December Discoveries 2016

After a mild fall, December graced us with the full winter experience: low temperatures, bare branches, chill wind, white misty breath, frost, and even snow! The wintry weather brought up conversations about how to stay safe and warm in the winter. We all worked on figuring out the best clothing combinations and practiced different ways of warming up, such as sipping on warm tea, running a lap around the field, or doing jumping jacks to bring the heart rate and body temperature up. We talked about how some animals hibernate during the winter, meaning they stay very still, their heart rate and breathing slow down, and their bodies get very cold. We took this opportunity to explore the connections between activity, body heat, breath, and heart rate. We had our own celebration of hibernation, for which the children created dens in the forest using low-hanging tree branches, sticks, dry leaves, evergreen boughs, and blankets from home. It was an extra cozy snack and tea time, with everyone huddled up in their dens!

The forest this month was noticeably more bare than it was for the previous months - we saw less insects, less leaves on our deciduous trees, fewer flowers. Madrona berries, which littered the ground around our camp throughout the fall, became scarce, and most of the delicate cap-and-stem mushrooms that popped up in the rainy season had melted back into the ground. We discussed how the loss of these food sources can make it more difficult for animals to find food in the winter, motivating some of them to migrate to warmer places where food is more plentiful. We read the book “Bird, Butterfly, Eel” by James Prosek, which follows the migration routes of barn swallows, monarch butterflies and American eels. Some of our campers recognized the barn swallows from last spring, when we would see them swooping from the seminary bell tower and skimming the fields to catch insects. We also took note of some of the birds that remain at the park through the winter, such as the crows, robins, Anna’s hummingbirds, mallard ducks and bald eagles.

This has been a cold December for Seattle, and we were lucky enough to get some snow. The heaviest snowfall came on a Friday, when we don’t have class, but we experienced some flakes in class one Monday, and had a few days of beautiful hard frost and ice. We spent hours exploring the frozen landscape, using magnifying glasses to more clearly see the shapes and patterns of the ice. We found that the muddy area by the corner of the old swimming pool had frozen solid, forming interesting ridges and sheets of ice, which were subjected to strength tests from boots and sticks. We found needle ice in the soil and some of our campers practiced carefully breaking off the biggest chunks to admire the castle-like structures, while others discovered the deep, satisfying crunch they made underfoot and the equally satisfying smash when thrown against the pavement. We found some puddles near the playground parking lot that had frozen over and were perfect for ice skating, which we soon found took balance, concentration and a willingness to fall! In some of the deeper puddles we were able to observe water moving under the ice when the ice was stepped on, and in some cases it was thin enough to break through with a boot or stick.

The following are some of the observations and inquiries I overheard during one of our ice explorations:

  • “What happens when we mix dirt or mud with frost?”

  • “It [the frost] looks like lots of little bits of ice.”

  • “Frost is frozen dew.”

  • “It looks like blurry white stuff.”

  • “I found some ice! It was teeny bits on grass.”

  • “I found ice, it cracks and it crunches.”

  • Child 1: “It’s really frosty here!” Child 2: “That’s because it’s in the shadow.”

  • “Did you notice that all the mud is dry? Because it’s icy. Feel it, it feels like gravel.”

  • “I think what happened is a dog stepped in here when it was mud so it was easy to make [the pawprints], then it froze so we can’t take them out.”

  • “There’s something about this frost. Some of it is spiky, and some isn’t.”

  • “Look, the ice is stuck to my glove!”

The presence of ice in our park certainly inspired many thoughtful observations and explorations!

In our final week before break we celebrated the Winter Solstice with crafts, stories and games. We learned what the solstice is - the shortest day of the year - and some of the ways it has historically been celebrated. In lieu of journals this week we took the time to write thank you notes and holiday greetings to our park rangers and aides, who work so hard throughout the year to keep the park safe, healthy and beautiful. It is so wonderful to have these exemplars of stewardship around us every day!

As 2016 comes to a close, I wish all of you a Happy New Year and a joyful holiday season. Here’s hoping you have the opportunity to get outside and enjoy the gradually lengthening days!

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