Local schools were closed for a fall break, and many of our participants were out of town or had other plans for the day. A handful of intrepid explorers rallied for an afternoon adventure despite the change in school schedule. We had planned for a scavenger hunt, but decided to put that on hold for the whole group the following week. Instead, we headed out for a small group forest rove.
Our mission for the day was to review fire building techniques and fire safety practices, and then to put it all together to cook our own biscuit on a stick. If you haven’t tried it before, cooking “bread on a stick” requires few ingredients and is a nice change of pace from sweet s’mores. The process demands a solid dose of time and attention, and is a rewarding way to practice patience.
Our small group discussed the pros and cons of different fire building strategies before settling on a log cabin (“for its stability”) with a teepee on top (“because it lights so well”). It proved to be a successful hybrid, and although it was challenging to get the teepee to remain upright at first, they did get it to work. Before lighting the fire, we paused to hunt for our baking sticks, which need to be much thicker than your standard marshmallow roasting stick.
Each child had the option to practice lighting a match. We moved hair and clothing out of the way, held the matchbox away from our bodies, and tried striking a match against the box and away from our bodies. One by one, each child lit a match, with the degree of adult assistance they requested, then blew that match out and tossed it into the fire.
It was then time to light the fire and help it along, so we would have some cooking coals. The biscuit batter went onto the sticks, and it was time to cook! We found it challenging to cook the biscuits all the way through, but we did get some tasty crust on the outside. Next time, we’ll either make smaller biscuits, or bake them longer. A touch of honey or maple syrup on top of the final product was an added treat.
We finished up our snacks, used our water bucket to extinguish the fire, and once the coals were cool enough to touch, we gathered our belongings and headed home.
We frequently hear owls around here, Barred Owls in particular, and especially in the late evening and early morning hours. The name Owl Woods stems from the presence of these amazing birds in the surrounding forest, and the wisdom, intuitive knowledge, and magic they symbolize. The owl calls or “hoots” we typically hear and associate with the animals are just one of many vocalizations owls may use to claim and protect their territory, ward off predators, or otherwise communicate with their nocturnal comrades.
To begin our afternoon, we gathered on stools and benches to talk about what we know about owls. We learned more about their many colors and sizes, and the special qualities and uses of their eyes, ears, wings, feathers, beaks, heads, and talons. We examined the fur and bones packed together in a real owl pellet. And then, because no one wants to sit still for too long, we split into our groups to talk about other animal adaptations and explore the woods. Each group also stopped by an “adaptation station” where we tried on animal ears and noses and talked about how those different animals use their unique qualities (elephant trunks, mouse whiskers, camouflaged fur, speed, size, etc.) to their advantage.
While exploring the woods, one group found a stick shelter the children have been building and continued construction. They took turns practicing with a handsaw to trim dead branches and hemlock bows and then added them to the shelter. The other group ventured to the apple orchard to find tracks, since the apples are a source of food for deer, squirrels, birds, and many other animals. They found a few trails made by deer, identified some tracks, and saw some geese fly overhead.
The groups reconvened to reflect on our adventure. Some of the children had drawn animal tracks and had the group try and guess what animal they were. We finished the afternoon playing in the backyard, a time with few directions that the children all seem to enjoy!
PS – Our pictures are somewhat limited, by choice. Documenting our adventures certainly is fun, but constantly taking photos is a distraction from the discovery at hand.
Our themes for the week were trails and trees. When the kids arrived, we had snacks and talked about our plan for the day. We also played a few rounds of “Simon Says,” encouraging our energy-filled students to run back and forth to different features on opposite sides of the yard. The seasons and temperatures are changing so we talked about the importance of taking time when we arrive to dress for the weather. It was about sixty degrees – definitely chilly compared to the past two weeks.
When it was time to start our adventure, we split into two groups. The children closed their eyes and picked colored popsicle sticks out of a bag to form the day’s “red” and “yellow” groups, then set off into the woods.
Our group ran for about 5 minutes until we got to the first trail junction. We made sure to go left at each junction to make a loop. We arrived at two bridges crossing a creek. There was a stream going through the creek bed so we looked for some tracks in the mud. I pointed out some canine and a few deer tracks. We observed them up close and I talked about how canine and feline tracks differ from each other. Feline tracks are more circular and the toes are spread out. Most canine tracks are narrow and show claw marks. The kids asked about Mountain Lions and whether they live in Vermont. I shared that people have seen signs of them in the past, and currently, there are none known of in Vermont.
We talked about how a water source benefits the forest and the animals that inhabit it because it allows for a diverse ecosystem to thrive. The other theme for our day was trees, so we all collected a few different leaves to share when we joined the other group. Most of the children know what a maple tree and leaf look like, but are just discovering that there are many different maple tree species. The leaves differ in size, structure, and venation. Some species are easy to differentiate from others and some look almost identical.
The groups rejoined for a final activity and closing circle. The kiddos used crayons and paper to color over different surfaces, such as leaves, pieces of bark, rocks, tree trunks, and sticks, exposing different natural textures through their drawings. We talked as a group and shared highlights of our outings. Most in my group said they had fun running around and exploring the trails. Most in Amy’s group reported that they had fun making leaf rubbings and measuring trees/counting rings to estimate tree age. We will continue to watch the trails and trees change with the season in the weeks ahead.
Where do animals choose to live, and how do they build their homes? While we didn’t delve too far into this subject, we did talk this week about what animals need from their homes and their immediate surroundings. They need food, water, shelter from the elements, and security from predators. And we contemplated many different styles of animal homes, some of which we found on our woods walk: caves, dens, lodges, burrows, hives, nests, webs, shells, hollow logs, and more.
Our groups then spent the afternoon constructing shelters and mini-habitats of various scales. One team began building a shelter out of sticks and boughs. There’s room for 5 people inside, if those people are on the smaller size…..
Another crew checked out the old beaver lodge and the clay in the adjacent brook. They then constructed scaled down shelters, fairy houses, and clayscapes using the same materials beavers might use.
If you are wondering, you are correct that clayscape is not in the dictionary, but it is the best way I can describe the intricate and beautiful creations that emerged from found natural materials!