Last month the Nursery class at The Miquon School in Conshohocken, PA, continued our investigation of how all living things are connected and how we rely on each other and other living things to meet our needs. Our field trip to Weavers Way Co-op gave us a closer look at the farm-to-market process and how food gets from the field to our tables.
The following weeks, as the days became warmer after frosty nights, we explored maple sugaring, ingredients for recipes, fruits and vegetables up close, baking and cooking, inventions from beautiful materials, felting with wool, signs of spring, planting and gardening, and, naturally, MORE cooking and baking!
Maple Sugaring: The sap bucket is full!
Early in March we made more connections with how we get food from nature. We focused on the question "How do we get maple syrup?" We read Sugarbush Spring, by Marsha Wilson Chall for an introduction of the sugaring process.
We made an imaginary bonfire during Circle and told the Woksis legend as described in Project Seasons, published by Shelburne Farms, a nonprofit education organization in Vermont. An Iroquois chief named Woksis threw his tomahawk into a tree "to hang it up for the night" after a day of hunting. The next morning, the children of Woksis went to retrieve the bucket for collecting water from the stream for dinner, and they saw that a clear liquid that tasted like water was dripping from the tree into the bucket. When Woksis' family boiled it over a fire, it became thick and dark and had a wonderful smell--and it was sticky and sweet.
We began our sap-to-syrup exploration by identifying the tools and supplies needed to collect sap from our maple tree in the area across the creek: an metal bucket, a spile or spout, a drill to make the hole through the bark, and a hammer to tap the spile, on which the bucket hangs. In Miquon tradition, our grounds manager Chuck carried out his special role of helping us drill into the tree for hanging the spile. Our learners observed that the tree is not harmed by the drill that makes a hole two inches into it. A few drips of sap "plopped" into the bucket. On March 10th, finally, the sap was running! The temperature was below freezing overnight, and in came a mild morning. We were exuberant over the discovery, especially because the first few chilly days yielded only two or three drops of sap. We collected a large stockpot of sap plus 3 pitchers. Can you predict how much syrup we could make from that amount of sap? Here are our learners' observations:
Our bucket's filled! It's even dripping right now.
Maple syrup! Maple syrup!
I can't wait for pancakes and syrup.
The next day, some of us predicted at Morning Circle that we would have more sap. We noticed that the weather felt warmer.
"It's sugaring. It's dripping into the bucket."
We read The Missing Maple Syrup Mystery, or How Maple Syrup Is Made, by Gail Gibbons and Steven Kellogg, , which is divided into four short chapters, over the course of several days. Mr. and Mrs. Mapleworth try to find out who is taking sap from their buckets, so they camp out in their maple grove at night. Many of our learners made text-to-life connections as they tried to solve the mystery of the missing sap from their own experience of no sap in the nursery buckets for days.
There's a fire to keep them warm.
I think they're roasting the sap.
Why are the buckets empty? Here are some hypotheses.
It's too cold.
Maybe an animal was hungry and took it.
Maybe it just had a couple of drips and they coudn't see it.
Maybe animals came and needed food and had it.
Maybe their horse Max ate it all.
Maybe some animals that have claws that can bend could have grabbed all the lids and taken them off.
Maybe a different animal was the thief--but I was wrong.
Or there could be a hole and it fell into a hole--but no.
Sap is so cold. And the oven is so hot. Steam was in the pot. [noting the steam from the sap cooking on our stove and the steam from the evaporator in the book]
The Mapleworths had a party with stack of pancakes and syrup.
If it was raining syrup, I would take the roof off my house and get all of it!
To celebrate our sap-to-syrup investigation, we planned a pancake breakfast with the Kindergarten, who also studied maple sugaring using the two maple trees at the end of the Wood Chip Field. Each classroom made a batch of pancakes. Earlier in the morning, our learners were surprised by the 2 little jars of syrup that we made from collecting about 2 buckets of sap. It took about 14 hours to boil down! We ended the morning by graphing the number of pancakes we ate and by sharing whether we preferred our "Miquon" syrup over store-bought syrup.