Kids laid down on the "belly board" (the pier) to scoop water and peer into the muck.
This week, second grade classes are visiting Kettle Pond Conservation Park. Kettle Pond is a hidden treasure within easy walking distance of Crestwood, like a miniature wildlife sanctuary bursting with frogs, ducks, redwing blackbirds, the occasional turkey, and a pair of sandhill cranes who nest near the pier every year. Volunteers from the surrounding neighborhoods are working to clear the area of invasive plants and restore the area to a native oak savannah.
This afternoon, Mr. Kaker's class, along with several parent and community volunteers, made the inaugural trip to Kettle Pond to observe wildlife and collect water samples. We walked quietly down the trail to the pier...
...and explored. They looked under logs, scooped water and dumped it back, then scooped again, dumping it into buckets and shrieking with delight with the discovery of every tadpole, every wriggly creature, and every snail.
Kids laid down on the "belly board" (the pier) to scoop water and peer into the muck.
Today was a gift. We had the gift of perfect weather (not too hot, not too cold, not too windy) and - even more importantly - the gift of plenty of time and space to spread out and experience and discover. Many cups of water were collected and dumped again and again in the search for tadpoles (everyone loves tadpoles!). A few shoes got wet but no one fell in the water (whew).
We saw and heard so many things: a family of ducks swimming through the water, territorial redwing blackbirds screeching at us on the pier, a green gelatinous blob of tadpole eggs (that Mr. Kaker aptly described as "ghostbuster slime"!), bugs galore, the cacophony of frogs. Arguments broke out over who had a turn with the blue net, and who got to go next on the rock closest to the water. No one spotted the cranes, but they may very well have been there, hiding among the grass, and watching us.
Personally, my favorite part of the afternoon was watching how differently every kid experienced Kettle Pond. When one kid scooped a cup of water full of water fleas and bounded across the boulders, hollering with barely contained excitement, "MR. KAKER, LOOK, MY WATER HAS DANCING DIRT IN IT!!", another whispered quietly to me, "The frogs sound like a xylophone," as we sat still. Listening.
Not to get too precious here, but experiences like these are exactly why we believe so deeply in outdoor education. It is hands-on learning at its finest. This program would not be possible without volunteer help, either. Thank you to the parents from Mr. Kaker's class who helped wrangle students and manage the equipment and supplies. Special thanks to Peter Plane for helping run the show, giving instructions, distributing charts of pond creatures so we could figure out just what we were looking it, and explaining how to use the equipment for collection and observation.
Spring is an exciting time to discover the beautiful spring ephemerals that grow in our woods. An ephemeral is a plant that emerges in spring, flowers, bears fruit and dies back in a short two-month period to then stay dormant until the following spring. Here are some plants currently blooming that you can spot from the various trails in the woods. A spring plant scavenger hunt will be ready next week for classes to use!
May Apples (also known as umbrella plants or duck foot)
If you look under the umbrella of the May Apple, you will find the fruit.
This fruit is edible once it ripens in mid-summer.
Great White Trillium with clusters of three leaves, three flower petals
Prairie Trillium with dark red flowers
Wood Poppy noted for its yellow flowers and fuzzy seed pods.
Wild Ginger with its deep heart shaped leaves.
You can distinguish this plant from wood violet by looking for its flower.
The wild ginger flower is found under the leaves, close to the ground, a dark, reddish-brown color.
Here is an interesting story of this flower from the USDA Forest Service website.
"The color and the location of the flower have an unusual and interesting story. The flower evolved to attract small pollinating flies that emerge from the ground early in the spring looking for a thawing carcass of an animal that did not survive the winter. By lying next to the ground flower is readily found by the emerging flies. The color of the flower is similar to that of decomposing flesh. Whether these flies pollinate the flower or not is in some dispute. Never the less they do enter the flower to escape the cold winds of early spring and to feast upon the flowers pollen. Some of the pollen attaches to their bodies and is taken with them when they visit the next flower."
Bellwort or Merrybells
The yellow flowers of this plant are distinct, drooping downward with long, yellow petals.
Five petaled, pink-purple flowers and leaves that are palm shaped.
White wood violet
You will also find the regular wood violet that has purple flowers in our woods.
We continue to battle the garlic mustard. This fast growing invasive plant shades out our other native plants by dominating the understory of the forest especially in sunny areas.
We encourage any classroom that wants to work on pulling it to do so!
Our garlic mustard pulling efforts over many years have really made a difference in our woods!
Spring tends to arrive all at once in these parts, and after a cold, wet and dreary week, we're now being treated to warm sunny weather, just right for getting everyone in the mood for going outside and planting. Rather than get bogged down with separate posts for every activity, bear with us for a rapid-fire photo-heavy post for now that touches on some highlights of the ten days or so.
1. Krysta, our Gardener-in-Residence, had a great first day planting salad last week
2. Last Monday, Crestwood students celebrated Earth Day at an all-school assembly with songs and rhymes and a tree-climbing demonstration by Joe House (click here to see a video from the 2014 Earth Day Assembly).
3. Third and fourth graders spent a very chilly Friday morning learning all about trees and forests for Arbor Day. Activities included tree identification, observations, sketching, planting ephemerals and pulling garlic mustard. I'd wager Crestwood students are some of the best garlic mustard eradicators in the city of Madison by this point.
4. The Love Sunday workday this past weekend was a success! Volunteers from Blackhawk church and the Crestwood community spent several hours spreading woodchips, digging up invasive weeds, clearing the orchard, digging up more invasive weeds, and cleaning up the garden plots for planting. Most of us were too busy digging and mulching to take pictures, alas!
5. Thanks to the work of retired art teacher Linda Gourley, we have hundreds of ephemerals to plant in the woods. Part of the woods restoration project is to clear the area of invasive weeds and replace them with native plants that belong there. Crestwood students pull bushels upon bushels of garlic mustard every year, but it spreads so quickly it's hard to stay ahead of it. Additionally, other invasive weeds (some native, most not) such as Dame's rocket, snow-on-the-mountain, Japanese knotweed, burdock and wood poppies are aggressively staking their claim in our woods. Some of these are difficult to get rid of, but we are working diligently. (Click on the links for each of those plants to learn more.) In the meantime, second grade classes are going outside this week to plant native ephemerals such as: wild ginger, wild geranium, Virginia bluebells, Mayapple, Dutchman's breeches, prairie trillium, and bloodroot. Click here to read more about some of these woodland flowers.
6. Believe it or not, we're down to the last month or so of school before summer vacation! From here until the end of the year, most days if you look outside at Crestwood you'll see kids outside planting flowers, tending the garden plots or pulling garlic mustard from the woods. We have a dedicated group of volunteers, but we can always use more grown-ups to help with outdoor activities. No experience or special knowledge is necessary, just a willingness to help kids and maybe get a little dirty in the process. We do it because few things are more rewarding than experiencing that kind of hands-on learning with young people, especially when the results of that effort are in full display for the whole community to enjoy in the form of blooming woods, bountiful gardens, and flourishing outdoor learning spaces. If you are interested in participating in the outdoor learning experience, even for just 30 minutes, contact your child's classroom teacher, or send us a message on Facebook (we're CrestwoodOE there).
Crestwood's OE committee is dedicated to outdoor learning for all students.