Nurse logs are formed when a tree falls over, or the stump of a tree that was felled, and provide an environment for other things to grow. As the log decomposes it provides food and a habitat for many animals and plants. In coniferous forests (e.g. Pacific Northwest Coast) rotting logs provide many of the nutrients of the forest floor.
Some of the photos above show nurse logs that have decomposed completely, leaving only the shape of the roots of the trees that grew on it.
For this activity, find a nurse log that has some of its stump remaining.
Ask students to draw the nurse log, and anything they see growing out of it, or any evidence of life living on it. They can shade in the nurse log (to highlight how much is consumed by the new trees). Examples of living things they might find on a nurse log: hemlock and douglas fir saplings, small huckleberry bush, sword fern or other ferns, lichen, spider webs, bird poop, insects, holes made by insects and birds.
Ask students to smell the wood - the mushroomy smell is fungus growing through the log.
Group discussion of what everyone found, and students can add more items to their drawings, and label anything they did not know the name of.
Use a large sheet of paper or a board, and write "nurse log" at the bottom. This will be the start of a food web. Add in the other names of living things found, with arrows to show who eats who e.g. nurse log eaten by insects, plants, fungi and lichen; insects eaten by spiders and birds; spiders eaten by birds.