A group of blindfolded adults smelling trees, and pretending to be squirrels dueling it out over acorn stashes were spotted along the Mt. Willard trail in Crawford Notch, New Hampshire on Saturday, April 18th.
Observed from afar, it might seem their only goal was to laugh and have fun. But in addition to loving an excuse to behave ridiculously, everyone present – a Plymouth State University instructor and two environmental science students, and ACT staff – were learning about environmental education. The Appalachian Mountain Club (AMC) and its “Mountain Classroom” coordinator Mike Dufilho offered the workshop.
This spring ACT’s Cooley-Jericho Community Forest in Easton is being turned into an outdoor classroom. Mike and other educators from the AMC will be teaching elementary school students from SAU 35 about basic forest ecology throughout the month of May.
Our mission for the day was straightforward: step into the shoes of fifth graders and let go of any adult self-consciousness. The theme of our hike up Mt. Willard was “consumers, producers, and decomposers.” Mike had a simple flow chart that tied each activity to the lesson plan. Every silly song we sang and game we played had a specific teaching purpose. If you’ve ever taught, you know how much trial and error goes into good lesson planning.
The first activity was being blindfolded, spun around, and disoriented before a partner led us to a tree. Then we used our senses – sniffing, running our hands along the bark, even tasting, to deduce clues of texture, mosses and other irregularities.
Rebecca located her balsam fir in record time, while a PSU student was frog marched by his instructor Rachelle Lyons through deep snow so he could not locate his tree. It was refreshing using specific senses to hone in on a single tree, when we spend most of our days inside or looking at a computer screen. This activity reset our minds to notice our surroundings, think about plant identification, and the abundance of producers in NH’s forests. It was a gentle reminder that plants are inextricably linked to the entire cycle of producers, consumers and decomposers.
About half way up the mountain we stopped and duked it out as red and gray squirrels plundering acorn reserves (black beans we hid on the forest floor). Sadly, because of clever thievery some of us did not survive the long winter and perished. Life lesson: if you want to make it to spring, you need to be a tenacious competitor.
We are delighted that SAU 35 students, under the guidance of AMC educators will have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the Community Forest this spring. Our North Country landscapes are special, and this forest will remain for generations to come.
If you have questions or would like to learn how you can participate in bringing kids outside and exploring the Cooley-Jericho Community Forest, please email ACT Outreach Coordinator Lianna Lee, email@example.com or call our office at 603-823-7777