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 2017

Stick Play and A Magic Tree

This is a great way to enter the woods… once it actually gets icy.  This is mostly just dry snow and dirt.  But that doesn’t get in the way of kids who want to have fun!
The expressing of cattails never seems to get old.
Look how happy they are out in the snow being kids!
They played with sticks for at least half an hour.  No one got hurt.  No one got mad.  They took turns carefully pretending to jab at and whack each other, grinning and laughing, taking care to not actually hurt each other.  I watched and learned.

If it can be climbed, they will climb it.

Trying to unlock the magic portal with a cattail.

This was clearly a magical tree.  With S’s help, we named it Gandalf.
The  Magic Portal.

B. followed bunny tracks all over the swamp.
The muck has not yet frozen.  We talked about how the snow is an insulator.
Uncategorized, Woods and Wetlands 2017

August 10, 2017: An Obstacle Course and Frogs

On Thursday we explored a new trail, a log-climbing “don’t touch the ground,” obstacle course, and a different swamp area. But before we even set out and before all of our explorers had arrived, a lovely, green, praying mantis and a garter snake were discovered in the tiny meadow area at the entrance. The praying mantis was passed from hand to hand and then into an observation container where it was given grass to help it camouflage itself and a small insect for it to eat. We freed it before beginning our hike. I asked, “What can we know about what the praying mantis needs from what we see around the area it was living? How does it protect itself? What does it eat?” We can learn so much about living things simply by observing them.

As we practiced compass usage and reviewed the shape of oak, maple, and sassafras leaves, we noticed a really huge tree trunk and I wondered aloud how big around it was? Without a measuring tape, we made do with what we had… kids! How many kids does it take to wrap their arms around this tree? The answer was 2. L. and K. could just barely reach around to each other’s hands with the tree between them.

We noticed some new landmarks, flowers, a decomposing log, and some very cool mushrooms! We also found a clump of Indian Pipes (colorless wildflowers), a moth who wanted to be a leaf, and some jewel-weed, which is a remedy for poison ivy and nettle stings.

jewelweedmoth or a leaf

A couple of our experienced Woods & Wetlanders showed the other kids the log-walking course they had discovered back in June. The kids love practicing this routine from one end to the other, perfecting their balance and speed with each repetition. I am always amazed by how things like “simply” walking along a fallen tree can be beneficial in so many ways to the developing mind and body of a child. It is a time to test and evaluate themselves. With no suggestions or encouragement from an adult, kids will set themselves the task of making it from one end of a tilted log to the end of the whole course which includes at least 2 other logs at different heights. All in the name of fun they are improving their balance, eye-hand coordination, body-awareness, spatial abilities, creative problem-solving, perseverance, and so much more! There is climbing up, down, jumping and landing, navigating hurdles, grasping, and planning ahead. And without being told, they will do all of this countless times over again to improve their methods. Of course, none of this is on their minds. They are just having fun being kids!

obstacle log

From there we took a fresh trail to the other wetland where we discovered mostly mud! In June it was knee-deep water, but August brings drier weather, so there was knee-deep mud instead. Nevertheless, frogs of all kinds and sizes abound! They stalked and caught spring peepers, wood frogs, tree frogs, and green frogs.

We ventured back to the wetland from Wednesday so that our new group members could swing and climb on the “vine playground.” Several explorers tried fresh wintergreen leaves for the first time, while others collected a handful of it to bring home.

Next week we will visit the Climbing Tree and discover even more treasures!