Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Timberwolf Trail - Week 28 - 2016-17 Edition

Today, we kicked off our spring gardening sessions in our school garden. Today, we focused on weeding, in particular "de-dandelioning." Essentially, it was a Dandelion Destruction Day. Connecting our Social Studies unit on wants and needs, our Science studies of plant parts and life cycles, and our current Reading focus on cause and effect, we discussed the dandelions in the garden and ultimately decided we should try to get rid of them, especially the ones growing where seeds would eventually be planted.

After a quick training session on safe and responsible usage of the garden tools, it was off to digging up some dandelion destruction.

After collecting quite a large amount of dandelions, we went over to the empty field and saw firsthand how quickly these plants spread, considering this was all green just a few days ago.

We then ventured to the "jackpot spot", affectionately named after the area where I inadvertently yelled jackpot when finding a solid amount of garlic mustard. Now, as we work to eradicate our land of this invasive species, I can't help chuckle every time a kid yells jackpot when finding it.

One of our classroom jobs is the gardener. One of the responsibilities given to our gardener today was holding on to both the dandelion bag and the garlic mustard bag. He found a pretty clever weight to handle the bags as we collected quite a bit of both plants.

Of course, when searching for one thing, nature also allows us to find some unexpected treasures. Today, one of our scientists found a bunch of turkey vulture feathers and a skull. During our sharing time (a routine of our schedule), I was amazed at how the kids independently pieced together a very plausible explanation for this discovery.

One of the students asked the boy where he found the skull and feathers.When he showed them, they found a few more bones. These kids brought all these finds to our share session and the class came up with the fact that this skull must have been the raccoon that we found a few weeks back. At the beginning of the week, we noticed the body had been moved and clearly "messed with" as pieces were missing, including the skull.  This discovery was also coinciding with our first encounters with a flock of turkey vultures that spent the day flying from tree to tree and circling overhead. We followed them around and used our field guides to learn about them. One thing the children really connected to was that they feast on dead animals, or carrion.

It all was coming together, The class decided that the turkey vultures must have found the carcass, moved part of it to under the tree where the skull was found to protect it from other animals. Then they used their beaks to eat the meat and left the skull behind, along with some of their feathers.  is this what happened? Not sure. Could this have been the case? Sure. When I took a closer look at the skull, it certainly seemed like it was a raccoon. Even if it wasn't and this theory is proven wrong, the process the class went through to solve this was truly remarkable and cemented my reasoning for taking them outside.

After our share session, the drizzling rain came down a bit harder, forcing us inside. Once there, we used our dandelions to do a variety of things. After hearing the story Barney Bipple's Magic Dandelion, by Carol Chapman, we broke into groups. Half the class explored how they could write with dandelions. Brainstorming and trying a few different methods, they were asked to show me a sight word before free exploration.

The other half of the class used dandelions and strainers to create beautiful golden bouquets. Ten minutes later, they switched.

There are lots of other things we could do with these plants. Luckily for us, there is no shortage of them outside.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

"I'll be outside."

Before spring break, I joked with my colleagues that once school resumed, my class would either be doing the assessments inside or "doing our thing" outside. But was it really a joke?

One of our slogans used to be "we end each day with natural play."  We tweaked it this week to "we start and end each day with natural play." So far this week, as soon as morning announcements were completed it was outside for a few minutes of natural play before phonics and writing.

A nature kindergarten program in a public school is unique. One of the things people ask me is how I manage to reach the curricular requirements and handle time management while spending so much time away from traditional instruction. To me, the answer is getting easier and easier. These students are naturally inclined to play and discover. By observing them and applying simple techniques into my instruction, I am finding it exciting and rejuvenating to connect the curriculum to our experiences in nature.

For example, this week we are working on opinion writing. I acquired a bird feeder photo booth over spring break. Basically, this is a special feeder with a camera attached that snaps photos of birds that enjoy the feed. Rather than just place it anywhere, we reviewed the wants and needs of animals and I had the class scout the land and eventually use a simple sheet to write where they would put the feeder. More importantly, they had to back up their decision with at least two reasons to make our opinions "strong." We will then use a shepherd's crook to have each child place their feeder for a day or to as we analyze the results and enjoy the pictures until summer break.

Secondly, we have been looking at cause and effect in reading. Connecting this concept to plan needs and our look at invasive species, we have searched for and worked to remove garlic mustard. All the while, we have discussed how we are using cause and effect in a real world application. Because we remove the garlic mustard, we are allowing more native plants to grow.

It was exciting to see how happy the students got when they correctly identified the garlic mustard,. Plus, seeing how the last few weeks of sunny, warmer weather have allowed this plant to grow quite rapidly, we searched and found the "jackpot spot," where  garlic mustard was taking over. the kids were so excited because this plant was a lot easier to pull when it was taller.

Of course, every trip outside ends with a tick check.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Earth Day Birthday

It was a beautiful day to celebrate Earth Day. Luckily for me, it was also a day to celebrate my delightful daughter's birthday. Guess where she chose to host her party? Why her favorite segment of the Ice Age Trail of course: Monches.

Being a volunteer Tyke Hike coordinator, I love taking kids out on the trail. However, this having a birthday twist, my wife and I had extra fun planning the day. It was amazing to have a mixed group of over thirty friends, family, neighbors, and classmates join us for this event. 

I planned the hike with the theme "Embry's Favorites." As we hiked, we took advantage of the gorgeous weather and nature's playground to enjoy some fallen trees and stumps in one of Embry's favorite activities, natural play.

We also stopped to take a break and listen to one of her favorite books, The Book With No Pictures, by BJ Novak.

Hard to see here, but before the guests arrived, I hid plastic eggs on both sides of the trail filled with two of Embry's favorite things. One set of eggs had fun animal stickers and the other side had candy.

After snacking, it was back to natural play, and boy, did the kids play. 😋

We wrapped up the hike with some of Embry's favorite snacks. Pretzels, veggies, fruit, juice, granola bars, and dirt cake. We opened a few presents, handed out some gift bags, and cleaned up, even picking up some extra garbage to honor Earth Day.

I think I see more birthday hikes in our future.

Schoen Laufen Park

My family enjoyed a nice Friday afternoon stroll at a local park: Schoen Laufen Park in Germantown. While it was only my second time there, it was very noticeable of the changes made since my initial visit in the fall;. It looks like a very aggressive project looking to remove buckthorn and other invasive species is underway as the park was much more bare, yet much more native.

We enjoyed looking at a variety of plants poking through the newly mulched areas once dominated by buckthorn. Many young plans were peeking through, including may apples, bloodroot,  and trout lilies.

While investigating the trout lily shown above, a rustling sound through the leaves a few feet away caught my attention.

Within seconds, we went on a snake hunt for further investigation. The beautiful garter snake was caught, observed, and released.

And even more amazing was that as my wife and I chatted about hopefully looking into places to find owl, we found one. Well, sort of.

Anyone who knows me knows time in nature equates to discovery and play. Embry agreed, so she participated in some of her favorite natural play activities. She. . . .

found stump seats and completed stump jumps,

did a few rock hops,

climbed over some fallen limbs,

and added sticks to an already started stick structure.

However, she seemed to find most joy in another one of her passions, performing. We found a nice little "stage" and sat back as she ended our hike with a  song and dance routine, stick microphone and all.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Tyke Hike #38 - Monches

With Tyke Hike #37 essentially rained out, it had been some time before we got out and about for a Tyke Hike. Embry was raring to meet new friends on a beautiful Saturday morning. Unfortunately, with this being the only Saturday in April available for us, we had to compete against spring break vacations, family visits, and Easter egg hunts, Though all five hikers were technically already Tyke Hike experts (and volunteers), we still enjoyed a great time on a great segment of trail.

While our newest addition, two month old Oakley, had already been on Monches, this was her first official Tyke Hike. Getting all four family members out on the Ice Age Trail will certainly be a regular occurrence.

In the initial climb, we stopped at one of our favorite landmarks. No matter what season, we check hollowed out stump for nature friends. While nothing appeared today, I am sure we will check again next time.

What did appear was a variety of colorful and vivid wildflowers. This particular segment is known for a great diversity of flowers, so we will be checking in again soon to see what is blooming.