Ironwood's Sleight School second graders, from left, Aidan Bach, Connor Bentley and Riley Graser listen as Steve Kickert, Conservation Education Coordinator for the Ottawa National Forest, explains how deer gather beneath the winter boughs of white cedar trees as they forage for food.
"Mr. Ranger! Mr. Ranger! I think I see a squirrel track!" "What's a cedar tree used for?" "My ski poles are too long!"
Children have lots of important things to say when they go to the woods, and that's what 54 second graders from Ironwood's Sleight Elementary School did on March 11.
They were accompanied by volunteers, teachers and guides from the U.S. Forest Service on a cross-country nature ski on the trails at Wolverine Ski Area in Ironwood Township. Their nature ski was a chance for these novice cross-country skiers to put their newfound cross-country skiing skills to use exploring the winter woods.
Prior to coming on their guided ski trip, each student received copies of the Forest Service's "Junior Snow Ranger" booklet. The booklet provided activities where the students and their teacher learned about tracks, winter weather, snow crystals, and winter animal adaptations. It even taught students how to make frozen bubbles.
At the Wolervine Chalet, students met their guides - Sue Trull, Lily Palmer and Steve Kickert, all employees working at the Ottawa National Forest. Once on the trail, students were encouraged to use their senses to discover what was happening around them and to share what they uncovered.
"The Forest Service is excited to be able to participate in this program," said Kickert. "To see children's faces light up when they realize they can identify a hemlock tree, or figure out what made the hole at the base of the trunk, is to realize that some of the most important lessons we learn are not taught in the classroom."
The second grade students from Sleight School participated in cross-country ski lessons for five weeks as part of the Gogebic Range Youth Cross Country ski program coordinated by Paulette Niemi of the Gogebic-Ontonagon Intermediate School District.
"With the help of community volunteers, the students learned the basics of classic style cross country skiing and had the opportunity to ski on the trails at both Wolverine and ABR," Niemi said.
In addition to learning about skiing and nature, students received a healthy snack and nutrition lesson each week that was provided by Michigan State University Extension and Aspirus Grand View Health System.
"One of their favorite health lessons was learning about how much added sugar is in some of the popular drinks available, such as soda pop and energy drinks," said Niemi.
The program tied together, fitness, health and science while allowing kids to learn in a hands-on way in an outdoor setting, said Niemi.