The weather this month has been warm enough for many of the kids to strip off most of their layers including their footwear. It was only towards the end of the month that we began to notice signs of autumn. When we asked the kids how they knew the season had changed, they responded with answers like “the leaves are falling”, “the leaves are changing colors”, “the days are darker”, and “we are wearing more clothes”.
The children delighted in the many mushrooms we observed this month. They often requested the magnifying glasses to study the orange coral mushrooms, the shelf mushrooms and the molds on the ground. We gently touched the different mushrooms, noticing how each of them felt differently. We emphasized to the children that we never eat or nibble any of the mushrooms that we find in the forest, as a safety precaution against possible exuberant tasting..
We noticed a deep layer of debris on the forest floor due to all of the douglas fir, hemlock and red cedar needles falling from the canopy. The children spent time drawing designs in the debris. We talked about how everything that falls on the forest floor eventually becomes dirt. As the children explored through deeper digging, they noticed that the dirt under the surface not only looked and felt different from place to place but it also smelled different. As we moved the debris around, we discovered tiny sprouts and marveled over how those babies would one day become big adult plants.
The increasing dampness in the forest also led to more obvious examples of decomposition as the children explored pulling bark off of fallen trees and breaking apart soft decaying logs. Under the bark we often saw that there was a soft layer of what looked like dirt (sawdust) and we asked the kids what they thought it was. Upon further study, they noticed clues to insect activity and deduced that the insects had chewed the wood. In some logs we found termites and it reinforced what the children had guessed. Some of the alder wood is so decayed that it can be grabbed by the handful and water squeezed out of it. We talk about how and why there is water in the wood and this led to conversations about what causes things to decompose.
We have seen and heard lots of animal activity. We saw lots of evidence of moles working under the dirt and we saw our resident bunny several times. One day we saw a salamander moving across the trail and we got a close look at it before it scrambled away. It was a good opportunity to explain to the children why we do not handle amphibians, since their skin is so permeable we could unintentionally injure them with whatever is on our hands such as hand sanitizer, bug spray or antibacterial soap. We have also heard many pacific tree frogs, our native douglas fir squirrel and ravens. We saw several of our famously large banana slugs, which are our only native slug species. We’ve found many of our two native millipede species, the black with yellow spots and the smaller brown one. We encourage children to use a leaf as a scoop to pick them up so their fingers don’t accidentally crush the tiny creatures. The children have been learning about habitat and often want to build one in our bug box for the millipedes. (We take the lid off our “bug” boxes so that creatures don’t accidentally get left in them at the end of the day).
We have made a lot of forest tea. Each day I bring a thermos of hot water and the children leisurely collect edible forest forage and drop it in the water for our homemade tea. Before picking each leaf we encourage the children to make sure there is no layer of dirt on it and to examine the underside of the leaf to make sure no animals are making their home under that leaf. We also require the children to be able to identify the plant they are dropping into the water, encouraging the older children to teach when the younger ones don’t know or forget. This month’s forest tea blend includes lots of huckleberries, sword fern, lichen and red cedar fronds.
We provide chunky chalk for the children and they love to draw on the bark, noting the different textures of various trees. We also set out artists paintbrushes with a bowl of water and the kids create ephemeral drawings on our fire circle stumps or overlay their colorful chalk drawings with strokes of water. They notice that the chalk marks turn darker when wet. The children spent a long time elaborately decorating one of their favorite climbing logs (the “airplane”), singing loudly as they worked together.
There has been lots of rich imagination play this month. We have gone on many adventures by way of airplane and train. The children have enjoyed pretending they are kittens, wolves and owls. One day we engaged in spontaneous Forest Yoga as each child made up a pose and all the other children copied it. We’ve had ballet shows with costumes such as fir branch bracelets, belts and tutus. We played forest baseball with sticks and cones. We have built little stick houses and villages. On many days we played our nature memory game “What’s Missing?” Many cakes, muffins and cookies were concocted in a play area the children call “the bakery”.
We have a musical instrument bin that sits out so the children can spontaneously grab an instrument whenever they choose. This month we witnessed a lot of joyous music-making. We sing our Cedarsong songs and also enjoy making up alternate silly words to some of our songs.
In the first month of school we often have to remind our children of the Cedarsong Rules of Kindness and Rules of Safety. The basic rules of kindness are: No hitting, No grabbing, No pushing and No mean words. We also do not allow any exclusionary behavior, striving to create a cooperative and supportive tribe vibe. The most basic safety rule is that “you must always be able to see a teacher and a teacher must always be able to see you”.
Often we just lie on the ground and gaze into the forest canopy, watching the tress sway. One day, while lying on the ground next to a five year old, I heard her sigh deeply and quietly say to herself “I love nature”. My heart soared.
By Erin Kenny ©2015