Sunday, December 20, 2015

A Man on a Mission

Nature is inspiring enough, but there 's always more than just the beauty of the outdoors that fuels my passion for exploration and education. In my journey as a nature enthusiast turned hike leader turned forest kindergarten teacher, I have been fortunate to meet many other people with a passion for the environment and a wealth of knowledge about various topics. Who knew that the one person who encompasses the greatest marriage of these two traits was someone I had known all along?

My good friend and college roommate, Joshua Mayer, is  on a  mission to visit all of Wisconsin;s amazing state natural areas, or SNA's? What are SNA's? Rather than me try to tell you, I encourage you to let him tell you himself.

Joshua Mayer's Story

How does he do it? He has an amazing drive, the gift of organization, and of course, his best resource, his amazing and supportive family. I feel honored to be his friend and an excited for his journey. Luckily, we can join him on his journey by following his blog to enjoy his incredible information and spectacular photography.

I highly recommend you learn about his journey and be inspired by his story to write one of your own. Enjoy Wisconsin! There's no place like home!

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 16 - 2015-16 Edition

With temperatures dipping into the high 30's and a bit of a howling wind at times, Forest Kindergarten started to actually feel a little bit like winter today. We may have been a bit chilled at times but our enthusiasm and love of nature warmed us and led us through a wonderful day of learning.

Arriving well before the students, the sun barely beat me up before I headed to our wooded section and "hid" 24 envelopes around the forest. Inside each envelope was a picture of something we would need for an ecosystem activity later in the morning. Just my luck, as soon as I finished placing the envelopes, the rains came and soaked many of them.

Soaked or not, when the kids arrived and we headed out on the trail they were raring to go once I told them there were envelopes ready to be found. Before starting the search, we quickly reviewed the important parts of trees and some of the roles those parts played in a healthy forest. We also introduced the idea of community and how all the parts of the school community (students, families, staff, and teachers) were important to that school's success. Then, the search began!

Once all the numbered envelopes were snatched up, we returned to one of our outdoor group areas and returned to talking about community. This time, we focused on the parts of a forest community. This took us to learn about the word ecosystem. To make the connections of the nonliving and living things vital to a forest ecosystem, we opened our envelopes one by one and read a fact about the item pictured in each envelope. With each envelope connecting to the prior envelope and needed for the next envelope, it was easy to see how all things are related and important. From rotting wood to bees, flowers to fungi, and soil to scat, each element of the forest ecosystem was connected. Of course, we didn't just talk about these connections, we also used yarn to connect each element to each other, creating a huge and engaging interconnected web.

After snack, we headed back to the woods to read the story of Mousekin's Golden House. With winter on its way, I felt this was a great time to share this fun little story about a mouse who came across a discarded jack o' lantern and found it to be a useful home for the cold winter months. This story was a jumping point for a future projects. Students will return from winter break to plan and create their very own mouse house using natural supplies. While sticks would probably be a main ingredient in many of these houses, we took this time to start collecting sticks for our future constructions.

Though we did have to stop and review our stick safety expectations, it was really amazing to see kids work together to transfer large branches. They even added the sound effects of a truck in reverse as they made their way to the growing stick pile. BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!

We wrapped up our session with natural play. Many kids stuck around and added to the wood pile. At least until the newly discovered rock pile was re-discovered. It quickly became a popular attraction.

One more Forest Kindergarten week in 2015. Next week, we are planning to once again decorate some evergreen trees for the animals, adding cereal and pretzel garland to our usual peanut butter and seed feeders. Maybe just maybe the incoming winter will bring us snow so we can use our newly acquired snowshoes.

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 15 - 2015-16 Edition

One of these days, I will actually get to do compete some of the winter lessons I have researched and created. Until then, you won't hear me complaining about our unseasonably warm 50 degree winter days. Based on how much learning my students had this week, I don't think they'll be complaining either.

We kicked off our forest kindergarten day with a non-fiction book about the life of an oak tree. We enjoyed stopping to discuss different parts of the story that we had already found out about in our real live oak tree classroom. After the story, we headed out to that classroom and warmed up our bodies before we stretched our brains. Singing a spin off of the traditional song, Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes, we belted out the words and actions to Leaves, Branches, Trunk, and Roots.

After getting musical, we took the parts of the tree from the song and story and used a labeling strategy to label these important parts of a tree. A we labeled each part, we took time to work together to learn some important jobs each of those parts do. From leaves catching the sun's energy and turning it into food all the way to the roots acting like straw to suck up water and nutrients, we acted out the circular life cycle of trees right under the canopy of one of our favorites.

During natural play time, we found a variety of things and engaged in many new and exciting activities. One student found what we think is some leftover rabbit.

A few lovely ladies transformed fallen goldenrod stalks into super swords.

Others enjoyed the sights and sounds of the construction vehicles into the former cornfield adjacent to our school. Not exactly natural, but exciting nonetheless.

Still others found the remnants of some fallen down and decomposing trees and used their feet, hands, and even other wood pieces to help break down the once mighty tree further.

I even caught one of our decomposers saving some of the wood for something else she wouldn't reveal.

And on our way back to the oak tree classroom, the now fully bare trees revealed a once hidden rock pile that will surely be a favorite place to explore in the future.

Before we snacked, each child had the opportunity to share what they had learned or what they had done during natural play. Most kids shared the activities mentioned above while one child mentioned that "I found black locust tree and it scraped me." Once a bandage was applied on the minor scratch, I took a second to revel in the fact that these kids are sponges of information and I would have never expected five year olds to be junior arborists in that way. After some snacking, we headed off to a sit spot to observe and record what we had seen in nature that day.

After our lunch and specials inside, we prepared for our outdoor afternoon with a quick oak tree life cycle review in the classroom. After watching a quick five minute video, the students drew five stages of an oak tree life cycle sheet (acorn sprouting, sapling, small tree, big tree, and fallen, decomposing trunk) classroom video and drawing, Then, after sharing their drawings, we watched a very engaging time lapse video of an acorn sprouting into a sapling over an eight month period (Oak Tree Time Lapse).

Then it was back outside for a game of Sight Word Predator and Prey. After brainstorming some predators and prey we may find on our land, we ended up selecting hawks and mice. Half the class were hawks and the others were mice. Lining up in pairs in some open space next to our trail, we have the mice a few step start. Then alternating between hawks and mice, students had the opportunity to spell some of our sight words. If they got it right, they moved forward a certain number of steps. For example, if a hawk spelled can correctly, they moved three steps forward for each letter in the word. Eventually, mice got caught and the roles were reversed. They loved it! Plus, the rules can easily be altered to practice other skills like addition, subtraction, and syllable identification.

Back into the forest where we decided to look at the trees from a new perspective. :) Then, off to our favorite spot for a few extra minutes of well-deserved natural play.

Maybe next week Old Man Winter will arrive and we can practice using the snowshoes we just recently acquired through a generous grant from the Hamilton Education Foundation. If not, you won't hear a complaint from me. :)

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Tyke Hike #18 - Lapham Peak - Homestead Hollow

This winter Tyke Hike was anything but winter-like. With temperatures approaching forty degrees, there was no chance of the wintry walk as advertised in the promotional materials. Still, nearly forty hikers enjoyed a walk through the paved Homestead Hollow path at beautiful Lapham Peak State Park.

We all trekked the trail and discussed the power of glaciers, "found" the future of the forest, and searched for active animals, especially at the peaks of the pine trees. With every hike, we try to provide some off-trail exploration to get the hikers in nature, not just around it.

In our explorations, it was wonderful to see the curiosity and intrigue of the children. From finding frost-covered leaves to investigating under logs, each twist and turn along the trail offers a new learning point and a new way to fall in love with nature.

When we talked about how wood decomposes and helps turn into rich soil, a few children found some fallen, rotting limbs and offered up their karate chop services to hasten the process. When searching through the blanket of leaves, one child found a stick covered with moss and lichens. After peeling off the moss, he politely asked his mother, "Can you please hold my moss?"  You knew never know what you will see or hear in the forest.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 14 - 2015-16 Edition

Sometimes you just gotta play in the snow!

Today, we did way more than play. We enjoyed our newly frosted wonderland by combining our social studies focus on wants and need with our science unit on animals that hibernate, migrate, and stay active. After a short video specifically on animals and their search for food in winter, we continued our look at eye season of giving as we created toilet paper roll peanut butter sunflower seed bird feeders. (Say that 5 times fast. )

And, there's no joy in just making them. We needed to use them. So, because holiday decorating is so much fun,we headed out to some of the evergreen and deciduous trees that are throughout our trail and decorated them with bird feeders.

After that hard work, natural play was in order. We found sticks, dug under rocks, used nature's tools to clear fallen logs and branches of snow and ice, and even searched for some animal friends.

Through it all, the chilly temperatures couldn't slow us down. We headed back inside to share our discoveries and practice sentence writing in our nature journals. The children are already whispering and wondering if the seeds will be eaten by the time we visit again.