Categories
Children and Nature

In Appreciation of Forests

This past weekend I took some time to browse through past blog entries.  I noticed certain seasonal rituals and appreciations repeat themselves year after year.  Every fall, right about now, I renew my love of the forest and trees.

IMG_0070_1

As an adult on an elementary school calendar, September is always a month full of new beginnings, logistics to sort out, and rhythms to establish.  This is often hard work!  By October, my students have settled in and are ready for exploration further from home base, bigger projects, and the chance to enjoy the last sunny warm afternoons before winter sets in.  The forest is a perfect place for all of this.  For me, spending time in the forest is calming and rejuvenating – it reminds me of things to be grateful for, puts recent stressors in context, and stimulates my senses.

Here are some past forest-themed blog posts for you to browse.  Enjoy!

Making a discoveryChildren and Nature: The Forest ~ Why spending time outside, especially in forests, is crucial for children… “Upon entering the woods, the temperature drops noticeably.  The sounds change – whispering leaves and the occasional bird chirp blocks any outside noises from coming in.  Our foot steps are quiet on the soft needle-carpeted forest floor.  The smell of moist leaves, moss, and bark filters into our noses…”  (read more)

Mossy RoofForts and Fairy Houses ~ Discoveries and lessons learned from forest play… “We’ve discovered things that would never be possible (or allowed) in a classroom.  Different thicknesses of sticks make different sounds when banged against the trunk of a mature tree.  Pine needles make for a soft landing after tripping over a raised root.  TONS of different mushrooms and fungi grow on the forest floor after a few days of rain, and most of them are really slimy.  Pine sap is the perfect glue, but it’s better to keep it off our clothes…” (read more)

Foliage Games and Activities ~ Fun ideas for educators looking for active hands-on ways to teach students about leaves, trees, foliage, and the changing of seasons.  (read more)

Fairy-House6Zooming In: Fairy and Snail Houses ~ Fun photos and observations after several fairy and snail house building sessions with children… “Outdoor educators take note!  Fairy, gnome, and snail house building ties right into lessons on observation, habitat, ecosystems,  community, and respect for nature.  Building miniature things will lead students to observe the intricate details of pinecones, the barbs of burdocks, the veining of leaves, and much much more…” (read more) 

Welcome to the Woodlands Clubhouse ~ How the creation of a fort in the woods engaged a challenging mixed-age group of students for months after school.  (read more)

Stumps make steps and chairs for our fort

A Woodlands Playground ~ Great photos and ideas for adding natural forest elements to play spaces for children of all ages. (read more)

Ticks and Poison Ivy Season ~ Adults are increasingly fearful of the dangers of being in nature… “There are many possible dangers associated with all the activities we do every day, including playing and working outside.  I strongly believe, however, that the benefits of time spent outside far outweigh the risks…” (read more)

(reposted from October 2014)
Categories
Children and Nature

Fall in the Forest

This past weekend I took some time to browse through past blog entries.  I noticed certain seasonal rituals and appreciations repeat themselves year after year.  Every fall, right about now, I renew my love of the forest and trees.

IMG_0070_1

As an adult on an elementary school calendar, September is always a month full of new beginnings, logistics to sort out, and rhythms to establish.  This is often hard work!  By October, my students have settled in and are ready for exploration further from home base, bigger projects, and the chance to enjoy the last sunny warm afternoons before winter sets in.  The forest is a perfect place for all of this.  For me, spending time in the forest is calming and rejuvenating – it reminds me of things to be grateful for, puts recent stressors in context, and stimulates my senses.

Here are some past forest-themed blog posts for you to browse.  Enjoy!

Making a discoveryChildren and Nature: The Forest ~ Why spending time outside, especially in forests, is crucial for children… “Upon entering the woods, the temperature drops noticeably.  The sounds change – whispering leaves and the occasional bird chirp blocks any outside noises from coming in.  Our foot steps are quiet on the soft needle-carpeted forest floor.  The smell of moist leaves, moss, and bark filters into our noses…”  (read more)

Mossy RoofForts and Fairy Houses ~ Discoveries and lessons learned from forest play… “We’ve discovered things that would never be possible (or allowed) in a classroom.  Different thicknesses of sticks make different sounds when banged against the trunk of a mature tree.  Pine needles make for a soft landing after tripping over a raised root.  TONS of different mushrooms and fungi grow on the forest floor after a few days of rain, and most of them are really slimy.  Pine sap is the perfect glue, but it’s better to keep it off our clothes…” (read more)

Foliage Games and Activities ~ Fun ideas for educators looking for active hands-on ways to teach students about leaves, trees, foliage, and the changing of seasons.  (read more)

Fairy-House6Zooming In: Fairy and Snail Houses ~ Fun photos and observations after several fairy and snail house building sessions with children… “Outdoor educators take note!  Fairy, gnome, and snail house building ties right into lessons on observation, habitat, ecosystems,  community, and respect for nature.  Building miniature things will lead students to observe the intricate details of pinecones, the barbs of burdocks, the veining of leaves, and much much more…” (read more) 

Welcome to the Woodlands Clubhouse ~ How the creation of a fort in the woods engaged a challenging mixed-age group of students for months after school.  (read more)

Stumps make steps and chairs for our fort

A Woodlands Playground ~ Great photos and ideas for adding natural forest elements to play spaces for children of all ages. (read more)

Ticks and Poison Ivy Season ~ Adults are increasingly fearful of the dangers of being in nature… “There are many possible dangers associated with all the activities we do every day, including playing and working outside.  I strongly believe, however, that the benefits of time spent outside far outweigh the risks…” (read more)

Categories
Children and Nature

A Woodlands Playground

Who needs a playground when there are trees, stumps, logs, and sticks to play with?  Balance beams, teeter totters, seats, boundaries, or building blocks – the sky is the limit! Check out some simple and some ingenious ways to turn old trees into a great natural play space:

Balance Beam
Balance Beam
Our "bouncy tree" with suspended branches to hang on or balance on
Our “Bouncy Tree” with suspended branches to hang on or balance on
Natural sandbox border
Natural Sandbox Border
Every playground needs a rotton log!  This one has been picked apart to harvest sawdust - an ingredient in our woodland kitchen
Every playground needs a rotton log! This one has been picked apart to harvest sawdust – an ingredient in our woodland kitchen
"Worm writing" covers this rotten log
“Worm Writing” covers this rotten log
Teeter-totter and balance beams for older students
Teeter-totter and balance beams for older students
Stumps make steps and chairs for our fort
Stumps make steps and chairs for our fort (and a tick-tack-toe board if you have charcoal!)
Hammer and nail practice
Hammer and Nail practice

How do you use trees, stumps, logs, and sticks in your play space?

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

A Short and Sweet Week of Sugaring with Students

I learned an incredible amount from coordinating The Somerville Maple Syrup Project, but in the end, too many of the lessons were about testing my limits and endurance.  This year, however, I was thrilled to be in Vermont and be able to bring a short and sweet week of Maple Madness to my after school students.

What I learned?: Any group of kids with access to sugar maples can participate in fun sugaring activities without requiring any money or superhero feats from the adults coordinating the program.  If you work with a group of young students, I strongly encourage you to build in maple programming next March!  Here’s what to consider:

Materials: Taps, hooks, buckets, and covers (about 4 each); cordless drill with a 7/16″ bit, hammer, measuring tape, and several food grade 5 gallon buckets.  In Vermont, many sugar makers have upgraded to smaller taps or tubing, rather than the older buckets and taps.  Make friends with local sugar makers and your cafeteria director!  A chat with your local maple producers association or neighbors and friends who tap trees may reward you with valuable tips and information.  What random supplies do they have laying around?  Cafeteria directors usually get some foods in 5 gallon buckets.  They also have large stoves with hoods and broiler pans, which will come in handy in the boiling phase.

Tapping:

1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter.  Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
1. Learn to ID Sugar Maple trees in the winter. Look for silvery vertically flaky bark and opposite twigs.
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree
2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree (for chart, click here)
3) Drill a hole 1.5" into the sapwood using 7/16" bit.  Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
3) Drill a hole 1.5″ into the sapwood using 7/16″ bit. Tapping on a day above 32 degrees will reward you at this step!
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
4) Have students gently hammer in the tap (also known as a spile) until it is snugly in place
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap!  Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
5) CRUCIAL step: Taste the maple sap! Again, try to pick a day above freezing so this is possible
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid
6) Any age student can help hang the sap bucket and put on the lid

Collection:

Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing.  Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees
Collect sap each day temperatures rise above freezing. Store in refrigerator or outdoors where it is below 40 degrees.

Boiling: With permission from your cafeteria staff, boil sap exposing the most surface area possible.  We boiled in pans on the stove top, with the hood fan on to pull steam up and away.  In 2.5 hours, we’d reduced 5 gallons to 5 cups!  Our final product was very sweet and mapley.  If we’d reduced it further to 2.5 cups, we’d have official maple syrup.

Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans
Five gallons of sap boiling on the stove in deep baking pans

Maple-taste-testTasting! and Learning Extensions: We did a group taste test of sap (I brought some to a quick boil to sanitize it), carbonated sap (made with a Soda Stream Machine), and our final boiled almost-syrup product.  We then generated “description words” (or adjectives) that described the smell, taste, feel, and look of sap vs. syrup.  We’ll use these words to write poems for our next After School Newsletter!

Refer to my Maple Syruping with Kids blog entry to get ideas for games, activities, and curriculum connections.  In the end, we had way more sap than we could drink or boil, leaving plenty to play with.  Check out different experimental recipes from my Cooking with Maple Sap post.

sap-syrup-adjectives

Categories
Children and Nature

Foliage Games and Activities

Why do leaves change color?  Why do leaves fall from the trees in the fall?

These questions are common for those working or playing outside with inquisitive young people.  Every fall, I make sure to address these questions in a fun way.  Before jumping into games and crafts, however, remember to cover the basics.

I always introduce my students to a few basic words used to describe leaves and branching.  I make a poster with the following terms illustrated: needle/broadleaf, opposite/alternate, palmate/pinnate/parallel, toothed/lobed/smooth, simple/compound.  This is a great way to practice sorting, identify differences between two similar items, learn tree identification, and begin to start to think like an ecologist.  This website has some nice and basic information that might be helpful to read before leading leaf themed games with students.

After explaining the basics, my groups are ready to run around.  My favorite leaf running game is a Leaf Relay Race.  At one end of our running area, I place three paper bags labeled with large bold text: Maple, Birch, Oak.  I picked these species because they are common trees in our community. At the other end of the running area, I bring a bag filled with previously collected birch, maple, and oak leaves.  After making two lines, each student gets to “draw” a leaf from the bag.  Teammates can help each other identify their leaves.

I explain: “When I say go, the first person in each line will run across the field, put their leaf in the correct bag, and then run back and tag the next person in their team’s line.  That person will then run to deliver their leaf.  The first team back, sitting, and silent wins.”  With younger or urban students, I ask everyone with a toothed leaf to wave it in the air – that, I tell them, is a birch leaf.  We do the same for those with palmate leaves (maple) and lobed leaves (oak).  On your mark, get set, go!

Rather than focusing on who won, I bring the groups attention to the bags of leaves.  The group puts their thumbs up if the leaves I remove from the bag are correct.  We can try again if there are several mistakes (or if we still have a lot of energy).  Otherwise, I congratulate the whole group on their success.  One way to celebrate is to each grab a handful of leaves and throw it into the air on the count of three.  Leaf confetti!

Tree Identification:  With older groups, this is a great time to learn how to use Tree Identification Guides.  I strongly encourage adults to guide the group to a tree they know.  Use a book arranged using a dichotomous key like Tree Finder.  It will offer you choices like, “Are the branches of your tree opposite or alternate.”  Once the group decides the answer, you are directed to the next question.  It’s like Choose Your Own Adventure books!

Leaf hunting comes next.  Our mission: to find the best five leaves we can.  Maybe they’re the coolest leaves, the most colorful leaves, the smallest leaves, or the leaves from our favorite tree.  Collected leaves can be used inside to do a leaf rubbing and leaf stained glass.

Leaf Rubbing: Place one of your collected leaves under a paper taped to a table or on a clipboard, vein side up (to make more bumps).  Scribble on top of paper with a crayon to allow the bumps of the leaf come through.  Encourage students to rub multiple leaves and use many colors to fill their entire paper.

Leaf Stained Glass: “Laminate” leaves between shipping tape and trim with scissors to make art that can be hung in windows like stained glass.  Contact paper allows for bigger pieces of stained glass.  I start by placing a piece of tape sticky side up in front of the student, folding the corners down so that it is gently affixed to the table.  After the student places their leaves, I put a second piece of tape on top.

So, why do leaves change colors?  My favorite way to answer this question is verbally when all students have started their leaf rubbings.  Rubbing doesn’t take much brain power, but it keeps hands busy and allows the group to stay seated.  When I began as a teacher, I read the book: “Fall Leaves Change Color.”  There are other great books that can explain the process at the right level for your group.  Now that I’m more familiar with the facts, I prefer to tell the story without a book, which allows more questioning of students who can often help me tell the story.

Have students who are still interested?  I created a set of cards made up of six pairs of leaves.  They can be used to play Memory or Old Maid.

Categories
Musings

The Place Where I Live: Foliage

Our first frost this morning will push our valley into peak color.  Last year I posted Vermont foliage pictures with a twinge of nostalgia – they had been emailed to me by my dad.  I was living in the city.  This year I’ve been soaking up the views like a tourist.  I even pulled to the side of the road on my way to work yesterday to snap a picture!  Next week I’ll get back to business with a post about leaf and fall-themed games and activities.  In the meantime, soak in the views…

Categories
Children and Nature

Forts and Fairy Houses

“Can we go into the forest today?!  PLeeeaaaaassssee?”

In just one month’s time, the vast majority of our group prefers forest time to time spent on the playground, blacktop, soccer field, or gym.  When asked why, here’s what some students said:
-because we can play and live in the forest and it’s fun
-because it’s fun and there’s things to build stuff
-because once we build a fort, we can go inside and play
-because I get to go inside the cool fort
-I just like it!
-I like to build forts and there’s sticks to use

Our forest forts and fairy houses have evolved over the course of a month.  Some have been built, taken apart, and moved.  Some have grown more and more elaborate.  Some have stayed simple, but have struggled with various team dynamics as we work out a space sharing system that keeps everyone happy. An originally simple tee-pee structure now has a moss roof.  Another has dead bark walls (to keep out predators).  One student hasn’t built anything, but by walking around the same area again and again, he knows it like the back of his hand.

We’ve discovered things that would never be possible (or allowed) in a classroom.  Different thicknesses of sticks make different sounds when banged against the trunk of a mature tree.  Pine needles make for a soft landing after tripping over a raised root.  Carrying long sticks is really hard – or on a related note – it’s worth giving people carrying long sticks plenty of room to walk.  It feels colder and darker in the forest.  Moss that is moved onto a latticework of a fort wall can establish itself and grow if kept moist.  TONS of different mushrooms and fungi grow on the forest floor after a few days of rain, and most of them are really slimy.  Pine sap is the perfect glue, but it’s better to keep it off our clothes.  …these are just a few of our discoveries.

 

Most of all, we feel comfortable in a space that felt like mysterious wilderness just a month ago.  We each have developed our favorite area in the forest, and after constructing a fort there, most of us feel pride and ownership, and have become caretakers of those special spots.

So back to the question, “Can we pleeeeaaase go out into the forest?”  My answer is almost always, “Yes!”

Categories
Get Involved!

Boiled Down: A Maple Recap

By the end of the Boil Down weekend, I was barely able to speak in complete sentences.  I managed to take the following notes, which still sum up our season’s success quite well:

Friday: Boiled from 7:30am-10:30pm, had 260 students, and about 60 adult visitors over the course of the day.  Cold weather!
Saturday: Boiled from 8:30am-9:30pm, had about 500 visitors despite rainy weather.  Waffles and hot drinks were a hit.  Tons of families dressed in great raincoats and boots and colorful umbrellas.  Finished off Friday’s syrup on a burner near the evaporator.
Sunday: Finished off and canned from 9am-4pm, finished off Saturday’s syrup, canned Friday’s and Saturday’s batches.  Yield: 3 gallons.

Since photos, it is said, say more than a 1000 words, here are a few from the weekend:

Third snow of the year? On the first day of the Maple Boil Down in March? The first field trip group gathers at the Growing Center.
"Does anyone know what this tool is called?" "A Therminator!" "Well, that's close..." Learning about temperature, evaporation, and fire in a city park...with MAPLE SAP!

…and then the camera went away for our rainy Saturday morning entertaining…

The sun breaks through the evaporating steam to keep the afternoon and evening enjoyable for those tending the fire
Well, maybe it was grilling food AND the sun that kept us going!
Finishing off: The final day of our marathon from the comfort of home.
Categories
Get Involved!

You’re invited: Maple Syrup Boil Down Festival

Join Groundwork Somerville on March 3rd at the Somerville Community Growing Center for the annual Somerville Maple Syrup Project Boil Down!   Community members of all ages are invited to 22 Vinal Avenue between 10am and 2pm to watch and learn as sap from local sugar maple trees is boiled down into pure maple syrup over a warm fire.  Attendees can expect to enjoy syrup-tasting, children’s music by the Animal Farm, kids’ activities, demonstrations, and much more! Waffles, syrup, hot drinks and Somerville Maple Syrup Project T-shirts will be on sale.

At 11am and 12noon, Animal Farm will be entertaining Boil Down Festival guests!   Animal Farm is a Boston-based trio of musicians and educators whose lively performances entertain and engage children ages 3 to 103! Each thirty minute show will be a colorful blend of original music, storytelling, hilarious antics and games.

Hope to see you there!

Categories
Get Involved!

Maple Tapping Time

Supporters or the Somerville Maple Syrup will be tapping sugar maple trees on the Tufts Campus this Thursday January 26th at 3pm.  Families, neighbors, students, and anyone interested in participating in this fun outdoor event should gather at the bottom of memorial steps across from Anderson Hall, 200 College Avenue. At noon, we’ll climb the steps and begin to tap the trees growing on the sloped lawn to the right of the steps behind Paige Hall and the Lincoln Filene Center.  Attendees are encouraged to dress appropriately to be outside for an hour.

The Somerville Maple Syrup Project is coordinated by Groundwork Somerville in partnership with the Friends of the Community Growing Center, Somerville Public Schools and Tufts University.  In late January, maple trees in Somerville are tapped and the collected sap is stored for a 2-day public boil-down event in March at the Community Growing Center.  Sap starts flowing when temperatures drop below freezing at night, and rise above freezing during the day.

In addition to daily sap collection, Groundwork Somerville staff and community volunteers teach a 4- week arts and science curriculum to 2nd graders in all of Somerville’s public schools and at the Somerville Public Library.  High school students working in the metal shop provide annual maintenance on the wood stove and evaporator pan they made in 2005.  The syrup produced is given as thank you gifts to key partners, and/or sold in small maple leaf jars at the Groundwork Somerville booth at the Union Square Farmer’s Market. To learn more about the project, visit www.groundworksomerville.org and select the Somerville Maple Syrup Project page.