Welcome to Preschool 2019

Welcome to Preschool 2019

Following are pictures from the past few weeks at Ithaca Forest Preschool. Check back here for weekly updates on what the preschoolers are up to at their school in the woods!

“Welcome everybody, we’re so glad to see you! Welcome everybody, we’re so thankful for you,” Ithaca Forest Preschool sang in their Opening Circles during the first week of school. The children put on their backpacks and walked down the path towards Trillium Camp, the ones who have been there before leading the way for the new preschoolers. They waited quietly at the top of the bridge and looked down into their camp. “What do you see? What do you hear?” instructors asked them. After looking and listening to their school in the woods, the children walked down the bridge and hung up their backpacks. Melissa, a co-founder, and instructor of Ithaca Forest Preschool asked for the help of the returning preschoolers to give a tour of camp. They explored the garden, the peace log, the climbing hill, the log circle, the creek and other important parts of this space. Pictured above is Mira, an Ithaca Forest Preschool instructor, playing with children in the creek.

The creek, one of the children’s favorite places to play in Trillium Camp. With so many rocks to flip over and frogs, salamanders and crawfish to find, they could spend most of the day here, and sometimes do! During the first weeks of school, the preschoolers noticed the water depth in the creek was low. They explored up and downstream in search of the perfect puddles to jump in and the biggest rocks to flip over. Seen above is a child holding a toad he found jumping on the shore of the creek. He rubbed the palms of his hands in the dirt before gently holding the toad so as to not harm its delicate skin. The preschooler then put the toad in the terrarium.

The aquarium and terrarium are two bins that the children can put animals they find during the day. After the toad above was found, the children worked together to recreate its habitat in the terrarium. They placed dead leaves, rocks and sticks in the terrarium and watched as the toad explored its temporary home. Once an animal is put in either of the bins, the preschoolers are asked to not touch them, and to instead observe how they move, where they like to hide, the colors on their skin, etc. At the end of the day, all of the animals found are let go. Seen above are two children saying goodbye to a frog they put in the aquarium. They caught it, crouched down by the creek and held it in an open hand before it hopped back into the water. “Frog, oh, frog! We love you,” they sang as it swam away.

A child holding a salamander she found under a rock. She let it go shortly after because “he wants to be with his friends.”

Two preschoolers using nets in the creek. With the water level so low, the children noticed that they were hard to use. Instead they’d work together to lift large rocks and peak under. “Do you see anything?” they’d ask each other. “Yes! A frog!”

After arriving to camp, different children each day are chosen to help with the Weather Check. They record what the temperature feels like by choosing a color that represents it (red for hot or blue for cold, for example), check their rain gauge for any water, draw what the sky looks like and measure the creek depth (seen above). The preschoolers started recording the weather during their second week of school. Since then, they’ve noticed that the creek level has been red (the lowest on the measuring stick) everyday.

A child recording the creek depth on the Weather Check board.

Fall is a wonderful time to harvest plants from the land. In the mornings, children gathered black-eyed susans and goldenrod and used them to color on paper. They discovered that the center of the black-eyed susans were excellent for drawing and the tiny petals on the goldenrod flowers made a soft yellow color.

A preschooler harvesting goldenrod.

While goldenrod can be used the color with, it also makes a tasty tea!

…and beautiful crowns.

And great natural dye! Each child got their own piece of silk to put in the dye, which was heated over the fire. At the end of the day, the silk was taken out and the color was revealed- a lovely pale yellow! Melissa made a second batch of dye from the goldenrod the children harvested and decided to not heat it over the fire. The silks turned a bright, golden shade of yellow.

A preschooler putting clothes pins on his piece of silk to make a pattern.

Mira and a child tending the fire and stirring the pot of goldenrod dye. The preschoolers learned that fire needs heat, fuel and air to thrive and helped collect firewood. They gathered small, thin sticks (whispies), slightly larger sticks (pencils) and big, thick sticks (markers). The children helped organize the wood into these different sizes and handed instructors pieces to add to the flame. While observing how to start and tend a fire, the preschoolers also learned about how to be safe around fire.

During an Opening Circle on the third week of school, Melissa introduced pokeberries to the preschoolers. She described what the plant looked like, where they could find it and that, while the berries might look tasty, are not edible. She reminded the group to always ask an instructor before eating a wild plant. Melissa also shared that like goldenrod, pokeberry makes excellent dye.

Children harvesting pokeberries for dye. After their baskets were filled with berries, the preschoolers carried them back to camp where they pulled the pokeberries of their stems and smashed them to a liquid. Melissa revealed that this dye wasn’t going over the fire like the goldenrod, but instead in a pumpkin! The preschoolers helped hollow out a pumpkin and then poured the pokeberry dye inside. After allowing the dye to start to ferment for a week or two, silk will be added to the pumpkin and left there for a few weeks. Until then the group will anxiously wait to see what color the silks turn into…

Two children taking a break from harvesting pokeberries to build a fairy house. Sarah, an Ithaca Forest Preschool instructor and photographer, learned that no fairy house is complete without seat for a T-Rex (seen above).

On Thursdays, Ithaca Forest Preschool invites the children from the Homeschool program to join them at the red oak tree for games. With lots of acorns falling from the red oak, they came up with a fun way to use them. The game seen here was to walk through the hula hoops while balancing acorns on a spoon!

A preschooler walking through the hula hoops and balancing acorns on a spoon while the rest of the preschoolers and some homeschoolers watch.

At Ithaca Forest Preschool, we begin and end our days together in circle. Seen here are three children passing a gratitude hoop. During this time, the preschoolers and instructors share something from their day they’re happy they saw or did while the rest of the group listens. Some of the things we have lots of gratitude for at school are frogs, climbing the hill, crawfish, trees, all of the plants, moms and dads, cats and children who like to play and learn outside.

Thank you for reading! We’re so grateful to share our adventures in the woods with you. Click here to see what our Homeschool program has been up to…

Hiding Fishers

Hiding Fishers

Ithaca Forest Preschool

“The Hemlock Grove, the Hemlock Grove, where the trees stay green all through the winter. The swamp will freeze and we’ll find the fisher, climbing over fallen trees,” the preschoolers sang before hiking out to the Hemlocks. There they played on the dragon shelter, slid around on some ice and followed fisher tracks (seen above)! Photo taken by Melissa Blake.

A child playing on the dragon shelter. This structure was created after a hemlock tree had fallen and with it, uprooted some of the surrounding earth. During summer camp, children noticed that it looked like the mouth of a dragon and added a body, tail and even teeth! The preschoolers liked climbing on and through the dragon. Photo taken by Melissa Blake.

A treasure map drawn by one of the preschoolers. Here the child is pointing to where the treasure is located. Several children joined in the search for the lost treasure that took them up the Climbing Hill, to the tipi, down to the Horsey Log and finished at Trillium North.

Preschoolers following the treasure map. Their journey also led them to the “spider stump,” where they stopped to play before moving on.

Once in Trillium North, the children noticed that one of their favorite trees had a broken branch. When discussing what they could do to help it, the group decided to take some charcoal from the fire and place it at the tree’s roots.

“There’s a bug up here,” a child exclaimed while sitting in a musclewood tree (Carpinus caroliniana) in Trillium North.

Children making cupcake batter on a muddy day. They added water from the creek, moss and white pine needles. Photo taken by Melissa Blake.

“Hello tree! We love you,” a preschooler said while walking up the path at the end of the day.

A young fisher cat in a tree. The preschoolers learned that fishers can rotate their paws 180 degrees so they can climb down trees headfirst!

Dancing Porcupines

Dancing Porcupines

Forest Preschool braved some seriously chilly weather last week! They gathered close on Tuesday to see what Sarah had hidden in her hands. She said that the object she was holding was very sharp, mostly white but black on the tip and that belonged to an animal that had these covering most of its body. The children called out a few guesses and Sarah opened her hands- it was a porcupine quill! With the instructors’ help, the children carefully passed the quill around the circle, noticing its sharpness and color. Afterwards, they followed Jesse to their backpacks, walking all the way like porcupines.

Once in Trillium Camp, the children were excited to see that the creek was frozen! Maggie checked to make sure it was safe and then the preschoolers ventured out onto the ice. In no time, they were boot-skating, spinning and sliding on their bellies. A few children noticed some cool ice formations and spent some time observing them and guessing how they came to be (seen above). They also enjoyed breaking up the ice with sticks and seeing how big of a piece they could carry.

During snack, Maggie told a story of a dancing porcupine. Her story involved some amazing acrobatics, which can be seen above. The children were so engaged by the story that they had to be reminded to eat their snack!

Maggie dancing like the porcupine from her story.

After they filled up their bellies with food, the Forest Preschool crew went up the hill on a porcupine adventure! The preschoolers led the instructors up the secret staircase, which was even more hidden than usual as it was covered in a thick blanket of snow and ice. When they reached the top, the young porcupines played in the Meadow. They climbed on the fallen quaking aspen, danced in the tipi and explored the woods near Turkey Knoll.

The preschoolers noticed these small tracks on the pavilion in Trillium Camp. They counted the toes, noticed their shape and observed how tiny they were. Do you know what animal they belong to?

Before lunch, Jesse decided to make a fire using a hand drill. The children eagerly watched as he worked hard to spin the drill between his hands until…

He got a coal! Jesse carefully moved the delicate ember into the pile of beech leaves, dried goldenrod and other natural materials to help bring it to life.

At lunch, the children enjoyed warming their hands and roasting food over the fire. When the day had come to an end, they joined together to sing and dance like porcupines!

On Wednesday, Forest Preschool began their day inside and with only one preschooler! With Zak and Sarah, this child colored in river otter tracks (seen above), built with blocks, made a porcupine den and then bundled up in lots of layers to brave the wintry weather outside. Together they explored the frozen creek and made a bridge out of ice! When playing near the Pole Barn, the child noticed some tracks. After looking more closing at its shape, gait pattern and some nearby scat, they determined they belonged to a rabbit! As Zak and Sarah were looking more closely at the tracks, the preschooler noticed a rabbit hiding under some bleachers. They fox-walked their way towards it until it hopped away. On their way back inside, they also noticed that the Forest Preschool shelter near the white pine had lost all of its needles! Upon closer inspection, the small group saw deer tracks coming from all directions to the tree and even found some hair on the now bare branches of the shelter.

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.