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.