Nature Blog

Stories from programs and outdoor ramblings
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The Magic of Forest Kindergarten

By Emily Burke on Oct 29, 2018

Well, it’s official. Today was the last day of Forest Kindergarten for the fall session. We won’t have these kids back in class until the spring session starts back up in April, and I’m surprised by how much I already miss these tiny nature explorers. My time in the woods with them was full of wonder, excitement, and unabashed curiosity. They remind me how to look at the world with fresh eyes and teach me how to let my imagination run wild again.  Naturally closer to the ground, they notice things that I completely miss, like a weird mushroom or a beautiful baby leaf. There were too many memories made this fall to count, but here are some of my favorites:

1) One cloudy day in late September, the kids created an epic obstacle course on a series of fallen logs over the creek that winds through the hemlock grove.  It had rained heavily the night before, so the banks were super muddy, and the small sandbar had turned into a jelly-like quasi-solid.  The kids spent a full 45 minutes testing their balance on the slippery logs and leaping across the creek onto the jiggly sandbar. When Odin The Lava Monster suddenly turned the creek water into hot, bubbling lava, they scrambled to construct a dam from clay and sticks. After working together to defeat The Lava Monster, there were high-fives all around.

2) On a rainy day just as the maples were starting to change color, I crowded around a rotting, fallen ash log with a group of four- and five-year-olds bundled up in colorful rain gear.  The log was covered with slugs, and just as I was about to roll the log to look for some red-backed salamanders, Iris gently plucked a tiny slug that I had overlooked from the log, dubbed it “Baby slug,” and began rocking it in her arms while softly singing. Soon, most of the group was joining in on the sweet lullaby to this slimy critter.

3) On an unseasonably cold day, Amalia, Emily D, and I decided to hike our group to the legendary Otter Slide Hill in hopes that we could convince the kids to climb all the way to the top of this giant sand dune to keep warm. We didn’t anticipated that all 8 kids would spend the entire lunchtime crawling up and running/sliding/rolling down repeatedly. It was hard to pry them from the hill when it was time to head back, but, perhaps spurred on by the thirst they had worked up from all their playing, they collectively pretended that the aspen grove we hiked back through was a vast, hot desert. Dogs we passed became camels, willows were palm trees, and the Greenspire creek was a life-saving oasis.

4) On the last day, we headed to the cedars to play with track molds in the mud. Vowing to get good and muddy while making bear, coyote, skunk, and raccoon tracks after we had eaten, we chatted about various mammals while we lunched in the shelter provided by the cedars’ delicate, fringed foliage.  Just as we were discussing red squirrels, a loud trill rang out from across the grove.  I motioned for everyone to quiet down, and the kids’ eyes widened as they connected that the trill was made by the same animal we had just been talking about.  Excited shouts and pointing followed as we tracked the red squirrel – no doubt perturbed by our presence in its territory – as it bounded along a fallen log across the creek, crossed the forest floor’s carpet of golden cedar fronds, and scampered up a nearby trunk to scold us from the safety of a branch.

The frosts started in earnest last week and the long nights of winter are looming near, but I’m making a concerted effort to hold onto all that the little ones have taught me this fall: splash in puddles, collect pretty leaves, catch raindrops on your tongue, investigate all bugs, and, whenever things get dull, always pretend there’s a lava monster.