Welcome to our outdoor classroom, day two! We hiked the Pine Ridge Trail at Kamiak Butte County Park, and focused on comparing ecosystems.
The south facing slope of Kamiak Butte is sunny, open, and at this time of year covered with wildflowers. I chaperoned the kindergarten group today, and we learned to identify arrowleaf balsamroot (part of the sunflower family), yarrow, indian paintbrush, and vanilla smelling ponderosa pines.
We also enjoyed listening to a book written by scientists, members of the National Forest Service. The book asked us to consider, “Why do we cut down a tree?” At first the kindergarteners were appalled, “Cut down a tree? Never! Trees give us oxygen.” The book gave us insights into why trees might need to be cut down – damaged and dangerous, diseased, overcrowding and causing a fire danger, or to supply us with wood for products we use. We decided to use our senses on the rest of the hike to observe the ecosystem, and also to spot trees that might not be healthy. We found hollow trees, trees that were damaged and broken, and even trees that were lying on the ground and decomposing. I heard that word a lot! “This tree is decomposing. It’s turning back to dirt!”
The kindergarten group hiked to the very top, and ate lunch with an amazing view. We also got to feel the pelt of a coyote, an animal that lives at Kamiak Butte. We saw chipmunks, lots of butterflies and bugs, smelt the warm dirt and the Ponderosa pines, felt soft leaves, and heard birdsong.
Meanwhile, the groups of older children were sampling the ecosystems, and collecting data. How many rocks, pine cones, flowers, sticks, bugs, etc. were contained within a circled off part of the ground? This activity was carried out on the south side and the north side, and the children made comparisons and drew bar graphs in their nature journals to report what they noticed. They also used hand lenses to get an even closer look!
The kindergarten group just verbally reported the differences they saw – one side was sunny, the other side was gloomy and dark, one side had lots of flowers, the other side had moss, fungus and ferns and not as many flowers, one side had only a few trees, the other side was the forest. Because kindergarteners are filled with curiosity, and a sense of wonder and awe, we spent four hours on the trail! We stopped to look at so many things, and the children called out to one another, “Good observation!” and “Good eye!” The loop we hiked was 3 and a half miles.
Were we tired when we finished our hike? Nope, we then spent thirty minutes of free play on the climbing structures, but also building nests for chipmunks and squirrels, collecting pine cones, finding worms . . . just being kids out in nature!
We used some technology tools today – hand lenses, binoculars, a gadget to measure wind speed, probes to sample dirt, and measure soil temperature and moisture levels, and the highlight for the KG kids, an app that recorded and identified and played bird songs. When we played the chickadee’s song, we were surprised to hear two chickadees call back to us!
We ended our day with a hike to find a Douglas fir tree and collect the cones. We listened to a legend about the cones, involving how the mice sheltered in the cones during a big forest fire. Can you see the rear legs and tails of the mice hanging out of the cone?
We also learned that a Douglas Fir, unlike a spruce tree, is friendly, not prickly. Its needles are soft. So we all got close to our Douglas fir tree, and that’s another plant we learned to identify today!
Tomorrow we will explore another ecosystem during a river walk! I can’t wait!