By: Sam Ansaldi, Rick Collins and Alison Forde
What can an 8 year old see in 50 minutes? This was the question we, as outdoor educators at Mountsberg Conservation Area, were posed with last week. Heavy snowfall was set to begin mid-afternoon and our visiting school needed to depart ahead of the storm. An hour and a half education program quickly needed to be adapted to the new timeline. We needed to engage these students with the winter environment, and do it quickly!
We started by turning them into squirrels. This fun and very active game had the kids hiding pine cones in the forest, while staying wary of the potential predators lurking in the woods. The little animals (aka kids) must hibernate for a short time before venturing back out to seek their cones for breakfast. Any cones left undiscovered could grow into trees, feeding further generations of squirrels.
While pretending to be squirrels, many other animal tracks were discovered by the children and provided a segue to the next winter adventure. Who else lives in these woods? Imaginations were abound with bears, wolves, cheetahs and hyenas. Although these animals were not in fact present, the kid’s imaginations and interest were piqued.
We went searching for evidence of animals. Some of our most exciting finds were various sets of animal tracks including coyote, rabbit, squirrel, mouse, and even a few birds.
The highlight, however, was discovering a pile of coyote scat!
The children were intrigued to find out that the difference between coyote and dog scat is the presence of seeds and fur, which are unlikely to be found in domestic dog droppings.
Along with the easily discernable animal tracks in the snow the kids came across some rather mysterious lines meandering through the pristine landscape. Sometimes the trail would begin and end abruptly under the grass and leaves beneath the cold covering of winter. What animal is small enough to create these trails, we wondered? The kids thought about which animals would be awake or hibernating through the winter, and the consensus led them to one answer, something small and fast; a mouse.
With the abundance of mouse trails scattered throughout the area the only logical thing to do next was to show the kids what being a mouse was really like; and off to the human mouse tunnel we went. Strewn with browse and created out of hay, the children nimbly slid head first into the enclosed corridor only to expertly navigate their way through to the other side in the dark. One by one they emerged with the surprised look of how warm and secure a tunnel like this could be, leading to a spirited discussion of how something so small can survive in the frigid conditions of Ontario’s winter.
As much as we wanted to stay at the bird feeders with the students accurately calling out the names of the species they spotted, it was unfortunately time to leave. With snow gently falling on our faces, the gaggle made its way back to the Discovery Center where their adventure had originally began. In the end it turned out that the answer to our question “What can an 8 year old see in 50 minutes?” was a whole awful lot, especially when their imaginations were allowed to come alive outdoors.
We hope you enjoy the photos of our winter trail-side discoveries, why not come out to the parks and make some discoveries of your own?