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  • Lydia Mackie

The Five Senses: Children’s Experience of the Maple Boil

Imagine you’re a small child, setting foot in the Growing Center during the Maple Boil. You see smoke rising from the large metal boiler box, and get a taste of the sweet water that someone tells you is inside. It is so exciting! Hands-on experiences like this tap into children’s five senses. But what exactly is happening during this experiential and exciting process? 

We sought to distill (pun intended!) the magic that happens at the boil when we hosted more than 80 toddlers, preschoolers and youth at our Educational Maple Boil on Friday, March 1, 2024.


We began with reflective questions for ourselves as educators: What parts of the Maple Boil are abstract? What are the steps that children can tap into from their own experience? How do we transform the abstract to the concrete? How can we help children of all ages, abilities, and languages to participate? How might we personalize the Maple Boil for small children?


While a child may never have seen a maple boil, perhaps they have seen fires, observed a family member cooking, or consumed maple syrup at school or home. We love inviting children to take part in activities that children have done for millennia, so we landed on an activity to forage sticks and make pretend tiny fires for our own miniature boils.

 We reflected on the maple syrup production process and boiled it down (sorry, another one!) to five steps that can be communicated with visuals, words, sounds, and TPR, or Total Physical Response. TPR is a method used in working with multilingual learners to engage multiple modalities of understanding through physical expression, such as pairing an action with a new vocabulary word. We looked for maple trees (binocular eyes), tapped on maple trees (tock, tock, tock), built a fire (whoosh, whoosh), boiled the maple sap (stir) and ate the syrup (yum, yum!).


Children then worked to gather sticks to build their own pretend fires with miniature buckets. The open-ended play abounded as children of all ages participated in the activity. Toddlers bent down with care to gather small sticks and built fires with their parents. Preschool-aged children darted about, gathering sticks in their arms and in wheelbarrows, to make individual and communal fires to then boil their “syrup”, or buckets full of dirt. They iterated on the activity by transforming other loose parts available in the garden, such as wood chips and pinecones to represent stacks of pancakes on which they dumped their syrup. 

Young visitors from Pooh & Friends Preschool consider the nature materials they might want to use as "syrup" in their buckets. Photo Credit Anandavalli Thiagarajan.

School-aged children iterated even more by building entire structures for their pretend fires, such as pulleys for their buckets and other mechanisms to ensure a successful boil. With a simple prompt of making fires, these young visitors made beautiful creations that built upon one another to transform the outdoor space into an abundance of imagination. They were able to access the topic according to wherever they were in their own development. 


And perhaps most importantly, through foraging and fire, our intrepid visitors were able to tap into centuries of children’s participation in maple boils past! 

Read more about the history of the Maple Boil on the project webpage.

Lydia Mackie is the Director of Learning and Development at Rayz Kidz, an app for early childhood professionals who work in the home environment. Lydia is passionate about advancing outdoor learning, play-based education, trauma informed practice, and supportive environments for learners with diverse communication needs.


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