September’s Littlest Learners Nature Notes

Harvest – Producers, Consumers, Decomposers, counting, resilience, famous failures, Penology walk/sit spot

Our Littlest Learners year always starts in the month of September, and this year we welcome our largest group; some who have been in our programs before and about half who are new to the Farmstead. The month is spent getting to know each other, the rhythms of Littlest Learners, and our ‘classrooms’. There is change all about in the forest and for each of us as we adapt to our learning community – this is one reason we start the year off talking about resiliency. We started the year out in warm summer weather with a number of flowers (Dahlias, Scarlet rosemallow, cardinal flowers (red and blue), and Jewelweed) blooming. Making the seed pods of the Jewelweed spring open is an all-time favorite of the Littlest Learners. These late summer flowers really help us teach about producers with lots of diverse examples to explore within our classroom. Soon we will notice bright red seeds of our Dogwood trees forming and dropping to the ground. Few if any new flowers will bloom, and we will start to see our forest prepare to let go of all its green in preparation for Winter and the cooler months ahead. As the month goes on we will start to have stretches of wet foggy mornings and days then some sunshine and back to a stretch of wet and foggy.

It seems to be the month of the fuzzy caterpillars. We have seen big black ones with reddish stripes, white ones with some grey, and a yellow and black one. The big black fuzzy ones were seen the most – we even saw one getting consumed by ants! Towards the beginning of the month, we would still see the occasional Blue Swallowtail butterfly and by the end of the month, it seemed like the Yellowjackets where the overwhelming flying critter observed. When we teach about consumers we teach about food changes and use a set of nesting dolls that have been painted as a food chain to be able to show and model to our Littlest Learners the energy consumption of a food chain. Sometimes when the Yellowjackets were particularly invested in our lunches I was able to lead them in a conversation about where it may be in a food chain and what it was supporting as an alternative to building worry and angst about them being interested in our lunches. We also talked about how we have had some cooler mornings and that soon (likely in the next few weeks) we will have our first couple of hard frost evenings which is when we will see the Yellowjacket season come to end.

The wet weather in the middle of the month helped a lot of our decomposer mushroom friends fruit above ground adding a layer of awe and wonder to our forest observations and classroom learnings. We saw big white oyster mushrooms, bright orange mushrooms, turkey tail mushrooms, and lots of small white ones that we haven’t been able to identify. We set up a composting experiment in our forest burying food scraps, trash from snacks, and aluminum foil – we took a picture as it went in, and then dug it up a week later. All of the food scraps were GONE, everything else was still there. We buried it again and will visit it in another month. Our farm hand, Tanner, led the Littlest Learners in an amazing experience of inoculating a log with Blue Oyster mushroom plugs! They were so excited and we can’t wait to continue to observe and watch our inoculated log. We are learning that Decomposers are all over the forest and went on a couple of investigative hikes looking for them at different levels of the forest.

In our Moon Club phenology monthly sit spot students noticed on top of the above that the forest is really starting to change; leaves are falling and changing colors. During this month they added different nuts (acorn, hickory), a few unique rocks, some sticks, and a piece of moss to the class nature table. Additionally, they made some predictions about what their sit spot will look like at the end of the next moon cycle. Some of those predictions are: it will be winter and super snowy, that they will be able to see a lot further away, all the leaves will be off the trees, the holes they are digging will be full of water, and that some new plants will be growing.

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