Week 10: Monday, Wednesday – the Changing of the Seasons

Week 10: Monday, Wednesday – the Changing of the Seasons

This week, the last sheets of ice froze on the banks of the creek and one last winter chill filled the air. While Monday dawned cold with a dusting of snow, Wednesday was filled with the smell of spring in the damp air and a vibrancy and energy that spoke to the changing season. In our last week of Winter Session of preschool, the winter fairies waved us goodbye as spring rode in on the backs of the geese and the forest awoke from its winter slumber. 

Chickadees

Monday morning in the Chickadee flock found us in the log circle around a collection of tracks. Plaster casts and track cards of the different animals we had studied this winter were spread out in an oval. Eli handed out cards with pictures of animals on them, and the Chickadees went around the circle matching tracks to creatures. From our very first animal, the squirrel, to last week’s beaver, we were reminded of how many creatures live in the world around us and share the forest with us.

The animals we learned about this winter:

Squirrel, fox, owl, raccoon, fisher and weasel, porcupine, black bear, beaver, and this week’s mystery animal… 

There was one track in the group that we couldn’t identify. We hadn’t seen this strange print before. It had three toes with webbed feet! The chickadees guessed all different animals – ducks, turtles, water birds. We’d have to wait until slunch to find out what it was. For now, it was time to sing The Wolf, the Fox, and the Weasel, and move like our favorite animal to our backpacks to head down to camp.

We made it halfway down the path to camp when Sarah stopped us. She had a special surprise for us. We needed to check the trail camera again! She had brought along her camera, and headed down the hill to retrieve the SD card from the trail cam to show us the pictures. We found many surprises, including a fox, a woodchuck, and a Nora! 

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When we made it down to camp, we noticed lots of ice lining the banks of the creek. Though it had been warm last week, this week was cold! We got to play with the ice, breaking it up with sticks and stones. We also continued our busy beaver project from last week, building the bridge across the creek with logs from our deconstructed shelter. This time we had a drill, and helped Eli and Peter tackle this big project. 

When it was slunch time, we were ready to huddle around the fire and fill our bellies with warm food. While we ate and watched the fire crackle, Nora told us the story of Gary the Goose, who learned why geese fly in the V formation that they do. He learned that it was because flying with the flock and using teamwork makes the flying easier for everyone, and that when they honk to each other it is to encourage the goose in the front to keep flying. Gary realized that by helping others and having his flock help him, he felt really good and was able to fly much farther.

With the coming spring, it is fitting that our animal for this week is a goose! The migration of the geese back into Ithaca could be heard in the skies above 4H Acres all morning as the flocks honked overhead.

After slunch, the Chickadees wandered up to the top of the climbing hill and explored deep into the brambles. We traveled under branches and across small streams of water, exploring the bank of the creek. We found lots of interesting plants and ice in the creek. At the end of our wander, Sarah called us over to a very interesting plant that had just started growing in the marshy area next to the water. These strange, red, tear-drop shaped plants were just barely peeking out of the ground. It was skunk cabbage! A sure sign that warmer weather is on the way.

In closing circle, we all sang our favorite songs from the winter and fall and expressed our gratitude for the day, opening up our hearts to the last week of Winter.

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On Wednesday, the smell of spring was strong in the air around the forest and the robins pecked and hopped around the front field. This cloudy day certainly felt like spring, and was a great way to end our Winter Session. We sang a song for all of the animals we had learned about, dancing like each one as we sang. We celebrated each creature and all that we had learned about it. Then, it was time to head down the path toward camp to see what was different today.

We stopped at the trail camera to see what other creatures we’d captured, and made sure to do a little dance to trigger the camera ourselves. Then we continued down the trail to find an iceless creek and bare leaves on the ground. We quickly raced to the creek and splashed around in the shallow water, throwing rocks and watching the water droplets jump into the air and onto our rain pants. We also helped Eli and Peter finish the bridge, setting up several stumps to support the base and lashing longer sticks across.

Though there was still a bit of a chill in the air, playing in the water and examining the rocks on the riverbed awoke our spring curiosity. There are so many changes happening in the woods right now, and our energy from the seasonal changes was palpable in camp.

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At slunch around our fire, we peered into our sap bucket as we warmed the frozen sap by the fire and drank some of the sweet, clear liquid from our cups. Then Nora told us about the most magical change of all with the beginning of spring.

    As Willa the Winter Fairy flitted around the woods in the middle of March, she realized that her favorite season was coming to a close. The snow and ice were beginning to melt and the air was starting to smell like warm earth. While she was preparing for her hibernation in the cold creek bed, she knew that something exciting was just around the corner. The Spring Fairies were returning to the land! Spring Fairies travel on the backs of geese, so when the flocks begin to return to the northern woods, the Spring Fairies return as well. The Spring Equinox was just around the corner, one of only two days of the year where there is the same amount of daylight as night time. The Spring Equinox marks the end of Winter and the beginning of Spring, and that is the only day of the year that the Winter Fairies and the Spring Fairies get to see each other. They are great friends, and so on this day they celebrate the change of the seasons by throwing a beautiful, vibrant party!

    On the day of the Spring Equinox, the Willa the Winter Fairy and her friend, Sylvia the Spring Fairy met for the festivities. All the fairies gathered around and danced and sang and ate good food for the entire day – all 12 hours. It was such a jubilant day, and the fairies spent the entire day together in celebration. Then, as darkness fell, the fairies made a fire and spent the entire night – all 12 hours – telling each other stories and growing tired around the warm hearth. And as the day drew to a close, they each expressed how much they appreciated the other, and how amazing they thought all of the jobs and help were that the Spring Fairies and Winter Fairies provided to the forest. 

    Nora wanted us to know this story because she wanted the Chickadees to know that Willa the Winter Fairy had already said goodbye to all of us. She’s left us presents of the last little bits of ice in the creek, and the sap in the trees as a thank you for getting to know her, and for being outside in her favorite season.

With dreams of the Fairy Equinox in our minds and so much excitement in our bodies, we raced back to the creek and enjoyed splashing in its waters, racing around camp as the day warmed and the sun came out, and finishing our wooden bridge in the damp dirt on the banks of the creek.

When the day was done and we danced back up from camp, our screams and laughter echoed off the first few buds on the trees. We ran around the Front Field in the sunshine, taking off layers of clothing and with it, shedding the chill and gratitude of spending the winter outside in the woods, communing with the trees and the creatures and exploring the natural world around us.

Nuthatches

Monday’s chill to the air reminded us that we weren’t done with winter just yet as we gathered in Opening Circle. Last week we’d started talking about signs of spring, and one thing we’d noticed in the forest around us was the sound of geese migrating back to the area. This week, our mystery animal is the goose! There are so many interesting facts and lessons that we can learn from geese, including how much they like to travel.

Just like a flock of geese, our Monday would be filled with travel, too! The Nuthatches found out that they’d be going on a special journey out to the Hemlock Grove. As we made our way out of the front field, down past the creek, and turned left at Turkey Knoll, the flock was full of curiosity about what this grove could look like. What were Hemlocks? As we made our way through the forest, we passed lots of trees without leaves on them and fallen leaves on the ground. We found patches of ice that covered up the leaves and grass – signs of the melting that had occurred last week. There were patches of green moss growing on the ground, but mostly the forest was brown – free of snow but also lacking leaves. Then suddenly, we came upon a strange darkness ahead of us. There was a wall of dark green ahead on the trail. 

The dense canopy of the hemlocks filtered out the sunlight, casting long, dappled shadows on the ground below. We discovered that hemlocks are evergreen trees, keeping their short, dense needles all through winter. The forest changed dramatically as we entered the grove. It was cool in the shade of the trees, and there was still snow on the ground. As we made our way through the forest, we came upon our camp for the day. A small shelter was leaning against a big hemlock, and there were so many fallen logs to climb on all around camp. After dropping off our backpacks, we got to work finding the best climbing logs and collecting firewood for slunch. It was even colder with the filtered sunlight underneath the hemlocks.

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We wandered past camp to the edge of the Beaver Pond, on the opposite side from where we’d gone last week. We jumped over ice puddles and found lots of good branches to bring back for our fire.

After the long walk to the Hemlock Grove, we were hungry and ready for slunch. Ian built a roaring fire, sprinkling it with magic fluff from cattails to feed it and make it do tricks. We sat and warmed ourselves, listening to the story of a curious young goose who was wondering why the flock had so many strange customs. The elder geese told the young goose that they fly in formation because it is easier to travel, just like humans walking in a single-file line through deep snow. It is challenging for the person in front, but easier for everyone behind, so they take turns in front and encourage each other to keep going by honking. By using teamwork and encouragement, the geese can fly farther together.

After we’d warmed up by the fire, we raced through the trees, playing Camouflage and hiding behind the tree trunks so that Nora couldn’t find us. We explored our camp more and found lots of great places to play and climb. As the day drew to a close, we gathered our backpacks and headed away from the dense, hidden world of the hemlocks, out of the dappled light beams and back into the sunny deciduous forest, awaiting the leaves to come back with the spring.

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On Wednesday, the smell of spring filled the air. The world felt damp and full of moisture, promising warmer temperatures ahead. As we gathered in Opening Circle, Nani showed us a strange object. It was a plaster cast of an animal print – but it didn’t look like any we’d seen before. This didn’t have the toes that a squirrel or a fox would have. It only had three toes, and webbing in between each foot. It was the track of a goose! Unlike the other animals we’d learned about, this bird likes to spend time in the water, so its feet are very unique.

The warm weather was filling us with energy, so we couldn’t contain ourselves and raced around the field. It was time to head down to camp, so we ran down the hill, past the creek, and up into Turkey Knoll. There was an exciting activity for us waiting there. We were going to practice throwing sticks! Nora and Astrid set up our Guardians, the lean-to of sticks that we were trying to knock over, and the Nuthatches patiently waited their turn to tackle the Guardians. With a big wind up, the sticks went flying through the air, knocking over the Guardians several times. The flock did a great job practicing their safety precautions and waiting their turn to throw.

After all that activity, it was time for slunch. We all gathered together around the fire to find a special treat waiting for us. A jar of popcorn kernels, a pan, and some oil were sitting by the fire. Pouring the seeds into the pan, we shared stories while we watched the kernels pop into fluffy white popcorn. There was also a sweet addition to our popcorn snack – we had honey and cinnamon sugar to eat on top! We drizzled the sweet flavors over our popcorn and devoured the sugary, savory snack. The sticky fingers were well worth it!

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After we had washed our hands and cleaned our spaces, we had a little bit of time to play on the logs around camp before Nora told us we needed to head back up to the Front Field. We were heading back early to reunite with one of our favorite instructors.

Elizabeth was waiting for us at the picnic tables! She had a mysterious bag and asked us all to sit down so she could tell us what was inside. She pulled out a pair of knitting needles and some yarn, and explained to us how she enjoyed knitting and the different stitches she could do with her needles to make all sorts of interesting patterns with the yarn. Then she told us the kind and thoughtful thing she had done for each Nuthatch – she’d knitted each person a scarf! She explained that she had picked some left over yarn for each person, then decided on a pattern, and started knitting. Sometimes, she’d make a mistake in her pattern. OOPS! She’d just have to keep knitting. She said if you looked closely at each scarf, you could see her mistakes. No one is perfect, and that’s what makes each scarf unique and handmade.

Then she reached into her bag and handed out each scarf in turn, showing the different colors and patterns she’d chosen. The Nuthatches unrolled their gifts and put them on, looking closely to find the little mistakes Elizabeth had described. Everyone was so happy with their scarf. Thank you so much Elizabeth!

To wrap up the exciting day, we gathered in a circle. Elizabeth asked us to think about a mistake we’d made recently and something that we liked about ourselves. Each Nuthatch shared as the sun came out from behind the clouds and bathed our circle in golden light. The day warmed around us as we thanked Elizabeth for coming to visit. As we raced around the Front Field, playing games together and running through the warming weather, our energy telling us that spring was surely right around the corner.

This winter was snowy and full of beauty. Being outside in such a cold season is always challenging but infinitely rewarding. You see things you can’t see any other time of year, like the movements of the animals in the snow. You hear things, like the silence of the leafless forest, and you appreciate each ray of sunshine that beams through the trees. This winter was full of mysteries and wanders, full of magic. As the seasons change and spring fills the air, the preschoolers are so excited to continue to explore the forest as it awakens and shakes itself back to life.

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Week 9: Monday, Wednesday – Beaver Chew and Blue Skies

Week 9: Monday, Wednesday – Beaver Chew and Blue Skies

The birds chirped and flitted through the trees as the sun came out to warm the woods this week. There was a warmth to the breeze that blew in the promise of spring, melting the snow in our camps and giving life to the first few buds on the trees. In our second-to-last week of the Winter session of preschool, the flocks were bursting with energy and ready to explore far and wide.

Chickadees

Monday started a little below freezing with a new mystery to discover this week. Eli played a sound for us… it sounded like a great big slap on water. What kind of animal would sound like that? It was an animal that likes to eat bark, has a big, wide tail, and swims and lives in the water. It also is really instrumental in changing and engineering its environment, just like people do! Suddenly, we all turned into this animal and learned that they live in small little lodges in the water. When we woke up in our lodges in the morning, we stretched and dove straight into the water. We swam over to a stand of willows for a tasty breakfast. What curious creatures we’re learning about this week!

When we got down to camp we noticed that there was new ice on the creek. Even though it was going to be warmer this week, it was still chilly in the early morning. But Sarah had an important task to keep us warm. At the end of last week, our old log shelter had collapsed, leaving a pile of leaves and a few standing logs. Just like our animal for the week, we needed to deconstruct our shelter and build our own environment. We got to work taking down the logs and moving them close to the creek, where we would use them later. While some Chickadees helped move the logs, others got to work exploring Trillium Camp for the day with a little free play.

A timelapse of deconstructing our shelter. The panning camera is due to the melting snow – spring is certainly coming!

After all the work with the shelter, the flock was hungry and ready for slunch! At slunch, we learned that our mystery animal for the week is a beaver! They are such unique creatures, and are even active on 4H Acres down at an area we call the Beaver Pond, which the Nuthatches visited on Monday (read more below). 

With full bellies, the Chickadees had lots of energy for some free play time around camp. We ventured up to the horsey log for some fun rides, racing across the top of the hill, and sliding down our big hill in the back of camp. We also were visited by Boxman, our favorite silly monster who has a box-shaped head and likes to chase Chickadees!

The day was almost over, so Sarah called us in to help sweep off the pavilion and get out the instruments for a really fun closing song. With everyone gathered together in the circle, Nora introduced us to the Beaver Song and its accompanying dance moves.

Beaver one, beavers all, lets all do the beaver crawl.

Ch ch ch, ch ch ch, ch ch ch.

Beaver two, beaver three, lets all climb the beaver tree.

Ch ch ch, ch ch ch, ch ch ch.

Beaver four, beaver five, lets all do the beaver jive.

Ch ch ch, ch ch ch, ch ch ch.

Beaver six, beaver seven, lets all fly to beaver heaven.

Ch ch ch, ch ch ch, ch ch ch.

Beaver eight, beaver nine, STOP! It’s beaver time.

Go beavers! Go beavers! Go beavers!

Ask your preschooler to show you the dance moves to the beaver song! Everyone loved this song so much that we sang it three times. 

Then Peter got out Gratitouille, our grateful grasshopper, and as we passed him around we each shared what we were grateful for about the day. It had been a really great day and we had so much to be thankful for.

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On Wednesday, we started out morning circle with the new favorite, the Beaver Song. Since we loved it so much, we did it multiple times at different speeds. It’s definitely a fun song to sing and dance to! Once we were finished with the song, we noticed that Sarah had something round hidden underneath her shirt. It was a beaver skull, whose teeth we had looked at on Tuesday. As we passed the skull around the circle, we got to examine the large eye sockets and the spaces where the teeth normally live inside the skull. What a cool way to get to know this animal!

It was time to grab our backpacks and head down to camp. Today was warm and sunny, and everyone was fully of energy and joy for the spring weather. When we got down to camp, we found a treasure map… little pieces of paper that were clues for a scavenger hunt! We hung up our backpacks and headed out of camp to find this mystery. 

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The clues led us all around, up past the horsey log to a big tree near Turkey Knoll, past the horse barn and across the field, then down to the creek. We were looking for something box shaped in the sunshine. Down by the creek, we found what looked like Boxman’s head! Underneath was a pinecone with our last clue – flames. We were going to have a fire today. But why would we need a fire on such a warm day? We had better head back to camp and find out.

We collected firewood along the way, and everyone helped carry a great big log that we will have to chop up for firewood.

When we got the log back to camp, we discovered Nora sitting next to a roaring fire. She had a special surprise for us. She said that when she had been making the fire, she found a bag of goodies in the firebox. There was some oil, a pan, a big silver bowl, some syrup, and a spatula.

The Chickadees guessed correctly – it was pancake batter! While Eli got to work cooking up some delicious banana pancakes, Nora told us that while we had been gone, she’d gotten a surprise visit. She’d been quietly tending the fire when she looked up and suddenly all of the Nuthatches appeared behind a tree! They had been very sneaky and had snuck right into camp with some firewood as a gift. We had plenty of wood to keep our fire going all afternoon.

As we sat down to slunch, Nora told stories of giants and huge stones that the giants threw to make bridges across the ocean. We watched Eli flip the pancakes as the fire crackled and gurgled. Sarah pulled down our sap bucket and to our delight we found that it was full of clear sap. She poured us each a glass, and we ate our pancakes and drank our sap in the warm sunshine.

When we were done eating, we enjoyed some free play by the creek and around camp. But soon it was time for the end of the day, and we gathered again in our circle around the fire to whisper our gratitude for the day to the trees and release our excitement for the coming spring into the golden air. Next week is our last week of Winter session, and it certainly felt like it in the woods this week!

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Nuthatches

Monday came with warm sunshine and a little bit of a chill to the air. We had a surprise waiting for us in morning circle – Nora had grown a tail! It was big, brown, and flat like a canoe paddle. Ian told us the story of Nora’s morning. We watched as she crawled out of her lodge, swam around in the water near her home, and gnawed on some tree bark. She showed us how she can slap her tail on the water when she feels threatened, and how she can swim fast around her home. The Nuthatches guessed it correctly – Nora was a beaver! 

There are beavers who have called 4H Acres home in the past, and they’ve left a lasting mark on the terrain here. Just like humans, beavers are engineers of their environment. The instructors told us something very exciting. Today, we were going to make the trip all the way out to the Beaver Pond! It is a long way past Ash Grove and White Pine camps, out past a frozen creek and into some thick trees. We would be spending all day out there. We went over how to stay together as a group on this long journey, and headed off into the woods.

Along the way to the Beaver Pond, we stopped and took in our surroundings. We played hide and seek, where each Nuthatch hid from view of someone who wasn’t allowed to move, and see how sneaky they could be. They found really great hiding spots behind big trees and logs in the forest. 

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Then we headed underneath a low-hanging tree limb and onto a frozen creek. We skated and slid farther into the forest, until we turned off of the creek and headed into a big clearing. This was a perfect place to make our camp for the day. As we gathered some firewood and started eating our slunch, we noticed that off to our right was a big clear space in the forest. There were a lot of tall, dead trees and cattails growing all around. We’d reached the edge of the Beaver Pond, where they had built a dam and flooded out this area, killing some of the trees that lived there. This pond made a perfect home for cattails and other marshy plants to grow. 

While we ate, Nora told us a wonderful story about a beaver and a bear who were friends. They had a lot of differences, including what they liked to eat, how they moved around their homes, their pronouns, and the members of their family. But inspite of all the differences, they were still great friends. Even Unity Unicorn recognized how great they were at celebrating their differences!

With full bellies, it was time to head out to explore the Beaver Pond. Ian walked us past logs with beaver-chew on them and up to the dam itself. He described how it had changed the environment in this part of the forest. We got to play in the cattails and climb on old tree roots. There was lots of open spaces to spin and run around. We had so much fun exploring this new area, looking for new tracks and objects in the snow, and learning about the dam and marsh. But soon it was time to head back, so we packed our bags and made our way back through the forest, across the frozen creek, underneath the low-hanging tree, and out into the front field for the end of our day. It was such a fun adventure to see new parts of the forest we hadn’t been before!

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On Wednesday during morning circle, we looked at two strange objects. They were hard and orange and white, and were curved into a half-moon shape. They were beaver teeth! Beaver teeth are very long so that as they chew on wood and trees, their teeth get filed down. They were very cool teeth and very different from our own!

It was time to head down to camp in the glorious sunshine and warm weather. With tons of energy thanks to the warmer weather, we slid down the big hill and crossed the creek. While we were there, we took a minute to pause. We closed our eyes and listened to the sound of the rushing creek, full and roaring thanks to the melting snow, and the sounds of the birds in the trees. Nora asked us to feel for the sun on our skin and turn towards where the sun was in the sky. Today definitely felt like spring was coming!

When we got to camp, we found out that we had a very special mission today. We were going to sneak up on the Chickadees! We were going to have to be very quiet and head down the hill into their camp. But we couldn’t show up empty handed, so we all headed into the brush to find some good firewood to bring them.

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After the flock collected armfuls of great wood for their fire, we saw the Chickadees heading up the hill and across Turkey Knoll. Now was our chance! We all quickly and quietly moved down the hill through the snow, stepping carefully to make as little noise as possible. When we got into camp, we all hid behind a tree until the other Nora from the Chickadee flock looked up and saw us. She was startled – we’d been so sneaky she didn’t hear us coming! She was in the process of making a fire for the Chickadees and was very grateful for our gift. Before the rest of the flock came back, we snuck back up the hill into our own camp. It was so fun to see their camp and hang out with Nora Murphy!

It was time to settle into slunch around our own fire and tell each other stories. We really enjoyed hearing what each Nuthatch had to say as we munched on our food in the warm sunshine. After we had finished our meal, we headed into the field to play our game where the dragons have to protect their eggs in their quinzhee hut den from the Nuthatches as they try to steal them. We raced across the field, outrunning the dragons to get all of the eggs back into our own den!

Then we each took turns sliding down the slippery side of the quinzhee hut. Astrid took snowball tickets to allow us to ride, and vividly narrated each slide. The flock did a great job of taking turns and celebrating each slide. 

At the end of this warm day, we expressed our gratitude for the forest and celebrated the beautiful weather.

As the Winter session of preschool comes to a close, we all can feel the signs of spring in the air, hear the birds sing, and see the forest come alive again after its winter slumber. As the snow begins to melt and the mud comes out, the flocks are excited to see what the new season holds.

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Week 8: Monday, Wednesday – A Spring in our step

Week 8: Monday, Wednesday – A Spring in our step

Winter is coming to close and spring is just around the corner! The fluctuating temperatures and taste of spring in the air left everyone with extra energy this week. Both flocks raced around their camps and enjoyed being extra active.

Chickadees

Something big and fascinating was waiting for us in the circle on Monday morning. Pressed into a yellowing piece of plaster was a giant footprint of our mystery animal. It was much bigger than the Chickadees’ own hands, and included a big pad, five fingers, and some small holes at the very top of the track from the animal’s long claws.

This animal likes to eat berries and also sleeps during the winter. Peter taught us how to transform into this animal, growing those long claws and lumbering across the field to our backpacks. It was time to head to camp!

When we got to the bridge above Trillium Camp, we took a moment to observe how our space had changed since we last were here. Water rushed through the creek, spilling over the banks where we had stood on dry land in the fall. The sound of it gurgling quickly past filled the forest. The warmer temperatures, melting snow, and rain had nearly turned our creek into a river.

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There was something else we needed to check up on when we got to camp: our sap bucket! Had any sap dripped out of the tree over the weekend? 

As we lifted the lid and peeked in, there was no sap to be found! The hole we had drilled must not have been the best place on the tree. We needed to move our bucket. While Eli worked on moving the hole to the sunnier, untapped side of the tree, the Chickadees jumped on the horsey log and went for an adventure in their rocket ship. They raced and bounced around asteroids, then landed on the nearest planet to refill their ship’s batteries. Everyone hopped back on and blasted off to explore another part of the solar system.

With sap dripping from the maple tree from the new tap and our space exploration resolved, it was time to sit down for slunch. Nora told us a story about when Willa the Winter Fairy had witnessed a momma bear give birth during hibernation, and watched the little bear cubs open their eyes for the very first time. The tiny black bears revealed to us what our mystery animal is for the week: black bears!

After slunch it was time for some free play next to the rushing creek, peering over the bridge and using a big vine fishing pole to wrangle some big fish. The Chickadees laughed and screamed as they chased Nora and “Box Man” around the camp. 

At the end of the day, the sound of instruments drifted through the forest, echoing off the treetops. We sang songs and expressed our gratitude for the day, leaving full of energy and excitement for the rest of the week.

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As the Chickadees gathered in morning circle on Wednesday, Nora told us to close our eyes. She had a surprise that we couldn’t see, or hear, or touch, but instead had to solve the mystery with our noses! Since bears have such a great sense of smell, we were going to use our own sense of smell to guess what Nora had for us today. It smelled sweet and a little spicy… Cinnamon! The chickadees guessed it right away.

When we got down to camp, we found that we were going to need to use our bear noses once again. In the snow was a dusting of red-brown powder – a cinnamon trail leading into the forest. We followed it up the side of the creek until we found a big blue bucket in the snow. Inside the bucket was a bag of apples, but in order to get the apples, we had to open the lid first! 

The lid proved impossible to open, though every chickadee tried their hardest. Then Eli showed us a trick – you had to press down on the lid in order to open it. This was a bear canister, designed to keep the creatures out of your food! Once we’d successfully figured out how to open it, we headed back to camp.

During slunch, Sarah cut up the apples we’d found and gave them a dusting of cinnamon. Each chickadee enjoyed their sweet treat they’d collected from the woods while we listened to stories of close encounters with bears that the instructors had!

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After slunch, we set off on another adventure, this time up the other side of the creek towards Turkey Knoll and the Nuthatch’s camp. We wandered past the horsey log and the quinzhee huts in the open field, traveled through the horse barn, and even walked all the way past Red Squirrel Camp on the other side of the field. We found patches of ice to stand on and even saw some turkey tracks in the snow. We explored the bark on the trees and the way the snow piled over the logs. It was a big adventure!

By the time we got back to camp, we’d walked a long way during the day. However, the Chickadees were still as energetic as ever. The warm spring air fueled them as they raced around camp and helped sweep the pavilion. 

At the end of the day, we got to use our friends the Peace Superheros to solve a disagreement.

We couldn’t decide how to decorate the table in the pavilion, so Sarah brought out the peace stones. We used our finest words to express our feelings, thanks to Fine Words Fox, and found a compromise thanks to Unity Unicorn. 

This week was full of energy. The energy of the winds blew temperature changes and sun into our woods, and no amount of exploring the forest could quench that momentum. The Chickadees are excited for the changes spring brings!

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Nuthatches

What animal is big and furry, lumbers when it walks, and likes to sleep through the winter? In our morning circle on Monday we discovered that black bears were our animal for the week! This is a great week to learn about bears as they start to wake up from their hibernation as spring comes this way. 

When we got down to camp, we found that Ian had transformed into a bear and was just coming out of hibernation! He had a bowl of treasures next to him, but since he was so sleepy he couldn’t see us as we tried to grab things from the bowl. We would need to be sneaky! We hid behind trees and carefully walked through the snow, trying to be as quiet as possible. Eventually, we managed to get all of the treasures! We realized that he had been hiding the Peace Stones for our camp in his bowl.

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The Nuthatches gathered in a circle to look at the Peace Stones and go over each Peace Superhero – Fine Words Fox, Peaceful Porcupine, Unity Unicorn, Feel Better Butterfly, and their helpful friend Shadowtail. Each Superhero has something to teach us about conflict resolution and how to be kind while we disagree. When a preschooler has a conflict, they can go to the Peace Log to ask for help from the Peace Superheroes and talk out the problem with each other. We needed to find a home in our new camp for our Peace Superheros to live, so we headed just north of camp to find a new Peace Log. It was a nice, comfy log that the Nuthatches can sit on to talk moving forward. 

With our Peace Superheros safe in their new home, it was time to sneak up on Ian the bear again. This time, we had to work together to take a bandana from his feet and make it back across the field, passing it to each person along the way. Our teamwork helped us succeed in taking treasures from the sleepy bear once again.

During slunch, we sat around the fire to hear Ariadne, also known as Nani, tell a beautiful story about bears. The Nuthatches also shared their own stories. With full bellies and feeling a bit warmer, we once again raced out into the field for more snow play and to crawl in the quinzhees before the weather gets too warm and they melt.

On Wednesday, songs echoed across the field as the Nuthatches sang My Roots Go Down. We even added verses for bears and our favorite animal, dragons.

My roots go down, down to the earth.

My roots go down, down to the earth.

My roots go down, down to the earth.

My roots go down.

I am a bear looking for some berries,

I am a bear looking for some berries,

I am a bear looking for some berries,

My roots go down.

After our song, Astrid asked us what we were excited about for spring? With the warmth in the air, it seems like spring can’t be too far away. The Nuthatches are all very excited for the rain, flowers, and for the snow to melt. 

When we got down to camp, we checked how much sap we’d collected from our trusty maple tree behind our shelter. There was a layer of frozen sap in the bottom of the bucket. We’d have to wait a while before we’d have enough sap to use!

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We went out into Turkey Knoll and played bear-den Capture the Flag. Great big bears were hiding bandana balls inside of their quinzhee dens, and the Nuthatches had to run across from their base to steal them. The bears were quick and able to tag a lot of us, but eventually we managed to get all the way back to the shelter. 

We played in the snow in the field and the melting quinzhee huts until slunch time. We sat down around a beautiful fire and enjoyed our snacks with a lot fewer layers on then normal! After we were finished eating, Nani read us a lovely story that reminded us to listen, pay attention, and be mindful of the natural world around us. We stopped and listened to the sounds in the forest, and looked around at our environment. We practiced breathing and enjoying the calmness of the natural world. 

Then we ran back out into the field and finished the day with some free play, racing through the snow and crawling through the tunnels in the quinzhee huts. 

This week was full of changes and surprises in the weather every day. The lack of chill in the air promises some warmer days ahead, and the Nuthatches are excited to explore their natural world as it does.

Week 7: Monday, Wednesday – A porcupine, a Sasquatch, and a maple tree

Week 7: Monday, Wednesday – A porcupine, a Sasquatch, and a maple tree

This week brought wind and warmer weather to our snowy forest. After an entire week off from preschool while 4-H Acres hosted Winter Camp, the flocks were excited to be back outside and explore what had changed in their camps. Their energy bounced and echoed off the treetops as they ran through the snow.

Chickadees

 As we gathered in the log circle on Monday morning, huge gusts of wind blew fine snowflakes into our faces. The trees rocked back and forth and the entire forest creaked and groaned. With the new week came a new set of tracks and a new mystery animal! This track had a big, flat, oblong foot. Sarah informed the Chickadees that the animal is brown and really likes to climb trees. It also has a very special defense mechanism when it is scared. 

How would this animal move? It waddles! Moving their right arm and right leg together, then left arm and left leg together, the Chickadees practiced moving like this animal across the front field, imaging what strange creature would move in such an awkward way.

But uncovering the mystery would have to wait. It was time to head down to our camp and explore the new snow on the ground there. The kids scampered up the big hill in the back of camp and slid down on their bellies or colorful bottom sleds. 

There was so much excitement that everyone was hungry by the time slunch rolled around. We spread out in the pavilion to shelter from the whistling wind and listen to Sarah’s story. She told us about the time when Willa the Winter Fairy met Peaceful Porcupine! 

Willa had followed some tracks to the base of a tree where she found a very sad porcupine. He described to her how he was ashamed of himself. He had gotten angry and pushed his grandmother accidentally, and he knew he had made her upset. Willa went with the porcupine to apologize, but when they arrived at his grandmother’s house, the fairy was worried he would be too upset. But when the porcupine’s grandmother came out, both of them started taking deep balloon breaths, in and out. It helped keep the porcupine calm while he apologized. And that was when Willa realized she’d met a Peace Superhero! It was Peaceful Porcupine, who used his balloon breaths to find inner peace when he was addressing conflict. Willa knew she could use this technique for other conflicts in the forest, and was a helpful tool for her in the future.

After our lunch sheltered in the pavilion, the Chickadees heard a strange noise coming from the woods. It sounded like a wild growl that they had heard before… it was our local Sasquatch! The Sasquatch was invading our camp, and the flock worked together to ward it off and safely hide from it in our shelter. We were able to chase the Sasquatch all the way up to North Trillium camp and up our big sledding hill back to the front field! That’s where we found the Sasquatch’s den… in the labyrinth of snow tunnels by the drop-off circle. We also found Eli, who looked very much like the creature we’d just chased off – glad he escaped safely from Squatch! We spent the rest of day exploring these tunnels and enjoying our time back at preschool.

Wednesday brought with it sunshine and warm temperatures. Everything was dripping and melting, and the entire forest was filled with renewed energy. The Chickadees ran and screamed with excitement about the sunny day. 

There was a very exciting surprise waiting for them at Morning Circle – a glass jar full of strange, toothpick-like objects. Sarah explained that she had found these on the back of an animal on side of the road. They were porcupine quills: hollow spikes made of keratin, the same material as our hair and fingernails. These quills are a powerful defense mechanism for a distressed porcupine. What a fascinating find!

As we made our way down to camp, we felt alive with the warmer weather and the sun filtering through the branches of the trees. We raced around Trillium Camp and played adventurously in the snow. When it was time for slunch, we gathered in a circle to hear fascinating stories, including Nora’s tale of a man who learned to sleep with one eye open to avoid being snuck up on by wolves! 

Once we were all packed up from slunch, Eli found something interesting in the snow. Were those porcupine tracks? We set out from camp to find this porcupine and see where it was leading us. We traveled up the hill, around the trees, through some bushes, through the deep snow, and spotted something at the base of one of the big trees. We had found the porcupine!

It had also left us a gift – a metal bucket, a hammer, a drill, and a spile. The porcupine had led us to the base of a very special tree. It was a sugar maple, and we were going to tap it to get some delicious sap. 

As we huddled on the slope, each Chickadee got a chance to help drill into the bark and hammer in the spile to release the sap. They all did a great job taking turns and helping the instructors with this activity. Then we set up a bucket and left gravity and the tree to do their work. What surprises might we find when we went back the next day?

Nuthatches

Monday welcomed us with wild winds that blew the snow across the field and brought a chill to the air. The day also brought two new faces to our flock: instructors Jed and Ariadne! Jed is our founding director, and we were very grateful to have him join us in the field to share his expertise. Ariadne will be joining the Nuthatches for the rest of winter and spring and we are excited to have her on board!

To welcome in the new week, the Nuthatches introduced themselves to Jed and Ariadne and learned about a new animal we rarely see around 4-H acres. This animal has a big brown belly, likes to hide in trees, walks with a funny waddle, and has spikes on its back to protect itself. You guessed it… our animal this week was a porcupine! 

We headed down to camp, playing in the snow along the way. Once we had gotten our backpacks hung up and were playing inside our shelter, Ian noticed some huge oval-shaped tracks in the snow. He had seen a giant porcupine earlier in the day and knew these were its tracks. We better go find it!

We raced out into the field, following the trail as it wove around the quinzee shelters and through the trees. We went past Turkey Knoll until we found something hiding in a tiny tarp shelter. Nestled next to some firewood in Red Squirrel camp was Jed with a big pair of snowshoes that looked suspiciously like the giant porcupine tracks. Excellent tracking, Nuthatches!

We ran back out into Turkey Knoll to play in the shelters and bury Ian in the snow. By the time slunch came around, we were hungry and ready to eat! We ate around our warm fire and even built a snow bench to sit on. 

After slunch, it was time for some more play in the snow. There was so much falling from the sky, it was fun to chase each other and play snow games. To wrap up the day, we sang songs around our fizzling fire and expressed our gratitude for being back out in the woods.

Wednesday dawned bright and warm. The higher temperatures lifted everyone’s spirits and energy as the Nuthatches raced around. As we gathered in for morning circle, the instructors reminded the flock about respect and how important it is to have respect for others and for yourself. With respect in mind, and wearing several less layers than usual, we headed down to camp.

Today’s trek to camp was a saunter, a meditative walk in the sun. When we were passing over the creek, Jed asked the flock to stop and close their eyes. Using just the sensations on their faces, could they locate the sun? Feeling the warmth on their skin, the Nuthatches smiled into the sun. It certainly felt like spring was on its way!

A little further down the trail, the flock stopped again. This time, Jed pointed to a fuzzy vine growing up one of the trees. What is it called? That’s right! Poison ivy! It is very important to respect this plant, especially as the warmer weather melts the blanket of snow and the plants come back to life.

Once we got to camp, the flock had a very important mission to accomplish. Nora held up a bucket of supplies. What could they be for? There was a drill, a bucket, and a spile. We were going to tap a maple tree and get some tasty sap! But first, the flock had to find a maple tree. We looked around, trying to use our tree ID skills as best we could. Just like ash trees, maple trees grow pairs of branches on the opposite sides of the trunk. But maples have very different leaves than ash trees. Where ashes are more ovular and pointy, maple leaves have five blades. 

After a helpful lesson from Jed and a little searching, the Nuthatches located a maple tree right in our camp! The big tree behind our tarp shelter is a sugar maple, and we got to work tapping the tree. Jed showed us how to drill a hole in the sunny side of the tree, then hammer in the spile. Within no time, clear sap was dripping out of the spile into our bucket! It didn’t take long to have our work pay off.

After all the hard work, it was time to play. We headed out into the field to play a game where the snow snakes had stolen eggs from the snow moles and hidden them in their dens – the quinzee huts. The Nuthatches had to run to the shelter, get the objects, and run back without being hit by a snowball. Those were some sneaky snow snakes!

Finally, it was time to rest around our fire for slunch. While the flock ate, the maple tree behind us was hard at work giving us tasty sap. By the time we were done with our meal, there was already a layer of sap in the bottom of the bucket! The flock was fascinated watching it drip onto our fire.

While we may not quite be out of the woods yet, the sunny weather and the warm breeze certainly did seem like spring was just over the horizon. As we warmed our bodies in the bright afternoon, the forest around us smiled and began to stir as well. If you listen, you can hear birds waking in the forest. You can hear the drip drip of ice turning to water. You can see the plants sigh in relief and get ready to bud. The forest is waking from its deep slumber, and our flocks will be watching and exploring it every step of the way.

Week 6: Monday, Wednesday – Sunlight and Snow Trails

Week 6: Monday, Wednesday – Sunlight and Snow Trails

Sunlight poured into the woods at 4-H acres, shining on the two-foot thick blanket of snow that had fallen last week. Our trails around the front field had become solid and the deep untouched snow gained a crust of ice. It was a beautiful morning to explore our camps for the first time in over a week and see what gifts the snowy weather had brought us.

Chickadees

On Monday, the Chickadees squealed and laughed as they played in the deep snow before morning circle. When they heard “All in Chickadees!” everyone headed over to our log circle to find a new mystery waiting for them. It was a new track with five-clawed toes and an arc-shaped pad. What strange creature could have made this? Moving around like the animal, the flock learned that it had sharp claws, short legs, and a long body.

But the mystery animal would have to wait to be uncovered. It was time to head down to camp! The Chickadees excitedly gathered at the top of the trail and looked down to the creek. It was covered in a deep layer of snow. Everything sparkled and glittered in the sunlight as the flock followed Eli down to the bridge. The snow was so deep and difficult to trudge through that it was exhausting to get to camp.

Once we were there, the children wasted no time getting to know their new environment. So much had changed since we were last here! The morning was spent running through the snow, throwing it in the air and watching it glitter in the light, and digging as deep as we could into the whiteness.

At slunch, Nora told the story of how Winnie the Welcoming Weasel helped Willa, our winter fairy friend who looks after the forest in the winter. Winnie helped us discover what our mystery animal for the week was: it’s a fisher, a carnivorous member of the weasel family! 

After slunch, we continued to find fun ways to experience the camp in the snow. The flock played a game called ‘porcupine and fisher tag.’ It started off with the children pretending to be porcupines hiding in a tree. Sarah was a hungry fisher looking for porcupines to eat. If they were quiet, it was harder for her to find them. But even the tiniest noise could alert Sarah, and suddenly the hungry fisher was chasing the porcupines around camp! The porcupines defended themselves by turning their backs to show the fisher their quills. Eventually, the porcupines started chasing the fisher and even evolved to throw their quills at the fisher! The forest was full of laughter as the Chickadees romped through the snow.

On Wednesday, we had the most exciting surprise of all. Instead of heading to Trillium Camp like usual, we were taking a long trek over to Hearth Camp. With a sled of firewood and a mysterious bowl and pan in tow, we trudged through the front field, headed down our big sledding hill, crossed the creek, headed up another hill, and walked back to another part of the creek. It was slushy and watery in this section, so we carefully stepped on some stones in the creek to keep our feet dry and listened to the trickling water. We could see a shelter peeking out from the top of the hill. Hearth Camp is home to a small wooden shelter with a cob oven inside of it. The packed-clay structure is named Sea Moon and was built by the Homeschool group a few years ago. The Chickadees very gently introduced themselves to her and gave her a careful hug. Then we set to work exploring our new camp.

What are those lumps in the snow over there? We dug deep into the snow and found the sitting stumps that campers at Hearth Camp use during less snowy weather. Meanwhile, some of us helped Nora saw some big logs to fuel our fire, and helped Eli dig out a spot to start it. By the time slunch rolled around, a crackling fire was roaring in our new fire pit and the flock was enthralled by the contents of our strange mystery bowl. What were we about to cook? Chestnuts? Pancakes?

Eli had brought some banana pancake batter to make over our fire! As the pancakes cooked, Sarah told us about a strange animal she’d seen right here on 4-H acres! She described this strange track that an instructor had seen down by the creek that looked like an animal had slid on its belly. A few days later, as she was walking by herself down through Trillium Camp, Sarah spotted a small brown animal. It had sleek fur and a long body with short legs. It was a mink! What a special treat to see down in our forest home! Mink are part of the weasel family, just like fishers, and make very interesting tracks around our camp.

It was time to try our delicious pancakes as Nora told us a spooky story. The yummy pancakes were such a treat and everyone wanted seconds. After our bellies were full, it was time to clean up and make our long journey back to the front field. We trudged down the snowy slope; crossed the clear, sparkling creek; headed past the open field near the Nuthatches camp, then back down the hill; then up our tall sledding hill back to the front field. What an expedition! This was certainly a very adventurous week at preschool!

Nuthatches

Monday brought lots of fun in the snow to the Nuthatches! Before our morning circle, we explored the tunnels we made in the piles of snow in the parking lot last week. They’d solidified over the weekend and made awesome ice caves to slip and slide around in. When it was time to circle up, Nora showed us an interesting track in the snow. What could that strange animal be that had five toes and a rainbow-shaped pad? It was a fisher! Nora told us that fishers are rare to see around here. They had to move out of this area but are now slowly coming back. It’s very special to see these beautiful, fuzzy creatures!

It was time to head down to camp. But wait, what was that strange paper that Ian had with him? It had black drawings on it… a group of trees, a structure, a stump with a sombrero on it? It must be a treasure map! We followed the map through the woods, finding that it led past our camp. As we trekked through the deep snow, we spotted a wire running above our heads that matched one drawn on the map. Nearby, we noticed a cluster of three trees like the ones drawn in the corner. Over there! There was something strange and dark on that stump in the distance. It looked like that odd drawing of a tree with a sombrero on! It turned out it wasn’t a hat, but a pot lid. Below, there was a pot with oil and a bowl full of kernals. It was popcorn! Excited about our slunch treat, we headed back to camp searching for good firewood to cook the popcorn.

As Ian got the fire ready for our tasty snack, the flock tramped through the snow, twirling in circles and falling onto the soft snow banks. It’s exhausting walking through so much deep snow, and we were ready to sit down and enjoy our slunch. 

Pop, pop, pop! We listened as the popcorn cooked over our roaring fire. Once our bellies were full, we headed over to the open field near camp to explore some interesting snow structures that had appeared over the weekend. One of them was built with sticks, covered in snow, and dug out to create a roomy shelter. Even Ian and Edie could crawl inside! There were snow structures and fun piles of snow to explore everywhere, and we raced around the field, sliding down the mounds and basking in the sunlit afternoon.

Wednesday brought lots of excitement and change to our flock. We started the morning with our song of the week, The Wolf, the Fox and the Weasel. It went like this:

I hear the Wolf and the Fox and the Weasel,

I hear the Wolf and the Fox singing.

(repeat both lines)

And in ten years, I will come back.

I hear the Wolf and the Fox singing.

(repeat both lines)

Then the flock learned some bittersweet news – it was Will’s last week at preschool! He was going back to college and would be leaving after Thursday. We decided to make the most of his last couple of days, so we headed to camp.

But instead of heading down the hill to our new camp, we turned left and headed back to Ash Grove, our camp from the fall. It was so exciting to be back in our old home and climb on our shelter covered in snow. It turned into a pirate ship and the flock became pirates, riding on the tall masts and jumping off into the ocean. We ran around camp and found lots of fun games to play. We even buried Will in the snow a few times. 

Astrid made a beautiful fire and we all huddled around to eat our slunch. Then we saw someone approaching our camp in a pink sweater and overalls. It was Sarah, coming to pay us a visit! It was so exciting to have her with us in camp and be able to talk and play with her. We would bury her under the snow, then she would become a monster and jump out to chase the Nuthatches around. We all took turns being covered in snow, and the sun and fun games kept us very warm all through the afternoon.

When it was almost time to leave camp, we gathered around the fire once again. Since a few Nuthatches wouldn’t be at preschool for Will’s last day, we wanted to show our appreciation of his time with us before he headed off to college. Every member of the flock told Will something they were grateful for about him or their fun memories from the season. He was also presented with some good luck snowballs to take with him to school. It will be very sad to see him go – he is such a light and leader in our flock, but we wish him the absolute best!

When we headed back to the front field, we ended the day the way we started the week – in our fun snow tunnels in the mounds of snow in the parking lot. This week was full of new discoveries, new landscapes, and new changes to our flock, and it was exciting to be able to explore our forest home in winter.

Office Location:
Cornell Cooperative Extension, 615 Willow Ave., Ithaca, NY 14850
607-272-2292 | email Us

Preschool Location: 
4-H Acres, 418 Lower Creek Rd., Ithaca, NY 14850


Ithaca Forest Preschool is a program of Cornell Cooperative Extension of Tompkins County and is run by Primitive Pursuits, a 4-H Program.