Thursday, February 28, 2013

Pokagon State Park

On President's Day we ventured over to Pokagon State Park to use a gift certificate my son won for the toboggan ride. I was a little nervous about the lines on a holiday, but watched the Toboggan Run webcam in the morning and noticed the lines were fairly short. The weather was beautiful!

The lines were short!

The boys were out with attitude in full form.

I still feel awkward sitting on these.

And scream all the way down. This time we had a little mishap all the way at the end. My son's hand rubbed against the side and got scraped up a bit. Watch out for those hands! This is the first time I've seen or heard of this happening.

We used a little bribery . . .

Later we went over to the Nature Center.

A highlight was seeing the frogs and salamander eat crickets!

I snapped a picture of this inside the Nature Center--good places to explore nearby.

We went for a hike back behind the Nature Center.

The lake is in the background. As you can see in the photo, it seemed like a storm was brewing, so we just had a short hike.

We still had plenty of time to climb things!

We also found potential habitats or geocaching stashes.

This child found evidence of animals in wildlife. I took his lead and shared similar half eaten nuts when I talked about animals in winter to a group of preschoolers later that week.

We found a puddingstone rock as part of a geocache. It was getting muddy with the melting snow!

There is a playground nearby. The storm hadn't hit yet, so we kept our promise to check it out. We often will combine recreation with nature. Stopping at the playground after going on a hike seems like a treat.

While the playground was fun, it wasn't very long before the boys were in the open field busting apart a big blob of snow!

Campfire Cake

Last night, my son's cub scout group had their Blue and Gold banquet. Each boy was supposed to bring in a cake. We'd found several ideas online and used some of the ideas for his inspiration. He made a campfire with chocolate filled wafers as the logs, chocolate candy rocks to ring the fire, and fruit leather cut in triangles for the flames. He put some upside down ice cream cones and extra chocolate filled wafers as trees without any leaves on them.

Not only did he enjoy making his cake and spending time with me, but he also enjoyed getting the "most outdoorsy" award for his cake and earning his Wolf!

Do you ever make nature inspired food? We made camping scenes instead of traditional gingerbread houses at Christmas time. 

Nurturing Acorns: Sun and Stars

We looked at the sun and stars last week for Nurturing Acorns. We started with drawing pictures of the sun and stars and then stamped the words.

This helped little fingers explore letters, sounds, and words, as they worked on grasping techniques and concepts about the sun and stars.

Later, we made planets that revolve around the sun out of paper plates, construction paper, and brads. Some of the children are still developing cutting abilities, but any practice with scissors is good.

Others cut their projects out just fine! We have a mixed age group, so having activities that might be appropriate for many of the kids is helpful.

We used balloons to keep the "hot sun" up in the sky and then did some astronaut training to build gross motor skills.

The mom who does our snacks found these great space themed goldfish crackers! Cute!

We did some finger painting to make the sun, mixing yellow and red. Using the plastic on top made it  pretty much mess free.

During our open exploration time, we used pattern blocks and magnets to build space rockets and suns.

The sensory bin had locks with keys, air pumps, rakes, funnels, rocks, sand, astronauts, etc.

We also laced constellations . . .

And colored on our space ship. One thing the kids enjoyed most was counting down . . . 3, 2, 1, Blastoff!

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Nature in Unexpected Places

It's fun seeing nature show up in unlikely places . . . Concord Mall had a Preschool and Childcare Fair on Saturday. Both Woodlawn Nature Center and Elkhart County Parks had activities for the children on display.

Woodlawn Nature Center had an Animals in Winter theme with animal puppets, furs to touch, books, animal track stamps, and hibernating animal puppets to make.

One little girl (not in the picture) didn't want to touch a fur, so we introduced her to the plastic animals and making tracks in the snow. Then I showed her a small fur piece in a box and eventually a larger fur. Eventually she went over to the Elkhart County Parks table and touched a snake there! Her parents came back to let us know. It was neat to see the incremental warming up to investigating the animals more.

Elkhart County Parks had a snake to touch and investigate and plenty of things to touch and feel.

Families tried to match the furs to the animals and touched many of the items on the table.

Both Elkhart County Parks and Woodlawn Nature Center offer field trips, outreach programs, and other group programs. Elkhart County Parks also offers many types of professional development for educators. While there are many ways to connect to nature, these are certainly fun and educational ways to explore and learn!

The Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare is a coming of age book set in Maine in the late 1700s. Matt and his family are settling in the area. His father came with the 12-year-old boy to clear the land, build a rough house, and plant crops before heading back to get the rest of the family. Matt was left alone with some provisions, a gun, and a couple of books to protect the house and grow the crops until the family returned. Matt kept track of time by carving notches on sticks.

A man visits and ends up stealing Matt's gun. Matt can no longer hunt and then has bears eat much of the stored provisions. In an attempt to procure honey, he is stung numerous times and needs medical attention. A few Penobscot Indians in the area that have been watching him all along help him, bring him food, and provide some assistance. In return for this kindness, Matt offers the book Robinson Crusoe to the Penobscot elder. The elder in turn would like Matt to teach his grandson to read. Thus begins a rocky friendship as the boys grow and learn together. Attean, the Penobscot boy, teaches Matt to make snares, how to read "signs" in the woods, and other methods of procuring food, such as using a wooden hook for fishing.

This last week I brought several artifacts related to the book into a Bristol Elementary School from Woodlawn Nature Center, my own collection, and a good friend's collection who is Native American and does period reenactments. While I have read, listened to, and even watched the corresponding movie several times, I listened to the book again, listening for the nature connections.

The children had many questions and made several connections. We felt several furs, talked about the many types of animals mentioned in the book, and even discussed these animals in the local area, as well as natural places they may want to visit. In talking about the beaver, I was showing a rodent skull and discussed the unique characteristics of rodent teeth, with the harder orange portion on the outside and the softer portion on the inside. One girl astutely remarked that's how they have razor sharp teeth as the softer portion wears away more quickly.

The children were able to touch the many artifacts and have a sensory experience to the written words of the book. They could touch a red fox's fur, feel a bear's claw, try the process of grinding corn, look at animal tracks, etc. We also looked at the basic structure of a wigwam and I encouraged the children to visit the wigwam at Woodlawn Nature Center.

We also talked about some of the historical inaccuracies in the book and characteristics of the Penobscot Indians.  I find the book a compelling story and while there may be some inaccuracies, I find these to be great talking points in the discussion of the book. This was a great way to celebrate finishing the book!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Audubon Society Field Trip

I recently joined one of the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society's Field Trips. The group meets regularly, produces a newsletter, owns a bird sanctuary, provides birding checklists, offers grant opportunities, and more! SBEAS can be found on Facebook.

We met near Moreau Seminary to hike around St. Joseph Lake on the Notre Dame Campus. This lake does not freeze during the winter as a nearby power plant emits warm water into the lake. It is a popular place for waterfowl. Scott Namestnik led the group. Scott, a botanist, has two blogs where he posts: Through Handlens and Binoculars and Get your Botany On! Birding and botany go hand in hand.

Most people had binoculars and birding guide books. We also were making a count for The Great American Backyard Bird Count. While this can be done in the comfort of one's own home, it's also fun to get out with others to participate in Citizen Science. There were a couple of spotting scopes and cameras as well.

We walked around the lake, calling out birds and counting as we went. We had one official recorder for the count. People also introduced themselves and mingled as we went. As a bird was spotted, one of the spotting scopes was made available to see the bird(s) up close. While many have good binoculars, the scopes really let you see details that might be otherwise missed.

Birding guides were often pulled out to look at specific characteristics of birds and distinguish between a couple of possibilities. People were friendly and helped others learn about the birds.

While it wasn't a wildlife hike, it was hard not to notice the tracks one of the young birders found. I met these two young men on the St. Joseph County Christmas Bird Count for Kids back in December. It's good to see young people interested in birds and mentors and other interested adults who help them participate in birding.

There were plenty of Mallard ducks, yet we also saw other waterfowl, such as the Pied-billed Grieb, Hooded Merganser, Ruddy Duck, Coots, Canada Geese, Mute Swan, etc. We also heard the Cardinal and Tufted Titmouse before we saw any later.

The mute swan is a bit controversial as it is not native to the area.

We walked near feeders, yet didn't find any birds near these feeders . . . until we spotted the Cooper's Hawk watching over possible prey. We saw another not far from this spot. One of the birders listened to the calls and suspected another to be close by. It wasn't long until the other hawk was spotted.

I just found this little spot interesting, with all the winter garbage hanging out at the front door.

We saw many Cedar Waxwing and Bluebirds in this area. I loved hearing the words to describe the different types of birds, their calls, the plumage, their habits, etc.

We had a good snowfall while out. It was good to meet others with similar interests. Everyone was friendly and helpful.