February weather ranged from freezing cold temperatures, with ice, snow, frost, and heavy winds to sunshine and barefoot days. Signs of spring are now everywhere throughout the forest: buds on twigs, alder catkins dropping from the branches, pollen visibly drifting through the air, leaves emerging on the elderberry bushes and nettles popping up here and there. Flying insects have emerged from hibernation and kids are shedding layers. One day we were talking about the noticeable transition from winter to spring and when I asked which season comes after winter, one 4 year old answered: “Sun!”
The birds have livened up the forest with their uniquely springtime songs. In addition to the towhees and song sparrows we see year-round, the juncos, the varied thrush, the winter wren and the golden-crowned kinglets have become regulars. We have noticed that the towhees and the song sparrows are conditioned to come when the kids arrive at the snack table, noisily vying for the optimal position to forage for the kid’s leftover snack offerings. The children get so close to these birds that they can now distinguish a male from a female towhee. We have also seen and heard a lot more of our resident ravens, as well as the pileated woodpecker.
We had a week during February when the temperatures were in the 20’s (F). The first really cold day, the children noticed right away that there was ice on the bird bath and yet not on our standing mud puddle. We got a chance to observe frost on branches and on some of the decaying wood on the ground. We talked about the differences between snow, ice, and frost. The next day, with the temperatures even colder, the children immediately noticed the difference: not only was the bird bath frozen solid, there was an inch layer of ice on the surface of our mud puddle. On extremely cold days the teachers must insist that the children keep on their hats and mittens for health and safety reasons; and insist that there be absolutely no water play. To demonstrate how cold it was, we showed the children a wool glove that one child had gotten wet a few days prior which was now frozen solid; it was a great visual reminder about the freezing temperatures!
One weekend, we received 2-3” of snow and some of the snow was still prominent in areas of our forest for the first few days of the week. The children made all kinds of observations as they explored the snow. They observed that if you squeeze snow tight, it gets hard like ice but if you rub the snow it is slippery. They also noticed that there was no snow at the place we call “Squirrel Camp”. When teachers asked why there was no snow in that particular place in the forest, one five year old, after looking up at the canopy, correctly answered “because there are more trees here”. The children delighted in making snow pops by forming a ball of snow around a stick. We also saw rabbit prints in the snow which led to great excitement because we had not seen our resident bunny in a couple of weeks and had wondered if it was still around.
During that frozen week, the ice on our puddle finally froze solid. The children started playing their own version of hockey with some sticks and a chunk of ice. We cautioned the children to stay off the surface of the ice, asking them why that might be a safety rule. Even the 2 and 3 year olds answered “because you could fall and get hurt”. One day we muscled out a dinner plate sized chunk of ice and immediately noticed that the top side was rough (bumpy) and the bottom side was smooth. We had visual evidence that the weather was warming up when the ice we were placing in buckets each afternoon had turned to water one morning.
This time of year the subject and concept of hibernation comes up. After we had been talking about hibernation during the course of one day, a three year old spontaneously looked up from his digging and asked: “What does hibernate mean anyway?” Instead of answering him directly, I, true to our inquiry-based teaching style, asked, “Hey kids, your friend wants to know what hibernate means?”. One 4 year old responded, “It means sleeping through the winter”. I then further prompted: “What are some examples of things that hibernate?” to which several children answered: “Bears”, “insects”, “millipedes”, “flowers”. One day some children were picking at a decomposing log with sticks and discovered a bald-faced hornet in hibernation. We all got a chance to look at it with our handheld microscopes before carefully placing it in an out-of-the-way place where it could continue its slumber undisturbed.
With all the wind in February, we had opportunities to talk about wind, again noting that it is something which we cannot actually see and can only observe the clues to its presence. The children talked about evidence of wind in how we see the trees “dance”, how we hear the wind in the branches and how we feel it on our bodies. Several of the children also mentioned that they could also smell the wind and noticed how it made the light in the forest shift and change.
We have been drinking lots of Forest Tea lately and our February blend consisted mostly of salal leaves, huckleberry leaves, “forest candy” (doug fir branches with buds), cedar leaves, and a bit of sword fern. On several days we had a tea party, making tiny salal leaf cups and drinking our tea in a new forest house we built.
By Erin Kenny ©2014