The forest is such a joy to explore. We are so grateful to have 40 acres of sugar maple/beech trees on our site. It is the home of our maple sugaring operation in the winter and Farm Sprouts who didn’t already know quickly discovered that our forest is not ordinary. We have miles of tubing running through the forest to form a system which connects to approximately 250 trees. This system is used to gather sap during the run, usually beginning around the end of February. For now, we enjoy the fruits of our labor during those snowy sugaring days in the form of maple syrup. There is no doubt that the extra “fifth season” on the farm helps with the passing of the long days of winter, a sign that spring is right around the corner. This past week we enjoyed one last burst of summer, with hot and humid weather for our spring and fall tradition of “Forest Day,” a treasured and memorable day for our Sprouts.
To sign in this week, Farm Sprouts wrote the first letter or their full name on a “tree cookie,” a slice of a tree, with chalk. They voted for chipmunks or squirrels, the nut-gathering creatures we often see running around our site. We spotted a few and discovered some places they had taken a break to munch a nut among the hard work of gathering in preparation for winter days ahead. As is tradition, Farm Sprouts prepared binoculars for the hike. One Farm Sprout reported that her dog ate her binoculars from spring season, so she was very happy for a replacement! These “binoculars” are scientific tools our preschoolers use to hone their skills of observation. They also had the opportunity to handle worms, tree parts, and to feed Coltrane, our turtle.
For our gathering, we discussed what is happening with our “Wonder Wall,” recalling past experiences and identifying ways we are working as scientists. We read a book to learn more about what scientists do to connect to our work on the farm. We make observations, take photographs, draw our discoveries, ask questions, and create plans. We share our thoughts, ideas, and current understandings in many different ways!
On our hike to the forest, we stopped to “Hunt the Cows.” This is a very fun song we sing and will revisit. We’ll plan to sing it to you on our last day! We passed our horses, the sugar shack, and a strange-looking, round, white ball. Guesses of what it was included: an eye, a bone, a seashell, and an egg. These are all wonderful guesses and we’ll plan to think more about it coming up. (For our families: It is actually a giant puffball mushroom… and you can eat them! Just be sure to fully research when and how to harvest for safe consumption if you’re interested in foraging for these wild edibles.)
Upon entering the forest, Farm Sprouts commented: “It’s dark in here” and “It’s so beautiful.” The forest is, indeed, beautiful and living in our urban community, we often don’t spend enough time seeking out our forested lands. The wonder and appreciation for this opportunity was evident. Also, to be embarking on such an adventure without a family member provides incredible growth in self-confidence and independence for young children. We’ve spent time building a strong learning community in which preschoolers can assess and take risks to challenge themselves to grow.
Of course, the first activity they requested was to eat popcorn with Tollgate maple syrup on the bridge. We visited the source of our syrup by looking up to the crowns of the sugar maples, giving them our thanks for providing us with this sweet and tasty treat! While they munched, they became the audience for our “Legend of the Sugar Maple,” part of our Forest Theater series (currently in an editing and drafting phase.) It was a big hit, as Farm Sprouts have wondered whether or not trees “die” in the fall and why the leaves fall to the ground. The legend explores the complex process of why some trees, like our maples and beech, are losing their leaves. Why do leaves change color?
With bellies full of our favorite forest snack, it was time to play! We found a place to settle in for some free discovery and interaction with each other and the forest. While we often talk of the cognitive development of young children, it is important to remember this is but one aspect to the growth of a healthy child. Through the program, we strive to meet the needs of the whole child and this includes physical, social, and emotional development. There are times where we stand back and provide careful support to allow children to engage with each other, to develop social and emotional skills. A fallen tree became one of our most popular and valuable catalysts for growth in learning this week, providing a place for climbing, balance, the need to communicate with others to solve conflict and navigate around each other, a place to rest and to document discoveries. More work continued with our tree cookie project as well.
Upon arriving back to the old apple orchard, we gathered to read, The Things That I Love About Trees by Chris Butterworth. This book was donated to the program by Ms. Melanie, who has a great passion for trees. Thank you, Ms. Melanie!
We’ll see you next week, during which we will explore our arboretum, visit the new Sakura Garden, and spend time caring for some of our feathery farm animals!
“There is no description, no image in any book that is capable of replacing the sight of real trees, and all the life to be found around them, in a real forest.” – Maria Montessori