Happy (chilly!) new year!

Brrrr! Frozen hair!

Brrrr! Frozen hair!

Somehow 2014 has snuck up on us! (And yes, I realize by the time I write this, it’s already nearing the end of January… Still getting used to writing 2014…)  It’s off to a chilly start in this part of the world. While we had a couple of days of thaw, overall January has been a nippy one, with Arctic Vortexes and wind-chills, lots of ice and a bit of snow. I’m enjoying having a real winter (though, as always, I’m wishing for more snow… I haven’t been out on my cross-country skis yet this year!). Getting lots of use from the snowpants I bought last year!

I spent the week surrounding New Year’s Eve working at the High Park EcoPrograms (where I work at EcoCamp in the summer), doing some winter holiday programming. We had 1/2 day programs – mornings were 3-5 year olds with parents/caregivers, and afternoons we had 6-10 year olds. It was one CHILLY week, so we adjusted our programming a bit, but still had some great adventures. The park was also super icy after the ice storm we had before Christmas. (If you want to see what the High Park Children’s Garden looked like post-storm, check out our EcoProgram’s website.)

White bean chocolate chip and barley gingerbread cookies.

White bean chocolate chip and barley gingerbread cookies.

A couple of the days were mostly indoor programs – we started the week with a day of Baking Adventures, and on Thursday we had our Nature Arts day. In the morning of our baking day, we made some white bean chocolate chip cookies with the 3-5 year olds. The kiddos made the dough, and then had a chance to shape the cookies with cookie cutters or just free-hand. We had some fun hearts, stars, owls and dinosaurs, among other delicious shapes! In the afternoon, we made gingerbread with barley flour, which we decorated with date chocolate icing (find the super simple recipe here – scroll down the page to Fudgy Chocolate Frosting). With both groups, we made some delicious tea with a variety of dried herbs from the garden. With the afternoon group, we also made some popcorn, which they had a chance to flavour with whatever spices they wanted. We divided the 16 kids into 4 groups, gave them about 8-10 spices to choose from, and let them get as creative as they wanted. They loved it! One of them ended up being super spicy (loads of cayenne and paprika), while another was a bit of a cinnamon explosion. At one point, I looked from the stove to the kiddos, to see a huge cloud of cinnamon surrounding the group. They were all pretty tasty, though, and the kids gobbled it up. (Ok, there was a bit left over that we munched on all week too…)

On Nature Arts day, we had a tree theme in the morning (like last year), where we read “Picture a Tree” by Barbara Reid, and made two different tree-themed crafts. In the afternoon, we went on a little hike and fed the birds (ok, and probably squirrels too), and then made some bird-themed clay creatures.

High Park Teaching Kitchen at sunset.

High Park Teaching Kitchen at sunset.

On New Year’s Eve, Winter Eco Adventures day, we only had a morning program (3-5 year olds). We had a good number of little kiddos who trekked into the icy park with their parents. There was a thin layer of snow, covering a completely ice-covered High Park! We went on a little hike (which ended up taking somewhat longer than we’d predicted, because of the ice). We made a sloooow trek down to the trail beside Grenadier Pond (though the kids just sat or lay down and slid down the hill – really it was us adults who were slow going down the hill), and then hike along that path a bit, and checked out the frozen pond (from the safety of the fishing dock). It was a blustery and cloudy day, but we still had a nice little adventure. The kids LOVED finding animal tracks. We had one 3-year-old boy who was upset that we started the program inside – he wanted to go look for tracks NOW! We showed him some of our animal track books, though, which kept him entertained until it was hiking time. On our hike, we say lots and lots of squirrel tracks, some bird tracks, and lots of tracks from 2-legged creatures taking their 4-legged friends for a walk. Though squirrel tracks may not seem so exciting to us, it’s really fun seeing them through the eyes of a 3-year-old! It was also fun seeing squirrels run right past us, and help us confirm that the tracks we’d been seeing were in fact their tracks. The squirrels in the part of High Park may have gotten a wee bit too comfortable with people – not only did one slowly run by right in front of us, but at one point a bunch of the kids were playing on some fallen logs, and 4 squirrels started approaching them like a little squirrel gang.

Friday was super cold, but sunny, so somehow didn’t feel as cold as Tuesday. Despite that, though, only 3 kids (and parents) came in the morning for Animal Explorations. We spent lots of quality time looking for tracks again. Tons of squirrel tracks again. And then tiny little mouse tracks between our compost bins, and….. the shed…. Hmmmm…. Gotta check that all the seeds are in sealed bins… We had tons of fun with the three girls, who were excited to explore, follow animal tracks, make their own tracks with branches…  The afternoon kids were also ready for adventure! When we went across the street from the kitchen, we were checking out some robins and cardinals, when suddenly we heard some strange bird sounds. My first thought was that they were gulls – but that sounded foreign in that part of the park and at this time of year… Miranda looked up and saw a couple of huge birds in the trees, and first thought was turkey vultures. The birds were lit from the back, so it was hard to see details. Some of the kids started saying they were bald eagles, but I was very skeptical – I figured they were super rare to see, and didn’t think they live in Ontario at all. (The kids also thought they were peregrine falcons, which seems to be the go-to large bird IDing for kids as of late – is there a TV show or movie involving peregrine falcons?). Well, the birds sure looked like bald eagles (which I’d never seen before in the wild). One of them was just sitting on the branch, while the other was devouring some sort meat that it was ripping off a bone (which you can sort of see in the picture). We tried to get closer, but of course eventually they flew away (strange how they don’t like being approached by a herd of small children)… Well, when we got back to the kitchen after our hike, we checked out our bird books – there’s no doubt that what we saw were in fact two bald eagles! They are relatively rare in Ontario but more common in the winter, and their shape and colouring are pretty hard to confuse with any other birds (at least in this part of the world). We also listened to their sounds – they sound way wimpier than they look! (Listen here) Super amazing experience to see these huge, majestic birds, and to get to share that with a group of eager kids.

I’m sure enjoying this very wintery winter, and hope to get in a some more good adventures! I’ve got some exciting news on the school garden front, as well as some more winter fun to share, so stay tuned…

Happy growing (and winter adventuring)!

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