Monday, November 16, 2015

Iowa State-Fish Art Contest

Contest Rules & Guidelines
2016 Entry Form
The Iowa DNR is partnering with the Wildlife Forever® State-Fish Art® Contest to host an Iowa State-Fish Art Contest. Students are encouraged to use their artistic skills to create an image of their favorite Iowa fish (see the eligible fish list) in its natural habitat.

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. Each student submitting an entry will receive a Certificate of Recognition.
Judging Categories
Group 1 – Kindergarten-Grade 3
Group 2 – Grades 4-6
Group 3 – Grades 7-9
Group 4 – Grades 10-12
All entries must be postmarked by March 31, 2016.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Connecting Children to Nature

Spending time in nature has many positive benefits for all ages. A young child’s connection with nature can be simple as sitting under a tree, listening to the chirping of crickets or planting a seed.

Try these simple tips from Project Learning Tree’s Environmental Experiences for Early Childhood to help connect your students to nature.
  • Provide a variety of learning opportunities for auditory, visual, and kinesthetic learners.
  • Provide a variety of ways for children to share what they have learned (e.g., drawing pictures, dictating information to an adult).
  • Allow children to touch the physical objects.
  • Provide a variety of books, pictures, and recordings, such as birdcalls and nature sounds.
  • Label natural objects.
  • Call on all the senses when observing nature.
  • Embrace the knowledge you have.
  • Model research skills – when you discover something unfamiliar, say, “I don’t know. Can we answer that question by ourselves or do we need a book?” Find answers together.
  • Participate with the children – be a scientist and record your own observations. Be an artist and sketch along with them.
  • Rediscover your own sense of wonder – share your favorite parts of nature and your favorite nature books with the children. Your enthusiasm will spread.
  • Model care and respect for the natural environment – touch plants and animals gently. Return animals to the places you found them. Carefully replace logs and stones.
  • Bring nature inside – collect and display natural objects and use them to enhance art, writing, math and play.
  • Begin with simple outdoor experiences and expand from there – start by exploring right outside the classroom using simple equipment familiar to your children. As children become more comfortable being outdoors, they will naturally want to spend time playing outdoors.
  • Be an enthusiastic model – your attitude is contagious!

Research shows many positive benefits to spending time in nature and that it is an important part of a child’s overall well-being. Children who have opportunities to play and learn in nature are more likely to:
  • Handle challenges and problems more capably.
  • Be more physically active, healthy, aware of nutrition, and less likely to be obese.
  • Are more cooperative with other children.
  • Have better mental and emotional health.
  • Have a greater appreciation of the arts, music, history, and literature.
  • Have higher self-esteem.
  • Be happier and smarter.
  • Are more creative.
  • Feel more capable and confident.
  • Are good problem solvers.
  • Choose science or a science related subject as a career.
  • Become better informed and environmentally aware adults.

          Wednesday, October 28, 2015

          Happy Bat Week!

          Bat week is an annual international celebration of the role of bats in nature. Step outside around dusk and take a few moments to look for bats in your neighborhood.

          Iowa is home to nine bat species: little brown bat, big brown bat, red bat, hoary bat, silver-haired bat, Indiana bat (federally endangered species), evening bat, eastern pipistrelle, and northern myotis.

          Try this fun game from the KinderNature website to help children understand how bats use echolocation to catch insects.

          Bats Eat Bugs
          Have all players stand in a large circle. Choose one child to be the bat and place a blindfold over her eyes. Choose five other children to be bugs inside the circle.

          The bat moves around inside the circle calling out “Bug, bug, where are you?” The bugs call back “Here, here!” as if the sound was bouncing off of them back to the bat. When the bat hears the echo, she attempts to catch the bugs by tagging them. The bat may call as many times as she wishes. Each time the bugs must answer.

           The last bug to be caught becomes the new bat.

          Fun Bat Facts
          • A small bat eats between 1,000 and 2,000 small insects every night. Bats use sonar to find dinner when it’s pitch black out. Bats make noises, which bounce off the bugs and back to the bats’ ears, where the sound is picked up by the bats’ specialized hearing.
          • Bats are our only flying mammals in the state.
          • One of Iowa’s few true hibernators, bats hibernate all winter until there are insects to chow down on again.
          • Within three weeks of being born, young bats are taking flight. They grow quickly, being full-grown in about a month after birth. Young bats take off for their own roosts once they’re weaned.
          • Bats hang upside down because it allows them to roost in places where predators can’t reach them. It also allows them to get into the air faster by falling to achieve flight.

          Helpful Websites

          Tuesday, October 20, 2015

          Fun Nature Themed Games

          Play is essential for a child’s development and for learning life skills. Try these fun games from the KinderNature website to keep your students active all year long.

          Bats Eat Bugs
          Have all players stand in a large circle. Choose one child to be the bat and place a blindfold over her eyes. Choose five other children to be bugs inside the circle.

          The bat moves around inside the circle calling out “Bug, bug, where are you?” The bugs call back “Here, here!” as if the sound was bouncing off of them back to the bat. When the bat hears the echo, she attempts to catch the bugs by tagging them. The bat may call as many times as she wishes. Each time the bugs must answer.

          The last bug to be caught becomes the new bat.

          Camo Frog
          Define a playing area using ropes or cones, etc.

          Spread small colored plastic frogs (green, yellow, red, and blue) 1 of each color for every child throughout the grassy playing area. (You can use colored macaroni instead.)

          Line the children up at one end of the marked area.

          Show the children a plastic frog.

          Explain that they will be going on a frog hunt.

          When you say “go”, they are to walk out and find only one frog.

          After the first round, line the frogs up according to color.

          (You are building a pictograph.)

          Ask the children to notice which color was found the most.

          Repeat the rounds, each time adding to the pictograph and comparing the number of each color.

          Usually the red and blues are discovered before the yellow and greens.

          Ask the children why green might be a good color for a frog that lives in a pond covered with green plants. You can then introduce the term, “camouflage”.

          Owl I Spy
          Have the children sit in a large circle. Ask one child to be the owl and leave the room. While the owl is out, designate a leader to begin a motion (for example: tapping toes, blinking, turning heads).

          All the children in the circle need to follow the leader. Bring the owl back into the room and have them watch with their owl eyes and guess who is being the leader.

          Sticky Spider Web Play
          When an orb weaving spider spins its web, it makes some strands sticky and leaves some strands dry. The prey will be trapped in the web but the spider will be able to move about.

          Hang a large laminated web on the wall. Make long loops with the sticky side out of clear packing tape. Put these on most but not all of the strands.

          Let the children take turns throwing cotton ball “bugs” into the web. The cotton balls can be reused but after a few rounds of play the tape needs to be replaced.

          Life as a Honeybee
          Change your classroom and children in to a colony of bees. Select a queen bee and have her wear a crown and sit on a chair in the middle of the classroom. Select one drone to sit with the queen. The rest of the children are the workers and baby bees. The workers wear aprons. Some of the workers may feed the queen, drone, and the babies honey cereal. Other workers may pack pollen cells (use blocks), clean the hive, stand guard, or collect pollen and nectar.

          Tuesday, October 6, 2015

          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 the KinderNature website.

          Monarch Butterfly Citrus Snacks
          Place two orange segments per child flat on the table making a butterfly shape. Add black string licorice antennae.

          Bunny Snack
          Use a pear half as the rabbit’s body.
          Two mini carrots form the ears.
          Raisins make the eyes.
          And a cherry makes the nose.
          Add a marshmallow for the tail.

          Peanut Butter Edible Clay
          1 cup Creamy peanut butter
          1/2 cup Instant powdered milk
          3 Tbsp. Honey
          Peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips, mini M&Ms and coconut for decorating (optional)

          Stir the peanut butter, powdered milk and honey together in a medium-size bowl until dough is smooth. If mixture is dry and crumbly, add more honey. If it is too moist and sticky, add more powdered milk. Have children form their clay into a yummy edible animal. They can then decorate their artwork with peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips or coconut. Refrigerate unused clay in a sealed container.

          Caterpillar Rolls
          Pop-can dough (bread or biscuits)
          Mini marshmallows
          Mini M&M’s, mini chocolate chips, or raisins
          Straight pretzel sticks

          Divide dough into small equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Place 4 balls in a straight line on a baking sheet (balls should be touching). Bake according to directions on package. Cool rolls and decorate.

          To decorate: heat each marshmallow in microwave for 5 to 10 seconds or until it becomes soft, plump and sticky when pressed. Firmly press two marshmallows on caterpillar faces for eyes. Press M&M’s, chocolate chips, or raisins into each marshmallow. Place two straight pretzels into the top of head for antennas. Pierce one marshmallow with each pretzel stick for tip of antennae. – I’ve also used tube icing to decorate with spots, lines and shapes.

          Fossil Layer Sandwiches
          Make a six-layer stack sandwich by alternating the bread type (pumpernickel, white, and wheat) and the colored cream cheese. Add raisins (fossils) to find in your earth layers.

          Tasty Turtles
          Put peanut butter or cream cheese on a Ritz cracker. Place 5 raisins for head and legs and top with another Ritz cracker.

          Peachy Spiders
          Push 4 pretzel sticks into each side of a peach half for the spiders’ legs. Place 2 raisins on the peach for the spiders’ eyes.

          Bird Nests
          1 bag peanut butter chips (10 oz.)
          1 Tbsp. Solid shortening (Crisco)
          1 5 oz can chow mien noodles
          1 bag M&M peanut candy or small jelly beans

          Melt entire bag of chips and 1 Tbsp. of shortening slowly in microwave or double boiler on stove top. If using microwave, heat full power at intervals of 30 seconds or less until chips melt. You want the chips and shortening to be well blended and creamy and hot. Immediately pour the can of chow mien noodles into the peanut butter mixture and toss lightly to coat noodles. Do this quickly, making sure the noodles are evenly coated. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and gently form into the shape of a nest, leaving a hollowed area in the center. You may need to reform your nests slightly as they cool. Place three M&Ms or jelly bean in the nest as the “eggs”. Each batch makes approximately 14 nests.

          Monday, September 21, 2015

          Birding with Kids

          Bird watching is a great way for kids to become aware of birds. Birds can be found anywhere, all year round. Just gather the basic gear—a field notebook, a field guide, and binoculars, if you have them—and go outside. Have kids observe and record what they see in several different habitats and make comparisons.

          Fall is a great time for bird watching. Almost everything is on the move: songbirds, shorebirds, raptors, and even some waterfowl. Weekly migration forecasts are available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s  BirdCast project to help you know what to look for and which days to go out.

          Try these fun ideas from the KinderNature website to help your students explore the wonderful world of birds.

          Birds and Worms
          Using clothespins for beaks and have children pick-up worms (pieces of string, yarn or macaroni) with their beaks. Discuss how birds eat with their beaks and how worms are camouflaged.

          Nest Building
          Show examples of a variety of nests and materials that birds use. Using 2 fingers for beaks have the children build a nest with shredded paper, clay etc. Go on a tour of their nest homes and have each child show off their nest.

          Dress like a Bird
          Go over the characteristics of birds: wings, feathers, beaks, feet, eggs, and nests. Using bird costume, dress someone up as a bird.

          Fly Away
          Make a set of wings for each child by cutting a pair of wing shapes out of construction paper and taping them to his or her wrists. Let your “birds” experiment with their wings. Have them show you how they fly fast and slow, high and low. Ask them to swirl and twirl in the sky as they fly carefully around the room.

          Bird Wings
          Let your children create their own bird wings, using a paper towel tube. Draw a straight line from the top of the tube to the bottom. Cut along this line. Cut different colored crepe paper into strips and tape or staple along the cut line. Children can then slip the paper towel tube onto their arm and flap their wings.

          Bird Zipline
          Make cardboard cut-outs of common birds in flight (red-winged black bird, cardinal, blue jay, Canada goose, owl, robin, bluebird, chickadee, goldfinch and woodpecker). Glue a toilet paper tube or a 1” drinking straw to the back of each cut-out bird. Put a string through the tube or straw and allow the birds to zip along the string. Explain about bird migration. Take children on a hike through a backyard or a park. Place the zipline in a tree and have students follow along with binoculars and identify each as they zip past. Or have children lie on their backs with their binoculars while you send a cutout bird down the zipline.

          Toilet Paper Tube Binoculars
          Tape toilet paper tubes or paper towel tubes cut in half together. Have children decorate the binoculars. Punch one hole in the end of each tube. Tie string to tubes. This will be the strap of the binoculars so they can be worn around the neck. This can be a strangle hazard. Do not connect tubes or do not add strap to prevent this hazard.

          Reading Connections
          Allen, K. 2006. Why Do Birds Fly South in the Winter?: A Book About Migration. Capstone Press.
          Arnosky, J. 1997. Bird Watcher. Random House Children's Books.
          Arnosky, J. 1993. Crinkleroot's 25 Birds Every Child Should Know. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
          Arnosky, J. 1992. Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
          Arnosky, J. 2002. Watching Water Birds. National Geographic Society Children's Books.
          Bailey, D. 1992. Birds: How to Watch and Understand the Fascinating World of Birds. DK Publishing, Inc.
          Boring, M. and L. Garrow. 1998. Bird, Nests, and Eggs. National Book Network.
          Collard, S.B. 2002. Beaks! Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
          Crossingham, J. 1997. What Is Migration. Crabtree Publishing Company.
          Gans, R. 1996. How Do Birds Find their Way? (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2). Harper Trophy.
          Garelick, M. 1995. What Makes a Bird a Bird? Mondo Publishing.
          Herkert, B. 2001. Birds in Your Backyard. Dawn Publications.
          Lerner, C. 2001. On the Wing: American Birds in Migration. HarperCollins.
          Pascoe, E., et al. 2000. How and Why Birds Use Their Bills (How and Why Series). Creative Teaching Press, Inc.
          Rabe, T. and A. Ruiz. 1998. Fine Feathered Friends: All About Birds (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library). Random House Children's Books.
          Ray, M. 2004. Welcome Brown Bird. Harcourt Children’s Books.
          Sayre, A. 1998. Home At Last – A Song of Migration. Henry Holt & Company.

          Apps for Birding with Kids
          This app makes bird identification so simple it seems like magic. Because of the simple, user-friendly interface, birding becomes both easy and fun. To identify a bird, Merlin first asks five questions – when, where, size, color, and activity of the bird observed. Using eBird data, Merlin then gives the most common species around you who fit the criteria provided. It also provides 1,000+ photo resources, tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s expert birders, and bird sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library. Cost: Free for iOS and Android users.

          BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide*
          The app provides information and population statistics on 1,000+  birds across North America.  You can view seasonal populations, current lists of birds reported near your location, and notifications of when rare birds are observed in your area. Looking for an outdoor space to take kids birding? Open up the “Browse by Location tab in the app and you can view checklists that were recently submitted in nearby areas. These features will help you feel prepared as you head outside to discover birds with kids. Cost: Free for iOS and Android users.

          Helpful Websites

          Wednesday, September 9, 2015

          Come along with me…to the prairie!

          September 13th-19th is Iowa Prairie Heritage Week!

          Iowa’s landscape was once covered by vast rolling hills of prairie.  An estimated 85% of the land was prairie grass and flowers when European settlers first arrived.  Since that time the Iowa landscape has changed drastically and today only 1/10 of 1% of our native prairie remains. 

          The largest remaining prairie remnants in Iowa can be found in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa.  Other prairie remnants can be found in old graveyards, railroad right-of-ways, road ditches and scattered in small patches on state, county or private lands.

          Prairies are a diverse pool of plants species, are habitat for many wildlife species and are a protective buffer for ground and surface water supplies.

          Several events are planned across the state to celebrate our prairie heritage.  Visit the Iowa Prairie Network Calendar of Events to find an event in your area. Contact your local county conservation board to learn more about prairies in your community.

          Teaching about Prairies
          ·         Ask children about prairies. Have they ever been to a prairie? What did it look like?
          ·         Look at pictures of prairie grasses, plants and wildlife.
          ·         Read books together about prairies.
          ·         Using pictures and/or furs, talk about animals that live on the prairie.
          ·         Try bringing in prairie plants for kids to look at, touch and explore.
          ·         If possible plan a trip to a local prairie so children can get a hands-on look at a prairie.
          ·         Contact your local county conservation board for resources, such as naturalist programs and supplies, they are always happy to help.

          Prairie Crafts
          Try these prairie themed crafts from the KinderNature website.

          Compass Plants
          Carefully glue the sunflower seeds onto the lid of a frozen juice can. Glue yellow tissue paper petals to the juice can lid forming the compass flower. Add leaves (made from green construction paper) to the stick with glue. Finally, glue the flower head to the stick. Parade around the room with your compass plants and talk about what a compass tells us and how the compass plant got its name.

          Grass Weaving
          Cut notches in the end of a piece of cardboard (cut to the desired size of weaving) approximately 1/4 inch apart and 1/4 inch deep. Carefully place the strings in the slits of the cardboard, knotting the ends. Keep the string taut by slightly bending the cardboard. Weave dried prairie grass or raffia in and out across the strings. Taping the end of the grass with a small piece of masking tape will help smaller children.
          Reading Connections
          Butterfield, M. 1999. Animals on Plains and Prairies. Raintree Publishers.
          Fleming, D. 1991. In the Tall, Tall Grass. Henry Holt and Co.
          Fowler, A. 2000. Lands of Grass. Scholastic Library Publishing.
          Geisert, A. 1998. Prairie Town. Walter Lorraine Books.
          Howard, F. 2006. Grasslands. ABDO Publishing Company.
          Johnson, R.L., P.V. Saroff and G. Braasch. 2000. A Walk in the Prairie. Lerner Publishing Group.
          Mader, J. 2004. Living on a Prairie. Scholastic Library Publishing.
          McGehee, C. 2004. A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet. University of Iowa Press.
          Nichols, C. 2002. Grassy Lands. Benchmark Books.
          Penny, M. 2003. Grasslands. Thameside Press.