Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 11 - 2016-17 - Nature's Gifts

With it being nearly 60 degrees and sunny yesterday to barely 40 and drizzly much of today, maybe Mother Nature is ready to stop spoiling us and get us ready for winter. Regardless of her intentions, our plans are to learn, grow, and achieve both inside and outside.

I was oddly proud when I heard my students groan as our student teacher informed them today was our last day to build new mouse houses or add to the ones that survived the weekend rains. This has been such a wonderful and engaging project that kept growing and growing.  However, we won't leave our animal friends high and dry. Using the book Snowballs by Lois Ehlert, we guided the class to discover that even when the flakes start flying and out mouse houses are  done, we can find new ways to offer treats to our animal friends. In this story, a snowman family is created with many unique objects, many of which animals would find delicious.  Before you know it, our land will be filled with snow and we will be adding raisins, popcorn, chocolate chips, and whatever else we can find to give our animal friends extra food during the long, cold Wisconsin winter.

Until then, we still had time to create,


and place our new mouse houses. Many students tried our new locations and worked on camouflage techniques before adding bedding and snacks to their mouse houses.

Then, as we move deeper into the holiday season, we moved deeper into our lesson for the week. With a recent focus on wants and needs, we wanted to talk about gifts. Rather than make wish lists for what we wanted, we instead took a hike around our land and stopped at strategic locations marked by lettered flags. These letters stood for a gift we receive every time we go outside.

We kicked off at the grass class, where we found flag A, which stood for active bodies. here, we stretched and danced, getting our bodies warm on the chilly morning and getting healthier with every movement.

Then it was off to the dead alive tree where we found flag N. Here, we chatted about how going outside offers new experiences. We then hiked to a new part of our hidden forest that we have yet to enjoy. It was so awesome to see the kids get excited about the new views to observe, the new rocks and logs to explore, and the new natural items to discover.

We then headed over to the oak tree classroom to find flag U, or understanding. Here, the class shared much of the understanding they now have about trees, animals, and preparing for winter. Whether through our tree life cycle "dance," our hibernation activation migration chant, or our random questioning, the class impressed me with their knowledge, retention, and exuberance about our natural understandings.

Back to the trail we went as we trekked towards flag T. Right behind the flag was a tarp, but that wasn't the reason for the T. Here, we shared how nature allows us to try new things and test ourselves. Students shared things they had never done before this experience and I prepared them for the prairie plant restoration that lies ahead.

After answering a few questions about  our prairie restoration project, we walked towards a few outlying oaks and ran into flag E, representing education. At this stop, I wanted the class to realize that everything we do outdoors educates our minds and bodies. I wanted to take a moment to share new information with them, but they seemed to know everything I wanted to educate them about. We discussed why we need trees. They told me about how trees make products, trees, produce food, and trees help us breathe. Seeing an opportunity, I got scientific with them and introduced oxygen and carbon dioxide. We of course practiced this new education by talking to the trees.

Heading back towards the natural play area, we came across our final flag, flag R. This flag symbolized recreation. Though we did define it as fun and play and talked about things we liked to do for outdoor play, the best way to learn about recreation is by engaging in it. But, before we began, we got together and figured out why these specific letters were chosen.

Our six flags spelled out the gift that keeps giving throughout the year: NATURE.

Then it was off to natural play. Children worked on their growing "bonfire pit," played tag and hide and seek games on the trail and fields, and even checked up on their new mouse houses. Our weekly math stick champion game, a quick nature's gift review, and play time filled up our afternoon nature kindergarten time.

And just like that, as the geese above us flew away, so too did another week of nature kindergarten. Lucky for us, nature kindergarten and the gifts it provides will come back much sooner than those geese.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 10- Retzer Visit #2 - Preparing for Winter - 2016-17 Edition

The nature kindergarten collaboration with the wonderful Retzer Nature Center continued. This time around, our school and all 4 kindergarten classes hosted a variety of teaching naturalists from the center as we all worked together to learn about getting ready for winter.

Together to start off, we read a story called Time to Sleep by Denise Fleming before going over the agenda for our two-hour visit. In separate groups determined by class room, we would search for evidence of winter preparations before working on creating our own winter dens.

My class led our teaching naturalists to our fallen tree area, the location of the mouse houses we have made and been consistently checking.

We searched for signs of animals preparing for winter. We certainly found some.  Besides our ransacked mouse houses, we found chewed corn cobs,  black locust seed pods, critter holes, possible nesting sites, and an assortment of acorns and hickory nuts.

We trekked through other areas of the land to find more evidence that winter was coming. We ran into examples of animals on the mice including animal scat, feathers, and coyote fur.  We also came across other interesting talking points like galls, tree cavities, and owl pellets.

Our den, under construction

On our way to the student-named sapling forest, we spooked a pair of deer including a young buck before searching for other signs and starting our den construction.

It was then time to reconvene with the rest of our kindergarten friends to meet some of Retzer's animal friends. We encountered  ornate box turtles, a bullfrog, walking sticks, and an albino bull snake named Peaches before saying goodbye to our Retzer friends. We will reconvene this collaboration with a trip to the Retzer Nature Center in January.

In the afternoon, we continued our outdoor learning with our weekly counting practice tradition of Stick Champions, where we crowned a new champion. Then it was off to the hidden forest, where along the way, we kept our eyes open for the dens created by our other kindergarten friends.

We noticed lots of cavities and winter home possibilities.

The whole class found 2 of the 3 remaining dens before stopping to allow for more exploration. In the hidden forest, we looked under logs and scanned the woods for winter dens and signs of winter's arrival. We found lots of bugs and many new natural play possibilities.  The class especially enjoyed impersonating Tarzan on some vines and bouncing on the "vine trampoline."

Despite the nearly sixty degree weather making our winter preparations seem a bit premature, Old Man Winter and his friendly flakes are expected to arrive this weekend.  Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow! Our snowshoeing superstar students are ready for all the wonderful winter learning ahead.

Tarzan Time
Bugs anyone?

Vine Trampoline

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Trail Camera Captures- October 2016-17 Edition

The Timberwolf Trail is proud to sponsor a trail camera for Wisconsin's Department of Natural resources Snapshot Wisconsin initiative. In a nutshell, this program provides trail camera equipment and training for sites willing to check and upload photos from a natural Wisconsin site. The information gathered will help with a variety of topics, including animal populations, habitat ranges, and good old fashioned animal identification fun. I love having this opportunity to show the class just how nature is all around us. While many of our pictures featured mice, chipmunks, squirrels and many deer behinds, we were able to capture some more enjoyable pictures of our animal friends. 

The only thing better than seeing the animals on the photos was watching my students and their reactions to the photos.  It makes all the work and planning worthwhile!

Enjoy the October edition!

Bird on log, species unsure
Downy Woodpecker

Downy Woodpecker in flight (apologies for the blurriness)
Domestic cat

Double Raccoon

Double deer (one with small antlers)

Why hello there!
Mouse to the left (our most frequent visitor)