Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Out Your Window Study Handbook of Nature Study

Barb's most recent challenge asked us to look outside our window and note what we observe. I decided to set up a folding table in front of our window on a cloudy, gray, overcast (and chilly) day. We set the timer for 15 minutes. I thought this would give the kids time to overcome their initial attitude of "it's raining. And cloudy. And there is nothing to see."

View of the rainy, cloudy day from behind the kids.
My youngest, who was strongly opposed to even trying quickly overcame her initial reluctance and drew a really neat picture, full of observations. She drew the suet feeder we installed just last month. Then she drew a limb with all the little "pokey things" that come off it to make smaller limbs. She then changed that to how a tree grows. (Which in my mind is the same thing, but she wanted me to note that it was a different idea to her.)
(Sorry about the sideways image). 
My son also quickly got into the mood of the assignment. He drew the azaleas at the back of the yard and turned his pencil sideways to get the idea of the gray day.
My son's view out our window
My middle daughter had a much harder time overcoming her reluctance and sat there for the entire 15 minutes, drawing nothing. I finally sat down beside her and did a quick painting to try to give her an idea of how to proceed. Here's what I came up with.
My quickly done painting of the azaleas, the vines
behind them and the gray day. 
This finally motivated my middle daughter to put down the pear tree and the gray day.
my middle daughter's picture of the pear tree and gray day
I decided to make this a blog post rather than just a Pinterest post, because the process proved so valuable. My kids learned several things about art, such as how to leave things out that their eyes could see to focus the picture, how to depict the weather (with each coming up with their own ways of doing it), how to show that each thing in nature wasn't just one single color, but a multitude of different colors in the same range, and practice drawing trees (which I had to draw during college art classes because the instructor considered them such difficult things to draw.)

They also concentrated on nature for more than 15 minutes, observing and discussing things that didn't make it into their pictures, such as a cardinal that appeared on a fence post for one minute, a squirrel hanging upside down eating the suet feeder, and the colors inherent in each individual part of nature. I hope they learned that even on a gray, cloudy, cold winter day, you can learn something from nature.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Kraken (Or How One Person's Blog Post Can Spark a Unit Study)

I really like to read Almost Unschoolers blog. She has numerous great ideas for painless learning, and she often includes things that have math skills built in. But she really surpassed her own great ideas when she posted about giant squid.

Because of that one blog post, my family has undertaken a (secret) unit study this summer. We don't "do school" in the summer, but this idea has sparked my kids' imaginations, so we have run with it.

The first thing we did was to get the book Here There Be Monsters from the library.
We are reading this book as a family. We have all enjoyed this book immensely. There are the coolest pictures of kraken in the book, and there is a great history of the legends of kraken, how the name came to be, and how they eventually discovered that the legends were based on truth and after long effort, photographed some of these monsters.

Because of this, we decided that we would rent 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea from Amazon.
Totally awesome movie! Have I seen it before, because after watching it, I don't think I have. All my kids, my husband and I loved this movie. Action packed, and yet clean and appropriate for the entire family, it was a wonderful movie night at our house.

Then, my son decided that he had to have Zoob, in order to make a giant squid to fight his Lego men. This is something Almost Unschoolers mentions in her post, and my son was keen to try it for himself.
He spent his own money and bought a set, which he is enjoying immensely.

The final thing we have done so far is to make a squid pizza. It was amazingly successful, and fun.
Here's the pictures.

Kraken pizza

Another view of Kraken pizza

My older two kids being silly with the Kraken "legs" we made.
Now all the kids want me to make them their very own Kraken crochet animal like the one in Almost Unschoolers's Post.
Kraken in the Almost Unschoolers' post. 
**Theoretically, I could receive compensation for the affiliate links. I have never gotten enough click throughs to get any money from Amazon, but I guess it could happen.**

In conclusion, I would like to offer a *big thank you* to Almost Unschoolers for starting us down a really enjoyable (and spontaneous) unit study.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Pine Tree, Pine Cone and Winter Tree Study

On her blog, Handbook of Nature Study, Barb has posted three different posts about trees, giving us ideas to work through for our nature study this winter. (The other two can be found here and here).

Though our winter has been mild compared to the sufferings of those in the NE, we have had the worst/coldest/iciest winter in about 20 years. This has meant day after day of indoor activities rather than outside time.

I decided that it might be a good idea to take Barb up on the challenges. It would be a good way to get us outside again.

I told the kids that they had two assignments in this walk in the woods. First, I wanted them to find a deciduous tree in wintertime to photograph. And second, I wanted them to find a pine tree to photograph. It was amazing that such a simple challenge could provide such a wonderful opportunity for observation.

We have walked in these woods numerous times. Pine trees are EVERYWHERE around here. They are just part of the background of our lives. But the simple assignment of finding a pine tree helped them with their observation skills in a really new way. At first, I had to ask them, "Do you see a pine tree around here?" They would look around, confusedly. "No," they would shrug as they stood directly beside a pine. Then I showed them the bark, or pine cones on the ground, or pine needles hanging in the surrounding trees.
Hmm. Are any pine trees nearby?

Any pine trees in the area? 

Soon the kids were running up the trail, shouting, "Pine! I see a pine tree." It was like a game of "I Spy." And the kids were ecstatic about it.

Before we the walk, I read them a small part from Handbook of Nature Study where Ms. Comstock explained how the pine tree makes rosin to heal itself from wounds. She explained that this was used to make turpentine.

We actually got to see some of this rosin. Wonderful serendipity!

See the rosin on the pine tree? It used this to seal its wound.
My middle daughter gathered pine cones. The next day, we examined them and drew them. We talked about how pine cones use the weather to help them distribute their seeds, using information from this site.  We tried the experiment, but the glue didn't hold, so we couldn't see it scientifically, but we could see with our eyes that the pine cone was closed tighter on a wet, cool morning.

We also found two branches with pine needles attached. We brought them home and compared them. One had darker green coloring and shorter leaves than the other.

We didn't bother to try to learn individual types of pines, but it was a great experience to learn what we did about pine trees.

I am linking up with

Friday, October 11, 2013

Insects In Our Yard

And I am sure that Einstein was/is right. But I would sure like to learn a little of what insects have to teach.

This has been insect month at our home.

It all started with our Gulf Fritillaries. One day, 15 of them emerged from their chrysalids!
emerging Gulf Fritillaries

emerging Gulf Fritillaries from the same day

beautiful emerging Gulf Fritillary with the probiscis clearly seen
dry and ready for life as a butterfly. A newly emerged Gulf Fritillary
nectars on Porterweed. 

Since then, we have been looking for insects in our yard. We have some goldenrod blooming in the back of our yard, so we have gone out every day to investigate the insects on it. And there have been a wide variety of native bees, flies, and wasps. They are really hard to photograph! The goldenrod moves. The insects move. And none of them like having the cameras right in their faces.

But it has been amazing to watch! Such diversity! Such a wonderful feeling of ecosystem!

We decided to paint concrete stepping stones with the 4 stages of a butterfly development.

We also got to see a praying mantis this month. It is the first time we have ever seen one at this house! It was pretty exciting.

Then, in what I think is the coup de gras, we had our first ever pipe vine swallowtail. It stayed for almost an hour nectaring at our Porterweed.
Pipe Vine Swallowtail at the Porterweed

My middle daughter was able to touch it gently without it even moving.

The youngest had to try it, too. Same result. 

Another view of the Pipe Vine Swallowtail
And, as if that wasn't enough, we saw 2 hummingbird moths on the night of the tenth of October. One of them was kind enough to land so we could get a photo. I had read that these moths look like hummingbirds in flight and that they sound like hummingbirds when they buzz by you. Well, they really did. Totally awesome! They are smaller than any hummingbirds we get around here, and they hang around the nectar plants much longer than any of the hummingbirds we have ever seen, too. So these two things, plus the fact that they nectar at dusk and during the night, help us distinguish them from hummingbirds.

hummingbird moth
We also read a great read aloud book that really helped us with Latin order of different insects, why they are classified that way and what the Latin means. It was very simply explained and for the first time I found myself interested in the different orders.

affiliate link

I am submitting this entry for the Outdoor Hour Challenge with Barb of Handbook of Nature Study.

Monday, September 23, 2013

At the Beach

I saved Barb's Handbook of Nature Study newsletter from 6/1/2012. It covered ways to do nature study at the beach.

I never had a chance to use it until this September. We took a vacation to the beach. I used almost all the ideas I got from that newsletter, but I would only like to share with you one small aspect of the trip.

On the grid, one of the suggestions was to list 3 living creatures you saw at the beach. We made a list of living creatures we saw during our week long vacation.

Hermit Crab

Tiny Frog

Willet(?) I searched Google and that seems to be what
this is. He was very near us, used to people. 



The first time for us to spot a tricolored heron. Great blue herons
are very common around here, even flying over the house from time to time, but
this one is different. It was an exciting find!
The skink was found during a hike in a nearby National Wildlife Refuge we had decided to visit since we have so much fun hiking locally.

I found it very exciting to identify 3 new birds. They are probably common birds, but they were new to us.

We also saw 2 dolphins breaching the water parallel to the shoreline. I was unable to get a photo.

I am submitting this to the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour Challenge.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Night Sky Study for Outdoor Hour Challenge

Barb at Handbook of Nature Study blog challenged us to study the night sky with our children during the month of August.

My children and I made a point to go outside every clear night to look at the moon. We have done this before, but we always find it to be fun.

I subscribe to a local weather man's Facebook page. He regularly posts great things about nature, weather, and the night sky. He posted this at the first of the month.
We had just returned home from an outing about that time, so I took my older two children out back to look for it. It was spectacular! It streamed across the sky pretty quickly and you could see it become less round as the earth blocked the light from it. Then it suddenly disappeared from sight.

Another fun thing we did this month was the Oreo Moon Study. We have done this before, but it was such a hit the first time that the kids begged to do it again since we were studying the moon any way.

We also took Barb's advice (in the link, scroll down near the bottom and look for NASA) and watched the NASA video she recommends. Then we re-created the experiment. The kids had a great time with it, but it is really messy, so doing it outside helped.

It is amazing how examining one aspect of nature brings into focus many other aspects of nature. By trying to study how the craters of the moon were made, we examined our rock collection again. While we were outside, we ended up seeing swallowtail butterflies. Everything is connected. Amazing.
Our rock collection. (We used this to do our experiment about moon craters.)

Here's a crater we created, and the rock bounced completely out. We were able to see the rays pretty clearly at first. 

A close up of the "crater" we created. You can see the different strata of rock
(indicated by the jimmies). 

The kids loved this activity. They did it over and over, using all the
rocks we had. Then they would flatten the surface and do it again. It was
wildly successful. 
Overall, it was a great month studying the night sky.

****article edited to add the information about the moon crater experiment.****

I am submitting this article for the

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Summer Nature Scavenger Hunt 2013

My children and I have been enjoying the Summer Nature Photo Scavenger Hunt  that Debi started on her blog.

We haven't found everything yet, but here are some photos from what we have found.

Bug--My daughter was able to convince this dragonfly
to land on her hand several times the day we took this picture. 

Berries--blueberries from the neighbor's yard.

Butterfly--a skipper on the side of the house. 


Wild flowers--Trumpet vines. Very attractive to hummingbirds. 

Tree bark. The ancient pear tree in our back yard. 

Something Prickly.

Thank you, Debi, for starting this Summer Nature Scavenger Hunt. We plan to find other things on the list and are really enjoying ourselves.