Woods and Wetlands 2018

A Close Up View

I just love these little magnifiers that are tucked into the whistle/compass combo! Here, one of our scientists is exploring the tiny world of lichen. I wish I had a recording or exact memory of all the exclamations he was making as he viewed this mini world up close! “Whoa! Look at this! It looks huge!” “What IS that red thing? It looks like a … I don’t know! It’s just so COOL!” etc…  I have since learned that the lichen are harmless to their hosts and that the ones we were viewing are (likely) called, “British Soldiers,” due to their red caps.

Here is something else I learned about lichen.

“Lichens are made up of two or more different organisms living together, a fungus and an alga. The fungus provides the body (thallus) in which the algal partner can live, protected from damaging conditions such as high levels of light (ultraviolet radiation) and lack of water (drought). The algal partner provides the essential carbohydrates (food for the fungus) from carbon dioxide and water, with the aid of sunlight. This close, interdependent relationship is referred to as a symbiosis.”

I also learned that some lichens are highly sensitive to air pollution and can be used to detect sources of it!


We began by looking for different animal foot tracks. We found lots of squirrel, rabbit, and deer tracks in the swamp.
We discussed how both rabbits and squirrels have longer hind feet than front feet and I posed the question, “Why might that be?” and the kids began thinking and making hypotheses about this.
We weren’t even a bit cold in our warm gear with all of the physical activity!
Last week and this, I pointed out and explained a bit about how snow acts as an insulator keeping the swamp from freezing solid sometimes.
In the winter it is easy to find our way, not only using the Fairy Tree as our best landmark, but by following our own tracks and trails.
Even in the winter without much green in view, there is a kind of beauty to the swamp, especially as the late afternoon sunlight illuminates the red winterberries and the tips of the trees above us.
We noticed a few, tiny evergreens struggling to make their way in the swamp.
H. is being digested by some branches that were tighter than he’d expected. Though I offered to have his parents bring his toothbrush and pillow, he declined and so we worked together to extricate him with a bit of both laughing and crying as he had to help himself get un-wedged!
C. is curious!
We all used walking sticks this time and made much better time moving through the half-frozen swamp.
There is more to see than meets the eye!
After many false identifications, we finally found a clear deer track!
Woods and Wetlands 2018

Learning Happens!

A, “new,” fort tree in the swamp. They were so pleased with their discovery!
E. uses the springy branches that surround the Fairy Tree to pull himself up and become part of what the kids started calling, “The Guardians,” because they, “guard the Fairy Tree.”
D. was elated to find this mysterious looking little cave beneath a fern island. We examined it for some time.
These 3 first graders collected a number of cattails from the swamp and then gathered around at the end of class to make sure everyone had the same amount.
I kept to myself the secret that they were doing math in the woods by dividing the cattails into equal shares. I love this sort of learning.  They decided on it based on their own interests and natural impulses.  Something that can be added by the teacher after the fact is the vocabulary to describe their work as, “equal shares,” “dividing,” or “thirds.”  No formal math lesson needed here!  They are also practicing the concepts of sharing and equality with their friends.
Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2018

A Little Snow and New Ideas

Last week we stayed near the school, using mostly the area near and around the Secret Fort Tree to explore in more depth than we have before.  Some of the boys crawled through the snow making tunnels like little rabbits in the dusting of snow. They found “dens” and laid claim to their own, private territory.


Magnifying snowflakes.


We found a little Christmas-type tree that wanted to be decorated, so we used cattail fluff, grapevine curlicues, and red winterberries to decorate it.  


Finally! We have a little snow so we can see tracks of all the nearby active wildlife!  Rabbits and squirrels seem to be the most common.


The joy of eating new snow!


The Vine Hammock!


H. pretends to be a sloth after bracing a strong stick against the Secret Fort Tree and using it to climb up!  This is the first time ever that someone has used a stick to create a way to get up onto that branch. No matter how many years I have done Woods and Wetlands, I continue to be amazed at the new ideas different kids have for solving problems.  If I had ever lifted anyone up onto that branch (as I have been requested to do,) then no one would have ever come up with alternative solutions for themselves, nor would they experience the pride and self confidence that accompanies creative problem solving.


They had to work out how to share this space.  I chose not to solve it for them, but listened while they tried one approach and then another to get what they each wanted.  When kids can work things out without an adult taking over it does take longer, but the benefit in the long run far outweighs a little time lost now.  One of the boys initially said to me, “He won’t move and I want to be up here.” I affirmed that with, “Yes, I can see that you want to be there and he’s already there,” followed by a question that helps place the responsibility back where it belongs, “What are some ideas you have to fix this problem?”  They worked it out and both were happy.


C. discovers that cattail fluff doesn’t come off so easily!

Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2018

Woods and… More Woods

The new woods behind Roguewood is without a wetland at the moment.  When Spring arrives there will be a vernal pond, or so I am told.  T. patiently waited for me to catch up in order to show me where the water has been and will be.  In the meantime, we will simply have to discover other wonders of the woods!

L. continues to build on her reputation for being a frog and toad catcher extraordinaire!
This funny critter showed up on a gorgeous beech tree. It was still there when we packed up to go home.  Maybe it was cold.  We were not cold but we were besieged by mosquitos.
J. enjoys using his new magnifier to check out the hairy caterpillar on the beech tree.
Also on the beech tree was a long column of daddy long legs just sitting quietly with their legs tucked in a bit. We wondered what they were doing and why they acted oddly and stayed so still. My theory was that the temperature was too cold for them. One of the kids noticed they were all in a shallow sort of indentation in the bark. Perhaps out of the wind?
One thing this woods has that the others I’ve explored with kids don’t have is wonderful, large standing rocks! It is irresistible to most children to climb up on a rock of this kind. I am always saddened when I see children out and about who are discouraged from climbing on rocks, practicing their balance on curbs, or any number of natural movements that children are bound to make.
We found a new Vine Playground! The wild grapevines are just huge here!
L. tests out the strength of the wild grapevine.
T. was easily able to climb up on top of the vine and bounce on it like a trampoline.
So many cool mushrooms since all that rain we had!
Z. inspects the reddish mushrooms she discovered.
More cool fungi!
Maybe we’ll call it, “Toad Forest.”
Kids sharing, practicing gentleness, noticing a toad’s camouflage, waiting patiently, using empathy!  So much happens that we don’t even realize.
Mushrooms magnified.
I suddenly noticed that most of the trees around this woods seem to be maples. Then I found a variety of nuts such as walnuts and hickory nuts lying around. It turns out there are completely different types of trees than any of our other 3 Woods and Wetlands locations!
The underside of a mushroom is a curious place!
Such tall, straight tree trunks!
We explored most of the woods today just getting to know some landmarks, practicing with our compasses, and taking turns sharing cool things we found with each other.
There is no doubt this is a shagbark hickory tree! At its feet were hundreds of hickory nut shells. We heard and saw multiple chipmunks who are likely responsible for some of the harvest. L. and I discussed trees for some time. He has a tremendous amount of prior knowledge about trees! He solemnly informed me that the older a tree gets the more its bark is split (he demonstrated what he meant) and he made pretty accurate guesses at the age of some of the trees we examined. Estimating tree height is a great way to use math!
More shagbark hickories.
We guessed at what is underneath this mossy mound. L. was sure it was rocks. I thought maybe a decomposing log. Turns out he was probably correct. We found other mounds like this one and were able to see large sections of rock peeking out at the base.
It seemed that every other moment one of us was bending down and exclaiming about some interesting find on the forest floor. I’d like to think the kids are better at it because they’re closer to the ground, but I realize I’m not that much farther away! I guess they are more observant than I am, (or have better eyesight?)
I do not know WHAT this odd plant was, but the seeds appeared to be the sleepy, fuzzy eyeballs of some pink monster. L. tried telling me it was actually called, “the fuzzy monster eyeball flower.”
Poison ivy all over the place! We quickly learned what it looks like!
Poison ivy does have 3 leaves, but it is not always red, not always vining, and there are many other plants with 3 leaves. So we just had to keep looking for it, practicing finding it. Wild berry canes often get mistaken for it but they have tiny spines and poison ivy does not.
We might build a fort next week!
Where to from here?
We learned about and practiced noticing landmarks.
L was very taken with the beautiful pattern inside the walnut shell.
Where to go when the log ends?  Some of us challenged ourselves to a game of, “Don’t Touch the Ground.”
There are plenty of dead branches around for us to build with.
Pretty woods!
This unique tree had large, blade like root tops well above the ground.
Woods and Wetlands 2018

New Group, New Location

Before we even reached the woods we spotted a slug in the sunny, sandy path. This is not a normal place for a slug so we wondered why it was there.
We used magnifiers to inspect the slug’s cool little eyes on the ends of tiny stalks. With the lightest touch the slug pulls its eyeballs back inside its head and then pops them back out moments later. It’s cool to watch. I told the kids about how the slug’s slime protects it from sharp objects and how there are doctors and scientists who are experimenting with recreating slug slime that can be used to seal up human organs when surgery has been performed. The slime is protective and can work better than stitches or staples.
What is on this leaf?
Logs are meant to be walked on.
I never get tired of watching kids practice log-walking. Sometimes they develop routines they will perform over and over for fun, but I know that they are also building strength, balance, coordination, and self confidence. They also use this process for creative problem solving and self-testing.
So many cool fungi after a rain!
M. said this one reminded him of a funnel.
L. spotted this lovely butterfly with her camouflaged spots.
We reached the stream and found it to be COLD!


They walked this log over and over, eventually “falling” in on purpose repeatedly.
We are so fortunate to have such a pretty place to explore.
Weird growths on tree leaves. From bugs? From disease? We wondered.
The creek varied in depth.
Iridescent damselflies flitted all around in the sunny patches above the creek.
B. was laughing here and announcing, “This is SO FUN!”
In order to continue on down the creek we had to bend down and creep underneath a fallen tree. We had to clear some spider webs as we went. The spiders were probably displeased. We wondered how they get their webs from one side of the water to the other?


A gorgeous web that must have taken a lot of work!
Friends and neighbors happily sitting on the log noticing water striders on the surface.
Two damselflies.


L. noticed a green frog.
This is a portion of dead tree roots that has been worn away by the moving water.
After a while we wandered to another place along the stream and the kids started taking turns jumping off the muddy bank into the water, happily laughing and yelling as their feet splashed into the cold water. I love the cooperation this simple activity requires.




and sometimes we slip and fall!


Happy and balanced, each waiting their turn, giving space, being self aware at the same time that they maintain respectful awareness of each other.
L. plugs her nose as she wades through the skunk cabbage. It’s pretty stinky when you walk on it!
I tried over and over again to capture E’s amazing smile and laughing eyes but she is elusive!
Of course, eventually someone notices how cool the rocks look under the water!
L begins a rock collection.


I found a feather from a barred owl!
Whose scat is this? It is full of berry seeds.
Another spider web with a looong spider in the center!


At the beginning and end of our session we played, “Pooh Sticks,” a game originated in the original Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne. We each dropped in a distinctive stick on one side of the bridge and then ran to the other side to watch and see which one came out first, second, third, etc. We experimented with different sizes and shapes of sticks and then, later, pine cones.
Pooh Sticks is a game of physics!
They called out excitedly, “There’s MY stick!”


I loved watching them collectively dash from one side of the bridge to the other and climb up to look over for their stick. I joined them each time with the exception of these photos.
Woods and Wetlands 2018

Nature Journals, Sit Spots, & Nest Building

Our last day of this particular group was a double session, morning as usual and then picnic lunch with families, followed by a chance for the kids to show off the woods to their parents and siblings.

On the way to the wetland I asked the kids to stop occasionally for some nature journaling.  While this isn’t something everyone will want to do, I wanted them to have the introduction to it as an option for future use.  We briefly focused on using only our sense of hearing and then writing and/or sketching what we noticed with it.  We also did some leaf rubbings, weather notations, and what we noticed when we looked UP occasionally.  G. made a rule for himself, which he shared with the rest of us, which was, “Stop walking to look!”  I will now rephrase that for the purposes of your comprehension… “In order to look at something properly, stop walking first.  Otherwise you will likely trip and fall.”  But in the context, everyone understood perfectly what he meant!

When we reached the Log Walking Area, I asked everyone to locate a Sit Spot of their very own, with enough space between everyone to allow for 10 minutes of silent observation with or without journaling.  They did a great job!  B. was able to watch a spider spinning her web.  L. captured a bug to observe in a container with a magnifier.  E. sat quietly looking up and all around seeming very content.  Everyone sat and everyone had something to share after we were done.

Z. and L. have some of the very coolest tools for nature observations.  During the picnic their mom helpfully shared that she has discovered no difference between more expensive versions and dollar store quality nature tools.  This is VERY good to know!



I love that Woods and Wetlands experiences provide opportunities for both individuality and collaboration.



Having mastered the hand grip for writing, I found myself now attempting to teach how to hold a pencil sideways for rubbing over the veins of a leaf.  It took some practice.

I appreciate how some kids keep at things, not giving up when it doesn’t look the way they want it to right away.  G. is one of those kids.  On this day he also attempted and succeeded in climbing a tree that he fell out of last week.  (Only from a low branch; no harm done!) This time he made it all the way up to the high point he was originally aiming for!  He was so proud of himself and his mom was there to witness it!  Here I must give some mom credit where it is clearly due.  Though her young child was risking injury as he worked and climbed with determination along that branch and then up high against the big tree trunk, she watched with every appearance of calm and relaxation.  If she felt any apprehension or fear for him, she didn’t let him see it.  My heart was full as I watched him climb and watched her demonstrate that she trusted him to do it, that she supported him in this process.  I know that parenting isn’t easy and letting go can be terrifying for parents.  Kids who feel trusted and who are allowed to try and take some risks, allowed to fail and learn, are well equipped to take on whatever life hands them.



I’m still learning about fungi, but I think it’s Violet Toothed Polypore!




Somehow or other this knobby tree has escaped my attention in past years.  On this day it was recognized as potentially climbable.  We discovered that only the tallest of us could get very far, but it was like a rock-climbing wall, so I.B. named it, “The Rock Wall Tree.”  Some of the smaller kids wanted to be lifted up, but one of my safety rules is no lifting of anyone else.  That includes me.  I do not lift kids up into or onto anything. When they have grown tall enough and/or strong enough to do it themselves, then I know they are safe enough to try.  I also know they can get down if they got up.  I have, on very rare occasions, helped lift someone down if they were truly in a situation where they were slipping and would have fallen too far.



Do you see the toad?  L. noticed it first.  (She notices everything!)  B. asked to be the one to catch it, so the rest of us stood back and let him.  He was so gentle and patient about it.  I appreciated his approach.  Often, kids tend to lunge quickly and grab somewhat aggressively.  B. took his time and quietly followed the toad’s escape hops . He didn’t get frustrated or pounce on it.  When he finally had the toad cupped softly in his hands, the toad seemed okay with it and didn’t try immediately to escape.  We had a chance to enjoy looking at its beautiful, gold and black eyes and camouflaged bumps.  I reiterated that it is a myth that toads give us warts!  Just not true!


A birdfoot violet?



A fresh looking deer track in the driveway that bisects the nature preserve.



The Vine Playground never gets old!



L. is very interested in this deer skull that has been near the Watching Log for several years now.  We looked at its loose teeth, the place where its brain used to be, and estimated where its nose was.



It is hard to believe this tall kiddo was once one of my first graders!


Brand new fungi on the Watching Log.  They were so white they glowed!


I offered the challenge of trying to make bird nests.  It was neat to see what kids came up with, using the materials the woods and wetland had to offer.  They also used whatever background knowledge they already had of nests.  We shared ideas, of course, and soon everyone was using similar things but our nests and methods were unique, just as different species of birds’ nests are also unique to that species!

The nest below was wedged nicely in between tree trunks that grew close together.  E. used moss, ferns, and bark for hers.


Below is my nest, pre-muck layer.  I have the advantage of having learned how to braid.  I have noticed that on several occasions the boys have wished they knew how to braid so they, too, could make ropes out of grapevine bark or nests out of grass.  They are realizing that braiding is not just for girls’ hair!  I may add braiding to the skills I offer in Woods and Wetlands.



B. carefully forms his nest walls with muck from the swamp.  I love that he got his hands dirty and took his time, enjoying the process of creating.  This was definitely one of those, “process over product,” experiences that I love best because the kids don’t have to fulfill any particular task other than just working with their hands and having fun.  It doesn’t matter how it looks in the end and it won’t even go home with them.  I hope the memories last because they made it themselves with no right or wrong and they looked at it through their own eyes rather than a camera/phone lens.  (Meanwhile, I use the camera phone lens in order to share it with you…)



I. put rocks in as pretend penguin eggs.  Hoping to trick a penguin who might happen by…


This was a wonderful group of naturalists!  They cooperated, looked out for each other, demonstrated empathy, supported each other’s creativity, and took risks to learn new things.  I hope they all continue to spend time outdoors every day all year round!


Woods and Wetlands 2018

Summer Begins

We began with a gorgeous map turtle crossing the road as all the kids were arriving and parents were trying to park and say hello. (No photo, I’m afraid, but be sure to look them up!)

Next up was a lovely and fairly friendly ribbon snake, a type of harmless garter who only wanted to be left alone to hunt bugs, thank you very much.

Our group is comprised of former summer explorers, former school year explorers, and a few brand new explorers. It is a wonderful group of curious and intrepid learners. L, in particular, I have already realized is closely observing many details the rest of us miss.

On Monday we focused on learning and selecting landmarks and recognizing poison ivy. On Thursday we began learning about compass usage and also practiced watching where we put our hands and feet, especially when forced off trail by a large, controlled fire! The West Michigan Land Conservancy is once again conducting prescribed burns to select areas of the preserve in order to improve soil conditions and promote certain native plant species.

We are hoping they will refrain from burning our main log-walking area but I fear it will be gone by next week.

G and I tried a quick sketch of this pretty bug. E and I think it eats mosquitoes.

In this photo you can clearly see the differences between poison ivy (left) and Virginia creeper, (right.)
We reached the Vine Playground!

Learning about wintergreen

B and E made it higher than I ever thought they would!
Using gravity to help us run down hill and momentum carries us partway up the next. It’s physics!
We had quite the frog catching expedition at the other swamp!
Blue flags!
A beautiful Blandings turtle!
Woods and Wetlands 2018

Last Day


I have come to love these small groups of explorers.  On this day we could have really used our “shed,” full of supplies, but since people (kids on weekends or evenings?) keep disassembling it and taking our stuff, I had to haul it home for the summer until I can locate a more sturdy and lockable vessel for the fall.  Any donations toward something like that would be most welcome!

Toward the end of our session we passed through the yard belonging to the land-owner who allows us to learn on his property.  We met him for the first time ever and everyone nicely thanked him for letting us explore there.  Thank you, Mr. Larry!

What a lovely and perfect place to be a spider! Thank you, Spiders, for catching mosquitoes. We were not enjoying the ones you did not yet catch!
Always so happy to be doing her own thing in the woods!
Hmm. Deeper than expected!
At first she worried that someone would be mad that she didn’t have her “exploring” clothes on, but she soon forgot about it and just had fun.
Look out! When she’s on a mission, there’s no stopping her!
Hello, frog!


3 different types of fern
There is plenty of space for everyone to have their own frog-hunting area, but they insist on crowding together to get one frog!


Everyone was so excited to have caught such a very large frog, a green frog, but I finally insisted they let the poor thing go on its way. The frogs were exhausted, I think.
“What happens if…”
“He likes it!” (Or maybe he’s giving up on freedom?)
It was uncomfortably hot up on the playground, but down in the swamp it was shady and pleasant.
A new plant for me to look up!


She is one of the most observant and detail-oriented learners! She spotted the look alike swamp blueberry bush by recognizing the tiny, unripe “blueberries.”


I think there’s a kid in this photo… somewhere…. the swamp was SO different now! O. wanted to go to her secret spots but quickly turned back when she realized how easy it would be to get lost now. It’s time for orange vests, whistles, and compasses!
The fiddle-heads have become full sized ferns!
How many kids can hide behind one fern?
He’s always so happy out here!
We love the Tilted Tree.
K. enjoys the “slide” feature of the Tilted Tree.
D. is demonstrating what he would have to do if one of the branches was missing.
Climbing is so good for the body and soul!
Woods and Wetlands 2018

Mission Frog-Catch (and Release)

Today was absolutely gorgeous outside!  I realized that in the winter the swamp protects us from the cold and wind by being down low and blocked by bushes and trees.  In the heat of late spring we are protected from the hot sun by the fresh shade of new leaves.  It is a perfect place to spend an afternoon and evening in any season.

Everyone was wearing lily-of-the-valley flowers in their hair for post-Crazy Hair Day.  (We smelled delightful!)
H. helps adorn D. who wasn’t terribly pleased about it.
They said they were unicorns.
Huge patches of lily-of-the-valley
They all know what the huge, old, wild grapevines look like, but no one knew what new grapevine leaves and baby grapes looked like! K. thought they looked like, “Barbie grapes.”
S. is extremely proud to have been the one who named, “The Enchanted Forest.”
On a frog-catching mission right from the start!


A wood frog on a log.
It was frog city out there!


This frog was free to go but it decided to hang out a while longer.


Frogs in buckets are much easier to catch!


She conquered her fear of frogs!


Gently petting this tiny being. Probably not the frog’s favorite activity, but in the name of building and maintaining a love for amphibians (who are a sensitive, indicator species of clean water, soil, and air,) I say, GO FOR IT! Pet that frog!
Shrieks of laughter followed by two dripping, muddy girls. I asked, “Was this on purpose, by accident, or somewhere in between?” E. grinned at me and said, “Definitely somewhere in between…”
They held hands and stomped through the last bit of water before we had to go back.


Woods and Wetlands 2018

Springtime Magic

I have all these plastic, net produce bags left over from various fruit or veggies and I hate to put them in the landfill. I don’t think they can be recycled, so I decided to see if the kids could make their own nets! E. worked on hers for a long time, patiently weaving a wire she found from an old wire-bound notebook around the opening and then attaching it to a stick for a handle. She was pretty proud of her efforts!
Part of the engineering process is fixing errors and modifying design.
O. made a type of net that she could drag through the water and muck to collect whatever might be there.
I. and E. with their nets.
I showed the kids one of my favorite wildflowers of spring and we all had a taste. These violets are edible and, In my opinion, taste, “purple.”
I taught a few kids how to squeak blades of grass by pressing them firmly between one’s thumbs and blowing air through the spaces on either side.
We found ferns in all phases of development. Some were still tightly curled fiddleheads, others were wide open, and some were somewhere in between.
What can you catch?
C. loved this “island” in the Enchanted Forest. The name of this “new” area continues to evolve, but I think this time it might remain, “The Enchanted Forest.” S. came up with it and it sounded just right.
E. was the only one to successfully squeak her blades of grass. This reminded me that when I was her first grade teacher she was also the one who was able to get the most sound out of my trumpet!
The Birthday Girl! We all sang, “Happy Birthday,” to her from behind trees, popping our heads out on opposite tree sides every other line.
We seriously could have stayed hours longer!
D. and J. went off on their own adventure which they narrated, much to my amusement. They called it something else, like their trials or something difficult. I wish I could recall what it was, but they sure had fun creating pretend danger for themselves!
Sometimes we find things that are NOT part of nature and are more dangerous than anything nature has to offer out there! J. was fascinated to have found this real arrow stuck in a decomposing log in the water. I was thankful he brought it to me before touching the tip which was wickedly sharp and deadly looking. I am also glad we don’t go barefoot out there. He was pretty excited though! Talk about treasure for a boy!
I. explores the sandy mud with a stick for a digging tool.
I can almost see the fairies!
Catching some fun!
This is a great little tool for examining small finds. We used to have more of them but they disappeared. We need a securely latched container out there.
Trillium? Or Jack-In-the-Pulpit? I think trillium. We shall see!
Finally!!! We have been listening to the frogs week after week and never seeing them. This time they were everywhere! This is a wood frog, identified by the dark, brown “eyeliner” extending below and behind its eyes.
Don’t squeeze too hard!
Anyone who wanted to hold a frog had to do a, “mud wash,” by rubbing dirt and water all over their hands to protect the sensitive skin of the amphibian from the various toxins on our hands such as hand sanitizer, soap, or lotions.
This one was a bit stunned, I think, from being held a bit too tightly or too long. But it soon swam away, so we hoped for the best.
There it goes!
Holding a tiny frog cupped in her hands and talking a mile a minute!
We observed a frog from above and below!
Looking for more frogs. It was time to go but J. insisted that we come back here EVERY TIME! He said he could have stayed all night.
Mud. It washes off.
I. kindly and gently putting the snails back in the water.
Strong is the new beautiful!