by Hazel Stark
During early fall 2018, the 4th and 5th-graders at Jonesport Elementary School spent an hour per week each week figuring out “who lives here?” Maine Outdoor School, in collaboration with Transforming Rural Experience in Education (TREE), provided this five-week Forest Friday program series to meet both teacher and student goals. For inspiration, students referenced Island Readers and Writers book Look Up! by Annette LeBlanc Cate, a fun book about observing birds and keeping a sketchbook.
The program series began by students working to identify as many living things around their school as they could find. Some were focused on the different plant species while others were intent on finding as many animal signs as possible. For each of the following weeks, they focused on one particular category of living thing that they had discovered and made their own field guides to illustrate and write about the different species they found.
On plant day, they played a game that helped them understand how photosynethesis works and crafted their journal entries on goldenrod, sweetfern, and blackberry plants.
On mammal day, they played a game that revealed how resource availability impacts mammal populations. Then they hiked their school nature trail in order to find evidence of mammal activity there. They found branches nibbled by snowshoe hares and deer and some impressive piles of mammal scat.
On bird day, they played a game that helped them model how different bird bills are adapted to the food they eat. Afterwards, they sat quietly in the forest observing woodpeckers, chickadees, and cedar waxwings flying overhead.
On their last day, they shared their answers to “who lives here?” by creating a big brainstorm of all the living things they’d seen evidence of during Forest Fridays. Each student illustrated and wrote about one species they’d experienced that fall to contribute to a class field guide, which was bound into a student-created handbook for anyone wanting to know about the different species that rely on Jonesport Elementary School’s campus. When asked to share their reflections on Forest Fridays, most students shared that learning about the different habitats, plants, and animals that exist around their school was the coolest part.