and reuse them!




This link will take you to the lesson plan. Use this if your administrator requires formal lesson plans or if you just want some additional guidance.

NatGeo Certification Lesson Plan_Fossil Sorting

I hope this helps you find some enriching time with your student and that you stay safe and healthy.

The Power of “No” And Healthy Limits in Early Childhood

Boundaries Set With Love
Independence grows from clear boundaries set with love.

How A Healthy “No” Establishes Positive Boundaries

One of the skills I had to learn as an early childhood educator was how to say, “No”. At first, I was uncomfortable denying a young child anything. “Yes” is a much easier path. My impulse was to do everything and give anything to and for these cute kids. I certainly didn’t want to see them experience discomfort. It didn’t take long before I realized that children often experience discomfort because they want something to be a certain way that it cannot be. I also learned that a child needs to know their boundaries in order feel secure. Having a set of clear expectations is the foundation for healthy early childhood approaches.

Boundaries were made to be tested.

Children test the boundaries because they are searching for what is ok and what isn’t. It’s perfectly natural and a developmentally necessary process. They learn these boundaries through a series of trial and error tests. If I want these kids to be safe and I don’t want to lose my mind during transitions, I have to learn how to say, “No”. What I’ve observed is that children are grateful for limits. They know it keeps them safe and they know that a competent, caring adult is taking care of them.

“No” means “no”, not a punishment.

Saying “no” isn’t about punitive discipline or withholding necessities or privileges from children. Saying “no” is about setting clear boundaries that work for child and caregiver. Ultimately, it is about clear communication. When we are able to articulate what is acceptable behavior in clear, simple terms, children are better able to function. Children feel secure knowing their boundaries. That doesn’t mean they won’t push those boundaries. It is the educator/caregiver’s task to navigate these boundaries with respect for the individual and to be fair minded in their approach. I strive for a balance between being firm and being a big softy.

What are healthy boundaries?

When we are preparing to go outside during cold, wet weather, it is important that the children are dressed appropriately. It can be the difference between a fun, productive excursion into the woods and a miserable, difficult time. In the past, if we have gone out into the forest with a group of children and realized that one child put on their sneakers instead of their insulated winter boots, it really changes our desired outcomes. Once their feet are damp, they become uncomfortable and unpleasant. While this is a great example of “natural consequences of actions”, it isn’t fair to the other children, not to mention the teachers.

These experiences have led me to be explicit in my instructions. “Everyone put on your snow boots after you have put on your snow pants” lets them know exactly what is expected of them. And I always double check that all children are wearing appropriate footwear before we leave. Healthy early childhood approaches uses clear communication of expectations and boundaries.

What does that look like?

Here is an example of a a healthy “no”: Student “A” is excited about his new licensed character shoes that light up. As we gear up to head outside, “A” decides that their snow boots are too big and clunky. They want to wear their new sneakers. A friendly but firm “no, those shoes won’t keep your feet warm and dry like your snow boots will” may be all that needs to be said. In case this isn’t enough of an explanation, we must remain calm and firmly insist that the sneakers are not an option. It is cold and wet outside and the sneakers will not be appropriate footwear.

We refrain from arguing. An explanation is acceptable, though. If Student “A” decides that this is an issue worth crying about, that is ok. Disappointment is a real emotion and we must allow children to experience the entire range of feelings, including the unpleasant ones.

The educator’s role in establishing boundaries

Our job is to stay grounded and to be the emotional anchor for this child. We may have to assist more than we normally would in this case. I might say, “I can see that it upsets you. You will get to wear your cool new kicks later on, but right now, we are all going outside together. Can you put your boots on yourself, or do you need me to help you?” By offering a choice between independence and and assistance, we recognize the child’s need for ownership over their choices while only offering realistic options.

An unrealistic option may be to offer letting them go outside barefoot or  allowing them to wear their new shoes. In the end, giving in to tantrums allows children to become tyrants, but being firm in our resolve while compassionately assist them in make good decisions. This helps them to manage their expectations and to regulate their own emotions.

The takeaway:

It is important to only offer what we are willing to follow through on. If the child is unable to calm down and put on their snow boots, we can calmly let them know that we are about to help them put their boots on. We do so in a gentle, calm manner, never angry or irritated. Children can sense impatience and it confuses and frustrates both parties, often exacerbating the situation. We are adults who are calmly and lovingly helping them to get ready to go outside and play. The security of a calm, rational adult caring for them allows children to just be a kid and play.

Interested in learning more? Take our Resilient Kids Course!

Lee and I will be leading a discussion course at UC’s Communiversity about the strategies we use to encourage resilient, healthy, confident kids. “The Power of ‘NO'” is the first of ten strategies we’ll share over the course of a 2 classes, 2 hours each. We’ll share anecdotes, specific words and phrases and real take away strategies for supporting healthy development. Each class will include time to share and discuss. Come join us and learn our healthy early childhood approaches for instilling grit in early childhood at our Resilient Kids Course.

This Is What Student-Led Curriculum Looks Like

This is what student-led curriculum looks like. While our focus is on social and emotional development during early childhood, educators should be responding to the needs of the children. We don’t decide that it is time to begin teaching letters, the children do. 

When we observe the lunch table discussions center around the first letters of their names or the children show pride in spelling their names or we observe other indications through their play that they are ready, we look for a fun game to incorporate into the circle. 

This is a simple, fun game to play for letter recognition in early childhood. This homemade box is our ABC Alligator, and we sing a little song:

Simple, fun game to play for letter recognition skills in early childhood

“Alligator, Alligator, down by the lake,

Let ________ reach in and see letter what you ate!”

Each child gets a turn to reach in and pull out a letter. They either identify it, or ask for help from the group. We then come up with words that begin with that sound. Assessment occurs informally through observation, and there is no pass/fail. We want it to be fun, and there are no wrong answers. This is a low-risk, play-based, student-led game that the kids have a blast playing. It may be the beginning of letter recognition, phonics, and spelling for some, while reinforcing those skills already present in others. The mixed age group pairs well with the scaffolding of the developing reading skills, too. Children who have an answer learn impulse control while their friend figures out if they know the letter or if they want to ask for that help. We all have fun singing the song and coming up with words that begin with the letter.

One final note about academics in early childhood: We believe the focus in early childhood should be social and emotional health, developmentally appropriate circles and a focus on the natural environment. Having said that, we embrace an interdisciplinary approach that uses whichever pedagogy is most effective. This occurs through mindful observations of the children during free play and throughout the rhythms and routines of the day. Our curriculum focus is on meeting both the individual’s and the group’s needs in developmentally appropriate ways.

No Bad Weather, Just Bad Clothes!

A soft breeze blows through the leafless trees while a gentle mist softens the air surrounding a small group of children. The sounds of laughter and playful shrieks echoes through the winter hillside as a small creek babbles by. At first, the children toss rocks into the shallow stream. Then, one jumps as high as he can and lands with a splash in the middle of the stream, splashing his mates. Instead of anger or irritation, the other children join in. They are laughing, climbing out onto nearby rocks and doing it again and again. In fact, they continue to splash and play in the creek for nearly an hour, happily enjoying the sensations of sight and sound as the water muddies and flows downstream.

There are two adults supervising all of this with quiet amusement. No, they are not irritated that the children are getting wet and they will have to go back inside soon. They understand that children are participating in important work: playing in nature. They also know that the children are dressed properly for the chilly, damp weather. They have on insulated, water-proof boots and one piece rain suits over warm layers that keep them dry and warm.

There are fewer and fewer opportunities for children to engage in outdoor play, especially in weather deemed “inappropriate”. Most public schools have policies that keep children inside on chilly or damp days. This is often in response to parents’ concerns over health and safety. The truth is, there is no bad weather, just bad clothes.

“No Bad Weather, Just Bad Clothes”

This is a well known phrase amongst outdoor educators. When learning takes place, it is important to remember that basic needs like physical well-being must be met. This is the basic principal behind Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Children learn best when they are safe, clothed and fed. That is why it is so crucial for outdoor educators to ensure their students are dressed appropriately for the outdoors.

In a group of 7 or 8 children, if there is one child who is not outfitted properly, this is the child who is crying and ready to go home while the rest of the children are blissfully playing. Being able to play outdoors is a skill that children learn. Having positive experiences means being dressed appropriately so that they associate outdoor play with fun!

At Little Schoolhouse in the Woods, we have a favorite rain suit: Tuffo. That isn’t to say that there aren’t others, but our experiences with Tuffo have been awesome! And, no, we are not being compensated for this endorsement. For the children, a one piece suit like Tuffo’s Muddy Buddy work best. The children tend to fall and slide and play in ways that adults don’t, and the one piece design keeps them thoroughly dry. Plus, when sized right, there is room for coats and layers underneath. I don’t recommend tucking their pant legs into the boots, but, instead, keeping them on the outside of the boot. A dry kid is a happy kid!

Happy Outdooring!