The Forest Kindergarten model based on the German waldkindergartens is committed to flow learning and emergent curriculum. At Cedarsong Nature School, I make detailed notes in our nature journal about where the children's interest leads us each day and in the course of one month the curriculum emerges as follows:
Cedarsong Forest Kindergarten Newsletter - May 2012
The sweet aroma of cottonwood infusing the forest air last month has been replaced by the delicate scent of the huckleberry and the elderberry flowers. As the weather warms, the children are stripping off their layers and going barefoot with more frequency.
The children’s energy level keeps increasing and they have spontaneously engaged in several building projects this month. One of the projects involved building a little forest house. The kids exhibited a lot of team work and cooperation as they carried and manipulated the huge Doug fir boughs to make the structure and then by going deep into the forest to find fresh boughs with needles to make the walls of the hut. Finally, the kids brought in sword fern to make a carpet and some large pieces of bark for seating. Another project that they are currently involved with is building a giant nest “so we can all fit in together”, as Molly put it. An on-going project is the increasingly elaborate dams that are being constructed to hold back the water flow from the “river” to our mud puddle. The children are experimenting with design: does a hard packed dam work better or a loosely constructed one that can absorb the excess before it overflows?
Building nests and sitting on eggs has been a common play theme this month as the children become aware of the birds’ predominant activity this month. Many of the children had found baby bird eggs shells (usually blue robin eggs) in their adventures around their homes. One day we found a baby bird at Cedarsong that unfortunately had fallen out of its nest and perished. The children participated in creating a burial ceremony and then we talked about what would happen to the bird now that it is under ground. Most of the kids knew it would decompose however several of the kids insisted that a new baby bird would form instead of a plant. This month we have heard the nuthatch quite a bit and the kids think its call is so funny because it sounds like a truck backing up!
We have enjoyed observing the various animals that eat the leftovers from our snack. We always throw them in the same place and have observed a pair of towhees defending the spot from a song sparrow. There is an Oregon vole that has claimed the territory and has created an intricate network of holes in the mound. We often see the vole as we eat snack. The slugs have discovered this area too and it is a great place to study the differences in what they look like and to closely observe how they chew.
We have seen many more insects this month as it is finally warm enough consistently for even the most delicate insects to emerge from their hibernation. One day we found a teeny baby millipede and were able to observe it closely with our magnifying glasses. We have seen quite a few of our native millipedes (the black one with yellow spots) and when we smelled them, they smelled very much like almonds just like the bracken fern! Crane flies, moths, ants, beetles, dragon flies, centipedes, caterpillars and bumblebees have become commonly observed this month. A crane fly is what most people erroneously call a “mosquito eater”, although it has no mouth parts and only lives for a few days in its adult form.
We saw several salamanders this month with different groups of children. Usually they were discovered when we removed a big piece of wood from a decomposing log. We teach the children not to handle any amphibians because their skin is so porous that anything we have on our hands (antibacterial soap, sun screen, bug spray, lotion) will seep through their skin and could potentially kill them. It was a great opportunity to talk again about the word camouflage.
Pollen is ubiquitous and we can see it and feel it on all of the salal leaves. This is has opened up a conversation about what pollen is and what pollinators are. In our forest, there are many pollinators, including hummingbirds, bumblebees, wasps, hover flies, ants and beetles. We have also spent time discussing what the five main parts of a plant are: roots, stem/trunk/branches, leaves, flowers and seeds, and why each part is important to the plant. The kids were fascinated by the fact that leaves make sugar out of sunlight! On several days, each child got a collecting container and found as many different plant parts as they could. On other days, we got out the “sidewalk” chalk and colored the exposed roots one color and the trunks of the trees another. We noticed how different it felt to color a Doug fir’s bark as opposed to a madrona’s bark. This is a great way to identify different trees.
This month we enjoyed tearing apart very wet decomposing wood – we call it “chicken wood” for the way it looks. We gather a big hand full and then delight in squeezing it hard enough that water drips out of it. This is an amazing example of how wood decomposes and most of the kids can tell you that decomposition happens because of water, insects, worms and mold. We spotted several mushroom varieties this month and also quite a bit of the chocolate tube slime.
Our mud puddle had water in it for most of the month however the level rose and fell depending on how much rain had fallen in the previous day. The smooth mud at the edges provided great examples of animal footprints, including big and little birds, as well as raccoon. There were many days that the children pretended that they were fishing in the mud puddle and made very creative “fish” out of salal leaves and a Doug fir branch (body and tail). The kids have enjoyed exploring the mud puddle with their bare feet and describing the different quality of the mud each day; we have felt sticky mud, gooey mud, and slippery mud. One day, we made mud balls from these various types of mud and set them in a special place to watch which ones decomposed first.
The children love to pour water into the mud puddle and watch the different colors of dirt mix. This leads to discussion about why dirt is different colors and why the water changes color when we mix up the mud from the bottom of the puddle. There has also been a lot of celebration with mud cakes and pretend birthdays, as well as fabulous mud face paintings.
We have enjoyed some of our nature games this month, including “Howl and Seek” and “What’s Missing?” We have also had many opportunities to encourage the kids to keep quiet for a bit and report back what they heard: rain drops, planes, birds, talking trees, etc. The children have been nibbling their way through the forest as the cornucopia of native edibles is at its peak. The children also really enjoy licking the raindrops off of leaves. Our forest tea blend this month has mostly consisted of elderberry flowers, new red huckleberry leaves and flowers, madrona flowers, young salmonberry leaves and fresh new cedar and Doug fir tips.