Wintery, Muddy, Forest School Magic! (April 9-13 2018)

Monday morning was a perfect morning to go to the forest.  There was a chill in the air but we didn’t mind one single bit.  We bundled up and made our way to the forest, excited to show Lindsay, who joined us for the morning, our favourite place in the woods.

The forest was quiet and there weren’t a lot of fresh tracks to be found aside from a few squirrel tracks.  Some were very tiny which had us curious about whether or not there were new baby squirrels in the trees over head or if the chipmunks had been out and about once again.  The tracks were the only evidence, though. In fact, the squirrels didn’t come to see us at all that morning. We read the book “Because of an Acorn” by Adam Schaefer and Lola M Schaefer at our meeting spot and enjoyed seeing all of the wonderful things in nature that happen because of an acorn.  We also talked about how the trees in our forest are mostly maples like the ones we saw when we learned about making maple syrup at the Tiffin Centre. Our quiet conversation and story time seemed to invite the birds to the trees over head as we listened to them and quickly recognized their call: “chicka-dee-dee”.  We shared safety rules with Lindsay and our plans for the morning before heading our own ways to explore.

Our batmobile had been demolished in our time away and some of our friends felt like it should be rebuilt.  They had a hard time deciding where to begin as they tried to untangle the large pile of branches that remained.  R and N tried to move some large branches but needed a hand with getting things sorted.

They worked together to move the small branches before enlisting Chelsa to help with the larger, heavier ones. As the batmobile began to take shape once again, more friends joined to aid in the reconstruction.  Ideas were shared about where each branch should go, J and J offered their muscles to help with the heavier ones and, over the course of the morning, the batmobile was back. While it wasn’t the same as it had been before, we were excited and curious about it will evolve over our next visits to the forest.

Our ropes were tied to trees in every fashion imaginable.  Some were for pulling trees down, some were the reins for our “horses” as we shook them saying “go horsey” with them wrapped around trees and one,  our green rope, became a trap and then a cage wrapped around couple of trees as N, E, and G became baby giraffes inside. They “picked grass and leaves” because “that’s what giraffes eat”.

A little later, E and J were found placing sticks up to trees and, when Lisa asked them what they were up to, they replied that they were “tapping the trees for maple syrup”. They lightly tapped the end of the sticks that were “taps” with other sticks which were their “hammers” just like we had practised while we were on our field trip in March.

Our morning was busy and it was full and as the temperature rose slightly and the ground between the trees thawed, we noticed it became slippery and muddy in one particular spot.  This of course meant that we ended our morning in the woods on mudslide. On our bellies and on our bottoms we went, turning ourselves into “mud monsters” for the return to the centre.

By the time we made our way to the forest Wednesday, we were still wondering what happened to spring!  It was chilly outside and we were dressed in our all too familiar snow suits. In light of all of the muddy fun we had on Monday and the massive amounts of mud outside in our Nature Classroom, we shared the story “Mud” by Wendy Cheynette Lewison and giggle and laughed together as recalled just how muddy and messy we have been getting outside lately.  

Some of our friends discovered that there was mini fire pit set up near our climbing log and we gathered around it to take a closer look. The circle of rocks had wood in the middle and even pieces of charcoal underneath. How did it get there? Who built it? It was very small which really had us confused.  All we could was speculate about how it came to be and our ideas included: Fairies, Animals and Monsters. Maybe we will never know for sure but sure was exciting to find it!

Much of the morning was spent looking down as we noticed the tracks that were frozen in the mud at our feet.  A large dog had been about as well as some squirrels but there was also one print that had us wondering. It looked very much like a raccoon track but it was small.  Even after much collaboration between our friends and teachers, we couldn’t decide if it belonged to a large squirrel or a small raccoon.

Keeping our eyes to the ground offered to be pretty rewarding and eventful in other ways though.  We began to notice all sorts of small holes in the ground now that the snow was all gone. Some were not there before which was exciting as we thought maybe that meant a little critter had been there. C and R walked along all of the pathways finding small holes in different areas before reporting their findings to their friends and teachers.

It wasn’t long before J joined the hunt for holes and they discovered a fresh hole just past our boundaries.  They brought Chelsa with them to investigate. The hole had fresh dirt thrown from it and seemed to go sideways into the ground. J used a stick to poke inside to see how far it went and was surprised to see how far the stick went in. C and R then took turns poking inside the hole before they determined that it was probably from a chipmunk!  They moved along the path farther and began noticing the holes in the trees at ground level and up higher. One hole had prints seemingly walking into it. J and Z joined the search and the children took turns looking into the hole at the base of a tree, hoping to find a chipmunk but agreeing that poking a stick into this hole might not be a good idea in a case “a chipmunk could be there and it could hurt it”. Nothing was visible but Z pointed out that sometimes the chipmunks hide up in the higher holes “because we scare them and they don’t want us to hurt them”.

The children called Lisa over to show her all of the things they had been discovering and, suddenly she says “Hey, what is that?” as she pointed to something on the ground.  We all got close to see what it was and Chelsa picked it up so we could all see. “Is it a mushroom?” “is it a rock?” were some of the questions we had. Up close, we could tell a little more about it.  It was a skull. J recalled “It looks like the one from the owl spit up” recalling the tiny skulls we found in the owl pellet a few weeks back. This one was larger but still not very big.

We had some research to do! We decided to bring it back to the centre and see what we could learn about it. We packed up our things to head back for lunch but this time we were excited to see what we might learn about our newest found treasure in Forest School.

After lunch we got the skull out and shared it at circle time.  We got a really good look at it and talked about what we thought it might be. Chelsa got out a laptop and, using our guesses about it belonging to a chipmunk to pull up some photos.  After looking at some pictures and, only having half of a skull for us to look at, we were left unsure but with the idea that it could even belong to a squirrel. Our morning in the forest lead to the use of various magnifiers for taking a closer look, researching our findings and even making maps of our forest showing where we had found the holes, the skull and other great things along the way!

Before we left for the forest Friday, Chelsa told about something she had seen and heard earlier in the morning.  It was a very large pileated woodpecker and it was very close to our forest! Some of us had never seen a woodpecker like that before so we made our entrance to the woods a muchmore quieter one than usual in case we might stumble upon it.  We listened, we looked but there was no sign of it. It’s elusiveness, however, had our brains working! C and J spent a lot of time peering up into the trees, searching for any sign of the large bird and, while they didn’t catch sight of it, they did find something else.  One of the trees near our entrance to the forest had some VERY large holes in them. They suspected that it would take a very large woodpecker to make those holes and wondered if it was the one they were looking for who had made them!

Our extra keen eyes fell upon something else though on Friday.  Some of our friends were curious about a site nearby where we had seen the school children exploring in the past.  They had built structures and, while we had noticed them before, this was the first time our own forest friends expressed an interest in visiting the site.  After asking Karen about it and then discussing it with the rest of the class, the decision to check it out was unanimous and this was very exciting! We made our way to the other site together before sitting down to discuss boundaries for this area.  We couldn’t wait to explore the structures and different elements in this area.

Off we went! We tucked into the little shelters, squeezing in too many friends at a time.  We noticed how they were built differently from the ones we had built and that we needed to be careful not to push the walls from the inside.  One of the shelters was almost completely dark inside while the others had plenty of spaces to in and out of.

The numerous large boulders beckoned us to test our balance as we stepped from to another, moving our feet and shifting our weight trying to stay atop the different angles of each of them.  The more practise we had, the more quickly we began to maneuver ourselves over them, sharing the space with friends yet speeding up to almost a run in some cases. We made of games of tag and played together, trying to catch one another as we moved from boulder to boulder.  A few wipeouts didn’t keep us down but, rather, challenged us to try again!

While R, J and P used their muscles to pull, lift, drag and manipulate some very large branches around the site, finally getting together to work as a team,

others turned a huge branch into a massive seesaw!  It was a “Y” shaped branch that was laying across a log and the children got together, assigning themselves positions on the branch. E stood with one foot on either side of the Y while her friends went to each end of the branch. They used their weight and their strength to raise and drop each of the branch just like a seesaw while E held her balance as it moved.  They worked at this, switching positions, adding more friends and trying different ways of using their bodies to work their new machine together!

We left the new site a little early to see what was happening along the trails.  C and J continued their search for woodpecker evidence and they were not disappointed.  Many of the trees along the trail were littered with large holes which they recognized as having been made by a woodpecker.  

We had just enough time to do a little “fishing” at our river as we stopped to play a while.  The cold temperatures kept us from going right in but we enjoyed fishing with our sticks before throwing sticks into the water to watch them float or scooching across the water on  log nearby.

While winter tried to hang on, we were happy to discover a sign of spring when G shared with us a sprouting maple key that he had found! It is wonderous to know that our whole forest came from sprouting seeds exactly like this!

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