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Caddisfly Explorations

Look under a rock or at the bottom of a pond or stream for a while and you may catch movement of what appears to be rocks, sticks, or leaves. These could be the larvae of caddisfly!

Caddisfly adult – Ryan Hodnett, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Caddisfly adults often have antennae longer than their body and fly with hairy wings they hold like a tent over their back when resting. In their few days to few weeks as adults, female caddisflies lay eggs in gelatinous masses. When the larvae emerge, many species of caddisfly build a portable case using silk they secrete from glands around their mouth plus sticks, vegetation, stones, or other bits of their environment. Other caddisfly larvae use their silk to make nets to filter food from the water or as a belay line so they won’t be washed downstream.

Different styles of caddisfly cases

After four molts of their entire exoskeleton, the larva creates a silken cocoon as they mature from larva to pupa. For two to three weeks the pupa wriggles inside the cocoon, thus creating a small current with dissolved oxygen as they transform into an adult. The caddisfly adult, now with sturdy mandibles, cuts away the cocoon and floats to the water’s surface. And the cycle continues!

Learn more by reading the poem “Aquatic Fashion” and other pond poems in the book Song of the Water Boatman by Joyce Sidman.

Create your own caddisfly inspired aquatic fashion with camouflage cuffs. Wriggle your “caddisfly larvae” hand around to explore, net food, and hold on in the strong currents!

Special Places

“This is my favorite place,” a ReTribe Forest School student whispered as she showed off her sit-spot. She transformed this spot into a carnival during free play – including stations of throwing a stick through a stick frame, batting back and forth a jaw bone on a string, balancing on a log, face painting with charcoal, swinging, and limbo.

ReTribe co-founder and mentor Julia Hunt had a similar special place in her childhood. She says, “I think about my childhood and a certain tree at my elementary school. We called it the old man’s tree, and we built little fairy homes. I can still feel the feeling of the place and this feeling of ‘I belong here.’ I could spend all day there. It still exists, a really warm feeling. So I know that I have that in me, and I know how the kids remember this landscape … it’ll be like this magical place in their mind. I know that’ll be so special to them, and I have this belief that then they’ll want to preserve that specialness for others.”

Natural History Mystery

What is this gelatinous mass under a stream rock?

Look at who is guarding the goo for a clue!

These are the developing eggs of the Northern Two-Lined Salamander!

Northern Two-Lined Salamanders are found throughout Vermont in small rocky streams, seeps and springs. They attach fifteen to over one hundred eggs to the underside of a rock in flowing streams or spring water. One female guards the “nest,” where sometimes multiple females have laid eggs. The eggs hatch into aquatic larvae with tufts of external gills. After two to three years, they transform into adults, which are around 2.5 inches long and have the characteristic two dark lines bordering a yellow-brown stripe from their head to their tail. 

Try flipping stream rocks and see what mysteries you discover!

Can you find the two camouflaged aquatic larvae?

I Wonder

Here is the perspective of Katie Scanlon, Four Winds volunteer for Hanover Street School in Lebanon, NH:

When I’m learning these natural science lessons, I find myself saying I wonder, and then it just gets that ball rolling of wanting to be out in nature more, and exploring more. 

I love telling the students, “I wonder?” I just finished my last Four Winds lesson, and we were all outside. It was a beautiful day, and we had just done Water. They were wrapping their heads around the concept that water is sticky. 

I was saying, “I wonder what else we’re going to explore.” When I said that this is our last lesson of the year, they all were saying, “No!” so then I said “well, here’s your homework: to go out in nature and say ‘I wonder’ because something’s going to happen.” They were so excited about that. Four Winds doesn’t end when Mr. Kevin and I leave the schoolyard with you today, it continues! 

I’ve taught from kindergarten up to fourth grade now. I remember one of the first years with kindergarten (and it’s kindergarten, so, it’s hysterical). We were doing Rotting Logs and some of the kids just wanted to get in there and touch and feel and some kids were like, “I don’t want to touch it.” But there was this one little girl and she was looking so intently but not touching it. We’re talking about decomposers and trying to understand what that means. She was just looking. You could see her mind moving and she didn’t want to touch it. She said, “Those guys have a big job so I don’t want to disrupt that.” 

You could see her wheels turning, wanting to know. And again, that was a kindergartner! And you love that because it’s just that tip of the iceberg to get them asking those questions. Then when you go and you teach fourth grade and you’re doing that same type of lesson, they’re taking it to the next level. Well let’s talk about decomposers, what type of insects are these? It’s just so great to see that progression to that next question!

Infants in the Outdoors?

Here is the perspective of Jill Oudman, teacher of young children, ages birth-5 years, at the Addison County Parent Child Center:

Ever try to bring an infant group outdoors to play, or to the woods for an “adventure”?  Well what an adventure it can be!

Picture this: Six infants – some more mobile than others, three staff.  We got this, right?  NOT!  One baby becomes unsettled and starts to cry, setting off a chain reaction.  End Adventure!

Over the past two decades I have learned to take it slow and get a feel for the group, have an open mind and a full bag of tricks, and then, follow the children’s lead.  Today, the following is how it may look when I am working with infants/young toddlers that are unsure or unsettled while initially exploring the outdoors:

Planning ahead, I would place a blanket or two outside for the child to be on.  Adding a few familiar toys to the blankets to encourage engagement and possibly use for scaffolding further explorations. Starting with only one or two infants at a time, I would sit on the blanket with them, offering as much comfort as needed to engage in play. I place items such as grass, leaves, flowers, sticks, and pinecones on the blanket for them to explore.  

They are infants, and so YES they will explore by putting these items in their mouths! Keeping this in mind, I will offer large items that I know are safe, such as edible plants/herbs, large or chunky pine cones, and sticks.  As they become more comfortable, I move closer to the edge or even off the blanket to encourage their exploration of the surroundings, always being available to keep them feeling safe.  Sometimes it takes the comfort of holding the child while introducing them to the environment in order to reduce stress and allow for a positive experience and engagement.

Gradually the children become more comfortable and expand on their sensory experiences by exploring further and further from the blanket. If it seems like the sensory experience of crawling on the grass is undesirable and prohibiting a child from moving off the blanket, it might help if you put them in long pants tucked into socks and a long sleeved shirt with mittens or socks on their hands.) 

Routinely building in enriching outdoor experiences helps create more confident and curious children.  Remember, you can start small. Nature is right outside your door.

Magical Fern Forest

Here is the perspective of Erika Bodin, Four Winds Coordinator for Barstow School in Chittenden, VT:

We have this really beautiful ostrich fern patch by the outdoor classroom in the woods. The ferns are taller than the children and so that was really magical. I took them in there and they were just full of awe. “Wow, it’s like a magical fern forest!”

Most of them had grabbed sticks and were using them like walking sticks through the ferns. They all looked like this great little intrepid group exploring. They were calling out to each other: “Oh, I found a fiddlehead!”, “I found a fertile frond!”, “Let’s follow the water!” 

Just Questions

“I didn’t feel anything else,” was how a six-year old student of Thickets, a Montpelier place-based education program, described the experience of cliff-climbing. Teacher Mia Rubow sees her students build focus, confidence, strength, and “grounding connections” as they explore outdoors – finding their way to the state house and discovering the best creek for clay.

Spring leads Thickets students to the water. Weeks are spent directing the flow of water entering the pond, experimenting with damming, creating boats, catching frogs, forming and defending islands (which later connected with researching battling island states). This continuous exploration, “didn’t require anything from me,” says Mia, “just questions.” 

Natural History Mystery

A kaleidoscope, flutter, flight, wing, and rabble are all names for a group of butterflies. What brings them together on this riverbank?

IvoShandor, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

This kaleidoscope of tiger swallowtail butterflies is puddling! Butterflies, mostly males, use their straw-like proboscis to sip salts and minerals. These nutrients supplement their nectar-rich diet and are then transferred to females during mating. This “nuptial gift” has been shown to increase egg production in females. Look for butterflies puddling on dirt roads, and sandy shores where salts and minerals have been leached from the soil into puddles or moist dirt. Also keep an eye out for butterflies sucking up nutrients from poop!

Learn more grossly cool information about butterflies in the book, Butterflies are Pretty… Gross! by Rosemary Mosco.

USFWS Midwest Region from United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Dandy Ideas to Foster Outdoor Play

“There is nothing in all the Great World more wonderful than some of the plants that people call common. You think it is wonderful because what you thought a single flower is made up of ever so many tiny flowers. But there are other things just as wonderful about the Dandelion.” 

The Burgess Flower Book for Children by Thornton Burgess

Another wonderful thing about Dandelions is that their stems are hollow, creating tiny bubble wands! Cut both ends of the stem, dip in soapy water or bubble mix, and add some air. Experiment to find the ideal length, width, and shape of dandelion stems.

Dandelions get their name from the French dent de lion (lion’s tooth) for the jagged edges of their leaves. Use the leaves to create your own toothy creature!

Dandelion leaf teeth, dandelion bud ear, dandelion flowers eye, dandelion root nose, dandelion seed hair, dandelion stem face outline

What other wonderful things will you discover about dandelions when you look closely?

Bumblebee visiting dandelion flowers for pollen and nectar

Best Self Outdoors

“I teach at StoneLedge Stables, which is a non-profit I started in 2015. We are an outdoor, nature-based program, and rescued farm animals are co-facilitators. We have 3 horses, 2 pigs, a goat, a bunny, a duck, and a hen. Kids can start on the farm with a parent or caregiver as young as 2.5. Due to family requests, we now go up to rising 3rd graders. 

When I was a child, I rescued an injured animal near my house. Finding this passion of rescued animals, and now farm animals, I offer that to students who wouldn’t have an opportunity to work with large animals. The animals give something that – no matter how much education, no matter how wonderful we are with students – that we just cannot give. Seeing the growth, specifically the social-emotional growth that occurs, is very transformative, not only for students but for their families. 

We do animal husbandry work as part of our curriculum. Heavy work is such an invaluable tool to educators that we don’t use enough, especially in early childhood. It’s organizing and calming for so many students.

 The math, the science you can bring in, we really work that cross-curriculum with the animal husbandry work. We are ~90% outside, and our other outdoor spaces are in the forest, at the brook, in the gardens.

For me, I’ve always been most connected and focused when I was outside, when I was with animals. I’ve always felt the most at peace in nature, and I really wanted to give that back to students, especially in an age of technology. Society moves so fast! With the increase in mental health issues and other diagnoses in children, I think we as educators really need to take that step back. Knowing where my own children were their ‘best people’—it was outdoors!”

-Sandy Bailey, StoneLedge Stables, Norwich, VT