I always love September - the last taste of summer, first signs of fall, and a new batch of kids at Forest School! We’ve been busy this September meeting new friends, exploring the park, and settling into the rhythm of our days in the forest. Many of the kids were understandably shy at the beginning of their first day, but each group settled in quickly with spontaneous cooperative building projects – creating forts for animals, fairies, or people; building towers of wood around classmates; building (unlit) fires, boats, teeter-totters, and dirt castles. These very physical projects immediately bring children together, first through the shared work of carrying and placing materials, then through discussion of strategy, plans for use, disagreement and compromise, and finally pride in the finished product. In many cases, this building morphs into imaginative play, and suddenly a group of new classmates becomes a family, or a royal court, or a pack of wolves.
We’re spending much of our fall session this year focusing on things underground – soil, rocks, roots, seeds, bugs, and so on. The ground was dry and dusty all September, since we had only a taste of rain following a hot, dry summer. Our Forest, Sprouting and Little Roots classes all spent time digging in the dry dirt - sometimes to create a castle, pit or riverbed; sometimes to discover bugs, rocks, roots or ‘dinosaur bones’; sometimes just to feel the cool earth against warm skin. Some days, the children added water to make mud and rivers through the dust. In Forest Roots we visited different areas of the park to take soil samples, noticing and comparing the colors, textures, and contents of each sample. Our Sprouting Roots enjoyed using sticks to draw letters, shapes, and pictures in the dirt. They dug into the ground, finding which areas were easiest and hardest to dig, and filled buckets with soil, then tested and commented on the weight of each bucket. They also put significant work one day into digging rocks out of the ground, then counting, sorting, and stacking them.
During the last week of September we celebrated the beginning of Autumn and considered what was to come in the new season. The weather had only just begun to shift from summer sunshine and warm temperatures (the last Thursday of September was over 80 degrees!), but we could already see signs that Autumn was beginning – falling leaves; many spiders in orb or dome webs; brand-new, tiny white mushrooms; and just-uncurling licorice fern fiddleheads (licorice ferns are often summer deciduous, losing their foliage for the dry season). We noticed that, while the afternoons were generally sunny and warm, the mornings were starting to feel cooler. And we had many conversations about Halloween, and everyone’s plans for the holiday!
We’ve noticed that some of our squirrels have been very active this first month of classes. At Forest Camp, we’ve been seeing a lot of our cute, little Douglas squirrels, always zipping around the edges of camp, keeping an eye on us – and occasionally chattering (loudly!) at us from a Big-leaf maple next to the bathrooms. At Main Camp, it’s the large gray squirrels, which sneak to our backpack tarp when we seem to be busy elsewhere, looking for a way in, until one of our preschoolers see and chase it back into the brush or up a tree. We’ve had some great journaling opportunities, with a squirrel posing only a few feet away, and their presence is a constant reminder of why we need to clean up and pack away all of our food after eating!
We have had a few other interesting wildlife sightings this month. One Friday in Forest Roots, just as parents were arriving, a coyote walked across the road and along the far edge of our field, stopping for several minutes to dig in the mud, its tail wagging happily as we all watched and recorded it in our journals. Some of our students hypothesized that it may be digging for frogs, since we find tadpoles in that spot each spring. We have also been frequently seeing and hearing ravens in the park this month. I can use the plural this year, because while last year we only ever saw one at a time, one of our Little Roots classes this September was lucky enough to see a pair of ravens land on a branch just in front of us during a hike. The difference in size from crows was very clear when we saw them so close! We are all learning how to distinguish crows from ravens - from their call, size, tail shape, and flight style. I like to say that if you see a bird flying, and can’t quite tell if it’s an eagle or a crow, it’s probably a raven. For more of the differences between these birds, take a look at this article from the Audubon Society: http://www.audubon.org/news/how-tell-raven-crow.
It's been so much fun getting back to the forest, discovering the unique interests and skills of all our new campers, and watching the gradual changes as we move into another Autumn. I can tell this is going to be an amazing year, and I can't wait to see what we discover!