Hi Phoenix!

I’m sure you already know how amazing bats are, since you often include them in your pretend play, and since you just chose a black bat finger puppet for your souvenir on our recent visit to Fenner Nature Center.  But, just in case you happen to play with someone who owns the new Lego ‘Heroica’ Game in which bats are portrayed as monsters (http://www.batcon.org/index.php/media-and-info/latest-news/635-hey-lego-bats-arent-monsters.html), I want to show you 5 reasons that bats are NOT monsters.

1.  First, here’s a photo of Mama during her field research in college, holding a big brown bat (found in Michigan as well as all over America).  Do you see how tiny the ‘big’ brown bat is compared to us humans?  Does Mama look frightened or happy & excited?

2.  Watch this adorable video of an orphaned fruit bat being rehabilitated.  You will see how he loves to nurse and cuddle, just like any other mammal baby!

3.  Most bats eat the bugs that bother people and farmers. This newspaper article talks about how bats help plants – & has a link to an interesting ‘Bats on Parade’ Slide Show.

4.  Bats pollinate foods people like to eat.  Say thanks to the bats for mangos, bananas, avacados & more!  Bat Conservation International (BCI) has made a pretty brochure showing which foods bats help:

5.  Bats help tropical forests grow!  The Lubee Bat Conservancy describes how in this page (see ‘Bat Foresters’).  You might also want to check out the Mega Bat & Micro Comic Book 🙂


Does your budget not stretch to sleds this year?  Here’s an idea for having a blast with your preschooler in the snow.  During this afternoon, the Talking Heads refrain ‘Having fun, with no money…’ kept running through my head.

Anyway, to the photos.  As you can see below, we had a beautiful blanket of snow in Michigan this weekend.  Awesome packing snow for a ‘Snow Mama’.

And great snow for Luge Run building.  By the time we finished building the Luge Run below, the temperature had reached about 40 degrees.

This made the top layer of snow nice & slick, so you could slide down on your back at a fairly rapid pace.

Phoenix’s face tells how he feels about sledding with no sled :-).


This week my 4-year-old son & I had another fun Lego-Cache Discovery Hike :-).  But before we searched for the second Lego Mini Figure I buried on a solo hike, Phoenix kept his promise & accompanied me on a rock-collecting walk.   Knowing how my boy likes his nature gear, I made a wee rock-collecting kit in his old preschool backpack with a cool fold-out magnifying glass, a Rocks & Minerals ID book bought a local nature center used book sale & a recycled clear plastic egg carton for sorting out his stony treasures.  He LOVED to magnifying glass & carried it the entire hike.  We gathered about forty interesting specimens & had a fun sorting session at home afterwards.
A couple days later, Phoenix was super excited to use TWO maps during his second lego-caching adventure.  He used the first map to find where the first lego-cache had been hidden.  At that point, I handed him his second lego-cache map which led him further afield, up a double hill:


He was able to navigate based on the map all the way to the lego-cache area!

Then I snuck in a wee navigating nature lesson by revealing my secret weapon, the Cool Tool.  This is a very nifty field tool which folds in various ways to produce

a Compass…


A magnifying glass…


& even binoculars!


We had an interesting conversation about how to find North (need to let the red side of the compass needle point to north) AND he figured out which direction home was – East!

Of course, on the way home, my innovative son found yet another use for his Cool Tool – it’s a Clone Phone which he used to field calls from the army of imaginary Star Wars Clone Soldiers which follow him everywhere and have lots of problems they need him to heroically solve.  (Some kids have one imaginary friend – my son has his own army! Even more surprising since he’s never seen a Star Wars film yet since I’m trying to follow his preschool’s anti-violence policies. ) The photo below shows him just arrived in our home and still taking calls from the clones who were lost in the field.  He helped them navigate home by encouraging them to go East :-).


Have you ever struggled to convince an otherwise healthy kid to explore outdoors in the Michigan winter?  My 4 year-old son used to love running around out back of our home in the old stone quarry (now re-grown with emergent plants) during the Spring, Fall & Summer.  But Winter has been a bit more challenging!

I’ve tried various means of encouraging him, including looking for deer antlers, looking for turkey tracks, following squirrel tracks, scat-sleuthing – even making a Nature Adventure Backpack, with magnifying glass, rock ID book, notebook & pen with his name on them, a plastic egg carton for sorting & special snack included.

My latest plan is Lego-caching.  This is a kid-friendly adaptation of geo-caching & involves burying a lego mystery figure packet somewhere in the woods, then drawing a ‘treasure map’ for him to follow:

Lego Cache Map

Did it work?  YES – the following video series shows the discovery part of our adventure.  And what’s best is that even with the lure of the Lego figure to open at home, my son STILL took time to find & identify turkey tracks, squirrel tracks, deer tracks & wee bird tracks on the way home.  A sneaky way to teach him naturalist skills, but effective!

1Setting Out to Find Lego Cache

2. First Steps in Following Lego Cache Map

3.  Looking for Lego Cache

4.  Finding Lego Cache!

After the above video was filmed, Phoenix noticed several tracks on the way home, which he enthusiastically stopped to investigate.  He saw wild turkey tracks – which he was proud to be able to show me the direction they were walking.  Below he notices deer tracks.

Phoenix Noticing Deer Tracks

Finally, Phoenix spots squirrel tracks, which he at first thinks are dog tracks ‘because you can see the claw marks – so they can’t be cats!’  Then he notices that the tracks stop at a tree & guesses they must be squirrels jumping onto the tree instead.  We follow one set of tracks all the way home to our bird feeder.

Phoenix is excited to see squirrel tracks.

To start where we finished at 1.30am – What would it take to create an Eco Elementary School in Lansing?

Here are the steps I recommend we follow:

1. Find ‘we’! Since I’m just now starting to look for an elementary school for my son, this is a completely new realm. But I’m guessing if I could convince the PTA at a local school – either Pleasantview Magnet School or Woodcreek Science & Technology (STEM) Magnet or perhaps the Wexford Montessori Magnet – to convince the school staff to start the Eco-Schools process – then we may have enough people involved to see it through.

2. Find a willing school & staff – Again, I’m a newbie & not sure how to do a search process. Should I just focus on the magnets or open the search to the entire Lansing School District? That’s 34 Schools! (@http://www.lansingschools.net/pages/Lansing_SD)

3. Join NWF’s Eco Schools Program @ http://www.nwf.org/Global-Warming/School-Solutions/Eco-Schools-USA/Become-an-Eco-School.aspx

As an environmental educator, I do like the NWF Eco-Schools program’s focus on 3 strands: (1) Greening the school building (2) Greening the school grounds & (3) Greening the curriculum and student experience.

The 7 steps to becoming an award-carrying Eco-School (http://www.nwf.org/Global-Warming/School-Solutions/Eco-Schools-USA/Become-an-Eco-School/Steps.aspx) I copied into my previous post, but I will re-iterate them here – & perhaps discuss them in more detail in a next posting:

1. Establish an Eco-Action Team
2. Perform an Environmental Review / Audit
3. Develop an Eco-Action Plan
4. Monitor and Evaluate Progress
5. Link to Educational Curriculum
6. Involve the Entire School and Larger Community
7. Create an “Eco-Code,” or a Mission Statement

4. Support the school in it’s path to Eco-dom! Is anyone with me here? What could we do to support a willing school??

If anyone is interested in creating an Eco-School in Lansing, please respond below!

http://www.nwf.org/Global-Warming/School-Solutions/Eco-Schools-USA.aspxImageWhat would an eco or environmentally elementary school entail?

Just as I switch into high gear in the choice process for finding an elementary school for my son, Phoenix, who turns 5 on Cinco de Mayo, I find out it is National School Choice Week http://www.schoolchoiceweek.com/.  A somewhat capitalist approach to education, ‘choice’ seems to attempt to improve schools by allowing parents to choose which school they attend based on preferences rather than geography, thereby forcing ‘bad’ schools to improve if they want to attract any students – or close.  I’m not sure if I agree with the philosophy behind the concept, – or that it encourages parents to drive their children to a more distant school rather than walk to the closest school – an environmentally unfriendly option!

However, now that it’s the turn of my son & myself to choose, I find myself avoiding the local elementary school with it’s reports of bullying and evidence of some decay in the peeling paint on its doors and rust on the walls in favor of the magnet schools in South Lansing http://www.lansingschools.net/pages/Lansing_SD/Magnet.   My son loves theatre, dancing, singing, music – so much so that we communicate more by song, pantomime, and pretending than by regular speech.  My strong sense is that he would learn best in an atmosphere which supported and encouraged and integrated these interests.  So Pleasantview Performing Arts Magnet is an option, with the Montesorri magnet as a second choice.

BUT – as an environmental scientist and an advocate for the truth that it’s only by spending time outdoors connecting with nature that children later become protectors and champions of our planet – I wish there was a choice for an eco school in Lansing – or even Ingham County.  If anyone reading this post knows of such a thing – please do correct me & tell us the name of this school!

So I will wrap up by returning to the question with which I began: What would an eco or environmentally elementary school entail?

First my draft list:

1.  Plenty of time outdoors – in a varied natural setting including forest, organic garden, prairie, recycled or natural product play equipment .  Plenty = at least a full hour/day
2.  LEED qualified building
3.  Environmentally practices by staff including reduce, reuse, recyle
4.  Organic vegetarian school lunches
5.  Strong science program including naturalist skills and encouraging citizen science
6.  Program ties in the arts with science/sustainability
7.  Sustainability taught in full manner including concepts of environmental studies, arts, & economic justice

For comparison, Below are the 7 steps required to become an Eco School via NWF:


  1. Establish an Eco-Action Team
  2. Perform an Environmental Review / Audit
  3. Develop an Eco-Action Plan
  4. Monitor and Evaluate Progress
  5. Link to Educational Curriculum
  6. Involve the Entire School and Larger Community
  7. Create an “Eco-Code,” or a Mission Statement

Finally, as an example of what could be, I offer this link to what I thought my son & I were moving to – I only scanned the site & it was after we had already moved that I discovered this fantastic sounding school is located in Forestview in Durham, North Carolina, not Lansing, Michigan. Alas.  Perhaps a question for another blog:  What would it take for a school in Lansing to create the kind of inspirational environmental science education evident at http://www.forestview.dpsnc.net/Science.html ?

PS:  At least the magnet schools will run a bus out to our home, so while not as eco-friendly as walking, at least my son could take public transport!  And thank goodness for that, otherwise I might have to end this blog – or change its name.

If anyone reading this blog knows of an environmental preschool in Ingham County, please leave a comment.  Based on my research for this blog article, I have not been able to find one, but will instead write about the closest thing going:  Michigan State University Child Development Labs (CDL), Haslett Campus. 

 The CDL is a play-based, research-based preschool which has been operating in East Lansing (& now Haslett) for 80 years.  It is unique in the realm of early childhood education in that staff is taught a method of ‘emotion coaching’ to encourage positive social relationships among children.  The CDL also promotes balanced development in children encompassing aesthetic, emotional, intellectual, language, physical, social, construction and pretend play.  http://hdfs.msu.edu/cdl

 Both branches of the CDL (in East Lansing and Haslett) emphasize the importance of outdoor play daily – in all weather but the most extreme.  However, the Haslett branch has the further benefit of being located in a lovely natural setting which has inspired an environmental ethic to the teaching.

 My son Phoenix started his summer session at the CDL a bit nervous about ‘bugs’ (since we had an ant infestation problem in our old apartment which resulted in one grim night where I found ants literally crawling on him in bed!).  However, the patient, innovative and fun approach for the Insect Theme used by his teachers at the CDL has resulted in him declaring that his favorite insects are ants – & in his asking me to buy him an ant farm of his very own.  He cautions me and his family & friends not to step on ants or ‘squish’ any bugs & even has us catching and releasing mosquitoes in our new house. 

Side note:  Simple Mosquito Catch & Release Method
(Supplies needed:
one children’s insect net & one dish towel)

1.     Slowly approach a mosquito sitting on wall & place net gently over it
2.     Pull out net slightly to give mosquito space to fly into net
3.     Swing net quickly off wall & drop dish towel over top of net
4.     Release mosquito outdoors

 This method is actually easier & less messy than the traditional ‘hunt & swat’ method most Michiganders are taught!

 To find out how the teachers at Haslett CDL helped inspire this transformation in my son’s attitude towards insects, I chatted with them about their methods.

 Ms. Brower, the head teacher, who has been teaching under 5’s for 30 years, likes to focus on what children can see, touch and surround themselves with in teaching them about the environment.  Throughout the year she focuses on the seasons and changes in nature – introducing children to animals in their direct environment.  Summer session is all about insects because it’s such a good time to find them outside.  Brower notes that at ages 4 & 5, children need simple, interactive, hands-on activities with frequent references to how insects compare to children’s own experiences.  She also believes that it’s important for children to play outside without specific goals – just to be out in the sun & breathing fresh air is vital, particularly for many of the children in the program who live in apartments for whom their only outdoor time is at preschool. 

 This summer’s activities have included …

  1. A nature walk on a short forest trail to catch insects in special safe plastic holders with air-holes & magnifying glasses built in    -photo-   followed by a popsicle party and hill-rolling
  2. Special songs and dances about insects (Head, Thorax, Abdomen – to the tune of Head & Shoulders)
  3. Insect related artwork & paintings
  4. Insect themed stories such as the Grouchy Ladybug & the Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle
  5. A special visit by a pet tarantula
  6. A find the anthill  hide & seek game
  7. Lots of insect construction puzzles and games
  8. Watching caterpillars form chrysalises & hatch into butterflies
    (The class cared for Painted Lady Butterflies purchased in an online kit! Likely @ http://www.thebutterflysite.com/rearing.shtml)

 Ms. Leveille, an assistant teacher, who aims to teach elementary school, also appreciated the science-based approach at the CDL.  She believes that successful environmental education for this age group requires concrete, hands-on activities where children can ‘see it for themselves’.  Although she herself has some ‘issues’ about spiders, she has done a great job repressing her reactions so children are free to form their own – hopefully positive – opinions about insects and arachnids. 

 A short interview with my son, Phoenix about his experiences at the CDL this summer leaves us with this final quote: “I loved watching our class butterflies grow from caterpillar to chrysalis and then releasing them outside!”

Painted Lady Butterfly

(from an un-labeled anonymous Boston University student project)

Many thanks to Phoenix’s teachers – Ms. Lin, Ms. Moore, Ms. Foster, Ms. Brower, Ms. Garzia, Ms. Leveille,  Ms. Hawes, Ms. Wojcik – and any others whose names I may have forgotten (there is a very high teacher-to-student ratio in CDL classes). You all do a wonderful job – thanks for making Phoenix’s first year of preschool such a success 🙂 !