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Sequester at Home…with CREA! #9 Spring Scavenger Hunt!

It’s a beautiful day, so why not celebrate with a scavenger hunt? What should you look for on this scavenger hunt – SIGNS OF SPRING! You can do your hunt on foot or by bike. If you’re driving, you can even look for signs of spring as you travel. Here are some things you can look for: 
  • Flowers (crocuses) – how many different colored flowers can you find?
  • Buds that are swelling (red maple buds)
  • Pussy willows (in the wet areas)
  • Plant shoots poking out of the ground (daffodils, skunk cabbage, grass, etc)
  • Early garden crops (spinach, garlic)
  • Bugs/insects
  • Birds (bluejays, robins, ducks, geese, chickadees, etc) – how many different birds can you see?
  • Mud (because the ground is thawing)
  • Ladybugs (you may find more IN your house than outside)

As you find signs of spring, look at them closely. Can you identify the flower? Does each flower have the same number of petals? What are those colorful parts in the center?

If you see swelling buds on branches, what do you think will happen to them? Will they turn into something? Why do trees make new leaves every spring anyway? Keep track of questions to research when you get back inside.

Check out Nature Moments videos,  produced by Bowdoin Professor of Biology Emeritus Nat Wheelwright. Each one explores a specific topic, like this one on how plants pack their leaves into such tiny buds.

How many different colors can you find as you walk outside in spring? If you look long enough and closely, you should be able to find all the colors in the rainbow, even in early spring. 

Make a list of what you find or capture them in photos. When you get home, make a drawing of what spring looks like in your neighborhood. Happy hunting!

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Sequester at Home…with CREA! #8 Developing your ‘Stick Sense’!

Today is an easy one because…it’s Friday! No downloading, no prep or research. It’s this simple. Go outside with your kids and play with sticks. 

Did you know that the stick made it in to the toy Hall of Fame in 2008? No surprise, really. Sticks are free, they encourage creative outdoor play, and they’re renewable. The perfect toy!
 
This time of social distancing, when children have few playmates, is a great time to encourage kids to explore sticks. So often, kids are told, “Put that stick down!” “Be careful, you’ll hurt someone!” And yet, they continue to pick them up! Because sticks are an endless source of fun.  Sticks are the perfect toy for free play, which all the experts say is a critical part of child development. 
 
You can help your child cultivate their ‘stick sense.’ Advise them to always know where both ends of their stick are. Start smaller children with shorter sticks to help them understand this concept. This can also be a good ‘estimating’ game – “Can you find a stick that is as long as your arm, without ‘measuring’ it?” Then try it with their leg, their full, two-arm span, their height, etc. Practice makes perfect, and good estimating skills are valuable! 
 
Some places offer guidelines, such as – Arm’s length and shorter can be swung (e.g. wands, fishing poles), but longer sticks should only be used as walking sticks or horses. Obviously, no throwing or poking when others are around!
 
So get out there! Find lots of (relatively) straight sticks that are your child’s arm’s length, then build a tower with them. Place two sticks parallel to each other, then the next two sticks perpendicular to the first set. And so on. In addition to making a cool tower, you’re teaching the concepts of parallel and perpendicular! Isn’t that geometry??
 
Here is just a short list of things to do with sticks. We’re sure your kids can come up with more:
  • Walking stick – decorate it with paint, wrap strips of fabric around it, hang feathers or beads off of it
  • Dig with it – the muddier the spot the better
  • Use it to test where the ground is frozen vs. thawed. Hmm, why do you think this area is still frozen?? Why is this area soft/thawed?
  • Make a flag out of your stick with a piece of fabric
  • Make a fishing pole or cat toy by adding string and either: pretend bait; or, something to entice your cat
  • Make a star out of sticks and bind the ends together with string
  • Use it as a baseball bat, if you have a good ball
  • Use it to mix up a batch of mud
  • Find a stick with a fork (Y) in it. Weave string around the forks and weave natural things into it – leaves, bark, etc.
  • Make a fort out of sticks, then have a snack or read a book in your fort.
  • Find enough small sticks to play an outdoor game of ‘pick up sticks’
  • Write in bare dirt or sand with your stick
  • Find two ‘drum’ sticks and drum on a rock or stump
  • Make a magic wand and decorate it
  • Play golf with it
  • Make a fairy house out of sticks, moss, leaves, acorns, etc
Truly, the options are endless. And don’t underestimate the bond that kids develop with their sticks!  If you want them to leave sticks in the woods, tell them to find a special spot where they can find it later. Or, have them leave it outside the door, to remind them of their next great stick adventure!

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Sequester at home…with CREA #7 Learn Nature Journaling — All Ages!

Spring is a great time to learn nature journaling – and by nature journaling we mean words AND drawing! Don’t get panicky about the drawing. We have a great resource to point you towards. It’s currently available to download FREE

The book is Opening the World through Nature Journaling, by John Muir Laws, Emily Breunig, Emilie Lygren, and  Celeste Lopez. The stated goal of the book is “to help adults and children discover (and rediscover!) the natural world through a combination of art, writing, and science.”

Nature journaling is a great tool for learning science (and art!) – it hones our observational skills, prompts questions about what we see, and serves as a record of what we’ve seen. 

As the authors point out in the Introduction, the artwork of children ages 8 is generally symbolic. But at 8, children begin to draw what they see and this can lead to lots of learning about details they observe. The book includes practical guidance on how to manage children/students in the field, e.g. do journaling activities for short periods interspersed with other activities, such as short hikes or physical challenges (run up the hill!).

They suggest prompts for sharing observations, such as, “I notice…,” “I wonder…,” and “It reminds me of…,” to make the activity more social and to help everyone’s brains process the information more deeply.

Don’t feel you need to read the whole book to get started. Read the Introduction, check out their one page Botany refresher, and Use the Table of Contents.  There’s plenty of time later on to explore their tips on how to draw shapes, etc. 

There’s also a chapter on how to do Language Arts outdoors. Nature inspires so much poetry – the great outdoors seems like the most logical place to write!

Play the game Secret Plant Scavenger Hunt! Everyone takes some time to draw a specific plant (not just the species), then others have to guess which plant they drew. (Detailed instructions on p. 30.)

Another book, How to Teach Nature Journaling, by John Muir Laws and Emilie Lygren, targeting a more adult population, is also currently available for free download. (Free and print versions available here.) It’s also a terrific resource.

There is more to see at John Muir Laws’ website. John Laws “is a naturalist, artist, and educator who has dedicated his work to connecting people to nature through art and science.” His website contains more guidance and resources to help you get started and feed your interest going forward.

Adults, don’t be put off by the drawing! Art is a skill that, like anything, takes a little practice. In the meantime, think of it as a great tool for honing your nature observation skills.

 

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Sequester at home…with CREA! #6 Citizen Science for ALL Ages

CREA friend and fellow teacher Justin Proctor pointed us toward a very cool – and timely – citizen science project that can get all of us outdoors squinting at the (hopefully, soon) burgeoning buds on our trees, shrubs, and plants. Check out Budburst! Budburst collects data about phenology (keep reading for definition!) from people of ALL ages. And, it’s used by many teachers to get students at all levels outside, practicing science. 

Using Budburst, we can collect information that contributes to phenology – the study of the timing of biological events in plants and animals, such as when plants leaf out, and when birds migrate. Perfect timing! Spring is here and things are happening. Pussy willows are flowering, and red maple buds are swelling. Budburst gives us a reason to get outside and track changes as they happen.

The Budburst website includes short, informational videos sprinkled around the website, like this one explaining the science of phenology and how your citizen science can help.  They have a special section for teachers along with information about how teachers can link Budburst observations to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), the science standards Maine recently adopted for our public schools.

Red maple buds

If you don’t want to geek out on NGSS science standards, check out this section that lists how some people/organizations have used Budburst. Observations can be one-time or recurring. We suggest you choose a couple of trees or plants to visit regularly. Take photos to upload and record your observations. Hint: Early tree bloomers include red maples, sugar maples, and serviceberry, so they’re a fun place to start.

Here’s how to become a Budburst citizen scientist:

  • Read about how to Get Started
  • Create an account (children under 13 need to register with an adult)
  • Choose one or more plants to track
  • Take a picture of the plant’s buds.
  • Enter an “observation” by uploading your photo and answering questions about where the plant is, when you took the picture, etc.

You can make one-time observations, or visit the same plant regularly and make recurring observations. Budburst is tracking information for 300 plants species, but you can also submit info on species they’re not tracking. Or, you can join one of their special ‘projects,’ such as their Nativars project. 

Baptisia australis nativar “Lunar Eclipse”

Most native insects and pollinators prefer native plants. The Nativars project seeks to learn whether native cultivars (cultivated varieties of native plants that can change flower color, scent, leaf color, etc) are more or less attractive to insects than wild species.

The information you submit will go to research scientists who are studying how plants and animals are changing in response to changes in their environment. And, our observations can help us understand how regional changes in the climate are affecting plants and animals in our backyards.  

Have fun, and check out our earlier suggestions for citizen science projects you can get involved with here.

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Sequester at Home…with CREA! #5 Mystery Science for K – 5!

Engage your child with a daily dose of Mystery Science – an online science resource for teachers that is currently being offered free to EVERYONE as students stay home from school. The site offers short videos, usually under 10 minutes in length, each of which explores a specific question using hands-on activities.

Everything is laid out for you – materials list, printout, video (which you pause in between different parts of the activity), supplemental reading post-activity, etc. It’s designed for teachers to do with their classes, but lots of homeschoolers do them at home. Lessons are categorized by age group to make it easy for you. And, these lessons are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards which were adopted by Maine for its public schools last year!

Our Educators are doing one Mystery Science activity every day as they sequester at home with their children. Their children love it because they’re being asked to solve a ‘mystery’ (presented in the form of a question). For example, Why do birds have beaks? Check out Mystery Science’s Plant and Animal Superpowers Unit for the answer!

Mystery Science also has short mini-lesson videos. Each one answers a question sent in by a student, featuring science rock star Mystery Doug. Our personal favorite, relevant to the time, How does hand sanitizer work?

Like CREA, Mystery Science’s goal is to cultivate children’s natural curiosity by helping them find the answers to the many questions they come up with (and which we adults often don’t have the answers to). We want our children to develop a habit of curiosity and exploration, and we want to give them the tools to figure things out on their own, or with a little help. Enjoy!

 

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Sequester at Home…with CREA #4 Activities and Resources for Adults

For those adults sequestering at home who have a little extra time on their hands, we have some recommended activities and resources for you. And some of these activities that are good for our community … and the planet. See our curated list below:

  • Pick up litter in your neighborhood. March/April is a great time to do this, because it’s easy to see litter before plants start growing. You can also collect the winter’s accumulation of returnable bottles and cans along the roadside. CREA has CLYNK bags we can mail to you if you want to put a little deposit money in our bank account. Email to request a CLYNK bag.
  • Make a birdhouse. There is still time to get birdhouses up in the Northeast, but March is the month! The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has great guidance on what types of structures work for different birds. 
  • Get involved with citizen science. There are so many ways to contribute to research today. There are citizen science apps for your phone, enabling you to record observations from anywhere. For example, on Ebird, you can record incidental bird sightings or ALL the birds you see on a walk. Project Feederwatch lets you send data about who’s showing up at your feeder. iNaturalist is used by citizens and scientists to record species’ presence and distribution (plants and more). If you don’t know what something is, take a picture of it. The app will suggest possible options, and someone else in the network may subsequently confirm what it is! It’s a fantastic tool for learning more about the natural world. This data is incredibly useful to scientists tracking the health of plants and animals. It’s a great time to get involved!
  • Learn about the importance of native plants to birds. Doug Tallamy is a well-known entomologist who has written books (Bringing Nature Home) and research articles about the role plants play in birds’ lives. He spoke at Maine Audubon in 2016 about this topic. He’s a great speaker. Check out his engaging and informative talk here.
  • Learn about the many benefits of native plants. The Wild Seed Project, based in Portland, Maine, is a treasure trove of information about the benefits of native plants and how to cultivate them for your landscape. The blog and Learn sections of their website have TONS of information about how to grow native seeds, what to plant, you name it. You can spend hours poking around. Do it!
  • Learn about Maine. The website, Maine, An Encyclopedia, has information about Maine’s history, economy, ecology, society, recreation, and government. Maine trivia, all in one place.
  • Learn the Wabanaki origins of place names in southern and western Maine. Click on the name on the map and this website gives the origin and meaning of the name. For example, “Cathance” means either ‘crooked’ or more likely is Abenaki for ‘the principal fork’ in reference to the Cathance River’s fork with the smaller and shorter West River.
  • Learn about natural history via Google’s curated website of fascinating pictures and information. You can spend hours wandering around their website.
  • Make a compost bin. Composting your food waste is easy, reduces your trash bill, and reduces the amount of waste going into landfills or incinerators (why pay to burn food that has a high water content?). There are lots of models to buy, or you can make your own – as simple or as complicated as you like.
  • Watch a nature video. There are so many fascinating videos – professional and amateur – to see. Check out this short video of all the animals that utilized a log across a stream over a period of time.

We’ll have more activities and resources for adults in the days and weeks to come, so check back. We’ll have a lot of posts for families with children to help them with fun, educational activities, but we know the adults appreciate some fresh ideas too!

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Sequestering at Home … with CREA   #3 Growing Seeds!

Growing seeds is a great project for a stretch of time at home. Spring is the perfect time for this activity because it allows children to see up close the life cycle that is taking place every day outside our windows.

Growing seeds can be as simple, or as complicated, as you’re up for. We’re going simple, but feel free to make it more elaborate.

  1. Find some seeds from last year’s garden or in your kitchen cupboard. Large beans are nice because you can see more of their development. Some suggestions:
    • Beans
    • Sunflower seeds
    • Peas
    • Pumpkin/squash
  2. Find a container. A clear glass jar (e.g. jelly jar, small mason jar) is ideal because you can see the roots develop. You can also use egg cartons or any small container.
  3. Soak seeds for 6 – 24 hours. (Or, do an experiment and soak some seeds but not the others. Be sure to label them accordingly!)
  4. Rinse the seeds after soaking.
  5. Wet some cotton balls so they are moist but not saturated and put them in the jar. You only need an inch or two of cotton balls in the bottom of the jar. They’re there to hold moisture.
  6. Wedge the bean between the glass and the cotton balls, so you can watch it change.
  7. Watch and wait! Keep the cotton balls damp, but not too wet. A sprinkle of drops every couple of days is usually enough initially. (Beans rot if they get too wet.)

While you wait…

  1. Make a chart to track the beans growth. On a sheet of paper, have your child make a column for each bean growing. Divide the columns with lines for each day of growth.
  2. Ask your kiddos to predict (make a hypothesis) what day they think the bean will start to pop out a tap root, or other growth points (stem, cotyledon, first true leaves, etc). This makes them even more of a scientist!
  3. Each morning, look at your bean. Have your child draw a picture of its growth! Older children can make more detailed notes.

Every day usually brings big changes! … There will be lots of “WOAH! Look!!!”

When the beans get bigger, transfer them into a larger container. You can use large 28 oz tomato cans with soil until they can be planted in the ground. It’s best to poke some drainage holes in the bottom to keep them from getting too wet. 

Once the true leaves develop, the plant will needs lots of light, so put it in a south-facing window if you have one. Plants get leggy when they don’t have enough direct light.

CREA’s Summer Camp Director is growing beans with her daughters. See pictures below to see Neyva and Oni’s beans and growth charts!

Full credit to Growing a Jeweled Rose website (https://www.growingajeweledrose.com/) for this method, with extra credit to Jenny for adding the plant growth chart.

If you have a printer at home, print out plant life cycle activity worksheets: https://superstarworksheets.com/science-worksheets/plant-life-cycle-worksheets/

Added bonus – this is a zero waste activity! Cotton balls are compostable, glass jar is re-usable, tomato can is re-purposed, beans are edible!

 

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Sequestering at Home … with CREA  #2 Rainy Day Activity – Playing with Water!

Kids are drawn to water and frankly, so are adults! My driveway has a low spot that doesn’t drain in winter, resulting in a small ice rink under and around our cars on a cold morning following winter daytime temps above freezing.

On some of those warm-ish days, I like nothing better than to dig drainage channels through the melting ice and mud. As the water drains, fine silts and clays make incredible patterns in the water, and the channel requires constant maintenance as bits of ice and leaves create dams that obstruct the flow.

We all have an ‘inner engineer,’ especially our children. So, when the rains come, which they will, don’t despair! Dress your children appropriately for the temperature, and head outside armed with a few implements that play well with water and dirt. (All of these activities are also appropriate for a sunny day. Often a puddle or hose are all you need to get things rolling.)

Branches do just fine as digging tools, and children get incredibly creative in repurposing objects to meet their needs. Don’t help them too much, but surreptitiously leaving things like PVC pipe or a short piece of hose/piping within view can take activities to a whole new level! 

Playing around water involves all sorts of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) concepts. Here are some suggestions on how to get your kids started.

  • If it’s raining, suggest going outside for a ‘rain date’ (or whatever clever name you can think of). Going outside while it’s raining may seem sort of crazy to your kids if they’ve never done it before. Hopefully, this will make it even more appealing.
  • Get everyone dressed in rain gear. (Knee high rubber boats are great, but old sneakers are fine too. They can be rinsed and dried later.)
  • Start by walking around together and looking at where water is moving on the surface of the land. Perhaps comment on where water is flowing. As soon as your children start to engage with water, back off and observe. Let them lead. Your role is to support them – only as needed – in their play. If they don’t engage in an activity, try any of the following – without suggesting they join you (i.e. pique their interest. Young kids are constantly mirroring adults’ activities):
    • Dig a hole somewhere and see how quickly it fills with water.
    • Find a puddle and try to drain the water from it by digging a ditch.
    • Make patterns in puddle water (if there’s silt and clay under the puddle).
    • Jump in the puddle!
    • Find a ditch/stream with moving water. Put different size sticks/leaves into it and see how fast and far they travel. Make leaf boats. Can a leaf support some ‘cargo’ (sticks, stones, etc)? Can you make a sail with a leaf and a stick?
    • Try to build a dam somewhere where water is flowing.
    • Try diverting flowing water to another path.
    • Make some mud! (Mud play on the last day of camp is one of the MOST popular activities we offer! There’s something wonderful about getting completely dirty.)

Once your children get absorbed in water/mud play, back off and let them explore. Be tolerant of messy play, limit directions about how/what to do, support their interests, and intervene only when necessary.

In this type of unstructured play, children are exercising gross and fine motor skills, practicing turn taking, learning about physical properties of different materials/substances, learning physics concepts, using all five senses, engaging their curiosity and imagination, and so much more.

Unstructured outdoor play is vital to the development of young children, so give them plenty of time for it. And you’re giving your child the foundation for a bright future, because according to the latest research, spending more time outside promotes more sustainable and environmentally-friendly behavior in children.

When everyone’s ready to come in (be sure to give a ten minute warning*), head in for hot baths/showers, hot cocoa or tea with honey and milk, and read a story.

*The beauty of the ten minute warning, with young children at least, is that they have no concept of time. So you don’t have to wait ten minutes, necessarily, but you’ve respected them by giving them a heads up and created a predictable process around winding up an activity.

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Sequester at home…with CREA! #1 Find Your Special Spot

One of the things we can do while sequestering at home is GET OUTSIDE. Fresh air is good for the mind, body, and soul, and nature provides places to explore without having to worry as much about germs. Hopefully, you are within walking or driving distance of a natural place where you can relax and have fun while practicing social distancing.

CREA will be offering a steady stream of (mostly) outdoor activities to do with your children in the coming weeks. They are designed to be fun and educational. What better way to tap our Educators’ expertise during this time? Here’s our first suggestion of activities designed for preschoolers and early elementary children.


Find your special spot!

Since you’ll be home for at least 2 weeks, it’s a great time to find a special spot outdoors – a place to re-visit often, explore in depth, and have some memorable adventures together. Spring is the perfect time for this, because every day brings subtle changes to the landscape. Your child can be the sleuth who notices and investigates each change.

When choosing a spot (which should be convenient to get to), here are some features to look for in the area:

  • A good sitting spot (A big rock? A log? A big tree to lean against?)
  • Bushes or short trees nearby (good places/habitat for animals)
  • A good hiding spot for you – so you might be able to see animals

Let your child take the lead in finding a special spot that has these features and feels good to them — it might take a few outings to find a spot they like — that’s great! Then put some effort into establishing this spot as their special place.  You want them to be invested in and curious about this place. Encourage them to come up with a name for it.

Once you’ve established your child’s special spot, here are some activities to do in it. These are designed for preschool thru early elementary age children, but some can be tailored to older elementary children.

As you explore your special spot, allow plenty of time for simple observation, exploration, and questions. Don’t be put off by not being able to answer some of your child’s questions about what you’re observing. The two of you are scientists and sleuths, looking for answers. There’s nothing more exciting than a good mystery!

Finally, while some of these activities may seem simple, they all play a role in your child’s physical and intellectual development – everything from vision, physics (jumping), gross and fine motor skills, sensory development, curiosity, imagination, and more. Use this time to follow your child’s interests, let go of any expectations about your visit, be tolerant of messy play, provide enough TIME, and HAVE FUN:

  1. Play hide & seek in the special spot! This helps your child discover all the nooks and crannies and fun hiding spaces! Get them thinking about how animals use these places to hide and camouflage themselves.
  2. Ask your child to find a good place to spy on animals from their special spot!  Do they see clues that an animal has ben in the area?  Look for animal holes in the ground, animal scat (the ‘technical’ term for animal poop), animal trails, empty acorns, etc. Find a good hiding spot (behind a bush) and sit silently for at least 2 minutes.  Look up high, down low, and all around you, even behind you. You are likely to see or hear some animals, birds, insects, etc.  You can bring some birdseed, or collect acorns, and leave them someplace where you think an animal might come to eat it.  Check back the next day to see if the food is gone.
  3. Make a hideout in your special spot.  Use fallen sticks and branches.  You can lean them up against a big tree trunk or branch.  Make it big enough to hide in!  You can cover your hideout with smaller sticks or pine needles at the end to camouflage your hideout even more.  This will be a good spot to hide and spy on animals… or have a picnic and read a book.
  4. “Stump Jumps”!  This is a simple way to make outdoor time fun for little ones while they get exercise and develop gross motor skills. if you’re lucky enough to have some old tree stumps in your special spot, have young kids try doing “stump jumps” off the stump and into your arms.  Or hold onto their hands as they jump to the ground. Let them use their imagination – could the stump be a chair, or a throne?
  5. Make a “nest”.  Look up in the trees near your special spot— do you see any squirrel nests (messy piles of leaves in crotch of tree branches) or bird nests?  Help your child use available materials to make a nest to sit in.  Or for older kids, try to make a real bird nest (using leaves, grass, twigs) on a branch. Is the nest strong enough to withstand the wind? Time will tell!
  6. Make binoculars!  Tape together 2 toilet paper tubes, and attach yarn to make a neck-strap.  Your child can decorate the tubes if they want. The binocs are fun to make, and it’s a fun skill to try and see things through these “binoculars”.  You (caregiver) stand on the far side of your special spot.  Have the kids use their binoculars to see you!  Play “I Spy” with each other to see what you can see using your binoculars – both far away and close up.  Binoculars really help kids focus on specific things — even if it’s just seeing the moss on a rotting log 2 feet in front of them. These ‘binocs’ also help prepare children for real binoculars, which take a little practice to use. 
  7. Photograph or sketch the arrival of spring —  The natural world will change a LOT in the coming weeks!  Find a small area of your special spot to observe as it changes.  You can take pictures or draw sketches to track these changes.  Record your observations every time you visit your special spot.  Tie a piece of yarn around things you want to keep track of, such as dead plant stems, buds on the tips of different tree branches. Ask your child to predict what the buds will turn into. Red maple buds are already beginning to change. Observing them from day to day can reveal tiny miracles of plant growth in spring.

Final tip: Invest in a magnifying glass or hand lens for looking at buds, moss, bugs, flowers, grass, pretty much anything, up close. The microscopic world is fascinating and this tool will make investigation of your special spot even more engaging!


Many of these activities can also be done independently at different places. The point of doing them in one special place is to make a strong connection to a specific place and to learn by observing change over time. 

Check back for more ideas on how to make outdoor time fun while building curious minds and strong bodies!

— The CREA team

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Connecting to the Natural World with Nordic Skis and a Passport

This is a summary of a presentation made at Topsham Public Library on February 25, 2020, as part of CREA’s Fourth Tuesday series.

Tyler DeAngelis needs to get outdoors. This much was apparent from his above-titled presentation at CREA’s Fourth Tuesday series at the Topsham Public Library on February 25.

Tyler used a captivating mix of still photos, video, websites, and music to describe his overseas travel and, by extension, his approach to the outdoors. He spent the winters of 2016 and 2018 racing and playing on Nordic skis across Europe and beyond.

Tyler views nordic skiing as a bridge that connects him – and many others –  to the natural world. In Norway, he discovered that there are more ski trails than roads in winter. In the Dolomites of Italy, a race course winds up the length of a valley, then returns, ending on Main Street, where residents swarm outside to offer racers food and drink and cheer them on. The sport brings people together and it brings them outside.

The 90 km Vassalopet in Sweden attracts 16,000 racers and (similarly) finishes on Main Street which is covered with snow for a week in preparation for the race. During this week, countless events take place outside on the snow-covered Main Street, bringing people outside in winter to celebrate together.

In Oslo, Norway, Nordic skiers on the subway is a common sight. They take the subway to the edge of town where they can ski onto 1500 km of free ski trails.

For Tyler, hard work and nature go hand in hand. He relishes physical challenge, but takes the most pleasure in being active outdoors. If he’s going to push himself to the limit, he wants to do it in nature. He described the Birkebeiner, a 54 km race in Norway, that re-enacts the spiriting away of the one year-old heir to the Norwegian throne to protect him from an interloper. Every racer is required to carry 3.5 kg backpack – the weight of the infant.

The elite racers are very competitive, like the young man behind Tyler who warmed up with an impressive (and intimidating) array of one-leg pushups, tricep presses, and more. Yet, after the race, there is terrific camaraderie among racers, even the aforementioned young man, despite finishing after Tyler.

Tyler thinks of skis as a tool for exploring and appreciating the environment. He described his own need to ‘get into the woods’ and the ease with which he can do that on skis in winter.

He admires the Norwegian ‘Right to Roam’ – a legal code under which people are allowed to roam wherever they wish (on other people’s lands) as long as they are respectful. Communes (the equivalent of our municipalities) can put ski trails on anyone’s property. Tyler showed countless photos and videos of beautifully groomed trails passing by farmhouses, through fields and woods.

Tyler and his travel buddy raced on weekends and played in the snow during the week. They climbed mountains on mountaineering skis, explored remote areas fluffy with new powder, and skied miles of groomed trails running from village to village. Go-Pro videos of Tyler and his buddy exuberantly swishing through untouched fresh snow made most in the audience yearn to pack up their skis and head for the mountains.

Tyler finished with some sobering, but unavoidable, thoughts on environmental issues he encountered during his travels. The Nordic ski community has discovered that the most common waxes (PFAS) are ‘forever’ chemicals that accumulate in the food web. Even at low levels, PFAS waxes are adversely affecting the reproduction and hormones of nature’s creatures and are likely harmful to human lungs during the waxing process. Collegiate and other organizations are beginning to ban their use, but people should be aware of their impacts.

Tyler also talked about the impact of climate change on snow conditions in Europe. He had to change his plans numerous times due to lack of snow – in parts of the world where lack of snow is very unusual. He showed many photos of snow-covered race tracks (man-made snow) surrounded by bare earth. Many areas are making snow to meet demand and cultural expectation, but snowmaking is energy intensive. In one area, the Swedes are making snow to preserve a rapidly melting glacier. Yikes.

Park parkTyler’s presentation reinforced the point that there are countless ways to experience and enjoy the natural world. CREA hopes you have found your pathway into nature!

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