The Awesome Junior Naturalist Adventures

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

This past month I had the opportunity to help Polk Co. Conservation with two Junior Naturalist Camps at Jester Park. We did many different things to help encourage the 10-11 year old campers to explore nature around them. Each camp lasted four days and was led by Polk Co. Conservation naturalists. I was on site to assist with whatever was needed.


Day 1. Habitat Exploration Day.
The first day of camp started off with the kids making little creatures out of pipe cleaners and UV beads. These creatures would then be used later on for another activity. After they made their creatures, we played some name games to help everyone learn each other’s names.

The rest of the day was dedicated to habitat exploration. The kids got to explore three different habitats: a prairie, a pond, and a forest.

The first habitat we explored was the pond. The kids were given nets to try and catch some aquatic life to observe. They caught lots of different things including mussels, snails, minnows, and dragonfly larvae.

We then went on a hike which would take us through our next habitat of the day, the forest.The first part of our hike started with finding walking sticks. When everyone found the stick that they wanted we stopped at a nearby outdoor shelter where the kids were then able to decorate their walking sticks with colorful tapes. When everyone completed their walking sticks we continued our hike through the forest. We ended up coming across a creek which the campers were all wanting to explore so we stopped and allowed them to look around for a while. Many of them ended up putting mud all over their faces! We then continued on our way to our next stop where we tasked the kids with building shelters for their creatures that they made at the beginning of the day. The goal was to build shelters to protect the creatures from sunlight so that the UV beads would not change color. All of them made pretty good shelters and their creatures were successfully protected.

We continued our hike back to where we started, which was near our last habitat of the day, the prairie. Here the kids were able to use nets again, this time to try and catch bugs and other creatures to observe. They did that for a while and then we played a game of hide and seek in the prairie but this game had a twist. The person that is seeking can not go into the prairie; they must stay at the edge and see if they can see anyone. If they happen to spot someone they call them out by what color they are wearing and then that player is out. When the seeker can no longer spot anyone else they will turn around and close their eyes while all the hidden players stand up and take five steps forward. This game continues on until everybody but one is found. After we played a few rounds of the game we went back to the nature center where each of the kids would be getting picked up at the end of the day.


Day 2. Field Trip Day.
When everyone arrived we piled into a van to drive to Chichaqua Bottoms Greenbelt. This day entailed canoeing and a marsh exploration. When we arrived at Chichaqua we rounded up all of the needed supplies for canoeing. Then Andrew and Heidi, the two naturalists, explained all of the safety rules everyone must follow while canoeing. After they were done, we started on our canoeing adventure. During this time many people were looking out for different aquatic creatures. We ended up canoeing a long way and when we were finally done we put everything away and then moved on over to the marsh. The kids caught lots of different things there, including tadpoles, snails, crawfish big and small, water scorpions, baby bullheads, and a giant frog which they named Biggy Big Big. After a while of searching the marsh, it was time to head back to Jester Park as day two was coming to an end.


Day 3. Fishing Day.
After everyone arrived we started with some practice casting outside of the nature center. This gave all the kids the chance to try and catch some plastic fish and win some prizes. When they finished up with that we went down to the pond where we would be spending most of our day trying to catch some real fish. Several kids caught some fish – a few bluegills were caught along with a few bass. After several hours we went back to the nature center for a short time to do some knot tying. We did a few different knot tying competitions for a chance to win more prizes. And then we went back to the pond to continue fishing until day three was over.


Day 4. Final Day of Camp.
Day four included lots of different things. The first thing that we did was archery where each of the kids got a chance to shoot some targets and also try and shoot some balloons. After archery we went on an orienteering scavenger hunt which allowed the kids to use a compass to help them find different things and answer questions. The next thing that they did was fire building – yes, I said fire building! They worked in small groups to try and collect good materials for a fire. Then they were given different fire starting tools such as a magnifying glass and steel and striker to try and light a sustainable fire. After trying for a while each group had lit a fire, although most did not last as long as they hoped. No worries though as Andrew and Heidi lit their own fire and everyone was able to make themselves some s’mores! And finally to finish off the day the kids went geocaching using GPS devices to help them find the locations of a few different geocaches. When all of the activities were finished each camper was given a certificate and an official Junior Naturalist badge to show that they officially completed Junior Naturalist Camp.


Joshua Harms

 

Faces of Conservation: Allen Bonini

This blog post is part of the Faces of Conservation series, highlighting key contributors to ILF, offering their perspectives on the history and successes of this innovative conservation outreach program.


Allen Bonini – Iowa Department of Natural Resources
Allen Bonini serves as Supervisor of the Watershed Improvement Section at the Iowa Department of Natural Resources (IDNR). As a part of his responsibilities at the DNR, Allen is responsible for funding provided to Iowa Learning Farms through the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Section 319 of the Clean Water Act.

What has been your role with Iowa Learning Farms?
I’ve been a part of ILF’s advisory committee since 2005. In the early years of Iowa Learning Farms, the committee provided guidance and advice, but in recent years, the program has matured, developing a strong sense of purpose and direction, so they don’t need our input as often.

What was the purpose of ILF during your involvement?
Initially, Iowa Learning Farms was focused on offering educational field days around the state. From this foundation, the ILF team listened to participants and began to expand what was being delivered and how it was being presented. ILF has done an excellent job of applying evaluations and data gathering to inform decisions on program impacts. This scientific approach has not only strengthened the program, but led to the creation of innovative programs including the Conservation Station trailers and Water Rocks!.

While field days are still a staple of ILF, they’ve consistently raised the bar on delivering meaningful and actionable information. Enlisting experts to deliver information and fostering involvement from every sector of the state has built credibility for ILF. In addition, providing a forum for innovators and early adopters to share and learn has been very effective. What has allowed the program to remain relevant is the strength of the concept of Building a Culture of Conservation.


How did you impact the program?
Prior to joining the DNR, I spent many years working to educate the public on the benefits of recycling. I was able to draw on my experience in education and public engagement to bring some fresh ideas to the table for ILF to consider. Whether recycling or instilling conservation in the forefront of people’s minds, the goal of the program is to change behavior – a daunting but achievable task.

One proven path to changing cultural behavior is to engage the energy and enthusiasm of our youth. I feel that the Water Rocks! youth education program, which emerged out of ILF, is a tremendous tool in moving the dial on conservation in schools across Iowa. Water Rocks! took the concept of ILF and applied it to the next generation.

As I saw with recycling, it may take a generation for conservation to be an accepted everyday practice, but as young people gain awareness and devote energy to it, we should see greater adoption and commitment from the public.

 What are your fondest memories of working with ILF?
The most enjoyable part of working with ILF has been being at the table and participating: offering ideas, refining ideas, and seeing it turn into something that achieves results. An important part of this has been watching ILF gather data and use it to create an impactful message and create change.

Allen was interviewed by Charlie in Episode #1 of the Adventures of the Conservation Pack series! Click the image to see the episode in all its glory.


If you could look 15 years into the future, what one thing would you like to see as a result of ILF activities?
It’s a stretch goal, but I would love to no longer need Iowa Learning Farms. We would no longer need to build a culture of conservation because we’ve established a flourishing culture of conservation. Then we can move on to the next big environmental challenge – whatever that may be.

In closing…
The leadership team at Iowa Learning Farms has been a large part of the program’s success over the past fifteen years. The program has benefited from a consistent arc of leadership with innovative team players who are willing to take risks to keep the program alive and moving forward.


Previous Posts in our Faces of Conservation series:

4-H Day Camp Adventure

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

Friday April 19 was truly an adventure. Jack and I were helping out with the Outdoor Adventure Day Camp down by Chariton, put on by ISU Extension and Outreach and the AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach Program.

Our day of adventures started bright and early. We had around a 2 hour drive ahead of us and that may seem long to most but we were used to it. As we started our journey I turned on some music to help make the drive more enjoyable. This drive consisted of going south along the interstate, some other major highways and even some back roads. After the 2 hours had come to an end, we had finally arrived at our first destination of the day, Pin Oak Marsh, which is right outside of Chariton. Now we were a little bit early, so after we hauled our things inside we had time to look around the nature center and see all that it had to offer. There were turtles and fish but there were also plenty of different taxidermied animals. Also along the wall were many different fur pelts.

The Outdoor Adventure campers were in 3rd-5th grades. When all the students arrived on site, the program commenced and we started out with some ice breaker games to help everyone get to know one another. After the ice breakers, the students were shown the stream table. The stream table shows how a stream moves based off of the landscape that is around it. The students then went on a nature walk while Jack and I set up the materials for our “We All Live in a Watershed” presentation.

When the students returned from their hike, we started our watershed presentation where we went over the importance of watersheds and how it’s what we do on the land that affects our water. By the end of the presentation the students understood that many of Iowa’s rivers are heavily polluted because of all of our human development. We also explained to them different things that we can all do to help hopefully clean up some of our rivers.

Now that Jack and I had finished our presentation, we had to pack up all our materials and head to our second location of the day, which was Stephens State Forest (about 20 minutes from Pin Oak Marsh). As we got to the forest, we ended up getting lost and had no idea where we were at or where we were going (despite following Google maps for directions). This day was an adventure in many ways! So as we were parked for a few minutes trying to figure out what we were going to do, I pulled up a map of the park. The map did not help initially, but we did know that we had to turn around because we were at a dead end! As we made our way back from where we came, we came across someone who was able to tell us where we were and how to get to where we needed to be. So we finally made it to our destination, AND we were still on time!

The students at the Stephens State Forest Day Camp were in 6th-12th grades, with their camp focused on state parks, nature exploration, art, and photography. While Jack and I were setting up our materials, the group that we were going to be teaching went on a nature hike to take photos. The group was super late getting back – yet another adventure! — so we had to shorten our presentation down a lot. Water Rocks! folks are really good at being flexible and adapting. Even with the shorter time, we could tell that the students still had fun and got a lot of information from our presentation. After wrapping up, we packed up all of our materials and put them back in our van. We then started our 2 hour journey back to Ames where our day of adventure began. This just goes to show that every day is a new adventure with youth outreach and Water Rocks!.

Joshua Harms

The Adventures Down Your Gravel Road

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Joshua Harms, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2018-19.

Taking adventures adds lots of new life experiences. Many people think that those adventures involve lots of money and traveling to different states or countries. However, people miss out on a lot of experiences in the natural world that could very well be right down the nearest gravel road.

I think we could all benefit from learning to love the places we live instead of always wanting to live somewhere else. The beauty of this world we live in is endless. I encourage you to go explore the areas around you because you may just find some of that beauty closer to you than expected. Each of the four seasons here in Iowa bring a different type of beauty along with them. Spring brings lots of blooming flowers, summer brings some bright sunsets, fall comes with the beautiful change of color within the leaves, and finally winter brings a snowy wonderland.

At the end of October I took an adventure of my own down some gravel roads in my area looking for cool photos to be taken, and I found some places that I didn’t even know existed before. Here are two of the photos I took while on this expedition. Myself and a friend of mine explored some of the very little remaining prairie land. This land was quite difficult to find as it is very hard to see from the road. So if you were looking to find this area of prairie, good luck!

I encourage you to explore the area around you, because there very well may be some amazing things around your area that you never knew about. Iowa is a truly amazing state, but the beauty thereof may just be a little more hidden than it used to be. By all means go out and explore the world we live in to find some of that hidden beauty. Get out in nature and take in the sights and sounds of our great state – adventure awaits!

Joshua Harms

Working with Nature!

I spent this summer traveling to field days around Iowa as well as driving back from our American Society of Agricultural and Biological Engineers (ASABE) annual meeting in Detroit, Michigan. One of my purposes in attending the ASABE meeting was to accept for the team the Blue Ribbon Award in the Educational Aids Competition for our revised version of the Water Rocks! Rock Your Watershed! online game (read more about it in our previous post Water Rocks! Brings Home a Blue Ribbon). Part of our revisions included adding more diversity to the land management choices that players can make and clearly showing the environmental benefits of diversifying our watersheds. Driving around the Midwest and Iowa really brought home to me how important this is and how far we need to go to still achieve the kind of diversity that will make a difference.

Prairie restoration and wetland west of West Lake Okoboji

But last week I traveled to the Iowa Great Lakes area for a field day and then stayed up there for some vacation time with my family. The field day near West Okoboji Lake focused on prairie and wetland restoration to clean the water before it enters the lake. The side benefit would be increases in wildlife including pollinators of all sorts. The next day we visited our prairie strips site that is directly east of Big Spirit that was installed a few years ago for the same purpose of protecting local water quality and increasing habitat. In both cases, local stakeholders came together to diversify the land to help protect a local asset. I could hear the pride in their voices when discussing the changes they had put into place.

I am an engineer and spend a lot of time writing and talking about new technology. However, this summer really highlighted to me that many of our fixes cannot be solved by technology alone. Instead, we need to strategically restore or implement more diverse natural systems where they can do the most good in terms of water quality, wildlife and overall land health. We are able to do these practices such as prairie strips and wetlands by combining technological advances with a solid understanding of the natural ecological system that was replaced with row crop agriculture and other development. Modern technology helps us know where to place the natural system for the greatest benefit. After that, the natural system will do all the work.

Both of the restored areas I visited near the Iowa Great Lakes are less than five years old. The local folks are doing a good job of ensuring diversity in the perennial plantings. I have seen other areas in Iowa under perennial vegetation that opted for monoculture grasses, mainly cool-season grasses. While the diverse native prairie restorations are more challenging to manage, the beauty alone makes it worth it to me. Factor in water quality, wildlife and land health benefits and it is a home run.

Prairie strip east of Big Spirit Lake

If this is something that interests you for the land you own or manage, there is assistance and information available to you. We are really fortunate in Iowa to have organizations such as the Tallgrass Prairie Center that have spent years figuring out how to support landowners in planting and managing prairie restoration on the land. For my part, I am going to continue to work to understand how to best manage these systems and what technology is needed to allow diversity to flourish. I would encourage you to go online to www.waterrocks.org and play the Rock Your Watershed! game to learn how we can work with better with the natural systems.

And also, take some time to find those natural areas around you and think about how we can use natural systems such as wetlands, prairie strips, oxbow restoration, riparian buffers, and others to help clean our water, diversify our landscapes, increase wildlife and enhance the beauty on the land. I know I felt a little “restored” after my time in these natural settings.

Matt Helmers

Weather Permitting: Outdoor Classrooms Return

Today’s guest blog post is provided by Jack Schilling, part of the Iowa AmeriCorps 4-H Outreach program, serving with Water Rocks! in 2017-2018.

Spring has sprung in Iowa, finally. The state is warming up, and (weather permitting) will continue to do so. The transition from January 107th to spring has certainly been abrupt, but it’s finally time to enjoy the outdoors. I got my first chance to go out and deliver our Water Rocks! program outside with an outdoor classroom just recently, and the experience was a blast! But, what makes an outdoor classroom different than our normal indoor classroom visits?

For starters, the visit is outdoors (hence the name). The differences between being indoors and outdoors offer some unique pros and cons. One of the best pros is just being able to be outside and enjoy the weather, especially now that it’s cooperating. However, this can also be a big con if the wind tries to blow our supplies away! The pros of being outside, including having students in a location directly related to the environmental topics discussed in our lessons, greatly outweighs the cons.

Another key difference is how we present. Typically, an outdoor classroom will be in a rotating format with other activities for students to visit throughout the day. This all usually takes place at a local nature center or county park. The students tend to be with us for less time, but that allows us to rotate through and see more youth in a shorter amount of time than usual, and we are always able to compensate on time.

The last main difference is what we bring. We typically bring one of our Conservation Station trailers with us to outdoor classrooms. The trailers have chairs for us to set up for students to sit in, tables to set up our supplies, and other miscellaneous supplies we may need, depending on what lesson we teach that day.

All in all, outdoor classroom events are a great way for our team to get some new scenery for class visits, and is a great way for students to connect with nature in person while learning about the land in their home county, and it’s always a blast to be a part of it.

Jack Schilling

Outdoor Adventure + Exploration with Water Rocks! Camps

Today’s guest blog post comes from summer intern Elizabeth Schwab. Originally from Levittown, PA (just outside Philadelphia), Elizabeth is a senior at ISU, double majoring in Environmental Science and Agronomy. She is also a radio DJ at 88.5 FM KURE on the side!

Monday, June 26, we held our first of a series of three Water Rocks! Summer Day Camps, this one in the beautiful Winterset City Park in Madison County. I saw my first of the famed Madison County covered bridges (the Cutler-Donahoe Covered Bridge) on the drive to the shelter where we set up camp, but unfortunately the bridge didn’t appear to be designed to handle the fifteen-passenger van we were traveling in. I’ll have to return to Madison County to tour the covered bridges some other time.

After organizing our supplies and activities, we were ready to begin our day; shortly thereafter, the campers began to arrive. The 23 campers, ages nine to fourteen, were organized into two packs, each led by two Water Rocks! team members. My fellow intern Andrew and I spent our day with the blue pack, who soon named themselves the “Blue Ferrets,” while Jenn and Josh led the red pack.

We kicked off the morning with some music and dancing led by Todd. I’m not much of a dancer, as anyone who saw me “on stage” on Monday morning can confirm. However, I was excited that some of the more exuberant campers soon joined our staff up front to show off their moves (and prove that they have much more talent than I do). This was a great high-energy start to the day! After we were all welcomed to camp, we split up into our packs for some icebreakers and time to get to know each other, and then we were able to dive into the lessons!

One of my favorite aspects of the educational modules that the Water Rocks! team presents is that they make education a lot of fun, both for the presenters and the audience. For the first part of the morning, Jenn and I led each pack through sessions on wetlands, which involved playing such games as Habitat Hopscotch and Wetland Bingo.

Throughout the day, campers also learned about watersheds, contemplated biodiversity (while playing Biodiversity Jenga and Musical Oxbows), and participated in a “game show” with our Dig Into Soil module! In times like these, I sometimes wish to be an observer rather than a presenter at our outreach events. I have learned, however, that leading students or campers through these activities is just as fun, even if it means that I can’t win prizes in Wetland Bingo or develop my own piece of lakeside property during the Watershed module.

What better way is there to reflect on why we should conserve and appreciate our water resources than by playing a few water games? After lunch and a quick trip to the playground, the packs competed against each other to play a few games, with bucket relays and water balloons proving to be the stars of the show. It just wouldn’t be summer camp without water sports, and these activities were certainly a memorable part of the camp experience!

It was a busy day in Winterset, and by the end of the camp day everyone was ready to take things a little more slowly. We ended our day by making “edible soil” to complement the afternoon’s lesson about soil, and then spent some time reflecting and writing in the nature journals that we created during arts and crafts time earlier in the day. This was a great way to wrap up our day—I’m excited about nearly any opportunity that involves either chocolate pudding or crafts, and being able to tie both of these to other topics that I’m passionate about was an added bonus.

As the campers departed at the end of the day, many of them expressed interest in returning for future events or camps. I am proud to have been a part of making this day memorable for so many young people, and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to return to our next two Water Rocks! camps in Des Moines on July 6 and 7. Every time I go to an event or camp I discover something new about communicating scientific information in a way that is engaging to the audience as well as to me as an educator. And I get to have fun doing it! There really is no better way to learn.

Elizabeth Schwab

NOTE: Limited spots are still available for 9-14 year olds in our upcoming Water Rocks! Summer Day Camps at Greenwood Park in Des Moines – choose from Thursday, July 6 or Friday, July 7!  Do you have a child, grandchild, niece, nephew or neighbor that might be interested?  Camps are FREE of charge; we just require registration in advance. Registrations are being accepted through NOON tomorrow – Friday, June 30.