Welcome to The Nature Explorers Club. I am a mom who loves nature and loves to share it with others. Using my experience as an Outdoor Education Instructor and the basic guidelines of the book "Nature For the Very Young", I will be venturing out to explore the great outdoors every week with my kids. Every week I will share what we did, and every week you are welcome to join us. I will post the topic of the week, then two weeks later I will share what we did and give you a chance to share as well. So get your boots ready, because we're going exploring!
This week's topic....
A forest has three distinct layers to it. The canopy, shrub and forest floor. The canopy is made up of the leaves and branches directly above your head. The shrub layer is made up of the shrubs and other small plants growing under the canopy. Finally the forest floor, also called the leaf litter, is everything found on the ground and into the top layers of the soil. Some forests are missing the shrub layer due to the conditions of the soil and amount of sunlight in the forest.
The best way to learn about these things is to of course go to a forest. To view the canopy, it is best if you can lie on the ground and look up. Ask what they see and what they hear. The canopy has a very special job in the forest. In the summer it provides shade for the rest of the forest. The branches act as homes and perches for a variety of birds as well as squirrels. Also, the trees provide food for these animals either up in the branches, or when it falls to the ground. The canopy provides protection in the winter as well by stopping harsh winds.
The shrub layer is easily overlooked, and even harder for children to see. To them there may be no difference between the shrubs and the trees. They are both "up" above their heads. The shrub layers also functions similarly to the canopy in that it provides food and shelter to animals as well. The difference is the types of animals it helps. Rabbits will hide beneath bushes, while deer will eat the leaves and fruit from the shrubs as well.
The final layer, and my personal favorite, is the forest floor. At a quick glance, all it may seem like is a pile of leaves and twigs, but the forest floor is alive with activity all year round. As you dig down through the leaves you will quickly notice a change. The leaves seem to be broken down into smaller pieces and it may even be wetter or produce a distinct smell. What you are seeing is the products of decomposition. Decomposition is simply a once living organism breaking down into smaller pieces. On the forest floor, these pieces turn into soil. It is in this rich soil that you will find many living things ranging from fungi, to worms, to a myriad of insects. My best suggestion is to get in there and explore. Don't worry about getting dirty. Look under rotting logs, dig under the leaves, pull up rocks and see what you can find. * I always tell my children that whenever they do something like this, they are disturbing an animals home and that it is important to return their home just the way they found it. *
As you explore and find things, you are sure to be peppered with the question "whats that?" and unless you have done your research or gone to school like me, you may not know the answer. The best thing to do is bring a field guide with you. I personally use Peterson's First Guide to Forests for its simplicity as well as its ability to cover a very broad topic for the entire country. (I use their other guides as well) I also like to use the Fun with Nature Take Along Guides because they are prefect for the little ones, but they only cover a limited number of things.
You can check your library to see if they have field guides to be loaned out, or even your local USDA extension office. Also, Here, is a very simple guide that even the little ones may be able to use.
Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young".
* to cement the idea of what is up (the canopy) and what is down (the forest floor), you can sing this simple song...
You put your finger up, you put your finger down, You put your finger up and you shake it all around Then you do the hokey pokey and you turn yourself around And that's what its all about! Continue, with arm, head, leg and finally your whole self.*choose a small area of the forest floor, maybe a square foot, and examine it in depth making a list of what you find. Taking this further, track how many of each thing you find, and make a simple graph of it.
* if it is too cold to remain outside for a long period of time, bring a bucket and remove a small portion of the forest floor, including the top layer of soil. Bring it home and in the warmth of your house examine the contents laid out on a table or in a large tub.
*collect different items from the forest and make a collage out of them, or recreate what you saw in the forest using the materials.
* make a worm habitat or a rotting log habitat. Click here to learn how to make a worm habitat. To make a rotting log habitat, collect some rotting wood, leaves, soil and different living organisms found on the forest floor. Layer them into an enclosed space. (soda bottle on its side, cleaned out plastic box from produce section or small aquarium) Take a week or two to examine what happens in your created habitat.
Please only attempt this if you know that you will be able to return the contents safely to their home at the end of the week.
*cut yarn into small pieces that look like worms. Glue these into the shape of a W.
* create a picture using hand prints as the canopy of a forest.
Pick and choose which activities best fit with your home. Don't be afraid to try something different if it interests you. Remember to come back in two weeks and share what you did. See you then!