The Chickadees had a fun-filled first week of winter! Read below to learn what this week’s mystery animal was, what tracks we found on the bridge and what tasty treat we roasted over the fire…

The Chickadee instructors were so happy to welcome the preschoolers back to their forest school this week! A soft, fluffy blanket of snow greeted us on our first day of the winter session — how fitting! Before Opening Circle, the children played in the snow and were surprised to see how easy it was to make a snowball. They noticed that when they rolled the snow over the ground, it picked up everything (even acorns, rocks and sticks!) and revealed the dark green grass that was hiding underneath. The Chickadee instructors explained that this soft, wet snow is called packing snow and that it’s great for building things like snow people! With that said, Eli helped the children stack three large snowballs on top of each other. Then they found some fallen branches from the nearby white pine tree and stuck them in the side to make arms. Next, Eli found some long, dead grass to use as hair. When they were done, the Chickadees took a step back to admire their work of art. A child lovingly named the snow person creation “Dom Dom!”

At Opening Circle, Eli showed the Chickadees a picture of an animal track. This track had four toes on its front feet and five on its hind feet. He said the animals that make these tracks live in this area, make nests called dreys using dead leaves and sticks and have bushy tails. The children guessed what they thought this animal could be, but Eli left it a mystery (do you have any guesses?). Afterwards, the Chickadee flock grabbed their backpacks and excitedly hurried down the path towards Trillium Camp. They stopped at the top of the bridge where they reported what had changed since the last time they were there. One child noticed the creek had more water and looked wider. Another child pointed out that the pinecone bird feeders we had made in the fall were still missing! We headed down the bridge, intent on finally solving this mystery. Before “slunch” (this is what we call our eating time: it’s a combination of snack and lunch), some children went in search of clues in hopes of figuring out where the pinecone bird feeders went, while others ate some snow, climbed the Climbing Hill and threw snowballs into the creek.

 

When it was time for slunch, the Chickadees washed their hands and went to the log circle. Sarah told a story about a magical forest where fairies can be seen dancing with spring ephemerals, lounging by the creek on warm summer days, twirling down to Earth with the colorful leaves in the fall and riding on snowflakes in the winter. The story introduced Willa the winter fairy who had two special jobs: 1. to help the forest move from fall to winter and 2. provide assistance to any plants or animals that needed help. Willa hears the cries of a small red squirrel named Ringo who got lost when he left his nest in search of food. Willa helps him find his tracks in the snow and together they followed them back to his home. During Willa’s adventure, she also helps Greta the gray squirrel find her collection of nuts she hid in the fall. Greta explains to Willa that she remembers burying them underneath a tree with smooth, gray bark that had bright yellow leaves in the fall and that these leaves turn orange and stay on the tree all winter long. This description sounded familiar to Willa and she then directed Greta to a beech tree. There Greta digs through the snow and Earth to find her special collection of black walnuts, acorns and hickory nuts!

 

When slunch was over, the children played a few rounds of Squirrel Tails, a silly game where someone wears an orange bandana like a tail and everyone has to try and catch it. The children ran around the pavilion, through the garden, up and down the path and around the shelter, laughing as they tried to catch the squirrel tail. The Chickadees ended their day with a walk up to Turkey Knoll where they got to visit the Nuthatches new camp! While we are sad the Nuthatches had to say goodbye to the Ash Grove for the time being, we are so happy they will be closer to us and we are looking forward to seeing them more. At Closing Circle, the children learned a new song called “Gray Squirrel, Gray Squirrel Swish Your Bushy Tail.” The lyrics and movements are written and explained below so you can sing and dance along too! 

Gray Squirrel, gray squirrel, swish your bushy tail (shake like you have a bushy tail) 

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel, swish your bushy tail (shake your tail)

Wrinkle up your little nose (move your nose)

Put a nut between your toes (touch your toes)

Gray squirrel, gray squirrel swish your bushy tail (shake your tail)

On Tuesday the children noticed that the soft and packable snow had changed! Instead it was icy, sand-like and not as easy to make snowballs with. But that didn’t bother the Chickadees! They enjoyed stomping on the ice that had formed in the footprints we made the day before and rolling the big snowballs that had made up our friend Dom Dom (who had sadly fallen over during the night). After singing “Gray Squirrel, Gray Squirrel, Swish Your Bushy Tail” during Opening Circle, the children hiked down to camp where they noticed tracks everywhere — on the bridge, in the log circle, on the Peace Log. While helping put grit on the bridge so we didn’t slip on the ice, a child noticed that the tracks had four toes on the front feet and five on the back — could these tracks belong to the animal that Eli told us about on Monday? While some children looked at the tracks in Trillium Camp, others went on an epic wander where they found honeysuckle bushes and beech trees. When they came back, the flock gathered for slunch where they heard the story of Willa the winter fairy, Ringo the red squirrel and Greta the gray squirrel again. After slunch they played a game where someone pretended to be Greta, the squirrel who had forgotten where she had cached, or stored, her nuts. Like the story, the person playing Greta could only remember a few details about where she had put her nuts. This information was shared with the children who had to use these clues to find the cached nuts, which took the form of an orange bandana ball in this game. The Chickadees played several rounds of this until it was time to sing “The Day is Done” song. 

The day is done 

The day is done 

Thank you for today 

Let’s pack our bags and give air hugs 

And say thanks for the day

 

Wednesday was a special day for two reasons: 1. the Chickadees welcomed a new instructor named Nora to the flock and 2. it was a Chickadee’s birthday! During Opening Circle, the preschoolers welcomed Nora by helping her learn everyone’s names and told her that it’s okay if she forgets someone’s name because she can just ask if she does. 

When the Chickadees arrived in Trillium Camp, they noticed some strange tracks. They decided to follow them and  soon found themselves on an epic adventure that took them to Turkey Knoll, near the creek, across the meadow and finally to Red Squirrel Camp. There the preschoolers found a basket filled with chestnuts and tools they needed to roast them! In order to cook them though, the flock would need to build a fire and in order to make a fire they needed to collect some firewood. Nora and Eli led some children to the “wispy” (our word for kindling) bushes, also known as honeysuckle, while Sarah helped others climb on the low branches of a white pine tree. The melting snow made it a tough day for fire, but Eli was able to do it with some help from the Chickadees of course! Together they sang: 

Burn fire, burn 

Stoke your inner fire

Let the coal inside you rise

Blow that flame to life

 

Thursday brought with it more mysteries and celebration! In the morning they found tons of poop, or scat, in the front field. The children noticed the shape, color and size of the scat and learned that it belonged to a white-tailed deer — probably numerous deer, by the amount of scat they found! In Opening Circle, Hannah led the group in another round of “Gray Squirrel, Gray Squirrel, Swish Your Bushy Tail.” The children sang and danced along and afterwards headed down to camp. Before going down the bridge, Nora said that she hid treasure in a place where you can hear water, where you can see a bird house and where you might find some thorns. The children eagerly went in search of the treasure. Some went to Trillium North near the creek, while others stayed closer to the pavilion and looked near the garden until…they found it! The treasure was hidden at the base of a tree that had a birdhouse on it and was growing next to the creek. There were also some multiflora rose bushes nearby. Everyone was excited to see what the treasure was and gathered around Nora as she opened up the pot to reveal cups, stainers and white pine needles. “Tea!,” the children exclaimed.

Later in the day, the Chickadees climbed the Climbing Hill, said hello to the Nuthatches and found some more scat! But this scat looked different than the small, dark, oval-shaped white-tailed deer scat they found in the morning. This scat was bigger, longer and came to a point. A child noticed that it looked like the scat had hair inside of it. The owner of the scat remained a mystery, until next week perhaps!

 

Can you guess what this week’s mystery animal was? Thank you for reading! Check back here next week to see what new adventures came our way…

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