By Erin Kenny ©2016
February was a mix of dark low hanging clouds, lots of fog, light sprinkles of rain and downpours although we did notice some early signs of Spring. There were even several days when the temperature was warm enough for bare feet. We talked a lot this month about how even though the calendar says it is still Winter, Nature is telling us it is Spring. The many signs of Spring include the beautiful song of the winter wren, the return of the juncos, new leaf buds on the salmonberry and the elderberry; new sprouts of miners lettuce, sticky wicky, shot weed and chickweed. We also saw our first baby nettles and the children remembered from last year that we use dock leaf to treat nettle stings. We have seen and heard tree frogs this month and the baby sword fern fiddleheads are visible in their “nests”.
Quite often when the forest kindergarten children get ready to climb, they remove their shoes, having discovered that it is safer to climb barefoot than with boots on. Since Cedarsong children are allowed to engage in activities that involve minimal risk, they are encouraged and guided to assess any risk that might be present such as slippery branches or a weak dead limb. This results in children who are risk aware. Cedarsong children also learn how to “fall safely”, a skill that must be learned from experience. Since climbing is considered a minimally risky activity, we have established certain safety rules such as children are not lifted to any branch (they must be able to climb on their own to a desired branch) and they are not to climb any higher than two times their body height.
The first creature we have seen emerging from hibernation is the earthworm. We found several very long worms and we had a few chances to observe how they move by reaching forward with their head and then bringing the back part of their body forward. We talked about how earthworms do not have eyes but rather can only register light and dark. We discussed why that might have to do with sensing predators. We talked about what the worms’ predators are, including some of our forest birds.
The children have noticed that the surface of the puddle is affected differently depending on how hard it is raining. On several days it rained so hard, that the raindrops were making bubbles and indentations on the surface of water. On other days when it was raining lightly, the raindrops merely caused concentric circles to appear from each drop. On heavy rain days, the child-created channels above our mud puddle flowed freely when we cleared the debris that blocked them. The children noticed that when the flowing water reached the puddle, it was a darker color as it rushed into the puddle and that it eventually always swirled into a spiral. We talked about how our experiments at Cedarsong with water flow, including carving channels, blocking the flow, and overflowing those channels is a microcosm of why and how real rivers flood. We also noticed that whenever we (or the rain) poured lots of water that sand settled at the bottom of river while mud flowed over the top of it so we of course discussed why that might be.
One four year old discovered the principle of “displacement” when he told us “Teacher, I notice water comes out when I step in the mud”. This is the type of experiential learning that we often see at Cedarsong and what makes this model such a great science program. On days when the puddle was still and the surface was smooth, the youngest children were fascinated by their reflection in the water. They were captivated as they studied the reflection of the trees and sky in the puddles and often joked about jumping into the sky. When the water in our puddles receded, there was an edge comprised of what we call “silky mud”. This is the best mud for finding animal footprints. This month we saw many bird footprints in the mud and it gave us an opportunity to talk about why these bird’s feet look the way they do. On the rare day when the water in our puddle had disappeared, the teacher asked “Where did all the water go?” One 3 year old answered “The sun drank it up”.
We have noticed that some baby trees are growing in our debris tub and we talked about how those babies will one day grow so tall. On many days this month we spent time noticing our biggest tallest trees (western red cedar) and decided to measure how wide they were. Our way of measuring is to see how many kids it takes to form a circle around the tree’s trunk. We discovered that several of our trees require 5-6 children to complete a circle around their trunk!
We had several child-initiated games this month, including one four year olds suggestion of “The Different Game”. This involved finding as many different things as we could and making a collection of them on our log stumps. The children also delighted in a game they named Nature Eye Spy, which is pretty self-explanatory. On several days, the children created a Museum of rocks, leaves, sticks and cones. There has been a lot of experimenting with collections and how things are the same and different. We spent time this month finding “Nature Treasures” such as cool rocks and sticks. On several days, we played “Nature Scavenger Hunt” where a child decides what the group is to find, for example something hard, something that rolls, something that smells good, or something pokey, and then the group uses teamwork to find those items.
We enjoyed many tea parties this month and our primary forest tea seasonal blend has been alder catkins, cedar leaves, sword fern, feather moss, salal and “forest candy” (douglas fir buds). It is such a delightful way for the children to gather and quite often results in spontaneous story-telling.
The children employed a lot of teamwork in building a new bridge across our mud puddle. They planned out the construction, cooperatively carried branches and logs, mixed and poured their “cement”. There was a lot of self-pride in the co-creation of this bridge. Each subsequent class noticed the new bridge right away and spent time reinforcing it with dry dirt, sticks, rocks.
It is fascinating how often we hear the forest kindergarten children say “Let’s get to work”. One day a five year old said “I need to get back to work” after he had taken a break from chalking the tree roots to have some pretend cupcakes his friends were offering. In a young child’s mind, work and play are synonymous and there is a lot of gratification in creating something that is the product of their work.
I encourage you to take some time this month to think about how you can introduce more playfulness into your work. Try spending time outdoors with no schedule or agenda and “work” with your child to co-create something. Experience how transformative it is to view work and play as interrelated.