Friday, November 27, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 13 - 2015-16 Edition

Winter has hit the Timber Trail! Nearly five inches of snow covered our outdoor learning environment over the weekend, but a little snow isn't going to stop forest kindergartners.

With it being  a short week because of the Thanksgiving holiday, we missed out on our full forest kindergarten day. Needing our outdoor fix, our daily hikes were very much anticipated. We even took the lead and led our fifth grade buddy class on a  tour of the land.

The freshly fallen snowfall did allow for observation of tracks, though local dog walkers and their canine companions did cover up some of the more wild tracks we were hoping to find. We did find some untouched areas covered in deer tracks.

And of course, as is usual for Wisconsin weather, we were thrown a curveball. By the second and final day of the week, nearly fifty degree weather had turned our spectacular snow into some slush and mud, though you didn't hear any complaints from my kids. We sloshed around one last time before the snow completely disappeared.

Over the next few weeks, we are going to help our feathered friends who stick out the long cold winter and decorate our evergreens with kid-made bird feeders. Of course, as always, only nature knows what other adventures we will enjoy.

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 12 - 2015-16 Edition

With torrential rainfall the previous night, I expected forest kindergarten to be a slopfest. I was pleasantly surprised when I did my pre-school day trek to survey the land and found the land to be much more usable than I feared. there were a few low wet spots but everything was ready to go for a group of nature-hungry children.

Of course, on our walk to one of the trail entrances, I made sure to stop by the puddles. every kid needs a good splash now and then.

Though the gloom and doom cloud cover made it look dreary, the activity and excitement of the kids was as bright as the summer sun. In our observational journey to the oak tree classroom, we found deer tracks, new holes, and plenty of mud.

We kicked off our day with some natural play just in case Mother Nature took a  turn for the worse and cooked up a storm. She didn't, so we definitely enjoyed checking out the forest and seeing the land in it's post-rain glory.

After reading a non-fiction story about rain and the water cycle, we went on a hunt for pencil-sized sticks so we could work on some mud painting. It took some trial and error and experimenting with different mud consistencies, but all the students were able to produce unique and interesting pictured and designs using nothing more than a stick, some mud, and an occasional acorn or two.

It's always fun to see what creative ideas students showcase. Besides one young lady taking leaves and essentially impaling them on a stick to create a very cool Christmas-tree like leaf structure, one young boy collected a moss-covered chunk of bark and created a parade of acorn hats on it. I would never thought of doing such a thing, but he was a trendsetter and now our classroom has an acorn parade collection. When I thought about all the things I was hoping to do with kids on our forest kindergarten, I ignored the fact that they would actually come up with the ideas and I just had to be there to help. That's the way it should be!

By special request, we went back to the "tree we could go inside" for further exploration. The rainfall helped us recognize more fungi than our last visit. We even found new leaves, some which were bigger than some of our entire heads.

Another day, another new set of outdoor adventures. I am already excited for next time!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 11 - 2015-16 Edition

Looking at the forecast days ahead is always problematic, but when you're working with five and six year olds in an outdoor environment, there is no such thing as too much preparation. The earlier forecast predictions called for howling winds, dipping temperatures, and rain, rain, rain. I think we were all happy the meteorologists were wrong.

After working in our nature journals at our "sit spots" and focusing on attempting multiple words, spacing, and even full sentences before adding illustrations, we headed to a new part just off the trail. I previewed this activity for the kids with a tantalizing teaser: they would be able to go in a tree.

When we arrived the tree in question, the students realized it was a fallen tree. With an exposed and decomposing stump hollowed out with enough room to hold a kindergartner or two, it was certainly a popular place to be.

The students enjoyed visiting the hollowed trunk, but ended up being more preoccupied with climbing the moss-covered and massive trunk. They explored the surrounding areas to view and experiment with younger trees, dried out fungi, and burrs. Of course, they were most thrilled/grossed out to find scat on the tree, prompting kids to debate what animal used the tree and where they might hibernate for the upcoming winter months.

Soon, we left the tree and headed back to the oak tree classroom for a story about hibernating by Denise Fleming entitled Time to Sleep. In a very "circular" way, this story taught students about various hibernating animals, many of which may very well be soon hibernating around that very classroom.

One of my goals with this land is to promote outdoor exploration. Another is to build risk and rewards into the daily educational routine of the students. Yet another is to develop and nurture a love and appreciation of nature and a passion for preserving it. However, one more superficial goals is to "pretty" the land with more varieties of wildflowers and native plants. While one small area is currently covered by a tarp for the beginning stages of prairie restoration, there is one corner section with seems like a beautiful spot for a butterfly garden. At least that is what I envision in my head. Right now, that area is loaded with goldenrod plants, so I am working on slowly diversifying that area.

My students helped the diversification process by collecting seeds from those goldenrod plants. They were very excited to take them home and plant them. Sadly, that glee turned to despair when I mentioned they would have to wait until spring to get the planting started.

With future planting on our minds, it was a great time to collect some of the many fallen leaves and load up our compost bins. As fall turns into winter, those leaves will work through the process of decomposition and create nutrient rich soil that will feed the garden and potentially that future butterfly garden. Nature is such a beautiful circle.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Grove of the Patriarchs

With just a few hours of hiking time left before the rental car was due back in the Emerald City, we decided to scan the park map and see what aroused our interest. It didn't take long before the trail  named the Grove of the Patriarchs stood out as the trail of choice.

Using the clues from the name of this trail to assume this was part of an old growth forest, I instantly wanted to check it out. I love trees, but I really love BIG trees. Oddly enough, as we arrived, one of the first thing that caught my eye was something quite small.I lovingly called it the Smurf Village, as it was a collection of tiny mushrooms.
Smurf Village
There were tons of old growth trees all around us. While a variety of species was intermingled throughout the trail, fallen trees along the path made for excellent pictures and observations.
This picture does no justice to the size of this tree.

Standing next to these giants really put into perspective the gravity of how important it is to preserve nature all around us. These trees have seen so much and they need to be preserved so that so many more can see them.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

Tyke Hike #17 - Monches

Fifteen hikers battled the brisk winds on a bright November morning to take to the woods for some outdoor exploration. Focusing on animals and plants and their preparation for winter, we all had a wonderful time finding evidence of our furry and feathery friends throughout the forest.
Stopping regularly to talk about hibernating, migrating and activating animals, we also learned about trees and their sleeping while dormant. But talking doesn't compare at all to exploring. We explored fallen limbs, trunks, and stumps, searching for signs of animal life.

We stopped at a very special tree, one I have called the reading tree as it is a usual resting sot dedicated to reading a picture book connected to the theme of the hike. We enjoyed Hibernation Station by Michelle Meadows before continuing along the leaf-covered trail.
As is a tradition of the Tyke Hikes, our turnaround point is usually some tree. The tree I usually stop was about a 15 foot tall, limbless, barkless tree that stood out right against the edge of the tree surrounded by towering lively tree cousins.  As we approached, this tree was not what it used to be as Mother Nature and Father Time combined to down it. While it didn't stand out visually like it once had, the fallen tree made a great lesson and search for bugs, chipmunks, and other exciting finds.
We also took a breather on the way back to view a few nurse stumps and a stump we affectionately called Chipmunk Hotel. While we watched, a chipmunk caught our eye and watched us as we watched him. We saw him test out a few leaves, stuff his cheeks with an acorn, and finally choose a leaf that he puled down into his decomposing stump of a den. Of course, when the kids and I moved on for a closer look, we saw that the stump seemed to have a variety of different openings and cavities, so Chipmunk Hotel was born.

Though the weather was a bit of a dip from the unseasonal, but appreciated 70 degrees earlier in the week, this autumn-like provided the feel like winter is certainly on the way. So too are the next set of Tyke Hikes!