Lots of nature walks seems to currently working for us. It's something I can get all 3 boys to do with little complaint and for the most part they don't fuss at each other while we're walking. The bonus is we can add our time on the trails to our goal of 1000 hours outside. The have a couple trails we walk often, but the boys were getting bored with them. We all researched other trails and nature centers near our home, that we had not known about. We compiled at list of 17 places within 30 minutes to an hour away, all but 3 are new places for us.
A few weeks back we checked out one of our new places. We really lucked out on the day we visited, we were there on an "Eco Day" and there were extra activities to do. While we would have been happy just checking out the center and walking the trail, the extra activities provided some awesome learning experiences. The reptiles that were visiting for the day from Lansing were a huge hit with my kiddos. Jordan is very comfortable around snakes, but the other two not so much. Jordan wasted no time asking to hold different types of snakes. Joey and Jake were standing back and preferred watching the turtles and the snakes that were in tanks. Joey doesn't like to touch snakes because of his sensory issues, he shies away from cold and slimy looking things. Jacob is cautious with most animals, and has a healthy respect for the fact that animals all have potential to revert to their primal instincts. The group that brought the snakes were very knowledgeable and answered the boys many questions. We were even given the opportunity to watch one of the snakes eat a frog. I have to admit, I thought it was a very cool thing to see!! We must have spent about 45 minutes playing with the reptiles. Within that 45 minutes Joey managed to push himself to hold a snake.
Next on our list was to dissect owl pellets. The boys were corrected when they exclaimed that we'd be digging through owl poop. Jacob was very relieved when he heard it's more like a hairball. Each of the boys' pellets held different surprises. Jordan had an extra jaw bone, that had probably been left behind from a previous meal. Joey had a whole mouse still intact, just really compressed (Like the whole mouse; tail, still fluffy fur, and all!!). Jacob had an intact skull with the teeth still in place. We were given a chart so we could identify the bones we found and the tools needed to carefully dissect the pellet. We found it easier to use our hands to peel the "fur pieces" away. We were given bags and brought our bones home.
After a quick hand washing, we finally looked through the nature center. This one had an awesome "touch table" in the center of the room. There were so many things we have not had the opportunity to touch before. There were other things to check out along the walls, but this table was by far the coolest part for us. They had a whole wall that was a window for bird watching, were we watched a woodpecker. There was also a really neat tunnel thing the smaller guys could crawl through and poke their heads up in the beaver dam display. A whole room was dedicated to different types of birds and some displays of there habitats.
We briefly visited a craft room they had set up for the day. Jordan and Jacob planted seeds in plastic bags while Joey made monsters using bottle caps. Two of my boys made "rain tubes" using paper towel tubes, fasteners, rice and beans. Then slowly I lost their attention for the other crafts as they drifted back to the reptile room.
When I walked into the room I found Joey actually holding a snake, not just any snake a big black rat snake. Jacob also worked up the courage to "pet" a snake, although he still wasn't interested in holding any of them. After a while of watching the snakes wind their way around my children, we headed outside to the nature trail.
We didn't make it far before we made a detour to learn about bees. We were promised a honey stick if we could locate the queen bee. So while Jordan and Jake searched the small comb for the queen, Joey asked a bunch of questions about what a bee keeper does. Joey got to practice spinning a couple empty frames, learn what the smoker was for and how it effected the bees and learn the different layers of the hive. While Joey was learning all this cool stuff the other two were still searching for the queen bee (they had also been listen to the guy as he explain things to Joey), they were determined to earn a honey stick. We searched for that queen for about 20 minutes, before the guy took pity on us and gave honey sticks for trying. As we were walking away he found the queen and called us back, we hadn't been able spot her with the blue dot they place on her back because she had been tucked away in a corner laying eggs.
Then it was finally time to tackle the trail. We were told we should stop by "turtle pond" along our way, there usually are a bunch of turtles and frog you can spot easily. The turtles were sitting all lines up on a branch and looked liked like a bunch of tiny helmets. The frogs were all over the place just blending in and being frogs. We had seen a bull frog but when we got closer for a better look, he jumped into the water. From there we continued our 1.5 mile walk along the trail. While everything was still brown and not much to look at, we did make a few discoveries such as a beaver dam and a lot of trees with beaver teeth marks on them. The path itself was a nice change for the boys, instead of just the dirt ground there were wooden planks to walk on and a cool bridge to cross over. The boys also did some climbing around as there isn't any poison ivy to watch out for yet.