The past two weeks have been centered around preparing for our first celebration of the year, our Apple Harvest Celebration. The children used our apple peeler and corer to spin apples into spirals, then chop them to put into our pot to cook for apple sauce. After cooking the apples until they were soft, the children helped mill them with our hand cranked food mill. After our delicious cider pressing last weekend, we had lots of apple mash left over and so we have been milling and milling it into apple sauce. On Thursday, we were able to enjoy some warm applesauce with our homemade bread for snack. Many more jars of the sauce is in the freezer, waiting to be served throughout the year.
The construction behind our playground has been quite loud, but it has inspired the children in their play, as well as being exciting to watch. It has provided an interesting backdrop to our mornings outdoors. Lately, some of the themes that the children have been playing with is fort making under the picnic table or the climbing dome, Paw Patrol rescue pets, and also some individual and duet performances on a stage the children built with the blocks. Many times in the last week the whole group of kids has played together on a shared theme one of them thought up, then they would drift into smaller groups and then drift back again into a whole group. It is exciting to watch them as they think up new ideas, try them out with friends, think of something new, rest, then come back to an earlier game. This is what I want to protect in the children; this ability and time to let play unfold without too much input and shaping by adults. Working together and also finding time alone, these moments are crucial to the brain development and social development of the child. This is the brain at play, which will be needed later in life to solve more abstract problems.
The children have been settling into the new school year and have been finding new games to play with one another that they love coming back to. Recently a popular scenario was the fire truck and the children enjoyed dragging chairs into a row, and much care was taken to put on their fire hats (silks wrapped around their heads), and fasten their seat belts (crocheted ropes). In fact, in games like this, children often enjoy putting far more energy into setting up the scenario than in actually acting out the scenario. So the enjoyment they get is in setting up the "fire truck", dressing themselves up, arranging "hoses", than in getting out and putting out "fires". But really it's this act of imagining possibilities together that is so beneficial to the burgeoning social being.
The children have been helping with changing our garden over to fall plantings. The tomatoes have come down and have been replaced with arugula, beet and tatsoi seeds. They helped strip the basil plants and shell our last remaining pole beans. Some kale, radishes and more carrots have been planted, and a few carrots harvested as well!
Our morning verse is a verse that we repeat all year and the children have learned it very well by now. Perhaps you can see if they can show it to you. This one is said and not sung:
Good morning dear Earth
Good morning dear sun.
Good morning dear stones,
and flowers, every one.
Good morning dear beasts,
and the birds in the trees,
Good morning to you,
And good morning to me!
We've been settling into our new year with new friends and new activities. On Thursday, the weather was so pleasant and the children were so engaged that we stayed out all day long. These first few weeks are focused around getting familiar with how we do things at school and our routine, as well as just getting to know one another. Our crafts are limited to perhaps some drawing or playdough, and of course our bread making. Children are learning our snack and lunch blessing, as well as our seasonal circle which gets added to bit by bit. Our stories even repeat themselves as children soak them in day after day. The story for the past two days was "Over In The Meadow". It's a simple story sung to the traditional "Over In The Meadow" song, and basically being a comforting story of animals with their mothers and a sense of "all is well". By repeating the story day after day, the children then like to make the story their own during playtime, and thus it can become a therapeutic activity for themselves whenever they need it.
Our Late Summer/Autumn Mealtime Blessing
For the golden corn and the apples on the trees
For the golden butter and the honey from the bees
For fruits and nuts and berries we gather on the way
We thank you for the food we eat, we thank you everyday.
Blessings on our food, our families, and our friends
We've been starting some of our late summer work in the garden. We pulled out our exhausted bush beans and the children pulled the beans off of the vines, and shelled the dry ones to reveal the beans inside. In their place we planted some kale and carrots. We were also lucky enough to harvest some nice big carrots. We washed them in the pump, peeled and chopped them, and had them with our snack on Wednesday. The carrot tops were fed to the guinea pigs. People sometimes ask, "Do you teach them about photosynthesis or have a curriculum around your plants?" I don't. We plant, we water, and if we're lucky, we harvest and eat. There is plenty of time in human lives for learning about botany, but now is the time to just wonder in it.
Our circle time is generally done inside after we have come in from our snack and playtime outside. We are doing a circle about a farmer who "rose at the break of the day, he got on his horse and he galloped away, galloped away..." He finds himself in an orchard and so we pick apples, put them into a pony cart and hitch up the ponies, eventually arriving home to polish our apples and make apple sauce. This circle will continue pretty much until our Apple Harvest Celebration in September, and afterwards we will make applesauce from our apple remains after cider making.
We've had a very warm winter, though it was nice to have a short taste of snow this winter. Our outdoor time has still been filled with turning on the hose, taking off jackets, and changes of clothes. One thing that the children have absolutely loved has been learning to do "under dogs" on the big swing, and pulling and pushing one another in the wagons. While of course it is the adult who is the go-to swing pusher, I like encouraging kids to ask their friends to push them instead. This may seem like laziness on the adult's part, but there are so many more benefits to children helping other children. The four year olds are proud of their unique ability to do an "under dog", and the younger ones just get a huge thrill each time a big friend does this for them. This encourages the older child to do it some more, and to get gratification from their hard work. There have certainly been some bumps as children learn that they must back up as a swing comes back towards them, but their growing delight in helping one another and learning to trust their peers is so much longer lasting than any bump.
The ground has stayed soft enough to continue to dig into it, and so water is hauled all around the play area, from sand box to mud kitchen, to experiment with different concoctions. While the poison ivy is away, we are also continuing our hikes as best we can. Picking vinca from the forest and using it to decorate mud cakes has been a favorite activity, as is nibbling some of the bitter greens and onion grass in the garden. It's even been warm enough to bring out the guinea pigs. Franny shuffled back up the rainbow bridge at the end of February, but she has a little spot beneath some parsley in our garden, and the other girls are enjoying having more clover to nibble all to themselves.
I like to say that February was a Valentine's month, as we spent the second half of January and the first two weeks of February actually making the Valentine's, and we weren't able to finish and pass them all out until the week after February 14th! Nevertheless, it was such fun to craft these Valentines together, and really, what else are you going to do in February? The children loved passing out their cards, and I loved thinking up different card ideas.
We've also added a few more story props and these children are always sharing a little story with one another.
We had a lovely Advent season in Appleseeds this year. The children added a small something to our Advent wreath each day, and put stars up on our winter scene. For the first week of Advent, each day at snack one child would pick an item representing the mineral world to place on the wreath. Some children even brought in a favorite stone from home, and that went on the wreath as well. During the second week, items from the plant world were chosen; a nut, some wheat, some holly, and a pinecone were added on day by day. Because the third week was our last, we added both human and animal figures. It was a crowded wreath, but lovely all the same. Our story during Advent was called "The Star Dipper", and is about a girl who goes into the woods to fetch some water from the stream for her ill mother. On her way home, she meets animals and people who need water and each time she gives them a drink, her dipper turns from first tin to bronze, then silver, then gold, and then finally upon giving her mother a drink, it floats up and becomes the Big Dipper in the sky, as a reminder to everyone to be kind to those we meet and willing to offer help and care. If you are able to during these cool, clear nights, point out the big dipper to your children.
We kept our days and activities simple to help create a place of calm anticipation during the holiday season. The children created a small winter painting day by day, doing a small part of it each day until it was complete. Their second project was a wool felted ornament. They felted wool around a styrofoam ball, and then, inspired by our razzle dazzle pumpkins a couple months ago, we stuck pins and sequins into the ball. The children love using the pins to stick through the tiny sequin hole, and they make a satisfying crunching noise when you push them into the styrofoam. We may see some razzle dazzle Easter eggs later on....
Actively editing our activities during this holiday season has helped me to consider what I hope to create for our New Year. The truth is that the busy holiday season is really not THAT much busier than any other time of year in our country. As adults, we have to very carefully edit our time and actively choose to slow ourselves down. Children can help to be our guides in that, as long as we don't make the assumption that they must be entertained. It is enough to simply allow them to BE in the outdoors and in their play, and its a soothing reprieve from the world when we allow our adult selves to just BE with them. I am so grateful to have the privilege of just being with these children.
We have been celebrating our way through Autumn and enjoying all the beauty it offers us outdoors. On our forest hikes, we've loved watching the leaves fall all around us, or shake a little tree and watch the leaves all rain down. Our chilly mornings mean that we're starting inside now and going out once the sun is shining a little warmer outside. For the harvest walk, children decorated their crowns with sequins and leaves, and painted their capes with autumn hued watercolors. After Halloween, the children enjoyed decorating pumpkins with pins, beads, and sequins. Later in the month, lanterns were prepared for our (very windy) lantern walk.
The children have gotten acquainted with our woodland hikes at this point. The constant stepping over and under and avoiding thorns or holes has given way to more familiarity and ease on our walks. New nooks and vines have been discovered and the children are often eager to get to their favorite places and sad when it's time to return. We'll continue these walks during December. They provide a soothing antidote to the rush and excitement of the season. In our nursery, Advent is observed not so much in an overt Christian way, but in a way that is meant to simply be a quieter and reflective observation, taking cues from the darker days and what nature is offering to us.
We have had a busy September and October here at Appleseeds. We pulled up the tomatoes in the garden and have planted arugula, kale, collards, turnips, beets, lettuce, and fava beans. In our front yard, the children also helped to plant a persimmon tree, which was quickly joined by another persimmon and three paw paw trees. We have been busy with seasonal crafts; making an autumn banner, pressing apples, making applesauce, making autumn crowns, capes and wands...
We've been enjoying the applesauce from our Apple Harvest Celebration, and we have enough to last for many, many more weeks thanks to all of the apples brought in by families.
We have started taking our forest hikes now that the poison ivy is dying down. It is a tremendous challenge to children because there is no clear path, so they have to constantly either step over or around or under the vines or sticks. But they feel so proud when they have climbed a steep slope by climbing vines, or when they manage to get through a mess of vines to find a cozy little forest home tucked into the branches of some low growing vine covered trees.
Inside, we have added some new items that have enhanced the children's play time. We have some new autumn trees and a beautifully carved wooden boy, girl, and gnome, some wooden arches and a home made heavy baby doll. The children have really taken to doll play this year, taking turns being babies, mothers, fathers and siblings. Doll play is a wonderful way to bring out the nurturing side of children.
One of our stories in October has been about a little hedgehog who must search for a home when his leaf pile nest is blown away by the autumn wind. He meets an autumn fairy who is busy painting all the leaves on the trees, but who tells him to "follow the path of the sun". He finds a snug little pumpkin and makes his winter home there, blanketed by the falling leaves. The next story we've told is based on the story of "The Turnip" wherein a boy named Hugin enlists the help of his animal friends to pull a pumpkin from his garden so that he can make a jack-o-lantern for Halloween. The children tell the stories to one another in their play time, and I believe in telling the stories themselves, they begin to absorb the values inherent in the stories: a feeling of safety in the world, the help available from friends and loved ones, the beauty of the changing seasons.
With September still being so warm and some of our garden waning, we've been slowly but surely pulling out what is spent, and planting some seeds for the fall and winter. The children particularly love the watering part and have no problem being watered themselves. On Thursdays, they help pick up pine cones in the front yard, and we've been noticing the light brown "squirrel snack" pine cones, which are those that have been nibbled. Just a small sign that the season is changing. Inside, the older children like to tell stories, sometimes setting up a "campfire" and tents to create a good spot for storytelling.
Our story for a couple of weeks was "The Magic Fish" about a man who catches a fish that can grant wishes. The man keeps going back and asking for more and more things until eventually he winds up with exactly what he winds up with and lives contentedly ever after. The children made a couple of fish crafts for fun, and eventually acted out the story (with help). This week, we started our apple-picking themed circle time, which is one of my favorites as it's the first I ever learned.
Our new year has just begun and we are greeted with some new faces! The children are still watching carefully and exploring the space to begin to understand what it's all about. Our old friends introduced the new ones to the guinea pigs and the garden, and how we celebrate birthdays! Our story this week is one that I find fitting for this summer season and new beginning; it's a story of a little fish who finds a nice big shell to live in and is joined in turn by unique and kind friends. They each make space for one another in their shell and live happily together in their underwater garden. During our inside playtime, the children like to use my story props to re-tell it to one another.
We've been practicing our summer circle time inside and it seems that the children's favorite verse is one where they get to log roll across the floor as we say, "Daisies so bright, grasses so green, tell me I pray, how do you keep clean? Summertime showers, summertime rain, wash dusty flowers all clean again".
We made our bread together this week, as we will every week this year. It's a wonderful sensorial experience to make bread together. While we knead it, we sing a song about kneading our dough for our snack time. Once it is kneaded, the children make it into a shape and we bake it. So the children are experiencing the feel of flour being sprinkled onto their hands and the table, the squish of the dough, they're hearing a rhyming song, and later smelling the fragrance of the bread filling our play space. It's one of the richest sensory experiences of our week and the children love it.
Summer went by so quickly and we enjoyed the warm summer mornings with crafts, car washes, kid washes, and slip n' slides. I love summer as a time to break out some of the ideas that have been in the back of my mind and just do them. Summer winds up being a time to test out different projects and crafts and perhaps bring that with me into the school year. And all the colors! My brain unwinds enough to gain new inspiration. Even though it is such a hot time of year, and generally my least favorite season, our time in summer camp makes it my favorite time for gathering new ideas. I hope the children enjoyed it as much as I did!
Pirate ships and outdoor concerts were a popular theme in their outdoor play. There were some unique songs of "I'm gonna rock and roll all day and party all night long". We painted with ice on big drop cloths, and pipettes on handkerchiefs. We made some pancakes outside during our "Three Boy Week". Popsicles were never forgotten, thanks to the children's unique inner popsicle timers. And the guinea pigs were fed lavishly from our bean tee pees, from which the children loved finding the purple pole beans.
Inside, once the morning heat was too much to bear, we would have a cool-down snack and play for awhile. Many "campsites" were built and stories of the beach or underwater gardens were told.