Sarah Chaffee, February 8, 2019
Ithaca Forest Preschool
"The Hemlock Grove, the Hemlock Grove, where the trees stay green all through the winter. The swamp will freeze and we'll find the fisher, climbing over fallen trees," the preschoolers sang before hiking out to the Hemlocks. There they played on the dragon shelter, slid around on some ice and followed fisher tracks (seen above)! Photo taken by Melissa Blake.
A child playing on the dragon shelter. This structure was created after a hemlock tree had fallen and with it, uprooted some of the surrounding earth. During summer camp, children noticed that it looked like the mouth of a dragon and added a body, tail and even teeth! The preschoolers liked climbing on and through the dragon. Photo taken by Melissa Blake.
A treasure map drawn by one of the preschoolers. Here the child is pointing to where the treasure is located. Several children joined in the search for the lost treasure that took them up the Climbing Hill, to the tipi, down to the Horsey Log and finished at Trillium North.
Preschoolers following the treasure map. Their journey also led them to the "spider stump," where they stopped to play before moving on.
Once in Trillium North, the children noticed that one of their favorite trees had a broken branch. When discussing what they could do to help it, the group decided to take some charcoal from the fire and place it at the tree's roots.
"There's a bug up here," a child exclaimed while sitting in a musclewood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) in Trillium North.
Children making cupcake batter on a muddy day. They added water from the creek, moss and white pine needles. Photo taken by Melissa Blake.
"Hello tree! We love you," a preschooler said while walking up the path at the end of the day.
A young fisher cat in a tree. The preschoolers learned that fishers can rotate their paws 180 degrees so they can climb down trees headfirst!
Hillary-Joy showing the homeschoolers this week's mystery track. She explained that this animal has four toes on its front feet and five on its hind feet, a short tail that usually doesn't show up in tracks and it likes to make tunnels in the snow. Over snack in Village Camp, the group also shared stories from their secret spots. A homeschooler said they saw a red fox while sitting in their spot, another noticed white-tailed deer tracks and Hillary-Joy said she saw a hawk that had attacked a smaller bird!
After snack, the group headed out to the Hemlock Forest where they were happy to see dozens of "mini ice skating rinks." They spent some time sliding and skating across them.
The homeschoolers taking their final bow while performing a play they had created together. The story involved singing, dancing and included some scenes from the musical "Annie."
Homeschoolers playing on some ice. They also found another uprooted Hemlock tree (seen in the background) that looked similar to the mouth of the dragon. The group talked about making a second dragon shelter using this fallen tree.
"I found the path to the golden birch," an excited homeschooler said. She led a small group down a wide path that was covered in wet beech leaves. "The path to the golden birch is made of gold," another child noticed.
While admiring the beauty of this tree, the homeschoolers noticed there were some bare spots on its trunk and wondered if birch bark grows back after being taken off. "Oh, look," a child exclaimed, "More golden birches!"
The homeschoolers journeyed to each birch tree and noticed a large, frozen pool in the middle of them. "This water keeps the trees golden and alive," one said while skating across the pool.
On the way back to their basecamp near the dragon, the group found a black feather ("This feather is magic," a child said, seen above), a cordage necklace with a stone-drilled pendant, a ring of birch bark and a magic wand. The homeschoolers believed the birch trees left them these gifts and each chose one to take with them.
Fire-building and tending is an ongoing skill the homeschoolers have been working on. On Thursday, they had ten minutes to collect all the wood they'd need to have a fire that could burn for about five minutes. Seen above are two homeschoolers sorting through wood they collected and creating a fire structure.
The group took a break from fire skills to play in the smoke from a big fire Jesse had built.
Most wood was wet from the the melting snow and rainy weather, making it a challenging day to build a fire, but the homeschoolers didn't give up! They carved off the wet outer bark of sticks to get to the inner, drier parts, collected more whispies and sang "Burn Fire, Burn" until they got a flame!
After lunch around a roaring fire, the homeschoolers played a game of Six Resources in the Hemlocks. The two teams had to sneak onto the other's side without getting tagged to try and grab the six bandana balls each side was guarding. The homeschoolers gathered afterwards and talked about changes they'd make to the game's rules for next time, shared some gratitude and ended with a birthday song for a homeschooler's upcoming birthday!
Winter Explorers ventured to Potato Hill State Forest where they used their tracking knowledge to follow a mysterious set of tracks through the deep snow. After consulting some field guides, their suspicions were confirmed that the tracks belonged to a fisher! Along the way, they even found some fisher scat that had porcupine quills in it.
Thanks for reading! We're feeling grateful for hardworking fire-builders and the creatures that leave tracks for us to follow.