By Hazel Stark
In the overcast calm before a short snowstorm in early March, Milbridge Elementary 5th and 6th-graders joined Maine Outdoor School to consider: how can we all, nonhuman life included, meet our similar needs? To answer this question, they focused on the world of birds.
They knew that in order to observe birds around their school on that cold morning, they needed to stay quiet. They treated the pavement as a portal to silence—as soon as they stepped off the pavement, the group grew quiet and began walking a bit more slowly. They looked and listened for evidence of bird activity. They heard the nasal shriek of a blue jay, saw two distant crows flying overhead, then focused on a small flock of chickadees foraging on the outer branches of the trees in the forest. They also noticed the nasal “meeping” of several nuthatches nearby. They paid attention to where the birds were, what they were doing, and what particular species they were seeing.
Next, the class became a group of birds tasked with gathering up as much food (represented by paperclips, small balls, nuts and bolts, etc.) as possible with a variety of beak types (represented by clothespins, tweezers, staple-removers, spoons, and chopsticks). This game helped them understand the importance of having a diversity of foods available and a diversity of strategies for accessing that food. That kind of resource and access diversity, they realized, helps ensure that many species can meet their needs—and they had seen it happen first-hand while watching birds that very morning.
They wondered, how do humans represent that strategy? The class then discussed the different niches that humans in the Milbridge-area have that help us meet our needs. Even though we all eat roughly the same food, some people stay on land to farm, some go out to sea to get lobster, and others stay right on the shore to dig clams. Just like birds, we humans have a variety of ways to access a variety of resources to ensure not only our survival, but the survival of our food.
As big snowflakes began to fall and the program drew to a close, the class played a game that turned half of them into chickadees and the other half into the resources chickadees need to survive. The interactions between these two groups showed them how populations change due to resource availability.
When asked what MOS could do to improve the program in the future, one student said “could you do more and make it longer?” Fortunately, MOS will be back at Milbridge Elementary with these students soon!