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Most years as St. Patrick’s Day approaches, I start to listen for the wood frog’s song. There is a swamp and a pond near Schoolmates. These are favorite breeding spots for wood frogs. I love it when the frogs arrive! Their familiar call is an early sign of spring, and sharing the frogs with my kids and the Explorers is the best!
At the end of February, I took a hike in Canfield Woods, a local nature preserve in Deep River and Essex, Connecticut. At the top of the hill, where all the trails meet, there is a vernal pool. (Read Barking Frog Farm’s post on Vernal Pools.) As I approached this trail head, called The Gap, I heard the quacky call of the wood frogs. They were early, but I was not surprised. The weather in Connecticut has been unseasonably mild. I walked to the edge of the pool and looked for the frogs. The frogs often float on tops of the water. I could see a dozen. So much fun!
When I got back to my car at the end of the hike, I texted Lori and Kelly, fellow teachers at Schoolmates, that the wood frogs were out at Canfield Woods. Lori texted back that Rowan, an Explorer, and his dad had delivered two woods frogs to school that afternoon.
The next day, the frogs were given a place of honor on the art table in our classroom. The Explorers watched them and drew pictures of them.
Each year, during woods frog season, I learn something new about this enchanting frog. This year I learned that the wood frog is the only frog species that lives north of the Arctic Circle. I also learned more about
its mating process. The male frog wraps his front legs around the chest of the female and waits for her to lay her eggs. As she lays them, he deposits his sperm on them.
The best wood frog fact, in my opinion, is that in the winter their bodies freeze. As much as 65% of the water in a wood frog’s body turns to ice. Its heart stops beating, and it stops breathing. When spring arrives, the wood frog thaws out and hops away.
It was a clear summer night, and I was driving down a dark wooded road. My son, William, almost 2-years-old, was behind me in his car seat. “Moon,” called William into the silence of the car. I looked to the east and saw a glimmer of white through the trees. Then, silence. But now, the silence was different. William was on high alert, watching and waiting. He had seen the rising full moon and was now looking for it. A minute or so passed, then the trees cleared and the moon was big and bright in the sky. William shrieked in delight, “Hi, moon!” The moon again disappeared behind the tall trees, and again William fell silent. His anticipation was palpable. When the moon reappeared he called out, “I see you, Moon!” This went on until the moon rose above the trees and the game of hide and seek was over. Such a magical idea.
January was an exciting month for moon watching. There were two full moons, and both were super moons. The first was on January 1, and the second on January 31. A super moon occurs when the moon becomes full on the same day it reaches its perigee, (the point on the moon’s elliptical orbit when the moon is closest to Earth.) At these times, the moon appears to be 14% bigger and 30% brighter. A second full moon in a month is called a blue moon.
I had a lot of fun studying the moon with the Explorers in January. Their homework for January 1st was to watch the super moon rise. They all returned to school after winter break with stories about the super moon. Thus began a month of art projects, questions, investigations, pretend play, and books. The Explorers loved tracking the phases of the moon on our classroom calendar. The idea of a blue moon was hard for them to understand. “Will it really be blue?” they would ask. (I left out that this blue moon was also going to feature a lunar eclipse, which meant it was really a Super Blue Blood Moon.) On January 31, we held a Super Blue Moon party, we made a blue moon playlist, learned the song Aikendrum, and made pizza for a snack. Lots of fun!
There was a man lived in the moon, in the moon, in the moon
There was a man lived in the moon and his name was Aikendrum
And he played upon a ladle, a ladle, a ladle
He played upon a ladle and his name was Aikendrum
And his hair was made of spinach, spinach, spinach
His hair was made of spinach and his name was Aikendrum
While prepping for the Moon Unit, I found the wonderful book, City Moon. It is written by Rachael Cole and illustrated by Blanca Gomez. The first time I read the book, it brought me back to that magical night with William and the moon. The book follows a mother and her son through the city as they search for the moon. “After dinner, after tooth-brushing, we put on pajamas, then coats and shoes. We take keys, and bang the big front door behind us. It’s evening. It’s night. We are going on a walk to look for the moon.” The art in City Moon has an architectural quality with rich, saturated colors. On each page, Gomez treats us to a view of city life, both inside the buildings and on the streets. Through Cole’s story, we travel the city with Mama and her little boy. Every word takes us further along on the search for the moon. Enjoy! And then, make your own search for the moon.
The Explorers were in the middle of snack time when we got the word, “Put your coats on and come outside for a few minutes. Brendan is here to tap the tree.” We all stood up, put on our coats, and headed outside for a favorite combination Schoolmates/Bushy Hill Nature Center annual event: the tapping of the maple tree on our playground.
The Explorers and preschoolers eagerly stood in front of the maple tree. Brendan showed them the drill, hammer, spile and hook, bucket and lid that he would need for the job. He talked them through the entire process and asked them to keep an eye on the sap level in the buckets for him. The children take this job seriously and will check the sap level every time they are on the playground. They love to watch the sap drip, drip, drip into the bucket. Bugs sometimes find their way to the sweet liquid. The finder of a bug will run to the nearest teacher to report this discovery.
When I asked Brendan, “How do you know when it’s time to tap the trees?”
He answered with a question for his audience, “What holiday did we just celebrate?”
The crowd replied, “Valentine’s Day!”
That’s right. Around Valentine’s Day, we start watching for a combination of mild days, like today, and cold nights.” Brendan explained.
Sap flows when daytime temperatures reach above freezing (32 degrees Fahrenheit or 0 degrees Celsius) and nighttime temperatures fall below freezing. The rising daytime temperatures create pressure in the tree, which gets the sap flowing. The sap will generally flow for 4-6 weeks.
This event—a visit from Brendan to tap the tree—sets more annual events into motion. We will read stories about sugaring—the boiling down of maple sap into syrup. The Explorers and preschoolers will visit Bushy Hill’s sugar shack, where they will see the bubbling sap in the evaporator and taste the maple syrup made partly from their school’s tree. We will also read a Schoolmates’ favorite, Hey, Pancakes!, make Grandma’s pancakes (the recipe in the book) cover them in Bushy Hill’s delicious maple syrup, and feast together.
If you are interested in learning more about sugaring, the website Tap My Trees is a great place to start. The site has lots of valuable information, and you can purchase supplies from them. Tap My Trees
It’s going to be another great year at Schoolmates. The new Explorers arrived in the rain on Wednesday, September 6. Everyone had raincoats and asked, “Are we going to hike today?” A little rain wasn’t going to stop these enthusiastic children.
After some morning activities in the classroom, we headed outside for a hike. The rain had stopped, but it was still misty and wet. Because of the wet conditions and it being our first day with this class, Kelly and I decided to hike on a road rather than on a wooded trail. The main road passes by a man-made pond in front of the nature center. That pond would be our destination. “Let’s go see what the frogs are doing,” I said to the group.
Before we started out, Kelly and I peppered the Explorers with information about our journey.
Me: “Sometimes the pond is covered in a plant called duckweed.”
Kelly: “It’s very green, and all you can see is the frogs’ heads sticking up through it.”
Me: “We’ll have to be quiet as we approach the pond, so we don’t scare the frogs.
Kelly: “We’ll have to be still and look closely.
The Explorers walked slowly up to the fence that encircles the pond. Everyone was silent as they took in the scene—a small pond with green-covered water, surrounded by stones and gravel. Then all at once, they started: “I see a frog!” “There are two on that rock.” “There’s one!” “That one is HUGH.” “There are so many frogs— big ones!”
The Explorers were right. There were lots of frogs, and most of them were out of the water, sitting on rocks around the pond. We all wondered aloud if the frogs were out of the water because of the rainy conditions.
“Can we come back another day?” the class asked. “Absolutely,” I answered. Preschoolers are natural scientists—always asking questions and looking for cause-and-effect relationships. I know from experience with the Explorers of previous years that the question, “Can we come back another day?” is full of intent and expectations. They will want to visit this pond on sunny days, rainy days, and windy days. During these visits they will notice how many frogs are out of the pond and how many are in the water—they will conduct an informal field study. Together the class will make observations, smart guesses and connections about weather conditions and the frogs’ behavior.
The following school day, we returned to the pond. It was a clear day with blue sky, billowy white clouds, and dry air. The Explorers again quietly approached the pond. The frogs were harder to see—most of them were in the water. Kelly and I pointed to a bump in the duckweed and said, “See the eyes?” Once the group knew what to look, for the exclamations started. “I see one!” Look, just his eyes are sticking up!” “There’s one on the other side of the pond.” “So many are in the water.”
This type of investigation will happen over and over this year. The Explorers will study birds, animals, trees, leaves, seeds, plants, snow, ice, hibernation, migration, and more. They will ask lots of questions and look for connections and relationships. They will wonder and experiment, wonder and experiment until they arrive at new learnings and understandings. Kelly and I will be there to inspire, support, encourage, and celebrate the Explorers, and we will have fun all year long. Yes, it’s going to be another great year!
MIT News – Study shows that children think like scientists.
Science Illustrated – Preschoolers think like scientists
“The red-winged blackbird is the true harbinger of spring.” This is a sentence I repeat at least two or three times a year. I first hear it at the Connecticut Audobon’s Eagle Festival. My children and I went to the festival hoping to learn more about eagles and meet the bird experts. The festival is held in February, when everyone is looking toward spring and the return of migrating birds. One bird expert explained that many robins now winter over in our area, so “the red-winged blackbird is the true harbinger of spring.”
Deep River is home to two freshwater tidal marshes, Pratt Cove and Post Cove. Wild rice grows in these coves, and at this time of year it is ready to eat. Lucky for the red-winged blackbirds, who are starting to think of their autumn journey south. In preparation for migration, many birds, including the red-winged blackbird, enter a stage of hyperphagia, which means their appetite increases and eating is nearly continual. It makes sense: they are bulking up for a long flight to their winter home. This crop of wild rice provides them with lots and lots of food. In September and October the reeds in Pratt Cove are filled with flocks of noisy, hungry, red-winged blackbirds, eating, calling to each other, and flying from reed to reed. I marvel and delight in this predictable happening.
Many birds are now preparing to make a migratory trip south. Watch, listen, tune into the behavior of the birds. Their journey is not easy, many will travel thousands of miles and will meet many challenges: bad weather, electrical wires, air and road traffic, food and water shortages, and more. Bid them farewell and safe journey.
Winged Migration, a film released in 2001, is a documentary about the migratory patterns of birds. It is filled with beautiful images of birds in flight and in natural setting across the globe. The film also includes some footage of birds encountering obstacles and perilous circumstances along their migrational paths.
Common Sense Media Review
The ebird link below will take you to an amazing site that maps the annual migratory cycle for North American birds. ebird.org occurrence maps
It took two days of asking and bargaining, but I got Aurora and Stephen to take a hike with me. Actually, for months I have “led by example.” I walk or hike whenever possible. Stephen and Aurora know my beliefs about exercise and being in nature, yet they fight my attempts to get them outside. When motivating children, “lead by example” gets you only so far. After that it’s bargain, cajole, guilt, leverage, and bribe.
It was a simple plan: take the dog for a walk at a local preserve. Stephen agreed to come with me out of guilt; he had stalled long enough the day before that it got too dark to walk in the woods. He knew I had been disappointed, so he agree to go to Canfield Woods with me. Aurora wanted to go shopping. I told her she had to walk with us first. I had a bargaining chip and I used it.
When we arrived at the preserve, I told them we would do the short loop—yellow trail to blue trail. They grumbled, but set out down the path.
Stephen wanted to walk next to me, so did Aurora. They started to push each other. I gave Stephen the dog and asked him to walk ahead.
That worked for a while, then he gave me the dog and started collecting acorns. “Oh good, he’s getting interested in things,” I thought. Then he started throwing the acorns at Aurora. She got mad and said something unkind, and he reacted. “Mom…!” he said. “Mom…!” she said. I walked away in frustration thinking, “Maybe its NOT worth it.”
Eventually they both ran up to me complaining about the other. “She never wants to play with me any more,” declared Stephen. “He’s so annoying,” Aurora said in a way only a 13-year-old can—part bratty child, part superior “cool kid.”
A light bulb went off, and I stopped walking. It’s true, Aurora doesn’t play with Stephen as much as she used to. She’s in the regional middle school now, busy meeting new friends and getting involved in new activities. Stephen has been looking for attention from his sister. If he can’t get the attention in a positive way, then it seems he will settle for negative attention. So he pokes her and trips her. He annoys her and throws acorns at her.
Out in the woods with no distractions—no phones, TV, homework, or friends, the dynamic was clear. We talked about it. Stephen had his say and then Aurora had hers. They hugged and we continued down the yellow trail. Stephen and Aurora walked ahead of me, together in a way they hadn’t been at the beginning of the hike. They settled into the hike—they talked, pointed out interesting finds, and climbed up rock faces, a favorite activity.
It happens all the time: I work hard to get Stephen and Aurora outside in nature and am rewarded in some way. Aurora will share stories about friends and school. Stephen and I will get down on the damp ground and watch a toad, or he will challenge me to a race. Aurora and Stephen spend quality time together. We relax, we share, we unplug, we connect. It’s always good, if I can wait them out. Start a friendly battle with your kids and get them outside.