Maple Sugar season is a particularly memorable and meaningful time in the preschool. It marks the transition between winter and spring and provides us with opportunities to explore the process of making maple sugar from beginning to end over a five-week period.
The Sap Begins to Flow
The season begins around mid-February. The children head out into the Sugar Bush where they are greeted by one of our one of naturalists. They are then invited to help drill a hole in the tree using an old-fashioned hand drill. Once the hole is deep enough, the “sugar farmer” taps in the spile, a small, metal spout that directs the flow of the sap. If the temperature is warm enough, sap may begin dripping within a few moments. When that happens, the children line up and carefully take turns catching those early sweet drops on their tongues. If not, they wait until future visits.
Each class adopts a maple tree for the season. They are responsible for visiting their tree once-or-twice a week to check on their bright blue sap bags. The children quickly discover that on very cold days, the bags are frozen solid. They are filled with “sap sickles,” as the children call them. On warm days, the bags may be full to bursting. The children must carefully carry heavy buckets back to the building, where we store the sap until we can cook it.
Making Maple Syrup
Back in the classroom, teachers set up a Maple Sugar Time Camp. It is complete with a (pretend) campfire, an evaporator, and mini maple trees with toy buckets and drills. We read children’s books about Maple Sugar Time, and tell Native American myths.
At the same time that our preschool is exploring the sugaring season in depth, the elementary educators are busy leading dozens of maple programs each week. We have been fortunate enough, over the years, to be included in these programs. We take all nine classes to the evaporator where one of the naturalists shows the children just how sap is cooked down into syrup.
As the season draws to a close, we gather for an outdoor campfire and remind the children that everything has a season. The time has now come to thank the trees for all they gave us, and to remove the spile. It is time for the trees to begin making leaves, as we ready ourselves for the arrival of spring.