Bellview Elementary third-graders saw stream-dwelling insects up close, collected igneous and sedimentary rocks and identified local trees and plants Monday in Oredson-Todd Woods.

Bellview Elementary third-graders saw stream-dwelling insects up close, collected igneous and sedimentary rocks and identified local trees and plants Monday in Oredson-Todd Woods.

The hands-on science was part of Loving the Land, an outdoor education program sponsored by the Southern Oregon Land Conservancy. After the program wraps up Friday, more than 200 third-, fourth- and fifth-graders from Ashland will have seen the science concepts they learn at school applied in nature, said Michael Stringer, SOLC's development director.

"I think that kids need to be outdoors," Stringer said. "They learn science in the classroom and when they get outside they see it and hear it and touch it and smell it."

Students rotated through three activity stations located along the trails, exploring the water, rocks and plants with the help of trained volunteers.

At the Rock Hound station, students combed the banks of Hamilton Creek for rocks, which they brought to Travis Kelly, from the Jackson County Watermaster's Office, for help with identification and a close up look through a magnifying eyepiece.

"Ew, this looks like a brain," one girl exclaimed while squinting through the lens. "It looks like a squished brain."

The rock turned out to be volcanic in origin, part of some gravel used in stairs along the creek, Kelly explained.

Another student found a large dead insect — which Kelly identified as a caddis fly — during her search for rocks. She was a step ahead of the next station, where Stringer and Greg Wacker, from the Watermaster's Office, helped students find macroinvertebrates in the stream.

"We got a water spider," one student announced after examining her net.

"I found a worm," another girl said. "And he squiggled."

At the next station, staying quiet was important in order to hear everything in the forest, retired teacher Sooney Viani told the students.

Viani identified plants and trees and had the students call for birds with a whistle. A mysterious squeaking sound in the canopy turned out to be two trees rubbing against each other.

Upon finding a Southern Oregon Land Conservancy sign on a tree, Viani explained how SOLC helped the city obtain a conservation easement to protect Oredson-Todd woods in perpetuity.

"When you grow up, and if you choose to have children and they have children, it could be that your grandchildren could come walk here because the woods will still be here," she told the students. "The woods will always be here for your enjoyment."

It's important that students investigate the outdoors and come up with their own conclusions about the natural world, said program coordinator EthelAnn Ackerman.

"I really enjoy seeing these children exploring out here each spring," she said. "I can almost see their minds growing as they wade in the creek, coming to me with all kinds of questions, ideas, and inquisitive looks."

The students seemed to enjoy the learning too, with plenty of questions for the educators and excited shrieks upon finding bugs.

Third-grader Gracie Logan said she learned what poison oak looks like.

"I like learning about stuff and getting into nature," she said. "I really like earth a lot, and nature is a part of earth."

McKenzie Moore said she found insects in the creek that she never would have noticed by just looking at the water.

"The thing I liked about Oredson-Todd woods is collecting the bugs and the rocks," she said.

Timothy Kai Cheval said he enjoyed discovering new rocks, including sandstone, quartz and granite.

"I had a really good time playing in the creek," he said.

The kids had fun while learning, Viani said, and her tree group really lent itself to being quiet and listening to nature.

"That was the idea," she said. "To open our ears and our eyes and feel the wind in our face and just be here. That's the beginning of loving the land."

Reach Kira Rubenthaler at 482-3456 ext. 225 or krubenthaler@dailytidings.com.