Summertime Stream Play

Few places allow children to be as fully immersed in nearby nature as a cold stream on a hot summer day! 

There’s so much to do and to explore in and around the water, and there’s no need to bring anything extra along, except maybe a towel and a second set of clothes. 

Think back to your own childhood. What memories do you have of summertime stream play? Perhaps you recall the full-body satisfaction of the physical challenges and risks, like hopping from rock to rock or walking over fallen trees to cross the creek. Or trying to stay upright walking barefoot through fast flowing water on slippery rocks. Even braving the cold temperatures to dip in was a feat!

Or did you prefer games of skill, like throwing stones at floating sticks or building stacks of stones that reached way above your head. 

How wonderful to create these kinds of summertime memories for the children in your life today! Of course, streams are always changing, and sometimes in a very short timeframe, so be cautious and model for your kids how to be aware and stay safe.

Streamside is a perfect place for kids to create their own games with whatever loose parts they find nearby. A.A.Milne’s Pooh Bear did just this when Pooh “invented” the game of Poohsticks after accidentally dropping a pine cone on the upstream side of a bridge and then noticing it appear on the other side (The House at Pooh Corner, 1928).  

There’s plenty of science to learn from a stream, too, of course! And children’s questions can help shape all sorts of adventures.

Where does your stream come from and where does it go; how far can you follow your stream’s journey to the sea?

What floats and what sinks? 

Why does the water flow fast in some sections and slows way down, even reversing, in others? 

Does the sound of the stream change as it runs over different rocks and at different speeds? 

What critters live in the stream and how do they live and breathe and find food under water?

What animal tracks can you find in the soft mud along the streambank?

Here in the dog days of summer, take a lesson from your younger self and share the joy of discovery with the children in your life. Peer into the shallows, turn over some rocks, and see what you can find, together! 

Natural History Mystery

Who is immobilizing this bumblebee? Look closely as she is quite camouflaged!

This female Goldenrod Crab Spider is sucking up a meal! Like their namesake, crab spiders walk sideways and have wide and flat bodies with long front legs. Female Goldenrod Crab Spiders can change from white to yellow to white to match the flower on which they are hunting. These camouflaged crab spiders are ambush predators, sitting for days with their front legs held ready in a grasping position. Unlike web-spinning spiders, crab spiders have excellent vision. When a bee, fly, or other prey lands on a flower, the crab spider quickly injects venom to immobilize and digestive juice to dissolve their meal.

Goldenrod crab spiders’ default color is white. It can take 10-25 days to change to bright yellow, but only about a week to change back to white.

Snails, Slugs, and Slime

Follow a glittering slimy trail, past munched mushrooms, through shaded corridors, under rotting logs, and you might find a creature that has been oozing around Earth for 40-50 million years  – a slug or snail!

Snails and slugs are gastropods –  or animals with a stomach foot (in Latin gastro=stomach and pod=foot). Their body is like a muscular foot with a toothy tongue-filled mouth on one end. To glide along, the muscles in their foot contract in a wave-like motion and they secrete slime.

Slime is a watery gel that absorbs moisture from the environment. To allow smooth movement, this mucus is thin when the slug or snail is in motion. But at rest, the slime thickens to help them stay attached, even when upside down. The slime also keeps snails and slugs moist and protected from predators. 

We’ve found uses for their slime too. It is antibacterial and antiviral and has been used to treat wounds. The mucus is used in skin creams to minimize wrinkles and has inspired surgical glue. 

Here are some ideas to get to know our ancient, gravity-defying, decomposer neighbors:

🐌Observe snails and slugs up close: what does the slime feel like? When do they swivel and retract their two longer eye tentacles and two smaller smell tentacles? Can you see their radula (toothy tongue) when they are feeding?

🐌Make a snail-sized home: they’ll need a shaded spot and depending on the species, dead vegetation, fungi, algae, or tree sap, to scrape up.

🐌Read some slimy books:
Are You a Snail? by Judy Allen
The Slug: The Disgusting Critters Series by Elise Gravel
Sylvia Finds a Way by Stephanie Shaw

If you’ve picked up a slug, you know how sticky your hand is afterwards. And because slug mucus absorbs water, you’ll only make it worse by trying to rinse it off right away. Instead, let the mucus dry for a few minutes before rubbing your hands together. Then be sure to give them a proper soap and water cleaning.


Rosy Maple, Small-eyed Sphinx, Tufted Bird Dropping, Giant Leopard, Luna, Pearly Wood Nymph, Polyphemus, Pale Beauty – these are all moths found in New England. The colorful array of names reflects their dazzling diversity. In fact, there are over 2,200 species of moths in Vermont, with around 400 new species documented since 1995! 

Curious to see how many different species of moths are living around you? All you need is a light-colored sheet and a light source. Hang up the sheet outside on a dry still evening. Shine a bright light to illuminate the sheet and wait to see who visits! This is an especially abundant time of year for moths, next week is National Moth Week – learn more and report your findings here

‘Moth’–this one soft word falls so far
short of what the moth-world means;
of moths in number birthed by dark to
flock round torch and lamp and porch,
together thickening air to froth, then
cloth, then weather…

-Robert MacFarlane

Natural History Mystery

A blue frog in Vermont!? 

This frog has the pointed snout and ridges extending down the body of a green frog, but this frog is blue! Although the name suggests otherwise, green frogs can be a range of colors – from brown to tan, and from many shades of green to occasionally blue.

In most green frogs, blue and yellow skin pigments stack on top of each other to display their green color. Very occasionally, a green frog is missing the yellow pigments and appears blue.

Perhaps this coloration is so rare because it could make the green frogs more noticeable to predators like bullfrogs, snapping turtles, great blue herons, raccoons, otters, and minks!

Can you tell which frog is a green frog and which one is a bullfrog?

Happy Summer Solstice!

Happy summer solstice! Today is the longest day of the year for those of us in the northern hemisphere – in Montpelier VT, the sun will rise at 5:06 a.m. and set at 8:37 p.m. This solstice marks the beginning of summer and has been an important phenomenon across cultures for thousands of years. Read about the various solstice traditions from fires to flower garlands in the book The Longest Day: Celebrating the Summer Solstice by Wendy Pfeffer.

Looking for outdoor activity ideas this summer? Four Winds has created a guide with play prompts, materials to have on hand, recommended gear, and non-fiction and fiction books. What will you try?!


Be a Wormologist!

I have no legs or arms, but can make tunnels.

I have no teeth, but can break down soil.

I move up as the rain falls down.

Who am I?

An earthworm!

Here are some ways to be a wormologist:

🪱Observe how worms move, either on a paper plate or create a worm habitat. Try to move like a worm yourself! Imagine that your body is made of segments like coils on a Slinky. Stretch out your arms so your worm is long and thin and then slink up the rest of your body so your worm is short and fat. See a diagram here

🪱Look closely at worm body parts with a magnifying glass. Can you feel their bristly hairs? Can you find their digestive tract full of dirt (dark, squiggly line down the back). Can you tell which end is the worm’s front, and which end is the worm’s back? Here’s a diagram to help. 

🪱Try worm charming: vibrating the ground with a stick or garden tools to mimic the vibrations of predator moles. These vibrations cause worms to slink to the soil surface to escape!

🪱Be a book worm! Here are a few wormy books to explore: 

Worm Weather by Jean Taft

Diary of a Worm by Doreen Cronin

Wiggling Worms at Work by Wendy Pfeffer

Yucky Worms by Vivian French

“Worms have played a more important part in the history of the world than humans would at first suppose.” — Charles Darwin in his final and best-selling book The Formation of Vegetable Mould, Through the Action of Worms (1881)

*Please keep worms in annual ecosystems such as gardens, where they can be helpful, and not in perennial ecosystems such as forests, where they can pose a threat to ecosystem health by consuming the organic top (duff) layers of soil and reducing biodiversity.

While all earthworms in Vermont are non-native (as the glacial ice that retreated approximately 12,000 years ago removed any native earthworms that may have lived in our forest), the recent introduction of Jumping Worms have been especially detrimental – VT Invasives provides identification and best management practices here *

Natural History Mystery

Who’s been spitting in the field? Stick your fingers into the frothy mass to find out!

You’ll likely discover a tiny moist creature with dark red eyes. This is the nymph (or immature form) of a spittlebug.

Spittlebugs begin their lives in fall, as their mothers lay eggs in hollow plant stems. When the temperature rises in the spring, those eggs hatch into nymphs and create their characteristic spittle, also known as cuckoo spit. Spittlebugs use their syringe-like mouthpart to tap the plant’s sap. It takes a lot of this ever-so-slightly-sweet water to satisfy a growing spittlebug’s appetite. They pump around 150-280 times their own weight every day!

Despite what their name suggests, all of the excess water is excreted not through their mouth, but through their bottom. The nymphs move their abdomens up and down, forcing air into their watery excretions and creating bubbles. The bitter-tasting foam provides a moist haven from predators and from temperature extremes. After continually renewing their frothy home for a few months, the nymphs form one large bubble and metamorphose into adult froghoppers, now able to jump 100 times their body length in a single bound! 

Read more neat functions of insect bottoms in the book Bug Butts by Dawn Cusick.

Strawberry Season

“You could smell ripe strawberries before you saw them, the fragrance mingling with the smell of sun on damp ground. It was the smell of June, the last day of school, when we were set free, and the Strawberry Moon, ode’mini-giizis. I’d lie on my stomach in my favorite patches, watching the berries grow sweeter and bigger under the leaves. Each tiny wild berry was scarcely bigger than a raindrop, dimpled with seeds under the cap of leaves. From that vantage point I could pick only the reddest of the red, leaving the pink ones for tomorrow.” – Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

We are entering strawberry season! Here are some ideas to celebrate:

🍓Watch the full Strawberry Moon rise on the evening of Saturday, June 3.

🍓Search for tiny treasures of wild strawberries and telltale signs of rabbits, chipmunks, mice, deer, ruffed grouse and others munching on them. 

🍓Attend a strawberry festival.

“In Potawatomi, the strawberry is ode min, the heart berry. We recognize them as the leaders of the berries, the first to bear fruit. Strawberries first shaped my view of a world full of gifts simply scattered at your feet. A gift comes to you through no action of your own, free, having moved toward you without your beckoning. It is not a reward; you cannot earn it, or call it to you, or even deserve it. And yet it appears. Your only role is to be open-eyed and present.”- Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer

Celebrating the Natural World with Four Winds Volunteers

At Killington Elementary School, the Four Winds Nature Program fits right in amongst a culture of exploring the outdoors. When speaking with volunteers Katy Forgues and Beth Sarandrea, they exchanged grins when asked about their favorite ways to spend time outside. “We laugh because we do a lot of these things together,” said Katy, “Killington is a very active community. A lot of the kids and parents get out biking and hiking…” Beth added, “Skiing and snowboarding!” Katy shared the joy of being in the woods in the early morning, hearing the ruffed grouse drumming, and feeling part of something really special. For Beth and Katy, sharing this love and appreciation for the natural world with their own children and peers is pretty much second nature. 

“I love science and being involved in the classroom,” Beth shared, “and my dad was a science teacher. It’s fun to share the wonder.” 

Said Katy, “I’m a scientist and former teacher. I can’t not do it!”

Both volunteers started participating with Four Winds when their kids were in kindergarten, and they’ve been able to see the progression of learning as they entered the third and fifth grades. Katy shared about teaching the Galls Galore unit in her daughter’s third grade class. “I love the perception of the younger kids, how they get into their imagination and run with it.” And the learning sticks. Katy received a text from a fellow parent and friend saying that her son had come home with “something” [a gall]. He told her there might be a wasp inside and that he wanted to keep it until it hatched out! 

“Kids are really interested in these secret worlds, small things – like galls, or digging in the dirt, getting nitty gritty,” Katy said. That fascination extends outside of the school day when children share what they’ve learned in Four Winds with their parents at home, helping them learn about topics they’ve never heard of before. 

Beth and Katy really see the benefit of Four Winds, especially in getting kids outside. “Kids love having parents in the classroom,” Beth said, “They’re excited to go outside and learn because otherwise they’re not doing it too much.” Katy noted that at the beginning of the pandemic, many classrooms moved outdoors, which was great, but now they’re back inside. “It’s sad to witness kids not getting outside as much anymore. Parents notice too. I’m glad Four Winds is getting them outside more.”