Monthly Archives: April 2019

Blog Take-over: Connecting Children with Nature with Nicole Langdo of Painted Oak Nature School

“Connecting Children with Nature”
by Nicole Langdo
Saturday, April 13, 2019

IMG_0267

When the Sourland Conservancy asked me to talk about the importance of getting children outside one Thursday night in April, and then organize a group of children to see, hear, and touch the forest the following Saturday morning, I, of course, jumped at the chance! With nearly seven years leading children on outdoor learning adventures at Painted Oak Nature School under my belt, and over a dozen years of experience in other traditional school environments, I felt qualified and ready for the task at hand.

If you have been following education over the last two decades, you have noticed an evolution – children as young as five years old being expected to sit at desks for hours at a time to accomplish required paper and pencil tasks, blocks of time previously devoted to unstructured outdoor play have dwindled, and near constant assessment of student, and thereby teacher, performance through frequent testing has become the norm. Students report feeling stressed out, anxious, and unable to cope with the pressures of “life.” Feelings of despair and depression have led to suicide being the 2nd leading cause of death among 10-24 year olds1 (2016.) With only 36% of American children getting the recommended physical activity a day2 due to increased school rigor and increased screen-time, it is no coincidence that obesity has more than doubled in the last 30 years, ADHD is on the rise, as are incidents of bullying and social aggression.

So what can we do?! The answer is really quite simple – encourage unstructured outdoor play and a reconnection to nature. According to the biophilia hypothesis3, humans are hard-wired to connect with other living things. It is part of our DNA to want to be outside! Read anything by Richard Louv and the point for why getting outside is so important and the benefits of such will be made.

It is with all of this powerful information from Thursday night’s talk, that we eagerly set out last Saturday morning with over a dozen children, ages 2 – 10 years old, to hike Thompson Preserve in Hopewell, NJ. After an evening full of Spring rain the night before, this was no easy feat! The “Squelch Monster” was hungry and waiting to “eat a few boots” along the way.

IMG_0284

But the children would not be deterred. Promises of open-ended play and a tarp full of some simple materials to inspire exploration and creativity (magnifying glasses and chalk) provided all the motivation they needed to keep going.

IMG_0347

Having successfully maneuvered the grips of the Squelch Monster, we arrived at the newly fenced in area4 along the edge of the meadow. The children quickly located the blue tarp, selected materials, and were off! The fence provided parents a greater sense of comfort that allowed the children to run off together as a newly formed tribe to find more puddles, insects to identify, vines for swinging, and fallen trees for climbing and balancing.

IMG_0405

This also allowed parents to make social connections, swap stories, and resources, which after all, was the purpose of today’s hike – to empower parents with a few simple tools that will make getting their children outside feel possible, and to connect with others who may be interested in the same thing.

IMG_0337

Today marked the beginning of a Hopewell Valley Family Nature Club.5 Family Nature Clubs (FNC) are intended to bring families together in nature. I hear so many parents share with me their own feelings of  anxiety about getting out in nature – where to go, what to do once we are there, will there be bears or snakes, or coyotes, isn’t it risky, what do I do with myself, my child will be bored after five minutes, then what? The idea, then, of a FNC is to set a time and place to meet other interested families in nature to hike and explore together. This creates a greater sense of security with safety in numbers, allows parents to socialize and meet other like-minded parents, and to share combined nature-knowledge. Another huge benefit is knowing that when a group of children get together, very little else is needed – the play takes over and parental structure can take a backseat.

By the end of our time together, which amounted to just a few short hours, little red bugs had been identified, skunk cabbage sniffed, wild edibles tasted, worms named, and new friendships forged.

IMG_0430

We felt empowered to hike back out to once again face the “hungry hands” of the muddy Squelch Monster; this time together.

SEE YOU OUTSIDE!

1cdc.gov
2American Academy of Pediatrics
3Developed by researcher Edward O. Wilson
4A reforestation project being completed by the Friends of Hopewell Valley Open Space
5More information can be found at Children and Nature.org

 

Baldpate Mountain – a morning of bagels and blooms.

Baldpate Mountain Ted Stiles preserve is located on Fiddlers Creek Rd in Titusville NJ.

Link to trail map.

IMG_0106

Once upon a chilly April morning, a gang of ecologists gathered together in a search for Spring Ephemerals. Truth be told, I was looking for an excuse to botanize with a few of my favorite ecologists…so I lured them out before work with the promise of bagels and blooms. I have a fondness for down-time, when you can relax and do things simply for the pleasure of doing them rather than to complete a chore. Deadlines and meetings were closing in around me just a little too much, so I planned a short hike in order to get outside and play for an hour or two.

IMG_2233

Photo by Laurie Cleveland

A group of plant nerds sharing their enthusiasm for all things botanical!IMG_0109Cutleaf Toothwort, Cardamine concatenata, looks picture perfect this morning!IMG_0112Virginia Bluebells, Mertensia virginica, about to open! It is fun to watch them begin to bloom. The flowers start out magenta pink and then turn blue. Sometimes you can get lucky and observe them grouped in a transitioning array of magentas and blues. Simply beautiful!IMG_0115A forest of Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, in bloom creates a beautiful yellow haze in the woods.

IMG_2306 2

Photo by Laurie Cleveland

A close-up on Spicebush blooms.

IMG_0159A picture of a picture….

IMG_2235

Photo by Laurie Cleveland

My favorite spring ephemeral, Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensisIMG_0121Here is a close up of Bloodroot flower petals. IMG_2247I love how a phone call does not distract from the excitement of discovering a bloom! IMG_0139While most of us were looking for Blooms, Jeff looked for Birds. Because “Birds” fit with my “B” theme, I will allow it 😉IMG_0145A Mayapple, Podophyllum peltatum, emerging from its sleep beneath the leaves. IMG_0171A pink Bloodroot! This is the first time that I have observed a pink bloodroot plant and on this hike, I was able to see quite a few.  I am curious to know why some are pink and some are white… perhaps a sub-species or a gene variant? The white and pink ones were growing in close proximity, so I don’t know if micro-site conditions affect the flower color. These flowers are fabulous!IMG_0202Hepatica, Anemone nobilis!!!! I have observed the leaves in the Summer and Fall but this is the first time that I have seen the beautiful Spring Glory of Hepatica in bloom.IMG_0225Rue Anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides, with flower petals about to open! I love the delicate leaves and flower stalks on this plant. They shimmy so perfectly in the most gentle of breezes.IMG_0195I love that this Bloodroot looks like a sunny-side up egg! I really could just photograph this flower all day every day and I would never be satisfied!IMG_0184Christmas tree fern, Polystichum acrostichoides, fiddleheads. There is so much sweetness in the Spring that between the flowers, baby animals and fiddleheads, I can barely contain my glee!IMG_0234Virginia Pennywort, Obolaria virginica! This is an S2 ranked plant, which means it is imperiled because of rarity or because other factors demonstrably make it very vulnerable to extinction or extirpation (extirpation means that an organism is locally extinct). Virginia Pennywort is a sweet little plant that can be easily passed by. But when those flowers open, it is so absolutely charming.IMG_0228Spring Beauty, Claytonia virginica, as beautiful and perfect as can be!

IMG_2286

Photo by Laurie Cleveland

The face we all make when trying to snap that perfect flower shot!

 

Saving Saplings – A Sourland Steward Workshop.

IMG_3545

Saving Saplings – A Sourland Steward Workshop: volunteers learned about the complexity of the ecosystem around us and how we, as Land Stewards, can effect positive change for the organisms around us – pollinators, birds, amphibians and other animals – including humans!

The Sourland Conservancy’s Naturalist Advisor, Jared Rosenbaum, has been training volunteers to identify plants and learn practical skills of habitat restoration in order to effect positive change on our ecosystem. On March 30th, Jared led a group of Sourland Stewardship Leaders and volunteers on a hike to a restoration area on Baldpate Mountain where the Sourland Conservancy and Mercer County Park Commission have been working to restore the native plant community. Two important aspects of the habitat restoration are removal of invasive plant species that are out-competing native plants and protecting native plants from deer herbivory.

Our group spent the first portion of our morning hike learning how to identify plants during a very tricky time of year – early spring! During the winter, buds are dormant and look fairly consistent between individuals of the same species. However, in the early spring these buds start to swell and open to reveal flowers and leaves and can look very different than their former selves – sort of like our awkward teenage phase… So when working out what a plant may or may not be, you may need to use many senses to help you figure out how to identify the plant. Sight, touch, smell and yes, taste! Be forewarned, you do not want to go sticking any plant in your mouth unless you are sure it is not toxic!

After our plant identification refresher, we learned how to build individual deer fencing around native trees and shrubs to allow them to grow past the browse line of deer. I learned that spicebush, Lindera benzoin, is an important nesting plant for neo-tropical birds. Unfortunately, deer herbivory can cause the shrub to not have the same growth habit (it would end up growing sparsely and in weird angles) and thus would not provide suitable nesting habitat. Another plant, blackhaw, Viburnum prunifolium, is an important food source to fuel migration in the fall. Without protection from deer browse, blakhaw will not grow large enough to produce flowers and fruits.

IMG_3546This group of volunteers was ready to work hard to Save the Sourlands!

IMG_3552

Jared introduced the restoration project and explained what has been done so far in this area.

IMG_3554

Jared going over basic plant anatomy and then giving key characteristics of spicebush, Lindera benzoin. It can be tricky to identify spicebush in the winter. Even without the leaves, you can still smell the plant by scratching away some bark with your fingernail and then taking a whiff.

IMG_3565

Spicebush, Lindera benzoin, flower bud that is just about to burst!

IMG_3572Jared described how to identify the different hickory (Carya spp.) species.

IMG_3578

Here is a young hickory sapling, Carya spp.. This is one of the target species we were working to protect.

IMG_3564

Sourland Conservancy Board member and Stewardship Committee Chair, Chris Berry, described how to identify blackhaw viburnum, Viburnum prunifolium.

IMG_3576

Jared pointed out key characteristics of bitternut hickory, Carya cordiformis.

IMG_3587

Bitternut hickory (Carya cordiformis) is easy to distinguish from the other native hickories because of its sulphur-yellow buds.

IMG_3593

These large “Monkey face” leaf scars belong to black walnut, Juglans nigra. Walnuts and hickories belong to the same family, Juglandaceae.

IMG_3598

These dark brown buds belong to Green Ash, Fraxinus pennsylvanica. Two of the natives we looked at today, blackhaw viburnum and green ash have opposite branching patterns. This characteristic is not common among woody trees and shrubs in the Northeast, which can help you narrow down what species you are trying to identify.

IMG_3580

Two volunteers got started pre-cutting deer fencing while others went out to start marking native trees and shrubs to protect.

IMG_3602

We were aiming to protect the shrubs for the first 4 feet of their growth when they are most vulnerable to deer herbivory.

IMG_3607

Our volunteers were awesome and so focused during our workshop! It was wonderful seeing a group of people coming together working towards one goal – to save saplings and help protect the future of the forest.

IMG_3609

We used a small rebar post to sturdy the cages and prevent them from being blown by wind or knocked over by hungry deer.

IMG_3610

Our awesome group of volunteers worked together to assemble more than 40 cages! I am excited to watch this site over the next few years and see these saplings grow. During this workshop, Jared reminded us that we are active participants in this ecosystem, and instead of “take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but footprints”, we can help restore ecosystem function by promoting healthy forests through active land stewardship.

 

Supplies for Saving Saplings:

4’ x 100’ welded wire fence:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Everbilt-4-ft-x-100-ft-Steel-Welded-Wire-308312EB/205960859

Zip ties:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/Cambridge-14-in-Heavy-Duty-Cable-Ties-Black-100-Pack-CT12804/303059760

Fence Posts:

https://www.homedepot.com/p/YARDGARD-2-in-x-2-in-x-4-ft-Galvanized-Steel-Electric-Fence-Post-901183A/202025622