By Erin Kenny ©2017
October has been a wet and windy month this year although the temperatures are still unseasonably warm. We noticed that Brother Wind joined us on many days; we notice this element by the sound it makes through the leaves, by the way the tree branches begin to sway and by the cool feeling on our cheeks. We like to experiment with which way the wind is blowing by watching the direction our bubbles gravitate towards.
We noticed lots of spiders and spider webs this month. They are easy to spot now as the angle of the autumn sun glinting off the dew drops makes rainbows in them that caught our eyes. We also noticed that there was steam (“white clouds”) coming out of our mouths on many days this month. We talked about how the hot air in our mouths mixing with the cold air outside makes steam and condensation. This is a new observation in the last few weeks with the dropping temperatures.
The huckleberries continue to provide a consistent treat throughout the forest. The children have been comparing the flavor of berries on different huckleberry bushes and discovered that some bushes produce more sour berries than others. We talked about each plant’s season for edibles and that this is not the season for eating last year’s leaves from the huckleberry bush. In the spring, the supple new red growth, sometimes called “goodness” by the kids, is a deliciously tart treat.
One several days the children were experimenting with gravity as the question came up about whether everything falls back down when you throw it into the air. The children initiated experiments with fir needles, cones and sticks and eventually concluded, based on the observed results, that indeed everything does fall back to the ground.
As the temperatures cool down, we are talking more about appropriate clothing and how to keep and dry so we lose all sense of time and become authentically engaged in our nature explorations. We often talk about how many layers are appropriate on any given day in that it may be a 3-layer day or a 4-layer day.
We have talked a lot this month about what it means to be a good leader. Most preschool-aged children express a desire to be the leader when heading out on an adventure. At first, the leader child is just thinking it means they get to go first and run off down the trail. However, we coach the children about what qualities make a good leader and now they give answers such as “A leader is when you’re bigger than everybody and you take care of everybody” (Kraven, age 5); “A leader is when you make sure everyone in your group is okay” (Phoenix, age 4).
The subject of hibernation naturally came up many times this month as we noticed all the of the insects beginning to hide and the lack of slugs on the ground. It seemed like any time we moved a log or stump, we found some type of insects curled up underneath. One of the old logs across Heart Trail has finally decomposed after all these years to the point where the kids can move it. They noticed this change right away one day and began to move the old crumbling log. Suddenly they observed that an ant colony and a shiny black beetle were underneath where the log had been and they expressed concerned that they had disturbed the creatures’ home. The kids collectively decided to put the old log back in its place and leave it there so the insects would be safe. This is the kind of compassion-scaffolding that we guide and coach the children in and we therefore witness examples of this kind and thoughtful behavior every day.
We observed the sap go from sticky and clear to hardened and white this month. The children correctly guessed that it had to do with the cooler temperatures. One day the group found a white fungus in some dirt and discussed whether it was a mushroom or some sap. Without teacher direction, they began to experiment, using what they knew about sap to determine what this was. First, they looked at it – was it shiny like sap? Was it coming out of tree bark like sap? Then, they felt it – was it sticky like sap? Finally, they smelled it – did it smell like sap? After their explorations, the children determined that what they were studying was in fact a form of mushroom and not sap.
We discovered many new mushrooms this month as the dampness in the forest encouraged their proliferation. We have seen shelf mushrooms, orange jelly mushrooms, bolete mushrooms and coral mushrooms. We caution the children that we never eat any of the mushrooms in the forest although we encourage their careful and gentle exploration with fingers. We also ask the children if they’d like to name any new mushrooms we find and they usually pick a very literally descriptive name. We have found that this strategy helps the children to remember that mushroom later since they have a personal story about it.
We have been enjoying forest tea more often this month both for the flavor and as a way to warm up. The main ingredients this season are the evergreen huckleberry leaves and berries. We have also been adding Doug fir branches with their “forest candy” buds. On several days the children gathered a (pretend) forest salad of huckleberries, huckleberry leaves, hemlock needles and baby fir cones inside a salal leaf cup.
As the rain has increased, so has the water play. Children enjoy gathering and pouring water, building dams and fishing with their sticks “rods”. They are continuing to carve elaborate channels and rivers in the hillside and delight in watching the waterfalls that form as they collaborate to pour all their buckets at the same time from the top of the hill. We see many examples every day of teamwork and cooperation with the Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten group as we coach and model our inclusive, helpful and welcoming pedagogy. The puddle grew and shrunk throughout the month and when we asked the children what happened to the water when it was gone, we received answers such as “The clouds took some and the Earth took some” (Lucas, age 3).
There were several requests this month by kids for some “alone time”. This is language we teach children to use when they feel a need to remove themselves from the group and get some downtime. Children will often ask for that opportunity spontaneously as they need it. We guide and role model that nature is a place of calming and self-soothing, a message that is lost on most of today’s preschoolers because of their limited access to extended unstructured outdoor time. We are hopeful that the Cedarsong children remember their connection to this place when they have stress in their lives and that they can imagine it and find healing in that moment.
This is a wonderful season for noticing all the signs of Autumn. I encourage each of you to go outdoors with a beloved child and marvel at the variety of colors and shapes of leaves. You can introduce interesting challenges like “How many things can we find in nature that are yellow?” or “How many different kinds of leaves can we find on the ground?” Being fully present with your child during unstructured nature immersion time is a precious gift and creates loving family bonds.