I am not a big fan of winter. A decent snowstorm isn’t so bad on occasion, but that’s pretty rare here in central North Carolina. Instead, winter is mostly a succession of short, chilly, gray days with nothing but a barren landscape to look forward to outdoors.
At least, that’s what I would have said…until my kids and I were assigned a nature walk by the Apologia Botany book we started at the beginning of the year. Starting a study of plant life in the dead of winter was not exactly my plan, but that’s how it worked out. So, we set out for our nature walk on what happened to be a pleasantly sunny and warm January day (I guess if we can’t have snow, we can at least enjoy the random glimpses of spring!).
Our assignment was to find four types of plants. I was pretty certain we would be able to find the gymnosperm (specifically a cone-bearing plant) and a nonvascular plant (moss), but I wasn’t so sure about the angiosperm (flowering plant) or the seedless vascular plant (fern). The kids and I got ready (the older two insisted that it was warm enough for shorts) and headed out to try our luck along the creekside trail behind our neighborhood.
I can’t say I expected my girls to be super enthusiastic about the prospect of searching for things like…moss. Our jaunts along this trail often include a bit of nature observation, but it is mostly of the animal life: a squirrel scurrying through the trees, an interesting bug on the trail, a little toad flattened by a bike (RIP)…Animals tend to stand out a bit more than plants, especially in the winter when the trees are mostly bare and boring and the pretty flowers are all dead.
Yet the girls didn’t seem too picky about this…On the contrary, they started pointing out small patches of moss almost as soon as we walked out the door. They grew more animated as we found larger patches and were very impressed by a nice blanket of moss we discovered on a rotting log. They were a bit tentative about trying to pick up a sample, but they were interested to touch it and gave cries of “Whoa! Cool!” when I pried a piece loose myself.
Nonvascular plant mission complete! Our gymnosperm was easily found, as there are plenty of tall, spindly cone-bearing trees along the trail. The girls soon gathered several pine cones for our collection. We had discovered a few tiny weed flowers growing along the road early on as well, though we kept an eye out for better angiosperms (That endeavor was ultimately unsuccessful). I was just beginning to give up on finding any seedless vascular plants when I noticed a few large ferns growing on a hillside near the creek. We scrambled up the little slope for a better view, turning the fronds over to observe the spores, which the girls also thought were pretty cool. After a little more walking and playing, we headed back home to finish the assignment by drawing pictures of what we had found (Surprisingly, I got more than one complaint about this part of the assignment being “boring” despite the fact that all three girls love to draw!).
All in all, it was quite a successful nature walk. Plus, we were all able to get out into the fresh air and run around a bit – which, in all honesty, was probably the main reason the girls were so excited. The little man even got in some motor skill development in balancing on a little barrier on the side of the trail. Anything can be educational in homeschooling, right?!
Of course, this type of nature walk probably isn’t going to hold the same type of results for those in colder climates. Yet even a walk in the snow might be a good opportunity for something like identifying animal tracks. You never know what you might find and what might get the kids excited! And a little fresh air and stretching of the legs are always a good way to combat the winter cabin fever.
Photo Credit: All images courtesy of Jessica Cole.