On a winter morning, it is nice to cuddle up with my tablet near the glowing heat of the gas fireplace. But just when I settle in, I burn my tongue on a cup of hot tea and my flannel pajamas begin to stick to me as the perspiration builds. It is then that I think back on the New Year’s resolution I made to get outside and spend more time with my grandchildren.
Enough hibernating, I decide. This is the day to set in motion the plan I have to take the grandchildren on a winter hike.
When I arrive on their doorstep, I feel like Mary Poppins with my huge bag filled with the props we will need to discover where animals go when it gets cold. The front door opens and the children excitedly search my bag for clues of today’s adventure. Examining the contents, they guess correctly that they need to bundle up for a walk at Five Rivers Nature Center. Then I tell them they are about to become citizen scientists. Citizen scientists, like good detectives, need to be keen observers and search for signs of animals that are active, as well as animals that go into a deep sleep until spring. I have my cellphone ready to record our findings.
We spot broken acorn shells and corn kernels on the ground and speculate rabbits and chipmunks have just had breakfast. We notice someone rubbed bark off a tree, and we think it must be deer. The gnawed hemlock branches tell us a porcupine could be nearby. A messy nest up high in a tree means squirrels are around, and a solid pellet of bones and feathers on the ground is a good sign an owl is in the area. We discover that beavers do not hibernate; they stay underneath their reinforced fort in the pond.
Clue cards, library books, binoculars, magnifying glass, journal and pencils, tape measure, animal tracks ID, cellphone, snack, first aid kit
Making footprints in the snow, we are leaving our own evidence that we have been here. Next we look for animal tracks and try to identify them. Using a tape measure, we compare the different lengths of the tracks, including our own, and save the information to make a graph later. I tell the children we should be careful not to disturb the snails and ladybugs sleeping under logs. We discover holes burrowed in the ground and wonder if woodchucks or snakes could be down there.
As we exit the trail, we spot the perfect place to have our hot cocoa. Together we sweep the snow off the picnic table. While we chat about our day, I share a childhood memory of when I walked to school every day taking a shortcut through the woods. What I thought was a hardship, my grandchildren envy! Just when it is time to go, we hear a beautiful sound and see something red flying above our heads. The red cardinal and its song give us the perfect ending to our outside adventure. When we return to the warmth of my hearth, we share books and write in a journal.
“Hey, Grandma, great gig,” the kids say. “What are we going to do next time?” I smile as I begin to imagine our next gig.
• Library: “Hibernation” by Tori Kosara; “Animals in Winter” by Henrietta Bancroft
• Internet: pbs.kids.org; dec.ny.gov/education/47168.html (Conservationist for Kids, Become a Winter Wildlife Detective! Winter 2007 Issue); dec.ny.gov/education/62540.html (Conservationist for Kids, Winter 2010 Hibernation)
• Community: Five Rivers Nature Environmental Center, Delmar (Ask about their Citizen Scientist Program). Great Backyard Bird Count, Saturday, Feb. 15, at 9:30 a.m. and at 2 p.m. a winter stroll on the Pine Trail (no registration required).
The authors work collaboratively designing authentic educational activities. The goal is to help others engage children in joyful, meaningful learning. For further resources to support this Gig, visit Grandmas Got Gigs online at www.grandmasgotgigs.com or email questions and comments to [email protected]