Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Timberwolf Trail - Week 4 - 2017-18 Edition

Lesson planning isn't always on the top of my favorite things to do, but when it comes to finding connections with nature, it is very enjoyable. Today, I worked with my kids to "connect the dots" about our indoor and outdoor classrooms.

 After practicing letter writing with whiteboards and natural materials, we reviewed the differences between fiction and non-fiction books by reading two selections: There was an Old Lady who Swallowed a Fly and Insect Homes.

Work time leads to play time, so to freshen up our minds and bodies, the kids exerted some energy in the forest. Then, w e took a  tree trek, reviewing parts of a tree and the life cycle of trees along the way. With many ore leaves blanketing the ground today, we stopped for am impromptu lesson abut how we can use physical characteristics of trees to figure out their type. More specifically, we looked at two different types of oak trees and the subtle differences in their leaves.

We also stopped to locate deciduous "dropping" trees and coniferous "staying" ones before I pointed out a few trees with some interesting characteristics the kids called tree holes.  It wasn't until we returned to the oak  tree classroom before we discussed the concepts of trees as habitats and identifies the holes as cavities.

Then, to really "connect the dots," we read Wendy Pfeffer's A Log's Life. This story was a beautiful way to connect the life cycle of an oak tree with the fact that trees (especially decomposing and fallen ones) can serve as homes for a variety of wildlife.

Off Trail Excursion

But reading isn't the only way we could "connect the dots."  We also searched for some examples and evidence of trees used by animals and trees at different stages of life.

Once we had time to investigate in our forest and share our observations, we needed to play. Some ventured off to do some independent activities while others teamed up. After a=some time, we all got back together to play our first (of many) rounds of Hawks & Mice, a game designed to practice curricular objectives and have some good old fashioned fun.

Looking at the school form the oak tree

Another week in the books. Next week, even more dots will be connected as we dig into the concept of a forest ecosystem.

Saturday, September 23, 2017

Tyke Hike #43 - UW-Waukesha Field Station & the Apple Harvest Festival

The first full day of Fall and it was nearly 90 degrees and sticky. That didn't stop seven humid hikers from enjoying UW-Waukesha's Field Station. Before the hike officially kicked off, our fearless hike leader went off trail and helped me collect prairie plant seeds for my school's restoration project. Once on the trail, she and her newest hiking buddy kept well ahead of the adults.

When these two happy hikers did allow the adults to catch up, it was to ask permission to play. Naturally, we agreed. We made shelters, played in the dirt, and even found the famous Halloween Tree.

The play continued with a closer look at Scuppernong Creek and some log balancing. We even stopped to find things along the trail. Whether it be walnuts, critter holes, and/or mushrooms, keeping our eyes open to the world around us was a key to discovery.

When you attend a kid-led hike, you must expect the unexpected. When our hike leaders went down a  path I had yet to venture on in my previous visits, I was excited to find a trail camera set up. Upon further inspection, this camera was part of the DNR's Snapshot Wisconsin program, the trail camera program I am fortunate enough to be a part of as well.

Embry was especially fond of the extra large milkweed pods she found.

After saying farewell to the guests form today's hike, we ventured over to the Wildlife in Need Center and found a litter of opossums getting fed. While these little guys may not grow up to be the cutest woodland mammal, they love eating tricks, so I love having them around.

Our next nature day stop was at the Retzer Nature Center's Apple Harvest Festival. Like the Ice Age Trail Alliance, I also am proud to be a volunteer at Retzer and enjoyed seeing so many guests enjoy this amazing place, even in unseasonably high temperatures.

Embry enjoyed making a rainbow butterfly,

creating a slinky snake,


and launching frogs onto lily pads in a game called Leap Frog.

Taking a break from the games and crafts, she practiced her facial expressions while exploring the scarecrows.

After hearing her daddy and other guest readers share a variety of picture books, it was time for more games.

She played, apple ring toss,

won at Wildlife BINGO,

and finished off some cold apple cider and a caramel apple.

She even had enough energy to celebrate a wonderful day of nature with one final rock hop.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Timberwolf Trail - Week 3 - 2017-18 Edition

I absolutely love the fact that every time out in nature leads to new discoveries, new ideas, and new levels of excitement. This week, while we aimed to learn about the life cycle of the tree, we experienced so much more.

On our way out to the oak tree classroom, we encountered our first woolly bear of the season. We also quickly reviewed some of the prairie plants that adorn the trail. In an earlier hike this week, I pinpointed tow plants we see in abundance: showy goldenrod and Queen Anne's Lace. This proved a perfect way to introduce the idea of native and non-native plants, a  precursor to our look at invasives later in the year. I asked the children to find an example of each and let's just say they came up with their own way to showcase their findings.

We also took time to briefly introduce habitats by comparing what was different about being out in our prairie and under the canopy of the "hidden forest." This brief introduction was a great preview of next week as we learn about trees as habitats.

When we made it to the oak tree, we reviewed the differences between fiction and non-fiction books before reading a non-fiction selection on the life cycle of an oak tree. Combining auditory and kinesthetic learning styles, we connected the book's cycles with an action to help solidify the understanding.

We whispered SEED,

crouched and used a squeaky voice for SAPLING,

stood tall and proud for ADULT TREE,

shrunk a bit slowed our pace, and whimpered OLD AGE before

slowly lowering our bodies into the DECOMPOSING DIRT stage. We then talked about how a seed could find its way into that nutrient-rich dirt/soil to start the cycle all over again.

Reading and talking about the life cycles set us up nicely to search for each stage right in our own land. We found some seeds,

searched for saplings,

encountered adults,

located some old age trees, and

stumbled on decamping trees, both standing and already fallen.

After all that hard work, it was time for even more, this time in the form of natural play.

Using wood tools

Fungus anyone?

A happy tree

"Cleaning" the forest floor

While lining up after natural play, we found a critter hole and brainstormed what might be living there. And as is usually the case, once we found one, we found a million. Our hike back to the oak tree was peppered with children's declarations of their critter hole discoveries.

We experienced a lot, so we had to take the time to document it. We officially started our nature journals and I was very proud of their effort and creativity.

Our nature day ended as it usually does: with a good old fashioned tick check. We will see if the humidity of the last few days continues into next week.