The Sights and Sounds of the Prairie

The Sights and Sounds of the Prairie
Posted on 09/26/2017
Prairie Life at Oneota

It was a day of exploration and discovery as Mrs. Griffin’s first graders hiked through Oneota with Clay County Conservation Board Naturalist, Bree Hanson.  “We are talking about the prairie and how the prairie works.  We want to talk about the seasonal changes in the prairie,” said Bree.  

“Bree invited us out here, and she is going to discuss Native Americans and Pioneers too, so we are learning culture, we are learning history, and we are learning about plants, animals, their habitats and prairie life,” Mrs. Griffin explained when talking about how this aligns with the curriculum.

“In the prairie, there isn’t much protection,” said Bree. She went on to say that plants must have a mechanism of protection from things like the weather and animals.  For example, grass is bendy, so it can sway in the wind, and some plants are prickly to prevent deer from eating them.  “How many of you found a plant that was prickly?” asked Bree, with many hands flying into the air excitedly!  She also asked the students if they had found anything soft, and one student compared a flower to the soft cotton ball.  “Some plants have soft seeds so they can fly in the wind, and they can land somewhere else and grow,” said Bree.  She demonstrated this by taking a milkweed seed pod and letting the seeds scatter by the wind, and added, “When you come next summer, you might see new milkweed plants growing.” 

After comparing plants to the different textures, students began hiking through the prairie, and Bree encouraged them to treat the prairie like a museum, leaving everything intact.  Bree asked, “In the prairie, are animals around?” Students responded affirmatively, but there hadn’t been any sightings, and Bree explained why. “We haven’t seen any animals because we smell.  You all took a shower with shampoo, conditioner and that stuff, and I took a shower too.  So that is why we smell.  When we think we smell good, animals think we smell bad.”  Giving another reason why students hadn’t seen any animals, Bree shared that animals blend into the prairie. “They might be around, but we can’t see them because they blend in.  They are kind of camouflaged.”  To demonstrate her point, Bree hid real, nonliving animals deep in the prairie grass, and she encouraged the students to spot them.  As the animals were located, Bree pulled them out of the grass, demonstrating how hard it was to find them due to their ability to camouflage themselves with their surroundings.

Following a quick game of Hawk and Mouse, the students trudged further through the prairie, looking for additional sights and sounds.  “Do you see these plants right here? This is Queen Anne’s Lace, and this is their dormant stage, which means they are sleeping until summer.  In the summer, the plant has beautiful white flowers, and in the fall, they look like they are dead.  They are just napping until the spring so they are basically hibernating like bears.  Also, Native Americans would use the roots of Queen Anne’s Lace for a tea to settle their stomachs,” explained Bree.  The students then found goldenrod.  “It is another flower that you can see in the spring and the summer, and they close up in the fall.”  Bree pointed out goldenrod and shared that the roots were chewed by Native Americans like bubble gum.  Lastly, the students discovered mullein, and everyone found it especially interesting to learn that the leaves of the plant were used for toilet paper by Native Americans. 

The 223 acres of rolling prairie found at Oneota Park proved to be a tremendous outdoor classroom for the students, and many discoveries were made throughout their journey.  Bree’s knowledge truly brought the first-grade curriculum to life!