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A New Year, New Snow, New Kids

The new, “drop-in,” system combined with winter weather has created smaller groups of kids for Winter Woods and Wetlands.  It is actually pretty fun even with only a few explorers.  I am thinking that maybe next week we could have a, “Bring a friend for free,” session and see who discovers a new enjoyment of nature in the wintertime!

Our last few sessions we engaged in some hibernation exploration, snowflake study, and animal tracking.  This meant posing questions and hypotheses about hibernation such as:

What do we humans do to keep warm outside on cold days?

  • wear warm clothes
  • move around
  • go in the sun

Which animals do you think are awake and not hibernating right now in this area?

  • foxes
  • deer
  • rabbits
  • squirrels
  • birds

How do we know?

  • tracks in the snow
  • scat (poop)

What do you think animals need in order to stay warm in the winter?

  • food
  • move around
  • shelter from the wind

How do you think animals get their food in the winter?

  • hunt
  • sniff
  • dig
  • collect during the summer and fall

Do you know how birds stay warm?

  • fluff up feathers
  • layers of feathers
  • eat high energy food

We crawled around in the swamp for a while imagining we were small critters who were looking for food.  But in short order we all decided we felt better when traveling on our own feet, though the perspective from the ground was definitely interesting!

Did you know that all snowflakes have 6 sides?  Let’s prove it!  We got out our magnifiers and checked it out.  It was REALLY hard to tell with some.  We looked for different shapes and types of snowflakes.  We talked about how snowflakes form when water vapor freezes around bits of dust.  One of our young scientists exclaimed, “There sure must be a lot of dust around here then!”

We also inspected many animal tracks looking for how many toes, how the tracks lined up, what we could learn about where the animal came from or went.  We followed some tracks until they seemed to vanish and guessed at where the animal went from there.  One of our new explorers noticed a branch that had been gnawed by an animal and then confirmed our guess about what type of animal by also spotting some scat nearby.

Of course we also enjoyed climbing in the Secret Fort tree, sliding around on the ice in the New Forest, and discovering places where the swamp had not frozen solid for some reason.  Sometimes we don’t have the answers and those can be really valuable moments that get us thinking hard about possibilities.  We have intense discussions about what makes sense and what proof we have to support our ideas.

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As always, even if I have planned activity ideas it is usually more valuable to allow the students to lead the way and do the discovering.  I am there to ask thinking questions, share some of the interesting facts I know, model not knowing, and just leave space for the natural wondering that children do without prompting.  For example, the kids didn’t really stay engaged with the snowflake observations that I initiated, but they did get really interested in the ice layers in the swamp!  J. got a stout stick and proceeded to work really hard to break the ice to see how thick it was. We noticed there were air bubbles in some places and the ice color varied.  We estimated how thick we thought it might be and then got to see how thick it really was.  Soon the other kids were interested in trying to break holes in it too and spent some time selecting sticks that could do the job.  I noticed that J. must have had more experience with determining how strong a stick might be when other kids chose small, thin, breakable sticks at first.  Rather than telling them how to choose or doing it for them, I let the experience teach them and their mistakes guided them to try again… and again.  This is always a great life experience no matter what the subject!

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