10 Days Until Arbor Day…are you ready?!

The best part of April 27? It’s Michigan’s Annual Arbor Day!! The worst part? It’s only celebrated one day a year; and seeing how awesome trees are, they should be celebrated every day!

So what is Arbor Day? Arbor Day is a day dedicated to trees and all they do for us. From cleaning the air, to holding down river banks, and providing shade and wind block to reduce our energy bills. They provide paper products, food, shelter, and if you get a whole bunch of them together, a habitat! And the coolest part is the original founder of Arbor Day was a Michigander! J. Sterling Morton moved from Michigan to Nebraska, and noticed how barren the land was. In 1872, Morton got all his new fellow Nebraskans together and planted over one-million trees on the first celebration!!! Isn’t that insanely cool! My goal is to plant a million trees in my lifetime,  but they did it in one day!

But in all seriousness, there are only 10 days until Arbor Day. Have you decided how you’re going to be celebrating? If you haven’t yet had a chance to think about it yet, let me give you some ideas…

Tree City USA – Head over to our webpage to see the community events. Every City that is certified as a ‘Tree City’ has to hold an Arbor Day celebration every year. Feel free to contact the city nearest you to find out what is happening!

Not a certified ‘Tree City’? No worries! Tons of cities, towns, nature centers, and college campuses are hosting their own celebration! Join in the fun!

DNR Outdoor Adventure Center – Celebrate the 146th National Arbor Day by engaging with others as you learn how to choose and plant trees that are native and helpful to our Michigan ecosystems. Take a hike , at 1 p.m., to identify trees in Milliken State Park. The first 50 participants will receive a seedling to take home and plant.

DNR Work Days – If you love to volunteer your time and make natural areas more beautiful, then we have the task for you. Many State Parks across this beautiful state are offering workdays for Arbor Day. Call one near you to see if they are hosting an event, or check out which one is closest to you!

Conservation Districts – There are 72 Conservation Districts filled with folks trying to improve the land we live on. Many of these offices have demonstrations or workdays. If they don’t. Find the one that is local to you today!

If non of the above work for you, you can always head into your backyard to plant your own trees! The conservation districts often sell trees as a fundraiser, or you can head to your local landscape company or an MDARD certified nursery to pick up trees.

Happy Arbor Day and remember, he who plants a tree plants a hope!

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India’s Forest Man

While the story of Jadav Payeng, India’s Forest Man isn’t brand new, it’s still a story I never get tired of.

In the northeast region of India, Payeng realized the severity of the changed landscape near his home. Years of flooding and river braiding had changed the Brahmaputra River and sandbars through the entire region. Fertile land gave way to miles of sandbars. Nothing was growing: there was no shade, there was no vegetation, and there was little life that chose to live in the area.

Unsettled by the reality, Payeng decided to do something about it: plant trees. While many locals chastised him for being foolish enough to plant trees in the area, he didn’t give up. After working on a reforestation project for 5 years, he started his own plantings and gardens, and took care of each and every sapling by hand. What started in 1979 as a bamboo stand has since evolved and populated into a 1,360 acre forest, brimming with life from birds, beetles, deer, monkeys,  bengal tigers, indian rhinoceros, and even elephants!

But the humble farmer says he can’t take all the credit. “It’s not as if I did it alone. You plant one or two trees, and they have to seed. And once they seed, the wind knows how to plant them, the birds here know how to sow them, cows know, elephants know, even the Brahmaputra river knows. The entire ecosystem knows.”

Trees can do so much for an environment. From stabilizing the river banks and cooling the water, to holding down the topsoil and providing moisture in the air; trees provide shelter and a habitat for all types of life, and once the smallest organisms arrive, they will be followed by larger and larger organisms. This new forest, named Molai Forest after Payeng, is nearly twice the size of New York’s Central Park! And he doesn’t plan to stop there! Payeng has plans to expand his forest onto other shorelines and sandbars near the river. I think we can all learn something from Payeng. As the famous poem from Lucy Larcom goes, he who plants a tree plants a hope, and joy, and peace, and youth, and love, and his work its own reward shall be.

Feel free to read the NRP story for yourself!

Ostereierbaum

With the Easter holiday arriving in just a few days, many folks are getting their homes decorated with eggs, bunnies, candies, and more! But in some parts of the world, decorating trees is a common tradition. In Germany, and other European countries, there is a centuries old tradition of decorating branches, shrubs, and trees with painted eggs. The most famous Ostereierbaum, or the Easter Egg Tree,  was in the garden of Volker Kraft in Saalfeld, Thuringia (Germany). He and his wife began decorating an apple tree in their yard in 1965 with just 18 plastic eggs. As the years went by and the tree grew, they increased the eggs until in 2012 they had over 10,000 eggs, with the majority of them hand painted, hanging on their tree. This brought thousands of visitors to their home each year to see the amazing tree. They retired in 2015, and donated their collection in 2016. However, the biggest Ostereierbaum, accepted in the Guinness Book of World Records, consists of 82,404 painted eggs hanging from a pecan tree in Brazil. The second largest Easter Egg Tree was at the Rostock Zoo in Germany where they decorated a massive red oak tree with 76,596 eggs!

If you are looking to do something new and creative to do with your family this year, the tradition of decorating a tree outside is also something kids really enjoy and brings a lot of spring spirit, even as the cold weather continues. If the weather doesn’t cooperate, you can always bring a few branches indoors to place in a vase and decorate.

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Pictured: Volker Kraft decorating his apple tree in Saalfeld, Germany.

2018 5th Grade Poster Contest

Whew what a week! Tuesday was the first day of spring (although it was a bit chilly outside), Wednesday was International Forests Day, and Thursday was World Water Day! And while all those things are exciting, the best part of this week is that the statewide 5th grade Arbor Day poster contest has officially been posted online!

The Michigan Arbor Day Alliance use to hold an annual poster contest for fifth grade students. Winning entries went on to the national competition run by the Arbor Day Foundation. When the Arbor Day Foundation decided to discontinue their contest, ours went away with it. The poster contest was replaced with our Go Green Youth Challenge initiative (GGYC).

While the GGYC was successful and planted over 1,000 trees in Michigan, we have decided to change directions by bringing the poster contest back. This is our second year back to creating works of art, and wow what an amazing turnout! Last year, there were 7 posters submitted. This year we had…drum roll please… 91 entries!!! We had so many that our board actually did a mini vote and took out all the ones that did not follow the contest directions or did not relate to this years theme: Trees for Life. This left us with a whopping 53 poster contestants! These beautiful master pieces are being displayed at the MSU Federal Credit Union headquarters in East Lansing.

Why am I telling you about this? We need you to head to our facebook page and vote on your favorite posters. We will keep the contest open until April 2, 2018, so get your vote in today! Feel free to share the page with friends and family to encourage them to vote as well. We will announce the winner later in that week. And remember, only 35 days until Michigan’s Arbor Day!

Wisconsin Teacher Brings Forest Classroom to Public School

Forest classrooms are more common in Europe, but lately there have been several popping up around the United States. Generally speaking though, these have been preschools run by nature centers or private schools.

Yet one teacher did his research and proposed a forest kindergarten to his public school board…and was given the green light to start one. As far as we know, this is the first one we have heard of that has been created at the kindergarten level and in a public school setting and this is really exciting news. Hopefully, this means that the idea of forest classrooms is gaining ground in the education world in the U.S. Maybe we’ll even see the concept at the upper elementary or middle school level someday?

It’s something to hope for at any rate. Well done Mr. Dargatz, and we hope that your passion and the model class you’ve created will serve as a role model to others hoping to do the same. 🙂

 

Woodside Elementary teacher shows students what the outdoors can teach them

A Woodside Elementary School teacher is using his love of the outdoors to teach students with a unique education style.

Peter Dargatz is in his third year teaching nature kindergarten to students. They spend time every day outdoors learning about various things such as types of animals and the seasons. It is an adaptation of what’s called nature kindergarten, a curriculum popular on the east and west coasts of the United States and in Europe.

The definition of nature kindergarten came about due to misconceptions surrounding it and other similar programs called forest kindergarten and forest preschool.

“Forest kindergarten is technically pre-kindergarten age, 3- and 4-year-olds that are outside essentially all day. Nature kindergarten is actual kindergarten age, 5 turning 6, and it doesn’t have to be outside from the beginning to the end,” Dargatz explained.

The idea to implement a similar type of program in his classroom stemmed from what he observed in one of his kindergarten students.

Inspiration for the program

Two years ago, he noticed that one of his students was excelling academically. But when he shifted his classroom activities back to a traditional kindergarten setting for the last week of school, he noticed something wasn’t right.

“I noticed that she could not problem solve when she was with a peer. I noticed that her fine motor skills were lacking. I noticed that she didn’t know how to initiate play,” Dargatz said. “She didn’t know how to do these things. I thought to myself, ‘Wow, I’m really focused on the wrong thing here. Like all my kids were doing awesome academically, but I’m not really preparing them for the next level. I’m not preparing the whole child.”

That, along with the birth of his first daughter, caused Dargatz to realize that he wouldn’t want his daughter in a classroom like his.

“I realized that I had to change things around,” Dargatz said.

Starting it up

That summer, Dargatz started doing research centered around the whole child approach. It also happened to be during that summer of 2014 that he started to volunteer on the Ice Age Trail, starting a “Tyke Hike” program.

It inspired him to try a similar program out in his classroom.

“My school has access to this beautiful parcel of land that nothing was going on in up to three years ago. It was just there,” Dargatz said,”We had just put in a garden five years ago, so I knew there was interest in outdoor learning opportunities.”

In August 2014, after several meetings with school and district administrators and studying Schlitz Audobon’s nature-based preschool, Dargatz was given the green light. He then built an approximately half-mile trail on the land with the help from his fellow Ice Age volunteers.

Side trails have also been created, and his students have helped restore the land by planting new trees and plants to replace invasive plants and grazing grass that took over the land, according to a member spotlight of Dargatz’s class on the North American Association for Environmental Education’s (NAAEE) website.

Program structure

Dargatz’s class spends some time outside every day. At the very least, students take a hike out to recess. Usually, they will complete at least one full lesson outside, with time built in for natural play. With nature days, the group reads a picture book on a topic building off the previous nature day. They then explore a part of the land in coordination with the day’s topic while finding new lessons.

Also part of the program is Dargatz’s emphasis on taking risks. He teaches basic lessons on boundaries, stick safety, spatial awareness, and the like. And although he is there to help students make safe choices, Dargatz said he is there to guide, not control, their decision-making.

“When given the chance and space to be independent in their decisions, they are motivated to safely learn, grow and achieve in our outdoor environment,” Dargatz said in the member spotlight.

Program growth, benefits

When the program started, Dargatz said, he learned a lot on the fly. It was just his classroom at first. Now, it is run in all five of the school’s kindergarten classrooms in some capacity and has a collaboration with the Retzer Nature Center in Waukesha. The school district is considering expanding the program into first grade. Parents, the school and community members have been very supportive of it, according to Dargatz.

Retzer Nature Center naturalist Larry Kascht has also noticed the program’s benefits, as well as with the partnership the center has with Dargatz’s class. The class alternates between visiting the center and hosting the center’s naturalists.

“It’s been a real fruitful partnership and a real fun model for all of us to pursue,” Kascht said.

Dargatz’s fellow kindergarten teacher Courtney Klein has seen the benefits of the program with her students as well. She noted that her students have become more independent, ask higher-level questions and think deeper on concepts.

“I think they’re more engaged because they want to be outside,” Klein said. “I think it’s natural for little kids to want to play, and I’m proud to be teaching in a district that appreciates that, that we’re not cutting recess minutes and getting rid of play time because it is so crucial to their development.”

So Long 2017…

Whew!

We don’t know about you, but 2017 was a crazy ride. It seemed like it would never end, and yet it has. It was busy, but we accomplished a ton. We hope you had a great 2017 too.

To check out what we have been up to, read our Year in Review annual report on our website. Just look for Year in Review: 2017 on the News page.

Here are some highlights:

The 5th Grade Arbor Day Poster Contest made a comeback. Here are the winning posters.

 

The 2017 State Arbor Day Celebration went off without a hitch. A great day outside for 1,200 teachers and students from 20 mid-Michigan schools.

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We planted 64 new trees across the state through our Tree Planting Grant program and our partnership with Michigan State University Federal Credit Union.

 

We’re looking forward to another great year. Here’s to new friends, partnerships, and experiences in 2018!

The Sense of Wonder: Going outdoors with kids

Introducing kids to nature at a young age can be a fantastic experience. It can also be beneficial for more than just your kids. Looking at the world around us through the eyes of a child can help us, as adults, rediscover the wonders of nature. If we take a page out of their book and just be present in the moment, use all of our senses, and enjoy the small things in the natural world, we can connect with both our children and nature on a whole new level.

Read this blog post by Super Nature Adventures and see how they were inspired to engage their “Sense of Wonder” by Rachel Carson’s book of the same name.