The warmer weather has resulted in swarms of mosquitoes in the forest. One child asked, “Why do we have mosquitoes?” which prompted a discussion about how each creature on earth has a purpose even if we do not know what it is. We talked about how mosquitoes are an important food source for many birds. We learned that there are 5 species of mosquitoes on our island of Vashon and that they each come out during a different time of day. We learned that elderberry leaves are a good natural insect repellant. We also found out that catnip spray and lemon-eucalyptus oil are the best commercial repellants. Once bitten, we learned that the chewed up leaf of the plantain (plantago spp.) applied directly to the bite reduces the swelling and itching by drawing out the poison and cooling the inflammation. Plantain is a common naturalized European weed that grows in most lawns and driveways.
The children continue to be fascinated with creating chalk drawings on our sitting stumps. After crafting a colorful design, the children grab paintbrushes, dip them in water and then paint over the chalk noticing that the water causes the chalk colors to darken. The kids are also still interested in crushing up charcoal from our firepit to make a useable black paint.
With the exuberance of summer comes the need for more body space awareness lessons. The children frequently grab and squeeze each other when they are excited, even as the other child is pulling away. We encourage children to use body language and facial cues to observe whether their friend is feeling crowded by their squeezing. I will check in with the child who is being squeezed: “Toby, are you okay with Sam squeezing you like that?” Depending on the child’s answer, we will give both children tools for assessing whether another child wants close physical contact. We have also been reminding the children to handle insects, millipedes and worms very carefully. We decided to disallow the children to carry bug boxes around with them as the insects often get shaken and traumatized. Teaching empathy MUST extend to all aspects of nature so when children want to hold and collect insects it is important to bring their consciousness to the fact that these are living beings also and capable of feeling fear and pain.
We have been engaging in a lot of spontaneous nature art in the forest this month. The salal and madrona leaves are shedding and many bright red and yellow leaves are spiraling to the ground. These make stunning leaf spinners when tied to a piece of yarn. We also use the colorful leaves to make beautiful and intricate designs along the forest floor. We have a saying that “if you make it, you can break it”; otherwise you are to leave nature art how you found it. That being said, most of our nature art is does decompose or break apart over time and the children learn lessons about non-attachment as they witness how things fall apart naturally.
The children have engaged in deep imagination play this month again, mostly focused on kittens, puppies and lemurs. We have also been taking a lot of plane rides on one of our favorite horizontal logs. This play seems stimulated by the fact that so many families are traveling this time of year. The kids have also been playing around with making “food” with found objects: a burrito out of a rolled salal leaf with huckleberries inside; mud cakes and cookies; roasting pretend marshmallows (Doug fir cones on a stick); or eating “cotton candy” (moss wrapped around a stick).
We have played many nature games this month including some elaborate rounds of our “What’s Missing?” game. This is where the children collect a number of forest items and line them up. All the children then close their eyes while a designated child takes one item from the line to hide behind their back. Once the children open their eyes again, they must guess what’s missing. The children of course also love the game of “Hide and Seek”. For children ages 2-5, there are a few important safety rules for this game: 1. the teachers must take a head count first to know how many children are participating in the game; 2. the children must be instructed to hide where they can still see a teacher; and 3. the children must be told that they have to respond if a teacher calls their name.
Our foraging options have changed this month. We are eating the salal flowers and also noticing that they are sticky enough to stick onto our faces! We have been enjoying the green (unripe) evergreen huckleberries, as well as the new supple leaves. We have been eating the red huckleberries as fast as they ripen. We have also been nibbling the tender new growth of the red cedar and the Douglas fir.
We have been observing much activity at our snack table, with the towhees, song sparrows and voles visiting regularly. We often see the chickadees splashing in our bird bath. We continue to hear the melodic upward-spiraling song of the Swainson’s thrush, as well as the distinctive call of the pacific slope flycatcher.
With the drier weather, we have noticed that there are fewer slugs and that our mud puddle is shrinking. Since we do not add water to our mud puddle, the children are able to observe the seasonal ebb and flow of water volume. The mud has developed an interesting and strong odor as the anaerobic layers get mixed to the surface. The children are using the mud for elaborate face painting.
By Erin Kenny ©2013