Adventures in the Woods on a Snowy Day

Forest Society naturalist and students explore the Bradford Elementary School Outdoor Learning Trail

Dave Anderson | January 21, 2015

Bradford Elementary School students gather for a photo during a winter activities hike on the Outdoor Learning and Fitness Trail. Learning winter tree identification and forest ecology with some mammal tracking opportunities in fresh snow!

On Friday, Jan. 16, I visited the Bradford Elementary School to lead 19 students on a winter activity day snowshoe hike on their Outdoor Learning and Fitness Trail. Bradford is a really nice school with enthusiastic staff, engaged parents and students very eager to get outside on the trails in the snow! Three parents joined our group as chaperones. The parents and teaching staff had tree questions of their own - of course.

Just beyond the playground and loop road behind the school, a wooden trailhead sign indicates the entrance to a network of walking trails with tree identification plaques and fitness stations. It is extremely fortunate that the Bradford Elementary School and local community leaders have worked together to establish such a valuable on-campus learning resource for the students. Congratulations, Bradford.  A forest field trip with no bus transportation required!

The snow provided perfect mammal tracking opportunities in addition to our focus on getting to know some of the trees in winter, particularly the conifers

When you ask students, "What kind of tree has needles instead of leaves - deciduous or evergreen?" They will always get it right.

It gets a bit more confusing if you ask, "deciduous or coniferous?"

When you ask "What kind of tree is this?" The answer is invariably "PINE!!"   

"But which pine?"  Silence or some guessing.

We learned about white pine - five needles per bundle and whorls of five branches.  Also five letters in word "white!"

We learned about red pine - two needles per bundle with reddish bark.

We learned about hemlock - with flattened, short stubby needles with two thin white stripes on each needle.

We talked about "friendly fir" and "spikey spruce" - and "which would you rather shake hands with?"

But we didn't find or see examples of those trees.

We experienced a snow squall with wild winds. We crossed a small, frozen brook by hopping from one bank to the other.

I liked that we braved the crossing of the brook – a little adventurous and daring for all, although safe.

I believe I learn as much from visiting groups as I teach/bring. The students and teachers teach me, too.

Something I really liked was an allowance of 10 to 12 minutes of unstructured “Free Play” time in the open area called the "Sand Arena." As the informal, tree talk program was wrapping up, the students ran around, rolled in the snow, made snow angels and interacted with one another on their own – without the naturalist talking to them or asking tree quiz questions. A great way to let students enjoy themselves after listening and asking questions.

Back at the backdoor to the multipurpose room at school, the winds kicked up just as we reached the door.  Our chilly group was blasted in the face with a wall of wind-driven swirling snow.  Just inside, it was all smiles as all enjoyed steaming cups of warm cocoa with or without marshmallows served by the friendly and enthusiastic teaching staff.