Preschool Nature Study: A Beginning in Wonder, by Briana Elizabeth

My very first memory is of sitting on my nana’s lawn in a sea of white and purple violets. I was mesmerized by how all of the purple splotches on the white faces were different on each and every violet. I would pick bouquets of them by the fistful, carefully layering the leaves around the outside. I still love violets and when I see them in my lawn, I dig them up and replant them, tucking them into places where they are a bright and happy face in dappled shade.

Sometimes I would find Red Efts crawling around the leaves where the woods joined her lawn, and I’d crawl after them on all fours, amazed that their tiny little fingers could carry them so far.

I turned over every rock in her flower garden looking for Eastern Red-backed Salamanders, and if I was particularly lucky, I would find a fat, shiny Yellow-Spotted Salamander. 

Nana had bird feeders all around the house, placed so we could watch the birds eat as we sat, and she knew the names of all of them and their songs. She knew who were mates and who was building a nest. I often would find bright blue robin’s eggs cracked on the ground, telling me another brood had been hatched.

I spent my days playing outside while she read or cooked, and she would answer my questions or name things for me when I brought them to her, from nuts to leaves.

 

Today I’m an avid organic gardener who loves her flower gardens, hatching mantis sacs, and watching the butterflies. We sat on my mother’s deck the other day and listened while the hummingbirds that frequent her yard had wars, dashing, darting, and chirping at each other through it all. My children sat too, amazed that those small little birds were so willing to be that close to us.

The wonder that I still carry with me, that I am cultivating in my children, is the gift of nature study.

Nature study doesn’t need a curriculum that must be accomplished by the end of the year. It needs time to wonder. It needs the space to look at a thing in awe.

I had the privilege as a child to play outside, but if that is not your housing arrangement, a houseplant can provide just as much wonder — think venus flytrap or Christmas cactus or spider plant. A leisurely walk in a park would, as well. My nana was able to teach me the names of all of the trees, but it wouldn’t be a bad thing to go on a walk to collect some leaves and bring them home to identify them from a field guide or on the internet. Doing a leaf rubbing and finding out why some leaves turn colors would round out the lesson (do you know why?). I had one friend who did a nature study on a cantaloupe seed that had sprouted in her sink disposal when her children found the plant growing up out of the drain!

Take them out on walks and tell them about the bees, how they make honey for your oatmeal and toast by gathering pollen from all of the flowers, and how the dandelions of spring are some of their first foods. Teach them to be gentle with the little bees, and wonder together at which flower he might choose next and why.

 

If you want, there are some amazing books you can add in for your nature studies. Field guides for mom or dad go without saying, but then there are books like The View from the Oak which is a great book to help us learn to wonder about nature. If your child has a fascination with owls, for instance, use your local library to read about them and perhaps visit a zoo for an end-of-the-year treat. Watch the moon and look for the stars with Glow in the Dark Constellations or bring Frogs, Toads, and Turtles to a lake with you.

But the most important thing of all is that you make time to do it and be present while you  do.

 

Brianbrianaa Elizabeth has been at this homeschool gig since her 23 year old son was in 7th grade, and his psychiatrist told her that he had to be homeschooled. Her son never went back to public school that year, and the following year, she pulled her 4th grade daughter out of public school. Her five other children have all been homeschooled entirely. It was baptism by fire, but she wouldn’t trade it for the world. Through the years, she has in the end, not only educated her children, but herself, and homeschooling has brought about a whole paradigm change of living for her family. The education that had seemed only possible for the elite was possible through classically homeschooling.

World Biomes #5: Marine — The Ocean, by Cheryl

 

Previously: The Taiga

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Two years ago we took the kids to the beach for the first time. They loved searching for shells and playing in the waves. I timed this biome study for the two weeks before we left for our second trip to the ocean. We studied the animals, plants, and more before we left – and then we experienced them in real life!

Our library held a plethora of books on this subject! We also found a few interesting books on our trip.

Down, Down, Down in the Ocean by Sandra Markle describes the four levels of the ocean and what is found in each.

About Habitats: Oceans by Cathryn Sill was a fun, quick read that introduced us to many ocean creatures!

Who’s at the Seashore? by John Himmelman has beautiful illustrations with a look at animals living in and near the ocean.

Looking Closely Along the Shore by Frank Serafini provides close-up pictures and a guessing game. I love that our library has several books in this series. It has been a great way to keep my six-year-old interested in our study!

Coral Reefs by Jason Chin has beautiful illustrations and great information on food chains and webs in the coral reefs.

Even an Octopus Needs a Home by Irene Kelley has information on animals from many biomes and where they live. It covered a couple of ocean animals but also provided us with a review of animals we have already studied.

Life Cycles: Ocean by Sean Callery has a lot of information. We did not read this together, but my eight-year-old used it as a reference for a report he put together on sea turtles.

Ocean Seasons by Ron Hirschi covers a year in the ocean and how the animals migrate and live in the different seasons.

Seashore Life by Herbert S. Zim and Lester Ingle is a book we picked up on vacation. We used it to identify the many shells we collected at the beach!

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We also included some videos in our study:

The Wild Kratts Ocean episode is a favorite in our house. We also watched Finding Nemo as part of our study. I think my kids absorbed and recalled more from these cartoons than from any book we read!

DK Eyewitness DVD: Seashore gave us a good introduction into ocean life and allowed me to get some other work done while we studied!

Who Lives in the Sea by Annie Crawley was another DVD I picked up as an intro to our study.

Marine Wildlife

The world’s oceans support an immense variety of wildlife of all shapes and sizes. Some of the world’s most intriguing creatures live in the oceans. We learned about arrow worms, herring, salmon, sharks, seals, shrimp, hatchet fish, salp (which looks like one big creature but is really a colony that is connected!), sperm whales, giant squid, sea cucumbers, gulper eels, angler fish, viper fish, clams, crabs, tube worms, barnacles, sea stars, anemones, Portuguese Man of War, blackwing flying fish, octopus, lobsters, and penguins.

On vacation we went on a dolphin tour! It was amazing to see these animals up close!

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Plants

Algae and seaweed are plants found in the oceans. Much of the ocean is void of plant life due to a lack of light.

Vocabulary

Crustaceans, Sand Dollar, Conch Shells, Microclimate

Fun Fact

The oceans are divided into four zones or levels: the ocean surface, the twilight zone, the midnight zone, and the ocean floor.

 

Cherycheryll–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

World Biomes: The Taiga, by Cheryl

 

Previously:  The Rain Forest

The taiga or boreal forest has been my favorite biome so far. The variety of animal life within these forests is amazing! Much of the variety is due to migratory patterns of birds and other wildlife. We spent some time studying migration as we read about the wildlife in these forests.

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My son, four years ago, on the timber wolf statue in my parents’ back yard.

Books on this biome were hard to come by in our library system. We found a couple of general information books and then selected some specific animals from the biome to study more in depth. Some of our favorite books were:

Life in the Boreal Forest by Brenda Z. Guiberson was a quick read and a great introduction to the biome. We loved the illustrations and the many interesting animals it introduced.

Ecosystems: Boreal Forests by Patricia Miller-Schroeder was more in depth than our first book. We read and studied portions of the book. For older children, this would be a great place to start.

Forest by Frank Howard offered a couple of pages on each type of forest. We reviewed our rain forest knowledge and got a hint of what is to come with our other studies.

Look Inside a Beaver’s Lodge by Meagan Cooley Peterson gave us a fun look at the life of a beaver.

A Moose’s World by Caroline Arnold went through the first year of life for a moose.

Angry Birds: Playground: Animals: An Around the World Habitat Adventure by Jill Esbaum covered more than just our taiga animals. My son found it and has made it his extra reading. We plan to hang on to it through the rest of our study.The Angry Birds characters introduce you to animals in a variety of habitats.

Why Do Birds Fly South? another Weekly Reader ‘Just Ask’ book we had at home provided a good explanation of migration. We found that many birds of the taiga are migratory, so we added a short study of migration to this area of our study.

Animals of the Taiga

Non-Migratory – Moose, Beaver, Snowshoe Hare, Brown Bear, Lynx, Wolves, Voles, Great Horned Owl, Red Fox, Ermine, Timber Wolves, Grizzly Bears, and the Stone Centipede.

Migratory – Tennessee Warblers, Whooping Crane, Pelicans, Cross-bills

(It just happened that as we finished up our study of the taiga, my son’s IEW assignment was to write a report on the whooping crane. This made an excellent extension to our study. I love it when things work out that way! This can easily be added to every biome, if your student knows how to write a research report. They don’t have to be long; my son’s was only three paragraphs.)

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Plants

Spruce, Fir, Pitcher Plant, Birch, Larch, Poplar, Lichen, Mushrooms, and Moss

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Vocabulary

Migration, Chlorophyll, Isotherm, Permafrost, Deciduous, Evergreen, Coniferous, and Hibernation

Fun Fact

Boreal means northern, after the Greek god of the North – Boreas. The boreal forest covers approximately 50 million acres.

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Lapbook

Our lapbook entries covered migratory and non-migratory birds, deciduous and evergreen trees, animals, photosynthesis, and migration.

Coverpage, Animals, Birds, Trees, Map, Review Sheet, Migration, Photosynthesis

 

Next time: The Ocean!

 

CherylcherylCheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

World Biomes #3: Rain Forest

by Cheryl

My kids were excited to start on the rain forests! The plants and animals that live in the rain forests are so amazing and varied that we spent a little more time here than I had originally planned. My daughter wishes she were a jaguar living in the rain forest now!

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Books

Again, all of our books came from our local library. Some of them are great and I would suggest looking for them! Every book we looked at had some great information.

Looking Closely at the Rain Forest by Frank Serafini is the second of a series we have used. Just like in the desert book, he shows a close up of a plant or animal and you try to guess what it is. The following page has a full picture and a description of the subject of the photo.

The Magic School Bus in the Rain Forest by Joanna Cole is a fun story about a visit to the rain forest to see Ms. Frizzle’s cocoa tree. We love The Magic School Bus, and this was a great intro to our study.

Who Needs a Jungle by Karen Patkau is a beautifully illustrated look at the rain forest and the creatures that live there.

The Rain Forest Grew All Around by Susan Mitchell is a play on the childhood song, “And the Green Grass Grew All Around.” My daughter loved the repetition and the sing-song nature of the book.

Why Does it Rain? is a Weekly Reader book that walks you through the water cycle. I found this at our library book sale a few years ago.

Draw Write Now Book 7 by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer contain the lessons that correspond to the rain forest study.

Animals

The rain forest is home to some amazing animals! In our reading we came across howler monkeys, sloths, humming birds, leaf cutter ants, weaver ants, flying frogs, spider monkeys, flying squirrels, sliding snakes, jaguars, tapirs, anacondas, gorillas, red-eyed tree frogs, poison dart frogs, macaws, toucans, harpy eagles, vultures, capybaras, caimans, scarlett ibises, and piranhas!

Plants

Carnivorous plants, huge trees, vines, plants that grow on other plants instead of the ground – the plants of the rain forest are a lot of fun! We learned about orchids, bananas, rafflesia, pitcher plants, cocoa plants, kapok trees, and more.

Vocabulary

Epiphyte, bromeliad, water cycle, evaporation, condensation, precipitation, emergents, canopy, understory, forest floor

Fun Fact

The rain forest is divided into four layers.

Project

We read about rain and the water cycle as a part of our rain forest study. We decided to make a mini-rain forest at home to watch the water cycle at work.

Materials: 2-liter bottle or a large mouth jar, plant charcoal, gravel, soil, a plant (a fern or tropical plant is best; we used a pepper plant seedling because we had it on hand), packing tape, and water

Cut the top off the bottle, fill the bottom with charcoal and gravel, cover with a thick layer of soil (we did 3 inches and included some of our fresh compost), moisten the soil, place the plant in the soil, spray with water a few times, tape the top of the bottle on, and place in a warm and well-lit spot. Now you can watch a “rain forest” in action!

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Lapbook

Our rain forest section has plants and animals, like the previous sections. We also included a section to label the layers of the rain forest. We added a Water Cycle piece to our general information section, as well. Click the links below to see what we did.

CoverpageAnimalsPlantsMapLayers of the Rain ForestWater CycleVocab Review

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Next time: Boreal Forests (Taiga)

 

Cherylcheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Deserts: The Next Stop on the Biomes Tour! by Cheryl

 

Previously in our Biomes series: Grasslands

Why did we select deserts as our second biome? Because I found some amazing books at the library that I could not wait to dive into with my kids! Our study of the desert led us on a journey around the world with a look at some fun plants and animals.

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Books

As with our grasslands study, I picked up all of the books at our local library. Click the links to see the books. I will start by listing our two favorites!

Desert Days, Desert Nights by Roxie Munro has beautifully illustrated pictures of the North American Deserts during the day and at night. It is a search a find book that my kids truly enjoyed! For each desert, she has a daytime picture and a nighttime picture that illustrated the diurnal and nocturnal (vocab words from our grassland study!) animals of the desert. It made a fun introduction to our study.

Looking Closely Across the Desert by Frank Serifini takes closeup pictures of things found in the desert and has you guess what it could be. Each close up is followed by a full picture and description of the animal, plant, or land feature.

Life in Extreme Enviroments: Life in the Desert by Katherine Lawrence holds some great information on the topic. We did not read the whole thing; we looked at the plant and animal sections and skimmed the sections on people who live in the desert. Not because the book was a problem–my kids’ focus was a problem that day!

About Habitats: Deserts by Cathryn Sill is wonderfully illustrated by John Sill. We found some fun facts, and thoroughly enjoyed the illustrations!

America’s Deserts by Marianne D. Wallace was another book full of great illustrations!

Draw Write Now Book 8 by Marie Hablitzel and Kim Stitzer contains the lessons that correspond to the desert study.

Animals

We learned about some fun animals who make their homes in the desert. We also discovered that some animals we find in grasslands can be found in deserts as well. The pronghorn was one we found in both biomes. Other animals (and insects) of the desert include: horned lizards, javelinas, termites, ants, giant desert centipedes, stink beetles, roadrunners, desert iguanas, red racers, scorpions, turkey vultures, sidewinder rattlesnakes, jackrabbits, mule deer, kit foxes, gray foxes, and diamondbacks.

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Our favorite desert plant is the saguaro cactus. We even made up a silly game to help my five-year-old remember what it is. Anytime someone yells, “Saguaro!” you must stop where you are and hold both arms up at right angles, like the cartoon cacti we have seen in books and movies.

Other plants to look for: golden poppy, agave, Joshua trees, teddy bear chollas, welwitschia

Vocabulary

Arid, Sonoran Desert, Mojave Desert, Gobi Desert, Saharan Desert, Syrian Desert, Arctic Desert, estivate/aestivate, antivenin, tap root, oasis, wadi

 

Lapbook

We added a desert section to our  lap book. We also added another animal behavior piece. Our books are broken down into sections: Each biome has a section, with a separate section at the front for the general information on plants and animals that we come across.

CoverpageAnimalsPlantsMapAnimal Behavior (hibernation/estivation)

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Our lap book pages for deserts

Cheryl–Cheryl is a singing, dancing, baking, homeschooling mom of three. She has danced her whole life and taught ballet and theatre for most of her adult life. Her favorite pastime has always been cherylcooking and baking, and as a Pampered Chef Independent Consultant she gets to share that love with others. Home educating her three children has been and continues to be one of her greatest learning experiences! It is an adventure she is ready to continue.

Next time: Rainforests!

Meanwhile, Back at the (Roach) Ranch, by Kel

 

I’ve decided to write the third and final installment of Kel’s Roach Ranch now instead of keeping my readers in suspense. Life will start getting very busy as swim season is winding down to championships and Little League season is just ramping up; we may also be moving at just about the time I had planned to write the third article. I also decided that I’d add more information about Spock and bearded dragons in general.

The roaches are doing well; they are actually thriving. I’ve seen lots of babies, and over the last month I’ve seen quite a variety of sizes of juveniles, which means more babies are being born. Tonight I even had the luck to see another female with an egg sack and was fortunate enough to get a picture of her. It’s not the best picture but getting them isn’t easy as they like to hide when the bucket is open. They are roaches after all, and like the dark.

I’ve changed their diet up a bit and weaned them off of dog/cat food. I have started giving them oats, Cheerios (a favorite of theirs), apples, collard greens, carrots, oranges, and any other vegetables I have lying around.

We’re not at the point where we can start using the juveniles to feed Spock because they aren’t quite big enough to fill her up without having to give her hundreds of them a day. So in an effort to be a good Empress to my colony, I’m letting these guys grow up so we can end up with more adults, thus having more available to reproduce.

Hmm, you may have noticed that in that other sentence I said “her,” and not “him,” when referring to Spock…that’s right, It’s A Girl! The exotic pet store in town had offered to help us figure out if Spock was really a boy or a girl, so one day when we were running low on feeders, we packed her up in her handy little plastic tote and brought her along. She wasn’t very fond of the car ride but loved the attention she got at the store. They confirmed that she was in fact a female, and told us we had “One good-looking Dragon.”   Annika took the news in stride and responded with, “Good thing I didn’t name her Sheldon,” which had been the other name in the running back in May when we purchased her. Spock seems to have had no ill effects from learning that she was indeed a girl and has adapted well to being Grandma’s Pretty Dragon now instead of my “buddy.”

About a week ago Spock took a nice bath, then decided to find a nice quiet corner of her tank to brumate. This lasted just one week, but was interesting, nonetheless. For those who have no idea what I’m talking about, brumation is basically a reptile version of the hibernation we see in mammals. All dragons will brumate in their own way. Some will find a nice dark area and sleep for weeks on end; some will sleep for a week, get up, have something to eat, and then hunker back down; some will just stay in their dark hiding spot for a while just hanging out; and others won’t brumate at all. They really don’t need to brumate if they are captive dragons, as we owners provide everything they would ever need: heat, plenty of food, and adequate UVB light. For Spock, brumation seems to have ended when her mama, my daughter, took her out of her hiding place to give her a nice warm bath so she didn’t get too cold, and to make sure she stayed hydrated.

Dragons very rarely drink water from a standing water source, because they actually absorb water through their vents (a.k.a. their bum) by lying in water. It is very important to make sure that they stay hydrated when they brumate, and some will actually have to be held so they don’t accidentally drown while bathing.

Our little girl is doing well. She’s about 10 months old now, and is now 15.5 inches long and weighs in at a whopping 292 grams. That’s a far cry from the 4 inches and 7 grams she was when we got her!

I hope many of our readers here at Sandbox to Socrates found these articles informative and interesting.  I know I have enjoyed writing them.

 

Kel is a military spouse of almost two decades to her husband Matt and mom to her three children who range in age from elementary to high school that she’s been homeschooling for almost a decade. She is keeper of the two dogs and a cat, and grandma to one bearded dragon. She has a needle art business, and also blogs at Fawkes Academy.

Watching an Eclipse, by Jane-Emily

Science With Friends

 

In late May 2012, I was very lucky; there was a solar eclipse right where I live!  We had a great time getting our friends to come and watch it with us, and preparation was the key to a good experience.  Most of us don’t think too hard about an eclipse until it is about to happen, and by then it might be too late to get good equipment.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI knew something about a solar eclipse coming up, but it was only about six weeks beforehand that we really got serious. I got to attend a lecture on upcoming astronomical events (there were a bunch in 2012!) given by one of my all-time favorite college professors, Dr. Alexei Filippenko.* He gave us a lot of great information and stressed the importance of having correct viewing tools. We’ve all heard that welding glass is a good viewing medium, but it turns out that not just any welding glass will do; it should be #14 welder’s glass, which isn’t as easy to get. Happily he had bought up a large supply and shared them with us at cost, so I snapped up four or five. (I keep one in the car so I can look at the sun anytime I like!)

After this, we were very excited about watching the eclipse! We wanted to share the fun, so my husband put in a large order for eclipse sunglasses. These look like old-fashioned 3D glasses, but they have very dark plastic in them that is just as good as the welder’s glass.  We got 100 of them and invited everyone we knew to buy them from us (at cost, of course). At first we didn’t get a lot of takers and we worried that we would have a lot left over, but as the day approached, everyone wanted them and we worried that we would run out instead.

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On the big day, we gathered at a neighborhood park. We made sure everybody had proper eye protection, and we sat down for a picnic. An eclipse is a long event and it was a hot, sunny afternoon, so we went prepared for the heat. A couple of people brought a tent for shade, which was great and served as a lovely projection screen. Many families had blankets to put down in shade areas. I remembered at the last minute that I really dislike having the hot sun on my face (and I have a redhead prone to sunburn!), so I made several full-face screens with large pieces of cardboard. I just cut a rectangle shape out in the middle top area and fastened my welder’s glass down with packing tape, and ta-da! –I could watch the eclipse in shady comfort.

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This particular eclipse was an annular solar eclipse.  The moon went exactly in front of the sun (in our area; this, of course, depends on where you are), but because the moon was at its furthest point in orbit, it did not cover the sun’s disk completely. We saw a “ring of fire” around the dark disk of the moon. It was an amazing experience to be able to watch the whole thing happen. During the long period of time while we watched the moon eat away at the sun bit by bit, we played around with shadows and projecting images, used binoculars to project the crescent sun onto anything handy, and marveled at how the shade of the trees made for thousands of crescents. The peak of the eclipse lasted just a few minutes, and we could see the shape of the sun’s disk changing moment by moment. For most of us, it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.

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Check out NASA’s Eclipse Web Site to see what eclipses are going to happen around the world in the next few years. Maybe you will be lucky enough to have one nearby!  Australians, take note: you will get to see part of a very unusual kind of eclipse next month! Americans have to wait until 2017 for the next full solar eclipse and may wish to plan to travel to see it. Wherever and whenever you get the opportunity to see a solar eclipse, remember that preparation will help you have a great time.

* I took astronomy from Dr. Filippenko when I was in college, and enjoyed it a lot, so much so that I’m planning on using his Teaching Courses materials for my own kids next year.

Featured photo : Thomas Bresson. From Wikimedia Commons.

Janejane-emilyEmily homeschools two daughters in California.  She is a librarian who loves to quilt and embroider, and she’s a Bollywood addict.  Her favorite author is Diana Wynne Jones. She blogs about reading at Howling Frog Books.