By Dahna Kreger, Intern Naturalist
For the River Bend Nature Center naturalist staff, early November can bring either a much welcome break from long hours of wall-to-wall programming; or it can signal the beginning of a lengthy period of down-time that for some may elicit an uprising of pending doom from the gut. Nonetheless, I am excited to see what projects we will create to keep occupied when not entrenched in the activities that we’ll be working on during the winter months…
Here is a run-down of the programs we have completed in the last two months:
- Kindergarten: Seasons and Senses
- First Grade: Homes and Habitats
- Second Grade: Seeds of Life
- Third Grade: Nature Pyramid
- Fourth Grade: Prairie Biome
- Fifth Grade (Owatonna): Soils and Erosion
- Fifth Grade (Faribault): Aquatic and Ecosystem Research
- Sixth Grade: Decomposition
Each brought its own set of challenges, and more frequently, rewards! As a total greenhorn, I found myself plunged face-first into the fast-paced flow of fall programming at River Bend. Nervous and stressed at the onset, I quickly built my confidence as a public speaker and group manager.
My greatest joy of all - other than the breadth of content and material I learned (in addition to having a fantastic opportunity to work with some truly exceptional people) - was being able to hang out with kids every day, and once again be able to see life through the fresh and curious eyes of a child. Although I don’t think I had much of a problem doing that anyway, some might argue.
I like to talk about favorites best, and I only have limited space to cover these, so my favorite programs are the ones that I’ll cover here. Beginning with… second graders for their Seeds of Life program! This one was always incredibly fun to do – especially early on when we had lots of “poppers” and “hitchhikers” for the kids to find! In this unit, we introduce the kids to the idea of adaptations -- things that help a plant or animal survive in its habitat. We use seeds as examples of different adaptations. There are four different types of seeds: hitch-hikers stick to fur, feathers, or clothing to later fall off at a new place; droppers simply fall to the ground, however animals usually carry them to other places; poppers burst from their seed container to spread away from the plant; and flyers are carried through the air by the wind by their wings or feathery parachutes. Pretty much across the board everyone loved milkweed pods the best – finding the downy fluff scattered across the ground or still encased within the pod. Of course, there were always a few children who would pluck a whole pod right off the plant and pocket it… but I never really minded this because they loved it so much; how soft and feathery each tuft felt, and how easily they blew away in the wind! I remember loving that as a child, and even still today it brings me irrational amounts of joy.
For my other favorite program, I think I’ll have to go with sixth grade. I had been anticipating grumpy cantankerous pre-adolescent children giving me attitude and spewing out negativity about whatever I’d try to say to them. And, I ended up with slightly cantankerous pre-adolescent children who got surprisingly excited about things like moss, lichen, and fungi.
This unit was all about decomposition, and introducing/reinforcing the importance of using the scientific method. In this unit, the goal was to have students be able to distinguish between producers, consumers, and decomposers; identify the non-living parts of cycles in natures (air, water, sunlight, rocks), and to review a food chain/web. For the program, the students were split up into pairs and groups. These groups included fungi, moss, lichen, middens and arthropods. Of course, being the leader of the midden/arthropod group often proved to be a significant advantage when it came to keeping everyone engaged and interested in what you were doing, I found. On the first day of this unit, my group found a wolf spider and a unique species of millipede that still had a predominantly black body, but yellow and orange legs!
Finishing this write-up, I have to say that thinking about all these programs that have passed us by has made me a little sentimental… but at least the naturalist staff gets to see everyone again in the spring! And, after already being halfway through the first week of no programs, I am doing well with the decreased levels of hectic-ness, and I have to say I think everyone else is too.
Dahna Kreger is an intern naturalist for the River Bend Nature Center, a member supported non-profit dedicated to helping people discover, enjoy, understand and preserve the incredible natural world that surrounds us. Contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 507-332-7151.