The weather has dramatically changed and all the plants have entered a new phase of growth this month. The forest is teeming with signs of life and the children are exuberantly bouncing off the trails. The ambient temperature has risen and even on rainy days it does not have the same chill of winter or early spring.
The animal world has awakened and we daily see newly emerging insects and other life forms. The native black millipedes are milling about, moving slow and looking still sleepy. We noticed that some have yellow and some have orange spots. Even the youngest children know that when millipedes curl up, it means they are scared and then the kids will give them space. The Forest Kindergarten children understand how to be very gentle when handling these delicate creatures. We also notice that the millipedes have a distinctive odor and we’ve talked about how that discourages their predators (birds). The kids have spent time making habitats for them in our bug boxes. This has given us the opportunity to talk about what habitat is and how not only animals but also plants have their habitat.
Our native banana slugs have returned and we see some that are all yellow and some with black spots. When we asked the children what the slugs like to eat, the kids remembered from last year that the slugs enjoy eating mushrooms, leaves, and ferns, based on their observations. We have also found many beetles: red, green, and iridescent ones. We have seen flies, bee flies, red mites and one day we observed a centipede under some bark making dirt. Spiders and their webs seem to be everywhere.
Many of our forest plants have begun to flower, including both types of huckleberries, salmonberry, elderberry, madrona, spring beauty and bleeding heart. We enjoy tasting all of the flowers (except the bleeding heart) and several of the children noted that the Huckleberry flowers taste like cherries or mango juice. We have also noticed a lot of baby plants emerging such as sticky wicky, shotweed, spring beauty, clover and round leaf plantain. The children really love the game of “sticky wicky tag” which involves tossing a piece of this very sticky plant onto another’s clothing making them “it”. Many kids have found that the forest candy from last month (the douglas fir buds) now looks and tastes like little lemons; they are, in fact, very high in Vitamin C.
While observing how fast the plants are growing their lush new leaves, we have talked about what plants need to grow: the children’s answers are air, sun, water, earth and wind. When I asked:”What do leaves do for the plants?” a four year old girl responded: “make sugar”. The kids also noticed that the sap in the forest is sticky now. When I asked “What does “in season” mean?” several of the kids answered “It means growing right now”. The kids have learned how to eat nettles raw (without getting stung) and how to identify dock leaf to make a poultice if they do get stung. We also noticed and tasted the new growth of the evergreen huckleberry (the children call this “goodness”), hazelnut leaves, red huckleberry leaves and salal leaves. We noticed the salal leaves are sticky and we delighted in sticking them to our cheeks and noses.
We have been using our magnifying glasses and handheld microscopes a lot this month as we study flowers and pollen. The douglas fir pollen that is streaming through the air and covering all the leaves was described by some of the children as feeling “warm” and “fuzzy”. This abrasive pollen is in everyone’s eyes, causing them to feel itchy, watery and like sand in our eyes. We talked about what pollen is and where it comes from. This lead to a discussion about how buds become flowers which turn into fruit and then becomes the seed. When I asked “Who collects pollen?” the children answered correctly answered “Bees”, “flies”, “hummingbirds”, and “butterflies”.
The bird presence has noticeably changed as the woods fill with the songs of the nuthatch and the winter wren. The towhees and song sparrows, which were ubiquitous throughout the winter, have seemingly disappeared and the children are talking about how they are probably busy sitting on their nests now. One day kids took turns sitting on a rock that was the egg. Once it hatched (over and over), the kids held cones and sticks as the babies, lovingly tending to them and holding them gently. On several mornings, we heard the pileated woodpecker and we even heard the native barred owl one day. We have found lots of evidence of squirrel activity in the form of ripped up douglas fir cones and the “cobs” that are left behind.
Mushrooms are sprouting all over the forest because of extensive rain this month. The ground is still soaked even though the sun is climbing higher in sky. We have found jelly mushrooms, gilled mushrooms and shelf mushrooms. We are learning about the different groupings of mushrooms, including those with gills, those that have spongy bottoms and those that look like shelves and have no stems. We saw some inky cap mushrooms and explored why they are called inky. Inviting the children to name some mushrooms themselves is a great strategy for helping them to remember the different varieties day to day.
We enjoyed several very sunny and warm days this month where the children stripped down practically to their underwear. They engaged in an elaborate imagination game that involved making wands by tying grass, spring beauty and sticky wicky to a stick and then turning into various fairies, such as the happy fairy (magic power = makes sad people happy), the invisible fairy, and the night fairy. There was also a t-rex that eats only plants with his long tongue. The children were joyous, singing and dancing. Later they took a mud bath!
The children have engaged in a lot of spontaneous performances at our Forest Theater (simply a curtain hung between two trees). Some children make up their own plays as others choose to be the audience. Sometimes children hand out “popcorn” (huckleberry leaves) and one day a four year old was serving Y-shaped sticks that gave strawberry juice from one side and “lovely flower juice” from the other. A new costume prop we saw this month was inserting huckleberry leaves under the top lip to look like fangs. These children are so creative!
On several days the children tripped over some of our exposed roots. They then had the idea of coloring them with the chunky chalk so they would stand out more and be less camouflaged. When I asked the children: “What do roots do for the plants?” the answers I received were “make food”, “help them grow”, “hold them in place”. I never stop being astonished at the level of understanding of natural processes that these 3 and 4 year olds have. There were also a few days when children rubbed chalk on various tree bark, discovering how the bark feels differently on each tree and this became an aid to their correct identification of the madrona, cedar and fir trees.
Our unique Forest tea blend this month: salmonberry flowers, huckleberry flowers, salal leaves and huckleberry leaves. When picking leaves for our forest tea, we always encourage children to choose leaves that have no visible dirt on them and also to first check underneath the leaf to make sure it is not some insect’s home (habitat) before picking it.
Quote of the month: While digging, the children discovered a decomposing log under the top layer of dirt. This lead to questions about how the log might have gotten there. When I asked: “How is dirt made?” a four year old girl answered: “Trees and logs fall down and then they are melting.”
By Erin Kenny ©2014