Forest Preserve District of Cook County, Illinois
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School Trips & Projects in Spring
Nature Bulletin No. 484   March 9, 1957
Forest Preserve District of Cook County
Daniel Ryan, President
Roberts Mann, Conservation Editor
David H. Thompson, Senior Naturalist

Spring is the morning of the year when nature reawakens. The days become noticeably longer and warmer. We feel an urge to get out-of- doors and see green growing plants, early wildflowers, and swelling buds on trees and shrubs; see and hear birds returning from their winter homes; hear the mating songs of frogs and toads. The nearest forest preserve, park, meadow or hedgerow -- even a city street or weedy vacant lot -- will have a wealth of plant and animal life.

March is a chancy month for field trips but spring can be perking in a classroom before many signs of it appear outdoors. One twig of a forsythia bush, placed in a bottle of water, will soon display its yellow flowers; willow and aspen twigs will develop fat fuzzy catkins; the end of branches from cottonwood, soft maple and elm trees will reveal how some of their winter buds produce flowers and others burst into leaves. The long reddish catkins on a male cottonwood are showy but the small flowers of a maple or an elm are no less beautiful, although seldom noticed on the trees.

A terrarium consisting merely of a moistened chunk of topsoil from a prairie or a vacant lot, placed in a wide-mouth gallon jar lying on its side, will surprise you with a variety of growing plants and maybe some insects, too. Another, containing topsoil from a woodland and perhaps a hunk of moss, will develop into something entirely different. A wide- mouth jar of pond water, with a little of the black pond mud, becomes an aquarium teeming with tiny creatures that can be studied with a hand lens.

Nature calendars, which graphically record observations carefully made and honestly reported by pupils in a class, day by day, are teaching aids that help to keep youngsters conscious of the changes in nature around about them, Such a calendar, on the blackboard or a poster, may be a general one showing who saw what, when and where; or there may be separate calendars devoted to events in specific subjects such as birds, trees and wildflowers.

Spring is a fruitful time for field trips if only for a half day or a stolen hour, Each trip can be a new adventure chock-full of learning but it is the task of a teacher to sharpen pupils' eyes and quicken their imaginations. Aside from the firsthand experiences on such a trip -- priceless because they are never forgotten -- there are many specimens which youngsters may collect and bring back to school for use in classroom projects. Any field trip will be more successful if the teacher and the class plan what to wear, what to take, and what to look for.

In spring the lakes, ponds and sloughs of the forest preserves are notable for the great numbers of many kinds of waterfowl and shorebirds that stop to rest and feed during their migrations. Bits of jelly-like egg masses of frogs, toads and salamanders, found along the edges of ponds, can be placed in jars of water and watched as they hatch out tadpoles which gradually change into air-breathing adults. A female crayfish carrying eggs or young under the curve of her tail, may be kept while they grow and become independent of her.

During April and May, many of the preserves are literally carpeted with wildflowers and alive with songbirds. The trees and shrubs are blooming and clothing themselves with new leaves. The grasses and the weeds grow vigorously, insects appear, multiply, and become numerous, Turn over a rotting log and you will find a hive of activity. It's spring!

"Make children friends of things that grow" Liberty Hyde Bailey.

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