Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 36 - 2015-16 Edition

One tired class
The thunderstorms stayed away long enough for my forest kindergartners to work on their service to the school project: our native Wisconsin prairie restoration. It was an excitingly exhausting day. With the warm temperatures and the manual labor, we stretched our brains and our bodies a great deal today.

Step one involved tarp replacement. We took our bright blue tarp and removed it so we could add a bigger, darker black tarp. We talked about wearing dark colors on hot days and how that would impact the plants beneath the tarp. The students knew the plants under the tarp would not get the things they needed to survive. This will allow next year's class a fresh layer of earth to plant new wildflower and prairie plant seeds and plants.

We took rocks and worked together as a team to remove the old tarp and put the new tarp down. We then placed two thermometers near our work site. One was near the tarp and one was a few inches away under the tarp. Students made predictions as to which would be warmer when we checked later in the day.

Almost done!

After a hard morning of work, we had to take a break for some snacks and discovery. I took the class to the shaded woods for some exploration time. We found many vines, arches, and plenty of garlic mustard. Of course, my environmentally-conscious crew took time out of their free discovery time to rid the woods of this invasive species. We also found bugs. . .lots of bugs. Daddy longlegs spiders were also an exciting find for many students.

We love vines.
Tree arch

Spider time!
After natural play time, lunch, and specials, it was back to work. The class voted on where we wanted our second tarp to go and it was a pretty lopsided victory for the bland land near the treeline adjacent to our oak tree classroom. Covered in mainly grazing grass, I found it a perfect place to start the restoration process.

It was a scorcher!
But first, we needed to check our thermometers. The class, who earlier predicted it would be warmer under the tarp, were correct. They likened this to being in bed. Is it warmer on top of the blankets or under them? Well, the thermometer in sunlight next to the tarp read 92 degrees. While this warmer than the actual air temperature of about 84 degrees, it was downright chilly compared to the thermometer under the tarp. The thermometer measured up to 120 degrees and the red measuring line was all the way to the top. the kids were amazed! This led to a quick discussion about absorption. The students also were interested in "testing" out the heat by touching the tarp and quickly placing their hand underneath.

Now that it was time to work on our second tarp, we raided the natural play area for sticks that we would use as temporary tarp holders. In assembly-line fashion, the class worked together to bring rocks and branches down to the tarp area. Once we stretched the tarp out and removed the "bubbles," we continued our team effort and placed branches and rocks along the edges.

It was also forest kindergarten interview day. Each child had the opportunity to talk to our two high school documentarians to give their views on outdoor learning. They got a little microphone and everything. I can't wait to see how the film ends up. 

I also can't believe there are only two more weeks of forest kindergarten remaining. It has been an absolutely amazing year with an incredible collection of learners.

Interviewed on the trail

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Small Doses

Small doses of nature can have big results. This afternoon, we had a guest speaker talk to the kindergartners about Wisconsin farms and crops. With a little time left over before she had to leave, I invited her on our daily hike out to recess. In just ten short minutes, we discovered an up close and personal part of nature that was well worth the time investment. She was blown away by what she saw the kids do and what she heard the kids say.

        We were able to observe a group of turkeys before they filtered into the trees.

        We found a small critter hole and I enjoyed listening to the polite children's debate of whether it belonged to a worm or a snake or a chipmunk or another creature.

        We noticed that our oak tree classroom was now filled with quite a large, dead branch that had fallen off of the tree and landed smack dab in our seating area.

         We pulled some garlic mustard, a ritual of our hikes. That being said, my little invasive               species eradicators are clearing it away so well, it's sometimes hard to find any at all.

         We caught a variety of creepy crawlies, including our favorite, the tick, Rolypolies, woolly bear caterpillars, "baby" spiders, and what appeared to be a newly hatched walking stick.

This walking stick was very popular. One student in particular bartered to keep it as a pet, prolonged putting it back in nature as long as possible, and even offered to skip recess so he could stay and play with his new friend. The little bug drew much interest as seen in the photograph below. It was so heartwarming to see the student finally allow the walking stick back into his habitat because as the boy stated," He must be scared and want to be back with his family. But don't worry. I'll come looking for you tomorrow little buddy."

Moments like these make it all worthwhile. Seeing my students debate. Seeing them help the land. Seeing them build a relationship with it. Seeing them care.

Small doses add up.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

The Giving Tree

When I decided to introduce the forest kindergarten concept to my school district, I knew it would be a great deal of work to get the program going, get the land prepared, and plan, plan, and plan some more for replacing the traditional class with a outdoor learning area. What I didn't plan for was the extraordinary support I received in the process.

One of the core elements of my planning involves natural play, the ability of students to explore and play in nature in a more unstructured manner. With safety at the forefront, my class and I experimented with the world around us and I was able to step back and "let the kids be kids."  However, while they were doing some amazingly creative and developmentally-appropriate things that nurtured their academic, social, and physical growth, one thing I felt the outdoor learning needed was a more structured natural play are.

I reached out to local tree services seeing if anyone was willing to be a partner in the creation of the natural play area I was envisioning in my mind. It wasn't long before someone responded, and boy am I glad they did!

Within a week of chatting for the first time, Dan and Nicole Jensen were waiting for me in my school office, ready to take a tour of the land and offer up their ideas for how we could make this play area a reality.After giving them some basic ideas they hopped on to the concept and it wasn't long before the first shipment of wood was delivered.

The delivered wood was used to design a "trail within a trail." Branching off the main trail, I spent a weekend with my daughter moving logs and shaping a relatively bland part of the land into a more user-friendly natural play area. With two main sections and branch-and-rock lined boundaries to these sections, my forest kindergartners now had easy access to two new building and creativity circles filled with branches and tree cookies. They build structures, use the stucks in our math and science lessons, and enjoy a good game " Math Stick Champion," a counting game I created for the regular classroom and adapted for the outdoors. Rest assured, whether as part of the lesson plans or the student's choice during natural play, the areas created through the wood donations of Dan and Nicole are a hit.

Since then, the Jensens have also provided seating stumps for the two main outdoor classrooms and are planning on providing future wood pieces to enhance all of the aforementioned areas. Additionally, they have offered to donate branches that will hold down tarps crucial to the prairie restoration project I am also coordinating on this land.

Do the Jensens have students that are directly suing this land? No. Have they requested any payment at all for their donations? No. They have decided to help this program enhance the educational experience of all who enjoy it. For that, I, along with my students, are grateful.

Tyke Hike #23 - Hartland

Thirty-five hikers headed out to the Ice Age Trail Community of Hartland for the latest Tyke Hike, With a focus on marshes, Mother Nature supported our quest with marvelous weather.

After introductions and some basic trail and hiking information, it was off to the marsh. Our first stop was at the boardwalk where we all viewed the cattails and other marsh plant and listened to am ornithological orchestra. We discussed their importance of marshes and even chatted about how Wisconsin's biggest city was once basically a marsh of wild rice and waterfowl.

The it was off to the "magic tree." Healthy and vibrant up top and hollow and crumbling at the base, it seems magical that this tree still stands. I'm glad it does as it is always a favorite photo op for families.

Before we crossed the road to get to the marsh, we had to take a moment to talk about alien invasions. Once I got the attention of the kids, we likened invasive species to aliens and how they come to our land and steal the air, water, sun, soil, and space our native plants need. I pulled a little bit of garlic mustard and encouraged the families to do what they could to to help our native plant thrive. It is important for the masrh and all other habitats.

Just as we headed over to the lookout, I previewed the chimney that was there and its purpose of being a safe haven for migrating chimney swifts. While we didn't see any swifts on the hike, while we chatted about them, a pair of sandhill cranes flew overhead and splashed down in the marsh.

Once at the picnic shelter, Ms. Claudia, librarian from the Hartland Library, shared a few bird stories and led all participating children in a bird craft that they "flew" all the way home.

I forgot to snap a group shot before some families had to leave early, but we took one anyway of many remaining hikers after the craft. then we headed back and handed out certificates and schedules for all parties.

Another Tyke Hike in the books! I only hope the weather is a review of what's to come.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 35 - 2015-16 Edition

Seventy degrees and forest kindergarten is a beautiful combination. While the summer-like attire did require extra tick checking, I don't think the students minded all too much. It was wonderful to soak up the rays and experience nature in a more personal way.

Before we focused on the day's lesson on roots, we were compelled to enjoy some butterfly fun including our butterfly body parts song, our life cycle actions, and the grand finale, the release of our painted lady butterflies. With our research showing they only had a two-week lifespan, the class didn't want them to waste any of their time inside when they could flutter and frolic amongst the flowers. Giving each butterfly a name, the one we named Gary Jr. stuck around a little longer, providing all that wanted a chance to see and hold a beautiful butterfly.

The time for fun was over. It was time to work! We read a non-fiction book on roots and had a healthy discussion about invasive species and weeds and how we need to remove them by the roots so they can stop "stealing" the soil, sun, space, water, and air that all our native plants need to survive.

We went to our school garden on a mission: a dandelion destruction mission. After learning some safety tools about some new tools, we went to work and took out dozens of dandelion plants. In the adventure, we found worms, snails, a coin, some worms, a broken robin's egg, and some more worms. After finishing up this service opportunity, we relaxed in the shade with the book The Enormous Carrot, by Vladimir Vagin. We enjoyed the silly story and even made predictions about what might grow that enormous in our own garden.

After a snack and some natural play, we met up at our oak tree classroom to connect our poetry writing lessons to nature as each child worked on their own nature poem. Watching them use their creativity and dig right into their own poems was amazing to see!

In the afternoon, we worked on some favorites like stick champion, and garden yoga while trying out a new prediction activity (which also focused on teamwork and following directions). Using various sticks, we made predictions and created a long chain to see how many times we would have to connect sticks to get through a designated portion of the trail.

We ended the day with some more natural play. Lately,play time has been a throwback to more classic games like Hide and Seek and Duck, Duck, Goose.

Then, my class transformed to teachers as we taught a fellow class of kindergartners about roots and how to remove them. Dandelion Destruction Party round 2! While both classes were working hard at removing dandelions, my colleague turned to me and said, "Wow!They got right to work and they are so happy!"

I can't think of of a better way to promote forest kindergarten than that.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 34 - 2015-16 Edition

It was an eerily foggy forest day that happened to coincide with my birthday. To celebrate, the theme of this forest day was "Gifts of Nature."  We discussed what nature provides for us and why we are responsible for taking care of it.

Before hiking out to our oak tree, we stopped at an area that the kids had planted some prairie seeds about a month earlier. With my initial prairie restoration spot not necessarily following the rules required for proper restoration, in my opinion, it wasn't too promising that any new plants would sprout up. I was certainly pleasantly surprised when some new plantings had already taken shape.

The kids then quickly reviewed what the five things we agreed new plants would need to survive (water, air, sun, soil, space). With them knowing that in a few weeks, they will be receiving their very own prairie plant to place in the ground, we had to find a place they they felt fit all five requirements. So we searched.

After finding a place and reading a story Why Should I Protect Nature?, it was off to natural play.

Continuing with the theme of protecting nature and giving back to the Earth, we reconvened and walked around the perimeter of the land to clean up any litter trapped in the treeline. Of course, in our excursion we came across some new garlic mustard areas that we simply had to eradicate. It has been fun to have parents tell me that their child is pulling out invasives at their own house and also pointing them out around town.

Later in the afternoon, we simultaneously practiced counting by 1's, 5's and 10's while making powerful and puny predictions about distance. This took us back to the area where we had previously scouted for our prairie plants. This time, armed with a marking flag of their own, each student found a specific location for their future planting site of their native Wisconsin wildflower or prairie plant.

After another rousing round of garden yoga and some more tick checks, it was back inside. Many students stopped on the way to pick dandelions and make wishes. I think my birthday wish came true. I was able to spend a great day outdoors working with my forest friends.