Step Outside: Your Winter Guide to Nature’s Events

By Debbie Miller, Learning for a Sustainable Future

Winter: the season of dormancy. The days are shorter, temperatures drop, and snow begins to fall. One of the big mysteries of science is how living things are affected by the darkest days of winter. How do animals, birds and insects choose to survive the winter: hibernation, migration or adaptation? To help solve this mystery, follow this season’s Step Outside Nature Guides to find out who has moved south, who is curled up in a den, and who has died or gone to seed. Some animals insist on staying put, while others migrate to escape the brutal cold and darkness. Learn why Monarchs butterflies hang out in the isolated mountaintops in Mexico. Or discover that bears aren’t the only ones to hibernate the winter away – take a look at how bats, groundhogs, mice and other animals like to hide out until spring arrives. Not everything is hibernating! You won’t find muskrats on that list; they are busy all winter following their trails and chowing down on cattails. That’s not the only life moving about in the snow, either – learn more about the ecology of snow and the action down under. Things underneath the snow are often more active than you could ever imagine!

Bird feeders are busy throughout the winter. Depending on the climate, area and landscape of your backyard, you may be visited by goldfinches, chickadees or sparrows. In a field near you, Snow Buntings may be moving through, doing their synchronized flying tricks for you. Part of the fun in being active in nature is to check out the clues to determine what is happening in your area. This season’s Step Outside Nature Guides offer some great opportunities to bring nature into the classroom! Look for survival signs of birds that stick it out through the winter by participating in the Christmas Bird Counts across Canada. Dress warmly and take your students out in the schoolyard and check out the Animal Tracks using the CSI: Critter Scene Investigation Activity, a great way to determine what animals are in your area! While you are out there, notice if the conifers are releasing seeds, shedding cones or both! And as you cozy up on the sofa with your hot chocolate and fuzzy blanket, check out the Step Outside success stories to help get you started!

Step Outside is an entertaining compilation of seasonal happenings designed to help students develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of the natural world. Published by LSF two to three times each month, the guides detail interesting natural events taking place outdoors- often just beyond the school walls.
Available on the R4R website, Step Outside Nature Guides identify opportunities throughout the school year for teachers to move the classroom outdoors and include a variety of tools to support teaching and learning.  Each guide is filled with engaging images and videos as well as links to a variety of ‘easy-to-implement’ activities and lesson plans found in the R4R database.

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