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Web of Life program teaches kids about food chain

Playing the food-chain game engrosses fourth graders, from

Playing the food-chain game engrosses fourth graders, from left, Jayme Dowling, 9, and Alyson Koch, 9, during a visit Thursday to the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown. Their class is from Medford Elementary School in Patchogue. (March 21, 2013) (Credit: Brittany Wait)

Holding a picture of a snail, student Alyson Koch played a food chain game with her class during a Web of Life program Thursday at the Sweetbriar Nature Center in Smithtown.

Koch was among the 47 fourth graders from Medford Elementary School in Patchogue to take a field trip to the nature center to learn about animal habitats and the food chain.

“I already knew a lot about food chains because we just did a project on them, but it was cool to see the owl and snake,” said Alyson, 9. “We learned what they needed to survive.”


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Koch’s group of 22 students first formed a circle in the room and was tasked with completing a food chain using yellow rope and picture cards of the sun and examples of producers, consumers and decomposers. Each student ended up holding onto a piece of rope, creating a web, which if broken would fall apart, much like a food chain.

“What grows from fresh soil? Poison ivy,” said Janine Bendicksen, curator at the nature center, situated on 54 acres of woodland and wetlands on the Nissequogue River. “The turtle eats the ivy plant, the hawk eats the turtle and after the hawk dies mushrooms eat its body, turning it into fresh soil.”

The program also led to a discussion of the screech owl, snake and rabbit habitats, while students hiked on the preserve. They were challenged to find examples of habitats in the wild.

Nancy Adornetto, center program coordinator, introduced her group to an owl that was saved after it was injured flying into a car and also an abandoned pet python and rabbit.

Jayme Dowling, 9, said she found it fascinating that owls can almost turn their heads completely around as a defense mechanism to protect themselves in the wild.

“I didn’t think I’d see so many real animals,” Jayme said. “It’s snowing, but it’s cool to go outside and look at the animals and learn more about what Ms. MacDevitt teaches us.”

Jayme was referring to her fourth-grade teacher, Suzanne MacDevitt, who said the experience was a first for many of the students, and a great opportunity to expose them to the animals, habitats and food chain examples she taught them about in class just a week earlier.

“This is great. The students just finished a poster and research paper on food chains,” MacDevitt said. “This gives them a chance to play and learn more about what I taught them in the classroom.”

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