Winter Dressing Dos and Don’ts

Winter Dressing Dos and Don’ts

The arrival of winter weather has some people wondering… 


“What can I do to make sure my child can be comfortable playing outside in the wind, cold, snow, and rain?”

Primitive Pursuits has been taking youth out in winter for over a decade, and at Ithaca Forest Preschool, we take preschoolers outside 5 mornings a week, year-round. So we’ve learned a few things about dressing kids for winter, and came up with these top 5 Dos and Don’ts:


  • dress in layers
  • focus on staying dry, both from the outside (snow and rain) and the inside (sweat, pee).
  • base the amount of insulation on temperature AND the amount of physical activity you expect.
  • pay special attention to hands and feet: wear warm, waterproof mittens, thick socks, warm boots. Make sure boots start out dry inside!
  • wear a comfortable, warm hat with good coverage. Soft fleece tends to get better compliance than rough wool. Consider scarf/neck gaiter.


  • wear cotton—it absorbs moisture and conducts heat away from the body!
  • wear mittens or boots that allow snow in.
  • wear fleece or flannel on the outside where they can be “snow velcro”.
  • wear plastic or rubber boots that have no insulation—they aren’t warm enough and they trap moisture inside.
  • wear cotton socks!

Stay warm and we will see you in the woods!

Book Review: Balanced and Barefoot

Book Review: Balanced and Barefoot

How have children’s lives changed in the last 30 years? According to author and Occupational Therapist Angela Hanscom, children’s lives today are much more structured and busier than when she–or I–was a kid. Kids now often have an extracurricular activity or sport every day of the week, plus homework beginning in kindergarten in some districts. We’re all aware of the “screen time” issue; regardless of how you feel about the impacts of up to 11 hours a day (for the average American teenager) of computer, video game, and cell phone time, one thing that’s for sure is that that is time our children aren’t outside climbing trees and engaging in imaginative play.

Add to this the fact that recess is shrinking and becoming more structured (one school she mentions in her blog has instituted mandatory lap-walking around the track at recess time to fight obesity); children today spend much less time in outdoor free play than they did in the 70’s or 80’s.

Parents are being told that the modern world is a scary place, and that they should be fearful of allowing their kids to do many of the things they themselves grew up doing. This is in spite of the fact that, statistically, we live in a safer society now than we did then. On top of that, the society is more risk-averse. So even when they have the time for it, children are often disallowed from playing outdoors, alone or with neighbors; riding their bikes to school or around the neighborhood alone; climbing trees; and many of the other outdoor activities you and I grew up with.
Many of these points were made in Richard Louv’s seminal work, Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature Deficit Disorder. What’s different here is that Hanscom examines how these changes are impacting our children’s bodies, brains, and sensory systems, from the perspective of someone with a master’s in occupational therapy. She does a really nice job of presenting well-researched and referenced information about how free play in nature positively impacts every system in the body. She makes the case that “nature is therapeutic” and that nature play can prevent and treat many of the issues that her pediatric OT clients present with.

Did you know that, statistically, American children’s bones are getting more brittle? Hanscom relates this to a lack of weight-bearing exercise in early childhood. Remember the “bent arm hang”? Children today perform, on average, worse on the same national physical strength and agility tests we took in school. Clearly they are not getting enough of the kinds of physical activity we had. Increasing numbers of children are presenting with sensory development and sensory integration issues. Hanscom compares the state-of-the-art OT classroom with a natural environment and finds the classroom comparatively lacking in the right kinds of sensory stimuli.

She notes that a common treatment for certain types of auditory processing issues is to listen to pre-recorded birdsong; she maintains that listening to real birdsong, outdoors in a 360 degree environment, is far superior.

And she examines what’s wrong with modern playgrounds, both in terms of the types of physical and sensory stimulation they provide and the lack of opportunities for healthy risk taking.

Hanscom also points out that, while organized sports have many benefits, they cannot replace outdoor free play. One of the main arguments she makes in the book is that stimulation of the vestibular (inner ear, or balance) system is essential for optimal brain development; lack of stimulation can cause myriad problems from poor balance and coordination to difficulty focusing and lack of emotional regulation. Kids intuitively want to stimulate this system; this is why they seek out spinning, tumbling, swinging, and upside-down activities. Most organized sports and modern recess activities do not provide adequate vestibular stimulation. Swings have gotten shorter and merry-go-rounds have been deemed too risky for school playgrounds. In some places, kids are even being prevented from spinning around for fear that they will fall and hurt themselves.
In addition to sounding an alarm about children’s shrinking access to free play outdoors, Hanscom includes many ideas for how to help the children in your life reap specific benefits from nature play. The book is highly readable and well-organized. It’s aimed mostly at parents but anyone who works with children would benefit from reading this book. Most of all, the children will benefit!
Weeks 3 & 4 with the Chickadees

Weeks 3 & 4 with the Chickadees

Hi Chickadee-dee-dees! 
Each day before walking into camp, the children stop at the top of the bridge leading to Trillium Camp and make observations about what has changed. With each passing week, we’ve noticed more and more leaves starting to change color and fall to the ground. We’ve noticed that we’re wearing more layers in the mornings — jackets, sweaters, hats, sometimes even mittens! And the animals have been so busy! We’ve seen chipmunks with stuffed cheeks and heard squirrels rustling through the fallen leaves. 
Chickadees stopped at the top of the bridge leading to Trillium Camp. 
Like the animals, we’ve been pretty busy too! Maddy, Hannah, and Sarah finished telling the Peace Superhero stories. The Chickadees have now met Fine Words Fox, Peaceful Porcupine, Unity Unicorn, Feel Better Butterfly and Shadowtail, a giant gray squirrel who helps the Peace Superheroes travel through the forest. The Peace Stones (shown below) live in a bag on a backpack hook in Trillium Camp and we encourage the children to use them whenever they need guidance from these forest friends.

Meet the Peace Superheroes! Feel Better Butterfly, Fine Words Fox, Peaceful Porcupine and Unity Unicorn (top to bottom).

Speaking of forest friends, remember those beautiful leaves the Nuthatches gifted us during week 2 of preschool? The Chickadees made a fire, melted beeswax in a pot and carefully dipped the leaves into the melted wax. Each child got to pick out several leaves to dip in the wax. Some picked out heart-shaped leaves, others chose ones with “teeth.” They left the leaves to dry and will be using them to make something to give to the Nuthatches in return! What do you think the Chickadees are going to make with the waxed leaves?

The Chickadees warming their hands around one of their first fires! The children learned about different sized firewood (“wispies, pencils and markers”) and how to be safe around fire. They did a great job!

The children stopped for a ride on the Horsey Log on their way to collect firewood.

Our mystery bag has held some exciting mysteries over the past two weeks! During Opening Circle, the mystery bag was passed around. Each child felt the outside of the bag, described what it felt like and gave a guess as to what they think it could be. “Bumpy,” “hard,” “a stick,” were some of the things said as the mystery bag was passed around the circle. After a loud drumroll the bag was opened and inside was a plant with small, golden flowers — “goldenrod!” some of the children exclaimed upon seeing it. And it was indeed goldenrod! The Chickadees went on a search for goldenrod and found some growing at the edge of the front field. They filled their baskets with the flowers and headed down to Trillium Camp where they made a fire and filled a pot with water. Next they put in goldenrod, purple aster flowers and white hand towels. The children made predictions about what color the hand towels were going to change to. After some stirring, the pot was placed on the fire where it started to bubble and turn yellow!

Sarah and a Chickadee stirring a pot filled with water, white hand towels, goldenrod and purple aster flowers. The children learned that goldenrod and purple aster flowers are in the same family (the Aster Family, Asteraceae).

Next week the Chickadees will use another plant to add purple to their hand towels — stay tuned to find out what it is! We’d like to leave you with this sweet moment of some Chickadees walking back up the path towards the red oak tree at the end of the day holding hands using a “friendship stick.”

Thank you for reading — we love sharing the adventures of preschool with you!

Jumping in puddles,
Sarah, Maddy & Hannah

Week 3 Nuthatch Recap

Week 3 Nuthatch Recap

Hello Nuthatch Families!

The fire in the sun
Makes the fire in the trees
Makes the fire that we light tonight!

The fire in the sun
Makes the fire in the trees
Makes the fire that we light tonight!

Fire, fire burning brightly
Shield us with your light.

The fire in the sun
Makes the fire in the trees
Makes the fire that we light tonight!

The fire in the sun
Makes the fire in the trees
Makes the fire that we light tonight!

In our third week, the Nuthatches spent a lot of time thinking about changes and fire! The crisp air and our first (much needed) rainy day, made us think of the warmth cozy fires bring us. Here are some highlights so you can connect with all the joy we’re finding in our new forest home together!

During our second full week at preschool, the busy-building Nuthatches spent time “getting ready” for the colder weather. We transformed the shelter in our Ash Grove home to a place we can retreat to when we want to be cozy. Our special guest, Sean, helped us get the roof ready by dragging huge logs over to where the roof would go, and the Nuthatches got to use a real saw to cut off one of the logs that was too long. That was exciting!

After we made the shelter ready, the next day we installed the roof. Now we have a place to keep fire-making supplies and ourselves dry on wet days!

Now that our roof was finished, it was time to get the fire ready. We collected lots of materials from our bountiful Ash Grove. Special Guest, Sean, helped us learn about “wispies” and “tinder” small, dry fire-making supplies for the bottom of our fire. Since the branches were wet from the delicious rain, Sean shaved off the “raincoat bark” and the pine shavings underneath were nice and dry to help our fire grow. Once those were in place, we were ready to add “pencil sticks” and “marker sticks” to help feed our fire. Now that the fire was built and ready, we needed the “spark” that would bring the fire. 

Sean told the Nuthatches a story about how fire came to humans. The animals wanted to help humans survive as the world became colder. So the Raven flew up to the sun and took a small coal. We played the “Fire in the Sun” game to “catch” the coal from “The Raven” so we finally had a spark for our fire. 

We talked about all the wonderful things fire brings to our lives: warmth, light, cooking food, drying, and even signally, like with all the smoke our fire created. We had fun being able to notice the wind’s direction change by watching the smoke move back and forth. 

Once our fire was burning, Sean used a “fire pencil” to start to “write” ASH GROVE on a sign to welcome friends into our special nest. We will add more letters to our sign as we build fires on the days to come. 

This week, two Nuthatches brought in Mysteries for the Mystery Box. It took us lots of guessing and questions, but we finally discovered one was a beautiful piece of blue sea glass found in Cayuga Lake, and one was a gorgeous yellow, white & gray Northern Flicker feather found at Monkey Run. We can’t wait to see what new Mysteries we’ll find in the Mystery Box next week!

Last but not least, the Nuthatches had a new adventure on the last day of the week… We set off to “Meet the Creek.” We made some predictions about what we might find at the Creek: A fish? Fossils?  An alligator? Would there be water? 

We found lots of fossils, we collected “wispies” from the honeysuckle bush for future fires, we saw a snake, and we made a group sculpture… but no water. So, we need to wish for more rainy days! The Nuthatches are ready!

Thank you so much for reading, and for your patience awaiting the last several recaps!

Sparks, flames, and rainy wishes for warmth and welcoming chilly days,

Elisabeth and Mira

Week 2 Nuthatch Recap!

Week 2 Nuthatch Recap!

Hello Nuthatch Families!

This past week, the Nuthatches spent a lot of time thinking about changes, in ourselves and in our surroundings… and the change of seasons! We celebrated and welcomed Fall, finding signs of its presence all around us in the changing leaves, the crisp morning air, and in finding our rhythm in our new Ash Grove nest. Here are some highlights so you can connect with all the joy we’re finding in our new forest home together!

During our first full week at preschool, the Nuthatches really settled into our routine and rhythm. We’ve spent time together each day making our new nest – the Ash Grove – our home. We learned how to spot ash trees in our nest by noticing their compound leaves, and opposite branching patterns – like stretching your arms out to both sides! In our opening circle on Tuesday, the official Equinox, we practiced standing on one foot. Then we tried extending our arms on either side, like the ash tree’s branches, and found we were able to balance more easily. We paused to think about how the day and night are the same length now, like two branches level with each other, or a balanced scale. The Nuthatches also celebrated this special time of year by learning a new song and singing it every day this week (there’s the third R: repetition!). Here are the lyrics so you can sing it with your child (there are motions too!):

Turning, turning, the Earth is turning.

Turning always round to morning.

And from morning, round to night.

On our way to Ash Grove one day, we gathered signs of Fall and then placed them in our fire circle (yet to hold fire!). 

The Nuthatches are a busy brood of builders. We’ve made a playground in our Ash Grove! Every day, this playground looks different. Often we find that all we need is a sturdy ash limb (left over from the construction of our lean-to) and we can go on top of, under, over, or even hang from it! One day, an ash limb became a door and we took turns giving clues for fellow Nuthatches to guess passwords like “goldenrod” and “charcoal” and our birth months.

One of the many evolutions of our forest playground! 

On Tuesday, Elisabeth finally revealed what was inside the Mystery Box! A sinking stone, used by Native peoples to fish, and used by Tunbar in the final installment of our first ongoing story. We asked for volunteers to bring our next mystery and were met with enthusiasm; one preschooler kept a secret for two days, giving us hints and fielding our questions about the object. It was bigger than the sinking stone, round but bumpy, different on the outside than on the inside, and it had been cracked open using not one but two hammers. At the end of Thursday, our volunteer opened the box to show us… a geode!

A preschooler holds onto Mira’s arm to take a big jump — and a moment after this picture does it independently!

The Nuthatches played games this week to learn each other’s names and to get to know each other. One the preschoolers asked for again and again was Seasons Are Changing, a rendition of a Primitive Pursuits favorite, Forest Fire, which Mira adapted for our themes this week. We started our “project time” – the South part of the day in the 8 Shields model – with a conversation about animals and how they change throughout their life cycles and adapt to the changing seasons. Shedding fur/scales/skin! Growing bigger and more independent! Hibernation! Migration! Caching! Then we invited everyone to choose an animal but keep it to themselves until the end of the game, like their own little Mystery. For the first round, Mira started off in the middle of a field, playing the role of The Seasons. Preschoolers then ran from one side to the other when Mira called out an attribute or behavior of their animal, dodging bandana balls – or “banana balls” as we accidentally, and now jokingly, call them – on the way. Upon getting tagged, preschoolers became “Seasons” too and collectively came up with more traits to call out: “If your animal _________”… And when nobody ran, we shouted “Seasons are changing!” signaling all the animals to run to the other side, because seasonal changes affect every living being. 

The Seasons huddle while the animals wait to hear if they need to run. 

Last but not least, the Nuthatches took our first adventure far from the nest on Wednesday. We gathered colorful leaves that called out to us as we walked to the camp up the hill from the Chickadee nest. We then practiced “fox walking” down the path into Trillium Camp, which we had heard would be empty when we got there. Still, we wanted to be as quiet and mysterious as we could while sneaking in, placing the basket in the Chickadees’ fire circle, and going right back out the way we came. Despite the excitement of this task, we stayed quiet until we were all the way up the hill again! When we got back to our camp, we found a basket of beautiful leaves in our fire circle… how did it get there, we asked? One preschooler thought the Chickadees may have read our minds (we’ve been having a lot of “mindreading” moments lately). Another preschooler suggested that a snake ate the basket, carried it in her stomach to Ash Grove, and then pooped it out for us to find. One of the numerous mysteries this week, and there are many more to come!

Equinox wishes for balance and welcoming changes,

Elisabeth and Mira 

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 nature immersion program for children ages 3-5. Our program is run in cooperation with Primitive Pursuits, a project of Cornell Cooperative Extension.