Four Winds Dates: September 30, October 28, December 9, February 3, March 16, April 6, May 4, June 8
The Four Winds focus for this year is ecosystems. A description of each class is below.
An ecosystem consists of all the living and the non-living things in a particular place, like a forest, a pond, or the soil under a field. All the organisms in an ecosystem depend on all the other things – both living and non-living – for food and other needs. When students study ecosystems, they’ll be thinking about the interactions of organisms with each other and their environment. Students will consider how energy flows from sun to plants to animals, how plants and animals are linked in a food web, and how matter cycles through organisms and back into the soil.
Throughout the year students will meet some animals and plants that are part of different ecosystems, and consider the interactions they observe as they explore the out of doors. Throughout the year, students will examine the characteristics of organisms and consider the interconnections among living and non-living systems in the Earth's environments.
SIGNS OF LEAF-EATERS: By summer’s end, nearly every leaf bears some signs of feeding by plant-eaters small or large. Some make holes, some scallop the edges, and some roll the leaves into tubes. When we look closely, we may get to watch a leaf-eater feeding on a leaf – or being eaten by a predator – a real life look at the flow of energy from sun to plant to plant-eater to meat-eater. Here is evidence of a food chain, a component of every ecosystem. Students will learn what an ecosystem is, how the parts relate, and best of all, they will also take a minute to quietly sit and become part of this busy, buzzy world.
LEAF LITTER: Under the deep forest canopy, the forest floor hosts a wide variety of plants and animals that together form a complex food web and an efficient recycling system. Think about how deep the pile of leaves in a forest would be if it weren't for the important work of the decomposers. These busy organisms recycle nutrients, putting them back into the system for other living things to use to grow and thrive. Students will lie down and smell the leaf litter, look for decaying leaves, fungi, and insects, and imagine what it would be like to spend our lives on the forest floor.
SNAGS AND ROTTING LOGS: The death of a tree opens up a whole new set of interactions in a forest. The standing snag serves as a home for a variety of fungi, lichen, insects, and other animals – birds nest in the branches, raccoons den in the rotting trunk. Once the snag topples over, the process of decomposition speeds up. A rotting log serves as a habitat for a parade of plants and animals, which change over time according to the log's stage of decomposition.
SQUIRREL TALES: Amazing acrobats of the tree tops and phone wires, squirrels entertain us with their often nutty behavior. Students will meet three kinds of squirrels - gray, red and flying squirrels - all of which occupy the forests of the northeast, often competing for the same foods and shelters. Students will see how they each have a special niche – particular habits and habitat preferences – that helps them to live side by side. Students will also experience the nature of competition when they hide away nuts, and compare their success rate to squirrels when they attempt to retrieve their hidden caches.
STAYING WARM: Ecosystems are very different places in the winter, with less solar energy, shorter days, and little or no food-production by plants. And yet, many small, warm-blooded critters stay active throughout this coldest of seasons. How do active animals meet their energy needs in winter? Do fur, fat, and feathers help them retain heat? Can a blanket of icy snow provide protection as well? Students will compare the insulating properties of different materials as they consider how animals conserve energy to stay alive in winter.
WHITE-TAILED DEER: White-tailed deer are among the largest herbivores in our forest ecosystems. Students will consider their connections to the other plants and animals – the role deer play in the forest food web – and learn how living in a herd helps deer, even though group members may compete for food. Students will examine the deer’s physical features – skull, legs, hoofs, fur – and think about how these help deer to find food and avoid predators. Finding sign of deer – tracks, browse, rubbings – may be the only way we know that this elusive creature lives in our neighborhood.
FOREST BIRDS: More than just a collection of trees, a forest ecosystem is a complex interaction of sunlight and shadow, rain and wind, leafy canopy and shady under-story. Why do so many kinds of birds make forests their home in the summer, and how are they important to its health? Students will look at the different layers of plants in a forest and see how birds avoid competition by nesting and feeding in these different strata. Students will learn how to recognize at a glance some of the illusive but vocal birds that make their homes in each.
STREAM LIFE: Water in a stream rushes, splashes, tumbles and flows smoothly, creating different conditions and homes for a variety of organisms. How do stream animals find food and shelter, and keep from getting swept away, in an ever-changing environment? What roles do they play in the stream ecosystem? The stream study will include plenty of time to explore a stream and to examine the different animals that call this watery world their home.