As we anxiously count up the inches on top of Aspen’s mountains, many of our furry animals have also been taking count. Winter is upon us, but, we still hear Magpie’s squaw, startle groups of deer, and find increasing numbers of animal track marks. So how are these animals able to survive the frigid temps while I struggle even with my down jacket and thermos of hot chocolate? The answer is more complicated than it appears and, in ACES Ed, we are making sure credit is given where credit is due. In our 2nd grade classrooms, Kindergarten field programs, and family events at Rock Bottom Ranch, we applaud these and other winter animal adaptations.
In the 2nd grade classrooms at Aspen, Basalt, and Crystal River Elementary Schools, you will find stacks of shoe boxes anxiously awaiting to be turned into winter wonderland dioramas. Since this is ACES Ed, the animals and the habitats soon to be created in these dioramas will be very detailed and diverse, including a snow lover (Lynx), snow tolerator (coyote) and a snow hater (black bears). The dioramas are part of a unit we’ve been working on for a long time in 2nd grade: as a part of the Colorado state science standards, 2nd graders are recognizing that plants and animals have different structures and behaviors to serve different functions. As the kids work on their animals before heading out to recess you can hear comments like “I’m adding new down feathers” or “I’d rather be hibernating.”
In Kindergarten, as part of a new program this year, students learned about winter birds during a field program at ACES at Hallam Lake. Students huddled together to stay warm, much like the Mountain Chickadees they eagerly watched at the bird feeder. This program explored how some over-wintering birds stay warm and healthy through the cold months. Hallam Lake, a safe haven for many favorite backyard birds as it features four key elements of a healthy habitat, also offers the perfect location for a fun day in the field!
Even down at ACES at Rock Bottom Ranch, our farm animals are adapting and thriving in the winter weather. Sven, the “Animal Elf” made a visit from the North Pole to check in on his farm animal friends and to teach some lucky kids and their families about their specific winter adaptations. Even though our chickens have slowed their egg production, they are still very active. Visitors were able to practice their tracking skills and see why some animals thrive in snow more than others.
As a first year ACES Ed teacher at Basalt Elementary, I am continually surprised and encouraged by the student’s curiosity about the world around us. It is such a pleasure to take part in recognizing these incredible creatures we often take for granted in the valley. From myself and everyone here at ACES we are wishing every creature a healthy, safe and fun winter holiday!
~ Rachel Barfield, ACES Educator