We set off on a hike to explore and look for building materials.
The Monday AM Polliwogs were interested in birds and their nests, so one day we dove deep into nest building. How do birds build their nests? Could we find any nests at Huron Natural Area that we could examine? What materials do they use? What parts of their bodies do they use to build? How long does it take them? Hmmm....
We set off on a hike to explore and look for building materials.
Look what we found!!! A nest! We wonder which bird build it.
We stopped for a snack, then kept on collecting materials for our nests.
We studied our bird identification mats.
We collected dry grasses, some green grasses, soft seeds, and mud. Then it was time to build! Here we go... we're imagining we are little birds!
Then we placed our new nests into some trees around the play area and in the meadow. Maybe some birds will use them! We even fooled some adults who thought they had been built by birds!
Our Thursday Salamander group has had some rainy day adventures. Almost every Thursday this spring, we have had rain in the forecast! Sometimes it amounts to something, and sometimes it doesn't. Yesterday it did!
We started our rainy day with a hike to Sunfish Pond, where we watched a Caspian tern bird circle around the pond several times, looking for a fish to capture. We wondered if the raindrops on the pond make it harder for terns to see their prey under the water.
We passed a tree that was half wet, and half dry. Why is it like that??
Our adventurous Salamanders were keen to try crossing the creek to Coyote Corners - a slippery venture on a rainy day! We sized up our different options for where to cross, discussed it a bit, and then helped each other across. Without any soakers!!!
Once we got to Coyote Corners, we had a snack and listened to stories. We begged for more! We sang some fun songs too. It was a fun, quiet time under the tarp shelter - hunkering down as we listened to raindrops falling above us.
Then we had some free time, and most of us wanted to do embroidery on burlap. One of us spent time with 2 snail friends that had been collected on our walk, and we heard a play by play of everything the snails were doing. Another continued a weaving project started the week before. And the rain stopped! Some wanted to just stay under the tarp to keep crafting, but others ventured out.
We got so involved in our activities, that we were so surprised to learn that it was time to clean up and head back. Several begged for more time... could we please stay out longer today?!? What a great question on a rainy day!
We gathered our things, and took the short way back.
What a fun time in the rain!
Our after school Coyotes group is an adventurous one. They're always up for something new: a trail, a meandering creek, a new pond to explore.
Over the last four weeks, we have visited several areas of the park. We've explored the big pond (Board of Ed pond), Sunfish Pond, and have examined creatures in the Strasburg Creek.
We have walked to high, sandy places, through sumac forests, along pond-shores, and through woodland trails.
We have balanced on logs, traversed flowing creeks, gotten our feet wet and muddy, and discovered "new" creatures.
We have been wet and cold and dirty and hot and happy. We play hard!
We are active, enthusiastic, and adventurous. We also love to share the nature knowledge that we have learned.
We have made new friends!
Here's a peek into our time together so far:
This is our first season hosting a daytime Owls group that spans the ages of 9-12. And it's been fun to experience the natural world with these wise ones! There are many varied interests in the group: turtles, recycling, birds, salamanders, knot-tying, owls... the list goes on and on.
These children are concerned about nature being cared for and kept clean. They are passionate about the future, and dream about the kind of world they'd like to see: one where people get along and everyone has enough.
They like to play games, build together, work in their journals, sit quietly in the woods during "sit spot" time, go for long exploration hikes, and ask questions.
They pick up garbage that they find along our journeys, making the park cleaner for others to enjoy.
They notice creatures. Some of the ones on our list so far this spring: great blue heron, caspian tern, osprey, hawk, mallard ducks, damselfly nymphs, dragonfly nymphs, bees, salamanders, tadpoles, cabbage white butterflies, painted turtles, and more...
Each week, they bring curiosity and questions and stories and laughter. Here's a glimpse into some of our weeks so far this spring:
And here's a blessing to end this post - one that we've used with our Owls during our closing circle time:
"May the sunshine always be
May the air we breathe be clean
May the grass and trees for us,
Be forever green,
And may we find peace everywhere
And bring it everywhere we go."
Our time together is full of small things, and the Thursday PM Polliwogs love to examine and experiemce these small things!
Small things are squirmy, like worms under logs.
Small things are cute, like a baby painted turtle the size of a quarter.
Small things are fascinating, like a sleepy red-backed salamander.
Small things are swimmy and fast, like dragonfly and damselfly nymphs, and pond polliwogs.
Small things are wet and cool, straight from the pond.
Small things are adventures, balancing on logs, discovering new pathways.
Small things are play and imagination, creating concoctions and tea parties in the woods.
Small things are sticks, the versatile play-toys of the forest.
Small things are friendships, built one forest school week at a time.
Some days, our time together just is pure magic. Do you know what I mean? Similar to last Thursday, when our Thursday Foxes focused on nests, and then low and behold, a nest came to us... Monday's Foxes were equally lucky this week! Here's what happened:
We started our afternoon talking about dragonflies and the changes they go through. Last week at the pond, we had fished out many dragonfly nymphs (babies) with our nets, and observed them in a bin for a while. We learned that they move quickly by shooting water out of their bums/abdomens! We thought that was pretty funny.
This is a dragonfly nymph below in an ice cube tray for observation. Some are as big as this one, and some are tiny. This one looks like it's almost ready to climb up onto a reed and transform into a flying dragonfly.
In the nymph stage, dragonflies are skilled predators, hunting for mosquito larvae, smaller dragonfly nymphs, diving beetles, small fish, tadpoles, and other small water insects. They have an amazing jaw too!
We talked about the dragonfly life cycle: how they start out as eggs, then hatch into nymphs, spend up to 4 years in the water, then one day, climb up onto a reed or log and crack out of their casing to become a flying dragonfly! The dragonfly stage only lasts for about 10 weeks! 90% of their lives is spent in the aquatic stage... amazing!
Well, maybe you can guess what happened next... one of our Foxes found a dragonfly at the edge of the pond. It was so new that its wings were still stuck together - and its abdomen was dripping a little bit. We looked around the log where it was sitting. Close by, we could see its casing, or exuviae - the shell it had shed in order to become a flying dragonfly.
It was quite exciting to watch! We were very still, just watching the dragonfly be still.
Our time would not be complete without some time to play and make believe in the forest and hunt for creepy crawly creatures under logs.
Our Thursday Foxes have spent a couple of weeks chasing questions about birds. There is a lot of interest in this group: what birds do we have in the spring in Huron Natural Area? What birds do we hear when we're in the forest? What do birds eat? We've been hearing chickadee calls, and finding mallard ducks in the woods. Are they nesting? Are they mating? We wondered...
This past week, our focus was on nests. We talked about different kinds of nests and different places to nest. Some birds nest in tree cavities made by woodpeckers (screech owls, wood ducks). Some nest on the ground (Canada geese, mallard ducks). Some nest up high in nests made of big sticks (great blue herons, eagles, egrets). Some build nests in trees made of smaller twigs, pine needles, string, hair, with moss or soft seeds lining them. We looked at a weaver bird nest from South Africa that hangs from a tree. We talked about different jobs and male and female birds have in nest building. It is amazing to learn about the diversity of nests!
We worked together to gather materials to make a nice, cozy nest for our friend the robin:
Then we set off on a hike to Coyote Corners. Look what we found on the way! Can you see what we spotted high up in the trees?
After our snack, we worked to find nests for our other bird friends. Some were high up, and some were nesting on the ground.
Over the last 2 weeks, we have shared several great books about birds and nests:
But guess what!? The climax to our time together came as a total surprise to all of us! We had a few extra minutes to spare, so we thought we would play a short game of Eagle Eye. So several friends ran into the bush area to hide, and were surprised by a female mallard duck who flew away. She was very well camouflaged in the dry brown grasses. So we stopped what we were doing, and look what we found:
A nest of mallard eggs! We're going to try to leave them alone so that the mother stays nice and calm from now on!
It's always enlightening to go into the woods with a group of young children. I learn new things every day!
Yesterday, we discussed the feelings of trees. We didn't talk about WHETHER trees feel... that was a given. The children's discussion centred around WHAT trees feel. Here's what I overheard:
"When trees are brown, they are mad."
"When trees have leaves, they are shaded and happy."
"And when they don't have leaves, they are sad and mad."
"When they get their leaves, they are happy again!"
"Trees get their feelings by feeling the wind."
We looked at different seeds, and found seeds on our hike that trees had produced this spring. We also stopped for a snack, sitting on a big log. We counted the rings on the log to see how old it was. 58!!
We read Frank Glew's book called "I Need a Hug" about a gigantic tree who just wanted to be hugged. Then we all found trees to hug in the forest at Muskrat Bay.
I think those trees felt happy to be hugged! What do YOU think the trees around you are feeling?
We've already talked about tracking some poo/scat in the winter. This past week, we focused on tracks. We put on our detective senses to figure out who has been in the woods.
On the way, we made some of our own tracks:
On our walk, we saw: rabbit tracks, coyote tracks, and deer tracks. (and people and dog and angel tracks too)
We followed some deer tracks through the woods and they led us past a fairy estate. We didn't see any fairy tracks in the snow, so maybe they are hibernating.
We talked about the various ways of moving through the snow. Some animals are hoppers (rabbits, squirrels, mice). Some are waddlers (raccoons, wild turkeys). Some are walkers (deer, coyote, fox). What are you?
Here we are, tracking a dear deer.
Here are some more tracks. Can you guess what they are?
When the snow wasn't exactly snowpeople-making quality two weeks ago, we improvised. Inspired by Lois Ehlert's book Snowballs, we made snowpeople inside using felt circles and loose parts.
Look at our fancy snowpeople!
Last week, we were excited to see the fresh white snow at the Huron Natural Area. We built some mini-creatures before heading out on our adventure in the woods. The snow definitely changes how we can play and explore in the winter time!
Here are some other articles for your enjoyment.