Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Reconnecting Children with Nature: Growing Up WILD training

This workshop leads you out the door and provides hands on activities and resource materials to help you lead your own nature explorations. Growing Up WILD activities use age appropriate practices and concepts to build on children’s sense of wonder and invites them to explore nature and the world around them. Specially written for children 3-7, activities include sections to address many learning areas: math, science, language, literacy, health living, play, and creativity.

Saturday, April 11, 2015
8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Luther College, Valders Hall Room 379 East Wing (700 College Drive, Decorah, IA 52136)

Registration: Iowa Child Care Providers Training Registry— Click on Search Trainings, then search Reconnecting in the Title.
Registration Deadline: April 7, 2015
Registration Fee: $10 - your enrollment will be complete when payment is received: mail to Child Care Resource and Referral, 1111 Paine Street, Suite H, Hawkeye Plaza, Decorah, IA 52101;  approved for 4 clock hours of DHS continuing education credit.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Spring Themed Nature Games

Keep your students active this spring with these fun spring themed games.

Robin’s Egg
Select 1 student to be the robin. Have the robin sit with his/her back to the other students, at least ten feet away. Place a plastic egg behind the robin. The robin needs to protect the egg. The remaining students take turns sneaking up behind the robin and try to steal the egg. If the robin hears the person sneaking up, he/she will “call” and then turn around. If the robin catches a student, that student becomes the new robin. If there is no student when the robin “calls,” the robin remains the robin and the game starts again.

Flower Power
Students pretend to be pollinators traveling from flower to flower. Scatter hula hoops across the play area (fewer hula hoops than students). Place a card with a shape inside each hula hoop (flower). Give each student a card with a shape. Students must travel around the play area, matching their card to one inside a flower. When they find a match, they stand inside the flower. Only one student can be inside each flower. If a student doesn’t “pollinate” a flower, they are out. Remove a flower (hula hoop) after each round.

Build a Nest
Students are robins building their nests. Divide the students into two relay teams. Each team stands single file behind the starting line. Place 2 buckets of wet mud (1 for each team) and the end of the course. Place 2 small containers (1 for each team) at the starting line. Give each student a plastic spoon. The first student “flies” to the bucket of mud, scoops up a spoonful of mud, flies back to the starting line, and empties their spoon of mud into the container (nest). Continue until all students have helped build the nest.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Tips for Owl Calling

February’s full moon is nicknamed the owl moon, as the crisp night air is filled with the calls and hoots of mating owls. Crunch the snow and trek into the woods with a child—or the young at heart—to practice calling owls.

Use the moonlight reflecting off the snow-covered ground to illuminate the surroundings as you follow the sound of an owl’s call. Move slowly and patiently to glimpse owls silhouetted on leafless trees by shimmering moonbeams. When an owl calls, try to mimic the sound and see if you get a response.

All eight species of Iowa owls are found here in the winter. The great horned, screech and barred owls are most common. The short-eared is on the state endangered species list and the barn and long-eared are on the threatened list. If you glimpse one of these, you are lucky indeed.

Very common, most often heard in summer, spring and fall. Search along forested areas in river bottoms across the state, except northwest Iowa.


Common. Small, but slightly larger than a saw-whet owl. Found year-round in Iowa. Nocturnal, but will respond to calls day or night. Nests early spring and summer.

The only owl that nests underground, often using old badger or fox dens. Most recorded sightings are in northwest Iowa.

Endangered. A prairie species, find them hunting over open grasslands. A summer nester and one of the last to nest. “We have a small breeding number during the summer, but more short-ears are in Iowa during the winter, when they move south from prairie areas in Canada,” says Doug Harr, who heads the DNR’s nongame program.

Great Horned
The largest and easiest owl to find, they hoot in a series of five or six in late December and January to attract mates. By following the sound, you can see them sitting in an old red-tailed hawk nest, incubating eggs, even during a snowstorm. Often lay eggs by early February. Their owlets take a long time to mature, so they are the earliest nesters, doing so to take advantage of an early food supply for their young. Owlets can hunt on their own by summer, perfect timing to catch early populations of rabbits and rodents.

Threatened. Find in conifer groves in winter and sometimes in groups. The only owls that form flocks. Usually found in the same location year after year.

Not here during summer, when the all-white snowy resides in the Arctic. “They come down when the food base of lemmings and mice has a population crash,” says Harr. That happens about every four years. “Not responsive to calls, you will just happen upon them sitting on a fencepost or on a frozen clod of dirt in an open field. A ground nester, they like to get on a perch to scan for prey.” Most are found north of Interstate 80.

Northern Saw-Whet
Our smallest owl, “Probably a lot more common than we realize, this owl is very secretive,” says Harr. Often found in winter in red cedar trees. They perch close to tree trunks and sometimes close to the ground. Unafraid of people, they can be approached within a few feet. “This is a species that we are just starting to understand more about,” says Harr.

Barn Owl
Rare, with less than ten known nests in the state. “There are probably more than that, but they are hard to find,” says Harr. An oak savannah species, they thrived when fire and natural free-roaming grazers such as elk kept the forest floor open, with knee-high grasses. A rare and quickly disappearing habitat, the oak forests are now often choked with above-head tangles of brush and woody plants. Barn owls have a distinctive heart-shaped facial shape. Often found in abandoned barns, they are a year-round resident and a spring and summer nester.

Children and adults will enjoy listening to various owl calls online. Visit the famed Cornell Lab of Ornithology at
www.birds.cornell.edu and search for owls.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2010 issue of
Iowa Outdoors magazine.

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Winter Themed Games

Keep your students active this winter with these fun winter themed games.
Penguin Waddle Race
You’ll need:
2 or more players
1 blown-up balloon per child
Start and finish lines (pieces of string, etc.)
  • Players line up, pretending to be penguins.
  • Each player puts a balloon between his or her knees.
  • When the “Go!” signal is given, players race toward the finish line-waddling like penguins!
  • If a player drops a balloon, they must start the race over.
  • The first player to cross the finish line with a balloon between their knees wins. 
Iceberg Hopping
You’ll need:
2 or more players
6-10 paper or plastic plates to act as icebergs
  • Arrange plate “icebergs” in a line, spacing about 12 inches apart.
  • Penguin players line up and take turns hopping from plate to plate. They must land with both feet on each iceberg. If they don’t, they “fall into the ocean” and are out of the game.
  • Players who make it to the last iceberg must hop back across the icebergs. Space the plates a little farther apart for each new round until all but one penguin, the winner, has toppled.

Snowball Tag
Mark off a play area with cones (snowball fight area). Place several mats in a nearby area (snow angel area). Give each student two yarn balls. Scatter extra yarn balls in the "snow fight" area. Students have a "snowball fight" by throwing the yarn balls at each other below the knees. Students may not hold more than 2 snowballs at a time. If a student is hit by a "snowball," he/she must go and make a "snow angel" where the mats are located.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Enjoying Iowa's Winter Outdoor Activities

Being prepared and wearing the right clothes can help your family enjoy all the best Iowa’s outdoors offers in the winter.

Always keep an eye on the weather and wind chills and limit your exposure to the elements when needed. 

Follow these basic tips for staying warm during your winter adventures. 

Know your layers.
Dress properly to shed layers when heating up and add layers when cooling off. Kids should wear snowpants.

Start with a wicking layer.For the wicking layer against skin, wear synthetic long underwear to transfer moisture away from the body. Avoid cotton as it absorbs sweat and doesn’t insulate when wet.

Warm up next.Over the wicking layer, wear fleece, wool sweaters or down jackets. 

Top it off.
To protect yourself from the wind, rain or snow, top with a parka or outer shell layer to repel wind and snow.

Don’t forget the extras.You’ll want sunglasses to reduce glare, especially off of bright snow. Wear thick, warm socks of wool or fleece and snow-proof boots. Bring warm hats and gloves, lip balm, hand and foot warmers, and water bottles insulated in a heavy sock to prevent freezing. A scarf or facemask helps cut the ever-present prairie wind. And don’t forget that sunburns are still possible on a bright winter day or through the clouds, so bring sunscreen, too.

Make Your Own Snowman Bird Feeder

Add bird and wildlife foods to your snowman to make this seasonal rite of passage fun and functional.

Keep Frosty chilled by building him on the shady north sides of buildings. “A lot of feeder birds need a perch,” says the DNR ’s Tim Gedler who not only manages Walnut Woods State Park, but is an avid birder. He advises adding twigs to the snowman.

To attract dark-eye juncos, white-throated sparrows, mourning doves and field sparrows, spread mixed seed on the ground. “They are ground feeders,” he says.

Use these tips to adorn your snowman with treats for birds and wildlife:
1. Peanuts provide a nutritious diet for birds,including black-capped chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmice, woodpeckers, jays and cardinals. Unsalted brands are safe for birds. “Whole peanuts in the shell are absolutely the number one food for bluejays,” says Rick Crouch, owner of Wild Birds Unlimited in Davenport. Use peanuts for buttons and eyes.

2. "Carve out some niches to place chunks of suet,” says Gedler, or from sticks hang the high energy snack in onion sacks. Place suet high, out of reach of dogs. Don’t use bacon grease, which is too salty and full of preservatives, says Crouch,who adds that suet chunks make great teeth, eyes and ears for any snowman.

3. Smear peanut butter onto an old corn cob to use for a nose. Also add to pine cones, then dip and roll the cone in seeds. Tie ribbon or twine to the cone to hang around the neck and arms.

4. Providing high oil and fat content is easy with black oil sunflower seed, which is less expensive and easier to crack and digest than the striped variety.

5. Dress your snowman with food strings of popcorn and cranberries to increase the food variety and attract colorful birds. Chickadees and nuthatches will feed on the popcorn,wintering robins, cedar waxwings, woodpeckers and cardinals will eat the cranberries, and blue jays will dine on both. Use unsalted, unbuttered popcorn.

6. Load a wide-brimmed hat with sunflower seeds, raisins and cracked corn. A light colored hat will absorb less heat so Frosty can keep his cool.

This article originally appeared in the January/February 2007 issue of Iowa Outdoors magazine.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Spring Trees For Kids Grant Applications

Trees For Kids applications are available online for schools and communities to involve youth in planting trees on school grounds and other public property.  

In 2014, Trees For Kids Grants were awarded to 40 schools and communities which planted more than 1,600 landscape trees, and involved over 5,200 youth. 

Trees For Kids grants pay up to $5,000 for landscape trees and mulch for schools and other public areas.  Trees may be planted in either spring or fall.  The deadline for submitting a spring application is March 2, 2015.

Each planting project is required to have an educational component with the youth, and Project Learning Tree training is also provided to educators to create lesson plans and utilize curriculum with the planted trees.

Trees planted around schools and in neighborhoods have been 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 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, contact the grant coordinator at laura.wagner@dnr.iowa.gov, 515/281-6749.