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!
How to - For Parents

A Walk in the Rain

How often have you and your children stayed inside because it was raining or wet outside? Or too hot, too cold, too windy, too humid, or too dry?  When we retreat to our heated or air-conditioned homes every time the weather isn’t what we think of as, “perfect,” what are we teaching our children and reinforcing in ourselves?  How does that lesson translate when compared to Real Life?  You don’t have to go to a nature center to experience nature.  Any patch of it will do.

Let’s go for a walk.  Yes, I know it’s wet outside.  Yup; it might rain some more.  Let’s dress for it.  Let’s wear shoes we don’t care about getting wet, clothes that will keep us warm enough for an hour or so, and who cares if we get wet?  We will dry again and our skin… it’s amazing and magical because it’s naturally WATERPROOF!  Oh, I know you don’t want to, but we are going to anyway.  You will survive somehow.  Let’s go.

(And, leave your phone at home; trust me on this.  Or if you MUST bring it, then silence it and treat it like it only works in emergencies.  No, don’t even use the camera.  You don’t have to have a photograph of everything in life.  With any luck and maybe some basic care, the outdoors will still be there later.  You can just enjoy the experience and be totally PRESENT, not to mention modeling it for someone else…)

We can splash around in puddles here in the driveway if you want.  Wait!  Look at this! It’s so cool how this flower has water droplets hanging off the tips of every petal.  I wonder how this flower stayed intact even in that wind we had earlier?  How many days will it bloom?  Why is this bee sitting so still in the center?  Maybe it’s cold and not ready to move around.  Look at its soft, fuzzy back!  It looks kind of sweet and harmless right now.  Let’s get closer… aww.  Its face is actually cute when you really look at it!

Tired of puddles?  Okay; let’s walk a bit down the side of the road.  Whoops!  Look out for that frog!  It looks quite happy there in that little pot-hole in the gravel road, doesn’t it?  Maybe we should move it to the water by the side though, just in case a car comes by?  Oh!  Wow!  I guess it didn’t want to be held; there it goes!  I wonder how far frogs can jump in one leap?

Hey!  Check out this rock!

We squat over the shiny, wet rocks that make up this part of the gravel road and there is so much to notice.  That rock with the lightning bolt of white quartz blazing through the middle and the one that is just plain black but such a smooth and inviting shape and size to hold in your hand.  We can be entertained for many minutes, even hours, by rocks in the rain.  (or in the sun, the lake, the field pile…)

What is THAT?  I have never seen a mushroom like that before!  It wasn’t there yesterday, but it’s huge!  They just seem to pop out of nowhere, especially after the rain. How does that happen?  Look at the patterns on the underside of it!  They remind me of something I saw before under the hood of a car.

That tree trunk over there looks almost black but usually it’s sort of silvery.  Everything is darker in the rain.  I wonder where this rain was before it came here?  Did you know all the water on earth is the same water that has always been here?  That water that fell as rain is going to be recycled again.  It’s hard to imagine!

Oooh!  Look at all the cattails by the wetland!  They are so tall!  I remember in the spring when they only came up to my knee and now they are taller than I am.  Those brown, hot-dog-like parts weren’t there then either; they grew over the summer.  In one of my favorite books there’s a kid who lives off the land and he makes some kind of food with cattail roots.  I remember him saying they were, “starchy.”

Ssshhh.  Do you hear that?  I love that sound of the raindrops pattering on the leaves.  I noticed we are hardly even wet under the trees here.  …  It’s so quiet; I think the rain is stopping or slowing down.  Wait!  Do you hear THAT?  What IS that?  Let’s go out in the open and look.  Whoa!  Look at those birds!  They are making that sound!  I think they might be sandhill cranes!  Let’s count them.

I’m going to go walk along that log there.  Yikes!  It’s way more slippery than I thought it would be.  I guess rain makes things slippery.  It’s fun to try to balance though.  I’m going to try again…

Are you ready to go home?  I guess it’s time because I’m hungry now.  I’m so glad we took this walk and had this time together.  It was way more fun to see and do real things that aren’t happening on a screen.  Let’s do it again tomorrow!

This is just a tiny example of what a walk could look and sound like with a child.  You don’t have to know the names of anything or the answers to any questions.  You get to wonder and question right along with your child; they love that!  You might remember stories from when you played outside as a kid and your kids love to hear those stories!  You might discover something totally new together.  It might be a springboard for further research; maybe you will go home and read about something you wondered about during the walk. Perhaps you will find a place you’ve never been and there are no signs telling you not to go there.  And while you are there, maybe you will have an adventure, big or small, with your children.  

Memories are made, not watched on a screen.  Think back to your favorite childhood memories.  I bet most of them were real, and I will also bet that many were outdoors without structure or rules.  Don’t you want your child to have those same kinds of nostalgic memories someday?  You can do it.  You can send them outside and take them outside, and the rest will follow naturally.  Just give it a try.  Give it time.  It might not be easy at first, but you can do it.  I promise you will not regret it.


Firsts in the Forest

What Came Before

In 2009 I invented a summer class for our local community education group called, “Woods and Wetlands.”  Then, in 2015 I created, “Firsts in the Forest,” for Fridays during the school year.  This was only for my first-graders and I implemented it for 2 school years.  Here is the link to the blog about that.  http://firstsintheforest.blogspot.com/