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Children Learn From Nature
"Down By The Bay, Where The Pickleweed Grows..."
My daughter sang a new version of the classic children's song, Down By The Bay, as she showed me all the wonderful things she learned during her summer camp at the Bay Area Shoreline. For two weeks she explored this beautiful landscape which consists mostly of sloughs, marshes, mud flats and rocky shorelines. During her adventures she learned how the shoreline is the perfect place for seeing how the tides affect the Bay and the inland marshes. She explored the salt marshes, even collecting the salt to make ice-cream, and she found crab exoskeletons in the cord grass during low tide. My daughter's vocabulary grew as she discovered new insects, birds, animals and plants. Most importantly she began to understand the importance of protecting the environment and appreciating all the gifts the Earth gives to us each day.
Pgymy Blue Butterfly
As we walked along the trail with the salty air blowing around us, I began to appreciate the beauty of the wetlands. My quiet thoughts were interrupted when my daughter shouted, "Pygmy blues, pygmy blues!" Until that moment I had never heard of a pygmy blue butterfly, which is sad, because I'm sure I have walked by a few without even knowing it. My daughter pointed out the tiny butterflies that were circling around some pickleweeds (another word my daughter taught me). As we stopped to watch, my daughter explained that the pygmy blue butterflies are one of the smallest butterflies in the western United States. Yes, she actually used those exact words and my jaw almost hit the trail as I listened to my five-year-old daughter speak like a ranger. My junior ranger went on to tell me that the pygmy blue butterflies are found all around the salt marsh area and they eat pickleweed, saltbush and pigweed. As I smiled at my daughter I couldn't help but feel pride in her knowledge. She had become my teacher.
Then my daughter took me further down the trail and she pointed out an area full of black swallow-tail caterpillars. She knew exactly where to go and which plants to focus on. We counted the caterpillars and discovered there were 38, that we could see, living off the rich vegetarian found in the area. What amazed me the most was how gentle and protective my daughter was over these fragile creatures. She carefully extended two fingers and softly stroked one of the caterpillars. By exploring the shoreline my daughter had learned to appreciate the wildlife and understood the value of all living things. When she noticed a tiny little baby caterpillar my daughter squealed, "Oh, a baby. We can't touch that one. It's too fragile."
We took out our small fish net and explored the hidden gems in the waters around the shoreline. My daughter found feathers, snails, shells, shore crabs and even fish. After scooping up a few shore crabs my daughter explained, "The boy crabs have a circle on their tummies. The girls have a triangle on their tummies." Sure enough, when you flip over a shore crab you'll notice a pattern on their shell. The triangle and circle patterns are easy to spot and a great way to explain this useful fact to children. My daughter placed all of her "treasures" in a shallow container that had been filled with the marsh water. We took pictures, continued to get muddy and then my daughter said, "Okay, now we have to put them back where they live. Good-bye guys."
Ground Squirrels, Harvest Field Mice, Rabbits and Snakes
We found numerous holes along the trail. Some were rather large while others were small in size. My daughter explained the holes were either made by ground squirrels, rabbits, harvest field mice or snakes. She told me, "Never stick anything down a hole. You don't want to get hurt and you don't want to hurt the animals." We talked about how the holes are like homes for the animals, protecting them from the elements and predators. In that immediate area we counted over 12 holes in the ground. Each step brought us closer to nature as we discovered new findings like broken eggshells, feathers, birds, spiders and scat from rabbits.
Just as we were about to wrap up our hole viewing moment, a large ground squirrel sprinted across the path. Then another one scurried off into the bushes further down the path. My daughter and I both jumped with surprise (we are often easily started). After our feet touched the ground again we looked at each other and began to smile. Then our smiles turned into laughter and we found ourselves sitting on the ground, holding onto each other with delight. It was the perfect ending to a perfect day down by the bay.
California State Seashores
For more information about California shorelines please visit:
Shoreline Mud Story
- Education And Nature: Let There Be Mud!
Teachable moments can be found everywhere, even while playing in the mud. By allowing children to explore the natural world you open their minds to a wealth of knowledge that will last a lifetime.
Teaching Science Through Gardening
- Teaching Science Through Gardening
Science is found everywhere in the world around us. Exploring nature with children creates unique learning opportunities and builds a sense of wonder in young minds.