Is there anything more delicate and glorious than spring wildflowers? It's been such a pleasure to observe the small changes in the forest each week. Some flowers last a week, some less than a week, some more. I keep wishing they could all be there at the same time - but then I might miss each one's beauty.
We've identified some of these flowers as the weeks have passed - but not all. So if you know, please do tell! Can you find my favourite in this bunch - the jack-in-the-pulpit?
After jack-in-the-pulpit, these are my second favourite: dogtooth violets. Some people call them trout lilies. They are so delicate and lovely - but only last for about a week.
And this one comes in third place for me this year: bloodroot. Although I do not love the name. In April, it was one of the first flowers to pop up in the woodlands where we learn and play.
I love how the green leaf wraps around the stem like a little spring jacket. So cute. And that white flower looks like a birthday candle before it opens up.
At home this spring, we've been reading the novel Miracles on Maple Hill by Virginia Sorensen. Do you know when things in your life match up with things that you are reading? Well, that has happened with this book. As we've seen these wildflowers appear, we've read chapters where they were mentioned - so cool! In the book, they called bloodroot flowers "Easter candles" because they bloom around Easter and look like candles all lit up, and only last for a little while. Many other spring flowers were mentioned too, and at each one, my daughters sat wide-eyed in surprise that they could relate to them.
Here are some more bloodroot, opened to the sun:
Is there anything like tromping in a swamp in the springtime? This activity totally brings me back to my childhood: lugging buckets of pond water filled with tadpoles up to the farmhouse, and observing the miraculous transformation of tadpole to frog. The way that these tiny creatures change and evolve is absolutely stunning to watch unfold. I don't think I'll ever tire of it.
Last weekend, I led a swamp tromp at Huron Natural Area. We found frogs, insects, larvae, and one lone crayfish. It was a beautiful afternoon.
This past week, my daughters and I have tromped through my parents' pond twice in search of creatures. Braving tiny leeches, they scooped up mini tadpoles, large tadpoles (some with legs and some without), whirligig beetles, water boatman insects, and a red-spotted newt that was camouflaged so well in the pond weeds.
Our forest school groups learned about the tadpole to frog transformation this week too. Some were more eager than others to see what it felt like to hold a big tadpole.
We played some frog games and spied some other creatures who like to live around the ponds at Huron Natural Area.
I first tried this craft at an earth day celebration several years ago. We made bookmarks and pounded purple violets and yellow forsythia onto fabric. I loved seeing the flowers' colours and shapes transfer onto the fabric. One woman, I remember, wasn't so enamoured. "That's cruel to nature," she said, "Why are you doing this at a festival that honours the earth?"
I digress. This year, I learned a name for this artform: hapa zome. There are many ways to do this, but what worked for us was to put a block of wood on the table, put fabric on top, then place leaves and flowers on it, followed by paper towel. Then hammer! And hammer! And get all the juices you can out of the plant.
So much fun for any age. As long as you can wield a hammer, you can enjoy this craft. I'm thinking that some year, I'll make a quilt with blocks of flower-printed loveliness. Some year.
We used flowers and leaves that we could collect at this time of year: Japanese maple (beautiful red colour), pink apple blossoms, purple violets, yellow dandelions, green dandelion leaves and 3 leaf clovers. It was magical to watch the children open the paper towel to see what had been printed on the fabric.
We have a dream... that more children in the KW area would be outdoors, learning about nature on a regular basis.
So for the past 4 weeks, I worked with one kindergarten class and one Grade 1/2 class at Riverside Public School in Elmira. They are lucky to have a forest and creek within easy walking distance from their school.
On our "Forest Fridays", each class spent about 1.5 hours in this forested area for 4 weeks. It was amazing to see all of the changes we observed in that time. The forest went from bare trees to full foliage - spring really sprang! The children's clothing and the weather patterns went like this:
week 1: snowpants, hats and mitts (cool, 5 degrees or so, still a tiny bit of snow on the ground in pockets of the forest)
week 2: spring jackets (warm, 15 degrees or so)
week 3: shorts and t-shirts (hot, 28 degrees and humid)
week 4: spring jackets and umbrellas (cloudy and a sprinkle of rain, 13 degrees or so)
We started week 1 with an inquiry into homes. Each class read A House is a House for Me by Mary Ann Hoberman. Such a great, classic book!
After gathering in the forest, we did an activity from the Into Nature guide called "Memory Sticks." It's sort of like a scavenger hunt where children decide what to find - what interests them, what they wonder about. In no time at all, their sticks were filled with woodland treasures. This helped them explore the space and see small details that they were curious about.
Then we came back to the idea of homes. What is the forest a home for? I introduced the groups to some forest gnomes who were looking for some woodland homes. Here are some of them, waiting for their homes to be built:
We talked about what homes are for, and what homes could include. Then the children were off, choosing a spot, then starting construction. There were a variety of gnome homes created: some in treehouses, some in hollow logs, some with elaborate canopies of leaves. Some children worked in groups, and some by themselves. It was wonderful to see the variety of creations. One gnome had a chest for his collectibles. Another gnome had a basement for his secrets. Many gnomes had beds, pillows, and blankets. Several had chefs who made salads for them to eat. These gnomes were very well cared for!
Other weeks included some art activities. We made friends with some trees in our area of the forest, and brought out their "personalitrees" with clay.
We discovered some forest neighbours along the way:
Another art project one week was "hapa zome", or the art of hammering the heck out of flowers and leaves and using their natural pigments to make prints on the fabric.
Each week, our 1.5 hours went way too quickly. Here's a peek into some other activities we experienced:
Thanks, Riverside, for a great Forest Friday experience!
Hammers, Huge Swings, and the Freedom to Play