Saturday, December 31, 2016

Last Day Hike(s)

2016 has been a pretty amazing year for my family and our outdoor adventures

  • We had a spectacular family trip to California. enjoying John Muir Woods and Yosemite.
  • Many day trips throughout the Badger State to new state parks and natural areas, including multiple visits to the Baraboo area, a family favorite.
  • Countless visits to our local favorites: Lapham Peak State Park, Pike Lake State Park, the Monches & Loew Lake segments of the Ice Age Trail, Retzer Nature Center, Mequon Nature Preserve, and our "neighborhood nature," the Weiland Preserve
This year has also been wonderful for my own growth as an outdoor educator and volunteer.
  • Our first nature kindergarten class "graduated" and the program expanded to four kindergarten classrooms this school year.
  • I've had the pleasure of leading about a dozen or so presentations to school staffs, outdoor enthusiasts, nature center professionals, and other interested parties at conferences, schools, and nature centers.
  • The Tyke Hike program I coordinate as part of my volunteer work with the Ice Age Trail Alliance's Waukesha/Milwaukee County Chapter led fifteen hikes and nearly 550 hikers.
  • Our school has built collaborations with the Retzer Nature Center and Wisconsin's Department of Natural Resources
  • I've read numerous articles and books on outdoor learning, made wonderful connections with an amazing set of people, and added so much nature to my classroom curriculum through play-based, place-based, project-based and personalized learning - my 4 P's.
I've got plenty of ideas and plans to keep me busy in 2017. Most importantly, the arrival of a second Tyke Hiker to join Embry, due in March. Until then, we enjoyed a few hikes over the last few days to celebrate 2016.

We kicked off at the Retzer Nature Center. Embry loves clearing the trail so she did her best to make sure the trail was void of pine cones. Of course, we had to stop at fallen trees and stumps along the trail for some easy natural play. Embry especially enjoys the stump jumps as long as they don't lead to rump bumps.

We walked through various habitats. From prairie to the pond with woods along the way, we always enjoy a good trip to Retzer.

Them to cap off the year, we enjoyed a trip to our neighborhood nature spot, the Weiland preserve.

Embry always enjoys being the hike leader, though her tendency to want to stop and explore everything she sees does make for an interesting hiking pace. It compares to stop 'n go traffic, but with a lot more enthusiasm.

We took our usual route, enjoying and not avoiding what Embry calls "slip sloppy" ice. We saw tracks, scat, and collected every stick we could handle along the way.

I absolutely love the winter scenery. Being able to see into the woods from this barren perspective makes it seem the trees go on forever. There's just something so serene and calming about a winter walk.

Of course, the chuckles and silliness of a three year old tend to break the serenity quickly.

Near the end of the trail, Embry was mesmerized by the ice. She counted the leaves trapped in the ice and was especially enamored with the frozen footsteps and the bubbles trapped inside.

But, nothing is more fun than "ice skating" on the curb line ice and cracking as much as possible on the way home. Bring on more adventure 2017!  We'll be ready!

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 14 - 2016-17

Tis the season of giving, so today, the nature kindergartners gave our 4th grade buddy class the opportunity to join us on the trail for snowshoeing.

We enjoyed a nice winter stroll through the trail. With about a foot and a half of the white stuff, it was a bit tiring, but all students managed to trek around the trail.

Along the way we saw some signs that our animal friends had been enjoying the trail as well. In one of our barren trees, we saw what appeared to be a red-bellied woodpecker. However, after doing some research, it was too small. It was large enough to be a pileated woodpecker, but the coloring pattern was a bit off. The camera doesn't do it justice, but I hope to get a better look ever the next few days and make a better identification.  Speaking of avian friends, two separate teachers have mentioned spotting a bald eagle flying over the land.  I am desperately to have my class share in that experience sooner than later.

When we were near the woods where we had placed our mouse houses decorated with tasty treats, we found scat. Apparently, the animals had been enjoying their feast.

Reaching the natural play area was quite an accomplishment, Many students took the well-needed break to rest their weary bodies while other. . . . played. :)

After saying good bye to our 4th grade friends, we continued natural play. Digging in the snow, discovering snowy areas off trail, and making snow angels, we certainly enjoyed our final official nature kindergarten day  of 2016.

See the splash of winter coats in the sea of goldenrod?

Many. many more nature adventures to come in 2017.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 13 - 2016-17

Snowshoeing is always an adventure. Add children and it gets more adventurous. Have it be 25 kindergartners and you've got more than adventure. . .you've got an undertaking. With temperatures dipping as the week went by, we moved nature day up to Monday.

Though practice with snowshoes had been completed both in and out of the classroom, Mother Nature was underestimated and the cold chill and blustery breezes made it more of an ordeal than an adventure. While it took longer than expected and tested our resiliency and patience, everyone eventually got shows strapped on and trekked on our trail.

Despite it not going according to plan, the children responded very positively and asked about snowshoeing again on Tuesday. Though it didn't fit into the schedule for the day, we decided to give it another go on Wednesday, with some adjustments. Practice makes progress. . .

With Monday's debacle behind us, we came up with a new plan. We got the snowshoes on inside and had a "trail of carpeting" to the snow to assure the snowshoe blades were not dulled or damaged. I think everyone appreciated the warm comfort of inside when strapping on snowshoes.

We stopped at the grass class to discuss the day's plans. With our mouse houses gone, we wanted to provide our forest friends some treats for the winter. With snacks abounding, we headed for the woods.

Popcorn, Raisins. Chocolate chips. carrots, Corn kernels.  Quite the feast for our animal friends.

Then it was off to the open field to do some snowshoe writing. We practiced writing letters using just our feet.





Of course, it made sense to have some natural play and exploration time along the way.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Timberwolf Trail - Week 12 - 2016-17

Last week, we focused on the gifts nature gives us every time we take our classroom outside, so this week, it was only natural to focus on giving back. With our mouse houses out of the picture, we made snow structures earlier int he week that we would be decorating with various food items for our animal friends. However, Mother Nature brought temperatures back above freezing so most of the snow had melted away, so we altered our plans. Instead, we spent a little bit of time inside making our popular peanut butter toilet paper roll feeders. On the menu today: corn kernels.

After creating some feeders, it was off to the woods to place them for our forest friends.

Then, keeping with the spirit of giving back, we took a nice stroll around the perimeter of our land and searched for trash, plastic, and anything else we could find that didn't belong in nature. I was happy to see that there wasn't much to find.

Along the way, we did find plenty to keep us interested. It was pretty cool to see how excited the class was to explore the little frozen river that forms along the back of the school near the service drive. They enjoyed cracking the ice with sticks, but LOVED cracking it with their boots.

They even managed to create a string of children "ice hiking" together.

When all was said and done, we found ourselves at our natural play area where we celebrated our nature cleanup with another round of Stick Champions before letting loose on this frigid day with natural play.

The boys worked on their log"boat," even connecting it to the Gingerbread Pirates book by Kristin Kladstrup we had read earlier in the day. Of course, when the girls climbed aboard, the boys deserted to their nearby "island."

I enjoyed this wintry Wednesday, but was mostly encouraged by one main thing: even though temperatures were in the high teens and the wind chill made it even colder, not one child asked to go inside because they were cold. Not one!  These amazing kids are growing stronger, smarter, and or resilient with each outdoor experience. What great gifts nature gives!