Spring Charter Opportunities at School!
Observe plants and wildlife
Catch spring in the act
- Chronicle the signs of spring by photographing the same spot for 6 to 8 weeks. Use your DPA time to explore your schoolyard, or walk to a nearby park once or twice a week. Assign groups of 3 or 4 students to stake out a spot to watch spring arrive. During or after the first visit, ask students to write down or draw the changes they think will happen over the entire time of visiting their spot.
Ask students to:
- photograph each visit
- set up the shots the same way each time
- listen, smell, feel temperatures and textures
- describe any birds, insects or animals they see or hear
- make dated notes of changes to trees, grass, wildflowers, water
- make a slide show for each view
- discuss when spring “arrived” in each set of slides
Follow a trail
It’s for the birds
- Bird watching is fun but so is bird listening. Follow a trail at school or in a local park and take your class on a birdsong hike!
- Walk quietly as a class, stopping often to focus on the bird sounds present.
- Record the number of different bird sounds.
- Listen for specific sounds: can they hear the chick-a-dee-dee-dee call of a chickadee or the tap-tap-tap of a woodpecker?
- Discuss the difference between the songs you hear. Which are the sounds birds make when they are content, and which are alarm calls, the sounds they make when they sense danger approaching?
Explore a park
Leaf and bark rubbings
- Collect your broken crayons and chalk and take your class on a hike to a nearby park.
- Make leaf and bark rubbings. Talk about the difference in texture. Look for patterns in the bark and the network of veins on a leaf. This makes a nice giftwrap idea.
Find and study animal tracks.
- How do you think the animal was moving? Do the prints pad, waddle or step? Did the animal hop, bound or scamper?
- Draw the different tracks and track patterns you find.
- Create and share stories about why a set of tracks veered away (a hawk overhead?) or grew farther apart (a rabbit outrunning a coyote).
The urban tree canopy
- It's spring! Look for signs of new growth.
- Gather outdoors by a tree and read The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein.
- Discuss what trees mean to us, both as individuals and to our communities. What do individuals lose when they lose their trees?
Harvest something to eat
The magic of maple syrup making
- Take the class outside into the schoolyard, under or near a tree if possible, and read At Grandpa’s Sugar Bush.
- Have a class circle discussion that offers students the chance to share “What I wonder about...”
- Identify opportunities for inquiring further as a class based on the responses from students (e.g., what trees can be tapped, what equipment is used, how much maple syrup can be made from one tree, how much sap is needed to make one 500-millilitre bottle of maple syrup)
- Pass around a maple leaf, or a hockey jersey (Toronto Maple Leafs or Team Canada) with a maple leaf as an emblem, and ask students if they recognize it from the book. What is the significance to the story or maple syrup production?
- Go for a walk to look for leaves on the ground with a similar shape – are there maple trees in your schoolyard or neighbourhood?
- End the activity by opening a bottle of maple syrup and providing small samples for each student.
- Who has tried it before? For those who have not, what do they think it will taste like?
- Invite sharing from the class in describing the smell and taste.
- Maple sap runs only when the nights are cold and the days are warm, chart the day and night temperatures during maple syrup season, plan a trip to the sugar bush.
- Discuss as a class after the maple syrup season: “Based on our temperature chart, do you think it has been a good year for making maple syrup?”
- Contact the people at a local sugar bush and ask them if it has been a good year for making maple syrup and why.
Create a school garden!
- Gather your class in a meeting place outside.
- Walk around the schoolyard and ask students to identify places they think would be good for growing a garden.Write class letter to the principal asking which of the areas can be used.
- Make a map of the schoolyard with the areas on it.
- Discuss strengths and challenges of each site.
- Decide what kind of garden to grow.
- Can you plant a vegetable soup garden or a pizza garden or a salad garden? How about a fairy tale garden (e.g., Jack’s beanstalk, the princess’s pea)?
- Agree on a size and style, e.g., one raised-bed garden, four small plots, container garden, etc.
- Discuss the supplies and work needed to prepare, plant and maintain the garden (including harvest, if necessary).
- Contact a local grower, nursery, gardening association, etc., to ask for information and help.
- Organize the work. Start seeds indoors where possible.
- Contact local nurseries to ask if supplies (e.g., soil, seeds, etc.) can be donated.
- Ask for parent volunteers to help the class with specific jobs on the garden (e.g., bed preparation, loaning of tools, planting day tasks, watering).
- Select dates for the work (e.g., bed preparation and planting).
- Plant the garden!
- Record changes in the garden.
- Chart how many days it takes for the first seeds to sprout.
- Record how much water is used.
- Record number of sunny days, rainy days, etc.
- Measure the growth rate of the plants.
- If you planted a vegetable garden...harvest something to eat!
- Use the food you grow to add to a community celebration with school families. Start a “Grown by us!” healthy snack program in the class. Or contribute some of your harvest to a food bank or food kitchen program.
- Start fast-growing vegetables (e.g., radishes, lettuce, beans, peas, spinach) from seed in the classroom after March Break, and transplant them to the garden once it is warm enough in May.
- Plant slower-growing vegetables in pots that students can take home and look after during summer break.
- Along with vegetables, plant low-maintenance flowers like sedum, which is also pollinator-friendly, so that the garden will continue to flourish during summer months and into the fall.
- Plant a bean teepee for students to play in and snack on: just plant seeds at the bottom of bamboo poles formed into a teepee and let the vines climb up.
Visit an outdoor education centre, an Ontario Provincial Park or:
- Royal Botanical Gardens
- Evergreen Brick Works in Toronto
- Local conservation areas
- Public parks
Visit your local farmer or:
- Canada Agriculture and Food Museum in Ottawa
- Bronte Creek Provincial Park
- Riverdale Farm in Toronto
- Louck’s Farm at Upper Canada Village
Links to other great teaching resources
- Back to Nature Network offers two great e-books Into Nature: A Guide to Teaching in Nearby Nature and Stepping into Nature: Teacher Stories Volume 1.
- Ontario’s Biodiversity Education and Awareness Network offers free teacher’s resources including themed lesson plans and a directory of both in-class and in-nature biodiversity education providers.
- On Nature publishes Nature Notes, a 4-page quarterly e-resource on environmental issues of interest to junior and intermediate grades.
- Evergreen offers a rich bank of teacher-tested lesson plans for primary to senior grades.
- Ducks Unlimited Canada provides a broad range of teacher’s resources on wetlands, from field guides and student workbooks to Project Webfoot, its curriculum-based program for Grade 4 to 6.
- EcoKids (EarthDay Canada) has a teacher’s lounge with lesson plans and printables.
Ontario Parks’ Learn To Camp program provides overnight camping experiences for kids and their families, along with online camping resources to plan a safe and fun camping trip. Informative community outreach sessions also available.
- Royal Ontario Museum school programs let you bring the class to the ROM or the ROM to the class.
Ontario Children’s Outdoor Charter Activity Passport
- Ask students to write down everything they do from the Charter over March Break. Gather outdoors as a class on the first day back to open a sharing discussion over what students did on their days off, e.g. “Play in the snow”, “Build an outdoor fort”, or “Visit a farm”.