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…

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.