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Fruitvale students study the seasonal shift

Wildsight’s Jennifer Vogel took dozens of Fruitvale Elementary School students out into the woods to see how nature adapts to winter.

While most people head to the ski hill, the arena or spend more time indoors when winter descends in the West Kootenay, nature has other designs.

The wild world of the land just beyond the municipal limits does not stop when snow blankets the topography — it just moves along in a different form.

That form is different for plants and trees as it is for animals and bugs, but they all change their living patterns when the season shifts into winter gear, said Wildsight’s Jennifer Vogel.

Last Thursday she took dozens of Fruitvale Elementary School students from kindergarten to Grade 3 out into the woods of nearby Mazzocchi Park to see some of that adapting in action.

Called Winter Wonder, the class revealed the varied aspects of winter, how plants and animals adapt to it, and why it was so important for local ecosystems in the Columbia Basin.

“We try to teach them about plant adaptations and winter ecology in general,” said Vogel while she stood in the park, a group of Grade 3 students running about the snowy field acting out predator-prey relationships.

“The idea is to get them excited and really want to know what is out there, to instill a sense of winter wonder.”

For each grade level the program — offered free by Wildsight to schools throughout the Columbia Basin — meets the prescribed learning outcomes, giving the students what they need to know.

Grade 3 students investigated the winter survival strategies of living things. They compared conifer and deciduous trees according to similarities and differences in appearance and life cycle.

In addition, the students found out about ways in which plants are important to wildlife in winter and how plants are harvested and used to prepare for and survive winter.

For the Grade 2 students, they use their five senses to interpret observations. They classified common animals that are active in winter in terms of appearance, behaviour and life cycle. Winter changes affect animals and the students found out how, as well as the physical properties of snow.

“Everything is some sort of game, but they are also learning about predator-prey relationships, some snow science, how the different flakes are formed, and what do they look like,” said Vogel.

The students looked for animal tracks and learned to identify the conglomerations of frozen ice crystals we call snowflakes. They examined them under magnifying glasses, learning that they develop when microscopic super-cooled cloud droplets freeze.

“We all know that they come in a variety of sizes and shapes,” said Vogel, but other shapes emerge as the flake undergoes temperature and humidity changes. “Each snowflake is nearly unique in structure.”

Grade 1 students learned to classify living organisms according to winter survival strategies, how people, plants and animals prepare for winter. They found out how the needs of plants and animals are met in the winter.

For the kindergarten kids, they used their five senses to observe winter and living things, finding features of two different plants, noting their similarities and differences.