When we started back at school this fall, the first thing everyone noticed was how dry is was in the forest. The children noticed it was very slippery because the debris on top of the soil rolled under their feet. They not only assessed this risk and slowed their pace down voluntarily, they frequently made announcements to their peers cautioning them to slow down. We also noticed that since it was so dry, the soil was very hard and tougher to dig in than at other times. When we poured water into a hole we had dug, the water just sat there instead of sinking into the ground. This prompted discussion of why that might be so.
Children were fascinated with sifting the dry dirt through one of our several colanders. They enjoyed the sensation of touching the soft powdery dirt that resulted from the “shifting” as one child called it. They also quickly noticed that bigger holes in the various colanders led to different results.
Long strips of curled Madrone bark littered the forest floor and we delighted in crushing the bark and throwing it into the air as forest confetti. The children were fascinated to learn that it was tree bark and this led to a lot of bark exploration and comparison. Children often use the colored chalk we provide to experiment with the smooth and rough textures of the major tree species bark. This experiential awareness of the differences enhances their ability to identify a tree without having to look into the canopy to make their guess.
Many children were captivated by the crunch of the dry madrone bark under our feet and in our hands. This led us to explore what else made a sound when it was ripped or broken or crushed. The children concluded through their experimentation that everything does indeed make a sound when broken. One day, the children all noticed that the madrone bark was no longer crunchy, and they speculated correctly that it was because the forest was now damper.
We discovered lots of termite larva living under some of the stumps around our fire pit and we decided to mark the ones where the insects were living so we would not tip those over and disturb their home again. We also found many wings under some of the logs and guessed that they were termite wings from its adult stage. This month we’ve also seen a few slugs, black beetles and one day we uncovered a hibernating bumblebee. We have often heard our native tree frog and our resident ravens.
Collecting and sorting were big themes this month. We spent many days creating collections of different items we found on the forest floor: Douglas fir cones, dry leaves, lichen, madrone bark and pebbles were of particular fascination. As children gathered things for the collection, we would display them on our stumps and encourage the children to identify their differences and similarities. We often played our nature memory game called “What’s Missing?” In this game, we gather a random number of different objects from the forest floor (anywhere from 7-12 works great) and each person takes turns removing one item from the collection while the others hide their eyes. Then, the group tries to guess what’s missing from the collection.
On many days this month we took adventures to the water pump to collect water and bring it back to Main Camp in buckets. We experimented with how many buckets of water we need to pour before the river reaches the puddle. We noticed that the dry dirt floated on the surface of the water and that it was hard to mix in. We used water to mix with dirt and make mud for creating elaborate pies and cakes which we decorated with huckleberry leaves and fir needles.
On the few days that it rained this month the children engaged in creating a dam for the river. The children quickly learned through experimentation and conversation that it takes a combination of materials such as mud, sticks, rocks and debris to make a strong dam. On rainy days we often took the time to stop and listen to the rain. We discovered that we could also see, feel, taste and smell the rain. We engaged in a lot of bubble experimentation this month and observed that when we blew bubbles in the rain, they stayed on surfaces like leaves and sticks because those surfaces were wet. We had previously observed that bubbles pop when landing on dry surfaces.
We have been foraging a plethora of huckleberries. Even our youngest two year olds are strengthening their pincer grasp and hand-eye coordination by picking wild berries themselves. We have also noticed purple bird poop appearing all over the forest and we deduced that it was likely because the birds were eating the purple huckleberries.
We have noticed a lot of sap in the forest as the temperatures have still been quite warm for autumn. The children recognize it by its look (shiny), its feel (sticky) and its smell (fruity). Climbing was a popular activity this month and many children chose to go barefoot due to the warm temperatures.
This is a great time of year to get outside regularly with your children. Start scheduling nature immersion time with your child into your daily routine. Try going outdoors with no props and no agenda and just following your child’s lead. You may be pleasantly surprised at how much this unstructured nature time deepens your family bond.
By Erin Kenny ©2017