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Ponds and Marshes and Swamps. Oh Boy!

by Barbara Theisen

Squiiiish. Squish, squish. We followed the footprints of a raccoon through the muck surrounding the pond and sat down on an old decaying log. Plop, plop. Kerplunk! Our arrival startled three turtles that had been perched on the log, enjoying the spring sunshine. Ours ears quickly adjusted to the sounds of pond life-the continual humming of insects, the cry of a long-legged bird, the tiny splash of a frog, a soft breeze rippling through the reeds. Springtime is an exciting time of year for this community, and we were anxious to observe this habitat.

What child wouldn't love learning by heading down to the nearest pond, marsh or swamp in a pair of rain boots, equipped with a magnifying glass, a jar and a sandwich (naturalist have big appetites). The thought of seeing frogs and turtles, dragonflies and water striders, duckweed and cattails, tadpoles and snails, water lilies and algae-well its enough to make anyone grab a net and take an excursion to the nearest pond.

What else should you take with you? Bring a view bucket of some kind. A view bucket allows you to see under the water-without getting your head wet! You can buy them at stores that sell water toys and boating gear. We have an inflatable one called a "seaview" which is sold at stores such as West Marine or Boat US.*

Alternatively, you can make your own version of a water scope. You will need a large plastic container (a large cottage cheese container could make a small water scope or a 1/2 gallon plastic sherbet container would be just about perfect). Cut a big hole in the bottom of the container. Now turn it over and cover the top of the container with clear plastic wrap. Hold the plastic wrap in place with a rubber band. To use the water scope, lower the end of the container with plastic wrap into the water and look through the hole in the other end.

Don't forget your nature journal, sketchbook, or camera to record your observations. You might even bring a small tape recorder to take the sounds of the pond back home.

Be sure to have some pond life identification books from the library. You'll want to find out what makes a pond a pond and not a lake. What is the difference between a marsh and a swamp?

With your pond guidebook, you might discover that the big clump of "stuff" near the shore of the pond is actually thousands of frog eggs. Would you recognize cattails in the springtime? Could you find a dragonfly nymph, one of the fiercest predators in the pond, and find out how the beautiful dragonfly goes through an "incomplete metamorphosis" to reach the adult stage?

Try pond dipping. You'll need a magnifying glass, some white plastic trays and a net with a fine mesh. You can make your own net by stitching the lower half of an old nylon stocking to a piece of curved wire. Attach this to a long pole.

Now sweep your net smoothly and quickly across the pond, just under the surface. Try not to splash the water. Lift up your net and empty the contents onto the tray. Dip a few more times and add the contents, including any water, to your tray. Watch the tray and see if you can observe any movement. Use your magnifying glass to examine the pond life. Return your creatures to the pond and repeat in different areas (near the shore, further out). Dip at different depths, including the bottom.

See if you can make some observations about the plant life in and around the pond. You might see that some plants have only their roots in the water while others have roots that float. Some plants grow completely under the water.

My favorite place to go for educational "pond stuff," is "Insect Lore." You can request their catalog by calling 1-800-548-3284 or visit them online. Although the name may say "insect," this company has a lots of pond life material. Their "I Toad You So" curriculum activity guide is a month-long unit on frogs and toads that covers science, math and language arts. They also sell a "pond book set" which includes a tadpole tank with a magnifying lens in the center as well as a variety of games, videos, books, posters, and toys.

One of my most remembered activities as a kid, was watching one of Mother Nature's most amazing transformations-the development of a tadpole into a frog. I remember being absolutely thrilled as the hind legs began to emerge from the tadpoles. Next, the forelegs slowly grew while at the same time the tadpole's tail started disappearing! This was a rather slow process as it takes about two to three months for the tadpole to develop completely into a frog. Even at this slow pace, it was exciting to watch.

You can scoop up some tadpoles from a pond, make them at home in an aquarium, and watch their development or buy a frog hatchery from a place such as Insect Lore. This hatchery includes a certificate for live frog embryos so you can watch the tiny embryos change into tadpoles and then see the tadpoles develop into frogs.

Backyard ponds are becoming increasingly popular, which means that it's easier than ever to find the supplies you need to build your own pond. Backyard ponds don't have to be large. Some aren't much bigger than a washtub. You might want to include fish, frogs, turtles, and water plants in your pond. You'll need to study the food cycle of a pond to make sure that all nutrition requirements will be met.

There are some interesting websites to visit to enhance your pond studies. Two examples of children's educational sites for the study of ponds are Pond Life and Pond Life Animal Printouts

Need some help identifying the pond life you discovered while pond dipping? Go to A Virtual Pond Dip. Try populating a virtual pond and see how your pond survives at Virtual Pond. This is very quick and easy, but fun.

If you're looking for frog coloring pages check out Color Me Frog. Frog information, along with a frog crossword puzzle, word search and directions for baking a frog cake can be found at Hop to It. For more about frogs go to National Geographic World's site Frogs.

Kids with backyard ponds will want to visit Pond Dipping: Wild Life Ponds.

There are scores of wonderful nonfiction books about pond life. For fiction, try reading The Trumpet of the Swan by E. B. White. [A selection of books on Ponds, Marshes and Swamps is available in the Eclectic Homeschool Resource Center.]

Although spring is the perfect time for exploring ponds, try to return to the pond during the summer and fall. See if you can identify the plants and animals that may have changed their appearance since spring. What do you think happens to life in the pond during the winter?

There is an added benefit of learning about pond life. You get to tell silly frog jokes. How did the frog feel when he broke his foot? Unhoppy! For more frog jokes visit Stupid Frog Jokes.

If you have a child who loves nature, try including a study of pond life in your homeschool. Ponds and marshes and swamps. Oh boy!

* Search these sites using the term viewer.

Barbara Theisen, along with her husband Tom, homeschool their two teenage daughters, Kate and Kenna. The Theisens have been living aboard their sailboat Out of Bounds for the past fourteen years. To learn more about the Theisens' lifestyle visit their Website at www.TheCruisingLife.com.

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This site was authored by Beverly S. Krueger. All contents belong to the Eclectic Homeschool Association or the original authors. Reproduction of this World Wide Web Site in whole or in part is prohibited without permission. All rights reserved. Trademarks may not be used without permission of the trademark owner. Details about our reprint policies are available.

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