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Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.  Albert Einstein

Candle-Making and Fire-Building

Sarah Chaffee, December 3, 2017

Forest Preschool

On Monday Forest Preschool gathered for Opening Circle on frost-covered grass at 4-H Acres. The day's mystery bag was passed to the preschoolers as they each took turns to feel the object through the bag. A few guessed that the unknown object was gold, some said that it was a rock and another said it was definitely a big acorn. Jenn tipped over the bag and out came large pieces of beeswax! The children practiced buzzing like bees while they put on their backpacks and headed down the trail towards Trillium Camp.

Jenn pouring the melted beeswax into the sand molds of the preschoolers' hands.

Once there they completed their daily weather check, bravely climbed the hill overlooking camp and helped collect wood for a fire. After snack Jenn helped the children make handprints in the sand. They did this by using rakes to build small piles of sand they could sink their hands into. The preschoolers enjoyed seeing how their hands looked and some even made different shapes using their fingers and palms. One preschooler used both hands to create a butterfly.

The preschoolers' handprint candles.

The children also helped tend the fire by collecting marker sticks to add to it. Once the fire was big enough, a pot of beeswax was placed close to the flames. After a few minutes the beeswax began to melt and the preschoolers enjoyed taking turns stirring it. Jenn took the pot and poured the hot beeswax into the handprints in the sand. After they began to harden, the children added wicks into their hand mold to be used later as candles!

A preschooler making a fairy house.

On Tuesday the preschoolers worked together to build a new shelter at Trillium Camp! The shelter is located in a "secret camp," as the preschoolers called it, and is where they discovered a hidden, moss-covered staircase that led to the Horse Arena. The Wednesday preschoolers enjoyed a day of free-play with Jeremiah and Hillary-Joy. They played near the creek, made fairy houses and shared stories.

A child drawing during free-play.

On Thursday the preschoolers used their new shelter as the place to smoke their rabbit hides. They began by digging a small hole in the ground in the center of the structure. After that, the children gathered enough wood to build a small fire in the hole they dug. They let the fire burn down until there were just coals left and then added punkwood. Jeremiah held the hides over the smoke, being careful not to burn them on the hot coals. The preschoolers watched and listened as Jeremiah explained to them how the smoke helps to keep the moisture in the skin from the tanning process. During lunch Melissa told an exciting story about the first time she saw a wolf in Alaska. The children listened intently to the story and were eager to give a loud wolf howl during Closing Circle.

Jeremiah teaching the preschoolers how to smoke rabbit hides.


On a cold and windy Thursday morning, Homeschool gathered close in the Log Circle to begin their day of adventures. Elias helped get everyone's bodies moving with some stretches and exercises while Monica helped bring everyone's voices together in song. During Teen Share Emily, a Primitive Pursuits' apprentice, gave the group a tour of her backpack. She explained that having the right gear with her helps her feel prepared for anything and more confident being in the outdoors. After Opening Circle the group divided into their clans and set out into the woods.

A fire the homeschoolers built during a challenge.

The "Mega Clan," a group made of up Danielle and Justin's group members, began their day with a series of fire challenges. The first was to gather wood, build a fire and light it with a single match in five minutes. Some homeschoolers worked together to collect wood and build their fires, while others did so individually. Many used small, dry honeysuckle branches as tinder and carefully built their fires around it. There were cries of both excitement and frustration as they watched their single match either create a small fire or extinguish without having ignited the wood.

A homeschooler during a five minute, one match challenge.

During snack, Justin explained to the Mega Clan the life cycle of plants and how most are in their dormant cycle in winter. This means, he said, that not everything you see in the woods during winter would make good firewood. Justin said a good way to test if a piece of wood is good enough to add to a fire is to scratch its bark with your nail. If a layer of green can be seen, then the piece is still alive and would add too much moisture to a fire. He also showed the clan how to create splinter sticks. Splinter sticks are the inner parts of a larger piece of wood and are usually very dry, making them a good option on rainy days when most wood is wet.

Justin demonstrating how to create splinter sticks.

In the afternoon the Mega Clan split up into two teams to play a version of Capture the Flag that tested their fire building skills even further. Each team claimed a side of the creek as their own and had to venture onto the other team's side to collect firewood without getting tagged. If a player was tagged they had to answer a naturalist trivia question in order to be set free. While team members stealthily gathered firewood from the opposing side, other players worked hard to create a coal using a friction kit. They worked tirelessly to pull the cord and hold down the spindle while also trying to shield themselves from the wind, which sadly extinguished one team's hard-earned coal. The first team to start a fire using their friction kit and gathered firewood won.

Two homeschoolers using a friction kit to start a fire during CTF.

The "Soon-to-Be-Named" group with Monica and Emily practiced their awareness skills with several blindfolded activities. They called the Horse Arena their base camp for the day and from there embarked on a blindfolded walk through the woods. The homeschoolers walked in a line and each held onto a rope. They navigated slowly over logs, around rocks and trees and hiked up and down hills. Afterwards they discussed how different 4-H Acres felt without being able to see and how they had to rely more on their other senses to help them move.

One homeschool leading another blindfolded.

The Soon-to-Be-Named also did a Meet a Tree exercise, another blindfolded exercise that tested not only their awareness, but also acute attention to detail. For this exercise one partner was blindfolded while the another was not. The partner without a blindfold led the other to three trees, giving their blindfolded companion time to touch, smell and sometimes taste the tree. After they had been led to three different trees, the blindfold was taken off and they had to try and find the trees they had met while not being able to see.

A blindfolded homeschooler meeting a tree.

The People's Clan with Jenn was joined this week by Jesse, another Primitive Pursuits' instructor. They spent their day in Village Camp testing different ways to make candles and finding what worked best. After collecting wood and making a large fire, they filled a pot with wax and kept it close to the fire to melt. Meanwhile, they dug small but deep holes into the ground. Once the wax had melted, they poured it into the holes and carefully added candle wicks.

Jenn and members of her clan adding wicks to their candles.

When the wax had cooled down, the homeschoolers enjoyed putting their hands into the pot of melted wax and watching it dry on their skin. They laughed at how strange it made their hands look and at the smooth texture it created. Some homeschoolers tried dipping other things into the wax, like bunches of pine needles and whole leaves. The People's Clan decided to save their wax creations to put in a trading post they had created.

A homeschooler looking at his wax-covered hands.

After a day full of fire challenges, blindfolded games and candle-making, the homeschoolers gathered back together for their Closing Circle. Stories from the day and gratitudes were shared before they gave a loud coyote howl and said goodbye until next week.

Homeschoolers participating in Meet a Tree.

Thank you so much for reading. As the weather gets colder we're looking forward to warm fire, warm clothes and warm friendships!

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Need a trail guide?

We’re happy to help you navigate. Give us a call at the office (607) 272-2292 ext. 195 or use the link below

Get In Touch

Don't miss a beat, add yourself to our list to get all the latest details.