Northern California

California’s Coastal Forests

by Christina Camera
Santa Ana, CA, United States

Have you ever seen a California Redwood or Giant Sequoia in person? Imagine looking up at the tallest, largest trees on earth. You come to a forest and the trees seem to stretch up to the sky. Standing at the base of a California Redwood and peering up is an awesome experience. The tallest tree in the world is a California Redwood that measures almost 380 feet high!

The diameters of these giants are also amazingly huge. Some of them measure 50 feet in diameter, because they have been growing since the days of Roman Empire. That means they are between 2400 and 2700 years old.

Another colossal type of tree is called the Giant Sequoia. One of these, known as the General Sherman Tree, is the largest tree in the world, measured by volume. It is 275 feet tall and has a circumference at the ground of almost 103 feet!

How Does This Happen?

These two tree species, the Redwood and the Giant Sequoia, are the tallest and largest living plants on earth, respectively. That they both live in the forests of Northern California is no coincidence. The region’s coastal fog supports their growth and water needs during warm, dry months.

This unique environment makes a great home for many types of plants and animals. In these forests are beavers, gray foxes, black bears, raccoons, woodpeckers, wrens, jays, and spotted owls, to name just a few.

Some of the animals you might see around the Redwood and Giant Sequoia trees

Even if you’ve not visited Northern California, the area might look familiar to you if you’ve seen Jurassic Park II: The Lost World. A fun fact about this movie is that a character met his demise in prehistoric-looking Fern Canyon in Prairie Creek Redwoods State Park.

No matter how old you are, everyone learns by being engaged and interested in what is before them. In writing, a hook is used to pique your interest and keep you reading. People learn best when their natural curiosity is stirred, and what better way to do this than to connect with nature.

Just for Teachers

Young children especially need the concrete to explore and make sense of their world. They are naturally curious, so they see the wonder and find joy in the beauty and magnificence of nature. Although children have different rates of development, teachers will be able to better meet their learning styles and needs when using real-life tools or manipulatives. Stoking their curiosity for the natural world makes learning fun.

Using pictures of the trees and animals mentioned above, you can create a virtual field trip. Let your students imagine what these amazing environments would look like. You can tie these to many math and science lessons. Sometimes supplies in the classroom are hard to come by, but you can use what you have and leave the rest to your students’ imaginations.

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Math Questions

1. You go for a walk in the forest every day for a week. On Monday you see one insect. On Tuesday you see two insects. On Wednesday you see three insects. Then you say, “Wow! It’s a pattern.” How many insects do you see on Thursday? Sunday? How many total insects did you see all week?

Teachers, accept answers that support their reasoning. Such as, one child may see the pattern growing, (1,2,3,4,5,6,7), where another child may see the pattern repeating, (1,2,3,1,2,3). Help young children to draw a model and/or use manipulatives to solve the problem.

2. You go for another walk in the forest. You see two black bears and 3 woodpeckers. How many animals did you see? How many animal feet did you see?

Help young students to draw a model or use concrete objects to solve the problems. Break the steps down for children and model with language for young learners to see your thought processes to reach a conclusion. This can be modified to any two- and four-legged animals in any environment. Use this as a starting point to scaffold this type of question to your students’ needs.

3. Owls are more active at night because they are nocturnal. You’re in the forest at night and see 12 gleaming owl eyes in the trees through the darkness. How many owls are there?

This can be modified to any animal in any environment. Use this as a starting point to scaffold this type of question to your students’ needs.

4. Using sticks for the tens and other materials available to you (acorns, pine cones, leaves, pebbles, shells) for the ones, help children to explore the tens and ones place values by trading 10 items for a stick.

Practice counting teen numbers by saying “10” when pointing to one stick and then counting on with the other items to explore numbers 11 through 20.

5. My Kindergarten students love this game: show your students somewhere between 5 and 10 small objects. Put them behind your back or under an overturned bowl. Without your students seeing how many you take, take some out of the group. Show them what you have and ask them to figure out how many are hiding in your other hand or under the bowl still. This is great for building fluency in subitizing and in partners of numbers for addition and subtraction.

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Extension Questions

California has laws protecting certain animals and their habitats. The Spotted Owl that lives in Northern California is one of them. Why are these laws a good idea? What might happen if these laws were not in place?

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  1. National Park Service page on Redwoods Park
  2. Live Science website article on redwoods and giant sequoias
  3. National Geographic article
  4. Scientific American story on how drought affects giant sequoias

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