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Week 5 – Owls & Adaptations

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A Barred Owl, from http://www.audubon.org/field-guide/bird/barred-owl

We frequently hear owls around here, Barred Owls in particular, and especially in the late evening and early morning hours. The name Owl Woods stems from the presence of these amazing birds in the surrounding forest, and the wisdom, intuitive knowledge, and magic they symbolize. The owl calls or “hoots” we typically hear and associate with the animals are just one of many vocalizations owls may use to claim and protect their territory, ward off predators, or otherwise communicate with their nocturnal comrades.

To begin our afternoon, we gathered on stools and benches to talk about what we know about owls.  We learned more about their many colors and sizes, and the special qualities and uses of their eyes, ears, wings, feathers, beaks, heads, and talons.  We examined the fur and bones packed together in a real owl pellet.  And then, because no one wants to sit still for too long, we split into our groups to talk about other animal adaptations and explore the woods.  Each group also stopped by an “adaptation station” where we tried on animal ears and noses and talked about how those different animals use their unique qualities (elephant trunks, mouse whiskers, camouflaged fur, speed, size, etc.) to their advantage.

While exploring the woods, one group found a stick shelter the children have been building and continued construction.  They took turns practicing with a handsaw to trim dead branches and hemlock bows and then added them to the shelter.  The other group ventured to the apple orchard to find tracks, since the apples are a source of food for deer, squirrels, birds, and many other animals. They found a few trails made by deer, identified some tracks, and saw some geese fly overhead.

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The groups reconvened to reflect on our adventure. Some of the children had drawn animal tracks and had the group try and guess what animal they were. We finished the afternoon playing in the backyard, a time with few directions that the children all seem to enjoy!

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PS – Our pictures are somewhat limited, by choice. Documenting our adventures certainly is fun, but constantly taking photos is a distraction from the discovery at hand.

Week 4 – Trails & Trees

By Johanne Suppan

Our themes for the week were trails and trees. When the kids arrived, we had snacks and talked about our plan for the day.  We also played a few rounds of “Simon Says,” encouraging our energy-filled students to run back and forth to different features on opposite sides of the yard.  The seasons and temperatures are changing so we talked about the importance of taking time when we arrive to dress for the weather.  It was about sixty degrees – definitely chilly compared to the past two weeks.

When it was time to start our adventure, we split into two groups. The children closed their eyes and picked colored popsicle sticks out of a bag to form the day’s “red” and “yellow” groups, then set off into the woods.

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Trail Explorers

 

Our group ran for about 5 minutes until we got to the first trail junction. We made sure to go left at each junction to make a loop. We arrived at two bridges crossing a creek. There was a stream going through the creek bed so we looked for some tracks in the mud. I pointed out some canine and a few deer tracks. We observed them up close and I talked about how canine and feline tracks differ from each other. Feline tracks are more circular and the toes are spread out. Most canine tracks are narrow and show claw marks. The kids asked about Mountain Lions and whether they live in Vermont. I shared that people have seen signs of them in the past, and currently, there are none known of in Vermont.

 

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A child’s collection of colors, textures, shapes, & sizes

We talked about how a water source benefits the forest and the animals that inhabit it because it allows for a diverse ecosystem to thrive. The other theme for our day was trees, so we all collected a few different leaves to share when we joined the other group. Most of the children know what a maple tree and leaf look like, but are just discovering that  there are many different maple tree species. The leaves differ in size, structure, and venation. Some species are easy to differentiate from others and some look almost identical.

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Observing bark textures, with crayons and paper

The groups rejoined for a final activity and closing circle.  The kiddos used crayons and paper to color over different surfaces, such as leaves, pieces of bark, rocks, tree trunks, and sticks, exposing different natural textures through their drawings. We talked as a group and shared highlights of our outings.  Most  in my group said they had fun running around and exploring the trails.  Most in Amy’s group reported that they had fun making leaf rubbings and measuring trees/counting rings to estimate tree age.  We will continue to watch the trails and trees change with the season in the weeks ahead.

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Young dendrologists counting tree rings to estimate age

 

Week 3 – Animal Homes

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Where do animals choose to live, and how do they build their homes? While we didn’t delve too far into this subject, we did talk this week about what animals need from their homes and their immediate surroundings. They need food, water, shelter from the elements, and security from predators. And we contemplated many different styles of animal homes, some of which we found on our woods walk: caves, dens, lodges, burrows, hives, nests, webs, shells, hollow logs, and more.

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Our groups then spent the afternoon constructing shelters and mini-habitats of various scales.  One team began building a shelter out of sticks and boughs. There’s room for 5 people inside, if those people are on the smaller size…..

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Another crew checked out the old beaver lodge and the clay in the adjacent brook. They then constructed scaled down shelters, fairy houses, and clayscapes using the same materials beavers might use.

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If you are wondering, you are correct that clayscape is not in the dictionary, but it is the best way I can describe the intricate and beautiful creations that emerged from found natural materials!

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Week 2 – How to Build a Fire

Sunshine set the stage for our second week together. We gathered at the big rock for water, snacks, and a peek at some new play features scattered in the nearby trees, then tested our ability to hide from Johannes during a quick round of camouflage.

Our next task was to find the trees we chose a week earlier and notice changes. Many people spotted red maple leaves caught up in the branches of conifers. Others decided to move their tree tag to a new spot and observe a new location.

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Two groups formed to practice fire building techniques for the afternoon. We sought out “dead, down, and dinky” branches, then sorted into piles of tinder, kindling, and fuel. Kindergarteners also collected rocks to complete a fire pit and went scavenging for birch bark. After gathering all the materials to build their fires, first and second graders practiced lighting matches.

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Everyone practiced feeding the fire, and blowing on it to help it burn, sometimes coming close to extinguishing our small flames! We experimented with various structures to help start a fire, including log cabins, a-frames, and tepees. After some fireside snacks, the children took turns sprinkling water on and stirring the coals to be sure their fires were out.

We ended our day playing on the slack-line, the zip-line, the swingset, and in our fun new rope tunnel.

Week 1 – New Adventures

Week 1 was certainly an adventure!

We had 12 backyard explorers arrive after school to try out Owl Woods for the very first time.  We started our time together with a snack on the big rock.  We played a few running games (clearly necessary after a day of classroom time and a bus ride), then stashed our backpacks under a roof before preparing to head down the trail…..at which point the dark clouds rolled in.  We quickly returned to our backpacks to grab rain gear before scurrying down the trail to check out the kiva, our forest meeting spot.

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Our goal for the day was to turn on our senses, so we paused for a moment to listen to the sound of rain falling on the tarp.  It was so loud it was difficult to hear one another, but it quickly tapered and allowed us to move on to using some other senses. The children all decorated tree tags and then picked a tree to mark with their tag.  We plan to return to our chosen trees each week to observe what is happening in the moment, as well as changes with the season.

 


Our next adventure was to “Meet a Tree.”  This activity involves working with a buddy or two, and taking turns either as the guide or the blindfolded “observer.”  The guide leads his/her blindfolded friend to a tree, allows time for touching, smelling, hearing, (and maybe even tasting) the tree, then guides the observer back to the starting point before removing the blindfold.   The observer then tries to locate the tree he/she just met, this time with the benefit of sight.  You can see from the blurry photos that our adventurers were actively engaged in this activity!

 


Once the rain clouds lifted, we took a group hike to the beaver pond.  We found salamander eggs, salamanders, toads, and lots of beaver sign on the trees.  We found leaves and rocks of different colors, and lots of mud.  Most of us waded into the mud and got kind of messy.  Some of us pretended we were in quicksand, and a few of us came home with muddy socks.  We finished off our day with some time on the swing set and zip line under sunny skies.  These owlets are off to a great start!

Welcome to Owl Woods

Owl Woods Outdoors is an after school program for kindergarten, first, and second graders focused on outdoor skills and teamwork.

Our fall program will be on Thursday afternoons, September 7 – December 21, 2017 from 3:00-5:30pm.  Beaver ponds, streams, trails, and woods at the foot of Mount Mansfield, a.k.a “Owl Woods”, will be our classroom. Follow the links below to learn more about the program and to register.