Then we got there, greeted by Jeannine Silversmith of RI Families in Nature and RIEEA, Paul Dolan (who has great knowledge of trees), Mr. Boudreau, and owner Rich St. Aubin. We split the group by class and rotated them through three stations. I was in Mr. Dolan's station first, as we learned about the trees in the area. We were shown a stump that had sprouted, a winter moth, and a gypsy moth, and told about the struggles and rebounds of trees in the face of drought or severe insect damage.
The kids got to explore a wood pile - recycling of nutrients in progress. I found a blueberry gall while Mr. Dolan pointed out the high bush blueberries, raspberries, and sassafras. One of the highlights of this station was smelling the sassafras and the cherry wood under their bark.
We saw a tiny sassafras sapling that would one day be 80 feet tall. Mr. Dolan also had the kids guess the age of a dead tree then took a core sample. Approximately 66 years old!
In another station, the kids got to learn about the workings of a tree by acting out and chanting the roles of the heart wood (supports the tree), xylem (carries up water), phloem (carries down nutrients), cambium (makes xylem and phloem), leaves (make food for tree), bark (protects tree), etc. They loved the movement and getting loud. It soon became apparent that the winter moths they had learned about were everywhere! One took notes and made sketches of everything. Another collected the shed shells of last year's gypsy moth pupas. A few others cupped the green inch worms of the winter moth in their hands and watched them move.
We also learned about lichen, a symbiotic relationship between an algae and a fungus. We found different kinds and passed them around.
Lastly, the kids got to imagine the competition for food, sunlight, water, nutrients, and space as they were told they couldn't move from where they were standing, but could get any poker chips they could reach. Some had several blue chips (water), but no red (sunlight). Others had different mixes. I found a tiny bittersweet vine and pulled it out, showing them the orange root and explaining how the vine was invasive and would crowd the trees out of space and literally pull them down. They played with the poker chips again, this time with black ones added. The black ones were revealed to be worms, helping recycle and aerate the soil. But they could have been contaminants. The tree cannot always choose what it gets out of the soil.
Then there was the ride home, still noisy, still silly. But now, "Look, I saw a horse! Look at that tree!" The stores and restaurants were not remarked on, but an occasional car was as we drove back to school.