Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 3 - 2016-17 Edition

The nature kindergartners were out and about looking for trees at different stages of the life cycle. We found them big. We found them small. And once we searched, we found them all!

To review a non-fiction text, we read a book titled Life Cycle of an Oak Tree  underneath our oak tree classroom. However, we really only read a portion of it at a time before venturing outside the shadows of this wonderful tree to find real life examples of what we were discovering in the book.

After learning about an acorn that finds itself in the right place at the right time can turn into a towering oak, we went searching for acorns. We didn't have to go far.  We even noticed that some of the hats we wore on this brisk day resembled the shape of a fully intact acorn.

Though we discussed how some acorns can sprout and develop into shoots, we realized that some wouldn't survive. The kids were pretty keen at finding shoots and figuring out some of the things trees needed, where a "good" place to plant a tree would be, and where a "not so good" place might be.

After investigating a potential good spot for young trees or saplings, we went on a sapling search. We found plenty, right where we predicted.

We then looked for "adult" trees and even some trees that might be considered "old age" trees. The class noticed these older trees were losing their leaves quicker, had fewer leaved-branches, and seemed smaller than more green and healthy trees. Before we went on a hunt for the final stage of the life cycle, we came across one of the most interesting trees on our land.

In our first Science unit, we are focusing on the characteristics of being a scientist. One characteristic we have been emphasizing lately is the importance of being an observer and how observing is far more than just looking. As we approached this very special tree, I made sure to request my class to be observers and take a close look at this tree to see what they could figure out about it.

Their responses varied and it was clear there was a disagreement about whether this tree was alive or dead. The answer the children gave correlated to the part of the tree they were investigating. Essentially, this tree lost it's top, most likely during a storm. The top half of the trunk snapped and fell over. It is still intact and full of brittle brown leaves that cover a good chunk of the lower part of the tree. The students that observed here thought this tree was dead.

However, if you went to the other side of the tree and/or looked at a distance so you could see above the brown section, you would see vibrant green sections and a very sharp and noticeably splintered trunk. These students recognized the tree as very much alive.

Either way, this have us a great lesson on looking at the while picture to make a decision. We were also able to review the parts of the tree and dig into what those parts do as we were able to compare this "dead alive tree" to the other neighboring oak trees. The kids also determined the tree must have been hit by a windstorm or lightning bolt.

We then went off trail to find a fallen tree in the stages of decomposition, showing how the tree would become dirt that could eventually help a new tree grow up from seed, starting the cycle all over again.

After snack, it was off to natural play. Besides another round of Hawks and Mice to review sight words, numbers, and syllables, many students went back to our more wooded area and discovered what they coined the "gravel pile."

In the afternoon, we made our weekly walk to the natural play area to practice counting with our Stick Champions activity. Then it was off to the hidden forest to re-supply our play area with sticks.

We ended our day with our new Tree Parts chant.

Leaves help the tree EAT!
Branches help the tree GROW!
The trunk helps the tree STAND!
Roots help the tree DRINK!
They all help the tree LIVE!

We also enjoyed changing our voices to simulate a tree going from seed to sapling to adult to old age to decomposing.

Finally, more natural play led to amazing stick constructions and kids pairing off to make their very own teeter totters, all after observing one pair coming up with the idea.

It is great to see them take our lessons and put them into action in a fun and creative way. That's what nature kindergarten is all about.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 2 - 2016-17 Edition

With the rain coming down for what seems like forever and the future forecast looking even wetter, it was great to see the precipitation take a break so we could enjoy some nature kindergarten today,

Equipped with raincoats and boots, the class might have found a few puddles to explore before heading to the trail to discover trees. We started our focus identifying some differences between "leaf dropping" deciduous trees and "leaf staying" coniferous ones. Though our land almost all of the leaf-dropping variety, we were able to trek around and find some evergreens.

After our tree walk led us to the oak tree classroom, we reviewed story elements by discussing a "silly story" we co-created together yesterday. Basically, the kids provide the characters, setting, problem, and solution, and I write a story that they then illustrate. Our story involved a gingerbread slumber party, an elephant getting caught in a volcano, and Disney's Elsa saving the day. If you want the full story, I'd be more than happy to provide.

It was then off to the natural play area to review counting with this year's second round of Stick Champion. After a return to the grass class to distribute snacks, the class had some free exploration time before gathering up sticks from the "hidden forest" and using those sticks to create letters.

We then reviewed some important parts of trees with our Leaves, Branches, Trunks, & Roots song sung to the tune of Head, Shoulders, Knees & Toes. Zooming in on leaves, we searched for trees already showing signs of Autumn and briefly chatted about photosynthesis and how leaves help a tree eat.

As usual, we made sure to get some natural play time in. Though the rock pile was an early favorite, the children also enjoy hiding in the tall grass and goldenrod when they see me coming and counting critter holes.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Tyke Hike #30 - UW Waukesha Field Station & Retzer Nature Center Apple Harvest Festival

As the scheduled hike time came and went, I was worried we might be hiker-less. However, just as I was losing hope, the hikers arrived. All in all, eight people checked out a hidden gem in Waukesha County: the Marlin Johnson Prairie at the UW-Waukesha Field Station.

Led by the children, we trekked the trails and found many things along theeway. We saw prairie plants and even collected some seeds. We entered the forest and found fungi and plenty of sticks. The kids even worked together to build their very own birdhouse out of sticks they found. More ginormous puffball mushrooms awaited us as we ventured closer and closer to the impressive "Halloween Tree." A quick walk across the boardwalk even allowed us to get close to hopping frogs and many water-dwelling insects.

Kid-created birdhouse
Puffball party

And what's a prairie hike without a run amongst the towering plants!

After we parted ways with our wonderful guests, our family headed to the Wildlife in Need Center next door and caught a glimpse of some very cute squirrels getting fed.

Baby squirrels
It was a beautiful day for a hike and an even more beautiful day to be a volunteer. Besides leading a Tyke Hike, I was fortunate enough to volunteer at the Retzer Nature Center's premiere event, the Apple Harvest Festival. This year, the naturalists coordinated an interactions with nature passport which allowed children of all ages to get up close and personal natural experiences while collecting stamps to commemorate every experience. The pond was the station I was assigned to and boy, was it popular.  With nets and buckets, kids and adults alike skimmed the pond water in search of creatures. While dragonfly nymphs, water striders, and diving beetles were the common catch, we also found a variety of frogs and even managed to snag a vole lurking near the water's edge. While the natural catches were precious, watching two kids who didn't know each other work together to fish out a signpost that had been in the pond was lots of fun, especially seeing their reaction be as if they had found buried treasure.

After the pond station closed down, I headed to the reading corner to be a guest reader. After reading a handful of books with a rotating audience of children, my family and I continued our nature day with another hike through one of Retzer's wonderful trails and a stop at and near the nature center for puppet play, craft creations, and nature-themed games.

Raccoon puppet meets paper raccoon puppet

I am pretty sure our daughter will sleep soundly tonight. I think I will too.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Sticks

Sticks go a long way in nature kindergarten. Yesterday, we gathered sticks and reviewed the terms longer, shorter and equal. It was great to take something discussed within our regular classroom walls and see them transfer that understanding in a more tactile and refreshing way. We had so much fun with sticks, I had to take them out here again.

We went to the hidden forest and gathered sticks that were about the same height as us. Then, we used them as walking sticks as we meandered the trail to the natural play area to play this year's first ever stick championship. Similar to the math championship we hold inside, this is an engaging way to practice basic counting. As play began, one by one, student mathematicians were eliminated until one was left standing: our inaugural Stick Champion. To celebrate, many kids offered their stick for him to have (or at least hold for a silly picture).

I thought the stick shenanigans were done, but as we headed back and lined up, what did we find walking on the school door? A walking stick of course. This unexpected visitor turned into a mini-lesson and a more hands on experience then many of the children were expecting. The class of course named him Sticky and wished him well before releasing him in the grass and continuing our day.

I wonder if we will find Sticky again???  Either way, I know we will have a blast trying.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 1 - 2016-17 Edition

It was great to take the new class of nature kindergartners out for the first official outdoor day. In the first few days of school, we have hiked daily and gained experience in our main gathering areas connected to the trail, but there' s always something special about venturing off trail and seeing where nature takes us.

I hope our first steps weren't an omen of things to come as three steps into our journey, we found a chipmunk who had seen better days. Though the kids were engaged, I hoped the "life" of the forest had many more lessons to offer.

Black Locust identification
After saying sayonara to the chipmunk, we headed to the "grass class" to read one of my favorite picture books: Little Tree, by Loren Long.  I think this book is perfect for the young outdoor adventurer. In a nutshell, a small tree doesn't grow like his tree neighbors because he refused to drop his leaves out of fear and nervousness.  While the others kept growing, this little tree is stuck being little. He finally gathers enough courage to try something new. He drops his leaves and before you know it, he is as tall as the others.  I want my students to avoid being little trees and take a chance, trying things they are unsure of, taking chances, and putting trust that those chances will help them grow to the best they can be.

Practicing their own risk assessment
On our first off trail adventure, we headed to the fallen tree. On our way, we did a mini lesson on identifying the thorny and annoying black locust tree. Almost instantly, the kids were shouting out when they found the tree so that others could avoid it. We also brainstormed various safety strategies for going off trail before putting those strategies to use.

After leaving the fallen tree, it was over to the rock pile for some building and exploration and on to snack. Even this early in the year, students noticed that there was some trash and bottles by the rock pile. Without any input from me, they took it upon themselves to clean it up.

After stopping for a few minutes of free time in our natural play area, we trekked through the goldenrod field to find the inside tree. Here, the kids also were able to catch a glimpse and hear the sounds of the subdivision construction next door. They even found a tree shelter that I had never seen before.

The "Inside Tree"

Once we returned to the main trail, we found a large collection of tiny mushrooms. One of the students belted out the line of the year so far, "It's like a pizza in here." After searching for other ingredients, we found the hidden forest and marked out our boundaries: the "V" tree and the "3" tree. Once we knew where we could explore, the class found bugs, spiderwebs, vines, and sticks. . .lots of sticks. Luckily, we were using sticks for a math lesson in the afternoon, so we took the collection back with us to the oak tree.

Some of the fungus among us
"V" tree
"3" or "W" tree

Who says chivalry is dead?
When we returned outside after lunch and specials, we reviewed an earlier math lesson of longer and shorter by measuring sticks with our classmates. We paired up, compared sticks, used our math vocabulary and then tried to line up as a class from shortest to longest with our various sticks.

Comparing lengths
We wrapped up the day with our introduction to nature journals. Recapping our outdoor days in words and pictures, today we focused on the process of adding the date to the page and finding a nice working spot. As the year goes on, more elements of writing will be added to each journal entry.

Nature journaling

If today was a sign of things to come, we are going to have an absolutely fantastic year of play, exploration, and social, personal, physical, and academic learning.