Learning to recognize (by sight and sound) and value (!) the wonderful amphibians of the Northeastern forests is an enjoyable and worthwhile part of living in this region.
In future weeks, we hope to include more activities about these fellows, but for now, we’ll offer this illustrated take-home page that we often combine with studies of amphibians and / or hikes to ponds and other wetlands. I particularly like to complement the discussion and transformation of the amphibian images (with colored-pencils, watercolors, or crayons) with opportunities for students to hear – and imitate – the sounds of these specific frogs and the American Toad. Lang Elliot’s excellent book and CD, A Guide to Wildlife Sounds, is a marvelous resource for just this sort of endeavor. I also recommend his other books and recordings such as A Guide to Night Sounds or The Songs of Insects.
Students almost always find that imitating the sounds of other creatures is both fun and a good challenge. They usually love to share these vocal impersonations with their friends. As we listen to the actual 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 in an April habitat of cold, murky waters and dense shrubbery. We imagine too the risks involved. This combined listening, coloring, and reflecting activity allows children to slow down, focus on the calls, and begin to identify and empathize with these beings. Additionally, as they 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 with these unseen songsters. Additionally, such knowledge can 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). If they can become proficient with this, and truly learn how to move through the forest (or other environments) with minimal disturbance to the many other more-than-human-beings (borrowing this time a term from Robin Kimmerer), they’ll gain abundant opportunities to better discern what’s going on in their surroundings.