We have been seeing many new sights and signs of spring at the park this month. The weather has been warmer, but has kept us on our toes, moving quickly between sun and rain, one day even hail. The fields have burst into yellow and white from the dandelions and field daisies, and on the forest floor bleeding hearts, Stinky Bob (Herb Robert), and new mushrooms are appearing. We’ve noticed the sword fern fiddleheads coming up and starting to open into soft, bright green new fronds, as last year’s fronds have begun to die back. Stinging nettle has begun, again, to take over much of the forest, and we’ve been sure to refresh everyone’s identification of these plants, learning not to touch them, but also recognizing that they are important and nutritious plants for the ecosystem. Our students noticed that the hazelnut catkins, which had become a favorite item to observe and collect at drop-off, were missing from the tree – and had been replaced by new, fuzzy leaves.
The first week of April, we focused on energy and how it moves through the food chain. Each of the kids considered where they got their energy before coming to camp (i.e. what they ate for breakfast), then followed that energy back to its original source, the sun! We talked about how plants use photosynthesis to change sunlight energy into food energy, and how animals eat those plants, or eat other animals that eat plants. It was interesting discussing and trying to figure out what different animals eat, as well as figuring out the sources of our different breakfast foods (where does bacon come from? What about cereal? Pancakes? Syrup?). We’ve been seeing more and more of the sun this month, and more leaves opening to take advantage of it! Our bare maple trees finally grew new spring leaves, along with the other tall deciduous trees, drastically changing the views and colors of our hikes.
After Spring Break, we jumped into a study of insects and other invertebrates. We learned the characteristics of insects (3 body parts, an exoskeleton, antennae, and 6 legs) and practiced finding them, catching them in bug boxes, observing them, counting their legs, and returning them to their homes. We managed to catch several flying insects, including a crane fly, a moth, and even a bumblebee covered in pollen. We also found many critters in the leaf litter and rotting logs on the shady edges of the Mossy Knoll – roly polys (aka potato or pill bugs), termites, beetles, spiders, millipedes, centipedes, slugs and snails. We tried to count legs of each of these to help us determine if they were insects – some clearly did not have enough legs (slugs and snails) while others clearly had far too many (millipedes and centipedes)! We learned that sometimes you have to be very patient and wait for the animal to stop moving for a moment to count the legs – spiders in particular presented a challenge.
In our study of invertebrates, we talked about the function and importance of our vertebrae – to protect the spinal cord and support our bodies in standing and walking upright. During yoga, we practiced moving our spines in all the ways they bend and twist, and learned about how the spinal cord carries messages from the brain to other parts of our bodies. We talked about how important it is to protect and be careful with our spines, so they can keep doing their important work! As we explored and searched for animals, we tried to identify whether the ones we saw were vertebrates, having spines, or invertebrates, without spines. We found a much larger number of invertebrates, but the vertebrates we saw were much larger!
Warmer days and options for bare feet brought opportunities for big, free movement, such as running and spinning in the field, while our studies of small creatures gave significant practice in stillness, close observation and patience. Our Thursday Sprouting Roots class found a large snail one day, and the whole class spent about 20 minutes watching it slowly move along the ground, carrying its heavy shell. At one point a bee approached and the children were ready for a battle of some kind, but the bee just landed on the tip of a blade of grass next to the snail, waited for a bit, then flew to land briefly on the snail before flying off. The snail continued on its way.
Our Tuesday Sprouting Roots class one day spotted a beetle climbing up a stump, and gathered to watch it. It climbed several inches, then lost its footing and fell back down, over and over again. The kids kept watching and cheering for the beetle, and eventually it made it all the way up! What a lesson in perseverance!
With our location in a State Park we are often given opportunities to learn from and be inspired by the other users of the park – it is a constant reminder that we are part of a larger community. One day in Homeschool Roots we noticed that a group was using the old Seminary building for a class of some kind. One of the organizers or teachers informed us that it was a group meditation. In response, we practiced being mindful of our volume near the open windows, and during yoga practiced our own meditation. We sat in a circle, closed our eyes, and repeated the mantra “I can be still” while touching our thumbs in turn to the tips of each of our four fingers – one finger per word. After a few minutes of meditation, first with the mantra, then in silence, the children opened their eyes and shared how they felt – some said calm, others said they felt full of energy, and one said everything looked bluer when they opened their eyes. I love these opportunities for stillness and reflection that we find at Camp Roots, as well as the opportunities we have for movement and noise! I’m sure we have many more instances of both in store for us this spring.