October Explorations 2016

With October’s arrival we flew headlong into fall, with many wet and windy days, cooler temperatures, and noticeably darker afternoons. The first week of October we finished up our study of trees. We read the book “We Planted a Tree” by Diane Muldrow and discussed many of the wonderful things trees do for us - giving us clean air to breathe, fruit, nuts, wood, and syrup; holding the soil in place which in turn helps hold in rainwater; feeding animals and giving them homes; and adding beauty to our parks and yards. At the lake we made leaf boats of Black Cottonwood leaves and other materials, then tested to see how well they would float, on their own or with tiny stone passengers. I was impressed with the continual dedication and experimentation of some of our shipbuilders, even when wind and choppy water caused shipwreck after shipwreck!

In our second week of October we focused in on spiders, which get a lot of attention this time of year. We started noticing spiders and their webs nearly everywhere we looked: orb-web weavers such as Araneas in the tall grass and blackberry brambles at the edge of the lower field, dome web weavers in the branches of huckleberry bushes, funnel webs in the deep ridged bark of Douglas Fir trees (their spiders usually hidden deep in the funnel, out of sight), sheet webs near the ground throughout the forest, tangle/cobwebs scattered in bushes. We also found some jumping spiders, which do not weave webs, by shaking cedar branches over a sheet and then scooping the spiders into bug boxes for observation. Even though I heard a lot of “creepy” feelings about spiders at the beginning of class, everyone loved hunting for them, observing them in bug boxes, and gazing at their incredible webs.

One of our favorite, ever-present elements of this very wet October was all the mushrooms. The grass throughout our park hid countless tiny, springy brown and white mushrooms, and the kids soon realized that walking through the fields was quite challenging when trying not to squash any of the delicate mushrooms. On logs and stumps along our forest trails we found turkey tails and jelly fungus such as witch’s butter, and on the forest floor found coral fungus, puffballs and some huge amanitas - as much as 8 inches across! We emphasized that we will never eat any mushrooms we find in our park, since some can be poisonous, but we do encourage close observation including touch, since the toxins of poisonous mushrooms cannot be absorbed through the skin. I was impressed with the sharp eyes of some of our preschoolers, who pointed out every little pin-sized mushroom cap and eagerly journaled each discovery. They practiced wonderful concentration and control as they searched the fields and trails for each cluster of fungus, carefully considered each step so as not to crush any delicate caps, and ever-so-gently touched them to compare texture and feel the feathery gills or spongy pores underneath the cap. We heard some wonderful descriptors comparing the way different mushrooms felt - slimy or dry, smooth or rough, springy or solid. We also searched for the stringy white mycelium underground or beneath the bark of decaying logs and branches, and talked about how the mushroom is the “fruit” of the mycelium, like the apples of an apple tree.

For Halloween, with its connection to costume and disguise, we discussed camouflage and looked out for the many adaptations animals in our forest have that allow them to blend into their environment. When asked why animals might want to use camouflage, most of the kids knew prey would want to hide from predators to avoid being eaten, but they didn’t immediately consider how predators also use camouflage to remain hidden from their prey. This inspired some predator-and-prey and hide-and-seek games. We all enjoyed the “Where in the Wild” books by David M. Schwartz, and loved searching for the animals camouflaged on each page. We noticed how the colors, patterns and textures of some of our often-seen creatures aided in their camouflage, such as squirrels, beetles, slugs, crows and various spiders.

Throughout this month leaves covered the ground and led to many crunching, jumping, throwing leaf parties. A bike race on the 15th left trails of soft mud across the park’s grass, lending to many hours of mud play - from delicate squishing, shaping and boot-stomping to sliding, rolling and head-to-toe mud coverage. The month’s record-breaking rainfall created some fantastic puddles, which were used for joyous puddle-jumping and spontaneous games of sink-or-float. We spent a few of the wettest days down in what we call the Hollow, where the dense tree cover protects us from the heaviest rain. These are some of my favorite days, spent exploring for mushrooms and lichen, watching fall leaves float down through the mist, and seeing the campers immerse themselves in imaginative games and construction projects. This is such a beautiful and exciting time to be outside!

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