by Kirsten Wise

On one of the most gorgeous days of autumn, kids in the Ithaca area were fortunate to have the day off of school! Many were out and about in town or playing in their yards, and maybe a few were inside watching cartoons. Dozens were exploring the grounds of 4-H Acres as part of our first Hunter-Gatherer school break day.

Under the canopy of the yellowing leaves, three to five-year-olds were at the Ithaca Forest Preschool’s Trillium camp, many with their parents, settling around the fire eating snacks with bright lunch boxes and mini water bottles and canteens at their feet. As they munched, they watched team member Britton cut through the smoke with her arms as she told the tale of Raven-boy and the Sky.

In another section of the woods, the nine and ten-year-olds of the Moose Clan were huddled around a hickory tree. They were learning about the different types of squirrels and their various strategies of hiding nuts for the winter. After the quick discussion, the group was divided into two, one being red squirrels and the other grey in a game of nut hiding and seeking. Using a log as a boundary line, the gray squirrels got to hide three pieces of cloth and the red team got just one. When the teams raced to find each other’s hidden treasures, the red squirrels won having spent a lot of energy to hide their one cloth, making it very difficult to find.

Another group of 8 and 9-year-olds had just set up a shelter and started a small fire in another part of the forest. They were getting ready to make apple pie and the fire needed to last 3-4 hours. Half of them went off to find big branches for benches, while two stayed with their instructors Will and Danielle. One boy picked up a branch that was splintering on the edge and Will helped him figure out what type of tree it came from.

The other boys came back, proudly carrying large branches and dried-out trunks and told about their small adventure crossing the stream. They brought extra sticks and quickly tried to find a use for them, leaning them against a tree to make another shelter.

Back at Trillium camp, the preschoolers were exploring their surroundings, some climbing up the hill with their parents, others by the fire having their faces painted while they wait for a cup of the white pine tea and honey. As they sip the tea, they leaned back on the tree branch benches, testing their balance, while the adults held out their hands to be sure they didn’t fall.

As a mother took a video on her phone, she asks three boys, “Do you want to go back to school tomorrow?”

“No!” They shout, smiling.

“Do you want to camp out here tonight?”