Although we had more rain this month, the temperatures stayed quite warm resulting in an explosion of mushrooms in the forest. The children were genuinely excited each time they discovered a mushroom and of course our teachers modeled their own authentic wonder and curiosity too. We have started learning about the major groupings of mushrooms such as stem and cap, shelf, coral and jelly types. The children use all their senses to explore their fungi finds: they gently touch, smell and visually study them. We caution children to never put any part of the mushrooms in their mouths. We teach children that we do not pick or uproot the mushrooms to observe them because they are living beings and we want to leave them as we find them.
We saw many of our native banana slugs this month, often eating the forest stem and cap mushrooms. Our local feral black bunny has become bolder, hovering around at the snack table when it hears the children gather. One day we observed it eating native foliage such as trailing blackberry leaves and fallen alder leaves. The raven pair has been quite vocal, flying low enough that we could hear their wings flap. We’ve heard the pileated wood peckers and our native pacific tree frogs. We discovered purple bird poop and the kids (correctly) guessed it was because the birds were eating the huckleberries. The native towhee and song sparrow have returned to our snack table now that there are slimmer pickings in the forest. We delight in watching them eat our snack leftovers.
Brother wind was a big presence during October. We had a couple of days when we spent almost the whole class time at our wind safe area. We also recently hired a crew to take down some snags and de-limb some madronas that had been identified as potentially hazardous by the forest health expert we consulted. On days of light wind we find that the children often want to lie on the forest floor and watch the trees dance. This leads to discussion about how trees appear to be hard and unmoving and yet are flexible so they don’t uproot. On many days this month we saw (and heard) it raining leaves and fir needles. Blowing bubbles is a great way for kids to observe and demonstrate wind direction. We encourage Cedarsong forest kindergarten kids to try to catch the bubbles on sticks rather than of run around erratically trying to pop the bubbles. Through our explorations, we also discovered that bubbles stick to leaves and bushes when they’re wet, making lovely temporary decorations.
Since the weather is now so consistently damp and there is so much debris on the forest floor, the air has taken on a distinctly autumnal smell; one of decay, mold and the sweet and spicy volatile oils of the decomposing leaves. We explored the subject of decomposition by setting up an in situ science experiment called the decomposing leaf circles. We gathered hazelnut, alder and bracken fern leaves and arranged each variety into circles of their own type. Over the course of a week we discovered a dramatic difference in how each type of leaf decomposed. We then talked about why it might be that each of the leaf types decompose at different rates.
The children engaged in quite a lot of nature art this month, including cone and stick figurines, elaborate stick fairy houses and villages, forest fireworks (tiny twig and yarn) and wooden stars. The dampness in the forest makes finding flexible sticks easier and we made many fallen cedar branch hoops. The children colored the forest with chunky chalk, exploring and comparing the different textures on the bark and the roots of various trees like madrona and Douglas fir. Speaking of madrona, we have been collecting their edible berries where they fall beneath the trees. We opened the berry and found seeds inside. How can such a big tree grow from such a teeny berry? The kids also mixed the chalk with a bit of water to make a paste for painting their faces.
The children have noticed the shifting light in the forest, leading to a delightful little game we play called “Who turned off the lights?” We talk often about the recent shift in season and all the changes we are observing. Here in the Pacific Northwest, one of the most obvious changes is the increase in rainfall and we finally had some water in our summer dry mud puddle. The water in the puddle kept growing and shrinking throughout the month and on several days it just disappeared. When we ask the kids: “Hey, what happened to the water in our puddle?” We often get wonderfully creative answers. This month, one 3 year old child answered: “The sun drank it up”.
With the increased water levels there has been an explosion of mud bakery creations such as cupcakes, cookies and pies. There have also (YAY!) been more opportunities for puddle stomping. I heard once that you know you’ve left childhood when you begin to see puddles as an obstacle rather than an opportunity.
When it’s wet out, it is a chance for the children to assess risk regarding one of their favorite activities: climbing. We hear them remind each other: “It’s not a good day for climbing because it is slippery”. Many of these forest kindergarten children also remind each other that it can be safer to climb without shoes so they often pull off their boots and socks to climb barefoot.
We are continuing to drink a lot of forest tea. The blend this month has mostly consisted of ripe huckleberries, madrona berries, fresh alder catkins, cedar leaves and lichen.
I hope you feel inspired to get outside with one of your favorite kids and enjoy the goodness of autumn.
By Erin Kenny ©2015