Monday, 19 November 2012

Nature Study Idea: Colors

My property is not huge. When we moved in 21 years ago there was the one apple tree that we kept for the beautiful leaf shade it still provides for our patio. Since then we have spent the time planting other trees, flowers and shrubs mostly from cuttings and transplants given to us by neighbors. It takes patience and vision to build a nature sanctuary of beauty and function.  The function being the habitat and food for animals; nectar from the flowers for bees and butterflies, yummy hosta leaves for slugs and earwigs, berries for birds, trees for squirrel nests and all those sights and sounds for us humans. This is only to say there could be plenty of things to see in your own backyard for nature study. 

Join your children, go out your own backdoor and look for things that are red:

cherries left for birds and critters

maple leaves

Japanese maple

English buttercups

rose hip

burning bush berries

Of course going down the sidewalk or through a park or nature trail is great too. Don't make nature study a chore by thinking it has to be a complicated outing. If you have something specific to look for chances are you will see something else along the way. Stop, look, really look and describe what you see, sketch it, use the perfect shade of red for painting then label it. 

Monday, 29 October 2012

Nature Study Idea: Listen

I was enjoying another afternoon on my front porch. It was wonderfully warm last week even though it is the end of October, we reached a high of 22 Celsius (that's 'add 32....' and do the hokey-pokey to make it Fahrenheit). Well, it was sunny and warm enough to be in a t-shirt and bare feet.  I was doing the Ken Ken and Sudoku puzzles in the newspaper when I thought I could hear leaves falling. They were.

Upon investigation I saw at least a dozen robins in my mountain ash tree.  They were pecking off and eating the orange berries that are left on it this time of year. The sound was the birds movement disturbing the fragile grip the yellowed leaves had on their branches. I could also hear some of the berries that got knocked off fall through the leaves and hit the roof and rain gutters.

Lucky shot of one of the robins with the berry in his beak,
they swallow them whole as far as I could tell.

I also could hear crickets.  It is a nice sound when hearing them on the outside. When even one gets trapped, or I think some come purposefully, in my house it is quite loud and annoying.  I am quite an expert on catching them and releasing them out my door.

I was still enough hear a rustle then see the black and white cat that lives under the mountain ash dart away probably because falling berries were disturbing his nap. I am sure he sleeps on my cushioned chairs on the front porch when I'm not looking.

The Canada geese are hard to miss, their constant honking announces that you will see their V in the sky as they pass over. Follow their path long enough to see them switch places and catch up with each other.

So listen.  In order to listen you must remain still for longer than 10 seconds. To help restless children settle down try reading a poem or tell a story to them first, the constant sound of one voice will give courage to the wild creatures to come back round. If they are truly a rambunctious lot, let them run through the trail first and near the end they might be more willing to settle down.  Or have lunch outside to keep their hands and mouths busy enough to let their ears hear. And don't forget your own front porch, there is no need to travel too far to hear new things.

Listen. It will draw your attention further than your eyes can immediately see.
Listen. It will change the sense of space you feel around you.
Listen. You might see a flock of robins eating berries in a mountain ash tree.
Listen. Sit quietly you may observe something extraordinary and unexpected.
Listen. Creation is speaking.

Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Nature Study Idea: Seeds

It's that time of year where the seed pods are revealed after the leaves have fallen: 

1. go on a quest for what has produced seeds.  
2. collect some seeds and mark them carefully for planting in your own garden or
3. share with someone who is willing to send you their seeds. I would be willing to send you some of mine.
4. sketch some of the different shapes of pods and seeds noting what plants they they are from.
5. if your students find something else more fascinating while searching for seeds, then explore and sketch what has attracted their attention instead.  The point is to get them noticing.

Here are some of my plants that have produced seeds:

Red bud seed pods looking like laundry on the line.

The silver dollar, money plant or "Lunaria annua",

if you gently rub the outer shells,
the parts with the seeds slip off,

the 'silver dollar' is revealed
and you have a beautiful dried plant for your home.

Seeds fall and drift everywhere producing many plants,
 if you don't like them they pull  up easily.

Purple flag iris pods reflect the number 3 in their flowers,

the shells are hard and three sided.

Columbines gather their seeds as in a miniature rattle,

shake them gently to hear the tiny sound
 then dump them upside down to spread the seeds.

Plantaginea hosta, the one with the lovely white flowers,

their seeds almost look like tiny maple tree keys.

Sunday, 14 October 2012

Nature Study Idea: Blooms


I challenge you to find at least five things blooming in your October yard and garden.  If you live on a very small property, next time you walk to the corner store or library take the challenge.

These are the things I found yesterday:






I have had these wonderful plants in my gardens for years and have enjoyed the colors of the blooms and shapes of leaves. My second challenge for you is to find out some thing more about one of the flowers you have loved for years in your own garden.  I chose the clematis that I recently replanted and was rewarded with some blooms.


Clematis (KLEM-a-tis) is a member of the Ranunculaceae (buttercup) family. The word is from the Greek and means "vine." This genus includes approximately 250 species and numerous garden hybrids. It is a varied genus, made up of mostly woody, deciduous climbing plants, though a few are evergreen and a few herbaceous. There is great variety in flower form, color, bloom season, foliage effect and plant height. Leaves are opposite on the stem and mostly compound with three to five leaflets. The leaf stalk twines like a tendril and is responsible for giving the plant support. The flowers are showy, having four (sometimes five to eight) petal-like sepals (no true petals) in numerous colors and shades. There are three general flower forms: small white flowers in panicles or loose and irregular spreading clusters; bell or urn-shaped flowers; and flat or open flowers. The fruit is often showy as well, being a ball shaped, "feathered" structure. Clematis are hardy plants (many are hardy to USDA zone 3) and can survive for 25 years or more. The large-flowered hybrids may have blooms ranging from four to ten inches in diameter and as many as 100 blooms per plant in a season. The species types have blooms ranging from one-half to three inches in diameter with diverse shapes and habit; many of the species have fragrant blooms, which is not true of most hybrids. The one fault of clematis is that they are not attractive during winter, when they are a tangle of bare stems. 

I never really thought of a plants life time. There was a large hosta in our garden when we moved in 24 years ago. I have split, separated and replanted and split those and replanted more hosta to the point that I give them away. It could be the everlasting plant.

I would love for you to tell me what is blooming in your garden this month.

Thursday, 4 October 2012

Hey, What's That?

What is curling the leaves of my oak sapling?

can you see it?

yup, a very shy spider.

Wednesday, 26 September 2012

Cross Spider

The Cross Spider or Garden Spider, can you see why?

We couldn't identify what it was eating

but when a stick fell in it's web it went right to it

and proceeded to disengage it 

then toss it out of it's web.  Very efficient.

Friday, 14 September 2012

Science Lessons Naturally

This past weekend we were packing up ready to leave a family reunion.  I saw my parents and the rest of my family behind a truck talking to someone. When I came out of the cabin again my mother was waving me to come. I always obey my mom, so down the road I went.

The camp professes to have no dangerous wildlife. If there is a situation where a bear fails to read the no trespassing sign, the trapper on staff quickly removes the threat. The government also uses his services and recently requested him to take some pesky beavers out from a cottager's vicinity because they had the nerve to start making a dam in preparation for their young and protection from the winter.
So there they were, two dead beavers lying on the road behind the truck at the back of the camp property.

Jim was talking passionately about the animals; how they are monogamous and how they want and need just the one home. He explained how the fur used in coats is not taken from a whole animal;  the grade of fur around the neck is of the highest quality then the next section below that is of a little lesser grade and the bottom section is much coarser. When you purchase a beaver article it would be made of many strips from the same part of many beavers and the quality would depend on which section of strips made your coat.

Jim sharing his passion about the wildlife in the area

Jim told us that beaver meat, pound for pound was the highest nutrition for bears bulking up for winter and that the secret to the best show dogs was that they were fed beaver meat. If hunters wish to garner the highest profit and least waste from each animal, they can sell the fur on a tanned hide, the castors and the scent glands and even the beaver tails can be tanned and used as a wallet or small satchel.

Jim was going to drop these beavers in the woods for the bears.  He looked at me incredulously as I asked him if I could have the beaver tails but he obliged and hacked both off and I took them home in my suitcase. Right now they are in the fridge but will go in the freezer until a family friend comes over to help me clean and tan the tails.

Science lessons do not always happen in scheduled blocks of time.  Take advantage of a passionate hunter who willingly and eagerly shares his knowledge.

Wednesday, 5 September 2012

Science, Fabre and Charlotte Mason

(Science's) textbook usually presents a devitalized science - only a genius can write a scientific book that throbs with life and is still scientific. Read Fabre's descriptions of insect life, those fascinating stories from which one has to tear one's self away, and compare that description of the same insect in a textbook of biology - the one is a living story of living creatures, the other a lifeless account of dead, dissected things.
  D. Avery, The Cultural Value of Science, Parents Review, volume 31, no. 9.  edited by Charlotte Mason.

This sums up my intention for this blog.  How can we learn science in a way that is throbbing with life?  Jean Henri Fabre wrote living stories.  Charlotte Mason, a 20th century British educator, stated that 'all thought we offer to our children shall be living thought; no mere dry summaries of facts will do; given the vitalizing idea, children will readily hang the mere facts upon the idea as upon a peg capable of sustaining all that it is needful to retain.' (2/227) Those ideas are introduced first through living books.

be-like-Fabre:  books that throb with life, persons that observe keenly and learn.