mystery The answer to the clues may be found at the bottom of this column.    Teachers and Parents: Enter to win an entire set of Dawn’s nature books of one title for your home or classroom. It's fun and easy!
Just read the clues below. They describe an aspect of nature—a plant, animal, mineral, habitat, or natural process.
When you're ready to make your guess about who or what I am, click ENTER NOW.
Who Am I?
spacerglass1 Clue 1:  I'm a member of the "dog family."
glass1 Clue 2:  I live throughout North America in deserts, prairies, forests, and even in towns and cities.
glass1 Clue 3:  You might hear me howling at night to communicate with my pack.
glass1 Clue 4:  Don't let me trick you—I am NOT a wolf.
Do you think you know who I am? ENTER NOW.
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday.
If you guessed correctly, you’re automatically entered into the monthly drawing for a set of nature books from Dawn Publications.
A contest winner will be announced at the end of September.
Throughout the school year, clues for a new Who Am I are posted no later than Sunday night, so you can use them with your class on Monday morning.Good luck!
The answer to last week's mystery was: SEASHELLS Although Inside Outside Nature blog is changing it's focus, this weekly "Who Am I?" will remain the same! Teachers, click here to get ideas about how to use the contest with your students.  

Monthly Archives: September 2013

Forest Critters

Kids love animals—so do adults! And the forest is home to a wide variety of critters.

canopyFrom the treetops to the ground, the layers of the forest determine what kinds of animals you’ll find. The canopy layer is the topmost layer of the forest. The treetops are like an umbrella that receives light from above and shades the layers below.  The understory layer is below the treetops and includes smaller trees, shrubs, ferns, grasses, mushrooms, and wildflowers. The forest floor, the bottom layer, is the soil and also dead plants and animals waiting to rot away.

Involve your students in creating a bulletin board of the forest layers. Cut out pictures of common forest animals from magazines to place in the appropriate layer. Birds can be found in all layers of the forest, but some animals live in just one layer. For example, an earthworm only lives in the soil of the forest floor and deer find their food in the understory.

Inside: Wild Animal Scramble

Before creating your bulletin board, play a game with the pictures. It’s called Wild Animal Scramble. images-2Use a clothespin to attach one of the pictures to each child’s back, clipping it on their shirt collar. Be sure to keep the picture out of the child’s sight as you pin it on. They must figure out “who” is on their back by asking only “yes” or “no” questions, such as “Do I live in the canopy layer of the forest?” Do I have fur?” “Am I a carnivore?” Children find a partner and get to ask one question each. They  continue with different partners until they guess their animal. Then they pin the picture to the front of their shirt and continue playing by answering other children’s questions. Expect a little bit of chaos and lots of laughter! (Source: Sharing Nature with Children)

Outside: Take a Micro-Hike

Screen shot 2013-09-12 at 2.15.07 PMExplore the critters on the forest floor by having children create a miniature nature trail. All you’ll need is a 18-inch piece of string, a magnifying glass, and some open ground.

Ask children to lay out a “trail” for the hike with the string. Instruct them to use their imaginations to shrink down to the size of an ant. They shouldn’t look higher than one foot above the ground. Using a magnifying glass, a jagged rock looks like a formidable mountain, a sandy spot is a dessert, and a tiny puddle becomes like a lake. In the process of creating their trails, they’ll discover the tiniest critters of the forest.When finished, have children pair up to guide each other on their nature trails. (Source: Sharing Nature with Children)

More Facts and Fun with Forest Critters

OVERF_storeOver in the ForestChildren learn the ways of forest animals to the rhythm of “Over in the Meadow” as they leap like a squirrel, dunk like a raccoon, and pounce like a fox. They will also count the babies and search for ten hidden forest animals. (by Marianne Berkes)

FORST_COVER2Forest Bright, Forest NightSome animals are alert in daytime and sleep at night. Others are alert at night, and are sleepyheads during the day. You FLIP THIS BOOK from day to night and back—a nice hands-on way to show the same view day and night. (by Jennifer Ward)



What is a Tree?

In his song, “What is a Tree?” Bill Brennan asks:

What is a tree? Does anyone know

Just what they are and just how they grow?

What do they need? And what do they do?

And what are they used for? And by whom?

This week’s blog answers the first three questions. (The last three questions will be answered later in the month.)

A tree is any woody plant that can reach a height of 15 feet or more at maturity that usually has a single-stem and a crown, or branched-out area, at the top. That distinguishes trees from shrubs, which are woody but short and multistemmed, and from vines, which may be long and woody but lack a crown. Like all plants, a tree also has roots.

treerootsThis illustration shows the three main parts of a tree:

  1. The crown (canopy) includes the branches and leaves at the top of the tree.
  2. The trunk is the tree’s woody stem. Food and water flow up and down inside the trunk.
  3.  Roots hold the tree in the ground and absorb water and minerals the tree needs to make food. Roots often spread much farther than the crown of the tree.

Outside: Build a Tree

What does a tree need and what does it do? Find out by playing “Build a Tree” from Sharing Nature Worldwide. This is an outside game that involves your entire class with students becoming various parts of a tree using actions and sounds. Even children as young as five can learn tree parts, including: heartwood, taproot, lateral roots, sapwood, cambium/phloem, branches and leaves, and bark. This game is from Sharing Nature Worldwide. Download complete directions for this fun activity.

Inside: Let’s Slurp!

In the “Build a Tree” activity, the roots slurped up water and the sapwood carried nutrients up to the leaves. Use this tried-and-true celery science experiment to demonstrate the flow of water and nutrients up a stem…or a tree trunk. Download complete directions. I allowed one full day for the leaves to turn red.

More Facts and Fun about Trees

Discover Project Learning Tree—an award-winning environmental education program designed for teachers and other educators, parents, and community leaders working with youth from preschool through grade 12.

Get directions for two more tree games from Sharing Nature Worldwide: Meet a Tree (4 years and up) and Recipe for a Forest (7 years and up). The above photo is from the Sharing Nature Worldwide website.


Cones Mean Conifer


I was awe-struck by these two fir trees along the trail.

Despite the smokey air from the fire in Yosemite, I had a wonderful hike in a northern California forest  over the weekend. Pines, firs, junipers, and spruce trees reached for the sky along the trail.

All of these trees are conifers, and “conifer” was the correct answer to last week’s “Who Am I?” Mystery Contest. I wasn’t trying to be tricky or stump anyone, but I was surprised that only 50% of the entries had the correct answer. The most revealing of  the clues was: “My name means cone-bearing.”

A conifer’s cones are made up of many scales and provide  shelter for the tree’s seeds. At the right time, the scales of the cone open and the seeds fall to the ground. The leaves of conifers are typically needles. They’re either long and very narrow (pine, spruce, fir) or short and overlapping like scales (cedar, juniper, giant sequoia). Conifers are often called “evergreens” because their needles don’t drop all the same time, so they always look green.

Inside: Discovering State Trees

One conifer I didn’t see on my hike was a redwood—California’s state tree. Do you know your state’s official tree? Every state has one. And as of 2004, the United States also has an official National Tree—the oak (no species designated).

Have students to identify and learn about your state tree. Then assign a different state to each student and have them create a display called “Tree Hall of Fame” that includes pictures and facts about each state’s tree.

Outside: Conifer Treasure Hunt

conifer_treesWhich conifers grow in and around your school? Take your students on a walk around the school grounds to find out. First, create a map that shows buildings, parking lots, and play areas. Indicate the location  of the trees on the map with circles. Visit each tree site to decide if it’s a conifer. If yes, put an “X” in the circle.

But what if it’s not a conifer? Then it’s a broad-leafed tree. Almost all broad-leafed trees are deciduous, meaning that they drop their leaves all at once. Have students choose one tree to watch throughout the seasons. Ask them to notice when leaves or needles fall to the ground.

More Facts and Fun About Trees

Scientifically, conifers are gymnosperms. Get more specific  information at Real Trees 4 Kids: Conifer Class.



In Jo MacDonald Hiked in the Woods, author Mary Quattlebaum explores the sounds of the woods and the creatures who make them.






An ancient fir tree is the “main character” in The Tree in the Ancient Forest.






In a Nutshell follows the life cycle of an oak tree, our national tree.