Monday, July 6, 2015

Fun Summer Outdoor Experiences

There are lots of simple ways to get kids outdoors in Iowa this summer. Use this as a checklist to guide your outdoor explorations.

Catch Fireflies
A simple, fun way to get kids interested in bugs and other small wildlife. Remind kids to be gentle to avoid crushing the beetles, and if you want to collect them be sure your container has air holes. Take care not to handle fireflies if you’ve applied bug spray to you and your child, as the chemicals in the spray can kill the insects you touch.

Learn to Fish
Every kid needs to try fishing at least once - check out our tips for taking kids fishing. To commemorate the first time your child catches a fish, take a picture to upload onto a congratulatory certificate you can find at

Skip Rocks
Skipping rocks is a great way to relax and spend quality time together. Throw with the current of a river to help you get more skips, making it easier for young arms with less throwing power to achieve success.

See a Goldfinch
Our state bird lives just about everywhere in the state, and their bright yellow plumage makes them easy to spot. Put thistle seeds or black oil sunflower seeds in a finch feeder and wait. Goldfinches are social, so when they come you’ll see plenty.

Make a S’more Over a Campfire
The process of finding a suitable roasting stick, burning a marshmallow or two, and finally getting a golden gem is rewarding. Don’t like marshmallows? Try fire-roasted Starburst for a fruity twist.

Swim in a Lake
Taking a dip is a great way to cool off. Kids can build sand castles and look for shells on shore when they’re done making a splash. Make sure to stay in designated swimming areas, and consider bringing water shoes to protect your feet from debris.

Pick Wild Raspberries
Black raspberries can be found in many public parks throughout the state in late June and early July. Show your child how to pick berries without hurting themselves or the plant, and point out the differences between berries that are safe to eat versus poisonous ones like honeysuckle.

Go Stream Walking
Iowa streams and creeks tend to run cool, and walking in the middle of them wicks away body heat with continual water movement. Take into consideration how deep the stream you want to walk in is beforehand, as kids can tire quickly from slogging through deep water. Wear sturdy footwear that can protect you from debris.

Catch a Frog
Frogs of all types and sizes live in Iowa, but leopard frogs are particularly fun to chase. Their tremendous jumping ability keeps you on the move, but distinctive dark markings and bright gold eyes help you keep track of them. When catching any frog, remind your child to be gentle, as the soft amphibians can be easily hurt by excited fingers.

Visit a Fen or Marsh
These wetland habitats are home to an entirely different set of organisms than we usually see. Bring along binoculars and watch a heron stalk the water for frogs and fish, or look for other animals like ducks, geese, muskrat, cranes, egrets, and shorebirds. Don’t forget the plants; you could find Iowa’s endangered pale green orchids right under your feet. Remember not to pick anything, as these habitats are very ecologically fragile and many of the plants there are protected by federal law.

Chase Butterflies
Catching butterflies can be a great way to get kids excited about insects. Demonstrate catching the butterfly and holding it gently for your child, ideally by carefully pinching all four wing segments between the sides of your fingers. Holding it this way allows you to examine the butterfly without the animal being able to flap its wings, thus preventing damage to the tiny scales that help it fly.

Go Hiking
Iowa’s parks and forests collectively boast over 600 miles of hiking trails, with more being added every year. Go for a stroll or a more difficult excursion, and take plenty of snack and water breaks to enjoy the nature around you.

Try Geocaching
You need a GPS and a list of coordinates, which will take you to sites where you can search for a small container. Geocaching coordinates can be found online for free. The containers at the sites usually contain a notebook with the names of those who have already found the container and a pencil to write your own name with. Some caches have little trinkets inside, but geocaching etiquette says to only take the trinket if you have something of equal or greater value to leave in its place.

Go Camping
Camping gives kids the opportunity to be fully immersed in nature. Bring along children’s creature comforts from home (like blankets from their bed or a favorite stuffed animal) to help them get comfortable with the new environment.

Look for Fossils and Geodes
A very long time ago, Iowa was part of the ocean floor. Over time, sediment built up and created the limestone we now use for making concrete. This type of rock is excellent at preserving fossils, and at multiple sites collectors can look for and keep their finds. Particularly good specimens have been found in the Mason City area, and visitors can learn more at the Floyd County Conservation Fossil and Prairie Park Preserve and Center.

Visit State Preserves and Parks
With 72
state parks and 95 preserves, Iowa has a rich diversity of public lands available for exploration. Seven sites were developed and planned as recreation areas, and offer extensive options for all sorts of activities. Most state parks have camping options, ranging from rustic to the occasional glamourous cabin.

Go on a Bike Ride
Iowa is one of the nation’s leaders in cycling, with nearly 700 miles of paved bike trails. Biking in Iowa is a great way to see the state and get exercise while taking it easy on your joints. The High Trestle Trail is a popular favorite, stretching 25 miles through five towns and featuring a 13-story-high trail bridge over the Des Moines River.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Come along with me….Earth manners!

Children are naturally curious about nature and their environment.  Take a child outdoors and chances are they will start exploring under rocks and leaves, picking up sticks and searching for bugs.  The desire to explore and learn should be nurtured while also teaching children about respect for all living things and their environment.

This holiday weekend, while you are outside enjoying the lovely weather and taking part in the 4th of July festivities, don’t forget to use your “Earth manners”.  Earth manners are a simple set of “rules” that help ensure that while you are exploring the great outdoors you are also respecting the environment that you are visiting. 

Earth manners
  • Do not disturb wildlife.  Follow this simple rule - look, learn, leave alone.
  • Do not pick wildflowers, cut branches from trees or otherwise destroy plants.
  • Do not carve or draw on trees or rocks.
  • Be careful with fire.
  • Be careful not to litter and try to pick up any litter left by others.
  • “Take only memories, leave only footprints” - leave an area in the same condition, or better, than when you got there.

Discuss Earth manners as a family this weekend before heading out the door.  Or better yet have your kids brainstorm and come up with their own set of rules and why they think they are important.  Have a fun and safe 4th of July exploring the great outdoors!

Reading Connections
Arnosky, J. 1993. Crinkleroot's Guide to Walking in Wild Places. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.Barraclough, S. 2007. Respecting Our World. Black Rabbit Books.
Bruchac, J. 1991. Keepers of the Animals: Native American Stories and Wildlife Activities for Children. Fulcrum Publishing.
Bruchac, J. 1997. Keepers of Life: Discovering Plants through Native American Stories and Earth Activities for Children. Fulcrum Publishing.
Dr. Seuss. 1971. The Lorax. Random House Children’s Books.
Galko, F. 2004. Earth Friends at Home. Heinemann.

Gile, J. and T. Heflin. 1989. The First Forest. JGC/United Publishing Corps.
Green, J. and M. Gordon. 2005. Why Should I Protect Nature? Barron’s Educational Series, Inc.
Guillain, C. 2008. Caring for Nature (Help the Environment). Heinemann Library.
Madden, D. 1986. 1993. The Wartville Wizard. Simon & Schuster Children’s Publishing.
Schimmel, S. 2002. Children of the Earth…Remember. T&N Children's Publishing.
Schimmel, S. 1994. Dear Children of the Earth: A Letter from Home. T&N Children's Publishing.

Tafuri, N. 1987. 1987. Do Not Disturb. HarperCollins Publishers.


Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Come along with me….camping!

The annual Great American Backyard Campout is Saturday June 27. It’s time to dust off your camping gear, gather s’mores ingredients and Take the pledge to camp in your backyard, your neighborhood or your local state park.

Fire up the grill or build a fire in a fire ring, make s’mores, tell stories and count stars. Enjoy hiking, fishing, bird watching, and star gazing. Climb a tree,see how many bugs you can find, look under logs, leaves and rocks or just sit in the sun and listen to the birds sing.

Try playing a few tried-and-true outdoor games such as Red Rover, Capture the Flag,Red Light-Green Light, Duck-Duck-Goose,Cat and Mouse or Sardines. Get the whole family, neighborhood or campground involved! Get outside, have fun and make great memories!

Reading Connections
Carlson, L.M. and J. Dammel. 1995. Kids Camp!: Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness. Chicago Review Press, Incorporated.
Ching, J. 2000. Camping: Have Fun, Be Smart. Rosen Publishing Group, Incorporated.
Drake, J. and A. Love. 1998. Kids Campfire Book. Kids Can Press, Limited.
Eckart, E. 2003. I Can Go Camping. Children's Press.
Klein, A. G. 2008. Camping. ABDO Publishing Company.
Love, D. 1997. Backyard Camp-out Book. HarperCollins Publishers.
Ruurs, M. 2004. When We Go Camping. Tundra.
White, K.L. 2006. Cooking in a Can. Gibbs Smith.
Winner, C. 2006. Kids Gone Campin': The Young Camper's Guide to Having More Fun Outdoors. Creative Publishing International, Incorporated.

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Outdoor Explorations for Early Learners Workshop

June 25-26, 2015
8:00 am-5:15 pm (6/25); 8:00am-3:30pm (6/26)
Mines of Spain State Recreation Area/E. B. Lyons Interpretive Center (8991 Bellevue Heights, Dubuque, IA 52003)
Registration: Keystone AEA

Registration Deadline: June 18, 2015

Registration Fee: $175; 1 Teacher Recertification Credit: Additional $85

This inquiry-based outdoor exploration workshop is designed to help early childhood professionals lead children in age-appropriate, interdisciplinary outdoor experiences. You will be introduced to strategies, skills, and resources (including Growing Up WILD and Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood) to build upon children's sense of wonder about the world around them through relevant, inquiry-based exploration.

Both guides have been correlated to national standards for early childhood education – NAEYC Criteria for Curriculum, Head Start Child Outcomes Framework and the NAAEE Early Childhood Environmental Education Guidelines for Excellence. Additional activity correlations have been drafted to Iowa program and curriculum standards – Quality Preschool Program Standards, Iowa Early Learning Standards, Creative Curriculum Developmental Continuum and the Iowa Core Curriculum. Activities promote and support developmentally appropriate practice in multiple ways.

Activities are presented with a wide range of options to support children at various developmental levels focused on children ages 3 – 7 years. Participants will interact with a variety of professionals (i.e. classroom teachers, childcare providers, environmental educators) all leading early learners outdoors.



Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Students Recognized for Iowa State-Fish Drawings

The Iowa Department of Natural Resources partnered with the Wildlife Forever® State-Fish Art® Contest to host an Iowa State-Fish Contest in conjunction with the annual “Take It
1st Place Grades K-3
Outside” Art Contest.

The State-Fish Art Contest uses art to ignite children’s imagination while teaching them about fish and fishing. Entries showcased students’ favorite Iowa fish in its natural habitat. All entries were original hand-drawn artwork. Winners were selected based on portrayal of theme, creative expression, originality, visual appeal, and artistic merit. 

Individual winners:
1st Place Grades 4-6
Grades K-3
1st Place – Emma F., Homeschool
2nd Place – Jonah V., Homeschool
3rd Place – Carley F., Adair-Casey Community Schools

Grades 4-6
1st Place – Benjamin S., Homeschool
2nd Place – Nathan P., Mid-Prairie Home School Assistance Program
3rd Place – Anessa S., Benton Community Schools
1st Place Grades 7-9

Grades 7-9
1st Place – Helen H., Ames Community Schools
2nd Place – Gretchen M., North Polk Community Schools
3rd Place – Carmen A., Benton Community Schools

Grades 10-12
1st Place – Hunter F., Twin Cedars Community Schools

Artists who placed first in their age group are invited, along
1st Place Grades 10-12
with their families, to attend the 17th Annual State-Fish Art Expo held in conjunction with FLW during the Forrest L. Wood Cup bass world championship on August 21-22 in Hot Springs, Arkansas. Every participant received a Certificate of Recognition. Winning entries will be displayed during the Iowa State Fair at the DNR building.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Iowa DNR to Release Trumpeter Swans at Four Locations

Trumpeter swans will be released by the Iowa DNR at public events at four southern Iowa parks. Events will be held rain or shine.

May 6:
Lake Icaria Recreation Area, 9:30 a.m., at East boat ramp; four swans to be released
Summit Lake, 1 p.m., boat ramp on south side of Hwy 25; four swans to be released

May 7:
Viking Lake State Park, 10 a.m. at beach; two swans to be released
Lake Anita State Park, 2 p.m.; two swans to be released

The public is invited and encouraged to attend. The event includes a 20-minute swan/wetland presentation, a unique opportunity to touch and view the swans up close, and a historic photo opportunity with the kids. As the largest North American waterfowl, these magnificent all-white birds can weigh up to 32 pounds with an 8-foot wingspan.

Trumpeter swans were once common in Iowa, but were gone from the state by the late 1880s.By the early 1930s, only 69 trumpeter swans remained in the lower 48 states. The trumpeter swans being released are part of the DNR’s statewide trumpeter swan restoration effort, with hopes that they will help restore a wild free flying population to Iowa.


Monday, April 27, 2015

Incorporating Nature into Outdoor Play

Incorporate nature in your students’ outdoor play times this spring. Try these simple ideas from Project Learning Tree’s Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood.
  • Plant a vegetable or flower garden. Mark “keepers’ with popsicle sticks or flags so your students know what not to weed. Plant fast-growing plants or transplants. Provide child-size hoes and watering cans.
  • Supply magnifying lenses and clear containers to encourage your students to look for small animals in mulch, grass and soil.
  • Encourage your students to play in the dirt – supply trowels, disposable pie plates, watering cans, pie servers and miniature farm equipment such as tractors, plows, farm animals and fence-building materials.
  • Supply branches for your students to build forts and shelters.
  • Stockpile various sizes and colors of rocks.
  • Construct an outdoor sandbox.
  • Fill a shallow wading pool (“pond”) and equip it with fishing poles.
  • Lay a flat board (approximately 2 feet by 2 feet) on the ground. After a week of two, your students will begin finding insects, spiders, mice and other animals under the board. You may need to water the area around the board occasionally.
  • Hang bird feeders near classroom windows.
  • Plant native wildflowers to attract butterflies.
  • Plant native shrubs. Nuts, berries, and other fruit will attract wildlife all year long.