Saturday, April 24, 2010

Frogs and Tadpoles

Small had a class at the Morton Arboretum the other day. The rest of us went along to check out the wildlife around one of the lakes. Mark met us there on his lunch break.

We took a hike down the long hill to the lake. I looked along the shoreline for frogs and saw this fine specimen sitting peacefully. It was only after Mark reached to retrieve a fallen water bottle that the frog hopped back into the water. Medium noticed some things swimming a short distance to the shore and asked if they were tadpoles. I don't know my tadpoles like I know frogs, so I said I didn't know, but doubted it. The bigger frogs haven't mated yet, the chorus frogs are only about 1 1/2 inches full grown and these things were already a couple inches long.

We then walked further along the lake. Large and I examined a egg shell and watched some geese, chatting with a friendly senior resting on a bench. Medium waited patiently, handed the 3x binoculars back to Large and said, with just a touch of attitude: "Minnows don't have legs, Mommy."

Indeed they don't. This child truly needs to be out exploring, sometimes even inside exploring. She reads every single informational sign at museum exhibits, gathers knowledge like a sponge and just never lets it go. Shortly after the tadpole triumph, she calmly explained to me and a group of schoolkids a few years younger, how the snapping turtle she had just pointed out to them and helped them to see in the murky water, catches its food. She said she read it in a Zoo Books Magazine a long time ago. Luckily, I am acquainted with the docent leading the school group and she didn't mind being upstaged by a 10 year old.

To top off that truly wonderful hour, after the snapping turtle submerged, a mink scurried across the bridge into the leaves and brush, changed it's mind when it saw Large, ran back across the bridge and along the lake on the other side. We didn't believe it could be a mink, but asked one of the naturalists, who confirmed they have mink in that location. We also looked at pictures to help our identification.

It made me a little sad that Small didn't learn that minnows don't have legs, but he heard all about it in the car on the way home.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Glorious Mud

Spring has arrived and that means it's time for our Roots&Shoots group to do some amphibian monitoring. We roll logs and rocks, look under branches and debris for salamanders, keep our eyes open for frogs and toads, check the water for egg masses. It's been a much dryer spring than in past years, but that didn't stop the kids from their primary focus - playing in the mud.

It's too late for us to find salamander eggs in the water, but we might have found some frog eggs or tadpoles. Mostly, though, the kids wanted to wade in the water and squish the mud between their toes. We went home pretty muddy, but I think this kind of exploration has as great a value as studiously hunting for amphibians. We aren't exposed to the elements the way were were 50 years ago, these kids just don't get the opportunity to get dirty. They had a great time.

We did see and catch four juvenile American toads, a skull, a patch of fur, a tooth, a lot of golf balls, may apples, jack-in-the-pulpit and trillium. It was a good day, even if we did lose five of the kids on the way out of the woods. Next time I'll know the path of the stream better and ask the kids to stay out of the water until our way back. That way it will be muddy behind us instead of in front of us and we have a chance of seeing something interesting lurking on the shoreline.

Friday, April 16, 2010


Every year around this time - when the sun returns to Chicago, the leaves return to the trees and people come out of their houses - our homeschooling schedule gets all shaken up.

This year we are responding by doing a summer camp schedule. Our first camp week has centered around exploring the book What Do You Stand For, which I highly recommend. Next week we'll do math, then a week of science and a week of art. This better suits our spring time attention span, which has little to do with handwriting and vocabulary and more to do with exploring big issues in wide open spaces.