This week brought wind and warmer weather to our snowy forest. After an entire week off from preschool while 4-H Acres hosted Winter Camp, the flocks were excited to be back outside and explore what had changed in their camps. Their energy bounced and echoed off the treetops as they ran through the snow.

Chickadees

 As we gathered in the log circle on Monday morning, huge gusts of wind blew fine snowflakes into our faces. The trees rocked back and forth and the entire forest creaked and groaned. With the new week came a new set of tracks and a new mystery animal! This track had a big, flat, oblong foot. Sarah informed the Chickadees that the animal is brown and really likes to climb trees. It also has a very special defense mechanism when it is scared. 

How would this animal move? It waddles! Moving their right arm and right leg together, then left arm and left leg together, the Chickadees practiced moving like this animal across the front field, imaging what strange creature would move in such an awkward way.

But uncovering the mystery would have to wait. It was time to head down to our camp and explore the new snow on the ground there. The kids scampered up the big hill in the back of camp and slid down on their bellies or colorful bottom sleds. 

There was so much excitement that everyone was hungry by the time slunch rolled around. We spread out in the pavilion to shelter from the whistling wind and listen to Sarah’s story. She told us about the time when Willa the Winter Fairy met Peaceful Porcupine! 

Willa had followed some tracks to the base of a tree where she found a very sad porcupine. He described to her how he was ashamed of himself. He had gotten angry and pushed his grandmother accidentally, and he knew he had made her upset. Willa went with the porcupine to apologize, but when they arrived at his grandmother’s house, the fairy was worried he would be too upset. But when the porcupine’s grandmother came out, both of them started taking deep balloon breaths, in and out. It helped keep the porcupine calm while he apologized. And that was when Willa realized she’d met a Peace Superhero! It was Peaceful Porcupine, who used his balloon breaths to find inner peace when he was addressing conflict. Willa knew she could use this technique for other conflicts in the forest, and was a helpful tool for her in the future.

After our lunch sheltered in the pavilion, the Chickadees heard a strange noise coming from the woods. It sounded like a wild growl that they had heard before… it was our local Sasquatch! The Sasquatch was invading our camp, and the flock worked together to ward it off and safely hide from it in our shelter. We were able to chase the Sasquatch all the way up to North Trillium camp and up our big sledding hill back to the front field! That’s where we found the Sasquatch’s den… in the labyrinth of snow tunnels by the drop-off circle. We also found Eli, who looked very much like the creature we’d just chased off – glad he escaped safely from Squatch! We spent the rest of day exploring these tunnels and enjoying our time back at preschool.

Wednesday brought with it sunshine and warm temperatures. Everything was dripping and melting, and the entire forest was filled with renewed energy. The Chickadees ran and screamed with excitement about the sunny day. 

There was a very exciting surprise waiting for them at Morning Circle – a glass jar full of strange, toothpick-like objects. Sarah explained that she had found these on the back of an animal on side of the road. They were porcupine quills: hollow spikes made of keratin, the same material as our hair and fingernails. These quills are a powerful defense mechanism for a distressed porcupine. What a fascinating find!

As we made our way down to camp, we felt alive with the warmer weather and the sun filtering through the branches of the trees. We raced around Trillium Camp and played adventurously in the snow. When it was time for slunch, we gathered in a circle to hear fascinating stories, including Nora’s tale of a man who learned to sleep with one eye open to avoid being snuck up on by wolves! 

Once we were all packed up from slunch, Eli found something interesting in the snow. Were those porcupine tracks? We set out from camp to find this porcupine and see where it was leading us. We traveled up the hill, around the trees, through some bushes, through the deep snow, and spotted something at the base of one of the big trees. We had found the porcupine!

It had also left us a gift – a metal bucket, a hammer, a drill, and a spile. The porcupine had led us to the base of a very special tree. It was a sugar maple, and we were going to tap it to get some delicious sap. 

As we huddled on the slope, each Chickadee got a chance to help drill into the bark and hammer in the spile to release the sap. They all did a great job taking turns and helping the instructors with this activity. Then we set up a bucket and left gravity and the tree to do their work. What surprises might we find when we went back the next day?

Nuthatches

Monday welcomed us with wild winds that blew the snow across the field and brought a chill to the air. The day also brought two new faces to our flock: instructors Jed and Ariadne! Jed is our founding director, and we were very grateful to have him join us in the field to share his expertise. Ariadne will be joining the Nuthatches for the rest of winter and spring and we are excited to have her on board!

To welcome in the new week, the Nuthatches introduced themselves to Jed and Ariadne and learned about a new animal we rarely see around 4-H acres. This animal has a big brown belly, likes to hide in trees, walks with a funny waddle, and has spikes on its back to protect itself. You guessed it… our animal this week was a porcupine! 

We headed down to camp, playing in the snow along the way. Once we had gotten our backpacks hung up and were playing inside our shelter, Ian noticed some huge oval-shaped tracks in the snow. He had seen a giant porcupine earlier in the day and knew these were its tracks. We better go find it!

We raced out into the field, following the trail as it wove around the quinzee shelters and through the trees. We went past Turkey Knoll until we found something hiding in a tiny tarp shelter. Nestled next to some firewood in Red Squirrel camp was Jed with a big pair of snowshoes that looked suspiciously like the giant porcupine tracks. Excellent tracking, Nuthatches!

We ran back out into Turkey Knoll to play in the shelters and bury Ian in the snow. By the time slunch came around, we were hungry and ready to eat! We ate around our warm fire and even built a snow bench to sit on. 

After slunch, it was time for some more play in the snow. There was so much falling from the sky, it was fun to chase each other and play snow games. To wrap up the day, we sang songs around our fizzling fire and expressed our gratitude for being back out in the woods.

Wednesday dawned bright and warm. The higher temperatures lifted everyone’s spirits and energy as the Nuthatches raced around. As we gathered in for morning circle, the instructors reminded the flock about respect and how important it is to have respect for others and for yourself. With respect in mind, and wearing several less layers than usual, we headed down to camp.

Today’s trek to camp was a saunter, a meditative walk in the sun. When we were passing over the creek, Jed asked the flock to stop and close their eyes. Using just the sensations on their faces, could they locate the sun? Feeling the warmth on their skin, the Nuthatches smiled into the sun. It certainly felt like spring was on its way!

A little further down the trail, the flock stopped again. This time, Jed pointed to a fuzzy vine growing up one of the trees. What is it called? That’s right! Poison ivy! It is very important to respect this plant, especially as the warmer weather melts the blanket of snow and the plants come back to life.

Once we got to camp, the flock had a very important mission to accomplish. Nora held up a bucket of supplies. What could they be for? There was a drill, a bucket, and a spile. We were going to tap a maple tree and get some tasty sap! But first, the flock had to find a maple tree. We looked around, trying to use our tree ID skills as best we could. Just like ash trees, maple trees grow pairs of branches on the opposite sides of the trunk. But maples have very different leaves than ash trees. Where ashes are more ovular and pointy, maple leaves have five blades. 

After a helpful lesson from Jed and a little searching, the Nuthatches located a maple tree right in our camp! The big tree behind our tarp shelter is a sugar maple, and we got to work tapping the tree. Jed showed us how to drill a hole in the sunny side of the tree, then hammer in the spile. Within no time, clear sap was dripping out of the spile into our bucket! It didn’t take long to have our work pay off.

After all the hard work, it was time to play. We headed out into the field to play a game where the snow snakes had stolen eggs from the snow moles and hidden them in their dens – the quinzee huts. The Nuthatches had to run to the shelter, get the objects, and run back without being hit by a snowball. Those were some sneaky snow snakes!

Finally, it was time to rest around our fire for slunch. While the flock ate, the maple tree behind us was hard at work giving us tasty sap. By the time we were done with our meal, there was already a layer of sap in the bottom of the bucket! The flock was fascinated watching it drip onto our fire.

While we may not quite be out of the woods yet, the sunny weather and the warm breeze certainly did seem like spring was just over the horizon. As we warmed our bodies in the bright afternoon, the forest around us smiled and began to stir as well. If you listen, you can hear birds waking in the forest. You can hear the drip drip of ice turning to water. You can see the plants sigh in relief and get ready to bud. The forest is waking from its deep slumber, and our flocks will be watching and exploring it every step of the way.

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.