Friday, September 25, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 4 - 2015-16 Edition

Another week of wonderful weather meant another week of amazing outdoor adventures. We were especially excited as a class as this was our first week of family volunteers. We were able to share our still fledgling procedures of forest kindergarten with our very interested families.

We kept busy on the trail by going on an ABC nature scavenger hunt and practicing jotting down pictures and observations in our nature journals. Our excitement reached its peak as we explore a new part of the land where a beautiful oak had fallen and created a tantalizing outdoor playground. While many kids enjoyed climbing, it wasn't long before they realized what goes up must come down. luckily, many friends were ready and willing to help everyone safely get both feet back on solid ground. After exploring this tree an surrounding area, we hunkered down to hear and discuss two stories about tree while discovering the differences between fiction and non-fiction texts.

In the afternoon, we returned to our outdoor classroom for an introduction to patterns. After a brief lesson, we scoured the forest for sticks and acorns to create AB, ABC, and ABB patterns. Of course, having chosen acorns as the focus of our nature collection, we then brought those "baby oak trees" inside to tally and count them and use acorn hats for a special stamping art project. As of today, our acorn collection was up to 288, though a number of bins have not been tallied up.

Over the next weeks, more and more parents will be getting their feet wet with the forest kindergarten concept. I am excited to share with them what we do, but know they will see and hear all they need to know about what a beneficial program it is from the students. I love being out there, but am ecstatic to see the joy and excitement that emanates form the faces of my class. It makes it all worthwhile.

Additionally, I am also pursuing a naturalist program through a local nature center. I am in the early stages of becoming an official teaching naturalist. To help better showcase the land I am developing and also enjoy a new volunteering opportunity, this program will increase my depth and breath of specific natural and ecological issues while also helping build a network of contacts of fellow outdoor education enthusiasts.

And soon, I will be able to share more adventures through a new outdoor club I am starting at my school. Life is busy, but life is great!

Sunday, September 20, 2015


Growing up in a semi-large city, but having excellent access to a wonderful creek nurtured my love and admiration for urban nature. When I went to Milwaukee;'s Urban Ecology center a few weeks back and got wind of their special hiking event "HKE MKE,"  I knew it was something I wanted to do.

Today, Embry and I trekked over about two and a half miles in the heart of Milwaukee, though the sounds and sights of nature we experienced would make you think otherwise. Today may been the inaugural HKE MKE event, but as you an tell in these pictures, the amount of fun we had made sure it won't be our last.
Follow the piper!

Just lovely

Stopping to "write" in her journal

She let us sneak a peak before flying to the other side

Best bathouse ever

Adding her artistic flair to the mural under the North Avenue Bridge

We stopped all along the trail for more nature baseball

After a hike, chocolate milk is a must.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 3 - 2015-16 Edition

Our Forest Kindergarten day coincided with picture day so I was a bit leery about how kids might react to spending most of the day outside after getting all prettied up for the camera. They were more than willing to shed the snazzy outfits and get comfortable for a day in the outdoors.

In previous weeks, we spent time enjoying daily hikes, throwing in a lesson or two, and learning the lay of the land. We talked about boundaries, procedures, and the ins and outs of our unique outdoor classroom. Though we did go outdoors for various reasons throughout the week, our outdoor day was truly the first real Forest Kindergarten day.

I couldn't be more happy with the results!

The beauty of it was we still were connected to our curriculum. We aren't losing out on lessons we would have done inside. We are completing those lessons, expanding those lessons, and strengthening our connection to the outdoors while we learn. We even are fitting in some natural play to break up our official times of learning. In my opinion, the natural play element is where the best learning takes place anyways!

This week, we continued our phonics lessons with the letter M. Besides practicing more traditional handwriting, we doubled up the lesson and took to creating letters with sticks of course. We also worked with some big books, practiced active listening, found our sit spot and journaled about it, collected and sorted a variety of natural objects, and took an impromptu break to view a turkey vulture scan the area. All in the beauty of the outdoors!




Writing Workshop time

The weather and leaves are starting to change, but the cooler weather doesn't scare me. It just opens up a whole new perspective and a litany of new adventures. Check in to follow along with us!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Tyke Hike #15 -Waterville/Marlin Johnson Prairie

A well-deserved new name for the prairie
Barn group picture
Just under 30 hikers, including one dog, one cat, and our youngest Tyke Hiker yet (5 weeks old) enjoyed a prairie walk at the newly named Marlin Johnson prairie. Led by the aforementioned Marlin Johnson, we all learned about the history of the nearly 100-acre field station, enjoyed a "field guide come to life" as Marlin showed us a multitude of interesting native prairie plants, and even visited a barn and composting outhouse.
Ready to hike

Investigating Big Bluestem, or the Turkeyfoot plant

It's always a pleasure to visit Marlin. He is a wealth of knowledge and so accommodating to learners of all ages. He is also extremely generous. I am fortunate enough to be one of the recipients of his generosity. Besides being a great resource for information, he donated a tarp to my school so that we can begin restoring the land I am using for our forest kindergarten. After our hike today, I ended up going to my school and getting that section ready for the initial steps of restoring it.
Native Wisconsin prairie - coming 2017-18

We ended today's hike with a few wonderful stories provided by Emi Weiss of the Delafield Public Library and the grand finale. It isn't a prairie walk unless you actually walk through the prairie. With grasses towering over the tykes, it was a sight to see and hopefully a memory the attending families will cherish for years to come.

Prairie walk!

Today, we were also graced by the presence of one of my best friends, Joshua Mayer, who is a man on a  mission to visit all of Wisconsin's State Natural Areas. He said today he had recently passed the 500 mark. This is impressive for anyone, but with a lovely 4 year old daughter and a new 8 week old bundle of joy, he is certainly a busy man. It is great to see the love and appreciation of nature he is instilling in his young family.

After our Tyke Hike ended, my family joined Josh and his kids and Kevin Kuhlmann, a fellow volunteer, on a second round of hiking. We visited a variety of wonderful areas of interest on the land including the famous Halloween tree and a part of the prairie planted by kids form my Saunters class earlier this year. The girls even treated us to a game of "nature baseball" using their walking sticks and some fallen walnuts. We trekked through prairie and forest before stopping at the Wildlife in Need Center. Besides a gorgeous kestrel and some turtles and snakes, we were treated to young gray squirrels getting bottle fed. In fact, I was lucky enough to bottle feed my newest 8-week old friend as I admired the thirsty squirrels.
Nature friends!

Nature baseball
The Halloween Tree - always a favorite photo op
I thought fungi were afraid of heights.

Once again, it was a wonderful day on the trails. With my favorite hiking season of autumn approaching, I look forward to many more outdoor adventures, including our next Tyke Hike on Saturday, October 10th at Lapham Peak.
This area was pretty bare just 3 months earlier when my Saunters class was busy planting.

Timberwolf Trail - Week 2 - 2015-16 Edition

Week Two is in the books. With it already being a short week and Mother Nature showering us with torrential downpours in spurts, finding time to get out was a bit tricky, but we managed to get out on the trail a few times.

This week, rather than just hiking and/or doing a specific math lesson, we started working towards our full forest kindergarten implementation. On two occasions, we took out our growing outdoor supply bin and our notebooks and explored both on and off trail for a nice "sit spot."  Essentially, this place was a location where we could sit, observe, and record in both words and pictures what we saw, heard and possibly even smelled. In the future, we will be returning to these same sit spots and looking at how everything is changing. While only a few children seem settled on their sit spots right now, a couple days of practice certainly didn't hurt them in their journey.

Of course, we also couldn't hep but take a few minutes for some natural play. Talking about and then watching students go off trail and fully immerse themselves in nature was pretty amazing. They loved that some of the grasses and plants out grew them. They were thrilled to find hidden boulders and plants they couldn't see from the trampled path of the trail. We chatted about goldenrod, the predominant plant of the field, while searching for milkweed and coneflowers as well.

I look forward to adding in some new elements next week and seeing where the kids take me on this adventure.

Prairie restoration has begun!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 1 - 2015-16 Edition

In the first of what I hope to be weekly posts, I will provide a brief history on a new and exciting educational opportunity I am proud to lead. Photographs may be missing this time around, but I guarantee the visual representation of this endeavor will be amazing. Before I detail this week, here is a brief and general timeline of how it all came to be.

Spring 2015                

Many hours were spent researching forest kindergartens, forest schools, and nature preschools.

May 2015                    

I approached my school administration about the possibility of starting a  forest kindergarten in at my school. Basically, though still going outside regularly, one day a week would be focused on outdoor learning.

June 2015                   

With the blessing of my administration, I informally proposed my idea to the director of curriculum and director of human resources in my district. After intriguing them with my idea, we met and discussed a potential game plan. This meant a more formalized written proposal, continued research and education on the topic, and a timeline for initial plans.

                                                                    Summer 2015     
I researched many online and literary resources on topics like outdoor education, schoolyard greening, and forest kindergartens. I reached out and connected with teachers and experts on these topics throughout the country for ideas, insights, and general feedback on my concept. I visited a well- known nature center in my area, highly-regarded as a leading nature preschool in the Midwest. Based on all this new understanding, I constructed a detailed and research-based proposal and sent it in to my district administration for review. Then, I played the waiting game.

    Late July 2015              

The long wait was worth it. Before the August heat took its toll, my plan was approved. First step: design and build a trail. After initial planing and repeated tours of the land,  brought in a good friend from my local hiking chapter who has a rich history of trailbuilding to get her thoughts. She was impressed with my design and even more excited about the land and the potential it had for my school. Based on this meeting and with the blessing of my district, I took my little lawn mower and built an initial trail.

Early August 2015        

My first attempt at building a trail was completed. It was time on-site meeting with district administration and a local naturalist invited by the director of curriculum. though the e meeting led to a slight re-routing of the trail for unforeseen but valid reasons, the results of this meeting were excellent. The vast potential of the land was confirmed and the information about some of the plants and habitats in the area were important. The land was an example of a diverse oak savanna. Though the towering oaks scattered throughout were my favorites, the hickory and black locusts trees were also prominent. Though much of the grass was for grazing due to this lands earlier usage, the fields were alive with some native and some non- native (but not terrible) invasives. It was time for some more work!

Mid-August 2015      

Based on some brainstorming, the re-route was created. Additionally, some plants and trees were removed to help sustain a more natural and friendly feel for the land. Besides mowing the 0.4 mile long trail, a section in an open  grassy area and under an amazing oak were cleared for large group activities. To help keep the trail matted down and to check for other areas to improve for the soon-to be student users, my daughter and I frequented the trail, though we did make an occasional stop at the adjacent playground as well.

Late August 2015          

Excited for the opportunity to show off this wonderful new resource, I was graciously given some time at out welcome back staff meeting to describe the forest kindergarten process, report the steps described above, and lead a hike on the newly-named Timberwolf Trail so that my fellow colleagues could hopefully be inspired to bring their students into the outdoors. I was stoked as the district mowers that were now responsible for mowing the path had came for the first time that day. It was now a bit wider and more user-friendly. Unfortunately, a tree service was also contracted to come clear out some of the beautiful (and in my opinion, necessary for the habitat) fallen trees. I was bummed that most of these potential natural playgrounds and bird perches were gone, but still brimming received made all the planning, work, and time worthwhile.

September 1-4, 2015    

The adventure begins!  In our first week on the trail, we took daily hikes, started a nature journal, and utilized some of the resources in the land for math lessons and science investigations. Though we are in the "building up" phase of our outdoor time, I am already filled with excitement for what's ahead.

So, on that note, I encourage you to check in regularly so you too may enjoy adventures on the Timberwolf Trail!