P1060125  I can’t believe that it’s almost September! I really don’t know where the summer has gone. Our September g2g Outside event is coming up in less than 2 weeks! It is going to be held here at the Sedgwick County Extension Office.

Treats, Treks, & Toodle-oo’s

When: Tuesday, September 10, 2013 from 6-7 p.m.

Where: Meet in the Demonstration Garden at the Sedgwick County Extension Office (It’s on the Ridge Road side of the building) for some treats and then we’ll head off on some treks! We’ll be walking on our Nature Trail and perhaps have a scavenger hunt of our grounds as well.

Who: Anyone that’s bringing a child with them!

Cost: FREE!

No RSVPs are necessary.

So, the treats and the treks part of this event are pretty obvious. Maybe you’re wondering about the “Toodle-oo’s” part?

Well, that’s the other part of the news. Those of us that have been working with g2g Outside for the last 5 years have made the decision to end the program after this year. We have lost staff in the past couple of years and all of us, including our partner agencies, have been taking on new and different job responsibilities, leaving less and less time for g2g Outside. I’m sure you’ve noticed that the blog has been pretty quiet this year. There is no longer anyone that is able to spend enough time on g2g Outside to keep offering the program in a way that is thriving and growing. We are all sad to say goodbye to you, but we hope you’ll keep on playing outside anyway!

SO….The September event will be the LAST g2g event hosted by our core team. I know that Tonya is planning to come back for the event, and most of the rest of us are planning to be there.  We hope you can stop by to say goodbye!

The November and December events are still going to happen, just with one of the partner agencies. Keep watching the blog for information about those events. After our December 2013 event, there will be no more g2g events planned for the future.

The blog will still be here for links and references, and I may even post something once in a great while. We hope you will keep on with the good outdoor habits and play that you’ve learned in the last 5 years!

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Last week, we spent a few days up in Wisconsin at my parents’ farm. My husband, not having grown up on a farm, wanted to try his hand at a little tractor driving and hay baling.

While my dad and husband were busy with the baler, I decided to wander around the edges of the field and take some pictures.

This is a wild, unfarmed area to one side of the part that was being baled. It isn’t really the “edge” of the field, but more of an island that has never really been cleared or tilled, probably because there is either a low spot that isn’t worth the hassle of disturbing or because there was no desire to clear all off those trees. Maybe if I asked, my parents would know why. At any rate, it gave me something to photograph! You can see all the different kinds of grasses and lots of goldenrod in this area.

This is actually a picture of part of the field that hasn’t been cut for hay yet. This field has a pretty nice stand of grass, clover, and alfalfa, and hopefully has some good protein for my parents’ cows. Unfortunately, even though the alfalfa and clover flowers make for pretty pictures, it is best if the hay is cut before full bloom. Unlike here, my parents have had too much rain, and so it was too wet to get into the fields without damaging the crop or the soil.

I eventually wandered all the way along the field to the fence row on the west side of the field. There was quite a diversity of plants! I had to take this picture, because it illustrates a horticultural concept that we talk about, but isn’t always fully grasped. In this case, we have a larger maple tree (the lighter green leaves at the top) and underneath it, growing as a large shrub, is a dogwood tree. Dogwood do prefer some shade, and are more of an understory tree (like Japanese Maples). They don’t do very well planted in full, scorching sun. This is a great example of how these trees would grow on their own, without intervention, so we should keep that in mind when planting things.

There were also some nice healthy vines of wild cucumbers growing over various trees and shrubs in the fence row. I remember playing with these prickly fruits as a kid, and tearing them open to look for seeds and whatever there was to see. I actually saw a cucumber beetle on these vines, but didn’t quite manage to get it in the picture. Interestingly, I’ve never seen a cucumber beetle in my parents’ garden, so it was interesting to see that they do actually exist that far north. Maybe the cold winters keep the population low enough that they are content to subsist on wild cucumbers?

I was a little surprised to find milkweed in the fence row, although I don’t know why I should have been. I guess I always associated it with the swampy area on the farm more than the edge of the fields (although sometimes they are one and the same!). These pods are not quite ready to burst yet, and they were about the biggest I saw. There were several plants with smaller pods and even a few plants that still had some flowers on them. I was hoping to find some monarch caterpillars, but no such luck. I did find some kind of tussock caterpillar and a spider, but not monarchs.

There was also a kind of ugly, short little tree that had these fun shaped clusters on them. I’m pretty sure that I’m correct in identifying it as a filbert (aka Hazelnut); this is probably just a wild one growing here. It’s still very green, and not at all close to being ripe, but I think there are going to be some happy animals later this fall, thanks to this tree.

Now, I’ve just been showing pictures here, and certainly photography is a great way to interact with nature and make observations. But…I’m also a compulsive feeler, “dissector”, leaf shredder, and flower stripper. I like to pick a clover flower and pull it apart, pull off a milkweed pod and break it open, tear leaves along the veins, strip seeds off of grass, pick a green filbert and tear it open, etc. I’ve always done this, and I remember a lot of “play” as a child that involved pulling seed pods off of weeds and tearing them open or pulling the seed heads off of grasses. On one hand, this seems kind of destructive. I would argue though, that this sort of thing is important for kids in getting to understand the natural world.

It’s one thing to see something or take a picture of it and learn about it. It’s completely different to feel it and take it apart, getting your fingers sticky in the process. I think there’s a lot of learning that happens through something that might seem very destructive. Certainly, kids should learn that you don’t want to disturb natural areas or be unnecessarily destructive without reason, but sometimes I think we go too far the other way, and don’t let kids really immerse themselves in what’s around them. It isn’t their job to save the planet. It IS their job to learn to look on the natural world with wonder and find “cool” things to touch and experience.

Think about it this way. How much more will a child who has spent time experiencing plants this way understand when they get to a science class that talks about plant identification, pollination, seed formation, vascular systems, parts of the seed, etc? They may not have known all the scientific terms when they were out playing, but they know what they saw, touched, smelled, and even tasted. They can now assign those terms to things they already know.

I remember some of the biology and horticulture labs I had to do in high school and college, and I always thought that the lab exercises where we dissected flowers, seeds, etc were incredibly lame! After all, I had torn apart many a flower and already knew what I would find. It never occurred to me that some of the other students may have never seen those things in real life.

Where am I going with this? Well, I would argue that sometimes we get a little too up tight about having everything perfectly manicured and tamed (How dare there be weeds in the ditches!) or too protective of every blade of grass (Don’t pick the flowers!) that we prevent kids, especially those in an urban environment, from really gaining a very tactile experience of nature that will give them great benefits in the future. Of course, I’m not advocating for taking hordes of kids out to trample a wetland or tear into endangered wildflowers. But is there really anything wrong with letting some places be a little overgrown where no one cares if kids act like kids in that space?

Okay, that’s the end of my rant for today! If you want to see more pictures from Wisconsin, you can check them out at Flickr.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify at least 3 of the birds in your backyard or neighborhood.

Winter is a great time to look for birds because they will be out looking for food. If you provide some bird seed in a birdfeeder that you can observe from the window, you will see lots of beautiful birds! But what kind of birds are they?

When you get ready to try to identify a bird that you see in your yard, you should get a good look at it first, before you start using a book or the internet to figure out what it is.

Here are some important things you should look for:

  • Size of the bird
  • Size and shape of the beak
  • Size and shape of the head
  • Body and tail shape of the bird
  • Color: overall color, any stripes or spots, color of beaks or legs, any other color you notice
  • Behavior of the bird (how it walks, flies, sings, or eats)

Sometimes it is easy to identify a bird just using the color, but it isn’t always possible. Practice looking very closely at the birds in your backyard to notice small details. Once you have several things you know about the bird, it is time to look at a guide book. You can find field guides for birds at the public library. There are also some good websites.

Whatbird.com

Visual Key for Bird ID

All About Birds

Mission Report:

1. What are the 3 different birds you identified in your backyard? Did you see both male and female birds of each type?

2. What features of the birds helped you identify them?

3. Take a picture of your favorite bird and share it with us!

Your Mission, Should You Choose to Accept It:
Observe the nests in the trees in your yard (or nearby where you live).

Winter is the perfect time to look up into the tree branches and discover what hides behind the leaves during the rest of the year.

Although most of the small twig and mud-constructed nests will be empty during the cold months, larger nests and tree cavities may hold winter-hardy creatures.  Some visible winter nest users include squirrels and owls (Great Horned owls have even begin to incubate their eggs in the winter!).

Mission Report:

1.  How many nests or nesting cavities (holes in trees) did you find?

2. How many nests were constructed out of leaves and about the size of a basketball (squirrel-made nest)?

3. How many nests were constructed from grass, twigs or mud?

Up for more of a challenge?  Visit a nearby Wichita Wild Habitat Area to see a greater diversity of nests and winter creatures.

One of the most exciting things of Fall for most people are the changing of color on the leaves. It looks like a nature canvas in action: strikes of red, brown, orange, yellow colors. The tress like nature easels displaying all that beauty… It is a perfect time to join that festivity of colors just waiting outside for us. So why not go for a nature walk and enjoy all that fresh “painting”, and absorb the fresh smell Fall scenery brings  to us.

Your mission should you choose to accept is to collect different kind of leaves; look at their shapes, texture and beauty. Are they the same, are they different? Why some of them are fuzzy and others not? How do you think the fuzzines on a leaf affects its ability to hold water? Why leaves are pointed like a needle and other flat like paper? Are all the leaves in one tree the same? Why are they different? What are the colors in one of the leaf? Check out the veins on a leaf!!!!!!

Your mission should you choose to accept is to observe and touch the different kind of tree barks around you. Is the texture rough or smooth? Is it dry or can you feel some moisture on it? is it flaky or more compacted?….

One exciting activity you can do while in your nature adventure is the leaf and bark rubbing. It’s like magic!!!

You will need:

  • Crayons, chalk, pastel, charcoal are ideal. You will want a good selections of colors. Ask an adult to spray the
    picture with hair spray to keep the chalk from smearing.

    "This is magic!!!!!"

  • Paper- Not too thick that the impression doesn’t show, not too thin strong rubbing will tear the paper. Tracing paper is good for older kids but toddlers are better off with standard computer paper.
  • A flat surface like a table or a clipboard
  • Paper clip to keep the in place during leaf rubbing
How to make leaf rubbing?
  1. Collect a range of large and small leaves of different shapes. Look for dry leaves with good veins that will lay flat. If the leaves are too wet, the paper will absorb the moisture and may tear; too dry and the leaf may crumble.  *Avoid spiky leaves such as holy or pine, which will not only puncture the paper but also your skin.*
  2. Place the  leaf veins up on the board, pin the paper with the clips and hold it flat. Tight over the leaf to prevent from slipping.
  3. Peel the paper from a large crayon and lay it flat on the paper.Rub gently but firmly over the leaf to create the outline, working from top to bottom in a slightly diagonal motion, making sure to rub over the edges of the leaf  to expose the outline.

How to make bark rubbing?

  1. Peel the paper from a large crayon.
  2. Press and hold the paperagainst the trunk of a tree.Gently rub the side of the crayon on the paper until the pattern of the bark shows.

    "Where's the turkey? I'm ready for Thanksgiving dinner..."

Holiday Craft: Thanksgiving Place Mat – Tape or glue the paper with the leaves rubbings on a construction paper bigger than your paper. Laminate it and VIOLA!!!  There’s your Thanksgiving place mat and ready for  the turkey…

 Mission Report
  • Show us your favorite leaf and tell us why you like it.
  • If you made the place mat, tell us how you did it and send us a picture.

Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to go on a hike around your neighborhood or a local park to find interesting leaves.

Of course, trees have interesting leaves all year, but in the fall it can be especially fun to go out and look for leaves because many of the leaves are turning colors other than green!

Here are some things to look for when you go on your hike:

– Trees with leaves that are needles rather than flat leaves.

– Trees that still have green leaves.

– Trees that have dark purple leaves.

– Trees that have more than one color on their leaves.

– Trees that have very small leaves.

– Trees that have very large leaves.

– Leaves that feel very thick and leathery.

– Leaves that feel soft or fuzzy on either the top or the bottom.

– Trees with very strangely shaped leaves.

– Trees that have more interesting things on them than just the leaves (like acorns or fruit).

Here is a link for a more structured “Leaf Hunt” activity.

Fall is a great time to walk around looking at leaves for a lot of reasons. Of course, with leaves all over the ground, it is a lot of fun to run through them and crunch them up! Dry leaves can be folded along the veins to explore the symmetry of the leaves.

You can also collect leaves that are on the ground or gently take colored leaves off a tree to take home. If you put the leaves between sheets of newspaper, then on a rainy day you can take the leaves out and use them for an activity. It is really easy to glue a dry leaf to paper to make a card or use several leaves to make a collage. Older kids can collect a variety of leaves and identify them to start a leaf collection.

If you get your leaves home and want to try to identify the trees they came from, here are three websites that can help you out:

What Tree Is It?

I’ve Got My Leaf, Let’s Get Started

Leaf Tree ID Key

Mission Report: Leaf Hike

Email your mission report to us at g2goutside@gmail.com.  Your mission report should include the answers to the following 2 questions and a picture of you doing the mission.

1. How many different leaf shapes and colors did you find?

2. Tell us about (or show a picture) of your favorite leaf. Using a book or a computer, tell us what kind of tree that leaf came from.


Nov 13 006Are you sick of all the leaves everywhere yet? Have you raked and re-raked them into paths with your kids? I feel like I want to write this whole post saying something along the lines of, “GET OUT THERE AND DO SOMETHING, ANYTHING, WITH THE LITTLE BIT OF NICE WEATHER LEFT BEFORE WINTER NASTINESS HITS!!!” But I wouldn’t want to yell like that and scare you off.

Anyway, back to the leaves. If you are ready to get those leaves off the ground, it can turn into a fun science experiment with older kids. Given enough time and very little effort, those leaves will break down into beautiful leaf mold or compost. All you have to do is stack the leaves in a pile in an out-of-the-way corner of your yard. (Yes, some kind of wire or wood bin would be a good idea, given our wind.) The more the leaves are chopped up, the more quickly they decompose. Add some soil, grass clippings, or fertilizer and things will progress even faster.

Okay, that’s great, but how do you get the kids involved?

  • If you have space, make it a contest. Let everyone make their own compost pile and decide what to put in it – big leaves, chopped leaves, grass clippings, weeds, soil, vegetable scraps, etc. See who gets compost first!
  • Throwing chopped leaves into a bin can be made into a game for younger children.
  • Play a guessing game with your leaf compost pile. Guess how big (or small) the pile will be by spring. Ask your kids to guess what they might find in the pile when spring comes.
  • If your kids have a school science fair coming up, there are a multitude of opportunities here. You could get a compost thermometer and have them record the internal temperature of the pile each week, monitor the moisture level, and look for worms, insects, and other signs of life.
  • When spring comes (or even one of those really warm days in February), have the kids dig through the pile to find “buried treasure.” You could send them searching for worms or even something you hid in the pile for them to find. You get the benefit of the compost pile getting turned without the kids knowing they were working!

Who knew there was such a multitude of opportunities from just a pile of leaves?