March this year was very warm and mild in the pacific northwest and we even had some barefoot kids this month. Evidence of Spring is everywhere: young sprouts, leaves bursting out on branches, new bird calls, and a major increase in insect activity. The sun is more noticeable through the trees as the angle changes and we are finding more places to sit in the sun. Several days we have seen the trees steaming in the sun and we talked about how trees breathe and how sometimes you can see their breath as sometimes we can see ours. It also gave us the opportunity to discuss the difference between steam and smoke. We have begun to see our shadows again as we stand and walk. We have talked about what our shadows are and how they form only with sun or light.
We are eating lots of new sprouts including chickweed, miners lettuce, sticky wicky, and nettle. One of the 4 year old children correctly pointed out that you can use dock leaf to heal a nettle sting. We have also tasted new buds of plants such as the red and blue huckleberries, the salal, the salmonberry, the hazelnut, and the douglas fir “forest candy”.
The bracken fern are beginning to emerge from the soil and we are using sticks to measure the rapidity of their growth. We also noticed that the sword fern babies are beginning to rise up from their “nests”. This month, we have also observed yellow and black millipedes, earthworms, black beetles, salamanders, snails, and lots of moths and slugs as they all begin to emerge from hibernation.
We have noticed several new birds near the picnic table when we have snack. Besides the towhee and song sparrow that have been with us through winter, we now have the varied thrush and the junco stopping by for leftovers. We have also begun to hear the winter wren’s bubbly song and the pileated woodpecker’s “jungle” call.
As the weather warms up, we have gotten out the paintbrushes several times to use with our black charcoal “paint”. The children love to crush up the charcoal from our firepit and add just the right amount of water to make a useable paint. This activity provides a great opportunity to talk about what charcoal is and how it is actually a prescribed medicine! The children not only covered all of the sitting logs with the black paint, some even painted their faces with it. We are also noticing different colors of dirt and collecting and comparing them, wondering about why they are different. This leads to talks about how soil or dirt is formed and what it is made of.
There has been a steady enough rain during the month to keep the water level in our puddle fairly high. The kids enjoy measuring the depth of the puddle after guessing how deep they think it is. We use a stick that is painted different colors at various levels to measure and see if their hypotheses are correct. It is a loose measuring, like “do you think the water level will be up to the top of the purple, red or blue section of the stick?”; the colors are about 6 inches apart.
We have also been talking about volume. The kids have created a secondary puddle by digging a hole and then building a dam to hold back the water they pour. When we have full buckets, we ask before pouring: “Do you think this full bucket will cause the puddle to overflow the dam?” All the kids add their ideas and then we pour the bucket and watch. They are all so intent! One of the children will then announce whether or not that volume of water was enough to overflow. If not, we get another and try the whole experiment over again. The children really love the process as much as the result.
Teaching respect for all living beings, as well as for each other, for our families and for ourselves is paramount to the Cedarsong Way. We were so encouraged to hear a 2 year old caution the other kids not to step on a bug and a 4 year old then chime in “because it’s a living being”. One day, we noticed a root becoming exposed by our digging and talked about it with the children. We collectively decided to move to another digging spot to protect the plant’s root. We teach the children how to assess, by looking for evidence, whether a branch is alive before breaking it.
We also place a high priority on teaching empathy no matter what the child’s age. If someone falls in the forest, we encourage the children to stop and check in by asking: “Are you okay, friend?” We teach children how to watch others’ body language, facial expression and body orientation as clues to how a person is feeling.
Although we encourage children to use their power voice in the forest, we teach them how to orient their bodies so their yell has room. We talk about using a gentle voice for requests and using our words instead of our bodies to get our needs met. It was so wonderful to hear a 3 year old say one day, “I feel upset when you break my fairy house” rather than lash out in anger.
Although we discourage references to movie or tv-themed play for several reasons, those references still emerge. When children want to play a Disney superhero or princess game, we encourage them to be creative in imagining a forest superhero or princess. As a result, we have seen many different flower fairies as well as the winter fairy and the spring fairy. One little boy who like to play “ninjas” was encouraged to co-create the play scenario where he was the castle guard for the snow fairy princess.
We often encourage the children to use teamwork and repeatedly say “What’s gonna work?” To which the kids answer with gusto “TEAMWORK!” One day, out of the blue, a three year old starts saying “Teamwork makes the Dream work” and now we repeat that every time we get a chance!
By Erin Kenny ©2013