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The New Lebanon Woolly Bears Kick Off the Fall 2016 Semester!

Flying Deer Homeschool Program in Sheffield, MA for Ages 4 to 6.

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.

It was wonderful to see the kids' excitement upon entering the forest, already bonding and exuding joy as they do. We immediately began exploring our campsite. It took little to no coaxing to get the group excited about the tipi-like shelter I had begun constructing; on their own initiative, many kids began adding sticks, ferns, and leaves, and creating comfortable seating! Yesterday, I found a baby snapping turtle at our campsite and couldn't resist keeping him in a large tub filled with water and food for our crew to observe today. It was a thing of wonder and earthworms were quickly uncovered and caught to feed it!

After some food and getting to know each other, we ran uphill and played a game called Owl Woman and Chipmunk. The Woolly Bears were introduced to black walnut seeds, and entered the world of the chipmunk, searching for nuts and avoiding a multitude of predators. The "chipmunks" had 10 seconds to run and hide, keeping their seed in hand, before Owl tried to find them. The goal is to make it, without being seen, around the circle and back to their den. On the surface, this a fun game that allows kids to run and hide in the woods, and navigate the various obstacles in their way. Looking deeper, the 45 seconds in still silence behind the pine tree or beside the log is time well spent and a great way for kids to experience a calm quiet that they are choosing. The game also allows us to look into and playfully feel the life of the chipmunk—one of the more frequently seen and, I think, thus under-appreciated critters of our world!

After the game, most of the group worked diligently on setting up a fire with Emma, while others cracked up the black walnuts to discover what lay beneath. It was wonderful to see everyone working together on the fire, our first of the year and a welcome sight to all in early fall. We broke out our lunches around the fire and heard an African folk story featuring monkey and hyena, who by all accounts seems to be very much related to our favorite local trickster, Old Man Coyote. We acknowledged all that we had already done in a short time, including having all hands work to build a fire while treating each other, and the land, with kindness and respect. 

After lunch, we explored our surroundings, and the kids loved climbing up Grandfather Rock. "I can see everything from up here!" exclaimed an excited, self-confident first-time Wooly Bear. We ended with a wrap-up Story of the Day in our shelter, sharing many ideas about how we can best sneak up on the FORESTers next week and also make our shelter more camouflaged!

—Daniel Corral, Lead Instructor, and Emma Post; September 21, 2016