Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Holiday Fun - Lots to Do!

No matter what holidays you celebrate, this is the season to enjoy your family, keep the kids busy on those days off, and spend time outdoors before winter reeeally hits. Looking for ideas? There is a lot going on around town these days! Or, if you'd rather cozy up around your own house or yard, there are plenty of fun activities you can do with your friends and family. Read on for ideas...

Out and About
Beyond the Edge of the Sea and Seaworthy @ the UW Ebling Library and Story Time at the UW Geology Museum. Check out this traveling exhibit featuring the magnificent watercolors of deep-sea expeditionary illustrator Karen Jacobsen (Art and Science Exhibitions on display until January 31, 2012), and stop by the Geology Museum on Thursday, 12/15 at 10:30am for their family Story Time!

Winter Solstice Celebration @ the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Celebrate the longest night of the year with a nighttime winter hike under the stars, feed winter bird neighbors, gather around the campfire to burn a Yule log, sip cocoa and eat a seasonal solstice snack! 6:30-8pm, Friday, 12/16.

Winter Solstice Bonfire @ Glenwood Children's Park. Help shorten the longest night of the year! Bring your mug for hot cider, snack on s'mores, listen to local music and more! 6-10pm, Sunday, 12/18.

Holiday Concert @ Olbrich Garden. Enjoy festive "The Electric Orchestra"/Organ Music at 2pm on Sunday, 12/18. You can also see Olbrich's Holiday Express Flower and Model Train Show, warm up in the Bolz Conservatory and visit the outdoor gardens to see winter grasses and berries.

Exhibits Sneak Peek: Special Public Hours @ the Aldo Leopold Nature Center. Stop by for a sneak-preview of brand new interactive exhibits and programs, which won't be available to the public until next Spring! Get a one-of-a-kind view of our planet's rarely seen "frozen world," explore hands-on exhibits about weather and climate, and, see the winning entry from ALNC's snow globe art contest transformed into a giant spinning snow globe! Thursday, 12/29, noon-7pm.

Winter Wonder Week @ the Madison Children's Museum. Celebrate Wisconsin's signature season with special activities throughout the museum from January 2-7. Help build an ice sculpture, practice ice fishing, brave the Rooftop Ramble for frosted food, art and games, brush up on basic survival skills, enjoy a winter themed sing-along and a visit to the log cabin to learn what pioneers did for entertainment through the long, cold winter.

Tiki Torch Toboggan @ the Aldo Leopold Nature Center (Black Earth Campus). Discover the winter flora and fauna as you sled, snowshoe or hike along the snow covered trails and warm up around a roaring campfire with a cup of hot chocolate. Saturday, 1/14, 4-7pm.

At Home
Christmas Bird Count - National Audubon Society. From 12/14 through 1/5, tens of thousands of volunteers throughout the Americas take part in an adventure that has become a family tradition among generations. Families and students, birders and scientists, armed with binoculars, bird guides and checklists go out on an annual mission.

Winter Bird Feeders - You and your family and friends can make birdfeeders together and see what critters they attract this season! Using pinecones, pipe cleaners, milk cartons, or other household items, you can make quick and easy birdfeeders that will make the birds happy and give your family something to watch together. Keep track of what you see and enter them into the Christmas Bird Count or Earth Alive!

Decorate with Nature - Go Explore Nature has a great list of holiday ideas that will get you outside with your family. Check out these 5 Ways to Decorate with Nature or their 24 Days of Holiday-Inspired Nature Fun.

Track and Trail Blaze! - In case you missed December's Nature Net News, it was full of ideas for getting outside, seeing what tracks and trails you can trace, and making snow stories of your own. Check it out!

This time of year sure can be busy, but try out any of these great events and activities to make the most of the season. Have fun, and Happy Holidays from Nature Net!

Monday, December 12, 2011

Nature Net News December 2011 - Trails and Tracks

"Snow is a gift to the tracker: a blank page upon which nature writes its stories."
Paul Tappenden

Dear Reader,

Freshly fallen snow is the perfect blank slate on which the stories of nature can be written.

Whether it be loop-de-loops around the yard, impact craters in nearby snowbanks, or trails leading to treasure troves and food stores, kids, adults and animals alike are tempted by a layer of fresh, clean snow, just asking to be tracked upon.

So with all this in mind, we hope this issue of Nature Net News inspires you to go out and trailblaze your own set of tracks!


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know.....
There are many different types of tracking in addition to finding footprints. For example, Large Scale Sign, used by the United States Search and Rescue Task Force, involves reading the landscape for traces of activity and habitation, such as resources an animal needs (food, water or bedding), signs of animal dens, or the presence of "indicator" animals like vole, rabbits or deer. Medium Scale Sign includes evidence of animals such as rubs, gnaws, feathers or broken twigs.

See a crazy K-shaped birdtrack? Owls and woodpeckers have a unique foot structure, known as a "zygodactyl," which means two toes point forward and two point backward. In owls, the "K" points
outward, and in woodpeckers, the "K" points in.

Following tracks can also lead you to piles of "scat," which are the droppings of animals. Scat can give you a lot of clues about what an animal eats! 

What To Do This Month:
Go track spotting! What can you tell about an animal from its prints?

See a cool trail in the snow? Make up snow stories! Use the clues you see and a little imagination... What are the animal tracks telling you? What kind of critters made them? Which way did they go? What were they doing? Tell some tales along the trail! What did the animals see on their journey? Did their adventure end in a cozy den? Continue the story inside while you warm up with cocoa, crayons and pencils! Collect some souvenirs along the way and paste or sketch them in your storybook. Enter your snow story drawings in ALNC's Snow Globe Contest, and your design might be featured on the giant animated snow globe on December 29!

Celebrate the snowy season with a Christmas Supper and woodland stroll at Bethel Horizons on Sunday, 12/4, and a nighttime snow walk at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's Winter Solstice Celebration, on Friday, 12/16. And on Thursday, 12/29, see other kinds of snow stories during the sneak peek public hours featuring ALNC's new exhibits, family activities and the Snow Globe Contest winning design.

Other fun events this month include Tea and Trains at the Madison Children's Museum on Saturday, 12/3, Holiday Bazaar at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center on Sunday, 12/4, Holiday Concerts on Sundays at Olbrich Garden and a 12/11 Holiday Tree Lighting at Dane County's Schumacher Farm Park.

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
Making Tracks and Keeping Warm
While out exploring, it's fun to make some tracks of your own! But when tunneling through the snow, make sure your kids are nice and bundled up with snowboots, pants, coat, mittens/gloves, and even scarves to prevent a tot-cicle! If you're out and about, be prepared with extra layers and dry socks for the ride home. Snacks are good too!

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Snow Tracking
Measuring the distance between tracks can be a great clue to how big the animal is. But also remember
that some smaller animals can stretch, hop or leap further than you might think!

The Wisconsin DNR's EEK! site for tracking has some excellent advice for any tiny trackers. While you're there, be sure to test your tracking prowess with their online tracking game! More great tracking resources here and here.

Featured Nature Net Site
MacKenzie Environmental Education Center

The MacKenzie Environmental Education Center (MEEC) is one of the most diverse environmental education centers in Wisconsin. Encompassing 250 acres, the center has a variety of habitat types including prairie and forestland. MEEC is an excellent place to visit and learn more about the natural world through hands-on outdoor experiences, family outings, hiking and picnics. Located just 25 miles north of Madison, MEEC is readily accessible to people of all ages across Wisconsin.

There are many different types of animals living at the MacKenzie Center, so trek on up and try and find as many prints as you can!

Learn About Other Nature Net Sites

Nature Craft
Trail Blazer

What you need: boots, coat, snowsuit, coloring materials, paper.

1. Go outside and look for animal tracks. Point out features like size, shape, paws or hooves and talk about what kind of animals made them.

2. Find a clear patch of snow.

3. Using your own boots, hands and a little imagination, create your own type of tracks. Can you integrate other props like a pinecone or treebranch to make toes or claws? What kind of imaginary animal would make these? What's it called? What does it act like? What does it eat? Where is it going?

4. When you're done with the tracks, go inside and draw the creature you made tracks for. Write a story about it!
Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading:
"Tracks in the Snow" by Wong Herbert Yee (baby-preschool)
"In the Snow: Who's Been Here?" by Lindsay Barrett George (baby-5)
"Animals in Winter" by Henrietta Bancroft (preschool)
"Animal Tracks and Signs: Track Over 400 Animals from Big Cats to Backyard Birds" by Jinny Johnson (4+)
"Whose Tracks are These? A Clue Book of Familiar Forest Animals" by James Neil (4-8)
"Tracks in the Wild" by Betsy Bowen (4-8)
"Who's Been Here? A Tale in Tracks" by Fran Hodgekins (4-8)
"Big Tracks, Little Tracks: Following Animal Prints" by Millicent E. Selsam (4-8)
"Wild Tracks! A Guide to Nature's Footprints" by Jim Arnosky (4-8)
"Tracks, Scat and Signs" by Leslie Dendy (4-12)
"Stories in Tracks & Signs: Reading the Clues That Animals Leave Behind" by Diane Gibbons (young adult+)
"National Audubon Society Pocket Guide to Familiar Animal Tracks" by The National Audubon Society (beginner guide)
"Mammal Tracks & Sign: A Guide to North American Species" by Mark Elbroch (beginner guide)
"Scats and Tracks of the Midwest" by James Halfpenny (medium guide)
"Tracks and Trailcraft" by Ellsworth Jaeger (expansive guide)

Browse Past Nature Net News

Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

November Nature Net News - Changing Climate

"Our generation has inherited an incredibly beautiful world from our parents, and they from their parents. It is in our hands whether our children and their children inherit the same world."
Richard Branson
Dear Reader,

The seasons just aren't what they used to be! Summer days are hotter and winters more extreme. Droughts stretch across the country, followed by intense rain. Our climate is changing and it affects us every single day.

Climate change is hot topic nowadays, be you politician, environmentalist, or everyday person. This is because we all live in this world, and impacts of climate change are all around us. A matter of a few degrees in the average temperature can mean the difference between local crops thriving or drying out, or animals being able to adapt or not. 

Records show that Wisconsin's average temperature has slowly increased the past fifty years by more than one degree. Now, this might not seem like much, but consider this: since 1960, signs of spring have come weeks earlier, lakes freeze less often and with thinner ice, and winter temperatures have warmed by 4 degrees (info from here).

There have been a lot of claims and debates made in the past few years about climate change... in this issue of Nature Net News, we have sorted through some great resources to provide you with information about climate change and its impacts around Wisconsin and the world.


Kathe, Sarah and Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know..... 60-80% of snowstorms in the United States occur during warmer-than-normal years.

The average number of days of ice cover on Madison lakes has decreased by around 29-35 days over the past 150 years.

Many Wisconsin species have adjusted their spring activities, blooming or arriving several weeks earlier in spring than they did a few decades ago.

The rate of climate change is predicted to increase over the next forty years, and Wisconsin's average annual temperature will warm by 4-9 degrees Fahrenheit by mid-century!

What To Do This Month:
Keep track of weather, plants, animals, migrations and seasonal changes around you (this is called "phenology"). You can use these observations to begin conversations about climate-related topics such as weather, atmosphere, temperature, seasons, ecosystems and more. Here are some great Nature Net resources to get you started!

Learn how climate changes are impacting animal habitats around the world with International Orangutan Caring Week (November 12-20) at the Henry Vilas Zoo.

Stay tuned for public programs and special events at the new Climate Education Center at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center!

Tricks of the Trail for Parents
Explaining Climate Change
Climate change is a complex subject, and can be especially confusing to younger children, who are not old enough to remember when the climate was different. Explain that slowly, over the course of your lifetime, the weather we can usually expect has been changing. Give examples of what your childhood weather was like, and have your children compare it to what the weather is like today. (Remember that there are always variations and extremes, but we are talking about averages over time.) What effect might these changes have on plants, animals and people?

Check out real-life stories of changes in Wisconsin!

Take a look at EPA Climate Change Kids site, and A Student's Guide to Climate Change!

Explore NASA's findings on climate change.

Interact with the Global Climate Dashboard to view a variety of Earth's changes over different time periods.

Research_Explorer has an interesting site on the science of climate change at the Exploratorium.

Check out the WICCI (Wisconsin Initiative on Climate Change Impacts) website to see what our state is doing in response to our changing climate!

Once you've learned about climate change, find out what you can do about it - at home, school, at the office or on the road.

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Tricky Terms
Why are there so many different (and sometimes scary!) titles for what is happening in the world around us? Here are some definitions to help explain the terms.

Climate Change: difference in long-term averages of daily weather and other characteristics of Earth's systems.

The Greenhouse Effect: how Earth's atmosphere keeps the planet warmer than Outer Space. Earth gets energy from the Sun in the form of heat and light, and its surface absorbs some of this and warms up. Earth then gives off a different form of energy, called infrared radiation. But before all this radiation can escape to Outer Space, it passes through greenhouse gases in the atmosphere, which absorb some of it and hold it close to Earth. As the atmosphere gets warmer, it also makes the Earth's surface warmer (from EPA Kids). The Greenhouse Effect is very important for keeping Earth comfortable and suitable for life, but the amount of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere (especially carbon dioxide) has been increasing.

Carbon Cycle: the path carbon takes as it cycles through the world. Many living beings, such as humans and animals, inhale air and exhale carbon dioxide. Plants take care of the carbon we exhale, converting it to oxygen, and Earth's oceans absorb a lot of carbon, too. Other things on Earth also emit carbon, through decomposition, combustion, etc. The burning of fossil fuels in recent centuries is adding huge amounts of carbon to the atmosphere, and the trees and plants and oceans can't keep up with the pace.

Weather vs. Climate: Weather is a small-scale phenomenon, while climate is large-scale, made up of an average of weather in an area over months, years and longer. Climate is also what tells us what conditions we can generally expect in a place and time. (Watch "Episode 2" here for a good explanation.) For example, there can be sunny days or rainy days (weather) in the Amazon Rainforest, but the climate there is largely warm and wet.

Phenology: literally "the science of appearance;" studying the physical changes in an environment over the course of the seasons. For example, a phenologist marks the day she sees the first robin of spring, and can then compare it to other years' records or others' observations.

Featured Nature Net Site:
The Aldo Leopold Nature Center has been busy putting together climate education exhibits and programs in their newly expanded facility, including Science on a Sphere, Global Warming: Facts and Our Future, Storms 360 Fly-Through Immersive Theater, Madison Gas & Electric Renewable Energy Center, Nina Leopold Bradley Phenology Center and more!

ALNC members recently got a preview of the exhibits at Fall Fest, and teachers had a sneak peek at the Educators' Open House. The Aldo Leopold Nature Center has also just started booking pilot school groups to test out new fieldtrip programs. Stay tuned for more opportunities to check it out in the coming months!

Learn about other Nature Net sites

 Nature Craft
Rice Krispie Planet
What you need: 3 tablespoons butter, 1 package regular marshmallows (or 4 cups mini marshmallows), 6 cups Rice Krispies, 2 colors food coloring (we used green and blue), 1/2 teaspoon vanilla (optional).

1. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat. Add marshmallows and stir until completely blended. Remove from heat.
2. Add Rice Krispies and optional vanilla. Stir until well-coated.
3. Divide mixture into two bowls. Add one food coloring to one bowl and another color to the second - a few drops is all you need! Mix well. (You can mix with your hands - be sure to wash them before and after!)
4. Being careful of the temperature, use your hands to combine blue Rice Krispies and green Rice Krispies to make your own Rice Krispie planet!
5. Let cool completely on wax papered surface.
6. Enjoy!
*Note* Be careful of the amount of food coloring used--your teeth may stain!
(Nature Craft adapted from
DLTK.com and RiceKrispies.com)
Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading
"A Hot Planet Needs Cool Kids" by Julie Hall (4-8)
"Ask an Expert: Climate Change" by Richard Spilsbury (4-8)
"The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge" by Joanna Cole (4-8)
"What are Global Warming and Climate Change?" by Chuck McCutcheon (6-12)
"Climate Change" by DK Publishing (9-12)
"Weird Weather: Everything You Didn't Want to Know About Climate Change But Probably Should Find Out" by Kate Evans (9-12)
"Global Warming: The Threat of Earth's Changing Climate" by Laurence Pringle (9-12)
"Under the Weather: Stories About Climate Change" by Tony Bradman (9-12)
"The Climate Crisis: An Introductory Guide to Climate Change" by David Archer and Stefan Rahmstorf (adults)

Browse Past Nature Net News

Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events

Friday, October 21, 2011

Your Feedback Needed! Wisconsin's Plan for Environmentally Literate and Sustainable Communities

Now is your chance to have a voice in the future of environmental education and sustainable communities in Wisconsin!

We at Nature Net are excited about the new Wisconsin Plan for Environmentally Literate and Sustainable Communities, preliminarily released this month from the Wisconsin Environmental Education Board (WEEB), Wisconsin Environmental Education Foundation (WEEF) and the Wisconsin Association for Environmental Education (WAEE), in partnership with a range of individuals and organizations across the state. Building on Wisconsin's history of strong conservation ethic and environmental education leadership, this plan serves as a pathway for moving forward in developing an environmentally literate twenty-first century society comprised of sustainable communities. This encompassing proposal focuses on the knowledge, skills and attitudes of Wisconsinites at home, work, school and play, in promotion of healthy citizens and environment. (To read the plan, click here.)

The plan is currently in a Public Preview Period (October 17-24, 2011), and your feedback is welcome! Take a moment to review and comment on Wisconsin's Plan for Environmentally Literate and Sustainable Communities and have a say in EE and sustainable living in Wisconsin. The final version will be unveiled at the WAEE Fall Conference in November.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Educators' Open House


Calling all K-12 teachers: be among the first to see the exciting new offerings at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center!

WHEN: Thursday, October 27, 2011 - come anytime from 4-6pm!

WHERE: Aldo Leopold Nature Center, Monona, WI

WHAT: Preview brand new hands-on, interactive educational exhibits designed to teach your students about climate science, renewable energy and sustainability! Bring the family and explore the exhibits together - view our planet as the astronauts see it with Science on a Sphere, see how global temperatures shape Earth's past, present and future with Global Warming Facts & Our Future, and discover the latest green innovations with the Madison Gas & Electric Renewable Energy Center.

Find out about new programming in the works and opportunities for fieldtrips, professional development and more. Enjoy teacher resources, free classroom materials, raffle prizes, coffee and cookies and more! Register to win one of three grand prizes, sign up to be one of the first to pilot our new programs, and learn how you can qualify for fieldtrip subsidies to the Aldo Leopold Nature Center.

Monday, October 3, 2011

October Nature Net News - Rascally Raccoons

"In plain sight now, within the den, we found four baby raccoons, a month old perhaps. The entire litter of kits might easily have fitted within my cap. Each tail had five black rings. Each small face had a sharp black mask. Eight bright eyes peered up at us, filled with wonder and worry."
- from Rascal, by (Wisconsin's own!) Sterling North

Dear Reader,

Who is that marauding at midnight? Who's ripping up and spreading around all your trash? Who washes their food and hands before every meal? It's the masked crusaders of the dark - they're raccoons!

Ever since childhood, I've had a special affinity for these cunning critters. From Racoony, who would launch himself at our front door to eat my mom's ornamental corn wreathes, to Big Guy, rapping on our sliding glass doors for more catfood, I've had 'coon run-ins aplenty. But, despite their mischievous acts, I still find myself grinning whenever I see one of those little masks looking at me from a tree or trashcan.

Mind you, I'm not saying they can't be troublesome, but I find myself appreciating these clever creatures, like Sterling North and his pet Rascal, or the National Wildlife Federation's hero Ranger Rick, rather than viewing them as demons bent on destroying my flowerbeds or corn patch.

In this issue of Nature Net News, you'll learn about these crafty critters and how they adapt to their environment, along with historic and international attention they have received.

And a big "Thank You!" to Peter Green for allowing us to use one of his adorable raccoon pictures!


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know.....
Raccoons wash their food in water before eating. In fact, the word for 'raccoon' in several languages can be translated as 'wash bear.'

Raccoons are omnivorous scavengers and will eat just about anything!

Raccoons have opposable thumbs on their front paws, allowing for all sorts of mischief to happen.

Raccoons are nocturnal, meaning they are mostly active during the night.

Raccoons are able to adapt to many different environments. While they originally evolved as woodland creatures, due to widespread urban development, they have become very adept at city living.

What To Do This Month:
Check out the MacKenzie Environmental Education Center's Hootenanny on October 1 and their Haunted Hay Ride October 21 & 22. Dress up like a raccoon or other nocturnal trickster!

Stare at the stars at Bethel Horizons on October 8 and 29.

Upham Woods is having an Autumn Splendor family event on October 8 and a fall Family Camp Weekend from October 15-16.

On October 23, check out the crazy critters at the Henry Vilas Zoo's Halloween at the Zoo!

Discover all kinds of "Creatures of the Night" at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's spook-tacular family Fall Fest on October 28!

Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
Raccoon Reminders
While it's fun to learn about raccoons, it's quite another to directly interact with them! While your children might become excited about meeting these masked magicians, be careful not to actively attract raccoons - your trash collectors and neighbors will appreciate it! Instead, we recommend trying to spot raccoons or their tracks on nature walks, listening for them on campouts, or learning about them through literature.

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Cartoon 'Coons
Sterling North's 1963 book, Rascal (an autobiographical story about his childhood with a pet raccoon in south central Wisconsin) was adapted to anime cartoon in a popular 1970s Japanese series called Araiguma Rasukaru. While raccoons have long been seen as everything from an annoyance to a wild menace in American communities, thousands of Japanese children were enamored with these adorable exotic pets and asked their parents to import them from the United States! However, people soon realized the difference between real and cartoon raccoons and released them into the wild, where they wreaked havoc on Japan's ecosystem. Now, raccoons tend to be looked at more as pests than pets, but the cartoon about the boy and his raccoon adventure is still popular today. Learn more about this here.

Featured Nature Net Site
Lussier Family Heritage Center

The Lussier Family Heritage Center is a Dane County facility for hosting private and public events. The center is named after the Lussier Family who contributed a significant amount for its construction and preservation. It is located within the Lake Farm County Park and surrounded by native prairie vegetation and forests.

Lake Farm Park borders the Heritage Center and offers numerous recreational opportunities including boat launch, picnic facilities, campgrounds, hiking and cross-country ski trails, and playground equipment. Check out the nature and bike trails around the property!

Don't miss the Lussier Family Heritage Center's Harvest Moon Festival on Friday, October 7 to discover nighttime nature on a torch-lit stroll.
Learn About Other Nature Net Sites

Nature Craft
Paper Puppet
What you need: paper bag, black construction paper, white construction paper, glue.

1. Fold the two square corners at the bottom of the bag to form the raccoon head.

2. Cut from the white construction paper two large circles (masks), three small circles (nose and eyes), two medium triangles (ears) and a large oval (stomach).

3. Cut from the black construction paper two tiny circles (pupils), one small circle (nose), two large black circles (mask), two large triangles (ears) and two large ovals (paws). 

4. Glue the black pupils on two of the small white circles. Layer the remaining circles to form the mask around the eyes. Glue the black medium "nose" circle on the white "nose" circle. Then paste your eyes, mask and nose on the paper bag's "face."

 5. Glue the large white oval on the stomach of your paper bag and glue arms to the sides of the paper bag. 

6. Glue small and big triangles together to make ears and glue to top of the puppet's head. 

7. Viola! Your puppet is ready to act!

Nature Craft adapted from Enchanted Learning - Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading:
"Little Raccoon's Big Question" by Miriam Schlien (baby-preschool)
"The Little Raccoon" by Elizabeth Ring (baby-6)
"Raccoon Tune" by Nancy Shaw (preschool-5)
"Raccoons and Ripe Corn" by Jim Arnosky (3-8)
"Raccoon on his Own" by Jim Arnosky (3-8)
"Little Raccoon" by Lilian Moore (4-8)
"Clever Raccoons" by Kristen L. Nelson (4-8)
"The Kissing Hand" by Audrey Penn (4-8)
"Raccoon's Last Race" by Joseph and James Bruchac (4-8)
"Raccoon Moon" by Nancy Carol Willis (4-8)
"Welcome to the World of Raccoons" by Diane Swanson (4-8)
"Kit: The Adventures of a Raccoon" by Shirley Woods (4-12)
"Rascal" by Sterling North (5+)
"Raccoons: Scavengers of the Night" by Elaine Landau (9-12)
"Raccoons: A Natural History" by Samuel I. Zeveloff (teen)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Family Nature Clubs Update - September 2011

Hi Family Nature Clubbers! We hope you had a lovely summer and were able to spend lots of time outdoors with your family. We’d like to help you keep it up this fall! Read on for some updates and ideas…

UW-Arboretum Earth Partnership for Families – Nature Play Day! Sunday, September 25 • 12:30 pm – 4 pm
September family day at the Arboretum is all about playing in the woods. Children and adults will work together in the nature free-play area to build, discover, and explore. Let your imagination be the guide. Check in with the receptionist in the Visitor Center for directions to the free-play area. Look for other families from our first nature club, Madison Family Nature Club between 12:30-2:00. Visit Madison Family Nature Club on Facebook or email club leader Sandra for more information.

More Upcoming Family Events
September 22-25: Wisconsin Science Festival @ various locations
September 24: Cranes of the World Festival @ International Crane Foundation
September 25: Fall for Donald Park Event 1-4pm @ Dane County Park’s Donald Park
October 1: Hootenanny 6:30-8:30pm @ MacKenzie Environmental Education Center
October 6: Story Time 10:30am @ UW Geology Museum
October 7: Harvest Moon Festival 6-9pm @ Lussier Family Heritage Center
October 8: Autumn Splendor 1-4pm @ Upham Woods
October 8: Draconid Meteor Shower 7pm @ Bethel Horizons
October 15-16: Family Camp Weekend @ Upham Woods

…and many more! Check out Nature Net’s Events Calendar for more information!

Are You Interested in Being a Family Nature Club Leader?
For those of you interested in starting your own Family Nature Club (being the main point of contact, organizing activities and/or delegating roles), we can provide you with resources and tools to get you started – let us know!

Nature Net Resources for Family Nature Clubs
If you haven’t seen these already, here are a few great resources available from Nature Net. Peruse NatureNet.com’s Family Nature Clubs page, Family Resources and Events Calendar, sign up for Nature Net News, visit our Facebook page, comment on our Family Nature Clubs, and check out our blog.

We Want to Hear from You!
Nature Net’s Family Nature Clubs are brand new and evolving. We are hoping to serve as a source for event and activity ideas, resources, and a place to meet other families. If you have ideas for how we could make Family Nature Clubs better for you, please let us know! Check out our resources above and email info[at]naturenet.com with any questions or ideas.

Spread the Word!
Do you know any other parents or families who might be interested? Forward this email, tell them to “like” Nature Net on Facebook, or direct them to the Family Nature Clubs page to get started. We hope to grow Family Nature Clubs together!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Nature Net News - September 2011 - Wildflowers and Native Grasses

"For myself I hold no preferences among flowers,
so long as they are wild, free, spontaneous." - Edward Abbey
Dear Reader,

Fall is upon us, but in these last warm days of summer, take a look at the wild beauty that blooms -- our native grasses and wildflowers.

Native plants and wildflowers grow naturally and are deemed "native" because they existed in forests and prairies before pioneer cultivation. Native plants and wildflowers play important roles in the local ecosystems. For example, prairie grasses have deep root systems that help keep soil from eroding and soak up lots of water. This is why many rain gardens (gardens designed to keep runoff from buildings or roads from washing away the local ecosystem) feature native prairie plants!

Learn more about these natural wonders in this edition of Nature Net News today!

Kathe, Sarah & Brenna The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know.....
The seed of the Indian Paintbrush is so tiny, that several handfuls can plant a whole acre!

Coneflowers have many medicinal purposes and are used in the manufacture of over 140 medicines and drugs!

Some flowers included in "wildflower" seed mixes, like the Dame's Rocket, aren't even wildflowers at all, but invasive species!

What to Do This Month: Learn about native plants and wildflowers at the UW Arboretum! There is a guided Fall Flower Walk and a Native By Design: Sustainable Gardening Workshop on Sunday, September 18. Can't make those? Take a walk along the trails and observe all the native grasses and wildflowers contained within. You might even be inspired to plant a wildflower garden of your own! The UW Arboretum has compiled a list of plant species native to Southern Wisconsin and grouped them based on what type of gardens they would best complement. Check it out here!

Looking for more? There is a morning Guided Prairie Walk at the International Crane Foundation on Saturday, September 10, and your family (kids 8+) might also enjoy volunteering with the Dane County Parks Prairie Seed Collection (various dates and locations this month). If you're looking for even more prairie action, be sure to attend the Aldo Leopold Nature Center's annual Pipers in the Prairie fundraising gala on September 17, including family activities, dancing, Celtic music and a giant bonfire! Whatever you do this month, consider recording your autumn plant observations with Project BudBurst's Fall into Phenology!

Tricks of the Trail for Parents: Long Grasses and What's Hidden in Them As the days get chillier, it may seem that all the insects are dying, but when you're walking through prairies and woodlands, beware! Long grass can be hiding ticks and other pesky critters. To best guard against them, wear long pants and sleeves and make sure everything is tucked in, so if they do land on you, there's no skin for them to find. After walking in long grass, be sure to check your hair and scalp, along with the rest of your body, for these little buggers.

Instant Outdoor Expert: Native Species Native species are plants and animals that are endemic to an ecosystem or region. Due to this, they are often hardier and easier to care for than non-native species - they have had generation upon generation adapting to the specific climate, flora and fauna of the area.

Found a wildflower, but you don't know the name? Check out the Native Plant Information Network to see what it is!

Featured Nature Net Site
UW Arboretum
Widely recognized as the site of historic research in ecological restoration, the Arboretum includes the oldest and most varied collection of restored ecological communities in the world, including tallgrass prairies, savannas, several forest types and wetlands. It also houses flowering trees, shrubs and a world-famous lilac collection. Educational tours for groups and the general public, science and nature-based classes for all ages and abilities, and a wide variety of volunteer opportunities (including the maintenance of native areas!) for groups, families and individuals are available.
Learn About Other Nature Net Sites

Nature Craft
Wild Grass Key Chain
What you need: scissors, wild grass or raffia, key ring, embroidery floss (optional), beads (optional), flowers and wax (optional).

1. Take several long strands of grass and put them through your key ring. Double them over so they are looped through the ring.

2. Braid your strands together. You may also add beads or embroidery floss as you go.

3. Tie off the braid and wrap embroidery floss around the knot or add beads to the end.

4. Consider weaving in real or fake wildflowers. (You could dip these in wax to keep them from crumbling.)

5. Hang some keys off your new key chain!
Nature Craft Archives

Suggested Reading
"A Child's Book of Wildflowers" by M.A. Kelly (all ages)
"Fairy Dusters and Blazing Stars" by Suzanne Samson (4-8)
"A Prairie Alphabet" by Jo Bannatyne-Cugnet (4-8)
"Wildflowers, Blooms and Blossoms" by Diane Burns (4-8)
"If You're Not From the Prairie..." by David Bouchard (4-8)
"Miss Lady Bird's Wildflowers" by Kathi Apelt (9-12)
"Little House on the Prairie" by Laura Ingalls Wilder (9-12)
"Wildflowers Around the Year" by Hope Ryden (9-12)
"A Walk in the Prairie" by Rebecca L. Johnson (9-12)
"Little Blog on the Prairie" by Cathleen Davitt Bell (teen)

Browse Past Nature Net News
Find Family Events on the Nature Net Calendar of Events
Give Us Your Feedback! http://uwarboretum.org/

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

My Summer at Nature Net

Hey all!

Hi! Nice to meet you!
This summer I had a blast! I was working with the fabulous Brenna to create and supply materials to parents and teachers to help kids get outside. It's one thing to write about kids getting active, and yet another to see it in action. Working above the summer camps at the Aldo Leopold Nature Center, everyday my inspiration was renewed afresh. There's just something about a shrieking, giggling, wild gaggle of 4-6-year-olds racing through the prairie or investigating at the pond that inspires a happy feeling, as if you were infused with helium.

My favorite part was during the PBS Kids Go Open House. Perhaps you saw me, I was the girl going around with a raccoon puppet on my art and speaking odes, in a squeaky voice, about garbage cans (and if anyone has pictures of this event, I would be ever so grateful for a copy, for I have none!). This summer has been such a marvelous adventure!

In addition to the open house, I was the one who sent out your Nature Passports and other assorted materials when you ordered them online (sorry for any delays!) and I contributed to issues of Nature Net News (check out the summer issues posted on this blog!). Also, we're just starting out our Family Nature Club program. It's a really good way to keep your kids outside, even in the non-summer months! I've put quite a lot of time into it, so please check it out and see if it's for you!

Alas, I wish I could stay forever, but this is my last week working for
Nature Net. Next week, I leave the country to go on a new adventure. So, farewell!

It's been a fun summer for me, I hope you have had one too.



Thursday, August 4, 2011

Nature Net News - August 2011 - Camping

Nature Net News
Your source for tips & tricks for exploring nature with your kids

Dear Reader,

Summer is ending soon, and what better way to celebrate these last halcyon days than to get away for a weekend and live amongst nature?

"The man who goes afoot, prepared to camp anywhere
and in any weather, is the most independent fellow on earth."
Horace Kephart
I remember, as a little girl, sitting around the campfire with my family, lighting marshmallows aflame with glee. I also remember when the fire burned down to embers, telling ghost stories before going to bed and startling at every strange and exciting sound I heard that night. 

Camping is not only a way to spend a vacation, but a way to instill a connection with the natural world. This is important, especially in these times when many children don't get outside as much as their parents or grandparents did in their childhood. Camping is a fun way to remedy that, promoting family togetherness and appreciation of nature, while creating lifelong traditions and memories.

In this issue of Nature Net News, we'll take a look at the various aspects of camping from bugs to bingo to cooking a meal over an open fire. 


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know.....
You can use Nature Net's Interactive Statewide Directory of Nature Centers and Programs to incorporate the outdoors into your vacation just about anywhere in Wisconsin!

Some invasive and harmful bugs, like the Emerald Ash Borer, can travel in wood carried from site to site - so make sure your firewood is local and be sure to bring only what you'll burn!

And some camping humor... How do you start a fire using only two pieces of wood? Make sure one of them is a matchstick! How can you tell which  tree is a dogwood? By its "bark"!

What To Do This Month:
Go camping at one of Dane County's many park sites! Play camping bingo during your trip!

Camping is fun for all ages - even really little ones! Read this great post on camping with toddlers.  Get older kids engaged by having them join in the planning.

If you can't escape for an overnight trip, pack a picnic and go for a nature day hike at one of your local Nature Net sites! Read this article for tips on hiking with kids.

Check out the National Wildlife Federation's Great American Backyard Campout and GABC Facebook page for more great tricks and tips - this summer's event has passed, but this site is a great resource year-round!

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:
Biting and Itching While Tent Pitching
While camping, be sure to wear pants and sleeves, keep mosquito nets around, burn some citronella candles, or liberally spray yourself with insect repellent - otherwise you may find yourself and cranky tots covered with spots, itching all night long. Experiment with essential oils or non-DEET repellents containing eucalyptus or citronella. If the bugs are bad enough to require Deep Woods DEET sprays, make sure to spray it on clothing as opposed to bare skin. The Upper Midwest is also a known habitat for Lyme Disease-causing deerticks, so see if your spray repels ticks too. (Don't forget to take these action steps for sun safety too!)

Instant Outdoor Expert:
Camping Cooking Tips
Camping is fun, but what really makes it special is the yummy food around the campfire!

Plan your meals before you go and pack appropriately. You can create more elaborate meals by pre-chopping, pre-measuring or pre-spicing ingredients and putting them in clearly labeled plastic baggies.

Coals are easier to cook over than the open flame. While lighting a marshmallow on fire may seem more fun for younger  children, coals provide more even cooking for most foods.

If you're grilling over coals, use four large coffee cans filled with water to support your grill. During the course of the cooking, the water will become heated up for quick and easy clean-up!

For more outdoor cooking tips, click here.
Find delicious camping recipes here.

Featured Nature Net Site:
Dane County Parks and Conservation Parks
Year-round recreational opportunities abound throughout the Dane County Park System. Whether you enjoy fast-paced physical fun or quiet enjoyment, Dane County Parks offer you countywide locations for quick getaways from urban settings and offer custom-built recreational facilities amid splendid natural beauty. Imagine all you can do year-round throughout the Dane County Park System.

Dane County Parks also offers many campsites of various environments and scenery. Check them out for your camping trip today!

Nature Craft:
Rock Buddies!
What you need: rocks, paint, glue, googly eyes...
1. Wash your rock to make sure it is nice and clean. Let it dry in the sun.
2. If you want to, paint your rock with various colors and patterns and let dry. Add a face and/or glue googly eyes to it. Let it dry overnight.
3. You now have your very own personalized rock buddy! Take it on adventures, take some photos, keep in a special place, make some more rock friends and family, add a magnet, or string on a necklace!
4. Consider checking out the "Rock Thoughts" project with your new pal.

(Nature Craft adapted from
in words and pictures)

Suggested Reading:
"Curious George Goes Camping" by Margaret and H.A. Ray (all ages)
"Maisy Goes Camping" by Lucy Cousins (baby-preschool)
"When We Go Camping" by Margriet Ruurs (preschool)
"Camping Out" by Mercer Mayer (3-6)
"S is for Smores: A Camping Alphabet" by Helen Foster James (4-8)
"A Camping Spree with Mr. Magee" by Chris Van Dusen (4-8)
"Stella and Roy Go Camping" by Ashley Wolff (4-8)
"Camp Out!: The Ultimate Kids' Guide" by Lynne Brunelle (7+)
"Kids Camp!: Activities for the Backyard or Wilderness" by Laurie Carlson and Judith Dammel (4-12)
"Let's Get Primitive: The Urban Girl's Guide to Camping" by Heather Menicucci (adults


Monday, July 25, 2011

Nature Net News Flash Summer 2011

Dear Parents,

We hope you've been having a fun and safe summer full of nature adventures. In case you're running out of ways to keep your kids occupied this summer, never fear - Nature Net News Flash is here! With fun activities, programs and events, you can keep the outdoor fun going all summer long.


 Nature Passport:

Nature Passport is an at-your-leisure program geared toward family learning and discovery at over a dozen nature centers and museums throughout the area. Available free online, at Nature Net sites, and throughout the community, Nature Passport leads young explorers on adventures in the wild. Use the clues offered by Ringo Raccoon to get movin', find area mysteries and other exciting bits of nature.  

Pick up your free Passports at any Nature Net site or order
online. Don't forget your friends and neighbors -- get Passports for everyone!

Summer History Break:

Take a break and learn some history at Upham Woods this weekend!
Through this season's Upham Woods CANOE (Children and Nature Outdoor Experiences) Program on July 23, you can take a trip across the river or hang out and explore the camp. Take a guided history hike of Blackhawk Island, learn about the historic Dell House, River Rats, and the Snyder Family who once farmed the island OR stay on the mainland and collect all kinds of “water bugs” and examine them in the wet lab. Enjoy the summer weather through a summer scavenger hunt around camp. Don't forget to get your Nature Passport stamped while you're there!

Find out about other area events for families on the Nature Net Events Calendar. 

Looking for frequent tips, ideas and local updates? Be sure to check out Nature Net's Facebook page - we post daily and weekly craft activities, games, blogs, tips, events around town, and ideas for getting outdoors with your kids. "Like" us and let us know what you think!

Nature Net News Blast Summer 2011

Sign up to receive Nature Net News in your inbox! See the original newsletter atwww.naturenet.com/NatureNetNews/Nature_Net_News_Blast_0711.htm
 Dear Teachers,

Summer is in full swing! Hopefully you are finding time to relax and have fun. As you gear up for the school year, take a look at these resources, workshop opportunities and some new ideas for integrating nature into your classroom this fall.

This Nature Net News Blast has it all!

Teacher Workshops:

Summer Workshops Are Here! Check out this and other upcoming programs for educators:

Growing Minds: Garden-Based Learning from the Ground Up: July 25-29, 2011 – Community GroundWorks, Troy Gardens, Madison, WI
This 5-day, 20-hour course is designed for K-12 teachers and community educators interested in building their skills in youth garden education, development, and management. This course will emphasize an inquiry-based, hands-on approach to garden-focused learning. Course topics include youth garden design and construction, funding and resources, recommended tools and equipment, organic gardening methods, cooking in a garden kitchen, garden-based nutrition, nature study and games, earth art, chickens, program evaluation, and the role of youth gardening in the sustainable agriculture movement. Course instruction will take place outdoors in the award-winning Kids' Garden at Troy Gardens. Enrollment is limited to 22 educators. Cost is $135. 1 semester unit of graduate credit available at additional cost of $60. To register, or for further information, contact Nathan Larson at nathan@troygardens.org or 608-240-0409.

Read more and find out about other workshops!

Opportunities for Science Teachers:

ECB Climate Literacy Collaborative: Are you a grade 8 science teacher? You can be compensated for a climate education evaluation study in Fall 2011! The Educational Communications Board has recently produced a climate literacy digital resource, the Climate Literacy Collaborative, which targets climate science concepts that are typically difficult to teach and learn, and supports 21st Century learning skills through STEM content. Participate in the study — either as implementation teachers or comparison group teachers, and help evaluate their effectiveness! Register for the study here.

Wisconsin Science Festival: Mark your calendar for this inaugural experience designed to engage the next generation - and everyone else - in science. Participate in this free festival, September 23-35, including K-12 fieldtrips and teacher workshops across the Madison area. Visit www.WisconsinScienceFest.org for more information!

Nature Express:

 Planning for next year and looking for a way to make your outdoor exploration fieldtrip dollars go further?
Check out Nature Express - a program that provides funds for nature fieldtrip buses to any Nature Net site. You may receive up to $80 per bus to offset the cost of your second trip! More tips for designing effective field trips can be found on Nature Net.

More Nature Net Online:

Follow the Nature Net blog and "like" us on Facebook for frequent tips and ideas, local opportunities, and interesting articles for parents and educators - plus the same great resources found on NatureNet.com. Get started with these posts on nature journaling with your students, nature education apps, and Nature Net resources for educators.


Monday, July 18, 2011

Nature Net News - July 2011 - Buzzing Bees

Nature Net News
Your source for tips & tricks for exploring nature with your kids

Dear Reader,

What's the buzz about bees?
"How doth the little busy Bee
Improve each shining Hour,
And gather Honey all the day
From every opening Flower!"
"Against Idleness And Mischief" by Isaac Watts

Bees are busy pollinators, and their pollination helps produce over one-third of the human diet! That's not even including the delicious honey in everything from our morning tea to our lip balm.

However, bees are often vilified due to the little stinger that they use for defense, in addition to their aggressive relatives, including the wasp, which patterns itself after the bee. Some bees, such as the bumblebee, sting very rarely and are quite mild.

These buzzing beauties are in danger due to many modern factors, including pesticides (they don't distinguish between bugs), climate change (seasonal changes are affecting the synchronization of flower openings and bee emergence), and even cell phones (which can disorient bees so they cannot find their way back to their hives).

So take a look at this issue of Nature Net News and learn more about these buzzing critters. You'll definitely bee-come more interested!


Kathe, Sarah & Brenna
The Folks at Nature Net

Did You Know..... 
Bees have existed on this planet for over 100 million years, according to a fossil found by Oregon State University.

The European honey bee is Wisconsin's State Insect, despite being a non-native species.

Bumblebees are considered eight times more effective at pollination than honey bees at pollinating certain types of fruit, like blueberries. However, honey bees produce more honey.

Only queens and worker bees have stingers. Male bees have no stingers.

Bees have two pairs of wings!

What To Do This Month:
Come watch the busy bees pollinating the beautiful outdoor gardens at Olbrich Botanical Gardens!

Join The Bee Hunt, a scientific study to understand the impact of climate change and other factors on plant-pollinator interactions.

Check out the Butterflies Flutter By Walk on Sunday, July 10 at the UW Arboretum!

Learn about pollinator gardens (watch this clip from WPT's Wisconsin Gardener, read this article, check out these guides from the Pollinator Partnership, and visit these Community GroundWorks resources on gardening with kids) and cultivate some native plants in a sunny spot near you to attract and observe bees and other pollinators. 

Tricks of the Trail for Parents:

Buzzing Bees Beware!
While bees are amazing critters, when provoked, a little bee will give up its life (and a sting) to make sure you leave her hive alone. So, while bee-watching, make sure to stay out of the bees' way. Leave them alone and they'll do the same!

Instant Outdoor Expert:

How To Tell a Honey Bee from a Bumblebee
Shape: The honey bee is very streamlined with a "waist" and looks much like a short wasp. A bumblebee has a circular body and is noticeably fuzzy, especially on its bum(ble). It is larger than the honey bee.

Color: Honey bees have black and orange-yellow stripes, while bumblebees have black and yellow stripes.

Movement: A bumblebee is very slow and lazy and meanders from side to side, while a honey bee zips around and is always in a rush.

Temperament: Bumblebees are very gentle and will only attack under extreme provoked circumstances. Honey bees are more aggressive.

Featured Nature Net Site:
Olbrich Botanical Gardens
Stroll 16 acres of outdoor gardens featuring stunning landscapes and Midwest-hardy plants. The Outdoor Gardens are free and open daily. Or, visit the tropics in the Bolz Conservatory, filled with exotic plants, flowers, orchids, birds, and a waterfall.

Also be certain to learn more about pollinators at the annual Butterflies and Blooms exhibit, starting July 13th and going through August 7th!
Admission to Butterflies and Blooms:
Ages 13 & up: $5
Children ages 3 - 12: $3
Ages 2 and under: Free
Olbrich Botanical Society members: Free

Nature Craft: 
Paper Plate Puppet
What you need: 2 paper plates, yellow paint, black paint, small triangle of black paper, strip of paper, tissue or wax paper, black pipe cleaner, pencil, glue or stapler, scissors.

1. Paint the bottom-sides of the paper plates yellow and let dry.
2. Paint black stripes across the plates and add eyes and a face. Let dry.
3. While paint is drying, cut four wings out of the tissue or wax paper. Once your bee is dry, attach the wings with glue or staples to the top plate.
4. Using the pencil, poke two holes in the plate above the eyes and thread the pipe cleaner through them for antennae.
5. Glue or staple the triangle of black paper to the back of your bee, giving it a stinger.
6. Staple the two plates together so they form a pouch, or bee body, leaving an opening in the back with enough space for your hand to fit through. 
7. Place your bee puppet on your hand and buzz around!
(Nature Craft adapted from DLTK's Crafts for Children)

Suggested Reading:
"Buzzy the Bumblebee" by Denise Brennan-Nelson (preschool)
"The Very Greedy Bee" by Steve Smallman (2-5)
"In the Trees, Honey Bees!" by Lori Mortensen (2-6)
"The Life and Times of the Honeybee" by Charles Micucci (4-8)
"Are You a Bee?" by Judy Allen (4-8)
"The Bee Tree" by Patricia Polacco (4-8)
"The Beautiful Bee Book" by Sue Unstead (4-8)
"The Magic School Bus: Inside a Beehive" by Joanna Cole (4-8)
"A Bee's Life" by Nancy Dickmann (4-8)
"The Hive Detectives" by Loree Griffin Burns (9-12)