Wednesday, October 29, 2014

2015 Take It Outside Art Contest

Celebrating wildlife artist, Maynard Reece & Iowa Fish

Category I First Place 2014 Winner 
Ethan H

“We really had a good time doing the contest. It brought in a lot of good discussion and even the teacher aides were surprised at some of the facts I shared from the DNR website. The kids loved it.”

The Department of Natural Resources invites you to enroll your class in our fourth annual “Take It Outside” Art Contest.

This year’s contest will celebrate the great contributions of wildlife artist, Maynard Reece. Reece is considered one of the founding fathers of wildlife art. As a child, he spent many hours exploring Lake Okoboji. His teachers discovered his artistic ability at the age of 13 and entered one of his drawings in the Iowa State Fair. As a young adult, Maynard worked at what is today known as the State Historical Museum collecting specimens for the museum’s collection and painting fish to create the plates for the original publishing of Iowa Fish and Fishing – this was instrumental in launching his career as a freelance artist. Reece’s fish drawings can be viewed on the DNR website

Students are encouraged to use their artistic skills to create an image of their favorite Iowa fish (see the eligible fish list in the complete contest rules) in its natural habitat. Fish species fact sheets are available on the DNR Education website (click on Fact Sheets/Fish in the Document Library). Starting next month, check out our Take It Outside: Fish Iowa! blog for more information about Iowa fish and Maynard Reece.
New This Year!
We are partnering with the Wildlife Forever® State-Fish Art® Contest to host an Iowa State-Fish Contest in conjunction with our annual Take It Outside Art Contest. The first place artwork in each judging category will be submitted for National Awards. First place winners at the state level will be honored at the annual State-Fish Art Expo this summer.

For more information visit our website.


Friday, October 24, 2014

Nature Themed Snack Ideas

Celebrate Food Day by introducing your students to healthy nature themed snacks today and throughout the school year. These “recipes” are from Growing Up WILD and Environmental Experience for Early Childhood. If you are interested in getting trained in these materials, contact our program.

No-Cook blender applesauce
6-7 small apples
½ cup sugar or honey (optional)
dash of cinnamon
2-4 tablespoons of water

Peel and cut apples. Mix all ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Ants on Log
Spread cream cheese on a carrot stick, celery stick or pretzel log. Put a row of raisin ants on top.

Spider Crackers
Spread a round cracker with cream cheese or other spread. Place another cracker on top, creating a sandwich. Tuck pretzel sticks into the edge of the sandwich to make 8 legs. Use a small amount of spread to attach eight sunflower seed eyes and another larger round cracker for the abdomen.

Dippin Bears
Mix one 8 ounce container of plain yogurt and 2 tablespoons of fruit preserves in a small bowl for dip with bear-shaped graham crackers.

Tuna Boats
Make “boats” by cutting tops of whole wheat rolls and filling with tuna salad. Add a cheese triangle “sail” with a toothpick.

Beach Snack
Pulse granola in a food processor until it looks like beach sand. Sprinkle a layer on the bottom of a clear cup and add a layer of blueberry yogurt. Add a gummy fish for a fun surprise.

Pretzel Poles
Use pretzel sticks for fishing poles and bean spread or cream cheese for bait. Have children “fish” for fish-shaped crackers.

Earth Tone Animals
Cut animal shapes out of pie dough. Sprinkle with cinnamon/sugar before baking.

Track Crackers
Spread softened cream cheese or hummus onto whole grain crackers. Arrange small strips of carrot, red pepper, or chow mein noodles on each one to resemble a bird track. Use raisins to create a cat track.

Rice Cake Owl
Spread cream cheese or other spread on a large rice cake. Add two banana slices for eyes and two raisins for pupils. Place a triangle of cheese under the eyes for a beak.

Deer Sandwiches

Cut small sandwiches in half diagonally. Orient the sandwiches so that one of their points faces “down” and becomes the deer’s noses. Press raisins into the bread for eyes and a nose. Add pretzel sticks for antlers.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Favorite Tree Hunt

Go on a “Favorite Tree Hunt” around your schoolyard or at a nearby park. Visit several trees, pointing out the bark types, leaves, seeds, and shapes. Let each child pick a “favorite tree”. Invite the children to share about their favorite tree and why they chose that particular tree.

Take pictures of the children and their favorite trees. Make a bark rubbing of the tree. Let the kids collect a leaf, seed, or twig from their tree.

Create a class Our Favorite Trees scrapbook showcasing the kids’ collections they gathered from their trees and the bark rubbings. Encourage each child to draw a picture of their favorite tree and tell why their tree is special.

Visit the “favorite trees” often, including in different seasons so the kids can see the differences.

Visit the Project Learning Tree website for a printable card you can share with parents to extend learning at home with family and friends.

Pound leaf pictures
Materials: hard wood surface; hammer with flat head; paper towels; paper or fabric (muslin) for printing; variety of leaves

Gently hammering a leaf releases its chlorophyll and makes a print of the leaf on cloth or paper. Layer, in this order, a thick small board, a paper towel, the fabric or paper on which you want to print, a leaf, and another paper towel. Begin by pounding lightly to release the color without bursting the plant cells to pieces. Lift up a corner and peak at the impression. Continue hammering if necessary. Display the pictures on a bulletin board and out of direct sunlight.

Reading Connections
Brenner, B. 1998. The Tremendous Tree Book. Boyds Mills Press.
Florian, D. 2002. Summersaults. Greenwillow Books.
Green, M.L. 2008. Underneath by Favorite Tree. PublishAmerica.
Iverson, D. 1999. My Favorite Tree: Terrific Trees of North America. Dawn Publications.
Jones, A. 2008. The Wish Trees. AuthorHouse.
Locker, T. 1995. Sky Tree: Seeing Science through Art. HarperCollins.
Romanova, N. 1992. Once There Was a Tree. Penguin Group (USA)
Ryder, J. 1991. Hello, Tree! Lodestar Books.

Sanders, S. 1997. Meeting Trees. National Geographic Society.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Camouflage Detectives

Many animals have special coloring, markings or physical features that help them blend in with their surroundings. Help your students become camouflage detectives and discover creatures hiding in plain sight around your schoolyard or a local park. How many expert hiders can you find?

Talk with your students about why animals are hard to see in nature. Ask children to describe the color, size and shape of different animals, such as squirrel, bird, turtle. Look for animals that live in trees. How are they different from animals that live in the water?  Why do some animals want to hide?  Can you find an animal that is hiding? 

Questions to probe:
What do you think might live in this area?
What color do you think they will be?
What size of creature might be here?
What do you think they need to stay alive?   

Many animals have physical features to scare away predators. In the spirit of Halloween, explore some of these “costumes” with students. Invite students to use the animal inspiration to design their own “scary” outfits. Whether they simply draw their designs or actually create them, stage a fashion show in which they explain their idea and the animal defenses that inspired it.

Camouflage Adventures
Can you find the Mitten Game?
Play a hiding game with a bright colored mitten. Have one student cover their eyes. Hide the mitten. The class helps guide the “finder” using their body language…..COLD: close to the floor, means you are not near the mitten.  WARM: hands to the ceiling, means you are getting close to the glove.  Was it easy to find the bright mitten?

Let’s try a dark mitten. Play the game again and compare. Was it harder to find the dark mitten?  Would a clear glove be hard to find? If you were an animal would you want to be easy for find? What would you wear if you were in front of your school?

Hide and Seek
Encourage children to bring in old T-shirts. Take art supplies outside and let children decorate the shirts. Challenge some to use a bright color and others to try to create patterns and colors that would blend in with the local environment. When the shirts are dry, have children pull them on over their clothes, and play a game of hide-and-seek. Which children are easiest to find?

Reading Connections
Barrett, J. 1988. Animals Should Definitely Not Wear Clothing. Atheneum Books for Young Readers.
Dell, P. J. 2006. Why Do Tigers Have Stripes? A Book about Camouflage. Capstone Press.
Fredericks, A. D., and K. Povelite. 2000. Clever Camouflagers. T&N Children’s Publishing.
Gilpin, D. 2010. 3-D Close Up: Animal Camouflage. Advantage Publishers Group.
Goodman, S. E. and M. Doolittle. 2001. Claws, Coats, and Camouflage: The Ways Animals Fit Into Their Worlds. Lerner Publishing Group.
Heller, R. 1992. How to Hide a Butterfly: and other insects. Penguin Group Inc (USA).
Heller, R. 1995. How to Hide a Meadow Frog: and Other Amphibians. Penguin Group (USA).
Helman, A., and G. Jecan. 2008. Hide and Seek: Nature’s Best Vanishing Acts. Walker & Company.
Kalman, B.  2010. How do animals hide? Crabtree Publishing Company.
Lionni, L.  2000. A Color of His Own. Random House Children's Books.
Otto, C. and M. Lloyd. 1996. What Color is Camouflage?. HarperCollins Publishers.
Pledger, M. 2004. Hiding in the Woods: A Maurice Pledger Nature Trails Book. Silver Dolphin Books.
Rustad, M. 2009. Animal Camouflage in the Forest. Capstone Press.
Tildes, P. L. 2000. Animals in Camouflage. San Val.
Whitehouse, P. 2003. Hiding in a Forest. Demco Media.

Wood, A. J., and N. Palin. 1996. Hidden Pictures: Find a Feast of Camouflaged Creatures. Lerner Publishing Group.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Fall Trees For Kids Grants Awarded

Trees For Kids will fund 17 different projects totaling $67,000 to give more than 1,400 students hands-on experience planting 639 trees, and learning about the benefits that trees can bring to Iowa schools and communities.  

Each planting event will have an educational component with the students which include a planting demonstration. More than 225 adult volunteers will assist at the planting events, and given training to assist student with proper planting. Project Learning Tree training is provided to educators to create lesson plans and utilize curriculum with the planted trees. 

Grants are awarded to the following schools and groups: Chariton Housing Authority, Charles City High School; Clinton CSD; Decorah High School; Denison Arbor Committee; Durant Elementary, Sumner; City of Eddyville; Gilmore City; City of Milo; Ottumwa CSD – Liberty Elementary; City of Pleasant Hill; Roland-Story FFA; City of Sergeant Bluff; Clark Elementary, Sioux City; City of Slater; South Tama County FFA; and Woodbine Community Foundation. 

Forty-two different species will be planted throughout the state to help provide diversity to Iowa’s urban forests.  

The environmental impact of planting trees can now be quantified using a USDA Forest Service Tool called i-tree design.  This tool was utilized on each grant to determine energy benefits, stormwater runoff reduction, and carbon sequestration for the useful life of the trees.  It is available at 

The useful life is estimated at 60 years, and crown growth modeling over the lifespan of the trees is utilized to provide accurate and increasing benefits over the lifespan of the tree.

Over their 60 year lifespan, these trees will save more than 189,000 kilowatt hours of electricity by shading buildings and more than 54,600 therms by slowing down winds and reducing building heat loss.  

Those trees will help reduce flooding throughout by intercepting over 38,700,000 gallons of storm water and will reduce over 9,000,000 pounds of atmospheric carbon dioxide through CO2 sequestration and decreased energy production needs and emissions.  

Trees planted around schools and in neighborhoods have also shown to give youth increased levels of concentration, lower levels of aggression, lower levels of obesity, and fewer symptoms of ADHD.  

Communities are made more livable by having a healthy, diverse tree canopy.  

The Trees for Kids and Trees for Teens grant program is funded by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources Forestry Bureau, MidAmerican Energy, Black Hills Energy, Alliant Energy, Iowa Bankers Association, Trees Forever, Iowa Tree Farm Committee, and the Iowa Woodland Owners Association.

For information about how to apply for a spring Trees For Kids grant, go to our website or contact the grant coordinator at

Monday, September 29, 2014

Who Lives in a Tree?

Fall is a perfect time to explore where the squirrels and birds live within the tree branches. For more activities to get kids outside exploring this fall, visit our Early Childhood Classroom Resources webpage.

Ask the children to describe their homes.
  • What materials make up your house?
  • What rooms do you have in your house?
  • What do you do in your house?
  • Where do you eat and sleep?
  • To you have a yard to play in?

Explain that animals and plants have homes, too.  Using a tree or picture of a tree, ask:  Have you ever seen an animal using a tree as its home or habitat?  What animals have you seen eating or sleeping in a tree?

Create a ven diagram comparing the children’s houses to animal houses. Make a dictation on chart paper with each child listing an animal or plant they have seen in or on a tree. Talk about the animals on your chart and encourage the children to describe their personal experiences they have had with any of those listed.  As you talk about each animal, ask the children to make the animal’s voice. 

Tree Walk
Go on a tree walk to find examples of animals and plants that depend on trees in your schoolyard or surrounding neighborhood. Look for:
  • animals (e.g. squirrels, birds, insects) living in tree holes or nests, hiding from predators, eating tree fruits, perching or nesting in tree branches
  • vines climbing up tree trunks to seek and soak up sunlight
  • lichens growing on bark
  • mushrooms growing on dead or dying trees
  • snags or fallen trees providing homes for many animals and plants

Investigate a few trees up close - collect some of the fallen objects. Take pictures of things that are too large to collect or are still attached to the tree.
  • look around for fallen bark, fruits, leaves, nuts, seeds or twigs that might show signs of animal or plant life
  • look on the ground for animal droppings that show animals live in the tree or eat the tree’s fruits or seeds. Look- don’t touch!
  • look on the bark for scratch marks caused by sharp claws or antlers.

Write a class book about animals that live in trees.  Encourage children to choose an animal that they have seen in a tree.  Children can add a page to the book by making a drawing of the animal in the tree and dictating text about how their animal uses the tree (e.g., for a home, for sleeping, eating, protection, etc.) 

Visit the Project Learning Tree website for a printable card you can share with parents to extend learning at home with family and friends.

Reading Connections
Allen, J. and S. Mendez. 2009. Animal Homes. Kingfisher.
Bishop, Nic. 2004. Forest Explorer: A Life-Size Field Guide. Scholastic, Inc.
Brenner, B. 2004. One Small Place in a Tree. HarperCollins Publishers.
Canizares, S. 1997. Who Lives in a Tree? Scholastic, Inc.
Gregoire, E. 2004. Whose House Is This?: A Look at Animal Homes. Capstone Press.
Hoberman, M. A. and B. Fraser. 2007. A House is a House for Me. Penguin Group (USA).
Hutchins, P. 1990. Good-Night, Owl! Aladdin.
Lock, D. 2007. Animals at Home. DK Publishing, Inc.
Lyon, G. 1998. Counting on the Woods. DK Children.
Magellan, M. 1990. Home At Last. Humanics Children's House.
Milbourne, A. 2014. Peek Inside Animal Homes. EDC Publishing.
National Geographic Society. 1987. Animal Architects. National Geographic Society.
Peck, J. and V. Petrone. 2005. Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Robinson, T. 2000. Tobias, the Quig and the Rumplenut Tree. Winslow Press.
Salas, L. 2006. Do Turtles Sleep in Treetops?: A Book About Animal Homes. Capstone Press.
Schwartz, D. 1999. In a Tree. Gareth Stevens Publications.
Udry, J. 1987. A Tree Is Nice. HarperCollins Publishers.
Van Laan, N. 2000. A Tree for Me. Random House Children's Books.

Ward, J. 2005. Forest Bright, Forest Night. Dawn Publications.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Discovering Trees

Fall is a great time to get outside and explore trees. Before heading outside, ask your students the following:
  • Do you have trees at your house?
  • Do you like playing in the leaves?
  • Do you have a favorite tree?
  • Is there one kind of tree or are there many kinds?
  • Where are trees located?
  • Can you name different types of trees?  
  • What colors of leaves do you see on trees?

Go on a leaf walk around the school or to a local park. Give each child a brown paper bag to gather fall leaves and nuts. Create a “tree mural” with the kids’ collection - draw a very large tree trunk with branches and allow children to decorate branches with their leaf collection.

Decorate your classroom with sponge painted trees - each child draws a tree trunk and branches on a white piece of paper and using odd sponge shapes (dipped into fall colored paint) bounce the sponges onto the tree branches they drew. 

Tree Themed Games
Make Applesauce 
Lay a long jump rope into a circle which will represent the pot.  Tell the children they are the apples. Call a color of an apple and if a child is wearing clothing that color they may jump into the pot. Talk about when you turn up the heat, the apples start to bubble. Pretend to turn the heat up and down.  The children move around faster as the heat goes up and as the apples simmer they children slow down.  You can also pretend to stir the pot so the children move in one direction in a circle.

Tree Trunk Shuffle

Arrange carpet pieces (1 less than the number of students) in a circle. Alternating students are assigned names of Iowa native trees (e.g., hickory, cedar, boxelder, maple, oak, walnut). Call out the name of one or more trees and those students assigned that tree/trees must move to a new carpet square. If you yell out “Tree Trunk Shuffle,” all students must move to a new carpet square.

Leaf Tic-Tac-Toe
Make the tic-tac-toe grid from sticks (or draw it in the dirt). Each player picks five of the same leaf of his or her playing pieces. Now you’re ready to play tic-tac-toe with two different types of leaves instead of Xs and Os. Three of the same leaf in a row wins.