By Erin Kenny ©2016
January was the coldest month so far and we got a chance to study ice. During the coldest week, we took field trips to the meadow every day where the little stream and vernal pond had frozen. As the week progressed and the weather warmed, the ice diminished and we could explore and compare both the thick ice and the thin. We had opportunities to coach the children about ice safety: we discovered that ice can be very slippery and that it can break unexpectedly, leading to sudden water immersion. We talked about the need for extra precautions whenever we see ice, such as having to wear our mittens and not engaging in water play. That being said, and preschoolers being who they are, there was a lot of bare hand explorations of the ice. The children experimented with sliding ice on ice. They also engaged in a spontaneous game of “Sink or Float” and discovered that big pieces of ice floated while tiny pieces sank and melted.
The children have again been noticing our exposed roots and we have talked about what function roots provide for the plants. The children understand that the root helps feed the plant and that it helps the plant stand upright. I found a rather large plant part lying on the forest floor one day and the kids correctly guessed it was a root by observing the rootlets and root hairs. We then spent time trying to determine which plant the root might have belonged to. We compared it to many of our exposed roots and discovered it was a huckleberry root. We don’t know how it got broken from the plant and the kids expressed concern that the plant would be sad without this root.
The forest floor has come alive with our little “jumping bugs”! These tiny little insects can be seen by lifting the top layer of debris. Their main food is the forest leaf litter (debris) and so they are one of our decomposers. They in essence “make soil”. While we talked about how dirt is made, we observed that when we lifted the top layer of debris there was dirt underneath. How did the dirt get under there? We also noticed that in many places of the forest there were different colors of dirt and we talked about why that might be so.
There was a lot of rain and wet this month leading to another explosion of mushrooms. The children love to get out the magnifying glasses whenever they spot a mushroom and we study what the differences are between the various mushrooms, such as stem and cap versus jelly mushrooms. On several days the children suggested a mushroom hunt. We encourage the children to name the mushrooms they encounter as I have found this is an effective tool for increasing their interest in and keeping track of the variety of mushrooms. One day the children collaborated and named one of our mushrooms “fairy trampoline” mushroom. The next week as we walked past that spot on the trail, one 3 year old suddenly shouted “The trampoline is gone!” at the exact spot where the mushroom had been the previous week. I believe his memory was enhanced by his participation in naming the mushroom.
The children have learned the concept of energy transfer. They notice when they are climbing that as their climbing branch shakes, it cause other branches and leaves to shake. They also call that observation to their friend’s attention if their climbing branch is starting to shake (making them feel nervous) because of another friend’s climbing activity. We also like to play a game where we give each other showers by shaking a plant stem and releasing all the raindrops from the leaves.
We spent a lot of time at Forest Theater this month. Our “Forest Theater” is simply a large piece of fabric hung between two branches to create a curtain. Often the kids put on plays of their own making which often involve forest animals dancing. Sometimes the children pass out pretend popcorn (either huckleberry leaves or cones). There was also a lot of chalk face painting this month, with the kids all painting each others’ faces into mostly kitties and cheetahs. Some days the children crushed charcoal from our fire pit to make a black paint. On a couple days we ended up at Squirrel Camp having a pretend campout and a real dance party!
There were a couple of days this month when it was absolutely pouring rain; these are actually some of our most fun and observationally rich days at Cedarsong. The trail puddles were filling by the minute and rain water was rushing down our channels even though no one was pouring water. All we had to do to make rivers was clear the debris out of the channels. It was raining so hard that we watched raindrops jump as they hit the puddle. The kids delighted in measuring the increasing depth of the puddles using our hand painted measuring sticks.
There was a lot of good building mud this month. The children made many mud statues. We left them intact to watch what effect the rain would have on them. We noticed that the rain caused them to “melt”. The children also observed that water is sticky and that it helps hold together our mud balls. We experimented with the perfect mud to water ratio for one of our fun activities: Throwing mud balls at a tree. First, we always ask: will this mud ball stick? Why or why not? What will help it to stick better? The kids often enjoy watching the mud clouds in the water when they stir the puddle – it can be quite mesmerizing.
One of the things we often observe the children spontaneously doing is simply lying on the forest floor. We encourage them to find an out-of-the-way place to lie down so they are not in the path of the activity. Sometimes we teachers also lie down with the kids, all of us soothing ourselves with the feeling of relaxation that this evokes. We listen to the sounds of the forest: raindrops raven (call and wing beats), airplanes, wind. We watch the trees and branches sway and the clouds slide across the sky. Mostly we lay silently but sometimes there is discussion about what we are observing or hearing. Nature truly is a healing salve and we teach the kids how to use nature to self-soothe. Sometimes the kids seem to just intuitively know that a simple pleasure like lying on the ground can so effectively release any anxiety.
Nature has a way of calming the human spirit and sometimes all it takes is to lie on the ground or to stir a puddle. We have so much to learn from young children if only we are willing to let them teach us.