The Idaho Fish and Game Department has a program called Project Wild. It's to help teachers learn how to include wildlife studies in their curriculum. Many years ago I took WILD and then had a super fun time taking the week long WILD II in McCall. We watched herds of elk, howled at wolves, caught and released salmon from the hatchery trap, caught and tagged bats, and crawled inside a bear den. And we did tons of activities from the books they gave us. I learned so much about Idaho wildlife and had so much fun doing so.
So a few weeks ago when I was signing my boys up for a hunter safety class on the Fish and Game website, I clicked over onto the WILD page and found Project WILD for Early Learners. It's a class especially for kindergarten to second grade teachers. I found out the details, asked my sister if she could keep the kids while I went, and signed up as quickly as I could. I was really excited because I've always loved the WILD program so much. Also, it's an easy and cheap U of I credit towards my teacher re-certification. And they give us lots of great stuff!
So Tuesday and Wednesday I spent the day in the classroom at Cabela's being reintroduced to this great program. There is a new book just for early learners that is perfect for me...lots of pictures and easy lesson plans that include music, lots of art, and snacks! Over the two day class we looked at every lesson in the book in one way or another. The facilitator and IDFG staff led some of the activities. And some of the lessons were taught by us during peer teaching. (There was a mixture of teachers, day care providers, and even a few grandparents taking it just to have the information for their grandkids.) We talked about things from the water cycle to earthworms to salmon to Idaho raptors to bears.
One of my favorite parts was the discussion that the IDFG facilitator gave about bears. Did you know that we have 20,000 black bears in Idaho including up to 4 per square mile in the Priest Lake area? Did you know that when bears are born they weigh only 6-8 ounces? Yes. Ounces. And did you know that after they put radio collars on some bears in the spring they go back while they are hibernating and retrieve and replace them? And that sometimes the bears wake up and aren't happy?!
But as much as I liked the class as a whole, my very favorite part was the raptor discussion. I've seen it a few times before because it's the same program that is presented to schools. But this time was special. Beth, who led the discussion, works with the IDFG and cares for injured birds who can't be released into the wild. She brought four of her birds with her to our class. As she started her presentation, she mentioned that they had four birds and only three handlers. Would anyone volunteer to hold one? Ooooh, me! My hand was the first one up and I got to hold an adorable Western Screech Owl named Ilene. (She was hit by a car and had to have her right wing amputated and tends to lean to the left a little.) So I put on the long, leather gloves and Ilene climbed on my hand. She sat there and looked at me with her huge, yellow eyes for the longest time. I pretty much fell in love with her. Here's a picture of a Western Screech Owl. It's not Ilene, but looks a lot like her.