Woods and Wetlands 2018

New Group, New Location

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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.
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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.
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What is on this leaf?
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Logs are meant to be walked on.
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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.
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So many cool fungi after a rain!
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M. said this one reminded him of a funnel.
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L. spotted this lovely butterfly with her camouflaged spots.
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We reached the stream and found it to be COLD!

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They walked this log over and over, eventually “falling” in on purpose repeatedly.
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We are so fortunate to have such a pretty place to explore.
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Weird growths on tree leaves. From bugs? From disease? We wondered.
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The creek varied in depth.
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Iridescent damselflies flitted all around in the sunny patches above the creek.
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B. was laughing here and announcing, “This is SO FUN!”
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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?

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

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L. noticed a green frog.
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This is a portion of dead tree roots that has been worn away by the moving water.
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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.

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Mid-jump.

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and sometimes we slip and fall!

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

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

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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.
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Pooh Sticks is a game of physics!
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They called out excitedly, “There’s MY stick!”

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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 2017

Day 1: Pure Gold

15 children ranging in grade level from first to fifth joined me for our first after-school Woods and Wetlands experience yesterday.  It was a perfect late-summer day with colors ranging toward early fall down in the swampland.  We spent a little bit of time on introductions, (with the help of some of my favorite Michigan animal puppets,) and basic safety skills.  8 of the 15 have had some prior Woods and Wetlands experience with me before, and 4 of the 8 know that particular piece of land pretty well.  I love when the students become teachers for each other and that is just what they did.

I showed our newbies where most of the poison ivy grows and pointed out ways to recognize both the leaves and the vine.  Hopefully everyone can avoid it as we continue our explorations in the coming weeks.  Our first aid kit contains both a preventative lotion as well as a soothing jewelweed salve, so we should be all set in case of an outbreak.

The tilted tree remains a favorite for climbers and I reminded them to only climb as high as each feels comfortable.  It was a good sign that right away this group cooperated and took turns waiting to get up and also to get back down.

Of course, the swamp is usually the main attraction.  This time of year it is quite dry and even an accidental step into the black muck results in only a mucky foot rather than a lost boot or full bodily submersion.  The ferns that some of us watched unfurl last spring from tight little fiddle-heads are now great, towering fronds that wave overhead in shades of green, copper, and gold.  L noticed that one fern was the exact shade of her beloved dog, Miles.  (Such a grin about that!)

Even as the kids disappeared from view quickly hidden by the thick foliage of leafed out shrubs, trees, and all kinds of interesting undergrowth, I smiled to hear their happy, excited voices calling out to each other and to me.  As instructed, everyone stayed with at least one other partner as we slowly made our way over, under, and around fallen logs and poking branches.

I love the delicious smells of drying plants and even the scent of the swamp muck itself underneath everything.  The kids did a lot of noticing and discovering, from feathers to woodpecker holes.  C noticed a tiny snail clinging to a cattail plant while back on “land” some furry, white caterpillars were captured and gently transferred to our critter container for observation.

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An opportunity for practicing the use of meaningful words to communicate and the skill of mindful listening to others came up when one student wanted to release the various creatures and another student became upset about it.  I guided each through the process of saying exactly what it was they wanted and finding empathic understanding, if not full agreement.  Peace restored, they observed a while longer and then returned all of the creatures in question to where they had been found.

All too soon our time was up and everyone helped clean up our space for next time! There is so much to explore and to learn out there; I can’t wait to see what has changed by next week!

T.