Saturday, January 30, 2016

Let the Blaze Bopping begin!

With temperatures climbing into the 40's here in Wisconsin, it was either time to hit the beach or trek the trail. We opted for the latter.

Heading out to one of our favorite area segments, Loew Lake, our daughter started the hike a bit whiny and requesting to be held. Of course, that all changed when the first blaze came into sight. Even though it has been a few months since she last visited the Ice Age Trail, bopping blazes for her is like riding a bike.

We enjoyed checking out the tracks, investigating the pine needles, and testing out different walking sticks. I am also glad our mandatory pit stop at every bench now consists of only a snack rather than a diaper change.

We weren't the only ones out on the trail. In our hike, we met a stunning Siberian husky, stepped to the side while a dad pulled two boys on a sled, and enjoyed giving love to a dachshund named Huck and a black lab named Hank. Huck and Hank on a hike. Love it!

Luckily for us, the blaze bopping season has only just begun.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 21 - 2015-16 Edition

With temperatures hovering right around freezing all week and episodes of snow, rain, sleet, and anything else Mother Nature could throw our way, we were all happy to see the sunshine in full force this lovely winter morning. Before heading out, we read Jean Craighead George's Dear Rebecca, Winter is Here. I love her middle grade novels and wasn't familiar with her picture books. based on this great story, I will be doing some more research.

We kicked off this forest day a new activity. Taking full "squeeze" water bottles with added food coloring, we experimented with coloring the snow. When I prepared the bottles in the morning before school, I avoided yellow for a few reasons. :) Today's goal was to get familiar and comfortable writing with this type of tool as we may use it for some sight word and math problem practice in future weeks. I also have a feeling this could turn into a very fun and creative art project.

After our squeeze water activity, we headed out to the trail for our first Trivia Trek. Before the buses pulled up, I took a nice morning hike and set up ten questions along the path. Connected to the theme of winter, we enjoyed the long walk. Though they seemed to enjoy figuring out the answers, I think the kids enjoyed trying to find each question along the way even more.

After a trivia session and a long hike, snack time was here! A few friends were camera shy and stayed away. :)

Because the class did exceptional with their first Trivia Trek, we spent a little more time than usual in natural play. As usual, some of their best learning came from the play session.

Many kids drifted to our colored cube building area we have been adding to everyday. Though the cubes had melted a bit from recent warm ups and then got covered with the flurries we have seen lately, they could care less. They had a blast creating their "color castles."

Some took a break from building for some classic Duck, Duck, Goose, though a game of this type with only a handful of kids requires creativity and flexibility.

A few friends opted to add to our growing stick pile.

Still others went on a search for tracks. these lovely ladies battled black locust barbs to point out some tiny tracks. They came to the conclusion they were from a hungry mouse.

We were excited to share what we learned both in a share session and in our nature journals. Until next week. . .

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 20 - 2015-16 Edition

In my opinion and based on ample amounts of research, play is something all kids (and adults) need. While developmentally-appropriate curriculum is an important and required part of kindergarten, sometimes, kids just  need to play. The absolute beauty of it all is that Forest Kindergarten is a wonderful marriage of both.

Today was a perfect example of this union. To connect to a future science unit on colors, we experimented with creating colors.  Our friends busted out the food coloring and water and went to town mixing colors in cups, ice cube trays, and other objects. When completed, we placed them in the snowbanks outside our window and will look forward to seeing them all frozen tomorrow. We will take these frozen blocks out to our trail and start creating a natural play area full of rainbow blocks. Repeat the process a few times over the next few days and my class will have an outdoor companion to our favorite indoor play area: the construction carpet, strewn with blocks and legos throughout the day.

After wrapping up our colors experiment, it was time to gear up and head out to the trail. In our room, children have weekly, rotating classroom jobs. My two secretaries were itching to help, so I sent them out ahead to place our snowshoes out for our class.

Practice makes progress and these kids are definitely making progress. Today, besides some strapping assistance, they placed their snowshoes on and got ready to traverse the winter wonderland.

In our open field adjacent to the trail, we played a few rounds of Predator/Prey. Our hawks attempted to catch the ice while practicing syllables, sight words, addition, and subtraction. All mice were captured!

The children then went to the woods to check on their apple juice ice ornaments and their reusable bird feeders. The apple juice ornaments were hanging proudly while it appeared some of the feeders had been getting nibbled.

Before we headed in for the day, it was time for natural play. While some kids stayed in the woods, others went on a tracking adventure and others checked out the rock pile, though it is now more of a "snowy glacier" according to the kids.

I guess we will see if the glacier makes any movements next time. :)

UPDATE: As shown below, our first batch of natural color cubes was placed out in our natural play area today. More to come!

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 19 - 2015-16 Edition

After three days of being stuck inside due to subzero wind chills, getting out today was essential. The cold, crisp air did us wonders.

Before we ventured out, we read a fun twist on Old Man Winter entitled Is That You, Winter?, by Stephen Gammell. After practicing our questioning and predicting with this terrific text, we continued our bird feeder project as we started a brand new bird feeder construction. Though our toilet paper roll feeders are biodegradable, we were excited about more environmentally-friendly options. We did some research and found some popsicle stick options. The class decided on making colorful shape feeder. This week, we focused on squares. Now that they are dry, we will attach pipe cleaners that can be re-used. Our snack of choice will be cheerios. 

We also continued our freezing liquid investigations. Last week, we make "ice ornaments" with water and food coloring. This week, we made them with apple juice. However, with temperatures a balmy 35,  the ornaments were not ready to be hung at the end of the day. We will check again tomorrow morning on our daily hike and Friday trip to the garden for composting.

For easier observation, we deposited our not yet frozen ornaments in the snow outside our classroom windows. Then it was off to the trail to go on a track hunt. My cherubs did have to stop at our oak tree classroom and make snow angels.

After tracking animals near the oak tree classroom, we decided to cut the woods on the way to the snowshoes rack. We found plenty of tracks along the way. I knew snack time must have been close as the class turned to snacking on snow along the way. Some also had fun putting snow on or faces to make snowbeards.

The class found this nest near the treeline and is excited to check it out regularly to see if we can figure out who might have made it.

Then, it was snowshoe time. Five and six year olds and snowshoes provide an interesting dynamic. Testing our perseverance, problem-solving, and communication sills, all children were able to get their shoes on and traverse the freshly fallen snow from the previous day.  As with pretty much everything, practice makes progress so I am excited to keep snowshoeing until we are pros! Based on their happy smiles and excited voices, I don't think they'll mind practicing more.


Our apple juice ornaments didn't freeze so we will recheck after the weekend. We did however finish and hang up our new bird feeders.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 18 - 2015-16 Edition

Imagine 22 people putting on snowshoes. What if it was their first ever time on snowshoes? What if they were only 5 and 6 years old? Scary???  Maybe. Awesome???  Definitely! When applying for a grant for snowshoes for our school, some may have thought I was crazy. After just this first time out and about with the snowshoes, I think you're crazy if you don't.

Finding the perfect spot to freeze our ice ornaments

Before hitting the trail, we started our first of many weeks of ice experiments. The first step was making ice ornaments with water and food coloring. We placed our concoctions in the snow right outside our classroom so we could inspect them as they froze. When frozen, we hung them in the woods. In future weeks, we will repeat the process using different liquids. From there, we will discuss our observations abut each different ornament and hopefully figure out factors that impact the longevity of the ornaments (temperatures, interest from animals, etc.)

Snowshoe cart
After placing our ornaments in the snow, we wheeled our fresh out of the box snowshoes and cart out to one end of our trail and proceeded to take a long hike around the playground and school in search of tracks. We found kid tracks, car/bus tracks, and adult tracks. Then, as we headed to the other end of the trail, we reviewed the different types of tracks discussed in our beginning of the day indoor lesson.
On the prowl for tracks
Found some!
Found more!
We found lots of tracks. Most were deer, squirrel, and the dogs that walk through the trail, though coyotes and others are sure to visit when we aren't there. I was impressed that with just a few simple guiding questions, students were able to recognize how different tracks can tell us the size of the animal and if it was walking or running.
Trailblazing the freshly fallen snow
It was a science experiment type of day, so after heading off the trail, a field of untrampled snow awaited us. We first trekked it with just our boots before putting on the snowshoes and trying it again to notice the differences. However, just walking in the snowshoes wasn't enough.
Snowshoe time!

We relaxed in some snow forts, played snowshoe baseball, and practiced making letters with our new amazing and fun tools. 

Snack time
After taking a snack break, we noticed a haw swoop down. He appeared to catch something from the meadow. As we quietly (as quiet as a group of kindergartners approached), he flew off, essentially made a huge circle around the entire property and surrounding area and then flew directly back to the tree once we were a safer distance away.

Hawk up near the top with its own snack
He's back!

Before natural play time, we went on a stick hunt. Over the next few weeks, besides continuing our liquid ornament experiments, we will be creating stick-shaped bird feeders and planning and constructing a mouse house for the little critters that reside around the school.

Snow baseball

During play time, I was summoned over to a very excited group of girls who found fungi. The next morning, it was back outside to check and hang our ornaments. With the temperatures hovering right around freezing, out ornaments were very popsicle-like and after being placed on a tree of the child;s choice, it didn't take long before some melting began. It was rather pretty. With temperatures predicted to dip into single digits next week, I don't think we will have that same issue next time around.
Melting ice ornament make quite a beautiful picture
Hung ice ornaments