Autumn is palpable in the air and on the ground from chillier temperatures to permanently damp earth. We have all added more clothing layers this month and the children have been requesting their mittens more often. That being said, we also experienced several days this month when it was warm enough for the children (and two teachers) to go barefoot!
The children are noticing evidence of the changing season and there is a lot of discussion centered around these changes. Where have all the insects gone? Why is it foggy in the mornings? Why is it darker in the forest? Why can we see our breath? Why are the leaves falling? Why are there so many mushrooms now? Why is there so much mold on the ground? A Forest Kindergarten child is acutely aware of the seasonal changes because they are immersed in the natural world all year long. Their minds are continuously processing the changes they notice and coming up with their own unique answers; some of them correct, some of them adorable.
Why are there so many mushrooms now? There has been an explosion of mushrooms in our forest due to the relatively warm and wet fall we are experiencing and we spent a lot of time this month on mushroom hunts. When we encounter mushrooms, molds and slimes, I encourage the children to name them themselves as I have found this helps the children to remember whether they have seen a certain species before. The children are taught that they can gently touch and smell the mushrooms however they are not to pick them or knock them over because they are living beings and deserve our respect.
We often notice that the mushrooms have been nibbled on and we ask the children what animal could be responsible: Most of the times they correctly answer “mice” or “voles”. Several times we have come upon a slug happily munching one of the big red russulas. We had lots of opportunities to talk about different types of mushrooms, such as those that have gills, those that have spongy bottoms, those that are jellies and those that are shelf mushrooms. The children are getting very adept at spotting mushrooms not only on the ground but also those growing in the trees. As the month progressed, the mushrooms began to die and decompose, leading to a strong odor in areas where they are concentrated. This gave us another chance to talk about decomposition and how soil is formed.
Where have all the insects gone? When we asked this question during one class, a 3 year old answered “to hibernate”. All of the children notice that there are no flying insects out anymore and that the millipedes, which were everywhere last month, have disappeared. We have found a few of the millipedes hiding under logs, curled into a spiral. We encourage the children to leave these “sleeping” insects undisturbed.
Why is it foggy in the mornings? Why can we see our breath? The children have delighted in making steam come out of their mouths and on a couple of sunny days we saw steam coming off the tree trunks. This was a great way for the kids to visualize that trees breathe. It has also led to discussion about how smoke and steam are different, in that one comes from fire and one comes from water. The dense fog we have been experiencing has been a wonderful lesson in cloud and rain formation. On several days it was not actually raining however the forest was dripping as the firs condensed the fog into rain drops. We encouraged the children to be still and silent and just listen to the dripping.
Why is it darker in the forest? The children have definitely noticed that the forest is darker in the mornings now. We have talked about the shorter days and longer nights as we approach winter. We sometimes go on sun chasing adventures to find the limited sun spots that appear sporadically throughout the forest. This gives us a chance to experience the turning of the earth as we sit still in a sunspot and the light noticeably moves away from us.
Why are the leaves falling off the trees? The children have noticed many more leaves on the ground and have made a game of trying to catch the leaves as they spiral down. We noticed that many leaves land upside down. The array of colors has led to many interesting nature art projects this month. On several days we practiced our shapes using found objects arranged into circles, spirals (swirls), stars, triangles, squares and rectangles. There were several days that the children suggested playing our game “What’s Missing?”. This is a game where the children collect a variety of nature objects and line them up. While all the other children close their eyes or look up at the tree canopy, one child takes one thing out of the collection and then all the kids have to guess what’s missing.
The water in our puddle kept shrinking all month since we had very little rain to replenish it. The children correctly guessed that some of the water has gone underground and some has evaporated. As the puddle shrunk, the edges of smooth mud became the perfect place to look for animal footprints. One day we found not only several raccoon prints but also a cat foot print! The cat print was surprising because we did not know there was a cat in this forest. It was a great opportunity to compare the foot prints and talk about why animals have different types of feet, depending on their habits and habitats.
The children also experimented this month with making mud balls and seeing which type of mud held together better. They began to throw the mud balls against a tree trunk and noticed themselves that if it was a wet mud ball it would splatter and if it was a dry mud ball it would stick.
During this month, we have continued to eat copious amounts of evergreen huckleberries, always encouraging the children to pick their own berries so they can practice their hand-eye coordination and strengthen their pincer grasp. We have also been eating madrona berries, which are beginning to fall to the forest floor from the tree tops, as well as “forest candy” (Douglas fir buds) and catkins (flowers) of the red alder.
Cute answer of the month: When we asked the children for their ideas about why the fog was dripping from the trees, one 4 year old child answered: “Because the sun is crying”.
By Erin Kenny ©2013