We have enjoyed a great start to the new school year. It is wonderful to see the returning children taking on a mentor role with the new children. We began each day of the first few weeks with a review of our most important Cedarsong rules. First there are the rules of kindness: no hitting, no grabbing, no pushing and no mean words (we include “stupid” and “hate” in our list of mean words). We also talk with the children about how we all find ways to play together at Cedarsong; we do not allow any exclusionary behavior. Even if the children don’t know the word “exclusionary” or “excluding”, they have often already felt excluded at some point in their play experiences outside of Cedarsong. We talk with the children about how we are all part of the same tribe or family at Cedarsong and that we treat everyone (and all parts of the natural world) with respect and compassion. It is very important to establish these rules at the start of the new year and to let children know these behaviors will not be tolerated. It leads to their sense of safety and comfort in the forest away from the parents.
We intentionally adhere to a very low teacher to student ratio of 1:4. This allows the Cedarsong teachers to always be in a position to notice positive social behavior and to immediately heap praise on examples of that behavior. As children realize their “good deeds” are being noticed, it leads to more appropriate social behavior and this becomes a feedback loop, reinforcing kindness, inclusiveness and cooperation.
The temperatures have been unseasonably warm this month however the low angle of sun and the chill of the breeze hint at Autumn. When we asked the children if they could find signs of autumn, they of course immediately mentioned the amount of leaves which have fallen to the ground. We talked a bit about how plants, even trees, “hibernate” and go to sleep for the winter just like our animal and insect friends.
The mud puddle that is so prominent in our Main Camp most of the year has dried up and on many days this month it was just a dirt hole. Once this month though it poured rain all night and when the children arrived the puddle was again full, up to some kids’ knees. The children excitedly got out our measuring sticks and, after guessing how high it might be, plunged the sticks into the water to see if their guess was correct. These measuring sticks are simply long forest found sticks on which we have painted stripes of varying colors. The children guess which color stripe the water will reach up to on the stick.
The children have been fascinated with making Museums this month. First there was a natural history museum where children collected various natural items and displayed them along the trail. The next week, some children made a dirt museum on top of a log to showcase all the various types of dirt they could find. We encouraged the children to describe the different colors, textures and smells of the various dirt samples. We asked why each sample might look, feel and smell unique. We also talked about how dirt is formed and what it is comprised of. The children love discovering whole trees under the topsoil and picking apart the bark and chunky wood. When I asked how a tree got under the dirt, one four year old said “It fell to the ground and melted”.
We’ve had some interesting nature discoveries this month. One day we all got a close up look at a red- legged frog, a large native frog that we have never seen at Cedarsong before. We saw many of our native millipedes, black with yellow spots, walking around the forest floor. This causes the children to become concerned for the millipedes safety and they begin to yell “millipede rescue” as they carefully scooped the creatures into a leaf and moved them to an area of the forest where they will not be stepped on. We also saw many of our native banana slugs of all sizes, some solid yellow and some with black splotches. We noticed that when we first touch a slug it is sticky but as it gets nervous it exudes more slime, making it more difficult for a predator to get a grip.
The forest is filled with sound this season: falling leaves, native doug fir squirrels, golden-crowned kinglets, ravens, pacific tree frogs, madrona bark crunching under our boots. The smell in the forest air has changed too and is infused with the heavy oils of the decomposing leaves.
The children have been engaging in lot of imagination play. It is wonderful to see them all involve each other. At Cedarsong, everyone gets to choose their own character; no one may assign characters. Also, we steer the children away from Disney or other movie themes, simply stating that others may not have seen that movie and it would be excluding. I encourage children to make up characters they may find in the forest. Many times the kids want to pretend we are camping and go through elaborate detail in building a fire pit, collecting wood, starting the fire, cooking food, putting out the fire, setting up a tent, climbing in the tent, telling bedtime stories and then going to sleep. After a short time, they get up and start the whole scenario over again. Other times, we make tiny dolls or mini-figures out of forest debris, such as cones and sticks.
There has been a lot of running and singing and dancing in the forest these days. The children are all feeling energized in these last days of warm weather and seem in a celebratory mood. There have been a lot of pretend parties this month. Often, along with the elaborately prepared mud cakes and soups, we serve real forest tea that we made. This month’s recipe is salal leaves, huckleberry leaves, red cedar twigs and fresh blue huckleberries.
I hope you take the time to sit on the ground this month and have a forest tea party with one or more of your favorite people. It is quite refreshing.
By Erin Kenny ©2014