Friday, December 19, 2014

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes

DES MOINES – Iowa State Parks will sponsor free, guided hikes in five state parks on New Year’s Day as part of America's State Parks First Day Hikes initiative in all 50 states. 

America’s State Parks First Day Hikes offer individuals and families an opportunity to begin the New Year rejuvenating and connecting with the outdoors by taking a healthy hike on January 1 at a state park close to home. First Day Hikes offer a great way to get outside, exercise, enjoy nature and welcome the New Year with friends and family. 

“We are excited to host First Day Hikes as part of this national effort to get people outdoors and into our parks.  First Day Hikes are a great way to cure cabin fever and burn off those extra holiday calories by starting off the New Year with an invigorating walk or hike in one of our beautiful state parks,” said Todd Coffelt, chief of the Iowa Department of Natural Resources State Parks Bureau.  

Priscilla Geigis, president of the National Association of State Park Directors (NASPD), said last year, state parks across the country hosted nearly 28,000 people who hiked 68,811 miles as part of America’s State Parks First Day Hikes. “Think of it as the start of a new and healthy lifestyle, for the whole family. Whether you’re staying close to home or traveling, join us at one of America’s State Parks on New Year’s Day,” Geigis said.

Iowa’s state parks boast a variety of beautiful settings for year-round outdoor recreation, and each First Day Hike will offer an opportunity to explore the unique natural and cultural treasures close to home. 

“Studies have proven that getting outdoors is one good way to relax and recharge the body, mind and spirit,” stated Lewis Ledford, NASPD’s executive director.  “We hope that hiking along a trail in a state park will become part of an individual’s or family’s regular exercise routine.”

First Day Hikes originated more than 20 years ago at the Blue Hills Reservation, a state park in Milton, Mass.  The program was launched to promote both healthy lifestyles throughout the year and year round recreation at state parks.  Last year marked the first time all 50 state park systems have joined together to sponsor First Day Hikes.

Park staff and volunteers will lead the hikes, which average one to two miles or longer depending on the state park.  Details about hike locations, difficulty and length, terrain and tips regarding proper clothing are listed on the America’s State Parks website.  Visit www.naspd.org to find a First Day Hike nearest you.

In Iowa, hikes will be offered at the following locations and times:
  • Bellevue State Park, Jackson County – 1 p.m. – meet at South Bluff Nature Center
  • Brushy Creek State Recreation Area, Webster County – 1 p.m. – meet at Prairie Resource Center
  • Mines of Spain State Recreation Area, Dubuque County – 1 p.m. – meet at EB Lyons Nature Center
  • Walnut Woods State Park, Polk County – 9 a.m. – meet at Walnut Woods Lodge
  • Waubonsie State Park, Fremont County – 1 p.m. – meet at park office


For more information about the hikes, go to the events calendar on the DNR website.

America's State Parks is committed to promoting outdoor recreation in state parks as a way to address obesity, especially among children.  Getting kids outside and unplugged from video games and other electronic media creates a unique connection with nature that promotes physical and mental well-being and encourages creativity and stewardship of our shared resources.


MEDIA CONTACT: Todd Coffelt, Chief, State Parks Bureau, Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 515-725-8485.        

Monday, December 15, 2014

Edible Ornaments for Wildlife

Start a new classroom holiday tradition this year - decorate a tree in your schoolyard or a nearby park with edible ornaments for wildlife.  Help students make predictions about what might happen to the “treats”, who might visit them and which treats they will like the best.  Return several days later to check your treats, look for evidence of animal activity and chart your findings.

Apple and Orange Slices
Thinly slice apples and oranges, string through a bit of thread in each, and hang each piece separately from branches.

Bird Bags
Buy netting material and fill it with birdseed. Hint: Adding finely crushed eggshells to the mix will provide the birds with calcium!

Bread Ornaments
Spread peanut butter on both sides of a slice of bread.  Press coated bread into a pan of rolled oats or birdseed. Use holiday cookie cutters to cut shapes from the slices. Poke holes through your ornaments with a pencil and slip a string through.

Crackers or Cheerios Bracelet
String together salt-free crackers (think Ritz, or the types that have small holes) or Cheerios in the shape of a bracelet to slide over the tips of branches.

Millet Delight
Purchase millet from your feed and seed store; top with a red ribbon and hang it from the tree.

Orange Baskets
Hollow orange halves and fill with peanut butter (and shortening/cornmeal) and birdseed mix.

Peanut Heaven
String raw peanuts and loop them together. Finish off with a colorful ribbon.

Pinecone Pleasure
Collect pinecones of all sizes. Attach a ribbon loop to the top of each one. Combine peanut butter and oatmeal, spread the mixture over the pinecone and roll it in birdseed. Then, hang on the tree.

Popcorn Party
String together popcorn – but make sure that it's all natural; no butter or salt added.

String of Pearl
With a needle and thread, string together different kinds of grapes. For a dash of color, alternate grapes with raisins and cranberries.

Suet Loot

Melt beef fat or bacon grease and let it cool. Add birdseed, peanut butter, fruit or granola. Mesh onion bags make great suet containers and are easy to hang!

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Bringing Nature into Your Classroom

Bring the outdoors inside by incorporating natural objects and nature awareness into all aspects of your curriculum. Follow these suggestions from Project Learning Tree’s Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood.

Involve the Children
  • Collect natural objects (pebbles, rocks, bark, seeds, twigs, leaves, acorns, pinecones). Children can use them in the art area; display them on the Discovery Table; and sort, count, and compare them in the math area.
  • Grow potted plants. Rosemary, mint, thyme, basil, and sage all grow well indoors. Install grow lights, if necessary. You can even grow lettuce and eat it!
  • Adopt a classroom pet. Classroom pets can help children learn how to care for animals and provide many opportunities for observing animal behavior and physiology. Classroom animals can range from hamsters to ants. Except for some insects, wild animals do not make good pets and are often illegal to own. If you do not wish to adopt a permanent classroom pet, consider temporarily keeping ladybugs, caterpillars, or snails in a terrarium.
  • Cut out animal tracks, and tape them to the floor. Place them in each animal’s walking pattern.
  • Arrange glow-in-the-dark stars into constellations on the ceiling.
  • Hang cutouts of clouds, birds, bats, bugs, and other airborne objects from the ceiling.
  • Use a nature calendar to track daily weather, moon phases, and other natural events.
  • Put a thermometer with a highly visible liquid tube and large numbers just outside a window.
  • Set up a bird-feeding station outside a window. Keep binoculars and labeled pictures of common birds and animals nearby.
  • Set up a sundial in a sunny window, and teach children how to mark the shadows. Place a vase or other object in the window, and record shadow lengths at a specific time of day over the course of the school year. Watch the shadows change with the seasons.
  • Collect or build child-friendly instruments that replicate natural sounds (e.g., rainsticks, drums, birdcalls).
  • Construct mobiles made of twigs and leaves.
  • Showcase nature are projects in a designated display area.

Continue to fill the day with nature
  • Play CDs of nature sounds. Play a different animal song each day of the week when the children arrive. For example, play cardinal songs on Mondays, green frog calls on Tuesday, and cricket songs on Wednesdays.
  • Stock the reading corner shelves with nature-themed picture books, guides, and reference books.
  • Provide nature journals for each child to use throughout the year.
  • Furnish wooden flower presses for pressing leaves and other plant material.
  • Supply costumes and puppets of animals and plants that live in your area.
  • Provide small logs of different tree species. Children will enjoy feeling how one tree’s bark differs form the next. You will need to replace these items as necessary. Be careful bringing these items indoors as they are often homes for many insects and other living things.
  • Provide fat crayons without paper wrappings to make rubbings of natural objects like leaves and bark.
  • Take or collect full-color photographs of plants and animals that live in your area. Label and laminate them. Organize them into a field guide to your schoolyard, or leave them loose for children to select and sort.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Science Crafts

Try these inexpensive, not-too-messy, fun crafts to help your kids become scientists this winter. 

Dancing Spaghetti 
Mix water with baking soda in a clear glass or cup, and add a few small pieces of spaghetti to the mix. Then add vinegar. Bubbles will form on the spaghetti and make it “dance”.

Floaters & Sinkers 
Fill a large bowl, kiddie pool, or water table with water. Collect a variety of objects that sink and float. Make sure to collect objects that are similar in size but vastly different in density, like a rock and a tennis ball. Ask the kids to predict whether the object will sink or float and let them drop it in the water. Have the kids classify them into two different stacks, the “Floaters” and the “Sinkers”.

Magnetic Boxes
 
Fill a clear plastic container with metal objects (e.g., nuts and bolts, pipe cleaners, bobby pins, brads paper clips). Hand each child a strong magnet and let them experiment with lifting the objects in the container without touching them.

Shadow Boxes
You will need:

  • Shoe box lid
  • White glue
 (lots of it!)
  • Watered down tempera paint
  • Paintbrushes
  • Natural objects

Collect, with your kids, a variety of natural objects from your schoolyard or a nearby park. Pour a large pool of white glue into the bottom of a shoe box or shoe box lid and let the kids drop their objects into the glue. To add a little color, the kids can drip the watered down paint onto the glue. It will take a few days for the glue to dry but then the box can be hung on the wall like a picture!

Shiny Pennies
Collect dirty tarnished pennies and have the kids soak them in a bowl of vinegar. Within a minute the pennies will be instantly “shined”. For an added bonus, rinse some of the pennies in water after the vinegar dip and then compare them to the vinegar only pennies; if you wait an hour the vinegar pennies will start to oxidize and turn green. VARIATION: use a variety of solutions to shine the pennies -  try salsa (the acid in tomatoes also acts to clean the pennies), lemon juice, soap and water, and vinegar and see which one works the best.

Plant an Indoor Sponge Garden Gardening is a great way for kids to get their hands dirty and learn about nature, but in most of the country it's impossible to do year-round. When the wind starts howling, plant a sponge garden in your classroom.

What You Need:
  • new, clean sponge, any color
  • small plate
  • grass seeds
  • water
  • clear plastic wrap

What You Do:
  1. Soak the sponge in water and wring out until damp. Place on plate.
  2. Sprinkle with grass seeds.
  3. Sprinkle with water.
  4. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and set plate in sunny spot.
  5. Sprinkle with water as needed to keep sponge only slightly damp.

For more fun science experiments, check out the following websites:

Monday, November 24, 2014

Setting Up a Woodworking Center

Looking for a new way to help your students develop large and small motor skills, solve problems, encourage creativity and build self-esteem? Follow these suggestions from Project Learning Tree’s Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood to set up a woodworking center in your classroom.

Show the Tools
A woodworking center should start with a child-size workbench equipped with a vise. Introduce tools one at a time; by the end of the year, the woodworking center could feature the following equipment:
  • safety goggles
  • sandpaper and files in a variety of grades and sizes
  • wood glue
  • lightweight hammers
  • large-headed nails, such as roofing nails
  • short screwdrivers with large stubby handles (straight slot and Phillips)
  • large screws
  • hand drills
  • pliers
  • tape measures, rulers, and squares
  • carpenter pencils and notebooks for planning and sketching
  • vises or C-clamps
  • small whiskbroom and dustpan for cleanup

Establish the rules
  • Everyone must wear safety goggles in the woodworking area whether he or she is using tools or just watching.
  • An adult must be present when tools are in use.
  • Tools have special jobs and can be used only for that job. Hammers are used only for hammering nails into wood.
  • Tools and supplies must be put away. Use a pegboard in the woodworking area to hold tools. Trace around the tools on the pegboard, and write the name of the tool next to the outline. This system makes it easier for children to return tools to their proper places.

Follow these suggestions
  • Check home-improvement stores, lumberyards, and construction sites for scraps of wood. Soft woods are best.
  • Introduce tools one at a time to small groups of students.
  • Pound large-head nails (roofing nails) into stumps for practice. If your children are not ready for hammering real nails into wood, let them experiment by hammering golf tees into Styrofoam packing pieces.
  • To avoid children hurting their fingers when nailing, use needle-nose pliers to hold the nail. Children can also push the nail through a small square of paper and then hold the paper to get the nail started.
  • Use a vise or C-clamp to hold wood for sawing, drilling, and hammering. Most injuries happen to the hand that is holding the material-not the hand holding the tool.
  • When sawing, either both hands must be on the saw or the “other” hand must be behind the child’s back.



Thursday, November 20, 2014

Balancing Technology and Nature

Kids love to use technology. Technology offers an exciting way to engage children with the natural world. Use these suggestions to help your students learn new ways to interact with nature and each other.

Practice First
Before using a technology for the first time, let your students explore the technology and teach them how to use it properly. Something as a hand lens might be an entirely new experience for a child.

Get Digital
Take students on a nature walk. Give students opportunities to photograph things in their outdoor environment and bring this information back to the classroom.

Digital Recording Device
Record environmental sounds in a variety of areas around the school. Replay them in the classroom and have students use the information collected to construct a sound map.

Enhance Outdoor Exploration
View things in different ways by using magnifying lenses, bug boxes, and binoculars.

Changes in the Environment
Become aware of changes in the environment by observing sundials, windsocks, and thermometers.

Look Up Information About Nature
What kind of tree is that? There’s an app for that! See a cool bird? Google it!
  • WildLab Bird - A free app that can be downloaded onto the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (try iBird Lite for Android). Use WildLab Bird to learn the basics of bird identification. This application uses audio, photographs, maps, and the process of elimination to help identify over 200 bird species. Sightings can also be entered into a national bird watching database for comparison.
  • WildObs Observer - A free app that can be downloaded onto the iPhone, iPod touch, iPad, and Android. WildObs Observer allows users to search for and identify thousands of species of mammals, birds, snakes, plants, and more. Log your wildlife encounters for your own calculations or upload them to a national database for comparison.
  • Leafsnap - A free app that can be downloaded onto the iPhone, iPod touch, and iPad (Andriod version in development). Leafsnap uses visual recognition software to help identify tree species from individual leaf photographs you take in the field. This application contains high-resolution images of bark, flowers, fruit, seeds, and more. Currently Leafsnap specializes in tree species found in the Northeastern United States, but expansion to include all US regions is underway.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Sound of Nature


Nature is filled with an abundance of unforgettable sounds such as breezes whistling through leaves, birds singing early in the morning and streams gurgling over rocks. Use these fun ideas to help your students explore the many sounds of nature.

Forest Concert
Plan a field trip to a nearby nature area. Allow students time to sit and listen for the various sounds from nature, such as those made by birds, insects, and other animals. Talk about the different sounds you hear and ask students to imitate the sounds they heard. Try these suggestions for how to imitate the sounds:
  •       birds – hoot, tweet, chirp or whistle
  •        insects – buzz, hum, or chirp
  •        squirrels – chatter
  •       wind – rub hands together; blow air; whistle, swish, or swoosh
  •        rain – tap feet or pat thighs; clap hands
  •        thunder – stomp feet

Listening Walk
Before heading outside your listening walk, teach your students American Sign Language for a few outdoor sounds (e.g., wind, rain, animal, bug) – printable American Sign Language cards are available on the Project Learning Tree website.

Lead your students on an outdoor walk and use the signs to “tell” one another what you hear. Talk about the sounds heard:
  • How would you describe this sound?
  • Where to you think it is coming from?
  • What do you think is making it?
  • Can you imitate it?

Match the Sounds
Make two matching sets of plastic eggs filled with naturally “noisy” items (e.g., acorns, pebbles, grass, sand, soil, wood chips). Invite your students to shake the containers and find the matching sounds. Number the eggs and make a chart so you can record the matches.

Mother Nature Had a Prairie Song
Compose a song with your students using the sounds around the Old MacDonald theme. Instead of “Old MacDonald had a farm…,” create a new beginning that ties into the nature theme, such as “Mother Nature had a prairie” (or a pond, forest, etc.) A few animals found in a pond habitat, such as frogs and fish, would be a great verse or two. Integrating other animals and their habitats will reinforce student learning.

Natural Instruments
The natural world is home to many objects or materials that can be used to create sounds. Rubbing twigs together, crunching leaves, tapping rocks, or blowing on a blade of grass produce sounds that can be used to create “instrumental” creations. Combining natural items together would be an excellent way of making instruments. Challenge students to create their own natural sound makers to share with their classmates. Use their creations to study rhythms and other musical topics.

Recording Studio
Set up a recording studio with instruments, microphones, recording devices, CDs of nature sounds and blank media. Encourage your students to mix the sounds they make with natural sounds to create new sound recordings. Replay the new recordings and ask students to choreograph dances inspired by sounds in nature.

Reading Connections
Baylor, B. 1997. Other Way to Listen. Aladdin.
Carlstrom, N. 2000. Way to Wyatt's House. Walker & Company.
Clement, C. 1993. The Voice of the Wood. Puffin Books.
Davol, M.W. 1992. Heart of the Wood. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.
Merriam, E. 1993. Quiet, Please. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.
Owen, R. 1994. My Night Forest. Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers.
Showers, P. 1993. Listening Walk. HarperCollins Publishers.
Taylor, B. 1997. The Other Way to Listen. Alladin.