Woolly Bears Forest Kindergarten
In this blog, we share our instructors' reflections and stories on their young students' explorations in nature and community.
It was a beautiful, warm, sunny day at Bartholomew’s Cobble! We started the day with a game, song, and circle with the Cobblers. After that, we hiked up to Camp Hemlock, practicing our poison ivy ID on the way. At camp, we ate a snack and heard a story about how Julie made and spent the night in a debris hut.
Happy Leek Day! The day started out cloudy and cool and quickly warmed up to be a beautiful day at Woolly Bears!
After a song, a game, and a circle with the Cobblers, we headed to camp for snack and a story. On our way to camp, we observed how much the forest has changed in just one week. We heard a Native American legend about how the flower came to be. After that, we decorated our camp with a banner and balloons for Leek Fest.
The Story of the Day today is from Tucker, who is tied with Lila for "Best counselor ever"! They both bring so much knowledge, skills, passion for learning, kindness and caregiving, hard work, fun, and all around and unique awesomeness to this program. Having counselors in our programs allows for more one-on-one time with the kids, healthy and positive role models that are closer to the children's ages, and mentoring and learning across generational lines and on different and layered levels.
After a fun morning circle of songs and a game of trying to catch each other's fingers, the Woolly Bears set off on their adventures. We met up with Miss Maple, a friend who is preparing to show us the magic of what happens to trees in the spring time. We will be observing and taking pictures of the growth of the leaves coming out of the buds during the rest of this semester.
We walked all the way to our site, spotting fresh deer and human tracks until we found the surprise at our spot by the pond! Dan had cleared out our fire circle and left us a HUGE pile of snow to make a quinzee, or traditional quickie snow shelter. We all sent up thanks to him and headed to the tent to start a fire in the wood stove and have snack.
We started off our day with a tale about how Rabbit is the way he is today. After a large snowstorm, Rabbit was in search of a good home since his usual resting place was completely covered up. He climbed high up on a tree to get a better view of where he would be able to rest, but found that he was unable to get back down!
We have only 3 rules at Woolly Bears, which we like to think of as more of a vital basket to hold the culture we seek to cultivate and live within. If you're following the 3 Respects—respect for others, self, and the earth—you're in pretty good shape as a person and a community! After everyone shook their tail in agreement with these 3 respects, we could move on to the fun!
Today was another delightful day—cool, misty, and wet. We played a new game: Wolves vs. Moose! It involves stealth, agility, and embodying different animal forms. We talked about how Wolves operate as a team, and how Moose protect themselves. We also began practicing our storytelling skills. Using our Tikta'liktak story, we worked on sharing the important events and highlights when retelling a story. We will be fine-tuning those skills in preparation for a theatrical performance of Tikta'liktak!
The day began with morning circle and a game about a weasel named Bob. Bob is both predator and prey, and must always operate in the world with extremely high levels of awareness. We learned who eats Bob (eagle, fox) and who Bob eats (mice, voles). We learned to feel empathy for the hunter and the hunted, as neither has an easy life, just different ways of being in the world.
The blend of sun and wind today helped us all feel so alive and cheerful. We started the day with a bow and drill and hand drill race between instructors. The children scraped cedar bark and added cattail and milkweed fluff to make a tinder bundle to catch the first coal. Some of the children saw the magic of friction fire making for the first time, and hopefully the experience lit a fire of inspiration in them for learning earth skills.
Today’s story in our circle guided us into the world of a family who was travelling to find food in the winter, when their youngest member, a baby, fell off the sled. Luckily, no child of the Earth is ever left behind and so all the animals gathered around the child to keep him warm until the family came back to find him. This is a beautiful tale about how humans used to be able to communicate with animals more freely and trusted in Mother Nature.
We are now in the depths of fall. The trees are mostly bare, the calls of the geese have quieted, and the last yellow goldenrod flower has browned and dried.
After a morning circle packed with gratitude, songs, and Show and Tell (including a snake and a skull!) we "snaked" our way to the sunny field for a snack and story. I told a story about the collapsing of a Rainbow Bridge and the spilling of its colors onto the autumn leaves, which, clearly, has happened every autumn since!
Today we spent some time at the swinging vines! The thick, sturdy grapevines provided at least an hour's worth of spirited play. Along the way, we peacefully took turns waiting in line to play, peeled off the bark and made some crude rope, and piled up some more leaves for a landing pad!
Today we had a very special visit from Rainbow Crow. She told us that we have been excellent stewards of the land and she has noticed how well we are taking care of each other, too! As a gift, Rainbow Crow gave each of us a nature name. The magical thing about nature names is that we don't choose them, rather, they choose us! There is always something they can teach us about the world and about ourselves!
On the way to our campsite we noticed that a large landmark Maple had fallen since last week. The kids quickly took to exploring it, calling it a "pirate ship"! At our campsite, we found a note from Old Man Coyote, explaining how he had taken my bag of horse chestnuts and pine cones. He told us where he was camping (directly uphill at the lone hemlock tree).
Another beautiful day spent in the forest! After morning circle, we got right to business at our campsite. Groups of Wooly Bears self-organized into large stick finders/movers, debris gatherers, and fire makers. On predominantly their own initiative, we had significantly added to our shelter and made a successful fire after only 15 minutes. We had snack around the fire and acknowledged how nice it was to be back together in the forest, listening to the sounds of nature, noticing the steady breeze from the northeast, and feeling thankful for warm fire.
The leaves are changing colors, some birds are starting south, and there's an invigorating nip in the air. At morning circle, we put on our Deer Ears, opened our Owl Eyes, tuned in the rest of our senses, and paused, taking in the shift in seasons and the Earth around us. We shared what we sensed and shared our gratitude, as well.
What a fantastic fall day! After separating from the parents after circle, we hiked farther into Ashley Field, and introduced ourselves with a name game, called Snapping Turtle's Feast.
After our morning circle, the Woolly Bears headed into the forest. Along the trail to our campsite, we noticed many things: the leaves falling and starting to accumulate on the forest floor, the roots of a beautiful yellow birch tree that we wisely stepped carefully around to avoid tripping, and one of those black and white caterpillars (White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar) that can indeed cause an itchy rash if touched.