What a month was May! Sunny skies, bare feet, green forest and abundant animal sightings all made this an amazing (a-may-zing?) time to be out exploring the park. Our themes this month focused on growth, as we watched fiddleheads unfurling, followed bees as they pollinated newly opened flowers, and caught tadpoles and other larvae in the midst of their fascinating life cycles.
The forest understory had an explosion of green this month due largely to the growth of ferns. We watched as last year’s sword fern fronds began to turn brown and brittle, as they were replaced by delicate, vivid green new growth. We noticed many species of deciduous ferns popping up – lady fern, bracken fern, spiny wood fern, maidenhair fern, and deer fern. As we came across new ferns, we tried to find what made them unique, by feeling their leaves and stems; noticing where they were growing; and looking at the shape of the fiddleheads, leaves and mature plant. Like mushrooms and moss, ferns reproduce using spores, so we checked the underside of the leaves to find the round packets of spores, called sori.
All spring we’ve been watching flowers as they blossom, both in the forest and the garden beds – first Indian Plum, skunk cabbage, and salmonberry blossoms; then bleeding hearts, “stinky Bob”, daffodils, tulips, dandelions and field daisies; and finally, starflower, miner’s lettuce, rhododendron, lilacs and irises. We spent a week in May focused on the flowers, slowing down to smell each as we passed by, taking in their distinct colors and unique shapes. We observed bees pollinating the rhododendrons - dipping into the center of each flower to drink the nectar, then moving to the next, with yellow-orange pollen visible on their legs and backs. We talked about how flowers attract different pollinators, with their colors or smells (some pleasant, and some less so - skunk cabbage flowers, which blossom in late winter before bees have emerged, use their distinct skunky scent to attract flies instead). With the Homeschool classes we worked on identifying some of the parts of the flower and their functions, carefully drawing and labeling them in our journals. We also took time to look for less charismatic flowers, like those of the maple and madrona trees, which depend on the wind for pollination and thus have no need to attract animal pollinators with bright colors. Our Sprouting Roots classes had fun collecting the white bell-shaped madrona flowers that covered the ground and picnic table at our drop off location, carefully organizing them and even stringing them like beads.
In Mid-May, we found tadpoles in a stream at the park! Each class practiced catching them with clear plastics cups. It was quite the challenge trying to catch and release the creatures without stirring up too much silt from the stream bed and turning the water cloudy. Once tadpoles were safely in cups, it was interesting to look closely at their tiny mouths, big eyes and colorful bellies, and to consider how much they would soon change! Some of the tadpoles were longer and thinner, with feathery gills on either side of their heads like ears – salamander larvae! It was fascinating to compare the two species, which in their earlier stages of development looked somewhat similar, but diverged significantly as they became more developed. Many of the salamanders already had four legs, and were looking almost like their adult forms, while we found only the very beginnings of back legs on a few of the frogs-to-be.
As we studied tadpoles and stream creatures, we spent a few full days in the lower field, which we avoided for much of this year because it was rather flooded from all the rain. This field brought a surprising diversity of materials and opportunities. In the long grass on one end we saw many dragonflies, ladybugs, butterflies and even a couple baby bunnies. The muddy trench on the other end inspired our Sprouting Roots to take on lengthy bridge building projects, using sticks held together with mud and covered with dry grass clippings gathered from the field. This project took extensive teamwork to plan, collect materials, establish roles and methods, and execute. One of our Homeschool classes found 12 forgotten baseballs, lost in the grass around the baseball diamond, and organized games of baseball and golf, experimenting with different sticks for use as clubs and bats. For another class, sun-dried grass clippings, which were left spread across the field after it was mowed, became an unexpected building and playing material. The children made nests, forts, crowns, blankets, and mountains of ‘hay’. I love how these kids can take something I wouldn’t even notice, like grass clippings in a field, and turn it into a whole afternoon of fun and creativity!
This May brought countless new discoveries and adventures, and many warm and sunny days made each class feel like a celebration. It’s amazing just thinking about how much everything has changed since the beginning of spring!