Simple Suggestions for Kids in the Field

Stopping along a hillside to journal the foliage. Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski Used with permission
Stopping along a hillside to journal the foliage.
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski
Used with permission

Journaling in Silence on Old Main Hill Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski Used with permission Journaling in Silence on Old Main Hill
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski
Used with permission

Even a leaf can be full of wonder for a kid Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski Used with permission Even a leaf can be full of wonder for a kid
Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski
Used with permission

At USU’s Edith Bowen Laboratory School, we call outdoor experiences with intentionality on observing and learning from the world around us, field experiences. With your family, a field experience could be anything from a simple walk around the block to a multi-night camping trip to the vast, High Uintah Wilderness area. Whether you’re a teacher trying to implement an impactful field experience with your class, or a family, looking for something meaningful to do with your kids, I’d like to share three simple techniques I’ve found help kids make meaning from the world around them when they are in the field.

One technique I’ve found useful is to dedicate time to embrace quietness. In a world where it seems like everything is moving at supersonic speed, and distractions include any number of electronic gadgets, the field can be a rare opportunity to connect with quietness and stillness once again. Although I often use field experiences to buttress relationships with my students by casually talking to them as we navigate nature, I always make it a point to devote sacrosanct time to quietness, and just allow kids to observe and think. It is amazing to see what kids notice and wonder when encouraged to enter nature’s classroom of silence. On a brisk sunny morning last spring, while sitting in stillness on USU’s Old Main Hill, a 7-year-old student of mine wrote “The leaves on the trees rustle, the birds sing to me spring songs. The leaves are good, the birds are kind. All of nature is right.’

Another technique I’ve found useful is to focus on the journey, not the end goal. I’ve found that kids, unlike myself, care little about reaching any certain destination. Instead, they seem fascinated by parts of the journey that I easily overlook such as a creek bridge formed by a fallen tree, a rubbled pile of climbable boulders, or a mucky beaver pond with hopping ribbity critters. It can be easy to feel like 45 minutes of kids scrambling around on boulders and creeping through crevices formed by the rocks is a waste of time because you’re not making progress toward your goal, but don’t be dismayed! Even if you don’t get that perfect family photo at the scenic overlook you so hoped for, the kids won’t care, they’ll just remember being professional rock climbers and scraping their palms.

Lastly, I’ve found it important to appreciate childlike wonder. You may have seen enough deer scat in your life to fill your planting boxes 10 times, but your children may be fascinated by the little brown/black nuggets. They may wonder what they are from, which may lead to discussions about moose, elk, and deer! You may find kids start to pose questions that challenge your own adult knowledge, such as how to distinguish between deer and elk poop! One recommendation here is to demonstrate adult inquiry and unknowing. Instead of whipping out your smartphone and getting an answer from the ChatGPT genius, model what it looks like to make informed hypotheses yourself, and leave the question open until later that day, when you and your child can do some follow up investigation on the questions. Oh, and by the way, I learned from a Teton Science School instructor that if you think the questionable dark brown nugget shaped scat could easily fit in your nose, go with deer poop. If it looks like it’d be a tight squeeze, you’re probably dealing with elk. And, if you’re thinking to yourself “there is no way in the world I’m getting that thing up my nostril!” you’ve likely discovered some moose droppings!

So next time you are out in the field with kids, give these few little techniques a try and see if it brings a bit more intentionality and purposefulness to your time in the majestic Utah outdoors!

This is Dr. Joseph Kozlowski, and I am wild about outdoor education in Utah!

Images: Courtesy & Copyright Joseph Kozlowski, Photographer, Used by Permission
Featured Audio: Courtesy & Copyright © Kevin Colver,
Text:     Joseph Kozlowski, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Joseph Kozlowski & Lyle Bingham

Additional Reading:

Joseph (Joey) Kozlowski’s pieces on Wild About Utah:

Teton Science Schools,

Edith Bowen Laboratory School,

Rhodes, Shannon, I Notice, I Wonder, Wild About Utah, August 31, 2020,

Rhodes, Shannon, Wild About Nature Journaling, Wild About Utah, June 22, 2020,

Gratitude for Naturalists

"Paralyzing Berries"
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
“Paralyzing Berries”
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Janet Ross & Shannon Rhodes on the San Juan River, 2022
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer Janet Ross & Shannon Rhodes on the San Juan River, 2022
Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer

Once upon a time my family met what we now call ‘paralyzing berries’ on a hillside hike. I still don’t know the common name, let alone the scientific one. I sure could’ve used Naturalist Jack’s plant identification and probable warning not to taste those tart wild berries that day. I’ve had the good fortune though to spend time with Wild About Utah’s Jack Green discussing the Wilderness Act walking among the Mt. Naomi wildflowers and along the Lake Bonneville Shoreline. It reminds me of a scene Kenneth Grahame wrote in “The Wind in the Willows” that captures the relationship between a naturalist and a naturalist’s companion: “Absorbed in the new life, the scents and the sounds and the sunlight…it was so very beautiful that the Mole could only hold up both paws and gasp, “O my! O my! O my!” Water Rat was paddling and chattering on as one extremely familiar with, yet not desensitized to, the magic of the place. Sometimes now I find myself a Rat because I was once a Mole.

Let me explain. Three years ago I wrote a page in my nature journal and a related Wild About Utah piece titled “I Notice, I Wonder” as I sat soaking up the smells and the sights sitting alone in the Cache National Forest. Although I was able to in solitude concentrate on wellness amid the pandemic, I wonder how much more rich my experience might have been with a knowledgeable naturalist guide at my side. The third part of this beloved “I Notice, I Wonder” awareness activity outdoors is “It Reminds Me Of…”

Passing some wild berries just this week reminded me of the afternoon 30 years ago my friend Allan Stevens, biology professor at Snow College, taught me about dwarf mistletoe and led me to research the difference between it and witches broom rust in conifers. I’ve never enrolled in one of Allan’s courses, but that’s the best part of having connections to naturalists. They teach you even when you are just out for a drive in the canyon. They have invested time to know how to read nature, they know the names and relationships in an ecosystem, and they usually have the answer to any question you could ask. Dozens of times since then I’ve answered that same question about the thick-growing growth in the trees as others have looked to me for clarity.

Similarly, looking at the berries reminded me of the day Utah Master Naturalist’s Mark Larese-Casanova taught me the term krummholz effect, from the German words “crooked wood,” that describes trees deformed from fierce winds. He did this as we stood atop Big Cottonwood Canyon, gazing at lopsided trees’ persistence in adapting to harsh conditions. That memory reminded me of cruising along a lazy stretch of the San Juan River on a raft with another legendary naturalist named Janet Ross. Just before the Eight Foot Rapid, she taught me to notice the holes we were passing. She said that besides the usual stick lodges, a beaver will build a den in the sandy river bank. Fascinating facts from fascinating people. I’m grateful for these and other naturalist mentors in my life.

So, who unlocked the mysteries of nature for you? Was it a relative, a summer camp leader, maybe a teacher? In this season of gratitude you might consider how to better be Rat for the Moles in your influence as you notice, wonder, and remember other illuminations in the wild. Boldly share as a growing naturalist what you know about plants, animals, and wild relationships with others as you encounter them together.

For Wild About Utah, I’m Shannon Rhodes.


Images: Courtesy & Copyright Shannon Rhodes, Photographer
Additional Audio: Courtesy & © Kevin Colver
    Courtesy & © Friend Weller, Utah Public Radio
    Courtesy & © Anderson, Howe, Wakeman
Text: Shannon Rhodes, Edith Bowen Laboratory School, Utah State University
Additional Reading Links: Shannon Rhodes

Additional Reading:

BEETLES and The Regents of the University of California. I Notice, I Wonder, It reminds me of. 2020.
and ​​

Grahame, Kenneth. The Wind in the Willows. 1908.

Rhodes, Shannon. I Notice, I Wonder. Wild About Utah, August 31, 2020.

Ross, Janet. A Place Called Home: Quilting a Life of Joy on the Colorado Plateau. September 13, 2023. Colorado: Lost Souls Press.

Strand, Holly. Kissing Under the Dung Twig. Wild About Utah, December 20, 2012.

Schwandt, John. Fir broom rust. 2005.

U.S. Forest Service. Broom rusts of spruce and fir. 2011.

U.S. Forest Service. Mistletoes.

Winter is Vinegar Honeydew

Vinegar Honeydew: Cucumber Pickles Courtesy Pixabay, CongerDesign, Photographer
Cucumber Pickles
Courtesy Pixabay, CongerDesign, Photographer
Winter is the season of withholdings come free and taboos undone. Those things we tell ourselves which are not for the warm months come to roost, and our allowances to ourselves grow as the season’s light shrinks.

Winter is when we get to have a sit by the fire and exhale from our work like young exhausted parents, listening to the world’s sleep because of our good labor done. It’s when we can crack open our stores and taste the results of our year on this earth from the gardens and fields; the flavors of hope without fear of waste. Vinegar truly is the honeydew of the long nights.

It’s also when we can have freedom in the snow. The snow is that sweeping medium which allows us to climb mountains and then descend at speeds which in any other season would be a cause for concern, even if moderate.

Each mode of winter travel has its partakers and dissuaders, though none is surely the best for all. Cross country, sitski, telemark, downhill, snowbike, snowskate, snowboard, sled, tube, and contractor bag all each have their place for us to slide at speeds too great to pass up. Some have edges for control, some have fewer for fun, yet all allow for wind to blow through your hair and to dance with gravity, more apparent than ever in the cold.

Winter also gives us stories not available elsewhen. Many skilled naturalists have given many good lessons to me on how to read the snows over the years, yet not one lecture can compare to what happens when you go out by yourself and see what the world itself has to say. I’ve spent good hours finding a good track and following it, whether it’s a hare to its burrow, deer to the nearest alfalfa field, or my eyes wandering skywards to see whose wings caught the vole which once did scurry all a tither. The words though melt in the sun, and so the snow is the rarest of books. Perhaps it is also the most precious. Stories carved in stone seem mortibund to those on paper, and so those tattooed upon tree pulp seem to the cuneiform in the nivian ether.

So this winter, do not forget to enjoy the allowances you’ve worked all year: warming your bones by the fire; reading the precious snows; sliding down hills; and vinegar honeydew from your stores.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
Images: Courtesy Pixabay, CongerDesign, Photographer
Audio: Courtesy & © J. Chase and K.W. Baldwin.
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center,
Included Links: Patrick Kelly & Lyle Bingham, Webmaster,

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon,

Strand, Holly, Snowshoe Hare, Wild About Utah, February 18, 2010,

Larese-Casanova, Mark, The Shape of Wildlife in Winter Wild About Utah, January 26, 2012,

Larese-Casanova, Mark, Utah’s Rich Skiing History Wild About Utah, January 23, 2014,

Strand, Holly, A Utah Skier’s Snow Lexicon Wild About Utah, January 29, 2009,

Nummer, Brian, Getting Crisp Home Pickled Vegetables, Extension, Utah State University,

Food Safety & Preservation, Extension, Utah State University,

Last Blank Spots on the Map

Audio:  mp3 Listen to WildAboutUtah

Today the river corridor still retains
its wild and pristine qualities.
Copyright 2009 Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything

Hi, I’m Holly Strand from Stokes Nature Center in beautiful Logan Canyon.

The Green River is one of Utah’s signature waterways. It begins high in Wyoming’s Wind River Range and winds southward 730 miles to join the Colorado River in Canyonlands National Park. 60% of river’s extent lies in Utah– attracting river runners, archaeologists, fishermen, hunters and hikers. And of course, geologists.

Desolation boasts steep dramatic walls.
From the top of the Tavaputs Plateau to the river
is deeper than the Grand Canyon.
Click to view larger image,
Photo Copyright 2009 Dan Miller

It’s hard to believe that less than 150 years ago, most of the Green and the Colorado canyonlands were unlined areas marked “UNEXPLORED” on maps. One such place was the area between Uinta Valley and Gunnison’s Crossing — now called Green River, UT. Another blank spot lay south of the crossing all the way to Paria which is now called Lee’s Ferry in Arizona.

To some folks, a blank spot on a map is an irresistible call to come and see what’s there. So it was with John Wesley Powell, a one-armed Civil War veteran working as a curator in a small natural history museum in Illinois. He became intrigued with exploring the canyons of the Colorado and the Green after spending some time out west collecting rock samples.

Lighthouse Rock 1871
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Impatient for adventure and discovery, Powell quickly assembled a crew of nine men –mostly rough and tumble mountain men used to living off the land. They set off from Green River WY and were making good time until disaster struck in the Canyon of Lodore. One of the boats hit a boulder, and a third of the food and half of the cooking gear sunk to the bottom of the river. A week later, a fire destroyed more food and gear. But eventually, five of the original nine made it all the way to the mouth of the Virgin River in Arizona.

A second expedition benefited from more funding, planning and hindsight. This time round, Powell chose a more scientifically-minded crew including a geologist, cartographer and photographer to research and document the trip. Once again they launched from Green River, WY. Powell perched in an armchair strapped to the middle bulkhead of a boat named after his wife, the Emma Dean . He read poetry to the crew as they floated along calm stretches of the river. The crew ran the Green and then started down the Colorado without any major incidents. After overwintering on the north rim, they ran the rapids of the Grand Canyon in late summer of the following year.

John Wesley Powell with Tau-gu
a Paiute, 1871-1872
Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Upon return, surveyor Alven Thompson completed a topographic map of the region, and Powell’s monumental account was published in 1875 by the Smithsonian Institution.

The last “UNEXPLORED”s on the United States map were now replaced by specific landscape features with measured altitudes. Nowadays we still use the many evocative names that Powell and his men bestowed during their travels. Names like Flaming Gorge, Glen Canyon, Dirty Devil River, Escalante River, Cataract Canyon, and Desolation Canyon tell us something of the experiences of these brave men as they were exploring Utah’s last mysterious places.

Thanks to the Rocky Mountain Power Foundation for supporting research and development of this Wild About Utah topic.

Additional thanks to Rey Lloyd Hatt and the friendly staff of the John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT.

For Wild About Utah and Stokes Nature Center, I’m Holly Strand.

Images: Copyright Dan Miller from the book
The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green

Powell images: Courtesy Arizona Historical Society

Text:     Holly Strand, Stokes Nature Center

Sources & Additional Reading

Aton, James M. and Dan Miller (photographer) 2009. The River Knows Everything: Desolation Canyon and the Green. Logan: Utah State University Press.

Stegner, Wallace. “ Green River: The Gateway” in Blackstock, Alan. 2005. A Green River reader. Salt Lake City: University Utah Press.

John Wesley Powell River History Museum in Green River UT

USGS. 1976. Geological Survey Information 74-24. John Wesley Powell: Soldier, Explorer, Scientist. [Accessed October 30 2009]