This past snow season was extremely exciting and dynamic in our Vancouver program. One of the aspects of the forest that comes alive in snow is the movement of animals we normally don't perceive. Often unseen, snow records their movements and the stories of their lives with such startling clarity at times it makes the heart quicken! The joyful thrill of following an animal's trail was an extremely memorable experience for children in our program last year - some of our alumni remembered these experiences and were fairly bursting with excitement to revisit tracking on our very first snowy day.
Some of the animals we tracked this year included: raccoons, crows, skunks, ravens, varied thrush, squirrels, dogs, coyotes, and each other. Learning to notice and wonder about tracks opens up another, deeper layer of seeing in the forest that previously may not have been there. All of a sudden, every mark, every strange depression, every bump in the snow becomes a potential track, leading to all kinds of interesting questions. For example: does rain make tracks? do people make tracks? who made this track, and what were they doing? were they running or walking? where does this animal live?
skunk tracks. photo by Caitlan Read.
In our three year old program, we did a lot of tracking each other, especially when our groups were small. One small group would head off to a hiding spot with a teacher, while the other group waited with the other teacher. After a while the second group would head off to track the other, finding footprints as they went and finally, delightedly, finding each other.
At Jericho we did a lot of tracking at the beach and near the forest. Since we get less snow as we are closer to the water, tracking takes a different form. We do find animal tracks in the sand at the beach, especially dogs, coyotes, crows, geese, and ducks. But what captured the children's attention most these past few months was looking for signs of rabbits. By calling attention to the signs of animals we see in the forest, such as scat, digs, and chewed vegetation, we invite children into an ever-deepening investigation of nature's inner workings and the lives of animals, those who live their entire lives in these places. In order to investigate this fully, children need time to ask questions, make up stories about what they see, and make lots and lots of guesses about what they have encountered, without fear of judgement, shame, or "getting it wrong." It is the skill and spirit of questioning, wondering, humbling ourselves, and working to look deeper with all of our senses and through our play, that we can come to meet the natural world as it is with more and more clarity and connection.
Another delight of the cold temperatures this year was investigating ice. While the cold weather lasted there was an enormous puddle near the beach which was in a different state of freezing every time we checked. As facilitators, spending the whole day at Jericho, we got to witness the changes in the ice from morning to afternoon. The children enjoyed working on their balance and coordination as they challenged themselves to cross from one end of the frozen puddle to the other. There was also the rich sensory experience of cracking ice with our feet. The children undertook interesting and thrilling investigations of the response of moderately thick ice under the weight of their bodies (with a few inches of water underneath). Testing the ice's strength with different sorts of sticks and stones was also a source of excitement, delight, and learning. Again and again the children requested the chance to "check on" the puddle to find out its state, and as a child-lead program we were happy to provide the space and time for them to investigate this rare opportunity.
The melting of the ice provided a tangible sense of the passage of time and the cycling of the seasons. Visiting the same places week after week, we built a narrative about the changes we have seen in the forest and on the pond since the ice began. I think there is something very connective about this, which is brought about when as a group we express our questions and wonderings, and gather information together through our senses.