What an amazing start to the school year! From catching rain on tongues to meeting best beetles and millipedes, the Detectives jumped rain boots first into Nature Preschool. We had so much fun exploring outside and inside, a few highlights being climbing at the bird blind, digging for treasure in the sandbox, and decorating our detective bags and cubby tags! In the weeks to come, we will be writing posts in full about our adventures, so stay tuned!
Wild places are closer than you think! As we finish up the school year here at Audubon, we couldn’t be more thankful for all of wonderful families and fun-filled adventures we had this year. We finished the year with some wet weather- accompanied by our stuffy, wheels and water days! Thursday we were overjoyed to see you all at our Summer Celebration, and cannot wait to hear about all the adventures you all have in store for the coming months. Although school may be ending, Audubon is always open- and we hope to see you all at weekend walks in the woods, summer camps and other preschool events in the near future! Thanks again to everyone for an amazing school year!
The seasons they go round and round, and suddenly we find ourselves with summer round the bend. We asked the Oaks where they wanted to be sure to go, and what they really hoped to be able to do in our last two weeks of school. We made a list and day by day have been visiting those special places. The Ultimate Climber, The Campfire Circle, The Workshop, Far Corner and the Hollow Tree, the Pond, and Hilltop Home, of course. Choice is such a powerful thing to offer children. Where do you want to go? What do you want to do there?
On a thunderstorm day, we started out in the Mansion, but as the storm passed, we offered a choice: go out in the rain or stay in?
We have been talking to the children about their favorite places at Audubon. Some of the destinations above were favorites, but the one that surprised us was our Lunch Spot – AKA The Stumps and Wobbly Logs. I had just read a blog post about the value of returning with children to the same place in nature over and over. To me, this was our outdoor classroom, Hilltop Home. And yet, our lunch spot is the place we spend the most time. We go there almost every day. We eat together and then as they finish eating, the children move off in twos and threes. They climb trees. They play in the old foundation. They look for tiny critters and mushrooms. They become superheroes or other imaginary characters. They play. And by playing in this one little patch of semi-wild, day after day, in all seasons, it becomes dear to their hearts. “There are so many different things to do there.”
There is value too in the new and unexplored. We found a few stones still left unturned..
Meanwhile at our other favorite haunt, Hilltop, new loose parts sparked new play.
One of the children wished to go to the Ultimate Climber, and another wished for a game of Camouflage, so we hid and sought among the fallen trees. But first, we read one of the children’s favorite books, brought from home, about a tortoise whose burrow shelters many other living things. The story brought up the concept of a keystone species, and a discussion of intrinsic value (does it matter to humans that this special tortoise is so important to other animals?). Forest Kindergarten philosophy.
A fascinating thing happened at the Workshop this week that speaks to this sense of place, to the magic that happens when you return to a particular spot. This little corner of Woodend is likely only ever visited by the Oaks (and critters). It’s a hidden alcove with a few fallen trees surrounded by bush honeysuckle. You have to wade through tall grass to get there. Way back in October, a child started a simple game called Wheat Store. Collect grass seeds and “sell” them. Others joined. I introduced the idea of grinding the “wheat” on a stump. Today, as soon as they saw that particular stump, the game jumped back to life. Only this time it was bigger and better. More children got involved. The story grew. “We are a family living in another country and we have go gather the wheat and then grind it and then bake it and then take it to market to sell it. I’m the sister.” Each child had a role, in the family and the narrative. They added an oven, collecting bags, and myriad details, all negotiated with each other independently. It was beautiful and a testament to how much these children have grown.
With the warm weather, wildlife discoveries abounded.
Opening Song: Make New Friends
In this whole world
There is no one else
Just like me.
Books we read:
The Adventures of Sophie Mouse: A New Friend by Poppy Green
Bimwili and the Zimwi by Verna Aardema
The Empty Lot by Dale Fife
At Home with the Gopher Tortoise – the Story of a Keystone Species by Madeleine Dunphy
Forget Me Not – Friendship Blossoms by Michael Broad
Dragons Love Tacos by Adam Rubin
News From the Outdoors:
The past two weeks at Nature Preschool have been fun-filled and full of exciting nature adventure. Birds were on our minds as we went off on a circuitous hike around the grounds looking in the many bird boxes that are scattered about. We brought along a map of Woodend and when we found a box we checked it for any bird nesting activity, then labeled on the map where it was located. We’ve found as many as eighteen bird boxes around the grounds, with more yet to be discovered for another time.
The discoveries didn’t end there. While hiking with the Naturalist, Hummingbird the kids looked for seeds that the birds might like to eat, and found two fascinating animal homes! The first animal home discovery came when some of the Nature Detectives were checking out what was once a den used by a groundhog…but now is the home of a fox! The kids spotted LOTS of fox scat, left over bones, fur and feathers from some past feasts! No sign of the fox (so far) but we’re keeping our eyes open! The second discovery came when we got word of a mother raccoon and some baby raccoons that are nesting in a hollow at the top of a tree near the snake nest. We trudged over there on a rainy day and sure enough, spotted a little raccoon face peering out at us! No sign of the babies yet, but our fingers are crossed for an less obscured sighting!
To make our bird week extra special the PM class got a rare daytime sighting of a large Barred Owl. It was perched in a tree near the bamboo forest, and then soared over our heads! The true icing on the bird study cake was our family bird walk. Thanks to some nice spring weather, we spotted lots of birds and the kids got to share their bird knowledge with their families!
We followed up our bird unit by talking about planting. With Hummingbird, the kids got to plant some radishes in the planter boxes in the outdoor classroom. We also collected seeds from nature to study more in the classroom and checked out the compost bins to check in on the worms. With some heavy rain at the end of the week, we capped off our outdoor adventures with a slog through the muddy trails to look for waterfalls along the creek. We even spied the ducks having their lunch at the pond!
News from the Classroom:
The nature detectives were equally busy in the classroom as well. They clipped out photos of birds and pasted them to giant sky murals (now on display in the cubby room), used the build-a-bird toys, measured their block creations by using cut-outs of bird wingspans and made bird feeders out of cereal. The kids also made paper towel tube binoculars for easier bird-spotting, and used tongs and tweasers of various sizes to simulate bird beaks and pluck plastic worms out of bark mulch in the lab table. The kids also worked diligently on bird journals, and got plenty of practice with the “I Met a Bird at the Playground Gate” song for the family bird walk.
The Nature Detectives also revisited an activity from earlier in the year by drawing new self-portraits! They also wrote a message on their artwork about something they can do now that they couldn’t do back in the Fall when we did our first round of self-portraits. We look forward to showing families both versions of the self portraits at the conferences.
The kids found lots of other cool planting and flower-themed activities in the classroom this past week. They played a seed matching game in the discovery table, did some still-life drawings of a potted plants, and made flowery creations with the Magic Nuudles.
There were butterfly wings, puppets and flowers to pollinate in the dramatic play area and kids even made giant flowers out of tangram shapes in the block area. All told, it was an exciting and busy two weeks of indoor exploration and learning!
Weekly Top Hits:
I Met a Bird at the Playgound Gate
Books We Read:
Planting a Wild Garden by Katherine Galbraith
Oh Say Can you Seed by Bonnie Worth
Have you Heard the Nesting Bird by Rita Grey
The Birdwatchers by Simon James
“That’s so cool! I love nature. It’s my favorite place in the whole world,” said an Oak today. I had just shown the children how water beads up on the leaves of jewelweed down by the pond. It reminded me of a t-shirt I saw recently of a tiny bird, that said, “The little things are the big things.” Here are these small humans, learning about a new plant, with wonder in their eyes. Here are their small muddy hands holding a giant worm so gently. Here are their fingers, pointing at a flash of red – “Cardinal!” Here they are, in shock and awe, watching a snake trying to eat a toad, and a frog trying to eat a dragonfly. Here they are, exploring, climbing, creating, discovering. Each moment, one could say, is a little thing. But they all add up to minds full of connections and hearts full of love. Each child, one could say, is a little thing. And yet, they will grow as surely as the seasons turn. And we will send them off into the wide world, with nature as a life-long friend.
On Friday, we went on a long hike to the Rock Creek side, turned left instead of right, and were glad we did!
We realized the path was leading to….a playground! Field trip within a field trip.
Once we left the playground, things got wild quickly!
With such an audience, the snake gave up. “We saved the toad!” But what will the snake eat? Nature is not all flowers.
Part of feeling at home in nature is knowing you have friends there. The Oaks became enthusiastic birders over the last two weeks, learning bird calls, sighting birds on the wing and in the trees. We made bird food, created bird-inspired art, and played bird games.
We played bird call hide and seek, with paired musical instruments. Bird one hides. Bird two calls and listens for the answering call, before trying to find her partner.
We wrapped up our Spring Journals in the Blair Native Plant Garden. Each child chose a plant and followed its changes over six weeks.
News from the Outdoors
The Nature Detectives returned from Spring break with gusto, examining Woodend to see what had changed since we had been gone! We noticed buds on the trees, birds singing, as well as frogs and ducks in the pond.
The Detectives were excited to prep for Earth Day at Audubon, thinking about all the ways we know how to take care of the planet! On the sanctuary, the Detectives dove deeper into natures recyclers on a Naturalist hike with Hummingbird. We visited the compost station, and went on a hunt for decomposers in the forest. The Detectives have become expert slug, worm, and millipede wranglers!
We also thought more about the word conservation, and how we are mindful experts of the world around us. We expanded those thoughts onto the idea of invasive species, and took to the trails to hunt for a local invasive- garlic mustard! The kids filled an entire trash bag (no small feat) of the plant, and were quite proud of themselves!
We ended that week with our very own Earth Day celebration, in the form of a Planet Pal parade! Each kid got create their own Planet Pal cape and recycled instrument, with which we marched and sang at the Mansion!
The Preschool also partners with the Audubon Birdathon this time of year! Both classes embark on a birding unit, where the children learn to identify different birds by their colors and calls! We began the unit by discussing things we already know about birds, constructing a giant birds nest in the Amphitheater!
On our Naturalist Hike with Hummingbird, she introduced us to different types of bird beaks- and how they can be used to identify what different birds eat! The Detectives hiked around Woodend, looking for different types of bird foods, and discerning which type of bird beak might enjoy said food as a tasty snack.
Both classes also enjoyed a birds of prey lesson, thinking about which hooked beak and talon sporting birds we have here at Audubon. The AM class enjoyed bringing a stuffed, great horned owl down from the Mansion, while the PM classes played a giant game of Hawk-and-Seek, where the seekers transformed into hawks, while the hiders pretended to be mice!
News from the Indoors
Inside the classroom, we had a variety of recycled art and bird themed projects! In preparation for Earth Day, the Detectives were greeted by two new Planet Pals during meeting. We met a super decomposer named Squirmy Wormy, as well as an expert in mindfulness- Peace Pal!
The students had lots of fun creating their capes for our Earth Day celebration. By adding fabric scrapes and paint, the kids transformed into their very own planet pals! To add to the excitement, the kiddos were also able to create shakers out of recycled cardboard tubes and seeds!
For our Mindful Monday lesson this go around, the Detectives learned a new mindful game to play! The kids had to practice their mindful bodies, while passing claps, silly noises, and even imaginary balls around the circle.
Birds found their way into the classroom this past week, by building nests in the block area, finding worms in the lab table like robins, and practicing our identification skills with a bird matching game!
Continuing our beak investigations, we created hummingbird inspired art with water colors. The students were able to emulate how the hummingbird drinks its nectar by using eye droppers to paint their creations!
Both classes were very interested in the birds of prey lesson, creating paper airplanes and hawk/owl/eagle kites to take to the skies! It was so interesting to watch the children work, meticulously adding different colors to create Red shouldered hawks, great horned owls, and even golden eagles!
Books we Read
The Peace Book by Todd Parr
Duck and Goose by Tad Hills
Have you Seen Birds? by Joanne Oppenheim
ZooBooks about Birds of Prey
Weekly Top Hits
Reduce, Resuse Recycle (The More we Get together)
Reduce, reuse, recycle, recycle,
Reduce, reuse, recycle, recycle,
It’s easy to do!
Cus’ your trash and my trash
Make up way too much trash!
Reduce, reuse, recycle, recycle,
It’s easy to do!
This Old Earth (This old Man)
This old earth, needs our help,
to stay fresh and clean and green,
with a pick it, pitch it in, toss it in the can,
this old earth needs a helping hand!
I met a Bird
I met a Cardinal at the playground gate,
that cardinal was my playmate,
that cardinal said..Birdie Birdie Birdie (x3)
…Woodpecker…Peck Peck Peck…
…Dove…Coo Coo Coo…
Spoiler Alert: The next two weeks we are finishing our bird studies and examining planting!
Spring has fully sprung. Woodend is painted twenty shades of green and alive with insects, snakes, turtles, frogs, and birds. Foxes, raccoons, and deer leave their prints for us to follow. Dens are dug, nests built. And everywhere the children explore, discover, ask questions, and play. Each day there is something new. Each day new words and new ideas flow all around us in a never-ending stream. We pluck them from the warm spring air and add them to our webs of knowledge. Learning is as simple as opening your eyes and wondering. We feel so lucky to have this bounty around us.
With this bounty all around us, we are experimenting with shortening the formal teacher-directed time in our program. The children need the time to revel in all there is to see, and time to “get up steam” in their play. There is still never enough time.
The Oaks have been building their own obstacle course at Hilltop. They talk about where it starts and ends, what else is needed, and how to make it even more challenging.
In celebration of Earth Day, we went on a long hike around Woodend to look for spring wildflowers and…garlic mustard (an invasive plant). Chelsea taught the Oaks a new word: eradicate. They are now master garlic mustard eradicators!