Winter is a special time in the dunes, offering ample opportunity for fun and learning! Dunes Learning Center naturalists lead field-based school programs in every season, so we asked them to share their top winter recreation recommendations, below.Read More
With temperatures dropping and the first waves of fall color visible in the treetops, October is the perfect time to venture back into the dune forests that have been filled with mosquitoes and other flying insects all summer. Most of those insects, active since May, will not be seen again until warm temperatures return in the spring. A curious and watchful hiker, however, can still find signs of some of these insects in the form of galls.
A gall is an abnormal growth on the stem or leaf of a plant caused by an insect, and is used by that insect for food and shelter while it develops from a larva into an adult. More than 1,500 insect species have been documented using galls. A gall is formed when an insect pierces a stem or leaf and lays its eggs on or in the plant. The plant reacts to this wound by growing around the eggs to protect itself. Unwittingly, this provides the egg with a warm and safe place to hatch, as well as a food source for the larva. The larva will eventually eat its way out and fly away as an adult insect.
One of the most commonly seen galls is that of the Goldenrod Gall Fly. Explore any patch of goldenrods this winter and you will almost certainly find at least a few round galls along the main stem of the plant. In some cases, you might find a hole drilled into the side of the gall. This may be a sign that the larva has developed and left the gall, or it may be a sign that the gall has been visited by a predator. Parasitic wasps will lay their eggs in an already formed gall. When hatched, the wasp larva eat the insect larva. Downy Woodpeckers can also be seen perched on a goldenrod stem, pecking into the galls to eat the fly larva. It is amazing to think about the epic life and death struggles going on in one small patch of dried up goldenrods!
To read more about galls and other wonders of the winter woods, check out A Guide to Nature in Winter by Donald Stokes. Thanks to Dunes To You educator, Matt Beatty, for today's natural insights!
On September 16, 2016, I was honored to be invited by the Dunes Learning Center to present their annual Green Apple Award to an outstanding educator and autism advocate, Tracy Chandler. At the banquet, I spoke briefly about how important spending time in nature has been for me as a person with a disability. My experiences during the weekend further affirmed that for me.Read More
I believe that all children and adults, regardless of ability, should have the opportunity to experience the beauty of nature and learn more about conserving our environment,” says writer and advocate, Karin Willison. The adventure travel blogger and editor at The Mighty will be the featured presenter at Dunes Learning Center’s annual gala, A Dunes Affair, at Sand Creek Country Club in Chesterton on Friday, September 16.Read More
Swimming in the lake, goofy songs learned around a campfire, the chatter of birds as you walk through dew-damp grass on the way to breakfast. If you were lucky enough to attend summer camp as a child, you probably have cherished memories of it. And why not? Camp is one of the few places where kids can be kids while satisfying their need for physical activity, creative expression, and true participation in an accepting and nurturing environment.Read More
It’s early morning and Chellberg Farm’s newest residents are reluctant to leave the cozy confines of their coop—understandable, since up until a few days ago, they had spent most of their young lives in an aquarium.Read More
Students participating in Dunes Learning Center programs at their school, planted 200 trees across Hobart, Portage, and East Chicago in honor of Arbor Day last month. Thanks to the Million Trees Project.Read More
Following a “family” holiday dinner last year, a group of Dunes Learning Center naturalists and outreach educators went on an amazing birding adventure—with Jack Black, Steve Martin and Owen Wilson. Watching “The Big Year” inspired a friendly rivalry of their own.Read More
Sixth grade students at Carrie Gosch Elementary School in East Chicago are eager to create change for their community. Their plan? A school garden that will teach fellow students about ecology, sustainability and healthy eating. The ambitious project is part of an innovative middle school program by the name of Earth Force.Read More
Our programs are built around curriculum- and field-based experiences including trail side ecosystem investigations, living history encounters, and nocturnal explorations. And yet it is often the time periods between these planned activities when we see kids begin to come out of their shells and interact creatively with nature. Rocks are overturned, critter shelters are built, and kids begin to connect with their environment in a new way.Read More
On December 10, 2015, President Obama signed the Every Student Succeeds Act into law. The much-anticipated bill supports environmental literacy and conservation curricula as a part of a well-rounded education and highlights the power of field study and service learning to enhance science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.Read More
Fridays represent a particular challenge in Tracy Chandler Pennock’s structured learning classroom at Clark Middle School in St. John. Attention spans are short at the end of the week, but pudding cups and gummy frogs are great motivational tools for these autistic students.Read More
Giggles sprouted between the tall blades of switchgrass while Mighty Acorns, hard at work, gathered seeds this fall for the prairie seed exchange. Students worked in pairs, gently pulling closed hands over the ends of flowered spikelets to collect the seeds and deposit in paper bags. Across the park, triumphant roars and surprised laughter erupted from another group of kids playing “The Great Food Chase,” a new game introduced by this fall’s updated Mighty Acorns curriculum.Read More
On the first truly autumn day of the season, Mighty Acorns students walked side-by-side towards an hour long adventure at Marquette Park Lagoon with the Canoemobile, a traveling fleet of 24-foot canoes with a mission to make outdoor experiences accessible to all.Read More
A cacophony of laughter, squeals and joy spills from the banks of the Little Calumet as Mighty Acorns campers participate in Hoosier Riverwatch on a hot Tuesday afternoon. Water sloshes over the tops of each student's rain boots, all caught in the moment of exploring the river’s ecosystem. Crayfish wiggle between excited campers’ fingers as they compare who caught the largest, while another group use a portable lab kit to test the chemical properties of the water. Through the mud, splashing, and found critters, kids learn firsthand the importance of local watersheds and why they need protecting. Most importantly, learning has a lasting impact through jubilant interaction with the environment.Read More
The picturesque and diverse landscape of the Indiana Dunes has inspired artists, scientists, educators and visitors for more than a century—providing opportunities for individuals to discover themselves in nature. None more so than Dunes Learning Center naturalist interns.Read More