Nature Explorations: Life Under Logs…Discovering Decomposers!

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Are you looking for a simple and fun activity to get your kids out into the local forest or even the back yard this summer?  Thinking about the living organisms that rely on a simple log can be a great way to learn about decomposition and the soil cycle as well as an excuse to get your hands dirty and get out and explore your forest.  We tried this activity with our family nature club and it was a blast!  This is a GREAT exploration for kids of any age!

Rotten Log Puppet Show:

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The Rotten Log Real Estate Puppet Show!

Rather than just going out to roll logs and see what is underneath we started our activity with a puppet show. A butterfly was a real estate agent and many animals (ants, worms, etc) came looking for a new home (an old wrapping paper roll made the perfect “log”). The log was the ideal place to provide food and shelter for a wide variety of animals. We talked about how the log is a home and the importance of putting logs back after we turn them over.

Children’s Literature Connection:

Next we read A Logs Life by Wendy Pfeffer. This book shows the process of a tree to soil with wonderful illustrations. Through this book we introduced the word decomposition.

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Outdoor Activity:

Before heading outside each child got a sheet of paper with pictures of the animals they might find under a log. We talked about what each animal would eat and determined which were decomposers. As we entered the woods we listened for other animal sounds. When we got to the log, children were asked to feel if it was hard or soft, wet or dry, and use other senses before looking under the log. This helps focus children so the log turning isn’t as much chaos. We turned over one big log together and looked; then children were free to explore on their own.

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At the end, children could draw their favorite living organisms they observed in their nature journals.

Have fun rolling logs with your friends and family and discovering decomposers everywhere!!!!

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Activity Written and Created by: Carey Truebe

Tips for Exploring Local Wild Spaces: Ponding with Children

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Heading to the pond!

Do you need a simple outdoor idea for a great activity you can do right in your local town or forested area this summer?  Find a small pond near home and your kids will spend hours of enjoyment outside with a net and a bucket exploring the world of wildlife that exists beneath the surface of a small pond.  The summer is a perfect time to get adventurous and give ponding a try!

Ponding Tips:

All you really need for ponding is a net (fishnets work great) and a bucket.  But speaking from experience teaching many science lessons catching and looking at aquatic invertebrates I can provide some tips for making the experience a little more successful.

1.  Using a white bucket is very helpful for seeing what you have caught!  The perfect ponding bucket is actually a  white dishpan.

2.  Catching technique:  Encourage the kids to swish their net above the surface of the bottom of the pond back and forth quickly three or four times and then pick up their net and look for movement in the net.  Pick out the insects and put them in the white bucket rather than dumping the net with all the leaves etc into the bucket.  This allows you to see what you catch easier.

3.  Bring along a field guide to pond life or your phone or camera so you can snap photos of what you catch and look them up later!  You might be surprised how interesting the larval stage of many common insects appear.  Dragonflys, Damselflys, and beetle larvae are all very common and fun to observe (to name just a few!)

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Larval Dragonfly, Dobsonfly, and salamander sorted in a deviled egg dish from the local dollar store…a white paper underneath the dish helps you see the organisms.

4.  After you catch into a big bucket get an white ice cube tray or deviled egg tray and use spoons to sort and count the types of animals you catch.

5.  Art and Nature Connection: Encourage your kids to use their scientific observation skills and to draw their favorite pond animal after you catch-remind them in scientific drawing to be as accurate as possible!

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After sorting the organisms you can draw your favorite animal!

Science and Inquiry Connections:

1.  For a deeper exploration try ponding in the same place week after week (or every few weeks) as the spring turns to summer and through the summer.  Encourage them to record their findings.  It is a very cool experience to see how the pond life changes as the summer progresses.  Encourage them to predict how they think the pond might change through the season in diversity and total numbers etc.  Have them test their hypothesis by collecting data throughout the season and recording their observations in a nature journal. 

2.  Also studying larval pond life gives you a perfect chance to learn about metamorphosis…show the kids pictures of the larval and then adult stages of the same insects or animals and discuss how they are similar and different and explore the term “life cycle”.

Remember to remind your children to be respectful and careful with the living creatures they catch and to put them back when they are finished!  Have fun exploring the pond this summer in your town or neighborhood!