We experienced lots of water this month in the form of rain, mist, fog and ice. This prompted us to start repeating our winter water play rhyme: “If we see ice or snow on any day, there will be no water play”. We have been explaining to the children the very real dangers of hypothermia and why we need added safety rules in the colder weather. This is the first month that we got serious about the children’s clothing and coached the parents on how to dress them appropriately for this wintery weather. Colder temperatures mean the children must be dressed in more layers and definitely come with mittens and hats. In order to experience the relaxing feeling of timelessness in nature, it is imperative that children stay warm and dry.
It rained so hard on several days that the children noticed when the raindrops hit the puddle, they form concentric rings around the drop. The children delighted in measuring our puddle every day with our painted sticks. Each stick has a different colored band every 5 inches or so and the children like to guess first what color the water level will come up to. There were many days that the children suggested the game of sink or float, always questioning first, “Do you think this will sink or float?” before throwing the object in the water. Sometimes we are surprised about the things that float, such as large pieces of wood. This leads to discussions about what causes things to float and further experimentation about whether the hypotheses are correct.
The children made all kinds of observations this month about the puddle, including that when they stepped in it, the color of the water got darker. They began to experiment with stirring the puddle with a stick and noticed that it was different if they stirred from the top of the puddle as opposed to the bottom. When they stirred the bottom of the puddle, “mud clouds” rose to the surface. When the kids were done stirring, we noticed that water swirls; even after we stopped moving the water, it continued to move itself into a swirl (spiral). We also noticed that when we poured water down our channels, the water was darker when it reached the puddle.
There were many calm and still days this month where we studied the reflection in the puddle. We saw the forest canopy, the sky and us in the reflection. On other days, after it had been windy, the surface of our puddle was covered with debris, a clue that wind had been present. The kids discovered that debris was blocking the tunnel they made through which they pour water. They engaged in a lot of teamwork to clear it out and then tested with multiple bucket loads of water to see whether they had accomplished their goal. We have been singing our water cycle song this month: “Oh, the rain flows down the river and it washes out to sea; it evaporates into the clouds and then….it rains back down on me!”
There has been a lot of fishing in our puddle during this very wet month. The children make fishing poles out of sticks, yarn and cones. They then stand on the (child-initiated and child-constructed) bridge at the puddle. Often they stand there chatting away, with their lines dangling in the water, just like real fishing.
One morning we saw a raccoon footprint in the mud by the puddle, leading to a discussion about why animals have different shapes of feet. We talked about their habitats, their lifestyle and their food as all determining the foot shape. The kids talked about birds, horses and kangaroos and why they have the feet they do.
We enjoyed making collections this month. One day we made a collection of all different types of yellow leaves in our forest and found a total of 11 species. We then compared the leaves, observing the differences. We looked for other colors to add to the forest rainbow collection and found red salal leaves, ochre bracken fern, green huckleberry leaves and golden cottonwood leaves. On several days we set out two leaves – a madrona and a hazelnut – and challenged ourselves to find all the differences between the two leaves. We were able to find 7differences, including size, texture and smell.
We also worked s lot with patterns this month. The children would set up a repeating pattern such as cone, stick, rock, cone, stick, rock and then ask others “what comes next?” We also noticed that patterns can be different with the same objects. For example, on several days we created a circle of alternating hazelnut and alder leaves so the pattern was either yellow, green, yellow, green, etc., or hazelnut, alder, hazelnut, alder, etc., or hard leaf, soft leaf, hard leaf, soft leaf, etc.
This time of year, we can really see further into the forest as the foliage becomes less dense. This leads to the children wanting to follow the animal trails as they become more visible. We often go on Trail Blazing adventures during this season and discover new ways to get to old places or new places all together. We enjoyed spending time at red yarn camp, where the children often sit and tell stories, and we visited the jumping hole many times.
The children have continued to be engaged in chalking on the tree bark. It is a wonderful way to introduce them to tree identification. One day while they were exploring this tactile experience, one child noticed that there was no sound when he colored up and down on the cedar bark however there was some sound when he rubbed the chalk horizontally along the bark. All the children were fascinated by this discovery and experimented with whether this was true for other tree bark.
Our resident feral bunny (Midnight) is getting very bold. In fact, recently it has been approaching the children and coming so close as to touch their toes. It also seems to know when it is snack time as it shows up as soon as we sit down at our picnic table. The towhee and the song sparrow are a little nervous of the bunny and have been keeping their distance until the bunny gets first dibs from our snack leftovers. This month we had a surprise visit from our native varied thrush which usually has left the island by this season. One of our second year kids – a 4 year old – recognized the unusual bird right away and called it to our attention, drawing on her memory from last spring which was the last time we saw that species. The raven pair has been very vocal and on some days I would swear they were answering the children’s loud cawing.
Besides the usual foraging options this time of year, the children have discovered that they like the taste of the hazelnut leaves and have been happily munching them. They decided to try them after they saw the bunny eating them. Of course they asked me first and I told them hazelnut is perfectly safe to eat.
We have seen some new mushroom species this month including bunny ear mushrooms, carbon antlers, Zellers boletus and king boletus. One day we saw a large king boletus rising from the ground and one child asked “Why does the mushroom have dirt on top of it?” This led to a discussion on how mushrooms grow from under the ground and push up the surface of the ground as they grow. We noticed one mushroom was nibbled on and the teachers asked “What do you think ate that mushroom?”, to which the kids all answered “a slug”, based on our repeated observations of slugs eating mushrooms.
There was some elaborate imagination play and nature art this month. The children created many stick houses and we began adding amenities like rugs and tables and chairs. We also constructed several dogs for the families who live in our houses and rocket ships for them to travel in, all using cones and sticks.
This time of year, it is harder to find sunny places in the forest and we delight in trying to find these elusive sit spots. We will find a great place in the sun and sit for a spell; then notice that we are suddenly in the shade, although we have not moved. What changed? Did the sun move? “NO, the Earth moved” is the response. This is a great way to visualize the earth’s rotation.
As the temperature gets colder, we are starting to see steam coming out of our mouths. This gives us an opportunity to talk about what that is and what the difference is between steam (from water) and smoke (from fire)
We noticed that the chickadees and juncos are puffed up these days. One child asked: “Why are birds fluffy?” and another answered “Because its winter”. This is a great visual for understanding why looser clothing will keep us warmer in winter. When children state that they feel cold, the first thing I check is how tight the clothing and boots are that they are wearing.
Our Forest tea this month has predominantly been comprised of alder catkins, forest candy (Douglas fir buds and branches) and red cedar.
I hope you are enjoying the many moods of Autumn as much as the forest kindergarten kids are.
By Erin Kenny ©2015