by Hazel Stark
Co-Founder/Co-CEO and Naturalist Educator
Starting in early November 2017, a hardy group of Mountain View Elementary School students became “Forest Detectives” during an 8-part Maine Outdoor School after school series. For an hour each week, students have been exploring, learning, playing, and nature journaling about the forest lives around their school as afternoon daylight diminished. They found daddy long legs, an especially large fly agaric mushroom (being poisonous, students were taught how to identify it and not to touch it!), a sleepy young red squirrel, a hairy woodpecker, and much more!
Each program begins with an activity that gets students focused on their observation skills, such as matching sample paint chips to colors they find in nature or doing silent challenges to get them ready for quietly hiking through the woods. Then they get to freely explore, either in one area or via hiking through the forest, focused on finding a creature in a certain category. The first week they found bugs, followed by fungi, mammals, and birds.
After they find examples of the day’s theme, they get out their nature journals and write a “species account” on one of the species they found by drawing what they saw, with labels, then writing what they noticed about it, how it behaved, and what it looked like. Next, they use field guides to learn more about a given species. Students have so far created species accounts on potato bugs, red squirrels, hairy woodpeckers, crows, fly agaric mushrooms (right), and more.
At the end of every program, I ask them to share highlights from being a Forest Detective on that day. One student shared about his fascination with the number of toes red squirrels have on each foot, another about how red squirrels make their territorial chattering sound, and another about how crows will sometimes eat garbage. Another student asked me to write down the name of the National Audubon Society Field Guide to New England so that she could give it to her parents in hopes they might get it for her for the holidays.
These Forest Detectives have made some amazing discoveries so far and they’re only halfway done! Stay tuned here for news about the rest of the program; they’ll be exploring plant life and more soon.
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