As November began here in central New Jersey, we found ourselves firmly rooted in the middle of Autumn - leaves were changing color from green to yellow and orange and red, while others went right to brown and fell early due to such a dry start to the season. The winds picked up making for some chillier days among tall trees. The children, though, being in their third month of Nature School, were building their resilience everyday and learning just how important gloved hands are on a cold day!
Sit spot reflections on these Autumn mornings noted many bird calls and sightings, especially of alarming blue jays, screeching red-tailed hawks, caw-ing American crows, and circling black vultures. The children also reported watching the wind move the evergreen limbs and feeling it blow across their cheeks, touching soft moss and silky mud as they silently connected to the earth while sitting at the base of a tree, and smelling the musk of the fallen leaves as they began to decompose.
Using the book Animals in Winter, written by Henrietta Bancroft and RIchard G. Van Gelder and illustrated by Gaetano di Palma as our guide, we began to discuss the various behaviors that animals exhibit as they prepare for winter. New vocabulary included the nature-based words: hibernation, migration, and adaptation. The children shared their previous knowledge that to hibernate means to sleep all winter, and to migrate means to move to a warmer place, but were not yet secure in their understanding of what it means to adapt. Once we connected it to their experience as humans, who adapt by turning up the heat inside their homes, put on warmer clothes and blankets, and eat warmer foods, they came to understand 'adapting' as meaning to change based on what's going on around you.
We turned these words into full-bodied learning by playing "Animals in Winter Charades." The children were eager to act out hibernating bears and migrating geese, but were surprised to learn that snakes, raccoons, and skunks also hibernate, while whales, moose, and hummingbirds migrate. To help solidify their new understanding of what adaptation means, we discussed that the fur color change of rabbits and foxes aid in their winter camouflage, and we tapped into observations of nut gathering by chipmunks and squirrels to aid in building up their winter food stores.
This game continued to be a favorite among the children throughout the month and we observed this playing out on the Climbing Tree as hibernating snails moving across the tree, migrating Monarchs flying up and down the trails on their way to Mexico, and adapting beavers moving logs from base camp to base camp to set up their winter lodge.
A few other books that inspired our play this month, included:
Fletcher and the Falling Leaves written by Julia Rawlinson and illustrated by Tiphanie Beeke
Extra Yarn written by Mac Barnett and illustrated by Jon Klassen, and
In November written by Cynthia Rylant and illustrated by Jill Kastner
Our month spent together creating mixed-age magic among tall evergreens finished up under a grey sky, with cold and rainy weather. We expressed gratitude for colorful yarn wrapping our [now predominantly] brown understory, for firewood that's been gathered for future Winter fires around the new pit that was built (we believe) as a gift from the gnomes, and for established friendships that encourage kindness, creativity, and provide helping hands.
"Whether the weather is nice, whether the weather is not.
Whether the weather is cold, whether the weather is hot.
We'll weather the weather, whatever the weather,
whether we like it or not!"