Woods and Wetlands 2017

Never Bored

45° and sunny

November 7, 2017

No one could be bored with a woods and swamp to explore.  Today (Tuesday) many of the kids had their new compasses and they practiced using them while also learning to read an old map on our new exploration.

Is it poison sumac?

Before heading out on our new discovery the kids wanted to go explore some more out past the Fairy Tree.  A group decided to make a path between the Fairy Tree and the Boardwalk, (which was pretty easy because of the kids from the Thursday group who already did that the week prior…)   They came back triumphant and announcing that they are, “real men and women,” because they made it all that way!  I contemplated having a discussion about what they think it means to be a, “real man,” or, “real woman,” but I could tell they were just being silly and so I laughed with them and said nothing other than reflecting that I could tell they were proud of themselves.  Unfortunately, (or fortunately, depending on your point of view,) I found what I think is poison sumac out in the area near the boardwalk where the kids have started making the new path.  We will be avoiding that and learning to identify it asap!

Possibly poison sumac? Poison sumac differs from the staghorn sumac that we often see growing in meadows in our area. Poison sumac sometimes has white berries. It can grow into a large bush and is described as growing in swampy areas. We did have two students who developed a rash the week before and it does say in the 1978 nature trail book from Lakes that there was poison sumac out near the old boardwalk which is where I found this. I am waiting on positive identification from a forester friend.

The new path:  a map, an old oak, and a mossy wetland

Several of us blew our whistles to call everyone to us so that we could follow the old map to a new location.  I had copies made of the 1978 map of the Lakes Nature Trail so anyone who wanted to follow along on it as we walked was able to do so.  Most of the kids were excited to do so.  Our first stop was at Grandfather Oak.  We noted how old he looks and gave him a hug.  The kids noticed that an animal has or had a den at the base of Grandfather Oak.  Someone asked what kind of animal it was so I asked what kind it could be.  This is a good way to determine what kids already know about their local wildlife.  My guess was a woodchuck, but nobody was home at the moment so we didn’t find out for sure.



The new woods is both a woods and a wetland at the same time.  It reminds me a bit of one of the planets on the old Star Wars movies, but I don’t know which one.  It is beautiful and decorated with mossy logs, clear water with a leafy floor, and weathered stumps that look like fairy castles.









Dead tree trunk and a bird’s nest

M. came upon a dead tree trunk barely balancing on its last leg and he wanted to push it down, (because it’s fun for kids to do stuff like that!) but I was so glad he asked first.  I was explaining how dead trees provide food and shelter for birds and bugs, and then someone noticed a bird nest up in one of the cavities of the trunk!  I am sure it will fall down on its own at some point soon, but we were glad to leave it alone for now in case it lasts until spring.  This spontaneous mini lesson on how dead trees are beneficial turned into another mini lesson about how birds do not live in nests except to raise their young! C. (4th grader) was very curious about this and he said that he never knew that because books seem to always show birds in their nests so he assumed that’s where they go at night when they go to sleep.  He thought about it and asked me where they do sleep if they don’t sleep in nests?   I love that he was thinking about it and wondering.

Authentic compass usage + a handy thermometer

C. (5th grader) and I had a great conversation/lesson about directions.  She thought her compass wasn’t working properly because it was pointing the direction she was sure was east.  Once we established that it was, in fact, north, she was baffled by how her sense of direction was turned around.  This happened again when it was time to walk back and she felt strongly that we should walk in a different direction.  I explained about our sense of direction and how it will improve with practice just like any other skill.  I assured her that I still get turned around in my head sometimes and that is why knowing how and when to use a compass is really helpful.

The sun started to set when it was time to go and we could see it shining brightly through the trees to the… “Who knows in what direction the sun sets?”  This was met with a chorus of ALL of the directions shouted out at me.  Finally I got them quiet enough to confirm WEST and have everyone check their compasses.

This photo captures him after he had already walked, balancing carefully, along the log and fallen in. He didn’t give up but stood up and climbed back onto the log with a branch for additional support. His feet were wet and cold but the smile never left his face.

We headed back, trying to be extra quiet and respectful as we skirted the edge of a property owner’s lawn.  I have permission from that particular landowner, but will need to get permission from some others now that we are exploring farther afield.

The temperature had dropped by that time and some of us checked our thermometers on the back of the compasses.  It had only dropped by 3 degrees (a quick math problem done by a 2nd grader as we walked,) but without the sun it felt really cold!  Those who had slipped and had boots full of water were starting to get pretty chilly by then.  It may be time for thick socks or multiple layers!

It was a wonderful afternoon of my favorite kind of teaching and learning!



Woods and Wetlands 2017

So Much Fun!

I know I have had as much fun as the kids when I don’t even think to take many photos.  It means I was present.  I was there in the moment enjoying myself and watching the kids being kids.  We were again fortunate to have a volunteer with us.  I am always a bit unsure at first with adults since kids are my comfort zone, but Mrs. V. was definitely up for the experience!  She knew what she was seeing was of value and she had her own nature stories to share as well!  I love knowing there are adults who see the swamp’s beauty and the kids’ eyes all lit up with joy and a sense of adventure.

We explored and noticed all kinds of cool things.  What amazes me is that there is always something new that I have never seen before.  For example, a couple of boys brought over a tiny piece of a branch that had what appeared to be very small fungi of some sort growing on it.  The boys were curious to know what they were and I am no fungus expert but I was pretty sure they were a fungus.  We poked some open and found dry, grayish powder inside which I guessed to be spores.  We sniffed at it carefully and came up with a few scientific guesses as to what it might be.  Mrs. V. is totally on the same page with me in terms of combining science and imagination because she waited until we were done guessing before posing her hypothesis about swamp alien pods.  We laughed and expanded on that fun idea.  The classroom teacher in my mind reflected on the writing projects that could come from this!

One of the girls was curious about some kind of woody growth on a different branch so I got my pocket knife and we cut it open to see what might be living inside, if anything.  We didn’t confirm anything in particular, but everyone crowded around to see what it might be.  The curiosity and the process of investigation seem like the best part, even if we don’t have any conclusions.

A few kids went on a longer exploration past the Fairy Tree and came back with stories about what they saw as well as a curl of bark filled with cattails, but they called them corn dogs.  Who could argue?


About half the class went with me to the boardwalk because I wanted to see whether I could locate any poison sumac by sight.  I read in our 1978 Lakes nature trail booklet that there was poison sumac out in the swamp, but I have never seen it if it is still there.  We have had one boy recently who did get a rash, but we don’t know if it is from that or poison ivy or something else.  My knowledge of sumac extends only to the common staghorn sumac you see around the fields and open lands in Michigan with its fuzzy, red clusters of berries and harmless leaves.  With most of the leaves off of the swamp bushes I was unable to identify anything that might possibly be poison sumac.  I referred to online photos of it with white berries and leaves not unlike those of staghorn sumac.  I will continue researching.

At the boardwalk, G. demonstrated her tremendous balancing abilities on the old railing.


Next week I hope to take the class on a little hike using the new (old!) map in the 1978 guide that Mrs. Wells found in an old filing cabinet last spring.  I can’t wait to see what happens!