Fourth graders are interesting creatures. Sure they still delight in scuffing dusty trails to stir up clouds of grit, they still giggle and talk, they still hold hands with their grandfather but there is a lot more going on. They’re growing up and changing. Personalities are forming. “Mean girls” begin to emerge. Cliques form. They are much more aware of and interested in their environment. They’re not shy about raising their hand when they know the answer to a question. And they build on previously learned lessons to connect the dots about the world around them.
This field trip destination was the Satwiwa Native American Indian Cultural Center in the Santa Monica mountains. The entrance to this wonderful area is only half a mile from Kongo’s home in Newbury Park, California. Satwiwa was the site of a Chumash settlement that dates back 13,000 years. Kongo likes to think about ancient Chumash hunters traipsing over what is now his backyard hill. Satwiwa literally means “the bluffs” and it refers to the Boney Mountain area which dominates this part of the coastal mountain range.
The class will visit Satwiwa four times this year to observe changes in the environment as the seasons change. In earlier grades they studied the Chumash people. This year they’re all about the environment. The study the impact of herbicides. The know the differences among the native plants and frown at the invasive species that have popped up from someplace else. They are alert for wildlife — everything from bees that live in the ground to coyotes, deer, mountain lions, snakes, bobcats, and birds of prey. They are quick to identify thoraxes, abdomens, wings, and antenna on the insects they come across. They are naturalists!
This field trip wasn’t just about hiking around. This was an outdoor classroom. The children used a gadget called a Critter Replicator to create bugs and were then required to draw them carefully in their field journals and label all the relevant parts.
They also collected milkweed bugs in little plastic containers and had to draw the little critters in detailed color. Very impressive. (Later the bugs were returned to the shady area where they had been collected, none the worse for wear)
The class knows this area well from previous trips to the region. They know to go single file on the trail in regions were poison oak grows in the nearby brush. (Leaves of three — let it be). They know when wildlife is likely to appear and they all go quiet. Well, at least as quiet as 30-some 4th graders can be hiking through the wilderness.
Some things never change, fourth grade or not. That would be lunch time. What a surprise!
Here the budding naturalists are looking out over one of the valleys that eventually leads to the Pacific Ocean at Point Mugu, seven miles further on. They are required to draw what they see. Some drew mountains, others an individual tree. Fire had swept the area a few years before so there were plenty of interesting shapes and new growth.
Needless to say, Kongo is looking forward to more field trips this year!
Travel safe. Have fun!