Sarah Chaffee, March 26, 2019
Ithaca Forest Preschool
Preschoolers playing on the edge of the frozen creek. Before letting children onto the ice, an instructor checks to make sure it's strong enough to hold their weight. With this winter being so cold, Ithaca Forest Preschool had many days where the creek was frozen and strong enough for them to play on. They spent time sliding on their bellies, breaking the ice with sticks and rocks and observing cool ice formations.
Each week the children learned about a new animal. This week was all about the black-capped chickadee. The preschoolers learned the difference between their song and their alarm call and realized that they hear chickadees in Trillium Camp all the time! To practice more with the chickadees' special language and to better understand "bird mobbing," they played a game called Chickadee Tag (pictured above). In this game bandana balls that represent food are thrown throughout Trillium Camp. The children, who play as chickadees in this game, start off in the shelter. When all the bandana balls have been tossed around camp, the chickadees must go out and collect them without getting tagged by the hungry hawks, played by instructors. If a chickadee is about to get tagged, it can give out a warning call ("Chickadee-dee-dee-dee-dee!") and if two other chickadees join them, then the hawk will back off. Ithaca Forest Preschool instructors explained that bird mobbing is something that happens in the natural world and if you pay close attention, you might get to see it happen!
Zak and two excited chickadees joining together to scare off a hawk.
The preschoolers also learned that chickadees "cache" their food, meaning they collect food and hide it in different places to save for later. Because of this, chickadees have a larger hippocampus, the part of the brain that controls memory, than birds that do not cache their food. After playing a few rounds of Chickadee Tag, the children tried hiding the bandana balls around camp to see if they too could remember where they were hidden. Seen above are two preschoolers burying a bandana ball under the snow.
Katie and two preschoolers on the Climbing Hill. The children enjoyed climbing up one side and then sliding down the other on snowy days like this one.
Two preschoolers working together to carry a large stick. While exploring the far side of the meadow, the children found lots of good sticks for firewood and collected some to make a fire for lunch.
Katie showing the children how to make maple candy! She explained that this was a recipe she used to make with her family in Canada. After making a fire, a pot with maple syrup was placed on the coals. Katie let the sap get hot and start to boil before taking it off the fire. She then poured the hot syrup into the snow. As it quickly cooled it got sticky and she wrapped it around the end of a stick.
A preschooler eating some maple candy. The group discussed the process of turning sap into syrup and how when the weather begins to warm up, they will be able to drink sap from the red maple they tapped.
Two homeschoolers taking a moment to say hello and give gratitude to the beloved golden birch tree during a hike to Raccoon Motel.
A homeschooler using a folding saw to cut down a tree to use for a walking stick. When she got tired, another homeschooler would step in to help and together they were able to successfully cut it down. As they were working, they talked about their plans for the tree. "I'm going to carve the bark off to make it smooth," one said. "I'm going to turn mine into a magical staff," said the other.
Two homeschoolers working together to carry the tree they cut down. They brought it back to Village Camp where they finished cutting it into two pieces, one for each of them.
The homeschool crew walking back through the Hemlock Forest on their way to Village Camp. They stopped along the way to check out mysterious animal tracks and other nature mysteries, and of course to say hello to the dragon.
Hillary-Joy helped the homeschoolers make birch bark valentines! She carefully cut them into hearts and then let the homeschoolers write or draw things they were grateful for. They also made valentines for the preschoolers and strung them together and hung it on the entrance to the pavilion in Trillium Camp as a surprise.
The homeschoolers waiting in line for chocolate! They warmed coconut oil over the fire and, when it had completely melted, they added cocoa powder and agave nectar. They used their hands to mold the chocolate into bite size pieces.
Snow means time for sledding! When there was a good amount of snow, the homeschoolers liked to end their day with a few runs down their sledding hill.
Even the instructors got in on the fun! Seen here is Jesse sledding down the hill.
The homeschoolers sitting on the fallen quaking aspen while waiting to hear the rules to a game.
A member of the Fox Tracker Clan speaking to the dragon. When this group had arrived at the dragon, they found a note in its mouth. In the letter, the dragon thanked the homeschoolers for spending so much time with them this winter. Part of it read- "To show my immense gratitude for all you have done, I have given each of you the gift of dragon fire! This fire exists inside each of you and is a way you can communicate with me even when we're apart. However, on cold days the fire can get small and weak. To keep it burning you must move around- explore the unexplored parts of the Hemlocks, play a game, create an obstacle course, have a dance party! Even fire-breathing dragons like myself have to do these things to stay warm."
Following the dragon's instructions, they made an epic obstacle course nearby and then hiked to a far corner of the Hemlocks. There they made another obstacle course on a fallen tree and collected wood for a lunch fire.
The Fox Trackers also made tea using hemlock needles and rose hips.
Jesse and a homeschooler making a fire near the dragon.
The adventurous Winter Explorers had to forgo van travel due to bad weather, but they didn't let that stop them from exploring new places. They journeyed on foot to a nearby cemetery where they discovered some large trees and identified a few red and white oaks, as well as some hemlocks.The group also spotted a juvenile and adult bald eagle and a crow that was trying to mob them!
After some epic snow ball challenges, sledding and a blindfolded game of Everybody's It Tag, the Winter Explorers paired up and tracked their partner in the snow. Each partner had two minutes to create a track in the snow and then hide somewhere at the end of it. When the time was up, the other partner had four minutes to search for them. The explorers walked backwards and jumped ahead or off of things to make their tracks more challenging to follow.
Thank you for reading! We're feeling grateful for the moments that deepen our connections to nature and each other.