Monday, October 31, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Fall Festival - 2016-17 Edition

Throughout October, as our class studies leaves as part of our collections of nature unit, we simultaneously started adding to a leaf pile every time we visited our outdoor classroom. It all culminated with our Fall Festival. After playing BINGO, "mummifying" the students with toilet paper, and reading The Biggest Leaf Pile by Steve Metzger, it was time to go outside to the leaf pile.

We gathered one last round of leaves.

We grabbed a handful and made a leaf storm.

I even offered the class the opportunity to cover me with leaves.  They graciously accepted.

The collection of leaves was now covering the teacher.

After all that hard work, it was time for natural play. Some students stayed to jump in the leaf pile. Others took their parents for a tour of the outdoor classroom. Others hid in the goldenrod. Either way, all had a blast and helped celebrate a wonderful month of learning.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 7 - 2016-17 Edition

Welcome to autumn in Wisconsin. Though the colors are spectacular and the cool breezes inviting, 40 degrees with torrential downpours isn't the best mix for outdoor adventures.  It didn't stop us, it just taught us a new lesson.

Taking advantage of the less than stellar weather, i improvised and focused on our social studies unit of wants and needs.  In hindsight, having the weather be so dismal actually helped as it helped my class appreciate the "better" days while also motivating them to help our animal friends.

Earlier in the week, we introduced wants and needs. We also read Mousekin's Golden House, by Edna Miller. It describes how a mouse ended up using a discarded Jack O' Lantern as a snug winter home. We also took some time to practice spelling strategies by making  a list of natural items we might use to make our very own mouse house. We also sketched them out.

Because of the weather conditions, we decided to continue this project. After reviewing the difference between wants and needs, we took out our sketches and practiced making it using materials from the classroom. Before long, the classroom was a blossoming subdivision of "mouse houses" made of legos, blocks, paper, toilet paper rolls, and any other items students found in our classroom.

Then, after cleaning up our constructions, we watched a short video on specific needs of animals. It also included a silly song the kids seemed to enjoy. Once we were familiar with the needs of animals, we discussed how we could help our animal friends with their needs in the upcoming winter months. I was happy to see the kids connected the "mouse house" constructions to the need of shelter, so my class was especially excited when I reminded them that we would soon be collecting natural items from our outdoor classroom and creating winter homes for the animals.

The students also brought up the idea of creating feeders for the animals after I showed them a variety of material;s (toilet paper rolls, peanut butter, bird seed, etc). So since the weather outside was still much less than ideal, we worked on our first round of toilet paper roll seed feeders.

Mother Nature was calling us. It was nature day and even if it was wet, our love of the outdoors couldn't keep us trapped inside. With our newly-created feeders in hand, out we trekked, rain gear and all.

We placed our feeders on low lying branches and shrubs in our wooded area and made predictions about who might come to enjoy our snacks. We even saw a cute little mouse scamper on and around the fallen tree, though he was too quick to be captured in a photo.

As the rain continued, some kindergartners took shelter under the fallen tree and others did something they hadn't done before, they complained about being cold and wet. This was a perfect time to discuss resiliency and the end to be prepared. I took this as a lesson for the class and we briefly chatted about how we are planning on working and learning in nature through all weather so we need to take how we feel in this cold and wet conditions and use that information to prepare for the next week and the future. As a few of our nature kindergarten mottos states, "water will dry" and "there is no such thing as bad weather if you are prepared for it."  I have a feeling my class will be better prepared the next time it rains.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 6 - 2016-17 Edition - Retzer Nature Visit #1 - Nature Discovery

Nature Kindergarten expanded this year to collaborate with Waukesha County's amazing Retzer Nature Center. With the support of the Friends of Retzer organization, the Hamilton Education Foundation, and my school's fantastic Home & School, we will be able to take our outdoor learning to the next level by working with Retzer's naturalists both at their nature center and out school site.

In this first visit to Retzer, we focused on Nature Discovery. After a quick discussion of the importance of ecosystems and the food chain, it was off to to the trails to discover nature in a personalized by way creating our own collections of nature. Using a nature checklist as a guide, students sought out seeds, evidence of animals, varieties of plants and trees, and special natural surprises. The seeds collected will be used to help restore our land at school.

We then headed back for lunch and a visit from Peaches the albino bull snake before venturing back on our own to explore more of the grounds.

It was a spectacular start to a yearlong collaboration. Please enjoy our visit through the photos below.

Mr. Larry kicking off the day
My class was led by Ms. Kathy and Mr. Bob
Investigating a nest
Collecting  prairie seeds

Slug time
We love milkweed
A day without natural play???? Never!
Climbing a fallen tree
There was fungus among us
"The Moosehead"
Mr. Larry and Peaches
The pond
Milkweed fluff
"The Composting Cannon"
Lots of hands on learning
What beautiful antlers you have

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 5 - 2016-17 Edition

The rain didn't stop the exploring. We kicked off our day with a look at how our oak tree classroom and the surrounding forest floor had changed over the last few days. Besides the floor being littered with leaves, the tree was now a rainbow of colors. We chatted about why leaves changed colors and introduced the term dormant. We also read a nonfiction book on leaves. After adding  leaves to our ever-growing "biggest leaf pile ever," we started a collection of sticks and took them out to the grass field to make sight word sticks.

Then, the nature kindergartners kicked off their collections of nature science unit with a wonderful art project made from items they collected on and along the trail.

After dropping off leftover sticks near our outdoor classroom, we took to the prairie to collect seeds, mainly from our showy goldenrod plants and our big bluestem grasses. We also went on a hike in search of some milkweed plants.  We found some, along with plenty of surviving grasshoppers.

Watch out for raining corn!
After bagging our seeds, we snacked and went to natural play.  However, with sporadic downpours, most kids stayed under the shade and natural umbrella of the oak tree.  There, we have some donated corn kernels stored. We enjoyed finding hiding spots to place the kernels, but not nearly as much as we enjoyed creating "corn rainstorms."

Once the rain le tup, we all hiked for some more playtime near the "inside tree."  Here, we recently discovered a very nice and open area with a few fallen trees and plenty of nearby wood available to make a wood shelter.

Unfortunately, the rain wasn't as sporadic in the afternoon, so we stayed inside.  However, we made lemonade out of Mother Nature's lemons and took the inside time to work on some great things. First, we used some sticks, seeds, and leaves we had collected in the morning to make our "Collections of nature" collages.  The sticks became trees, the leaves became smaller leaves, and the seeds became blooming prairie plants.

Work in progress
Completed project

Then, with the nights getting chillier and the trees getting barer, we knew Old Man Winter was coming to visit Wisconsin soon, so why not practice with our snowshoes for the very first time. Snowshoeing is an awesome winter activity that adds so much to our program, so taking the time to get familiar with these tools is time well-spent.