On this, the shortest day of the year, we welcome the return of the light. Autumn officially turns to winter today, December 21. In winter (and in all seasons), forest and nature schools participate in experiences that honor and respect nature. During the Yuletide season, we revel in all that winter heralds and find ways to beckon back the light. Indigenous and global traditions vary widely, but the ideas below may help inspire new traditions in your forest school community.
Use plentiful fire wood and evergreens such as pine, juniper, holly, cedar, or fir boughs to create a yule log to burn during the solstice. You can also bundle up cinnamon sticks, star anise, and dried fruit (such as oranges or apples) for a festive, fragrant touch. Some people opt to create a yule log that contains a candle or battery-operated votive to make a beautiful centerpiece instead of a log to burn in the fire.
The concept of the solstice spiral is to provide a reflective place to consider the everchanging cycles of light and dark that rule our seasons. The spiral also represents how people can find and spread light among community, despite dark times.
Spirals can be made of branches, evergreens, pine cones, berries, etc. Generally it is a large-scale outdoor spiral with a path that is big enough to walk into the center. Many forest schools host an evening Winter Solstice event where children walk into the spiral with a lit candle, which may be contained in a hollow orange or apple. Children walk into the spiral and place their candles in the center and/or along the path of the spiral. As more children walk into the spiral, the light grows.
If you lack an outdoor space for a spiral, another option is to create smaller evergreen solstice spirals that can be part of the children's loose parts play. Miniature spirals can be created on mirrors, small trays, or tree rounds, or anything similar and offered as invitations for play.
Ice Lanterns & Ornaments
Check out this Ice Lantern document for instructions if you'd like to give these beauties a try. There are several variations and if you prefer to make an ice ornament, you can use muffin tins along with string or ribbon for outdoor hanging.
Outdoor Garlands (for the Birds)
Spread vegetable shortening over pine cones, magnolia pods, or other seed pods and roll into bird seed, then tie onto a 3-4 foot length of twine. From here, string cranberries, dried orange slices, popcorn, figs, etc. onto the twine. Tie on evergreen clippings as desired to make a festive garland that the birds will thank you for. These may decorate your outdoor classroom or children may prefer to take them home.
Harvest Food & Treats
There are SO MANY treats you can roast over a fire to celebrate the season! Consider roasting apples or pears with oats and cinnamon. Savory root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots, or sweet potatoes with rosemary and thyme are also fun to cook in a Dutch oven. Bread dough or pre-made pizza or crescent roll doll can be wrapped around branches for roasting (we call it 'snake bread'). Or you can try your hand at roasting chestnuts on an open fire, which smell amazing and are delicious, as the song suggests. Brew cider with mulling spices for a warm drink.
Books about the Winter Solstice
Goodbye Autumn, Hello Winter by Kenard Pak
Sun Bread by Elisa Kleven
The Return of the Light: Twelve Tales From Around the World for Winter Solstice by Carolyn McVickar Edwards
The First Day of Winter by Denise Flemming
The Shortest Day by Susan Cooper and Carson Ellis
The Shortest Day: Celebrating the Winter Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer and Jesse Reisch
The Solstice Badger by Robin McFadden
The Tomten by Astrid Lindgren
The Winter Solstice by Ellen Jackson and Jan Davey Ellis
Find more inspiration for nature-based activities and nature-based books on Pinterest.com/erafans. However you choose to welcome winter, we wish you a joyful Yuletide season!