Tuesday, February 2, 2016

What Is Your Play Personality?

Recent research has shed light on the importance of play. Play is not just important for children, but people of all ages.

Sierra Outdoor School provides opportunities for students to play on the high ropes course

What Is Play?

Play is any activity that is done for its own sake, apparently purposeless. It has inherent attraction and frees you from a sense of time and consciousness of self. Play can produce surprise, pleasure, and new knowledge. 


How Do We Play?

Just as people learn in different ways, people also have different styles of playing. Read the following descriptions to learn your play personality. You may find one play personality describes you perfectly, or you may be a combination of two or more personalities. 

The Joker-- This play personality is the classic class clown. They use social strategies to make other people laugh. 

The Kinesthete-- This player likes to move. They may play athletic games, but competition is not their main focus. They like to feel the result of play in their bodies. 

The Explorer-- The explorer may be a physical, social, or emotional explorer. They may enjoy research or discovery.

The Competitor-- Do you know someone who likes to stick to the rules? They may be a competitor. These players play to win whether the activity is social or solitary, active or observant.

The Director-- These born organizers enjoy planning and executing scenes and events. They love being in charge of the players or the stage.

The Collector-- Whether they collect objects or experiences, these players hold the best collections. They may enjoy solitude or social experiences with other collectors.

Artist/ Creator-- The artist or creator finds joy in making things. These things may be beautiful, functional, or  goofy.

Story Teller-- This player has an active imagination. They may enjoy creating and telling stories or engaging in the stories of others.

Students visiting SOS from Casa di Mir Montessori School doing the limbo at a Hillbilly Hop Dance


Play Is Beneficial To Emotional, Physical, and Intellectual Health

Research collected by Stuart Brown has shown that students who play regularly have an increased likelihood of achieving their academic and career goals and have healthier living practices including the social, physical, and interpersonal dimensions of their lives.
People who play throughout their lives stave off neurological problems later in life, they are better problem solvers, are more equipped to navigate and adapt to the world. Play provides emotional distance to decide how to react to a problem. It is the truest expression of our individuality.
When was the last time you played?

SOS Staff being goofy and dressing up for an ugly sweater competition 

Friday, January 15, 2016

Winter Precipitation: Rain, Sleet, Snow, and more!

The winter here at Sierra Outdoor School has been a wet one so far, as El NiƱo visits California this year. As several of our school groups have been here spending time learning outside in all sorts of weather conditions, we decided to share some information about how different types of precipitation are formed.

The most common types of winter precipitation are those that most people can name: rain, freezing rain, sleet, and snow. What many people are unaware of is that all winter precipitation begins as ice or snow crystals up in the cold cloud layer. If these crystals get big enough that the air rising from below can no longer support them against gravity, they begin to fall as precipitation. What they are by the time they reach the ground depends upon the air temperatures they encounter on the way down.

The four main types of winter precipitation. Source: www.weather.gov
Rain, for example, begins as those ice or snow crystals and falls into a layer of air that is above freezing--and therefore, warm enough to melt it. If that warmer air continues all the way down to the ground, and the water droplets are 0.5 millimeters or larger, then we experience rain. If the droplets are smaller than 0.5mm, then technically it is classified as a drizzle.

Freezing rain occurs when those falling rain droplets go through a shallow layer of cold air near the Earth's surface--shallow enough that they do not have time to freeze in the air, but instead freeze upon contact with the ground. This leaves a coating of glaze, or ice, and may cause dangerous travel conditions as roads freeze or the weight of the ice brings down power lines and tree limbs.

Sleet occurs when raindrops, having melted from ice or snow crystals in the clouds, fall into a thicker or higher layer of cold air than freezing rain does. This gives them time to refreeze into ice pellets before they hit the ground. These ice pellets usually bounce, have a distinctive sound, may be spherical, and are usually transparent or translucent.

Snow falls when the ice or snow crystal travels through temperatures below freezing in all or most of the atmosphere from the cloud level to the surface. Large wet snowflakes occur when the snow falls through a layer of air where the temperature is above freezing, but is shallow enough that the snow does not have time to completely melt. Snow crystals come in all shapes and sizes, not just the familiar six-pointed star shape (which is called a stellar dendrite). These different shapes are shown in the chart to the right.

There are more than just these four main types of winter precipitation. One of the others that we have already experienced this winter is snow pellets or graupel (pronounced "graw-pull"), which many students think is hail. Hail is a dense ball of ice that is bigger, at least 0.5mm (or 0.2 inches) thick, and commonly is formed in a thunderstorm as strong updrafts hold the ice aloft until it grows big enough that gravity wins. During severe thunderstorms, large hailstones can cause damage and injury. Depending on the temperatures when it was being formed, hail may have clear ("hard ice" formed as the outer layer melted and refroze) and white ("soft ice" formed as other ice and snow crystals attached to it) layers if sliced open. In contrast, snow pellets or graupel are typically smaller than 0.5mm thick, are milky white, and do not need thunderstorms to form. They are made of "soft ice" and are formed as ice and snow crystals connect and merge with the surface of a partially melted snowflake on its way down to the ground.
Graupel, or snow pellets. Source: http://quelccaya.blogspot.com
Large hail, with golf balls for scale. Source: www.calgarysun.com
Please be sure to check the weather forecasts on our website before coming up to join us on the hill, and pack accordingly! Remember, we are not located in the town of Sonora, but 2,000' feet above it with very different weather. With all types of winter precipitations, it is great to have layers that you can put on or take off, and a waterproof outer layer (rain jacket, poncho, rain pants, whatever you have) is essential as we spend at least some time outside for each class. Bring waterproof boots if you have them and if you don't, bring multiple pairs of shoes and lots of thick, warm socks. Keep an eye on our Facebook page to see photos and posts about what is currently happening at Sierra Outdoor School!



Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Fuel Break Helps Limit the Oak Fire



Visitors coming to the Sierra Outdoor School this year will notice something different on the drive in: a wildfire scar along a section of Old Oak Ranch Road from the Oak Fire. On September 8th two fires started along Big Hill Road and quickly burned up hill and joined together. The fire reached Old Oak Ranch Road before the fire was contained about half a mile away from the school. The fire burned 108 acres.


Oak Fire as seen from Sonora.  photo mymotherlode.com Steve Leontic

Oak Fire near Old Oak Ranch Road.  Photo mymotherlode.com




Besides the quick response of local firefighters and aircraft, a recently completed fuel break played a crucial role in slowing progression of the fire and limiting its spread. Work on the two-mile long, 300-foot wide shaded fuel break was started in September 2014 and finished that spring. The goal of this project was to provide fire protection to the local area and improve forest health. Fuel breaks will not stop a fire themselves, but slow a fire’s spread and provide defensible space. On September 8th that’s what it did. 



An example of a shaded fire break similar to the one on Old Oak Ranch Road. The picture on the left shows the forest before treatment with dead trees and thick brush.  The picture on the right shows the same forest after treatment. A shaded firebreak is not a clear cut.  Vegetation and other flammables are reduced under the canopy.   Dead trees and tall brush are removed so not to serve as a fire ladder to the canopy.  Ground brush is removed to reduce flammable material.  Trees are selected for removal to create breaks in the canopy and lower limbs and dead limbs are removed from trees.   Uncleared, overgrown forest next to the fuel break along Old Oak Ranch Road averaged about 200 trees per acre, treated areas in the fuel break averaged around 40 trees per acre.  Photos Texas Land Trust

The Picture on the left is from the Cone Fire Northern California. The fire burned quickly through the overgrown forest. The crowded forest allowed fire to reach the and burn the canopy. The picture on the right is from a shaded fuel break in the Cone fire. Note the tree spacing from thinning, lower limbs trimmed, brush cleared, and no ladder fuels allowing ground fire to climb to canopy. Here the fire burned slowly and cool. Photos American River Watershed Institute. 

“The fuels reduction work done on Old Oak Ranch Road, by the Highway 108 Fire Safe Council, was instrumental in keep the fire on the ground and not up in the crown of trees” SOS Director Mike Olenchalk remarked. As the fire raced up the hillside, the drought stricken trees burst into flames and the fire soon was burning in the tree tops. When the fire encountered the shaded fire break, the fire was only able to burn along the ground and unable continue its spread in the forest canopy. This bought valuable time for people to evacuate and for first responders to arrive on scene. The fuel break created defensible space from which firefighters could attack the fire.

“Cooperators on this fire break project included the Forest Service, Cal Fire, the California Department of Corrections, PG&E, TUD, Old Oak Ranch Conference Center, Sierra Outdoor School and the Highway 108 FireSafe Council.” Stated president of the Highway 108 FireSafe Council Glenn Gottschall. The project funded was with federal grant funds.

Additional fuels reduction projects are continuing around and on campus to provide fire protection to the local area.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Progress on the New Upper Education Building

SOS has been under construction for a few years now, and to our excitement the last building is almost complete! The construction progress has been long but extremely successful. We first received a new storage building, four residential houses, the Barn Classroom Building, and the Lower Education Classroom Building; Now the Upper Education Building is slated to be completed and in use by mid-January. Here are a few pictures to show how great it looks already!

This is from Old Oak Ranch Road side. The front entrance is just to the left. 

Just like the Barn Classroom Building we will have a great covered patio space.

Another view of patio and front of the building to the right.

A rear view from the dining hall side. 

Rear view from Old Oak Ranch Road side. 

The new building will have three classrooms, a museum space, a staff office, two sets of bathrooms, and a reception area, called the Lizard Lounge, which will be used as a place for the chaperones and teachers to relax. The Upper Education Building is set to add around 10,000 square feet to our indoor spaces here at SOS. Check back soon to see what the finished product looks like. We can't wait for the middle of January! 

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Drought, Beetles, and Fire, Oh My!

Have you noticed any trees with browning foliage in your area? When looking up towards Sierra Outdoor School from the town of Sonora, the hillsides are dotted with brown. Sometimes this color is from deciduous leaves preparing to drop from trees like California buckeye and black oak, however this year there is significantly more brown on the hillsides. As you drive up to the school you see that the brown color is from ponderosa pine trees that have died over this summer. How did this happen? What can be done about it? Is this a fire risk?

After four successive years of drought, these trees have suffered and have been unable to respond normally to environmental stresses. One thing that can stress the trees are bark beetles. These insects lay eggs underneath the bark and the larvae feed on the wood. A healthy tree responds to a bark beetle attack by filling the hole with a thick, sticky, fluid called pitch. When the trees are under water stress, as they have been due to this drought, they cannot produce enough pitch to fill the holes and keep the bark beetles out. Once a few beetles get under the bark and into the wood, they send out a chemical that lets other beetles know there's food to be had. They also lay eggs in the phloem, the layer between the bark and sapwood. The area where groups of eggs are laid is called a gallery. This gallery tunneling damages the phloem which carries sap throughout the tree, further inhibiting their ability to fend off bark beetles and stopping the flow of energy to growing parts of the tree. These beetles can also bring in a fungus that, in addition to damage from gallery construction and feeding, also contributes to tree mortality.
http://www.pc.gc.ca/eng/docs/v-g/dpp-mpb/sec2.aspx

 Once the tree has died and the needles are all brown, it becomes a fire hazard because it is more flammable than green, living trees. However, once the dead foliage has dropped to the ground, the standing dead tree (or snag) does not pose an increased fire risk. In fact, snags provides great habitat for a variety of birds, mammals, insects, reptiles, and amphibians. Once the snag has fallen, though, it can become fuel for future fires.

There are things we can do to protect our forests and private property. Once you’ve identified the trees and the beetles they may be susceptible to, there are some steps you can take:
1) Thin tree stands:  reduces competition for resources, keeps the healthiest trees, keeps a variety of ages of trees, hinders the chemical communication between beetles, and allows you to keep more drought tolerant species.
2) Clean up blown down trees or green slash so you don’t attract beetles to this food source.
3) Be careful not to weaken trees through injury by digging near them or removing bark.
4) Remove any trees that have beetles in them and any green material >3” in diameter or chip, bury, or burn it promptly. (Depending on the beetle species, this tactic may or may not be effective)
5) Have a professional properly apply pesticides to unaffected, susceptible, or high value trees in extended drought periods. This may help the tree(s) in the long run, but it not a guarantee.
6) Water trees during extended droughts by saturating the soil down two feet near the outer edges of branches. Careful not to over water!

Much of this information comes from a USDA pamphlet, “Bark Beetles in California Conifers”.  For assistance in managing forests on private land, contact Cal Fire. For info on insect and forest management on public lands, contact the USDA Forest Service. Here is some additional information on bark beetles.

Stay tuned for the next post to see what Sierra Outdoor School has done with our ponderosa pine die-off and how we’ve managed this forest to limit the risk of forest fires. And learn how these actions affected the Oak Fire that broke out on September 8, and came within a mile of our school.



Monday, November 2, 2015

Environment-Focused Children's Literature

“And, under the trees, I saw Brown Bar-ba-loots frisking about in their Bar-ba-loot suits as they played in the shade and ate Truffula Fruits.”

While Bar-ba-loots and Truffula Fruits only exist on the pages of The Lorax, they help illustrate some very real ecological and economic principles. Children’s storybooks provide a fun and visually tantalizing way to take abstract concepts and bring them to life through storytelling. Books can also be a great way for students to teach themselves independently. Here are some storybooks we use here at Sierra Outdoor School:

The Wolves Are Back by Jean Craighead George



This book tells the real-life story of the persecution and near-extinction of wolves in Yellowstone National Park and the subsequent ecological imbalance that occurs as a result of their absence. The story describes the wolf reintroduction program, the rise in wolf population numbers and the ecological balance that returns. The story is useful in explaining the role of apex predators, the concept of interdependence and the importance of biodiversity. The author Jean Craighead George is best known for writing the “My Side of the Mountain” trilogy.

Just a Dream by Chris Van Allsburg



The story is centered around a boy named Walter who is disconnected from the environment and careless about his decisions (he is both a litterbug and a non-recycler!). He has a dream in which he sees some of the world’s wonders like Mt. Everest and The Grand Canyon degraded by pollution and development. You’ll have to read the book to find out how his life changes when he wakes up. This story helps young readers make connections between careless choices, environmental impact, conscious choices, and a better world. 

The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein


This story describes an apple tree and the many different resources she provides for a boy over the course of his life. The neat thing about this story is that it’s simplistic telling provides much room for interpretation and can be used to teach a wide range of concepts from the joy of giving to unconditional love. We use the story here at SOS to teach about forestry resources and mindful consumption of them.

The Lorax by Dr. Seuss



In typical Dr. Seuss fashion, he uses an imaginative cast of characters to describe a real-life issue. In this case the issue is the impact that industry and consumerism has on the environment. A man named the Onceler opens up a factory that manufactures thneeds, a panacea-like product that “everyone wants and everyone needs.” The product is made from Truffula trees which provide habitat for a variety of animals. The manufacturing of thneeds not only depletes the Truffula forest but also produces pollution like “smogulous smoke.” This story helps readers make connections between the consumption of products and the resources that it takes to produce them. 

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Meet The New Crew!

Our 2015-16 Naturalist Interns arrived about a month and half ago! They have just spent most of the month of August training and getting ready for school groups to arrive. We are super excited to have them join our team. If you are interested in what last year's interns are doing now, check out our previous blog. You are welcome to visit our Facebook page as well, to see updates and photos of how the last month of preparation and this school year has been going!

Andrew is currently a student at Fresno State University studying Recreation Administration.  He has lived in Fresno, CA most of his life and his natural habitat is outside.  He has worked as a white water river guide and a social media consultant at a mountain guiding company in southern Yosemite.  A few of his hobbies include photography, guitar, hiking, long boarding, and hammocking. Andrew came to SOS as a student, and is excited to be returning to SOS as an Intern so he can give kids the same great experience he had!
 Beth was born and raised in Red Bank, New Jersey, and earned her B.A. in Environmental Studies at Ramapo College of New Jersey. She enjoys hiking, snowshoeing, archery, photography, and birding--a hobby she picked up while working in Minnesota for eight months. Since then, she has also sailed aboard a tall ship, taught field trips at a nature center, and worked at a YMCA camp. Beth is eager to learn a new set of animals and plants, and share what she already knows. She is also excited to work with the SOS staff members--both humans and birds!
 Cordele Glass grew up in the San Francisco Bay area, and just graduated from UCLA with a B.A. in Psychology with a minor in Applied Developmental Psychology. Cordele is super excited about being here in the Stanislaus National Forest and teaching kids in a place where there is an endless pool for learning!  Cordele is a talented drummer and music producer, he loves to dance, rock climb, hike, and simply live in the moment!
 Emma graduated last December from the College of Saint Rose in Albany, NY with a B.S. in Geology. She is thrilled to be working at SOS so she can combine her two greatest passions: science and the outdoors! Emma loves backpacking, cliff jumping, xc-skiing, water sports, crafts, playing the fiddle, hammocking, and going on adventures. Studying Geology has given Emma the opportunity to visit many different parts of the country, including researching paleo-landslides in Colorado and New Mexico, and spending a summer traversing, living and conducting research on the Juneau Icefield. This is her first time in the Sierra Nevada and she is taken by its beauty and vastness, especially the big trees. Emma was lucky enough to attend many camps and adventure programs while growing up, so she's very excited to be able to provide similar experiences to the students that attend SOS.

Laurel grew up in a small town in Northern California surrounded by something she believes is vital for every child: nature unspoiled by concrete, traffic, and litter clogged sidewalks… she’s been lucky enough to promote this belief and her deep love for the wilderness from Santa Cruz to San Francisco, to Nepal, to inner-city classrooms to slum neighborhoods in developing countries.  And now, she gets to do it at SOS!  Laurel has a B.A in Literature and Creative Writing and loves writing, poetry, art, and gardening. She also plays the cello and loves to dance!

While in high school, Madeleine Burke volunteered to teach hands-on science activities to 6th graders, and a passion was ignited!  She has since earned a B.A. in Social Science, a Masters degree in Special Education, and a Masters degree in Secondary Math Education.  She has spent the last two years teaching in high poverty, low achieving schools in Baltimore City and her favorite moments have been when she has taught lessons outside… so she is leaving the indoor classroom and taking a step towards her dream job, which is to be outside and inspiring kids to get connected to nature.  She also loves to rock climb, hike, and swim!


Lizzie Hoerauf grew up in Virginia, and just graduated in May from Duke University in NC with a B.S. degree in Environmental Science with a Biology Minor. She is super excited to lead lessons and naturalize with kids! She’s also looking forward to going down our zip line and learning about our raptors! In her spare time, Lizzie loves to to look for “herps”, rock climb, do arts and crafts, hike, teach, and explore new places!