It was one wet, muddy start to our maple sugaring season and the kids couldn’t have been happier about it! Our inquiry-based investigation focuses on exploring the essential question: How does sugar maple tree sap become maple syrup? To support our understanding of this farm to table process, we’ll consider driving questions, including: How do we get sap from trees?, What happens in a sugar bush? and How do trees help people and animals? As teacher guides, we’ll be modeling the scientific thinking process by thinking out loud some of these questions and encouraging Farm Sprouts to ask some of their own. Some are already thinking like scientists! Questions they have asked include: What is sap? and Is it (sap) going to be maple syrup? We kicked off getting our feet wet (literally and figuratively) with seeking answers to our many questions during our adventures this first week.
We include Farm Sprouts in the sign in process to provide them with a voice and sense of ownership in the program. They are invited to vote, this week for sugar maple or beech trees, which helps guide us in supporting their interests. For our early literacy sign in activity, Farm Sprouts stamped a snowflake or two by their names and although rain fell for days, there were still snow piles left on the farm. I wonder if it will snow again this winter? How do we know spring is coming? How could we find signs of spring? These are questions you can ask and explore with your children to help support the development of their scientific thinking skills. Don’t worry if you don’t have all of the answers! Part of the joy of learning and modeling that joy is seeking new understandings together.
Farm Sprouts also removed corn kernels from corn grown at Tollgate. We popped corn for our snack today. How does corn grow? How does corn help people? We know Farm Sprouts love popcorn, especially when they have the chance to eat it in the Tollgate forest with our own maple syrup for dipping! It’s a well-loved Farm Sprouts tradition. Farm Sprouts gathered around the watch the kernels heat up, create steam, and pop! Some wondered if it was smoke they were seeing. It’s an early introduction to the water cycle, an important concept to understanding how sap becomes syrup.
We gathered today to introduce each other and build community. We shared a social stories to help support your children’s comfort level, including strategies for regulating temperature and using the bathroom. We made weather observations as we headed outside, noting the cloudy day and puddles everywhere. As stated, it is below freezing temperatures at night and above freezing temperatures during the day which cause the sap to run. The Next Generation Science Standards include weather and climate as a focus for kindergarteners. Naturally, through our program, we’ll be working to meet those standards as we “make observations to determine the effect of sunlight on the Earth’s surface” and “use and share information of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.” The outdoor environment provides children with opportunities to observe, predict, question, collaborate, and describe as they experience weather and its effects first-hand and through real-life applications. Hooray for farm and nature-based learning education!
Our journey to the sugar bush included a stop to splash in puddles and to climb the “snow mountain.” We rode on the wagon behind the tractor out to the forest, taking in the expanse of the farm and spotting the farm animals who call it home. As we approached the forest, we spotted the sugar shack, with piles of wood stacked up both inside and outside. We had a peak inside the sugar shack with Mr. Wayne, one of our dedicated volunteers. These volunteers begin working out in the forest in the summer months and through the fall with the tasks of chopping wood and repairing lines from damage made by squirrels. We moved from the sugar shack to the forest to figure out how to identify a sugar maple tree versus a beech tree (our forest is composed of mostly sugar maples and beech trees), make observations of what happens in a sugar bush, and begin to figure out what sap is and how we can collect it from a tree. Forest activities included collecting leaves and identifying sugar maple versus beech leaves, jumping in puddles, discovering holes and nests in trees made by animals, balancing on logs, and playing with sticks. We noted the tanks, tubes, and buckets that make the sugar bush special, all filling with the clear liquid that appears to be water, but which figured out was sap.
For our sugar bush snack, we rested in our gathering place on the bridge and enjoyed our popcorn with syrup and sliced, organic apples as we observed the water gushing along the stream. We enjoyed listening to the story, Winter on the Farm by Laura Ingalls Wilder, a story about a boy named Almanzo who lives on a farm long ago. In the story, he takes good care of the farm animals and then enjoys apples and popcorn at the end of a big day of work.
We witnessed old and newly-formed friendships. We maintain a low child-to-teacher ratio in order to support the interests and needs of the children within our outdoor, farm-based program. We believe in the importance of collaboration and developing social skills. The size of our program works well to allow for us to guide children through growth in these skills in a variety of social situations.
Before closing for the day, we met some of the animals in the barn, including our new black-faced lamb, and stopped by the greenhouse to meet some of the staff who grow the food and flowers on our site. Inside, we checked on the pea shoots, just beginning to sprout, that will become our snack next week!
We have the tradition of sharing the following quote with families on the first day of each season:
“If we want children to flourish, to become truly empowered, then let us allow them to love the earth before we ask them to save it. Perhaps this is what Thoreau had in mind when he said, “the more slowly trees grow at first, the sounder they are at the core, and I think the same is true of human beings.” – David Sobel, Beyond Ecophobia
We are grateful to have this opportunity to guide your children in building a deep connection to nature, to the sources of their food, and to the land in our urban Michigan community. We also want to show our appreciation to both Ms. Bonnie and Ms. Carmen, who filled in for Ms. Marilyn this week. Lastly, we are incredibly grateful for the maple sugaring volunteers and our operations crew for all they do to make this program possible. We look forward to seeing you all back at the farm for more discovery and adventures next week!