Notes from the Trail # 19, June 2017

Dear families,

Thank you for joining us on June 13th for our final Trailside Tuesday of 2016-2017. What a joy it’s been to journey along Flanders’ inaugural year of outdoor classroom work with your children. I especially thank the parents and administrators for having faith that a nature-based program would enhance the development of children’s cognitive, social, and physical capacities. Those who were able to join us this year were able to witness students’ blossoming appreciation for the natural world and their role within it. Our first graders also developed perseverance and heartiness, problem-solving and inquiry skills, and independence as well as a sense of team participation and accountability. This year of new ventures has initiated school-wide dialogue about the benefit of regular outdoor education experiences for all first graders. We look forward to continuing nature-based learning with future first graders!

I wish you all happy summer explorations.



Notes from the Trail #18, May 9, 2017

First graders turned the outdoor classroom into an amphitheater last week! Students engaged in reader’s theater performances to further develop skills such as reading with expression and phrasing; listening; attention; and cooperation. The setting was beautiful and lent a special air to the proceedings.

Students also put on their scientist personas and investigated plants, animals and fungi of the vernal pool.

First graders wrote about their experiences in the postings that follow.

I May 9A May 9N May 9C May 9T May 9Me May 9B May 9R May 9J May 9Mi May 9O S May 9Ch May 9Jo May 9Ma May 9

Featured in Avalonia eTrails Blog!

Our friend and master naturalist Beth Sullivan featured her Trailside Tuesday experience in Avalonia’s May 8th blog posting: .

Be sure to explore the Avalonia website to learn more about the region’s natural areas. Beth Sullivan and Kathleen Smith have cooperated to design the Hike and Seek Scavenger Hunt program (, which is a spark to get families outdoors together. My boys and I went on our first Hike and Seek adventure and found a rookery…an active nesting colony for herons. Happy hiking!


Notes from the Trail #17, 5/2/17

Eager to find evidence that the new tooth fairy recruits had used the fairy houses built by our class, students nearly raced to the outdoor classroom on Tuesday. Indeed, magic fairy stones were found around the fairy houses. Later, after lunch and an exploration period, student scientists engaged in pond dipping with guest naturalist Beth Sullivan ( Mrs. Sullivan’s vast knowledge of the vernal pool habitat was a gift to our students as they were full of questions about the variety of insects and other animals found in and around the pond.

First Graders’ Blog

O OC May 2

MaMay 2A May 2

S may 2B may 2.pngT may 2R may 2N may 2Mi may 2Me may 2Lnet may 2tadpole jo may 2Janet may 2I may 2CBranch May 2C may 2

Notes from the Trail #16, 4/25/17

After having read books with fairies as characters and examining the roles and habits of fairies in paintings across centuries, students received a letter from Lunette, the tooth fairy. Lunette explained that due to an increase in the number of Flanders’ students who are losing teeth, she needs more assistants. Lunette is recruiting more fairies to become assistant tooth fairies. However, the new tooth fairies need a place to live. Lunette asked our class if we’d be willing to share the woods behind Flanders with the new tooth fairies. Would we be willing to help the fairies set up new homes, as well? Our first graders were eager to take on the challenge. In the indoor classroom, student teams designed fairy houses, taking into consideration features such as accessibility, shelter and recreational offerings. Students brainstormed natural resources that they could use to build their planned fairy houses. Members of the team took on various roles such as site selector, material collector, landscaper, etc. Engineering skills and collaboration were developed while imaginations were deeply engaged.BC

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.1

I worked hard to create a  fairy house and it was cool. For my fairy house first i collected stiks and bark and also leavs. Next my friend and I start bilding. We finish. We love it.

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.3

My friends and I worked hard  to create a gnome castle and beach. We hope they will like it!

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.4

When I was bilding a fariy house it was hard work. First I got some sticks. Next I cut the sticks. Then I made a roof. Last I put some flowers. I reely liked my fariy house.

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.5


My farey hous was made out of stiks and moss and bark. It had  a pool.

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.6


Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.8

I made a fairy house. l  used some acorn tops for the fairys. l made a slide with a piece of bark. l also used bark for the floor.

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.9

Three frends found these holes in the tree. We think it is woodpecker holes?

Blog April 25 Fairy Houses.2

I was digging a hole so a stump coed fit in the hole. Bekus the stump was wigle.

Notes from the Trail #15, 4/18/17

After having been away from the outdoor classroom for a few weeks due to the school schedule, our first graders were eager to explore and notice signs of spring around the forest and vernal pool. Beginning with this entry the class is assuming responsibility for some of the blogging. This effort will be a meaningful exercise to support these developing writers as they learn to use writing to purposefully communicate. As the first graders learn to maintain this blog they will incorporate their technology skills and their writing skills to share experiences. I’m eager to try something new and to release more responsibility to these capable children!

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.1

I saw an acorn with about 20 ants and about 20 ant eggs. The ants were scurrying everywhere; they were protecting their eggs. A whole bunch of ants started to crawl on me so I had to put the acorn down.

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.2

My frends and I were the last remaning pray in Camuflosh. Camuflosh is a game like hide and seke.

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.3

At Trailside Tuesday we dra and write about sumthing a round us. Today I copyd a lefe and a acorn.

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.4

Ms. Norman’s class singing “I am a tall tall tree.” We practis “I am
a tall tall tree!”

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.6

My frend and l found two salamanders under a log.

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.7

I saw a ball in the vernal pool. So I wanted to copy the ball. It was hard to draw the vernal pool. I liked my drawing.

Trailside Tuesday Blog April 18.8

We trnd ovr a huge log looking for critrs. I found a black beetle.

Notes from the Trail #14, 3/28/17

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.

Notes from the Trail #14, 2/28/2017

First graders are ready to study changes in the vernal pool! From a dry bed of rotting leaves in the late summer, to an ice-covered pond in January, to a waking pond as March begins, the changes in one small space are remarkable. This cloudy fifty two degree day provided a comfortable opportunity for explorations and discoveries.

One student wondered about the growth at the end of a stick found in the vernal pool. An insect known as a hellgrammite, a dobsonfly larva, was found under the topsoil layer in our outdoor classroom. Another discovery was the yellow tip of the green plant being held in the above right picture. An outdoor explorer postulated that it is the flowering part of the plant and that we hadn’t noticed that before, so perhaps this is its season to bloom. We also noticed the call of red-shouldered hawks and spied two circling above a meadow.

While the canopy is still open, the children gather more information about the highly visible tree trunks and bark. As students compared their bark rubbings and descriptions they noticed that there is great variety among tree bark styles. Inquiring minds wondered why that’s the case. What purposes do the different types of bark serve?

Birch polypores were spotted by naturalists as we hiked the lower trail back to campus! We’re looking forward to searching for signs of spring as we continue to take our learning outside over the next few months.

Notes from the Trail #13, 2/14/17

Sunny and 36 degrees with over six inches of snow left on the ground made for a beautiful and exhausting hike for our first graders on Tuesday! For most, this was their first hike in deep snow and the experience was thrilling and tiring.

Children spent the exploration period collaborating on fort building, examining the ice of the vernal pool from the shore, and balancing on logs.

We were eager to notice changes to the bird feeders students had created and hung around the outdoor classroom. In their field journals students drew and wrote about their observations and recorded ensuing questions. With each observational, scientific drawing practice opportunity, the children’s work becomes more objective and detailed.


A game of camouflage (a predator-prey spin on the traditional hide and seek) kept students moving, warm and smiling. While most of the outdoor explorers kept their energy up through the hike back to Flanders, students were both trail weary and proud by the end of the day.


Notes from the Trail #12, 2/12/17

It seems that Tuesdays have been disproportionately hit with extreme weather over the past month! Our outdoor explorers have worked in the outdoor classroom when it’s been safe, though. We’ve continued our integrated science, language arts and social studies lessons in our indoor classroom on other Tuesday afternoons. Here are some highlights from the past month.

Students are developing understandings of the natural world as they notice how the vernal pool changes over time. This winter’s weather variety has made the vernal pool a constantly changing natural feature. Children consider variables such as temperature, weather and seasonal cycles as they create explanations for the ongoing change of the pond’s size as well as its surface. The surface has been changing from watery to mixed ice chunks and water to seemingly solid ice.


Students investigate tree trunk and discuss possible reasons for the holes and peeling bark.

Connecticut’s first grade core science curriculum has students explore how organisms (both plants and animals) are structured to ensure efficiency and survival. Our class has been reading informational texts and making first hand observations to learn about the parts of a tree and their different roles that together help trees thrive in the forest habitat. Students are noticing the colors and designs of tree bark to identify the trees that surround the outdoor classroom.
With the same science concept in mind, we’ve been observing and learning about birds and squirrels. We placed two bird feeders outside our classroom window. Students observe the feather patterns in birds that visit and use field guides to identify and learn about the birds. Successful use of field guides entails practicing first grade reading goals about using non-fiction text features like headings, table of contents, illustrations, diagrams, captions and glossaries. This month students have identified the following birds: blue jay, starling, tufted titmouse, downy woodpecker, chickadee, and red-bellied woodpecker. Children draw and write their observations in their field guides.

Mrs. Smith has led the class in lessons on how to sketch birds, squirrels and trees. Children are learning to pay attention to shapes, notice detail, take risks with their drawing, and build stamina in engagement with observational drawing.

Students were given the engineering task of selecting recycled materials to design and create working bird feeders. This week the children set up their bird feeders around the outdoor classroom. We are eager to visit this week and see if they’ve been used…and by whom!

We’ve also been taking time to observe the beauty in nature. A read aloud of Lois Duncan’s retelling of a Navajo tale The Magic of Spider Woman was a spark to our weaving work but also a message about the importance of keeping life in balance. Students collected y-shaped sticks and used them as a weaving structure. Weaving builds coordination and motor skills, practices crossing the midline, and takes concentration! The first graders are using an assortment of collected natural objects as well as fabric scraps to weave into the stick looms. Finished stick weaving projects are being sent home as decorations, so be on the lookout!