Saturday, January 29, 2011

Snow Day!

A possible winter storm is forecast for this week.  The prospect of a snow day thrills me now as much as it did when I was a child.  There is something magical surrounding the anticipation and the moment the news is heard.  A world transformed by ice and snow just begs to be explored.  At this point in the winter, the charm of a snowfall may have worn off, but there are still ways that snow play can be re-invented.   Aside from the usual snowman or snowball fight, try some of these ideas:
  • Let the kids use some of your larger Tupperware® containers for making snow blocks to build a fort.  My kids can really crank out a lot of these blocks in a short time. Use containers that are the size of a brick or larger and pack the snow tightly.  Forts made with this type of block seem to be a bit sturdier than the usual pile-up-and-pack method.
  • Make snow furniture instead of a snow man.   We forgot our chairs at the beach one day, so we formed some out of sand.  We did the same thing by making a snow bench next to our ice skating pond this winter.  I think a snow couch is the next thing on the list.
  • Once the snow finally lets up, go outside and listen.  Sit perfectly still for at least 3 minutes.  All the birds and critters that holed-up during the storm will come out to feed.   The snow and cold causes sound to travel differently, so even the everyday sounds of your neighborhood will seem interesting. 
  • Make a deal with your kids.  Promise them that if they complete one unloved chore before they go outside to play, you’ll do a snowball fight WITH them for five minutes.  What child wouldn’t love a snowball fight with a grownup that is their mom or dad?
Even if there isn’t any new snow this week, there is no reason you shouldn’t get out there and play in the snow that is already on the ground.  Happy January!

Friday, January 21, 2011

Winter Walk

Please join us for a winter walk at the Northwest Allen County Environmental Center behind Oak View Elementary off of Coldwater Road.  The walk will be on Sunday, January 23 from 3-4 pm.  The group is called "Nature and Nurture" a fellowship created through Resurrection Lutheran Church.  All people of any faith are welcome to come and share beautiful scenery and camaraderie.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cross-Country Skiing

With at least 4 inches of snow on the ground, it is possible to get in some pretty decent nordic skiing here in Fort Wayne.   Two local parks, Fox Island and Metea, have groomed trails and ski rentals.  For $6 and hour for an adult ($5 12 and under), you can rent skis, boots and poles.  Alll you need is some basic instructions and you can set off on any of the beautiful trails.  The great thing about cross-country skiing is that how fast you go is entirely up to you.  It is much less intimidating than downhill skiing and there is never a wait for the chair lift!  The scenery is always wonderful.   Known as one of the winter 'silent sports', cross-country skiing enables you to see what the wildlife is up to.  The animals are probably more active than you realize and there is no better way to view them than from a pair of cross-country skis.  You have undoubtedly heard that nordic skiing is a great workout, which is yet another reason to try it.

I went out on the trails Monday at Metea and conditions were dandy.   With the recent layer of ice, we'll probably need another layer of snow before the trails are open again, but that will likely happen in the next few days.   If you have always wanted to try cross-country skiing, don't let another season pass without giving it a whirl.  I"ve been cross-country skiing for over 30 years and every time I go I still tell myself it is something I should do more often!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Fox and Geese

My dad always used to get us excited to go outside in the winter by stamping a giant spoked wheel into the snow.  We would then choose one person to be the 'fox' and the rest of us were 'geese'.  The fox chased the geese until one was caught and it became the fox.  The rules dictated that you had to stay on the rim or the spokes while running, with the hub of the wheel being 'safe'---for one goose at a time!  It was a lot of fun and dad always played the first few rounds with us. He called the game fox and geese and I've discovered that this game is little known nowadays.   Looking back on it, we didn't play the game for hours on end, but we did end up staying outside for quite awhile after we played a few rounds.   I think the exciting part of the game was that dad was playing with us.  By the time he headed back indoors, we were engaged in other snow play activities, which is probably what dad had in mind all along.   So, be a catalyst for your family, take advantage of all the snow that is on the ground and go start a round of Fox and Geese!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Solid Water Adventures

   As I watched my children use sticks to prod the frozen edges of our pond recently, I reminded myself how I had stolen the chance for some neighborhood kids to enjoy this simple pleasure.  Some children moved into our neighborhood and started throwing rocks into the pond that backs up to many of our homes. I yelled across the pond to them to stop throwing the rocks.  At the sound of my voice, the kids scattered and I never saw them venture over to investigate the pond again.  I scared them off perfectly.  I never got a chance to explain to them the reason they couldn't throw those particular rocks.  The rocks were there for erosion control.  I knew the owner had spent quite a bit of money placing the rocks there and that they needed to stay put.    My attempt to keep the rocks in place had created a "fraidy cat"  mindset in the children.    Forevermore they shunned anything associated with the pond.

   For many, winter resurrects this same fraidy cat mentality when it comes to frozen ponds, lakes or streams.  This is a healthy reaction and may even prove to be a life-saving one.  However, fear of frozen water is not the same as respect for it.  One of my best teaching moments occurred on frozen water and I am thankful that I didn't let it pass because of fear.   In a local school's wildlife area, I was leading a small group of students out to count trees that had been felled by a long-ago beaver infestation.  We were about to take our usual path when one of the students noticed that with the leaves gone from the trees, we could see many  more tree stumps than ever before. If we ventured to walk across parts of the frozen pond, we would get some really great data.  With the students anxiously waiting to see if I would give the go ahead, I had to make an assessment.   Was the pond really frozen?   How thick was the ice layer?  What would I do if someone broke through?  I had just that morning measured the ice layer at the pond at my home.  My own very deep, spring-fed pond's ice layer was more than 8 inches.  The school pond was only six feet deep at best and was not spring-fed.  We'd had a long series of below zero nights and many weeks well below freezing.   I knew that the area we were crossing was only 2-3 feet deep.  I was 100% certain conditions were more than safe.   I passed out several long sticks, gave some instructions about ice safety, and we headed out.  Ten minutes later, standing in the midst of hundreds of beaver nibbled stumps, we were all in awe.  Previously, we had only counted stumps in the dozens.  To see hundreds of stumps stretching in every direction was beyond exciting.  To top it all off, we saw signs of all the animals that had spent time on the ice.  We saw hundreds of bird, rabbit, deer and mouse trails.   We followed a foraging shrew as if we were private eyes.  We saw a fresh rabbit carcass we guessed to have been from a bird of prey.  In short, we felt like we discovered a new world that was right under our noses.  As we hiked back to the classroom, I saw a literal example of wide-eyed students.  They were bubbling with talk and burst forth with news of what we saw to every person we encountered on the way.  Being respectful and understanding of the ice had paid off in a big way.

    I was able to recognize that it is possible to enjoy time outdoors on solid water, as long as all the risks are understood and the rules of ice play are kept. Most sources use the guideline that four inches of clear, solid ice are the minimum requirement to bear the weight of a single person.  Five inches are recommended for group activities, such as hockey, or for equipment, such as a snowmobile.  Eight inches for a small car.    At home, I use our cordless drill to quickly find out the ice depth by drilling into it.  Most everyone has a drill hanging up with their tools and use of it provides instant comfort about the safety of the ice you'll be using.
   If you are still leery, don't completely give up on solid water adventures.  At least let your children poke at a frozen puddle with a stick or use little rocks to play your own version of curling on your driveway.   Winter is the only time you can experiment with ice outside for hours on end without it disappearing.

   Minnesota DNR has a great website for tips on ice safety: