Ernie the Ermine, quickly-evolving porcupines and a hidden treat. Week 6 sure was a wild one for the Chickadees!


“This animal has five toes on both its front and hind feet. It’s a member of the weasel family and is related to otters and minks. It has a long body with short legs and dark brown fur. And it’s one of the few animals that eats porcupines.” The children listened as Sarah walked around the log circle on Tuesday morning showing them a picture of a five-toed track. Afterwards everyone transformed into this elusive animal and practiced walking on all fours through the thick, deep snow. Eli led the flock to the white pine tree where they pretended to climb it because this mysterious animal can also climb trees! The Chickadees enjoyed spending time as this animal but it was time to transform back into Chickadees and fly down to camp.

At the top of the bridge, the children called out what they noticed had changed since last week — there was more snow on the creek, more snow on the roof of the pavilion, more snow everywhere! The Chickadees used the plentiful snow to their advantage and opened up a bakery where they specialized in snow cakes, snow cupcakes, snow bread and even snow pizza!

The children adventured up the Climbing Hill and used slider sleds to slide down the hill. It was so much fun that even the instructors had to try it! The sleds made a smooth path down the hill and some Chickadees discovered that they didn’t even need a sled to move down the hill — they could slide on their bellies! They zoomed down the hill, just like some of the relatives of this week’s mystery animal!

 “It’s slunch time! It’s slunch time! It’s time to eat our slunch,” Hannah, Eli and Sarah sang. The children lined up to wash their hands, grabbed their packs and headed to the snow-covered log circle where blue pads waited for them to sit on and help keep them warm as they sat and ate their food. Sarah told a story about a special animal she saw over the weekend. She was getting ready to go snowshoeing in Monkey Run when she looked out her window and saw an animal with gray fur on its back, white fur on the sides of its face and pointed ears. It was difficult for her to tell what it was so she got out her binoculars and saw that it was a gray fox! And not just one gray fox, but two! Sarah watched them for about an hour and noticed that they kept disappearing into the side of a nearby hill. “Where do you think they were going?” she asked the Chickadees. Sarah has seen the gray foxes almost every day since and is hoping they stick around!

After slunch, the children transformed yet again into an animal that also climbs trees but has quills all over its back — porcupines! Hannah and Sarah pretended to be fishers, a kind of weasel with five toes and dark fur that likes to eat porcupines (sound familiar?). The children hid behind trees and practiced being quiet so the fishers wouldn’t find them. If they made a sound, the fishers could start chasing them but the porcupines could protect themselves by turning their backs and showing their quills. Eventually, the porcupines started chasing the fishers and they even evolved to “throw” their quills like arrows and eat the fishers! It was a silly and fun game that made everyone laugh!


The Hemlock Grove, the Hemlock Grove 

Where trees stay green all through the winter 

The swamp will freeze and we’ll find the fisher 

Climbing over fallen trees 

The Chickadees sang this song in Thursday morning’s opening circle to unlock the mystery that was hidden behind Sarah’s notebook. After singing “The Hemlock Grove” written by Felicity Holmes (a former Ithaca College intern), Sarah revealed a small animal with a long body, very short legs and white fur everywhere except for a tuft of dark brown fur on its tail. “Is it a baby bear?” asked one Chickadee. “Is it a mouse?” said another. This animal was actually an ermine, a small member of the weasel family! Hillary-Joy, the Homeschool instructor who shared her fox bone collection and fox hide with Ithaca Forest Preschool a few weeks ago, let the Chickadee flock borrow it. She said that the taxidermy ermine was named Ernie. The children each got a chance to feel Ernie’s soft fur, and they noticed that you could see its sharp teeth and whiskers. Hannah explained that, like fishers, ermines are carnivores and need sharp teeth to eat their prey. Thank you Hillary-Joy for sharing Ernie with us!

The Chickadees traveled down the path Eli had made earlier in the week using his snowshoes. They stopped at the top of the bridge, shared their observations about what had changed and were about to walk down the bridge when Nora revealed she had a surprise for them! “You will find it near something dead. You might feel leaves on your face. If there weren’t so much snow, you would be able to hear the creek from where it’s hidden.” The children rushed down the bridge and hung up their backpacks, eager to find this hidden surprise. Several children noticed the two trees that lay dead over the creek — one upstream and one downstream. They decided to check the fallen oak upstream with leaves still on some of its branches. They climbed over part of its trunk and saw something buried in the snow — a pot! Nora helped them carry it to a place where everyone could see what was inside. She pulled out green cups, a strainer and honey. What do you think the Chickadees are going to make?

If you guessed tea, you were right! The Chickadees separated into two groups. A small group stayed in Trillium Camp with Nora where they took turns pulling each other on the orange sled. One child even pulled Nora all by himself! They also did some climbing and sliding on the hill. The second group, with Hannah and Sarah, made their way to the front field in search of a special tree. “White pines have five needles that grow in a cluster,” Hannah explained. She held up a pine needle cluster and the children counted to five together. Sarah added that the white pine tree is a symbol of peace to the Haudenosaunee.

The Chickadees led the way to the large white pine tree that grows in the front field. Its branches were heavy from snow and Hannah gently shook them and the children watched as snow rained down on their heads. They had brought along two baskets and proceeded to fill them up with needles from the tree to flavor their tea.

White pine, oh white pine 

We love you 

We offer you thanks for all you do 

So please, please, please, grow 

Sarah shared that it’s nice to thank the plant you’re harvesting from. “This ‘thank you’ can look however you want it to look. You can say ‘thank you, tree.’ You can sing to the tree. You can do anything!” She taught them the song above that was taught to her by Melissa Blake. The children shared other things they wanted to say ‘thank you’ to — snow, the sun, and other trees! When their baskets were full of green white pine needles, they walked back to camp, excited to eat some slunch, have a fire and drink some warm tea. 

Nora and Hannah worked together to start a fire at slunch while the children sang fire songs to help them.  

The fire in the sun 

Makes the fire in the trees

Makes the fire that we light tonight 

(Repeat twice)

Fire, fire

Burning brightly 

Fill us with your light 

The fire in the sun 

Makes the fire in the trees

Makes the fire that we light tonight 

(Repeat twice)

When the fire was lit and starting to warm the white pine tea, Nora shared some stories about her cats, Mango and Tango, and about how one of them had brought a bat into her house!  

Soon the tea was ready and it was time to go home. The Chickadees gathered in the log circle, sipped on some tea and sang the “The Hemlock Grove” song again. Afterwards they were asked to put their hand on their heart, feel it beating and think of one thing from the day they were grateful for. Together they pulled that special thing out of their hearts and held it tightly in their hands. On the count of three, they released their gratitudes into the universe — “One, two, three…” 


Thank you for reading! We will miss the Chickadees this coming week and can’t wait until we are back in the forest together!

Office Location:
Cornell Cooperative Extension, 615 Willow Ave., Ithaca, NY 14850
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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.