First-graders learn lessons to life

Photo by Sue Suchyta

First-graders from Dawn Watson’s class at Arno Elementary School discover unexpected aquatic life in the pond water samples they collected from the edge of the marsh.

Sunday Times Newspapers

To some, Crosswinds Marsh County Park is a spot to hike, fish, and canoe.

To first-graders from Allen Park’s Arno Elementary, the Huron Township park is a place to watch water bugs and try to spot eagles, beavers and some of the marsh’s 40 other types of mammals.

First-graders in Dawn Watson and Barb Pushman’s classrooms visited the marsh May 25.

They listened to naturalists Jennifer Zaenglein and Darrin Bauer of the Wayne County Park Commission in the park’s screen house in the midst of the marsh as the naturalists handled and introduced some of the preserve’s captive turtles, frogs and a snake.

After a half hour seeing the animals, the group split into their respective classroom groupings. While one class followed the boardwalk trail through the marsh to see the sights, the other group followed the boardwalk back to the pond’s edge to collect samples for a pond study.

With long-handled fine mesh nets, the children scooped up pond water, which when transferred to plastic pans on picnic tables near shore, revealed water bugs, minnows and plants that looked like grapes.

The children used magnifying cups to see the small aquatic bugs in greater detail. They also scooped specimens into plastic spoons to examine them at closer range.

The boardwalk hike went past swans and geese with their goslings, signs of trees cut by beavers, worms, barn swallows and other signs of wildlife.

Zaenglein also stopped and identified poison ivy and explained how its skin-irritating oil can last for years and spread through exposed clothing and the fur of family pets.

Watson said her students were most impressed by seeing the baby swans and goslings while hiking on the boardwalk, and by the pond dip near the marsh shore. Her students did a virtual online pond dip before coming on the field trip to scoop samples from a real marsh.

She said the marsh provides an experience with nature students can’t get in the classroom.

“It’s a hands-on experience for the children to learn about the wetlands habitat and get a good feel for the plants and the animal life in and around the wetlands,” Watson said. “That’s why we go back every year.”

Watson also hopes the children will come back to Crosswinds Marsh this summer with their families since there is so much more to do and see in the preserve.

The children said they will take many memories of “the coolest things” home with them.

Six-year-old Emma McBeth liked the frog she saw in the screen house “because it jumped around so much,” while Lauren Dominguez, 6, thought the turtles she saw in the screen house were the coolest thing on the field trip.

Logan Coleman, 7, felt the snake was cool, and he also liked seeing “where the beaver bit the tree.” He hopes he can come back with his family and do some catch-and-release fishing.

Alexis Theeck, 7, liked the snake Bauer showed them in the screen house, and also enjoyed the pond study.

Seven-year-old Madison Stark, who also liked the pond study, liked watching the way the mayfly moved around when they took a close look at it in the basin filled with the marsh water sample.

Watson said her students talk about the highlights of the trip to the marsh every year and look forward to going back.

“They can’t wait to go back again and experience it.”