By Erin Kenny ©2017
Autumn has rapidly accelerated this month and the children have noticed that all the leaves still on the trees are yellow. When teachers asked why that might be, all the children correctly identified the season as fall. One three-year-old boy made the statement “When leaves are falling off and no leaves are left then there will be snow” showing his understanding of the rhythms of the seasons even at his tender age.
On several days this month the children were highly interested in making a leaf collection and we ended up with ten different kinds of leaves from the forest floor after our adventuring. We laid all the leaves out for comparison and encouraged the children to describe all the ways in which those leaves were different and the same. This exercise develops children’s powers of observation and discernment.
The Madrona berries have turned red and we are enjoying tasting them. Their unusual flavor is embraced by some and rejected by others. We talk about how we all enjoy different things and that instead of saying “yuck”, we say “that’s just not my cup of tea” so we don’t insult our friend’s opinion.
As the Cedarsong forest kindergarten children are so knowledgeable about the edible plants in their forest, they are frequently eating the leaves of one of their favorite plants, the ubiquitous evergreen huckleberry. This has prompted discussion about plant parts’ seasons and how this is not the season for eating huckleberry leaves because they’re tough and could lead to choking. One seasoned five-year-old said “We’ll wait until they’re red”, knowing that the new spring growth emerges in a vibrant red tone. We’ve noticed new flower buds on huckleberry branch tips and wondered why that would be so since it’s not spring. What is in season though are the berries of the huckleberry and this year there are more than I can ever remember seeing in the Cedarsong forest.
The extensive rain and relatively warm autumnal weather has produced an explosion of mushrooms. We are observing many different varieties such as orange jelly, boletes and the Douglas fir collybia (tiny mushrooms that grow directly out of the Douglas fir cones). We compare the mushrooms by looking underneath and asking: Does it have gills? Does it have a stem? Is it growing out of dirt or wood?
While exploring mushrooms at Cedarsong, we encourage children to use all their senses while also reminding them that we never eat the mushrooms from the forest. Many of the mushrooms the children encounter are very tiny and fragile and the Cedarsong kids are coached continuously to treat the mushrooms with a gentle touch as they are living beings that deserve our respect.
This strategy of compassion-scaffolding is one of the many ways that The Cedarsong Way excels. I truly believe that the proper window of instilling lessons about compassion, empathy, respect, awareness and mindfulness is the preschool age of two to five years. These lessons need to be experiential and cannot be learned from a worksheet. I believe that lessons in compassion and mindfulness are more important than the typical modern heavy handed pre-set curriculum involving worksheets for math and reading.
My strong beliefs about the positive impact of The Cedarsong Way compassion-scaffolding approach was affirmed recently by a Cedarsong parent: “Erin, I wanted to share a story about Lucas and his friend that fascinated and moved me. Lucas was playing with a 3-year-old friend who doesn’t go to Cedarsong. They were in some grass and my son wanted to teach his friend how to play the (Cedarsong memory) game “What’s Missing”. While Lucas was preparing the items for the game, his friend noticed a little mushroom growing out of the grass and said, “look, a mushroom!” very excitedly. Lucas immediately came over and looked at the mushroom. And after a very brief pause, the friend stomped on the small mushroom. Lucas’ eyes grew wide and he started to tear up, clearly distraught. He said to his friend, “No don’t do that! It’s a living being!” It moved me. Thank you for Cedarsong and thank you for instilling such precious and rare values in our children.”
The advancement of autumn has brought lots of rain and wind. The kids have noticed many branches and thick debris on the forest floor. This is a great time to draw designs or letters in the debris with a stick as the darker soil beneath appears in contrast to the lighter debris on the surface. There has been a lot of debris clearing from the channel leading to our main camp mud puddle. The children have been exploring water flow by careful observation and experimentation.
We have also enjoyed measuring the puddles with our hand painted colorfully striped measuring sticks and some days we could actually watch the trail puddles shrink and grow as it alternately rained harder and softer. We have seen much collaborative effort this month in building dams. Water play involves some serious STEM learning including lessons in displacement, volume, mass, measurement, water cycle, evaporation, buoyancy, flow and gravity.
The extended unstructured time in nature that is provided by the Cedarsong forest kindergarten contributes to a relaxed state of being and we often observe children spontaneously lying on the ground, gazing at the canopy and watching the rain. Cedarsong teachers encourage children to engage all their senses; feeling, tasting, hearing and smelling the natural world. One of the added benefits of The Cedarsong Way forest kindergarten model is that it results in parents and children spending more time outdoors together no matter what the weather.