paper with a leaf under it, a picture of a leaf appears!”
Check Out Some Alligator Bark
Winter may seem like a down time for trees, but less foliage means better observations of woodpecker holes, tree gnarls, insect galls and tree bark itself. Many trees can be identified by the texture and color of their bark. Wild persimmon trees have very distinctive, blocky bark that is often compared to that of an alligator’s rough-textured skin. Other trees with easily distinguished bark include American sycamore and river birch. Look for their flaky trunks along rivers and creeks.
Go on a Creek Walk
Creeks, no matter the size, are havens of discovery.
Fish, frogs, turtles, dragonflies, water striders, herons and crawdads are only the beginning. Children of all ages enjoy using a dip net to catch a few water critters to observe. Placed gently in a white tub or other container and viewed with a handheld magnifying glass, water beetles, snails and minnows provide hours of endless learning and fascination. After a few minutes of observation, remember to release aquatic creatures back into their watery home.
No water, no problem! Even a dry streambed can be a discovery destination. With millions of rocks in a multitude of colors, shapes and sizes, most youngsters claim a few favorites. The possibility of finding a fossil or two makes it a perfect pastime. If a fossil is discovered, most want to know more about the life of the featured plant or animal from eons ago.
This Center’s for You
If your little naturalist needs to know more, check out your nearest conservation nature center for some answers. It is a great way to spend an hour or a day. Missouri has several conservation nature centers and conservation areas statewide. Regardless of where you live in Missouri, there is a nature center not too far from your home. Each site has its own unique mix of naturalist-led programs, live native animals, hiking trails and accessible site features.
Conservation nature centers provide information on Missouri’s fish, forests and wildlife.
At your local center you can find out more about your backyard discoveries—fossils, bugs, bats and more. A day trip to a center near you allows your entire family the opportunity to explore more of Missouri’s wild side in a safe environment.
Nature center staff can get you started with information about upcoming free programs to help your family learn more about the outdoors. (You can also find these on our website at mdc.mo.gov/regions.) Topics such as animal tracks, backyard bird feeding, native gardening and nature-themed scavenger hunts await you. Conservation topics such as archery, angling and trapping may appeal to your children as they grow.
Keep it Simple and Safe
No matter your destination, remember to keep it simple and make safety a priority. Watch out for things such as poison ivy, insect bites and sunburn. Keep a first aid kit with you for those unexpected scrapes and stings.
If your discoveries include streams, ponds or lakes, observe water conditions and wear life jackets. While hiking, be sure to stay on designated trails, and don’t forget to take along plenty of water and your little explorer’s favorite snacks. Even though your child is full of energy, remember to take frequent breaks. Young children can tire easily on an outing. In winter, dress in layers for comfort and to prevent hypothermia.
Planning ahead makes a big difference. Simple outings lead to big fun for everyone. So get out and head for your family’s next close-to-home discovery destination and enjoy Missouri outdoors.