It has been one wet month here in the Pacific Northwest! We’ve had record rainfall and have observed the highest levels in our mud puddle to date. The kids excitedly guessed each morning whether the puddle would be bigger or smaller than the last time they were at Cedarsong. There were many days when the kids ran right over to grab the painted measuring sticks to see how high the water was, always giving their best estimate before experimenting. As the level ebbed and flowed, the children noticed that the previous edge of the puddle was apparent by how the fir needle debris was left in an oval shape.
On some days, it was raining so hard that the children noticed that when the when the rain drops hit the puddle they made bubbles. They also noticed the concentric circles that expanded outwards from each rain drop as it hit the surface of the water in the puddles. The children spent a lot of time this month creating bridges and dams. Through experimentation, the children discovered that the strongest dams are those that are constructed of dirt, sticks and rocks in alternating layers. They also spent many of these rainy days filling buckets with water from the big mud puddle, using teamwork to carry them and then pouring the water down the channel they had dug to create a river. One of the children came to school one day singing “Rain, rain, don’t go away. I want puddles to play in today”.
There was also much experimenting with making mud balls, which involved a lot of teamwork and problem solving to discover the best water to dirt ratio. Often we make mud statues of people or animals, decorating the mud balls with sticks for arms, stones for eyes and lichen for hair. The children also delight in throwing mud balls of various consistencies against the trees, always guessing first whether that particular mud ball will stick or not. This month’s mud has a consistency and color reminiscent of chocolate and the children described playing in the chocolate puddle and made “chocolate covered” huckleberry leaves. One five year old informed the group that “Tree rain is rain that comes down from the trees’ leaves”. There was ample opportunity for licking that tree rain off of the leaves; something the children love to do.
October has also been a very windy month, giving us an opportunity to explore with the children how wind is not something you can actually see but rather only the evidence of it. When we ask the children what their clues are to the fact that it is windy, they answer “you can feel it” and you can “see trees shaking”. The children have been introduced to the word “debris” and we have challenged ourselves to see how many different windfall items we can gather. One several days, we made a “windfall collection” of the many things that fell with the wind. The children came up with the idea of going on “a big leaf hunt”, collecting the biggest leaves they could find on the ground. So many fir needles have fallen that they are blanketing the forest floor, making it fun to draw shapes on the ground with a stick. The children also noticed that spider webs collect debris.
It is apparent to the children that the season has shifted and they are encouraged to look for evidence that it is now autumn. They have observed that we are seeing fewer of our native banana slugs and millipedes. The birds that frequented our snack area during the summer have disappeared. One day we found some bird poop that was purple. Since the children know that bird poop is usually white, we asked: “Why do you think this bird poop is purple?” to which one of the four year olds answered “Because it is a purple bird”. Several of the other children guessed that it was because the birds were eating the purple huckleberries. We have heard the native Douglas fir squirrels chattering frequently as they harvest the Doug fir cones and hazelnuts in preparation for winter. We have also heard our native pacific tree frog most days and our resident raven. The edges of the mud puddle are a great place to look for anima foot prints, which we encourage the children to do each morning. This month we discovered deer prints and raccoon prints. One child observed that he knew it was a raccoon print “because they have hands like ours” and then he proceeded to make a handprint next to the raccoon’s to compare. We have seen several salamanders this month and one day we saw a salamander walk right over a banana slug!
The children continue to be excited about using the chunky colored chalk to decorate the fire circle logs and each others’ faces. They often notice and comment about how the chalk looks darker and feels like paint when it is wet. There were many days that the children spontaneously wanted to chalk on trees to see if they were “smooth or bumpy”. This is a great way for the children to learn how to identify the different trees by distinguishing their bark.
As the temperatures cool, we have been able to see our breath on several days causing one child to comment: “My breath looks rainbowy”. This again led to a discussion about the difference between smoke and steam. Even these young children understand that smoke comes from fire and steam comes from water.
We have observed some SUPER teamwork this month involving 5 to 7 children working together to move large windfall fir boughs into our main camp to build nests. The children would then lie together in their nests, looking up into the forest canopy. It is a very meditative child-directed activity and the level of relaxation that is apparent on their faces as they absorb the calm of the forest floor is evident. On several days, the children engaged in building a large stick house using hammers, drills and screwdrivers (found forest objects that reminded them of these tools).
This month we have been enjoyed foraging for huckleberries and eating fallen madrona berries as well as the “forest candy” (the Douglas fir buds which taste a bit like tangerines and are loaded with Vitamin C. Our forest tea blend this month consists mostly of huckleberries, cedar tips and western hemlock (the edible tree, not the poisonous herb!).
It is astonishing to me that one of the most frequently asked questions I get when speaking about the forest kindergarten model is “What do you do with the kids when it’s raining?” For children, one of the most exciting natural elements is rain water and they engage in an endless list of activities when it is raining. We all look forward to our rainy days in the forest!
I hope you take the opportunity to get out in the pouring rain this month with one of your favorite children and follow their lead. You just many be pleasantly surprised at how much fun it can be!
By Erin Kenny ©2014