Can you spot and identify the wildlife in these pictures?
More camouflage fun:
-Take some color swatches on your next hike and try to spot different plants/animals of the colors
-Yell ‘Camo!’ while on the trail, and give your kids 10 seconds to hide
-Make habitats for critters (any tiny toy, from a small plastic doll to a mini frog) using old shoeboxes and various craft supplies, teaching them to use colors that will help their tiny friends blend in
-Use paint brushes and mud to ‘camo up’ like their favorite forest creature
Michelle, ENWS Instructor
It’s been a Track Attack! Hope y’all had fun guessing what animals made the tracks in the pics recently posted:) I stumbled upon a Canadian wilderness school’s website, Wilderness Rhythms, and it significantly helped me in understanding different animal gaits. Check it out!
Stay tuned for a breakdown of the recent track pics and a revealing of what WE think they are…
Michelle, ENWS Instructor
They’re alive… They’re really ALIVE!!!!
According to this documentary, plants are a bit more alive than we thought. They grow, change color, move upwards and outwards, spread their seed… But they also communicate. Yup, communicate. With each other. And they make decisions. Don’t believe me? Watch this short video from PBS. It’s pretty amazing stuff. http://www.pbs.org/wnet/nature/what-plants-talk-about-video-full-episode/8243/
Used to think animals were the coolest cats in school? Well watch out! Come to Earth Native’s Plant Medicine class THIS Sunday, February 8th, and learn even more amazing facts about how plants can communicate in a different way: making us healthier humans! http://www.earthnativeschool.com/adult-programs/classes/salves–tinctures.html
See y’all this Sunday!
Michelle, ENWS Instructor
Oooooo Ahhhh There’s lots happening here! What do you see?
Answer for previous track is still up for debate…
26-year old Noah Strycker, writer, photographer, and adventurer, has quite the interesting goal for 2015: spot 5,000 birds, breaking the current record of 4,341. He’ll be blogging about and taking pics of all his adventures! If you’ve struggled at getting inspired to become a birder, check out some of his pics and posts, and I’ll bet you’ll want to venture out and about and find some two-legged beaked friends! Follow Noah’s adventures by clicking on the link below..Happy birding to you!…and to you, Noah, wherever you are…
It seems like I never have enough sinew. Deer tendons in the leg and in the back strap are extremely valuable to people who practice primitive skills. What can it be used for? Hafting arrowheads to arrow shafts, setting a stone blade into an antler, backing a bow, making a bowstring, and so much more. Not all pieces of the tendon are created equally; some are longer than others, it is important to think about what you will use the sinew for as you process it. This post will give you the tools you need to process sinew.
The first thing you need to do is get some deer legs, or back strap sinew. This method goes through processing deer legs. I take the tendon out of the leg and let it dry out for a few days so it turns to rawhide. Once it is dry it is ready to be processed. The process is simple.
Wooden mallet or hammer
Sinew ready to be processed. It is completely dry
I take a wooden hammer or just a block of hardwood. I used a piece of black locust to smash the sinew and break through the sheath. The sheath is the outer layer that needs to be removed. It is good for making hide glue! So save it if you’d like to.
After it is smashed remove the sheath. It will break up into a few pieces. Then take the sinew in your hands and twist it up to break it apart. This can take a while.
Sinew being twisted to break it apart.
Twisting the sinew will let you stick a finger or a pencil through it. Then pull it apart.
Sinew being broken down.
Break it down into fine pieces.
You can clearly see part of the sheath near my fingers. It needs to be removed.
Breaking it down even further.
This sinew is ready to back a bow!
Processing sinew is a tedious process. As my mentor Bill says, “Process it when you feel like it, then put it away until you forgot how long it took you to process it.” You really can never have too much. Currently I am trying to process enough sinew to back Pacific Yew and Vine Maple Bows. To back a bow you will need to process at least eight tendons to have enough. The amount also depends on the dimensions of the bow you are building.
Hope to ‘sinew’ you around at an Earth Native class!
Douglas “Grey” Cowan
Grey is an adult/youth programs Instructor at Earth Native. Check out the links below to sign up for classes!
For a list of adult classes, go to http://www.earthnativeschool.com/adult-programs/
For a youth class calendar, please visit http://www.earthnativeschool.com/youth-programs/2014-youth-class-calendar.html
So many times in education, children wonder what the POINT is in learning things: multiplication tables, what happened in 1492, how many bones we have… What if I don’t want to be a mathematician? A historian? A doctor? What’s the USE in having all this knowledge, they wonder!?!
When it comes to nature, knowledge is power! Literally, any information you can glean from your surroundings can, and probably will, be helpful someday. To prove it, we have a class on getting to know Austin plants on another level- POTIONS! Give your child the opportunity to experience nature in a new way, a practical way: making tinctures and salves out of plants they can find in a nearby natural area, maybe even your backyard! Showing children the benefit nature can bring to us in a real everyday realm, ie providing us with everyday medical uses, can connect them to the outdoors in a new and exciting way.
Sign your child up for the Plant Potions class, where they’ll learn the proportions needed to make different salves/tinctures (mathematician), learn to better understand how our ancestors treated illnesses (historian) and how they can use flora in their everyday lives in new and helpful ways (doctor).
See?! Solved all your problems. They shall now enjoy all subjects. Forever. Right…? Just a click away…
Check out this site for a quick game to test your animal tracking skills! Winter=rain=excellent conditions for finding plenty of tracks!
But of course, once you learn some tracks, get your kids outside and learning about nature in the great outdoors!
Bring new life to fallen leaves by making Leaf Creatures!
Inspire them: Buy/Borrow from the library the book Leaf Man by Lois Ehlert
Connect them: Take them out on a hike or in your backyard and gather leaves
Engage them: Grab some clear contact paper, and watch them go to work creating creatures using the various leaves they collected!
Educate them: Challenge them to identify the trees they came from using a field guide, and have them think of creative names for their leaf creatures by incorporating the tree’s names, ie Mopey Mesquite Moose, Pesky Pecan Penguin, Hungry Hackberry Hen
… to the AMAZON!
Hard to believe, I know, but most chimney swifts migrate to the Amazon each winter… So Amazon-azing! And we should be missing them! They eat many pesky critters, from mosquitos to biting flies to termites, in the thousands…
Other cool facts:
-they have a gland beneath their tongues that secretes a glue-like substance, allowing their nests to stick to the sides of chimneys and hollow trees
-unmated swifts are known to help mated pairs raise their young… babysitting birds? What?!
-are so into flying, they even bathe in flight… No time for lollygagging in a bird bath, these birds soar into the water, barely touching, and shake it off while flying away
Have a chimney? Awesome! These bird are diurnal, so while you might have bats flying out of your chimney to start their “day” as the sun sets, swifts will just be returning to feed their youngins. Check out your chimney, or your neighbor’s, at dusk and perhaps you’ll catch a peek of one of these friendly neighborhood “cigars with wings”.
Want to teach your young ones about this amazing bird? Add some Chimney Swifts to your gingerbread house chimney this holiday season! Or, when giving your little one a bath, have the birds swoop down and back out of the water, explaining that some creatures can bathe on the go! Or next time your child wants some gum, note how Chimney Swifts constantly have a source of “gum” in their mouth, since their saliva is so sticky and gooey, so perhaps they should just “pretend” they have chewy squishy saliva… Or call your babysitter your favorite Chimney Swift:)
And we have a Chimney Swift Conservation group right here in Austin. Visit chimneyswifts.org to learn more about how to preserve our fellow chimney-lovers.
Look! A spider! A caterpillar! An ant pile!
This is the music of my day as an outdoor educator. My students are always noticing parts of nature, and beckoning me over to take a look. It’s so wonderful how it’s a natural reaction for them to want to share any and all exciting things they see with those around them. And each time, I express surprise and awe, then lead into questions about the object of interest: Is it alive? How do you know? What color is it? Why? Is this its home, or is it on an adventure? As we go through this exploration of the various critters or inanimate objects we stumble upon, it is almost inevitable one of the children will want to touch it, pick it up, put it on a leaf, transport it to a new location… They so desire to further interact with these newfound parts of their world.
I struggle with moderating interactions with live beings. The world of outdoor education is full of hands-on experiences: this is what sets us apart from so many other ways of schooling. We build shelters, carve sticks, and start fires… Always with the intent of engaging our students, hoping to help them form positive relationships with one another and the natural world around them. And then, after all these experiential-driven interactions, how can I expect them not to want to hold that oh-so-fuzzy looking caterpillar, or put leaves into a spider’s web to see if they’ll stick? I am finding there are a couple ways to help with this conundrum.
1. During my “art of questioning”, I try to integrate empathy. Is this action in the best interest of our most recent acquaintance? Do we know what it wants? Can we be certain moving our friend would benefit, not harm it? When you are a guest in someone’s home, how do you behave? Are we not guests in this beings home, as well?
2. A way to help drive this point home is to challenge your child to make shelters for various critters, ensuring they have the ideal amount of food, shelter, water and space, in proportion to the animal of their choosing. Asking them to really think about what’s important to various organisms in this hands-on way may help them to understand how we may seem like a giant predator to a tiny ant, or how important being on the leaf might be to that beautiful caterpillar!
3. Continually learning about these organisms by utilizing field guides and using books/internet to research can aid in understanding how to interact with them in a healthy way.
Perfect example: We saw a caterpillar this past Wednesday at class (see picture above). I decided I wanted to pick it up on a piece of wood so that all could see. Suddenly, the caterpillar ejected some green ooze. I thought this was amazing, and couldn’t wait to share it with my students! We all took turns guessing what the green goo was and if/why it had come out of this insect. I then went home and “googled it”. And, according to National Geographic, this was an amazing thing, but not in the way I had anticipated: It was “vomiting” in order to scare away the predator (me). And this vomiting, surprise surprise, isn’t healthy for the caterpillar. It loses vital nutrients, causing it to have a lesser chance to succeed.
So I was quite humbled by this; what I had thought was a harmless act, with the motive of furthering the knowledge of my young friends, could actually be quite detrimental to the very insect with which I was so enamored. I had convinced myself that if I just held it for a moment, and returned it to its previous location, all would be well. But after educating myself, I found I was wrong.
That’s not to say one can never do these things! But it is something to keep in mind when experiencing the outdoors with your young ones. I feel that many times we get so caught up in ensuring the safety of our children, we forget we are among many other species of children, all around us. And they have their own part to play in this sticky web of life. So if we can try to ask one another, and ourselves, “What is best for this being?” and get to know our local flora and fauna, we will be well on our way to keeping a healthy, mature and respectful demeanor when we are in our local Katipillar Kingdom..Spider Space… Ant Arena…
Want to start a garden, but aren’t sure how to make it friendly for people, plants and animals alike? Check out the free handouts found at the Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve, where you can get loads of info on how to utilize that spot of your lawn while helping out the surrounding birds and bees! The Sunshine Community Garden is a another great place to visit with your kids to educate them on the magic of growing food…
You may already be producing some delicious food stuff in your backyard! Sign up for our Acorn Harvesting and Preparation Class this weekend to learn how to ‘harvest’ the most from your acorns. Click on the link below to start on your educational journey…
It’s taken some time for me to get used to some aspects of outdoor education. Children using knives and making fire and hiking with preschoolers (we really are hiking, not just walking;) have been some sources of apprehension. But each day, each moment I’m with these children, I realize not only how capable they are, but new ways to help ensure their safety.
Before the first tool, butter knives, was even handed out, we discussed knife safety. We explained how knives are tools, not toys. That using knives is a privilege, not a right. We then spent a whole day practicing carving soap and apples with butter knives. They all had to receive knife certification, where they prove to an instructor that not only can they regurgitate the information, but also explain what it means to them in their own words, while demonstrating with a butter knife and a stick. Then they were able to use the fixed blade steel knives, and had specific tasks, like carve the tip into a square, or remove all the bark. Soon they were ready to learn different skills, like how to get rid of knots on the sides of sticks, or how to make a “flower” out of a stick, etc.
I was with that same group of students today at class, and they were carving pumpkins with knives. Not your typical carving knife set you buy for $3.99 at Target, but real, stainless steel knives with a fixed blade, and one of the children was celebrating his 6th birthday. It. Was. Amazing. The amount of focus, care and observance of safety rules was astounding. We have a few basic rules at Earth Native, we call them the ABC’s of carving, and the children follow them to a T. They even help one another, telling a fellow student if they are too close to them while they are carving, or reminding one another to carve away from themselves.
Yesterday, at the preschool program I teach, we went on a hike. It was probably .5 miles. Some uphill, some climbing over rocks, some down rocks. Before we came to a hill, I would warn them, and suggest some options for safe travel. As they climbed, I commented on how they did, using positive reinforcement. I would say, “I like how (name) is using both their feet AND hands to get down the rocks”, or “Way to sit on your bottom and scoot down this slope!” And they did great. I also said that whenever we see poison ivy, we should turn to the person behind us, point to it, and say “poison ivy, pass it on!” I’ve also called it ‘P.I.’ in other classes, and the kids just love to point it out, because it has a ‘cool’ nickname.
So, in conclusion, clear guidelines (with knives), options for success (different ways to climb down rocks) positive reinforcement (try to be specific with your comments) and nature games (who can spot the most P.I.) will help to create safer and more positive explorations for you and your child.
Best of Luck and Happy Exploring!
Want a class for the whole family on safe practices for camping? Check out the link below to sign up for our Camping 101 Family Class! http://www.earthnativeschool.com/youth-programs/weekend-classes/camping-101-family-class.html
Walnut Staining, soap and oil tanning: How to stretch it out.
By: Douglas “Grey” Cowan
The first day I moved to Austin I was on the lookout for a walnut tree. Why? Walnut hulls have high tannin content. I had two deer hides I had turned to rawhide that a mentor of mine in Washington had given me. I wanted to stain them black with walnuts. I didn’t have to look long. While filling up my gas tank one day I saw that beautiful tree and began to gather the fruits. Smashing walnuts to get the hulls off is a rewarding feeling. Those of you who know me personally know I did not wear gloves my first go around. My hands were black for three weeks after that. Learn from my mistake!
After processing about two gallon bags full of walnuts, I was ready for my first stain. The way vegetable-tanning works is the hide sucks in the tannins over a prolonged period of time. The first bath needed to be 1/3 tannin tea and 2/3’s water. After boiling, then turning the stove down to low for four hours, I was ready to start my first tan. After taking the rawhide deer out from my garage and putting intention and giving some thanks to the deer nation, I placed the water in the tannin tea and water mixture. Every morning and night for five days I would stir the hide and solution to make sure the hide took the color evenly. The hide sucks up the tannins in such a way that if I went 100% tannin tea it would shock the hide and the center of the skin would not tan. I cannot stress enough the importance of taking your time with this entire process.
1/3 soap, 2/3 Oil and the soap and oil products used explained further down.
After five days I was ready to increase the solution. This time I went 2/3’s tannin tea and 1/3 water. I used the juice that had already been in with the hide and put it in a pot with fresh walnut hulls. After boiling and keeping the stove on low for another 4 hours I let it cool and put the solution back in the bucket. I then added the 1/3 water. I stirred every day and night for another five days.
After another five days I was ready for 100% tannin tea. I put the tannin tea I had already in the pot with fresh walnuts, boiled it, and put it on low for another four hours. The hide was already really dark and over the next five days, stirring it every day, it was finally ready!
My stretching pole.
Washing the excess tannins out of the hide is really important, otherwise it will stain your skin if you make it into something you wear. To do this I put the hide in my bathtub, filled it with water, and rinsed it three times. Then I took the hide out into the sun and let it turn hard.
Hide before it has been rehydrated.
I re-wet the hide in the bathtub a few days later when I had time to stretch it. As the hide was rehydrating, I made a mason jar full of 1/3 Dr. Bronner’s and 2/3 neat’s-foot oil. I took the hide out of the water and wrung it out over the tub by hand as well as I could. Stretching a hide means ripping the fibrous network from the mucus that makes up the hide. I did this by stretching the hide over my knees and using the stretching pole I own. I did this for about 15 minutes, then applied my soap and oil solution all over the hide. I kept stretching with my legs, hands, and stretching pole for the next three hours. To put the final soften, I took the hide to a metal cable on the membrane side to get it 100% soft.
A finished walnut hide.
This was my first walnut, soap and oil tan combo. I am very please with the result. My freezer is full of walnut hulls and I can’t wait to do more tanning! If you know where any walnut trees are in the Austin area, please comment so we can take advantage of this valuable resource.
Finished product 100% soft
I got 99 walnuts frozen, no freezer room ain’t fun.
Grey is one of the Instructors at Earth Native Wilderness School. He’s always tanning, building or carving… He even teaches classes to kids on the weekends… Sign your child up!
I’d like to give a shout-out to a couple animals many find unappealing… even annoying!
#1: The turkey vulture
-Nature’s “garbage persons” if you will… They lack the ability to kill their own food, but by golly they’ll clean up any carcasses left behind! If there were no vultures, imagine how much “trash” would accumulate. Thanks vultures, for keepin’ it clean, which is probably what the scientists were thinking when they gave them the scientific name Cathartes aura, Latin for “cleansing breeze”.
-Have an excellent sense of smell for locating their meals, which is quite unique, for a bird
-When perched in a group, are called a “wake”
-Will defecate on their feet to cool off:)
-My ode-to-geese is rather short… Just wanted to point out something about their defecating habits…
I’m sure we’ve all been at a pond, enjoying the lovely sights, and have found ourselves stepping in a heap of geese scat… GRRR! Ok, here’s why there’s so much: When geese are grazing, it’s happening at a rapid pace, with little break before they have to take off into the skies. But having such a fibrous diet is not conducive to being aerodynamic, so, as they eat, they constantly defecate, ridding themselves of any excess food… WHOA!
So, if you or your offspring find yourselves strongly disliking a part of nature, do a little research… Chances are, the more you know, the more you’ll love:)
If you’ve heard one blackbird, you’ve heard them all… Right?
Wrong! Ravens and Crows are both blackbirds, but their calls are quite different! Check out this youtube video to learn more, and sing along!
Great for little ones who aren’t so keen on the idea of mud masks!
camo: natural items-grass, leaves, sticks… Even rocks!
Strap: string! Find cheap bundles at consignment shops, ie Thriftland on Stassney or Vincent de Paul on S. Congress
Check this out for new/used outdoor gear… Get shoes for the kiddos, a new sleeping bag, and perhaps a swanky patagonia fleece… For crazy-low prices!
Happy Saving to YOUUU!
And the answer is…. Raccoon!
Some hints to knowing it’s a raccoon are…
Near water: Water is like a buffet for Raccoons! They have such a strong sense of touch in their paws they don’t even need their eyes to find delicious crawdads or wee fish to snag in the stream, river, etc.
Prints: This amazing sense of touch also comes from the fact that their paws are so hand-like! When looking for their prints, look for something that resembles a tiny human hand…
Find a spot out in nature where they can visit every day (or as often as possible!) and observe the natural world around them. This could be a spot along a creek near your house, in your backyard, at a park that you walk to often, etc. Try to avoid over-looking a road, somewhere where there’s lots of people and man-made things IF POSSIBLE.
The amazingness of the natural world can be discovered everywhere – even in the grass next to a parking lot where ants are hard at work, a wildflower is starting to sprout, or vultures soar up above. Don’t worry about finding the “perfect” location. Encourage your child to find a place that’s easily accessible every day and that they are excited about. I was walking through an apartment parking lot the other night and saw an owl! You never know…. :)
Being able to go frequently is arguably more important than the spot itself. The more we visit, the more we notice. The more we practice, the more focused and present we can be IN ORDER to notice.
Pick a time frame that works best for your child. 5 minutes is often a good starting point, but depending on their developmental level, adjusting to 3 or 7 could be a great fit! You can increase as time goes on and maybe even set a goal with your child for how long they will be sitting by the end of the month!
If you decide to do sit spot with your child, that would be awesome!!!! If you both feel comfortable, you can find your own magical sit spots separate from one another. You can also use sit spot as an opportunity to bond with your child and start off sitting right next to each other. If they are tempted to talk to you during the 5 minutes, you could always sit far enough apart from each other where you can still see one another but have some distance.
Afterwards I always sit with my students to debrief. Most of the time I don’t have to ask anything – they come ready with lots to share! Good questions to ask are about their 5 senses. Ask for details – if they saw a bird, you can ask about the color, if it was soaring or flapping its wings, etc.
I also encourage journaling as a way to record something they were excited about, drawing something they saw that they want to look up, or practicing writing some words about their experience.
***This should be something they’re EXCITED to do – not a forced activity. If your child doesn’t want to sit, that’s ok!!!! Doesn’t want to journal? That’s ok! Its hard to sit and do nothing for a few minutes, especially at a young age.
Our school shares much of its approach with the Wilderness Awareness School in Washington. Here is a short article from their website about how students benefit from sit spots, if you’d like to know how you can extend their experience at home! http://wildernessawareness.org/articles/the-science-of-sit-spot/
Although I’ve provided a lot of information, sit spots are incredibly simple. Time to sit quietly and connect with nature :) That’s all, and from it comes so much!
Nichole, ENWS Instructor
Found at McKinney Falls, just about the Upper Falls…
Save some green and live green by renting toys for your tots! The Toybrary, right here in Austin, provides the tools you need to inspire your little ones, and help out a local business. Just go to the Toybrary, rent some toys from their nature and science section, whether it be about animals, plants or learning about the five senses, and let the magic begin. Once one toy has peaked your little one’s interest, take it back and get another! Endless possibilities await…
For more info, visit… http://toybraryaustin.com/
PS He’s alive and well, just playing dead… Promise!
Frog egg masses are out and about (as much as they can be, since they’re still eggs) at McKinney Falls State Park, and they are awesome! A $6 entry fee gets you in to see some pretty sweet gelatinous egg masses… You can pick up the mass and hold it in your hand, but keep them underwater and as a mass, so they have a better chance of survival…
Check them out before they hatch! Or…go check out the many tiny tadpoles that emerge!
Fun Fact #1: If you find a string of eggs, perhaps attached to vegetation, those are usuallytoads. The masses are frogs…
Fun Fact #2: The black color of the frog/toad eggs attracts the sun, working as a natural incubator! So hot, it’s cool…
….Is the name of the game at the Environmental Science Institute at UT. This Friday, (TOMORROW!?!), at the Welch Hall Auditorium on UT’s campus, chemist Dr.Laude will be discussing/demonstrating just how cooooool science is, specifically Chemistry. Not only will he be showing off some amazing chemical reactions and sharing how chemistry is a part of our everyday life, there will be a hands-on interactive fair occurring before he even takes the stage. Activities and info for all ages and interests will be available. And it’s free! Working for a school that offers classes to children from all sorts of educational backgrounds, I understand the difficulty in getting your children inspired and interested in the various branches of science. Not only is it hard to get others inspired, it’s a tough subject to teach! So let Dr.Laude help to plant that seed of inspiration…
WHEN: THIS FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 12th
WHERE: UT CAMPUS, WELCH HALL AUDITORIUM
After you attend the talk tomorrow, do some experiments on your own while out on a hike. Once your kids become inspired, it’s important to capitalize on that excitement and keep that knowledge ball rolling! Learning about acids and bases is great way to combine chemistry and nature in a visual way. Go to Teacher Heaven, 4211 South Lamar Boulevard, buy some pH paper, and test the pH of different streams, ponds, springs and rivers around Austin. Have them keep a journal to chart which waterways are more basic, more acidic, or in that sweet spot that allows those sensitive species to thrive. Take some vinegar on a hike, scratch various rocks, and record what happens. Some rocks may not give you all that excitement, but if you can find some limestone, fizzy fun eruption ensues! Vinegar, an acid, dissolves bits of a material called calcium carbonate in the limestone. This releases carbon dioxide, a gas that rises to the surface as a stream of bubbles. Rocks that don’t contain calcium carbonate won’t fizz.
Have fun, you budding scientist you!
Richard Louv lays out 10 ways to bring family and nature together…
Click on the links below for more info/registration:
Alternate Methods of Gardening
Thursday, June 5, 2014 10am – noon
Travis County AgriLife Extension Office
Feeling adventurous? Explore alternate methods of gardening during the final class in our Dealing with Drought Conditions series. If you have time, space, or physical limitations yet still have a desire to nurture your green thumb, Master Gardener Pat Mokry will teach you how to raise carefree veggies, herbs and flowers using self-sufficient grow boxes. Then, for some more ‘new’ ideas, Master Gardener Marian Stassney will describe the ancient practices of both keyhole gardening and hugelkultur, to expand your repertoire of gardening techniques.
Part of the Texas AgriLife Extension Water Conservation Series. Register or by phone 979-845-2604. $10 fee, $15 at site. Class is limited to 40 people.
Austin in the Springtime! The colors of the flowers, the lush green tree canopies, the intricate webs of spiders, the beautiful butterflies!
Instinctively, we use our sense of sight constantly while exploring nature. But what about our other senses? As you use that branch for support, think about how that specific bark feels under your palm. Is it smooth like a sycamore? Or rough like an oak? Or maybe stringy, almost hairy, like a juniper? When scanning the sky for a hawk, use your ears to listen for its cries. Stop and rub a plant’s leaves (leaves of 3, let it be!) in your hand and smell your fingertips. Ashe junipers are great for this, as they will leave your hands smelling sweet and pungent. Pause and count how many sounds you hear. An activity for all ages is randomly stopping and having everyone point towards the origin of a sound, and see how many different sounds are occurring, just in that moment! Cup your hands behind your ears to heighten your sense of hearing. Reverse your hands, and listen to the sounds behind you. Search for common edible plants, such as wood sorrel or greenbriar, and taste the leaves. Delicious! Don’t know many edible plants? Stay tuned…
Now, go on, hike with your whole self!
I know all of you are gazing at this picture oh so lovingly, thinking of all those long walks you’ve had in your nearby park or preserve, picking up the berries and squeezing them between your fingers, enjoying the wonderful smell that reminds you of a sleigh ride in the winter, pulling the bark off to use as tinder for your fire… And then there are the majority of you who look at this picture and only see SNEEZING and COUGHING and WATERY EYES and want to yell, “RUN AWAY! CEDAR FEVER IS ON THE LOOSE!” Many debate has been had as to whether these are considered “Junipers” or “Cedars”. Clear the air, this post shall! According to, ahem, the Interagency Taxonomic Information System, cedar is the genus, whilst juniper is the species! And, so it seems, juniper and cedar are interchangeable when it comes to naming the genus, although the correct terminology for the genus is Juniperus. Ta Dah! So, these lovely trees we find inhabiting Austin at every turn are officially called Juniperus ashei (a great way to remember this name is the exclamation: Hey Juniper! Us have ash eeee!!! my eye!)
Please view the hierarchy below, straight from the, ahem, Interagency Taxonomic Information System’s (ITIS for short) website. Perhaps the confusion is distinguishing between eastern red-cedars, otherwise known as Juniperus virginiana L, and our wondrous Ashe junipers, which, although enjoy the same habitat, are indeed two different species of cedars (if we want to be scientific, two different species belonging to the same genus Juniperus). Enjoy this new tidbit of knowledge!
Kingdom Plantae – plantes, Planta, Vegetal, plants
Subkingdom Viridaeplantae – green plants
Infrakingdom Streptophyta – land plants
Division Tracheophyta – vascular plants, tracheophytes
Subdivision Spermatophytina – spermatophytes, seed plants, phanérogames
Infradivision Gymnospermae – gymnosperms, gymnospermes, gimnosperma
Class Pinopsida – conifers
Family Cupressaceae – cypress, redwood
Genus Juniperus L. – juniper, cedar, cedro, redcedar, sabino
Species Juniperus ashei J. Buchholz – Ashe juniper, enebro de monte, Ashe’s juniper
P.S. Fun activity to get to know your flora and fauna: Type in any name of flora/fauna in the search engine at the bottom of the ITIS website, and it will show you the whole taxonomy of that organism… Super neat!
LASTLY… If you just can’t get enough, check out these other sites with many-a factoid about our delightful green friends, the Juniperus ashei:
Doin’ Work! Bluebonnet’s roots are home to Rhizobium, a nitrogen-fixing bacterium. The Rhizobium is able to take nitrogen from the air and share it with the bluebonnet roots. In turn, when the bluebonnet dies, the nitrogen returns to the soil and provides nutrients to other plants. Whahooo for bluebonnets and botany!
Hint: The answer’s in your HEAD somewhere…
Turn your little ones into frogs for less than $4!
Museum Mysteries at the Texas Memorial Museum
1st Floor: Hall of Geology and Paleontology
- Outline of Texas on the left: Can you touch the mountains of west Texas? What about the river to the south? Where are we?
- Drink some water at the fountain on your right!
- Is the meteorite (the one in its own case; from Wichita County) bigger than your mom’s head?
- Where do you think the sail-back dinosaurs get their name?
- Give the Sauropod’s femur a hug! Can you touch the top?
- What is longer: the Theropod dinosaur’s teeth or your fingers?
- What is the gentleman’s name at the Paleontology lab desk? (desk in back left corner of exhibit)
- Where do you think soda straws got their name? (Cave area)
2nd Floor: Great Hall: Natural Wonders (main entrance)
- Explore all the beautiful rocks!
- Can you find the green rock that looks like a head of dark green lettuce?
- Or the huge purple rock with lots of purple rock teeth?
- Find a rock for every color in the rainbow!
3rd Floor: Hall of Texas Wildlife
- Are you taller than the tree stump at the top of the stairs?
- (Exhibits to the Right, along the wall)What color are the “ears” on the slider turtle?
- Are you longer than the average prairie rattle snake?
- How did cottonmouths get their name?a) The eat cotton!b) They lay eggs in cotton nests c) Their mouths have a white lining, white like cotton!
- What is the bull snake sneaking up on? And what is THAT animal munching on?
- What does the northern river otter eat?
- What color is the ringtail’s tail?
- How many eyes are watching you from up above?
- What is a bobcat’s favorite food?
- What shape is the barn owl’s face?♥
Gallery 3E: End of hall to the Left, then Right
- How many cliff swallows in the cliff swallow cage?
- What is special about cliff swallow nests?
- What color legs do the Texas shore birds have?
- How many animals do you see in the Predators and Prey Display?
To the Right of the Stairs
- What is a Caracara? How many legs is this one standing on?
- Does the armadillo look soft and fuzzy?
- What color(s) is the black bellied whistling duck’s beak?
- Is the golden eagle really golden?
- Would you pet a porcupine?
- Can you find an insect for every color of the rainbow?
4th Floor: Hall of Biodiversity
- Who do you think has more teeth, you or the monkfish?
- Could you hold the Barton Springs salamander in your hand?
- Are there caves in Texas?!
- Would you live in a cave? Would you want to visit in the summer or the winter?
Explore the Evolution Exhibit, or head back to your favorite spot!
We would pick wind Pocahontas, but soil is a bit more accessible. Materials? Scratch paper, paint brushes, water and access to some soil, which, as luck would have it, happens to be everywhere! And it’s free!
Bring some yarn/string next hiking trip, and make some spider webs! Make them horizontal, and test if they can catch a small twig… Or even a branch! Make a huge vertical one and try to get through it as though you are an insect trying to escape! Webs ‘o Fun! Just don’t forget to bring that web with you when the fun is done…
Check out reptiles, rock climb and learn some archery techniques at this outdoor fest!
Welcome spring with some insects made from recycled materials! Stop by Ecology Action of Austin, give a donation amount of your choice, and snag some egg cartons. Then, let the fun begin! Color with crayons, glue on googly eyes, and use pipe cleaners for antennae and legs to make your very own insect! The egg cartons are a perfect representation (once you cut them) of the three body parts that make an insect special: Head, Thorax, Abdomen!
Sometimes getting the littlest explorers to go out on a hike can be a considerable feat. Next time you’re out on the trail, try adding some excitement with these simple trail games that engage your kids while encouraging them to take notice of their surroundings. Each game takes the form of a call that requires a specific response. Explain the different trail calls before you start and get ready for an adventure!
You’re only safe if: This one is simple. Pick a feature of the landscape and call out ‘you’re only safe if you’re touching ____’. For example, if you walk by some wood sorrel, you could call out ‘you’re only safe if your right toe is on something edible.’ Your kids will scramble across trail to find the desired objective. You can modify this one with directions like ‘you’re only safe if you point to the north.’ Make it as easy or as challenging as you’d like.
Camouflage: When you call ‘camouflage,’ close your eyes and count to ten. Your kids have ten seconds to go hide somewhere close by. Open your eyes and if you can see them, call them back to the trail. If you can’t, count again to ten and instruct your kids to get closer. Keep repeating until everyone is found.
Flood: Call out ‘flood’ and everyone has ten seconds to get both feet off the ground. This one is especially fun!
Dead bug: Fun for everyone, and very silly, ‘dead bug’ means drop to the ground and roll on your back like a dead bug. I imagine that this one would be really fun if you were walking the dog . . .
Have fun on your next hike with these games!
Libbie, Earth Native Instructor
Construct a medieval shield or crown at the Children’s International festival, visit the Texas State History Museum for stories of this great state’s past and check out fossils at the Memorial Museum; Saturday, March 1st, 10-5PM
Make binoculars at home for cheap/free. Kids love them, and they are a great accompaniment to hikes. Helps to teach the basics to using binoculars. P.S. Has been tested on a group of 15 preschoolers and was a TOTAL HIT!
Looking for something fun to do with your kids or a group of youth? Building structures from materials found out in nature is not only extremely fun, but it’s clearly an instinctive activity for the kids.
The recipe for success with this type of activity is fairly simple:
Find an area with plenty of materials and space for the kids to build and experiment. An ideal setting is a wooded area with lots of trees, sticks and fallen branches. Having an abundance of these ingredients will give the youth ample raw materials to let their imaginations run wild!
Some other materials that help supplement the sticks and branches are things like grasses, leaves, flowers and rocks. These materials are typically a decorative addition to the base structure that is built from found wood.
If you only have a backyard or a small space, this is okay too. The size and shape of building shelters and other structures can scale depending on the amount of available materials. You can always preface the activity with the idea of making small or miniature structures. Many kids, especially the younger ones, love the idea of making fairy houses.
From here, you can introduce a specific type of structure or shelter to build or simply let the kids build as they please. You can also work on one structure together or let the kids break up to build separate structures if they want.
Either way, it’s good to model a couple examples of configurations and formations as possibilities. You can model them simply by making a quick and small example out of sticks while the child group watches.
A few examples of simple shelters are:
1. The Debris Hut
This shelter is relatively simple and lots of fun. You need one long and sturdy tree branch or trunk that you lay at an angle. You can lay the main branch on something like a tree stump, but you can also get two Y shaped branches to hold the center branch. From there, simply line the sides with branches, the more the merrier. You want the branches closely together because the next step is to pile leaves on top. If the branches are too far away, the leaves will fall through.
From here, the kids just pile on as many leaves and grasses as possible and there you have it! If you want to conserve heat, you can build a door type structure onto the front of the hut, as seen in the first image . Typically a debris hut only fits one person at a time.
Most kids already know how to build a tipi. A tipi can be tied at the top to ensure structural integrity, but typically it will work out even without tying the top. As with a debris hut, a Y-shaped branch or two can help to lock in the structure to make sure it doesn’t topple over. You can always occasionally check the structure by putting light pressure in different spots to make sure it won’t fall.
3. Other options for shelters include a lean-to, a wicki-up, a “log cabin” style structure and more. But sometimes, kids have the most fun simply using their own imagination and building something never done before. By modeling a few of the options, they will often use some of the same shapes and ideas, but ultimately it will feel like their own complete creation.
Most importantly, enjoy! You will be amazed at how much skill and creativity can come from an activity like this, with lots of joy and laughter as a bonus. Happy building!
Brian, Earth Native Instructor
Our Cafe; Can you find the cup? The chair? The table? Please visit the finished product, as well as other amazing Faerie Lairs, during March 10th-May 26th at the Zilker Botanical Garden. Stay tuned for more pics and updates!
Does this look all too familiar? Perhaps you use this once, twice… maybe every time you put the key in the ignition. Next time, try to navigate using landmarks. Quiz your kids and see if they know their way home from the grocery store. From school. From grandma’s house. Have them tell you when to turn, what exit to get off at. Teach them to trust their instincts, and help improve their navigation skills. Look at a map before leaving the house, instead of turning off your brain and letting your phone do the “thinking”. You have officially been CHALLENGED!
In the snowy Northeast where I grew up, cold weather governs a significant portion of the calendar. Although everyone loves to complain about the weather, everyone I know also spent a considerable amount of time outdoors despite the extreme temperatures. I spent hours and hours out skiing in my woods behind the house, usually not returning until the sun started to set. In fact, winter is my favorite season to go exploring in nature. Just like sweltering Texas summers, the cold requires some extra preparations – warm clothes, water, knowledge of the signs of hypothermia and frostbite – but once you get out there, you’ll find that the unique pleasures of winter far outweigh the discomforts of the cold. Below I’ve outlined some of my favorite winter activities for kids (and adults!)
Look for different types of frost – When air temperatures dip below freezing, you can find all types of incredible frost patterns, even by just searching the backyard. Get out a magnifying glass to truly appreciate the intricate patterns visible on leaves, windows, and branches. Pay special attention to any long-stemmed plants around the area you’re exploring. You might see a ‘frost flower,’ a formation of ice caused by sap freezing and expanding outside the plant stem. Capillary action draws water out of cracks in the plant where it freezes, causing thin layers of ice that look like petals. For more information on different types of frost check out the National Geographic Encyclopedia page on frost.
Build a fire – Nothing is more rewarding than building a warm fire on a cold day. Challenge yourselves to building a fire with a bow drill kit, or if you haven’t made one yet, try limiting the number of matches you’re allowed to use. With younger children, model how to build a fire first yourself. Once your fire is built up, challenge your child to gather appropriate kindling to light a small fire with just one coal from the existing fire. They will love blowing on the coal and feel a true sense of accomplishment once the kindling lights up. For a special treat, roast banana boats in your coals. To make banana boats, first create a vertical slit in the banana. Stuff the banana with your favorite toppings, such as chocolate chips, nuts, raisins and peanut butter. Wrap the banana in foil and set in the coals for fifteen minutes or so. Unwrap and eat the gooey insides with a spoon.
Make art, the world is your canvas – If you’re lucky enough to have snow on the ground, seize the opportunity to make snow people, snow castles, or footprint snow designs. Even a small dusting on a picnic table creates the perfect canvas for fingerprint art. If it is below 20 F, try using food coloring to create colored icicles, or use an ice tray to freeze plants or rocks into ice sculptures.
Cold days are few and far between in Texas, so get out and enjoy them while you can. At the end of the day, celebrate your adventures with hot cocoa!
Libbie Weimer, Earth Native Instructor
Today I celebrated the amazing warm weather with a visit to a park in town that many overlook: Wild Basin Wilderness Preserve. Just a few miles northwest of Austin off of 360, it’s truly a hidden gem. Part of the Balcones Canyonlands Preserve system, Wild Basin is stewarded by a partnership between St. Edwards University and Travis County. There are two and a half miles of trails (it may not sound like much, but they are quite hilly!) along with some picturesque overlooks and creek crossings.
The preserve is said to be home to species such as the Golden Cheeked Warbler and the Texas Salamander. Probably the best part of Wild Basin is the fact that, though it’s only a short drive from downtown Austin, it never seems to be very crowded.
Wild Basin is open everyday from sunrise to sunset. It’s important to note that pets are not welcome in the preserve, and that hikers must stay on-trail while visiting. Be sure to check out the on-site Creative Research Center for more information.
Get out there and enjoy this warm weather before “winter” returns!
Jessica, Youth Programs Instructor
When walking on a trail, a fun thing to look for is various animal scat! Yes, that hairy mushy stuff we all see and sometimes pretend not to until we accidentally step in it… Truth be told, it’s actually a great way to get to know what animals live in the natural area you’re exploring. Due to the fact that we are big, loud scary diurnal humans, we don’t often get to experience the pleasure of seeing many of the animals inhabiting the forests. So, scat is a great way to “see” these animals and better understand the hierarchy existing within Austin’s great outdoors.
Once you spot scat, try to answer these questions:
- Size of the animal
- Time the animal was “passing through”
- Herbivore, Omnivore or Carnivore
- What animal is it?!
You can also look for tracks nearby that may help to answer some of these questions. And don’t forget to sing this sweet rap song on your journey!
♥Side Note: If you are experiencing an overwhelming “ick” factor, perhaps you and your young one should start your journey into the world of scat with a quick read of Everyone Poops, by Taro Gomi.
Starts with an “S”, ends with a “T” It comes out of you, and it comes out of me, I know what you’re thinking, it could be called that, But let’s be scientific, and call it SCAT.
If you wanna find out what animals eat, Take a good look at what they excrete. Stuck in the scat are all kinds of clues, Parts of the food that their bodies can’t use.
Down by the creek on a hollow log, Scat full of berries and bones of frogs. Fresh last night he was out with the moon, Hunting crawdads, it was Mr. Raccoon.
You park your car by a wood or field, Gonna find scat on your window shield. Full of seeds, purple and white. You just got bombed by a bird in flight.
If you wanna know what’s in the woods or around, Take a good long look at the scat on the ground.
It tells us what they eat and tells us who they are, And that’s what we know about scat so far.
The rap was written by Rodd Pemble, Mary Keebler, and Andy Bennett.
Awesome offer! FREE online Permacuture Design Course from a great school!
Made bowdrills today in Wilderness Survival Class… pretty empowering to be able to make a fire just using friction! Definitely something anyone can accomplish, including kids!
It’s official! The Barton Creek Habitat Preserve, a beautiful natural area west of Austin that is CLOSED to the public, will be one of the many picnic spots for the new Earth Native Preschool Program:Picnics in the Park! Visit earthnativeschool.com to sign up for the chance to see this hidden forest, home to the Golden-cheeked Warbler and the Black-capped Vireo, both of which are on the endangered list.
Recently visited this park, located about 30 minutes SE of central Austin.
Pros: Beautiful visitor center with a small aquarium, touching table for little ones, restrooms, wide, well-maintained trails great for running and horseback
Cost: $2-5 per
Not for someone really trying to immerse themselves into the wilderness… Wide trails with car tracks remind you that civilization is very near. Did find lots of awesome scat and tracks, so animals seem not to mind:)
This is What Happened When A Kid Leaves Traditional Education:
Welcome to Earth Native’s Blog!
We are an Austin area, non-profit organization with one goal in mind: connecting people to the natural areas around them! Our blog will be dedicated to doing just that, focusing on helping families find all the treasures Austin has to offer, from ratings of local parks to activities to do with your young ones, as well as keeping you posted on the various programs offered by Earth Native. Please use this blog as a facilitator, simply a window to the natural world and wonders surrounding you. As Tom Brown says in his book The Tracker, “Everything I learn (about nature) makes me see how much more there is to know and how little time there is in a lifetime to learn it.” What better time than the present, and what better place to begin learning but here in Austin, known as “a city within a park”?
Since we are in the midst of what those northeastern states call ‘winter’, it seems like a time to focus on what to do when the weather is not always agreeable. Seems funny to start with this topic on a day like today, when we reached a balmy 70 degrees, yet this is the best time to do one thing, regardless of what season it feels like: stargaze. Stargazing has been an important part of humanity for thousands of years. Although for us it is just for kicks, it used to be the only way people found home, entertainment and provided a sense of wonderment: is there life beyond our planet?
The easiest constellation to spot is Orion, the hunter. Just look for that bejeweled three-star belt, and you’ve got it. Look above and to the left of the belt, and you’ll find Betelgeuse, a vibrant orange star. Although we couple the colors red and orange with the feeling of heat, Betelgeuse is actually an older star, cooler than its neighbor, Rigel, the star on the opposite side of the belt, functioning as Orion’s left foot. Rigel burns with the blue-white heat of a vibrant, young star. To see this a little closer to home, grab a lighter or a match. Try to guess what color will be closest to the origin of the flame, and what color will be at the tip. Light it and see if you were right. This is a simple way to demonstrate the colors of various levels of heat.
Orion is just one of the many constellations in the winter sky, and each one tells a pretty great story. You can find pictures in stars the way you do on a cloudy day: it’s all about connecting the dots, and using your imagination. The ever-popular Queen Cassiopeia consists of just five stars, creating a W or M, depending on the season, yet she stars in many of the stories from ancient Greek and Roman times. So get out there, and find your own King and Queen of the night sky! Pick a dry, clear day, and soon, since our nights are again becoming short as the seasons once again begin to change. It may be cold, but to quote Tom Brown from The Tracker again, “I don’t see how anybody could have a passion for nature without having an equally developed tolerance for the cold.”
After you’ve all identified or created a constellation and have returned to the warmth of your home, get out some black or dark blue paper, sharpen some pencils and recreate the constellations by simply poking holes in your very own ‘bits of sky’. You can wrap them around a candle or simply hold them up to a light to enjoy your very own sky.
Youth Programs Instructor