Spend your spring break having scientific fun outdoors

Abigale Cannon of Jefferson City uses a magnifying glass to examine a petrified tooth last summer during the Missouri River Adventure Camp at Cooper's Landing Campgrounds & Marina.
Abigale Cannon of Jefferson City uses a magnifying glass to examine a petrified tooth last summer during the Missouri River Adventure Camp at Cooper's Landing Campgrounds & Marina.

It’s spring break! The long winter has probably kept you inside for far too long. Turn off the television and get outside to do one or more of these science-based activities. Your brain and health will thank you.

Adults, these are not just fun for kids. Get out there and have some fun!

Take a field trip

You don’t have to travel far to find beautiful places to explore. Save some gas and check out these local wonders:

Capen Park: The city of Columbia values outdoor opportunities so much that there are wonderful parks and trails a short distance from your home no matter where you live. Go explore one. To highlight just one, check out Capen Park. When you park, take the trails up the bluff right off the parking lot and enjoy some incredible scenery and topography.

Eagle Bluffs Conservation Area: Go to the Missouri River banks and watch the river for a while. If you get antsy, look for beautiful pieces of driftwood that you could turn into a piece of art. Take a bag with you and pick up any trash you see.

Pinnacles: Drive just 10 minutes north of Columbia to Pinnacles Youth Park. Find a place to safely cross the river, then climb to the top of those rocks. From up top, you will see two different rivers that created the landscape.

Rock Bridge State Park: Most take for granted we have a state park in our community. Go visit it, but instead of hiking to Devil’s Icebox — which is beautiful, but you probably have done it many times — pick a new trail and explore.

Make a microworld

You can make your own microworld by creating a closed terrarium. Your microworld will be housed in a glass jar or bottle of your choosing. Try not to buy a glass jar — instead reuse one from something found at home or in your recycle bin.

Add some pebbles to the jar at the bottom to help with drainage. Next, add a couple inches of soil. Now add some small plants or seeds and water so that all the soil is moist but not flooded. Add some decorations if you like. Close the container and watch.

Soon your microworld will grow and, because it is a closed system, you should never have to water it. There are some terrariums that have been around for decades and never opened.

Create handprint grass

This one is fun! Fill a pot with potting soil and pat it down to ensure that it is firm. The pot needs to be larger than your open hand.

Water the soil so that it is quite damp but not flooded. Now, take a small amount of grass seed and spread it out on a dry plate. Completely wet your hand and then press your wet hand on the plate of seed. Now press your hand onto the soil.

Cover the pot with plastic wrap and place in a sunny location. Remove the plastic as soon as you see sprouts. You have living hand art! Use scissors to keep it “mowed,” so it keeps its shape.

Make a honeysuckle walking stick

What kid (or adult) doesn’t enjoy a good walking stick? Making your own walking stick is an easy and fun activity. The activity becomes beneficial when you create your new walking stick out of an invasive honeysuckle trunk. Invasive honeysuckle is taking over our forests and choking out native tree seedlings. It’s a big problem.

To make your walking stick, find some invasive honeysuckle (it’s the first plant to leaf out in the forests or do a quick Google search). Cut a nice piece of honeysuckle trunk to the length that you wish. Once home, simply use your fingernails to get under the bark and pull it off. Once started, it will come off in long shreds. Once the bark is all off, it will be so smooth you won’t have to sand it.

Now, leave it as it is, use a wood burner to make designs, or paint your walking stick.

Make our place better

Our town is great, but you can make it even better. Do something that helps our place. An easy way to do this is go for a walk each day and take a bag with you. Pick up any trash that you see along the way. Can you imagine what our place would look like if everyone picked up the trash they walked by? Give it a try!

Explore the natural underworld

Explore a world that you rarely see but is constantly just under your feet. Go outside and lift a rock or, even better, a rotting log and inspect the city of life that is living there. Take a magnifying glass and observe. Do you know that if these organisms did not exist our world would be a huge heap of trash and waste? You are observing the Earth’s cleaning crew.

Just get outside!

This article has none of the normal comprehension questions associated with it. After all, it’s spring break and homework would be rude. Even more important, questions would just take away from your exploring time.

No matter your age, you have been cooped up inside with all the viruses and germs all winter. Leave those germs behind and get outside. It will make you healthier and happier.

Mike Szydlowski is a science teacher and zoo facilitator at Jefferson STEAM School.


At what level of our atmosphere does all weather take place?

All weather on Earth takes place in the troposphere.

Based on this story, what does the temperature do as you travel higher in the troposphere? 

The temperature falls as you travel higher through the troposphere.

Air pressure is the force of air that is pressing down on you. Why is the air pressure lower as you travel higher into the atmosphere? 

There is less air above you as you travel higher, therefore the pressure is lower.

How does hail form?

Hail forms when a storm’s updrafts send raindrops high into the cloud where it is below freezing. The longer the raindrops stay suspended in the upper cloud, the larger the hail can grow.

Rankin should have taken only 3 to 4 minutes to fall to about 10,000 feet altitude. Why did he stay in the air so long?

The strong updrafts in the storm sent Rankin back up into the storm and kept him suspended there for 40 minutes.

This article originally appeared on Columbia Daily Tribune: Spend your spring break having scientific fun outdoors