It’s both enjoyable and worthwhile to learn to recognize by sight and sound the wonderful amphibians of the Northeastern forests. It’s important to learn about their roles in the forest ecosystem, their complex and ingenious adaptations, and their significance as descendants of ancient amphibians who were first moving about on land and in fresh water some 360 million years ago.
In future months, I hope to include more activities about these fellows, but for now, here is an illustrated take-home page that I have often used in conjunction with hikes to ponds and other wetlands. After an initial discussion of the amphibians encountered and/or depicted, while the youngsters are actively transforming the images with colored-pencils, watercolors, or crayons – or redrawing them according to their interest, I like to offer them opportunities to hear and imitate audio recordings of the specific calls of each of these frogs and this toad. Lang Elliot’s outstanding book and CD, The Frogs and Toads of North America is a marvelous resource for this purpose. I also have used the recordings at his website https://musicofnature.com/calls-of-frogs-and-toads-of-the-northeast/ . Other websites with frog calls (although not always of such high audio quality) include the following from the Indiana Dept. of Natural Resources: https://www.in.gov/dnr/kids/5914.htm.
Students almost always find that actually imitating the sounds of other creatures is both fun and a good challenge. The children usually love to share these vocal impersonations with their friends. As we listen to the frog recordings, I often ask the youngsters why the frogs are making particular calls, and we think about what it might be like to be an amphibian trying to catch the attention of other frogs on a dark April night in the midst of of cold, murky waters and dense shrubbery. What would it be like it were a sunny July afternoon and you were calling from tall cattails? We imagine the situation and the risks involved. A combined listening, coloring, and reflecting activity of this kine allows children to slow down, and focus on their capacity to hear. At the same time, they begin to identify and empathize with these beings as they consider their interesting and challenging lives. Additionally, as the children learn to recognize (or make) the sounds of the Bull Frog or the Spring Peepers, for instance, they sometimes remember and better appreciate earlier encounters they themselves have had with these unseen songsters. Such knowledge can also render future walks near creeks or lakes more meaningful. Hearing the loud warning croak of the Green Frog followed by a succession of splashes is no longer a frustration, but a confirmation that this particular species has been discovered, and that the effectiveness of these frogs’ social warning system is being experienced first-hand. Thus, students become more accustomed to employing their sense of hearing to gain ‘insights’ into the complex yet very functional acoustic defense adaptations at work within ecosystems – ecosystems within which they themselves participate.
Good science teaching should make students more sensitive and attuned to the powers of their innate senses. It should also incline them to develop their own ability “to make silence” (to borrow a very useful phrase from Maria Montessori). I think it should become a goal for us as concerned parents and educators to help our youth become ever more proficient with this, so that they can learn to move through the forest (or other environments) with minimal disturbance to the many more-than-human-beings who live there (borrowing this time a term from Robin Kimmerer). Once they’ve acquired this skill, they’ll gain abundant opportunities to better discern and appreciate the myriad lives, interactions, and stories unfolding all around them, stories in which they themselves feature as either conscious or unwitting actors!
Here is the PDF: A Few N. American Frogs and a Toad 2018 pdf