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We visited a local nature preserve and learning center. We hiked a trail used that day by cross-country skiiers, followed Salt Creek and were followed by ducks. The kids were fascinated and watched the ducks swim up to them and walk across the ice to get closer. They were clearly looking for food and disappointed that the snow the kids threw into the water was not bread crumbs. We watched the ducks search for their own food in the water. We also looked at animal tracks in the snow and observed environmental restoration efforts at the preserve. Inside the nature center, we played with animal track stamps in putty, put together food chain puzzles, observed a huge collection of walking stick bugs in a cage and played games that early settlers used to play.
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We went to the Brookfield Zoo to learn about two endangered species - the wombat and the Mexican gray wolf. The zoo has a baby wombat, born in 2007 who was sleeping with her mother. The father was in a separate enclosure. While we were in the Australia House we learned about the overpopulation of rabbits in Australia as they were imported from Europe and have no nature predators. The wolf exhibit is only a few years old with a pack of wolves enjoying their heated rocks in the enclosed natural environment. The children enjoyed the excellent interactive displays in the building and went into a very dark room illuminated only by stars to listen to wolf calls.
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This is an ongoing project at the Forest Preserve. On this day we burned a brush pile we had made during our previous work days. Working with the stewards of the site, we learned about fire temperatures, fire conditions and the benefits of fire in the forest preserve. We also had a nice picnic in the snow, roasting hot dogs and marshmallows!
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We walked through this beautiful forest preserve, following a map with few details through oak savanna to a slough wetland. It was a beautiful autumn day and we saw many prairie plants gone to seed. Some of the smaller children helped to disperse seeds. This particular preserve is fairly secluded from traffic noise the further in you go and the kids enjoyed being out in the "wilds" of the Chicago Metro area.
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There is an observation platform at the Jasper-Pulaski Wetland in Indiana. We arrived around 3:30 in the afternoon and spent the next hour watching about 12,000 migrating sandhill cranes come in to the open meadow from their day of foraging in the fields. The children watched them through binoculars and telescopes, where the cranes flew overhead. The children were amazed at their size. In the midst of the sandhills was one lone, very white whooping crane. We were all excited to see that. There were also about 20 deer milling about; it was hunting season and they must have learned they would be safe from hunters in that area. Most spectacular was the mass rising of the flock after an hour of socializing. They flew in one group to the wetland to roost for the night.
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As part of our work in the forest preserve, we collected seeds from prairie plants, prepared them and then spread them throughout the area we cleared earlier in the year.
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As part of our students' weekly community based instruction to learn how to sort and stock shelves, we volunteer at the local food bank, assisting in stocking their shelves in preparation for people in need to come and shop at the food bank.
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We read a book about birds who stay home (NY) for the winter. Then we made suet for the winter birds. To make suet, we put together 2 1/2c of lard, 2 1/2c peanut butter, 1 1/2c of bird seed, 1/2c of oatmeal, 1/2 c of mixed nuts and 1/2c of dried fruit in a cupcake pan. Melt the lard and mix in peanut butter untill smooth. Then add everything else by the handfull. Ues cupcake liners and then fill up the pan. Put outside to chill. We hung the suet cakes in a reused mesh onion bag and tied to a tree for the birds to eat. Tip- you may want to have extra nuts and fruit on hand for the nibblers.
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At our group's first meeting, we made simple pinecone bird feeders. First, we tied strings near the top of the pinecones (for hanging them outside), then spread creamy peanut butter around them, and lastly rolled the pine cones in birdseed. It was a fun craft that was easy enough for our younger members, incorporated nature appreciation, and made a tasty snack for backyard birds! Tip: You may want to spread out some wax paper to cover work surfaces before beginning.
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Kids danced several of the Sufi Dances of Universal Peace. Carol Schenker introduced us to the dances, told us the story behind each dance and then taught them to us. We finished with a craft which involved the entire group.

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