Nature Based Activities and Online Learning

Enjoy these outdoor activity ideas that will keep you connected to the outdoors, even during the in-doors moments!
On this page you will see weekly “A Day Outdoors” activities and highlights of spring!
To find downloadable handouts, links to informational pages, and other educational
tools, check out our google drive folder by clicking the button below.
Scroll to the bottom of the page for a list of additional resources from other
environmental educators and land trusts around the state of Maine. Thank you to all
of those working hard to keep our students active- mind and body – during these school closures.

Signs of Spring

Spring Ephemerals

The rising temperatures and late sunsets are finally making it feel more like springtime! Last week we introduced a few edible flowers we can find in nature blooming now. This week we are taking a closer look at wildflowers whose colors pop in the early spring forest landscape.  Spring ephemerals are among the first woodlands plants to emerge. The word “ephemeral” means fleeting or quickly fading. You guessed it, these delicate plants are quick to emerge and bloom.
Let’s talk more about why this is the case, and why this early emergence might be beneficial for these plants.


 

Taking advantage of sunlight

Taking advantage of sunlight

Many ephemerals grow on the forest floor under large trees and shrubs where there is little direct sunlight. By emerging before the leaves on trees do, these ephemerals take advantage of the available sunlight shining through the leaf-less trees and shrubs in early spring. 

 

 

 

Small adaptations

Small adaptations

Carolina Spring Beauty

Many spring ephemerals are on the smaller side compared to other plants we find in the forest. This small size is an advantage for these plants. The top layers of the forest floor are first to thaw in spring leaving nutrients and water available for plants with shallow root systems. These plants can then grow before larger plants have the chance.

Unique pollinators

Unique pollinators

Red Trillium or Stinking Benjamin

Spring ephemerals bloom before most pollinators and flying insects become active, so some are pollinated by beetles or ants. Others have evolved to attract available pollinators. Red trillium also known as Stinking Benjamin, has a musky smell of rotting flesh that attracts the flies that pollinate the flowers.


Signs of Spring

Foraging Edibles

It’s a sweet time of spring when grasses, ground cover plants, and small flowering plants begin to emerge. There are many edible we can find in Maine – some we may be very familiar with! Foraging is the practice of identifying, collecting and eating edible herbs and plants that grow wild in nature. Foraging is great for all ages because it strengthens our connection to the environment and is a great example of how we can directly use and benefit from the natural resources around us. If you want to learn to how to forage, always remember there are rules and safety guidelines to follow! Never leave a child unsupervised when foraging, and remember to get insight from experts when identifying plants.

 

Dandelions -  Taraxacum officinale

Dandelions - Taraxacum officinale

Although Dandelions might have a reputation as being a pesky weed, they are beneficial to soil and early pollinating insects that depend on the flowers for food. They are also a tasty edible treat! Dandelion leaves, roots and flowers can be eaten in salads, steeped for juice or tea and added into other recipes as a rich source of vitamins and minerals.

Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

Ostrich Fern Fiddleheads

photo: Betsy Gray

Fiddleheads are the young, unfurled fronds of edible ferns. There are many fern species, some edible and others inedible. Most fiddleheads are harvested from the Ostrich Fern. Ostrich ferns often grow in wet and shaded areas along river floodplains and hardwood forests

 Purple Violet

Purple Violet

photo: Marti Brill

 Violets are another plant commonly found growing on lawns and other disturbed areas in Maine. Like Dandelions, violet flowers bloom in early spring and die off before the summer heat. The leaves and flowers of the violet can be eaten raw in salads, used as a food decoration, or for making candy and syrup!


Learning to Forage

When foraging, we want to make sure we are confident and have the right tools that will help us correctly identify the plants we want to collect. Here are some useful resources, guides, and important things to keep in mind when learning about foraging practices.

https://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/00032588.htm

 https://extension.umaine.edu/publications/2540e/

 https://www.wildedible.com/foraging

 

Foraging activites

DIY.org has a list of foraging challenge ideas you can participate in.

photo: Jennifer Riefler

More from Environmental Educators in Maine

 This is a growing list of online learning resources, guides and books, and other activity content from EE organizations and land trusts, many of which are from the state of Maine.

Online Educator toolkit from the National Environmental Education Foundation.

https://www.neefusa.org/education/resources 

 

  • Project Learning Tree has many resources on environmental learning for students and their families!

https://www.plt.org/educator-tips/activities-to-do-with-children-at-home

 

  • Harpswell Heitage Trust is posting daily outdoor activities – following along here

https://hhltmaine.org/day-1-outdoor-ideas-and-inspiration/

 

  • Blue Hill Heritage trust has a page with Nature Based Resources! Find information on their upcoming “Friends in the Field” webinar series here

https://bluehillheritagetrust.org/2020/educational-resources-nature-based-activities/

 

 

  • View Maine Audubon’s Resource page for daily updates!

https://www.maineaudubon.org/education/connections/

 

 

  • Daily Outdoor Activities from Take a child outside 

https://takeachildoutside.org/everyday-nature/

 

 

 

 

 

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