Signs of Spring

On a day like this, rather than peering out the window wishing we could be outside, we witnessed first-hand this amazing time of growth and change; the evidence was all around us.  This month’s excursion with West Side Christian School’s Nature-based Preschool lead us towards a  special destination. Along the way the preschoolers noted some signs of spring.  Here are a few highlights of what the young learners spotted (the adults wrote down their observations): more green, new leaves, MUD, robins fighting, wild onions, singing birds, migrating geese flying, edible leaves, PUDDLES, ducks quacking, and frogs peeping.

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“A deer has been here too! I see its tracks!”

Opening tree buds lined our path, birds sang their spring-time tune, and the natural world put on a show.   Our excursion led us to the marsh. This place teems with a variety of animal and plant life. We used nets to dip into the water to uncover what creatures lived there.  A world of wonder appeared before each child as they made new discoveries.

These Blandford nature-based moments play a role in growing a strong educational foundation. The experiences extend into continued learning back at school and home.

Related: “In Their Own Words” What West Side Christian’s current Nature-based Preschool parents had to say about the partnership with Blandford.

If you’re interested in developing nature-based, place-based learning experiences like this for your preschool students please contact Janet Staal at janet@blandfordnaturecenter.org.

Here are some ways to turn these natural learning moments into some extended  learning experiences:

·         Create a life cycle book : have your child become the expert on one of Michigan’s animals’ life cycles – bees, butterflies, frogs, and even plants – Blandford’s Signs of Spring Pinterest page has the links saved there.

·         Come out to return to the marsh or find a nearby pond. What changes does your child notice? Count as many of the different kinds of animals you can see. Take a net and tray with you so that you can dip to find new creatures. Be sure to return all the creatures that you find so that their offspring will be a part of our world so their offspring can be a part of our children’s future.

·         Check out one of Blandford’s FREE adventure back packs to use as you take your own “Signs of Spring” hike. Make discoveries and ask your child what questions they have about animals in spring.

Upcoming events:

The Earth Day and Grand Opening Celebration is happening April 22 from 1pm – 3pm. 

Join the Blandford Crew as we unveil the new Mary Jane Dockeray Visitor Center to the Grand Rapids Community! Ribbon cutting ceremony, building tours, property tours, wildilfe encounters and much more await you on Earth Day.

May 13 10am – 11:30 am – Morning on the Marsh

The life at Blandford’s Cattail Marsh is coming alive with new life. Bring your family to get an up close look at the tiny babies in the underwater world. We will dip for some of the smaller creature living in the water and visit the Timpson Tower to get a bird’s eye view –we’ll use binoculars.

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Blandford’s beautiful and complex ecosystems are here so children can learn, engage, explore, enjoy and value nature’s endless wonders.  Blandford offers a variety of field trip experiences, community programs, and seasonal camps.

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Growing Gardens

Typically what happens with school garden spaces is that a group of adults coordinate and plan out the plants that will fill the garden classroom space. This year the hope grew that students could take an active role in the process. Thanks to Blandford’s collaboration with  area schools, we had two willing second grades that were eager to pilot a “Growing Garden” Blandford Nature Center Farm Program.

Teaming up with Blandford Farm’s educator, Liz Visser, we created an educational experience to engage students and teachers in the garden planning process. Now, basically any school that has garden space can incorporate interdisciplinary student learning outcomes, create a garden space plan and produce an order for wholesale garden plant starts all through an hour and a half learning activity.

The designed lesson addresses the following big questions that align to the Next Generation Science Standards, and Common Core Mathematics & ELA/ Literacy:

1. What do garden plants need to grow?
2. How can we design a garden space to help plants survive based on their unique structures and functions?
3. How can we use mathematics to find real-world solutions?

4. What’s your opinion on the work that farmers do to grow our food?

We arrived at the two area schools equipped with the resources needed to engage the students in designing a garden plan, through measuring,  mapping out garden beds and learning more about the unique structures (parts) and functions (jobs) of the plants that produce their food.

The students really enjoyed the opportunity to “dig into” the garden planning process as they became the farmers for their school. Farmers use this winter season to plan out their garden goals and plan for their needed plants. That’s exactly what the students did as we walked them through the garden planning process.

From the beginning to end students became actively involved in the entire garden planning process. The students measured out the perimeter of their garden bed or garden model.

Once the model took shape, the students worked in plant family teams to create their plan and answer the question, “Based on our plant’s structures and size, how many plants can we fit into this area?” ( In common core language, “The students used the mathematical model as well as their mathematical understanding of their plant’s size to then reason abstractly and quantitatively as they planned out their school’s garden space.”)
 Some plants needed twelve inches of space others needed three feet. Using their bodies and counters (as model seeds) the students came up with the total amounts of tomatoes, beans, peppers, cucumbers, summer squash, zucchini, Swiss chard, carrots and kale that will be needed for the upcoming growing season.
I wish these photos could talk, you would have heard students using words like, perimeter, area, repeated addition and multiplication. The students’ mental math skills were put to good use. One second grader shared, “I did not know that a farmer had to plan how they were going to set up their field.” Another chimed in, “We sure did use our math brains today. Farmers really use math to help them plan how they will grow the food.”
Godfrey lee garden

Even though it will be months before their garden grows. Their plants – the exact number of plants they calculated – are off to a great start, growing in Blandford’s Greenhouse.

A special thanks goes out to Godfrey Lee Early Childhood Center 2nd grade teacher, Heather Vernon, and West Side Christian School 2nd grade teachers, Ellen Koster and Lori Pott, for their willingness to offer their insights and collaborate with us on this project.

“The gardener does not create the garden. The garden creates the gardener.” Master Gardener Alan Chadwick

Has the idea of a school garden been tossed around in your school halls and in conversations. Have you started asking yourself a few questions? Why am I interested in gardening with my students? Why does my school have a garden? Or, why is my school considering having a garden? How can I use a garden as an outdoor classroom?  Don’t let these questions intimidate you, It’s easy to dig in, I shared more detailed advice in a previous growing a garden classroom blog post.

Does your school already have a garden space? Do you have an interest in engaging your students in the garden planning process? This “Growing Garden” lesson was designed with you in mind. Blandford staff would briefly consult with you prior to our visit to determine goals and garden dimensions. Then we would arrive with the resources needed to have your students take an active leadership role, planning and mapping out the plants for the upcoming growing season.

If your school has a grassy wasteland, you could be sitting on a gold mine of potential for making real-life connections to students’ content learning.  Yet, for one person the work needed to launch a project of this magnitude could seem overwhelming. Collaboration is the key.  Contact Janet Staal (janet@blandfordnaturecenter.org), Blandford Nature Center Environmental Consultant, to see how  Blandford Nature Center unlocks the powerful learning experiences that exist just beyond the classroom door.

Growing a Nature-based Preschool

New for the 2017-2018 School Year – NorthPointe Christian School Nature-Based Preschool for 4 Year Olds

Nature-based preschools are a growing trend in education, and Blandford Nature Center has begun to support nature-based education through collaborating with area preschools. It’s exciting to announce that starting next fall NorthPointe Christian School will partner with Blandford Nature Center to take student learning outdoors.

This model of nature-based learning has the foundation of a Christ-centered, high-quality education, with the academic, emotional, social, physical, and spiritual development goals.

In their nature-based preschool school, these goals are accomplished through experiences in and with the natural world.  Four year-old preschool students will be in the outdoor classroom for half of their morning on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Outdoor play and nature-based discovery form the backbone of the curriculum and drive indoor classroom activities. Preschoolers will start their morning at their site’s outdoor classroom and then transition indoors for snack and activity centers that further enhance their outdoor learning.

Once a month the students’ classroom will be Blandford’s beautiful and complex ecosystems. The students and teachers will engage in seasonal experiences out at Blandford as well as their own school site so that together they will learn, engage, explore, enjoy and value nature’s endless wonders.

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Benefits of Nature-Based Education

Nature is powerful in shaping a child’s development. Research reveals that the outdoor classroom encourages creativity and problem solving, improves academic performances, and ignites curiosity and wonder.

Enrollment

Students participating in this program would be enrolled through NorthPointe Christian School. Blandford Nature Center serves as a collaborative partner visiting their site once a month as well as engaging in collaborative monthly meetings.  If this is something that you are interested in for your child you can contact the school.  If nature-based preschool education is something that you would be interested in exploring to add into your existing preschool program, contact Janet@BlandfordNatureCenter.org.

Taking student learning outside is a growing trend in education, and Blandford Nature Center is growing opportunities to support nature-based education.  This spring Blandford will be hosting a Nature- based Educator Workshop presented by Rachel Larimore, former Director of Education at Chippewa Nature Center  and founding director of the Chippewa Nature Center’s Nature Preschool as well as the author of the book, Establishing a Nature-based Preschool.

To register click: Nature-based Education Workshop.

The Wild Classroom

Imagine a classroom made up of wild animals, a window into a professional world, and a venue for students to create on their own, or with others, something that has real value in the real world. This classroom exists and it is shared by many students in our community. It just takes making the connections between the students and the authentic learning experiences.

Students are capable of doing authentic work that adds to ways that can make the world a better, richer place. Starting this year, the sixth grade Blandford Environmental Education Program Students (BEEPS) have been involved in various mentorship tracks with Blandford Nature Center staff (Wildlife, Farm, and Environmental Education) based on their interests. Through their experiences they gain valuable, real-life experiences to create a foundation for their continued future studies and potential career goals.

Related: Growing Up in These Woods and Meet Blandford’s First Animal Ambassador

Rebecca Overweg, sixth grade student, shared,

“I love this mentor time with Blandford staff because it give an opportunity to learn more about the injured animals. The terrestrial turtles are so fun to oil/ lotion up. They need this care to help keep their skin moist. All the owls are fun to look at and watch.”

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Quinn Amaya had this to say,

“In just a few weeks into this mentorship time I have learned a lot! I look forward to every Thursday because every time I go there I learn something new – and we never do the same thing.  I love working with the animals, my favorite would have to be the turtles. I appreciate Mrs. Lori for what she has taught us so far.”

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Anna Sumners went on to research the Flying Squirrel.

“I found out some interesting facts. Blandford Nature Center’s Flying Squirrel is a Southern Flying Squirrel. The Northern and Southern Flying Squirrels are the only types of flying squirrels found in Northern America. There is not much of a difference between the two. Both appear grayish brown. Flying squirrels do not have the true capability to fly like a bird, rather they glide from tree to tree. Flying squirrels like to eat foosugar gliderds such as nuts, seeds, fungi, fruit and insects.

In our class at the Blandford School we have a very similar pet, the Sugar Glider. It has the same gliding capabilities as the Flying Squirrel. At school, the sugar glider will jump from person to person. You can tell if he is about to you because you’ll be standing two to three feet away, and he will be looking at you.

These opportunities are available for other children too! Blandford’s beautiful and complex ecosystems are here so children can learn, engage, explore, enjoy and value nature’s endless wonders.  Blandford offers a variety of field trip experiences, community programs, and seasonal camps.

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“T” is for Tapping Trees and Temperature

Drip, Drip, drop! The forest comes alive with the sights and early sounds of spring.  Even though there are few weeks left of winter, the natural world begins to give clues that things are changing.

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“T” is for Tapping a Tree:  As area school communities and teachers collaborate with Blandford Nature Center it provides students opportunity to make natural connections to their learning. The preschool students from CA Frost Environmental Science Academy recently came out to the Blandford Sugarbush to add their own bucket to a tree.  The students will return throughout the month to check their sap levels and marvel at the way maple trees make a sweet treat.

T is for Temperature: Warm days above freezing and cold nights below freezing are ideal for sap flow.  The sap runs up the trees to the buds on warm days and back down to the roots on cold nights. These conditions provide the perfect opportunity to allow the preschoolers a chance to make some temperature discoveries.

“Ohhs and Ahhs” poured out of the students as they explored a temperature investigation inside the Learning Lab, measuring the temperature of two liquids. The preschoolers practiced using a thermometer, observing how the change in temperature had an affect on the measuring tool. They recorded their observations using food coloring as an indicator.

The students also made models of thermometers, using fine motor skills to cut and glue. Together we practiced modeling what happens to the temperature at night during the Sugarbush season and then the warm up that happens during the day. In addition to gaining some early awareness of temperature, the students recognized the numbers on the scale.

These opportunities are available for other children too! Blandford’s beautiful and complex ecosystems are here so children can learn, engage, explore, enjoy and value nature’s endless wonders.  Blandford offers a variety of field trip experiences, community programs, and seasonal camps.

Related:  Whooo lives in the forest?

Also, if you’re interested in developing nature-based, place-based learning experiences like this for your preschool students please contact Janet Staal at janet@blandfordnaturecenter.org.

Related: Nature-based Preschool and Nature-based Education | Educator Workshop

In case you wanted to turn your backyard or you next Blandford Nature Center visit into a learning adventure….

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Here are some tips for some early childhood Maple tree learning extension activities:                            

  • Build fine motor skills by taking some clay to make a base to stick the small tree like pieces into it. Children enjoying threading beads on to the branches and they can observe the buds as they add beads.
  • Take part in a citizen science backyard project. Project BudBurst is on a mission – to get you outside taking a moment to observe how plants in your community change with the seasons. When you share your observations with them, they become part of an ecological record. Spending time outside with plants is calming, educational, and just plain fun.
  • Check out Blandford’s Nature-based Preschool Pinterest Page for more ideas.
  • Encourage your child to practice drawing trees – how they look during this season.
  • What questions does your child to come up with questions about the changing spring time trees?
  • Come out for Blandford Nature Center’s  Maple Moon Community Program. Learn how the first people discovered that Maple sap could be turned into something so special!
  • Save the date for Blandford Nature Center’s Sugarbush Festival, March 18, 2017.

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11 Michigan Maple Facts

“Sugar Maples are AMAZING trees,” proclaimed one Blandford BEEP (Blandford Environmental Education Program student). The Blandford School students each have their own Maple tree they tapped and work to help collect the sap.

As part of Blandford Nature Center’s  Mentorship with the Blandford School,  the Environmental Education team – working with Kristin Tindall, Blandford’s Master Naturalist-  wrote down some interesting facts about the making of Maple syrup.

sugarhouse

Thanks to the work of Blandford School Students, Zach Rubingh, Jonathan Lundberg, Lily Gloege, Adrinanna Stack, here are 11 facts about the production from the sap to the Maple Syrup.

11 Michigan Maple Facts

  1. Sugar Maples can have a trunk up to 5’ diameter and 135’ in height and live up to 300 years
  2. An average tree with one tap can produce as much as 1/2 gallon of syrup or 4 lbs sugarmaple-sap1
  3. Approximately 1% of the maple trees in Michigan are utilized for the production of maple sap.
  4. Warm days above freezing and cold nights below freezing are ideal for sap flow.  The sap runs up the trees to the buds on warm days and back down to the roots on cold nights.  We are able to collect the sap going up and on its way back down.
  5. At the beginning of the season the sap is approximately 3-5% sugar and at the end of the season the sap is approximately 1-2% sugar.  nutritional-value-of-sweeteners
  6. Sugar maples are preferred because their sap has a higher sugar content than any other type of maple, but any maple tree can be tapped and its sap turned into syrup.
  7. The sap is collected from the buckets on the trees by the students from Blandford School and C.A. Frost schools.maple-sap
  8. We use an evaporating pan to turn the sap into syrup.  Nothing is added to the sap.  All we do is evaporate the water from the sap until the syrup has a sugar content of 66%.
  9. It takes 40 gallons of sap to make one gallon of syrup.sap
  10. One cord of firewood (4ft x 4ft x 8ft) will heat enough sap to make approximately 20 gallons of syrup.

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    One cord of wood behind Blandford’s Sugarhouse.

  11. Syrup is bottled in our certified kitchen at 180°F.

In case all these facts about Maple syrup makes your mouth start to water, Blandford Nature Center’s gift shop has Maple sweet treats available now. You’re also invited to come out to join in a variety of Maple-themed community programs. You’ll have a chance to enjoy the sights, smells and tastes of the Sugarhouse; practice tapping a tree; and step back in time to discover how pioneers and Native Americans made maple syrup.

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Source:  Michigan Maple Syrup Association http://www.mi-maplesyrup.com/

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Tapping a Maple Tree

“Today we’re venturing out to learn how sweet a tree can be as we tap into a Maple tree.”

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With bare trees and the dreary months of winter set in, what’s out there for children to learn about and explore?  Actually each bare tree has its own stark beauty when its branching pattern and individual twigs/ branches become visible. Careful examinations of its winter branches reveal many special characteristics about each kind of tree. The wide variety of shapes, colors, textures, and patterns are exciting to see and to learn about.

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Each month Blandford Nature Center becomes the classroom for the nature-based preschool students at West Side Christian School. This month we went out on a twig hunt. The students were given a branch from the various trees found nearby. The children needed to look carefully at each branch to see the special features their branch had and find a match.   They soon discovered that some branches formed “arms” that are opposite each other, while others have an alternate pattern.

What’s it like to live like a tree? We pretended to be trees as we listened to a story and acted it out. As the story came alive out there among the trees, the life cycle of a tree and how the leaves make food were woven in.  The students arms became the branches and their hands became the leaves.

maple-leaves

We put our math skills to use as we counted the lobes (fingers) on these leaves.

Using the clues of the trees bark, opposite branching and petite-dark-brown buds, the students investigated the nearby trees in search of a Maple Tree.  The students worked together to search out the clues and using their observation skills they found a Maple tree!

The Maple tree we tapped was close to the wigwam where the students explored life long ago during the late fall. Revisiting this place brought questions to mind. How did people long ago tap into their Maple trees?  How did they know that the Maple sap was sweet and tasty? Did they use a drill too? What did people use before they had buckets? The questions set the stage for more learning to take place. Through reading the book, “A Day at the Sugar Camp“the young readers revisited life in a historic Native American sugar camp using the illustrated story and related activities (cultural questions, cut & fold projects).

We ended the school day in the wigwam. Hearing a fun story circled around the fire pit. At the conclusion of the story, one preschooler was quick to chime in, “Tell us another one!” When they return to their outdoor classroom, there will be more stories,  stories of their own making as they engage in continued seasonal, play-based learning.

Related: Nature-based Preschool – Life Long Ago

These opportunities are available for other children too! Blandford’s beautiful and complex ecosystems are here so children can learn, engage, explore, enjoy and value nature’s endless wonders.  Blandford offers a variety of field trip experiences, community programs, and seasonal camps.

Also, if you’re interested in developing nature-based, place-based learning experiences like this for your preschool students please contact Janet Staal at janet@blandfordnaturecenter.org.

In case you wanted to turn your backyard or you next Blandford Nature Center visit into a learning adventure….

exploring-the-sugarbush

Here are some tips for some early childhood Maple tree learning extension activities:                            

  • Build fine motor skills by taking some clay to make a base to stick the small tree like pieces into it. Children enjoying threading beads on to the branches and they can observe the buds as they add beads.
  • Take part in a citizen science backyard project. Project BudBurst is on a mission – to get you outside taking a moment to observe how plants in your community change with the seasons. When you share your observations with them, they become part of an ecological record. Spending time outside with plants is calming, educational, and just plain fun.
  • Check out Blandford’s Nature-based Preschool Pinterest Page for more ideas.
  • Encourage your child to practice drawing trees – how they look during this season.
  • Encourage your child to come up with questions about the changing spring time trees. Today we heard, “I wonder what happens if an animal eats the buds? What animals eat tree buds?”
  • Come out for Blandford Nature Center’s  Maple Moon Community Program. Learn how the first people discovered that Maple sap could be turned into something so special!
  • Save the date for Blandford Nature Center’s Sugarbush Festival, March 18, 2017.