Posts Tagged ‘nature’

Michigan Mammals Week is July 10-16!

It’s Michigan Mammals Week next week! That means State Parks across Michigan will be holding special programs featuring our furry friends. These programs are free to the public, but you may need to pay to enter the park. If you have a Recreation Passport, you’re all set!

Check out the announcement below for details and to discover the program that’s right for you and your family.

 

July 5, 2017

Contact: Karen Gourlay, 248-349-3858

Celebrate Michigan Mammals Week at Michigan state parks July 10-16

TExplorer Programshe Michigan Department of Natural Resources will highlight the wonders of Michigan’s mammals during Michigan Mammals Week July 10-16 in a handful of Michigan state parks. The family-friendly programs are free for campers and visitors.

The annual program provides a fun and educational experience for the whole family. The week of hands-on programming will take place in 31 Michigan state parks and will feature hikes, animal tracking programs, games and much more.

Michigan Mammals Week and many other programs are led by state park Explorer Guides and park interpreters who work in the park and present a variety of outdoor education opportunities in more than 30 Michigan state parks Memorial Day through August. These enthusiastic, nature-minded folks lead hikes, activities and programming that shine a spotlight on each park’s unique resources.

To find a program in your favorite park, visit www.michigan.gov/natureprograms and click on the link “Michigan Mammals Week” under Special Programs and Activities. To see all available Explorer programming throughout the summer, view the interactive map or alphabetical list of parks.


The Michigan Department of Natural Resources is committed to the conservation, protection, management, use and enjoyment of the state’s natural and cultural resources for current and future generations. For more information, go to www.michigan.gov/dnr.

Tips for Teaching Groups Outdoors

Teaching kids outside is a great time. It can be a fun day of exploring and learning about the natural world. But if leading a group outdoors gives you anxiety, here are a few helpful tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology BirdSleuth program that can help you out.

 

Outdoor Teaching Tips

What’s Keeping you Inside? Tips for Leading Groups Outdoors

By Barbara Jacobs-Smith K-12 Education Team Resident Teacher Advisor
This blog is the first in our series on Outdoor Education.

As teachers and leaders of young people, I think we have an obligation to take children outside to learn whenever it’s practical to do so, even if it takes us out of our comfort zone. Whether you’re a seasoned outdoor educator or new to taking groups outside, here are some general tips and techniques that can make leading a group in the great outdoors a positive, successful, and rewarding experience for everyone.

 

1. Plan ahead

As the leader, it is very important that you feel comfortable and confident. Before you go out with the kids, go out by yourself and scout the area. Walk the trail or explore the habitat. Consider where you’ll stop, how long you’ll spend, what features are noteworthy, and concepts that are applicable to the area. What questions can you pose to children, what activities lend themselves to the area, and how will you encourage structured interaction with nature? Make note of any potential hazards. Spending some quiet reflective time in the space you’ll be using can help make it feel like an extension of your own classroom and increase your comfort level teaching there.

2. Set clear expectations

Very young birders are

You no doubt have established expectations for student behavior in your classroom. It’s just as important to do this for the outdoors. Rather than a long list of rules, each starting with, “NO” (No talking, No running, No pushing, No interrupting), keep the list short and positive. “Stay on the trail. Remain with the group. Use materials responsibly.” Spell out the specific guidelines for the group when moving from one place to the next. This can be as simple as explaining that the group must travel as a sandwich. The leader is one slice of bread. Whoever is at the end of the line is designated as the other slice of bread. Everyone else is the yummy fixings that make up the sandwich. We must stay between the two slices of bread because we can’t have our sandwich falling apart!

3. Be a scientist

Third grade students making observations in the field.

When in the field, students should behave as the scientists they are, collecting data, making observations, whatever it is that you are expecting them to do, and doing so in a manner that is serious and focused on the task. It helps if students understand the purpose of their being outdoors. “You act differently when you’re outside for recess than you do when you’re outside for science.” Before you take the group outdoors, lead a discussion with students about specifically how it should look, feel, and sound differently.

4. Stealth mode

There is a time and place for quiet discussion and conversation between scientists working in the field. There is also a time for silence. When you are traveling along a path or through an area, it is far more likely that you’ll observe animals there if everyone is as quiet as mice, owls, or ants. You can call it moving in “stealth mode.” If animals hear a large group of people lumbering along, they will clear out, reducing the chance of seeing the creatures that live in that habitat. Students should understand when they hear you announce, “We are now in stealth mode,” this means silence is in order. Use your vision now instead of your voice.

5. Send them off, but bring them back

Sometimes, an outdoor trip involves giving children instruction and then sending them off to explore or complete an activity. To do this, you must be sure that: a.) you have their attention as you give instruction, b.) when it’s time, you can get everyone to come back to you quickly and easily, and c.) you know that everyone is back. When you send children off to find or do something, in order to bring them back to you quickly and efficiently, establish a “signal word.” As soon as they hear the word, students must stop what they are doing and return to you as quickly as it is safely possible. The word “magnet” works well. You can tell them that when they hear you say “magnet” they magically turn into pieces of metal, and you become a magnet; they will immediately become strongly “attracted” and have to return to you as quickly as they can. Finally, count your group regularly. You can pair children up to help them keep track of each other. “Do you see your buddy?” Make sure you know how many kids you are meant to have and always have that many. No more. No less.

6. Have what you need and know what you don’t

The

Before you go outside, think carefully about what you are going to do and what you want to accomplish, so you know exactly what materials you are going to want to bring. When it’s time to leave the building, be sure you have everything you need gathered together and ready to go. The less materials and equipment students have to carry in their hands the better. If there are items children must have in order to do an activity, carry a backpack or, if the terrain allows, pull a wagon containing that equipment. If you plan to make trips into the field on a regular basis and there are certain pieces of equipment you want children to have each time they are outdoors, you may want to find a local business that has cloth bags with their logo on them. Ask for a donation of enough bags for every student (or groups of two or three), being sure to explain your desire to take students outside for science, and perhaps the compelling reasons for doing so. If you’re successful in getting the donation, be sure to follow up with a written thank you for the business to post. Are you short on clipboards for kids to use outside? Make clipboards out of a piece of cardboard or old personal-sized white boards with binder clips at the top and a rubber band at the bottom to secure paper to the “board.” Be sure to take plenty of extra pencils in case of loss or breakage. What you are unlikely to have when in the field is access to a bathroom. If that is the case, it is important to remind everyone (no matter what their age) to use the restroom. Making a stop at the bathrooms on your way out of the building can eliminate (no pun intended) emergencies that can bring you in from the field before you’ve accomplished your goals.

7. Bring along technology

Apps like Merlin are a great tool to help with identification of birds and other species

If you have a smartphone, you can turn it into a terrific resource with the use of one or more of the handy apps (some of which are available for free) that can help when trying to identifying unknown species and/or answering puzzling questions. (Free apps to ID: birds – Merlin; trees – VTree. Check the app store for free or Lite versions of field guides specific to your state or area.) A camera is an excellent tool to use when documenting what students are doing, capturing candid photos of them at work, “collecting” samples of what was observed, documenting unknown species for identification later, and video recording their “process.”

8. Know it’s good not to know all the answers

Nature journals can help give focus to a trip outdoors.

Don’t let a concern about not knowing the name of every plant or animal species you might see or the answers to all the possible questions kids might ask keep you inside. On the contrary, embrace the teachable moments that exist if you don’t know everything. These are priceless! Not knowing everything gives you authentic opportunities to

model for kids exactly how to find the answers. If someone asks a question to which you don’t know the answer, tell the group, “That’s a terrific question. Let’s write it down to research later.” This demonstrates to students that you’re a learner right along with them.   With some thought and careful planning, you can successfully lead groups of children outdoors safely and provide a positive and enriching experience for them and for yourself. You will be able to bring nature alive for students, and give them the authentic experiences that will start them questioning and wondering about the world around them! Happy trails! Barbara

This blog is Part 1 of a series around engaging and teaching students outside. Click here for Part 2: Creating an Outdoor Classroom and here for Part 3: Citizen Science in Your Outdoor Classroom . You can also watch our video “Nature Walks: Five Steps to Success” below. 

 

Winter Warriors

Winter is tough. Freezing temperatures, windy days, lots of snow, and little to eat can make anyone’s day miserable. We have the advantage of having nice warm houses to take shelter in. Animals aren’t so lucky. So how do they deal with it?

The National Wildlife Federation’s blog has highlighted 10 animals they have deemed “winter warriors.” These animals have a variety of adaptations to beat winter’s deep freeze. Check out the article below to learn more about them.

 

Top 10 Winter Warriors

Adapted to Harsh Winter Conditions

Winter is a challenging time for those of us who aren’t so fond of the cold. Every year we break out the heavy coats and scarves to keep warm, but what do animals do?

Let’s take a look a ten “winter warriors” of the animal kingdom with incredible adaptations to help them withstand the unforgiving winter elements.

Polar Bear

polar bear cub

Polar bear cub. Photo by tableatny via Flickr.

Polar bears live in the frigid north where winter temperatures average around -40 °F, but can sometimes drop as low as -92 °F (-69 °C). Thankfully, they have a few unique tricks up their sleeves to combat the cold. To start, those pretty white bears we love so much are not actually white! Polar bear skin is black, which helps them to retain heat by absorbing more of the sun’s rays. Their two layers of fur, on the other hand, are transparent and the longer outer layer is hollow and reflects light, giving them a white appearance. Under their skin is a layer of insulating fat up to 4.5 inches thick!

Wood Frog

wood frog

Wood frog. Photo by Ontley via Wikimedia Commons.

Wood frogs literally freeze during the winter months. They stop breathing and their hearts stop beating, but they produce a special glycerol-based substance that acts as antifreeze and prevents ice from forming within their cells. If the water within a cell were to freeze, it would expand and the ice crystals would tear the cell apart, killing the frog. Through this process, nearly 70 percent of the frog’s total body water is converted to ice. This adaptation allows the wood frog to surive even in the Arctic.

Wolverine

wolverine

Wolverine. Photo by Per Harald Olsen/NTNU.

Many of the species on this list are increasingly at risk from a changing climate, and the wolverine is no exception. These rare and elusive mammals have dense fur and snowshoe-like paws for walking on deep snow. They live within a “refrigeration zone” in high-altitude, snow-covered peaks. Wolverines also use the snow as a natural refrigerator to store food to get through the late winter and early spring. When temperatures rise and snow melts, they lose the ability to store food and may risk starvation.

Red flat bark beetle

Red flat bark beetle

Red flat bark beetle. Photo by Katja Schulz via Flickr.

Red flat bark beetles are extremely cold-tolerant. Similar to wood frogs, they produce high levels of glycerol in their blood which keeps the water in their bodies from forming ice crystals. In addition, red flat bark beetles also dehydrate their cells, allowing them to survive in temperatures in which the antifreeze chemicals alone wouldn’t be enough to keep them from freezing. Red flat bark beetle larvae have been recorded surviving in temperatures of -238 °F (-150 °C). That’s one impressive insect!

Reindeer

reindeer-photo-by-alexandre-buisse-from-wikimedia-commons-750x500

Reindeer. Photo by Alexandre Buisse via Wikimedia Commons.

Reindeer are masters of the tundra. Their hooves are like multi-purpose tools that act as snowshoes for walking, paddles for swimming, and shovels to help them dig for grasses. But even more impressive is the adaptation developed in their eyes, which turn from gold in the summer to blue in the winter to help them see at lower light levels. Imagine changing your eye color with the changing seasons!

Arctic woolly bear moth

Arctic woolly bear moth caterpillar

Arctic woolly bear moth caterpillar. Photo by Mike Beauregard via Wikimedia Commons

The Arctic woolly bear moth lives a unique lifestyle. As caterpillars, they will lie dormant when temperatures are below 59°F (15 °C). It only gets warmer than that in the Arctic for a short time each year, which means these caterpillars have a limited time to become active and to feed and build up the resources necessary to pupate. This means it takes approximately seven years for a caterpillar to successfully pupate into a moth. The Arctic woolly bear moth caterpillar also expels water from its body to prevent cell death in freezing temperatures.

Black-capped chickadee

black capped chickadee

Black capped chickadee. Photo by Minette Layne via Flickr.

Black-capped chickadees are about 5 inches long and weigh barely more than a Sharpie marker. So, how, you might ask, does an animal so small make it through winter in the northern U.S.? Aside from storing food and roosting in small, protective tree cavities, black-capped chickadees have two important biological adaptations: nocturnal hypothermia and metabolic regulation. During winter nights the chickadees will enter a state of hypothermia, effectively allowing them to lower their body temperature in order to store energy. This adaptation is complemented by the ability to increase their metabolic rate, which increases their heat production in order to accommodate winter temperatures. Together, these behavioral and biological adaptations make black-capped chickadees tiny but formidable winter warriors.

Lynx

lynx

Lynx. Photo by Keith Williams via Wikimedia Commons.

Lynx live in remote northern forests in North America. They have long, thick fur that acts as an insulating winter coat. Their large paws let them to walk on the snow with ease and allow them to silently stalk their prey. Lynx populations are dependent upon prey populations — particularly the nimble snowshoe hare — so adaptations like their impressive noses help them thrive. Not only do they have a powerful sense of smell, but their noses also help them determine the temperature so they can seek refuge before a storm hits.

Arctic fox

arctic-fox-public-domain-750x500

Arctic fox

Don’t let their cute pointy ears and fluffy tails fool you; arctic foxes are tough! They have incredibly thick fur and a bushy tail that can wrap around them like a scarf, keeping their noses warm. Their short legs, ears, and snout help retain body heat, and the dense fur on the bottom of their paws prevents heat loss through their feet and helps them gain traction on the ice. Arctic foxes use their acute sense of hearing to locate prey deep beneath the snow, and refrain from drinking water in the winter as not to lower their core temperature. Instead, they get water through their food. Their metabolic rate only starts to increase at -58 °F (-50 °C) and they don’t start to shiver until temperatures reach -94 °F (-70 °C). Burrr!

Tardigrade

tardigrade-by-bob-goldstein-and-vicky-madden-from-unc-chapel-hill

Tardigrade. Photo by Bob Goldstein and Vicky Madden, UNC Chapel Hill.

There are a number of impressive species on this list, but perhaps none more so than the tardigrade. This extremophile, affectionately called the “water bear” or “moss piglet,” is a microorganism no more than 1.5 mm long that is found in many ecosystems around the world, from mountain tops to rain forests to the deep sea. It can withstand temperatures ranging from -328 °F to 304 °F (-200 °C to 151 °C). It can even survive the vacuum of space! Tardigrades do this by undergoing a process called cryptobiosis, in which all metabolic activities halt. This would mean certain death for most animals, but not the tardigrade! It has the ability to reverse the cryptobiosis when conditions become more favorable, which is pretty darn cool.

Must Reads for the Nature-Loving Parent

Being an avid reader, I’m always on the lookout for good books. However, I am also passionate about the outdoors (as should be obvious from reading this blog by now). So how to combine these two loves? How about reading great books about getting outside?

Spending more time outdoors has been a hot topic in recent years, especially when it comes to children. The term Richard Louv coined, “nature-deficit disorder,” has become common language in the outdoor education community. Research has backed him up. The increased amount our youth are spending indoors in front of screens is negatively impacting their physical and emotional health and well-being.

The solution, getting outside more, seems simple enough. Yet this can still seem like a daunting task to many parents and teachers looking to carve free time out of a packed schedule. So maybe we need a little help?

Fortunately for us, there are a ton of clever authors out there that have taken it upon themselves to tackle this issue. And one blogging mama has compiled 10 great books to start with.

You can even read them outside if you like. 🙂

Read her blog here.

nature-book-collage-web

Fall Means Outdoor Fun

Fall is nearly here!

This means hayrides, pumpkin carving, trips to apple orchards and fresh apple cider, and all kinds of other fun autumn activities.  Fall is the season of change; animals hibernate or leave for the winter, trees change colors, and temperatures lower – and all of these things make great subjects for nature lessons.

nature-activitiesHere are several links to give you a whole host of ideas, everything from arts and crafts to games and nature exploring:

20 Fall Nature Activities & Outdoor Play

10 Must-Do Outdoor Autumn Activities for Kids

Awesome Autumn, Education World

Have a neat fall activity you and your kids enjoy? We’d love to hear about it in the comments. 🙂

Dirty Kid, Clean House

With all the emphasis being put on children spending time outdoors there’s one major deterrent that hasn’t been addressed: dirt.

Yes, this can be the downside to playing outside, your kids covered in mud, sand, or grass, and then tracking all of it though the house you just spent hours cleaning. We understand your aversion, but have no fear there is a way to have both. A win-win situation where your kids can have all the outdoor fun they want and you can keep the dirt outside. Let this educator and mother show you how in her blog article.

On Embracing Messy Play

By   August 23, 2016

tips to embrace messy play outside

Getting kids outside is a challenge! We live in a dynamic, fast-paced world driven by technology, and our children’s lives are more scheduled than ever. Much of this comes out of the necessity to accommodate demanding work schedules. The consequence is a significant decline in the amount children play, specifically outside.

Exposing children to nature-based play experiences is essential to providing a balanced childhood. It gives children an outlet and a space that isn’t driven by preconceived ideas. There are no solutions, no goals, no levels, only simple objects, and space. The space I refer to is both physical and mental. You don’t need a lot of physical space to provide for quality mental space.

The most common concern I hear about nature-based play is that it is dirty and messy. The beautiful thing about outdoor play is that you can clean it up with very little effort; in most cases, water is all you need.

How To Keep The Mess Outside

Here’s my action plan for quickly cleaning up five little people every day:

How To Set Up A Clean Up Bin Outdoors For Messy Play

Step One: Gather a couple of towels – one for the ground and one for the body.

Step Two: Set up a clean up medium size bin/bucket. My favourite bin in terms of durability, longevity, and versatility is a Rubbermaid Roughneck 10 gal bin. This bin will be the key to keeping the unwanted elements of outdoor play outside.

Step Three: Fill about halfway with warm water instead of using hose water.  When I fill my bin, I tend to fill it on the slightly hot side as it will be sitting for some time before I use it. If you have the ability to fill right before you need it, you only need to use warm water.

This strategy is particularly important for kids who are not enthusiastic about spending time outside.

Washing off with cold water does not leave a positive impression.

The last thing you want children to remember about their outdoor play is that they had to clean up in cold water; they will be less enthusiastic about engaging the next time around. Over time this will change, but at the beginning set yourself and them up for success.

Step Four: Wash! There are numerous strategies you can employ here. Get in the bin and wash or use a cup and stand beside it. I have also found that a watering can is quite effective for getting the dirt off legs.

Step Five: Once you’ve washed the dirt off, stand on a towel beside the door and dry off.

Final step: Use the remaining water to clean gear. There is nothing worse than going to put on a pair of shoes that are filled with sand or covered with mud. This step will also minimize the excessive dirt from entering your home.

Having a clean up bin serves a variety of purposes. It keeps the mess out of your house and sets a standard for reference. For those moments when someone says “My hands are dirty” or “I’m getting dirty” you can reassure them that they will be cleaned up at the end so they can enjoy their time.  I do not recommend getting in the habit of cleaning mid-session or regularly as it sets a difficult standard and distracts children from engaging in meaningful play experiences.

Our Attitude Towards Outdoor, Messy Play Matters

A note about our role in shaping their willingness to engage in meaningful and messy play:

As adults, our attitude towards their play experiences will help develop their comfort levels with it. If you have a particular attachment to certain clothing pieces, set your children up with some outdoor play clothes that you will not get upset if they get dirty. When children know that the clothing and shoes they are wearing are meant to be played in and get dirty, they will be more willing to engage in trying. This too is part of teaching children how to play outside.

Read, a naturopathic doctor’s perspective on why getting a little dirty is good for the immune system.

 Bio:

Tara Gratto, M.S.Ed, M.A., B.A., is the mother of two young children and experienced educator, both in the traditional classroom setting and in an outdoor education environment. Throughout her teaching career she focused on integrating experiential education into her classroom to enhance learning. Recently embarking on a new chapter, she opened EducatorMama, a nature and play based preschool and beyond. Part of the vision that guides EducatorMama is to provide children with meaningful opportunities to explore and engage with nature by spending more time outdoors.

Behold! The Power of the Mighty Stick!

By: Jennifer Hunnell, Michigan Arbor Day Alliance

 

You think that emphasis in the title is an exaggeration, but I assure you it’s not.

Just think about it. Is there any toy out there that inspires so much creativity and imagination than a simple stick? There’s a reason that young children often end up playing with the packaging of that expensive thing you bought them for their last birthday. Kids crave a world of their own. When they are out playing on their own, with no adult guidelines, they can create any scenario they want. Think back. Didn’t we do the same when at that age? Fabricate fictional worlds where we could do anything?

And what better tool to do that than with an unstructured piece of nature like a stick?

A stick can literally be ANYTHING. With no preconceived image of what it’s “supposed” to be, kids can use their imaginations to transform it into whatever they wish. You want to be back in Medieval times? How about a knight’s sword or a king’s scepter? You want to be a witch or wizard like in Harry Potter? Sticks make great wands and flying broomsticks. Large ones can be used to build forts, lean-to’s, and hideouts. Small ones can be used to create pieces of nature art or can be a handy writing tool in the dirt; did someone say mud paintbrush?

When unleashed, a child’s imagination can take them to incredible places. If we only let them have the freedom to do so.

Still aren’t convinced in the power of the stick? Then check out the video below which features wordsmith and Game of Thrones star Raleigh Ritchie. He wrote the poem in the video for the National Trust, promoting their “50 Things To Do Before You’re 11 3/4” activities. (Check out that program HERE. Keep in mind this is an organization in the UK, so some of the things on this list may not be familiar, but you can always add your own.)