Thursday, October 29, 2015

Timberwolf Trail - Week 9 - 2015-16 Edition

The drizzly conditions couldn't stop the amazing outdoor adventures of forest kindergarten. A wise friend once told me, "There's no such thing as bad weather, just bad preparation." With boots, raincoats, hats, and a positive attitude, these students were definitely prepared. As we headed out on the trail, we noticed a large group of turkeys . The birds kept coming because as we got on the trail, we saw (and heard) the cackle of about a dozen crows perching in a nearby tree. We saw a few sandhill cranes fly overhead and saw a pair of red-tailed hawks fly back and forth from tree to tree. The kids weren't surprised to see birds. We've seen hawks, turkeys, turkey vultures, and smaller birds plenty of times before. But the sheer number of birds on this trip got us thinking.
Crows and one of the hawks
As what is commonplace in nature, I was thrown a curveball. I decided to take a slight digression from my original lesson plans and ride this teachable moment as far as it would take me. We continued our hike and gathered at our old oak tree classroom. Then, it was question time. I asked kids why they saw so many birds. Some said the birds were stopping to rest. Some said the birds were lost. Another said the birds were hungry. Bingo.  I continued with asking what birds eat.  Berries and bugs were the main responses. From there, it took some time, but more questioning led to students figuring out that the rainwater was forcing underground animals like worms and mice to surface. Then, the light bulbs went on. Birds eat worms and mice. More water in their underground homes = more times they need to surface = more chances to be caught. I loved how the excited the faces got once the ornithological mystery was solved!
I swear I asked them to look miserable. :)
Turkeys through the trees
More turkeys by our favorite fallen tree\
From the trail, it was a short trip to the nearby school garden. Earlier in the year, we had discussed plants and focused on the role of roots. We talked about how good plants needed roots and how important it was to remove roots while weeding. Now that our growing season is completed, it was time to get the garden ready for its winter rest. We connected this garden rest concept to the idea of hibernating and tree dormancy.

The kids loved finding the slugs, worms, and grasshoppers that filled the garden beds and surrounding grasses. They also made it a competition to pull out the longest root or have the largest dirt clump attached to the root.

Natural play turned into a big group of tag and earthworm inspection, though some kids were willing to pose for pictures.
Matching ladybugs
Superheroes to the rescue!

Earlier in the week, we read an entertaining autumn story called The Biggest Leaf Pile, by Steve Metzger. It inspired an idea. Since we had been investigating, counting, and sorting leaves, I figured a good way to end our study of leaves was by re-enacting this story. For those of you unfamiliar with this story (spoiler alert), the main part is when a bear jumps into a large leaf pile, sending leaves flying. With our fall festival this Friday, I knew that if we wanted to recreate this story for our guests, we would need leaves. Lots of leaves. When I presented the idea to the students (and promised thy could all act out the role of the bear), they were happy to oblige in the collecting process. Our pile is growing and growing.

Our forest kindergarten program takes a break for recess, but that doesn't mean the natural learning and explorations stopped. I had recess duty this day and I noticed many of my friends saving earthworms from the concrete and taking them to the grass. A moment of pride came over me when they mentioned that they were doing it because the "ground needed the worms" and "worms are important."  Much more satisfying than the usual squeals of yuck and gross that permeate the playground on soggy days.

That afternoon, we continued our leaf collection and used natural items to practice addition number stories. Not only did the kids use acorns, rocks, dirt clumps, and leaves to represent numbers, they used sticks to make the mathematical symbols + and =. 
I love bare trees.
That afternoon, an arborist came to the school and taught the nature club I lead all about the trees on the land. Red Oak. White Oak, Hickory. Ash. Maple. Black Locust and more. He showed us how to identify the type of tree based on bark and leaves, the age of the tree based on scar lines, and the health of the trees based on some visual clues. He did estimate the age of one beautiful oak just next to one of the trail entrances at possibly 150 years old. Wow!

Nature is the ultimate teacher. Every day is a new lesson and a new experience. The learning and growing never stops.

I hope my kids can leave forest kindergarten with that message ingrained in their brains.

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