Monday, March 16, 2020

Look for Silver Linings: Go Hike and Seek

By Beth Sullivan
Even in the middle of a crisis, some things remain unchanged. What a difference in our outlook from a couple of weeks ago. At this point, there is no use in discussing how we got to this point in this public health crisis. But we can do our best to stay informed, take precautions seriously, and try to maintain as much normalcy as we possibly can, as a community and as individuals.
There are certainly things that are so totally impacted, that there is no way to avoid the consequences. Kids are out of school. Period. It is not like a vacation or summer break that was planned for. It is not like a snow day that was unplanned, but where playdates and special programs could keep groups of kids entertained and safe. Parents are home because their jobs disappeared, or because they don’t have child care. Maybe they are lucky and can actually work from home, if the kids will let them.
But here’s the good news, and we are all looking for that. We are heading into spring. We have really been lucky with good weather getting to this date and even if we get a late snow storm, we get over it quickly. Get those kids outside. Obviously, if they are ill, they need special attention, but getting them out into the air, roaming, running , being creative is one way to keep them engaged and happy as well as healthy.
Dirty feet don't need sanitizer.

Maybe you relax the rules a little. Or join the fun. Photograph by Emily Sullivan.

As we go through the flowering season, you can draw them, even dissect them. Get out the books to help.

Millipedes are easily found under leaves. They do not hurt. Check out those legs.

Be a teacher

Think of what great lessons, you, as an adult, can teach them about the new season. It is an opportunity to observe daily changes. Even the youngest ones can appreciate a new flower, or something getting bigger. Look for acorn caps; touch the moss. Let them pick a flower and then show them that you cherish it. Make it important. Slightly older children can do some drawing. Test their observation skills at their appropriate age level. Discuss color, texture, and comparative sizes. If they are ready to write, get them to use descriptive words. You can discuss weather conditions and keep a journal. Have them observe the sky, clouds, feeling of the ground, wet or dry.
Look at the differences in several kinds of plants. Are their stems hard or soft? Watch the changes in their leaf development. Pull a dandelion out of the ground and look at the roots. You probably don’t have to go very far to find a shrub with some buds already showing. Forsythia is everywhere. Before you know it, both of you will have become better botanists.
Then there are insects to watch for. Look under rocks and logs. Lift piles of leaves and see what’s under there. At this point in the year, there are already insects and their relatives, moving around. There are also amphibians to look for, and listen for. There are probably salamanders under those leaves. You can find a small wetland near your home and listen in the afternoon or early evening for frogs. Peepers and wood frogs are chorusing now.
And of course there are the birds. Spring is meant for birdsong. Kids never really like to sleep in, unless they are teenagers. Get up and sit outside on a nice morning and listen to the birds. Can you find them? Can your child describe them for you? Take notes together. Draw pictures.
This could also be the time to let them engage with a smart phone a bit more. There are so many wonderful apps available now that help you identify all sorts of wildlife, birds and their songs, and all aspects of plants. There are still amazing books.
No spring excursion is complete without checking out the skunk cabbage.  Watch as the plant changes through the season. 

Textures on tree bark can make great rubbings or abstract photos.

Trees have lovely flowers if you can look closely These are red maple.

Check out Avalonia’s Hike and Seek program

 Not every adult is really comfortable with all I have just suggested. Some people really want a guide. That’s what Hike and Seek is like. As a parent, take some time to review it. Find a preserve near you. Look at the preserve pages, maps and photos that are targets and clues. There is also a Resources section that allows you or your young student to look a bit deeper into a subject. It is all accessible on your smart phone. Take it with you on a hike. Take photos and write stories. Do it together. The trails are not crowded. The air is clean. It is almost spring. It is the very best way to stay physically and mentally healthy at a time of social distancing and isolation. Earth-Dirt doesn’t require sanitizer. Use this time with the child in your life, in a positive way and help them learn to look for that silver lining. It is a great de-stressor for grown-ups too.
We caught two wood frogs and a peeper recently. Keep them moist, observe them, then let them go.

Photographs by Beth Sullivan, unless otherwise indicated.

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