During this past month our first graders have been able to experience all the weather that March commonly offers in Connecticut. Tuesdays have been filled with high winds, rain, sleet, snow and moments of sunshine. Our outdoor explorers are learning to pack their own hiking backpacks with appropriate layers to keep them comfortable outside regardless of the weather!
Early in March, students made their own connection to a read aloud of Byrd Baylor’s Everybody Needs a Rock. As they scoured the woods on a rainy 42 degree day, children selected their own special rocks to keep. Back in the classroom, the first graders used their senses to make observations of the rocks and then brainstormed about their rocks’ physical attributes. Each child wrote a description of his/her rock. We read the descriptions aloud as we looked at all the special rocks, and like a puzzle, we matched each piece of descriptive writing to its corresponding rocks. Students were so proud of their detailed writing!
Mid-month brought a sunny, 55 degree day that tempted many students to play at the pond’s edge, breaking up the melting crust of ice. What an exciting day for discoveries that was!
Students found what they believe is an owl pellet with mouse bones sticking out of it. Another child spotted scat along the trail. Students inferred that the scat came from a carnivore due to the obvious grey fur present in the scat. Finally, several observant nature detectives spotted a brown colored frog on the ground, camouflaged with the leaves. We were able to catch the frog for closer inspection. Students noticed its dorsolateral folds and dark eye mask. Those observations helped us identify the frog as a wood frog as we conducted nonfiction research back in the indoor classroom later that week.
Tomie DePaula’s story Charlie Needs a Cloak was an intriguing intro to the concept of weaving. Students worked with partners to weave natural objects and fabric scraps into looms that teachers had strung between trees near the outdoor classroom. As students communicated about their design ideas they also built their coordination, focus and perseverance. The collaborative art projects add to the beauty of the outdoor classroom!
As readers, first graders learn how to get information from pictures as well as from text. We can read diagrams to build our understanding of new concepts. In science we learn how a plant or animal’s design helps it survive in its habitat. Tying together those standards, our first graders have read about trees and learned about the roles of specific parts of trees. In the outdoor classroom’s learning circle, students then made observations of our tree stump stools. Students compared the width of the stumps to predict the ages of the trees from which the stumps came. We had read that each ring of a tree’s trunk represented another year of its life, so students estimated how many rings or years old a tree stump would be. Then partners applied counting strategies to accurately count the actual number of visible rings on a tree stump. Using the actual data, first graders were able to determine the approximate age of the trees from which the stumps were cut. Students made inferences as to which tree stumps could have come from the same tree.
Our final Trailside Tuesday of the month launched a culminating social studies project about mapping and community. Our class is developing a map that shows the trail from Flanders to the outdoor classroom and the significant natural features along the way. The class is eager to give copies of this map to all Flanders teachers to assist other classes as they begin to use the outdoor classroom space.
Mapping teams sketched their ideas as they hiked. As a class we began to compile the sketches of our break-out teams into one master map. Students shared ideas for names of notable natural features. For example what we’d been calling the “Lower Trail” has now been renamed “Mountain Laurel Lane.” What we once referred to as “The Hill” is now called “Fox Run,” due to the fox scat that students have found along that section of trail on several occasions. As children develop names of memorable features it builds children’s sense of connection to and ownership of this space. It turns the forest into their forest.