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Spring Nature Work

I know you’ve all been waiting to hear about our robin and her nest from last month. Well here’s the rest of the story…

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Mrs. Robin has even flown onto the patio while we are out there. Her instincts are so strong to take care of her babies that she has grown accustomed to us being there. Mr. Robin has also taken turns feeding the little ones. We look forward  to seeing them learn to fly just out our back door. One other interesting note: we have figured out that the adults carry out the empty shells to make room in the nest for the growing baby birds. We had never thought of what happens to the shells until we saw them in their beaks flying away from the nest.

We have also been busy getting our garden ready for the season. Little Bundle and Brilliant are doing their part getting the compost from last season worked into the bed back in early May.

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We planted heirloom tomatoes and peppers, basil, lettuce, kale, spinach, cucumbers, and carrots in the beds and pots. The strawberries and oregano are returning rather nicely.

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Explorer has been continuing his year long tree study mentioned in the Handbook of Nature Study on the cottonwood. The first picture was taken April 18th, and you can see the flowers. The second photo was taken three weeks later on May 9th. Amazing!

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He has discovered that our tree is a male tree. It can be identified by its red colored catkins.

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Nearby is a female tree which has green colored catkins and then later produces the fruit. If you look real close, you can see the cotton-like seeds coming out of their pods.

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Navigator has been busy working on a 4H project called “Away With Waste.” He has taken pieces of a friend’s old barn that is falling down and made it into a centerpiece using the directions from Old World Garden Farms. Then we collected some widemouth mason jars from a friend who was moving and didn’t want to pack them with her. Lastly we gathered some Dame’s Rocket growing wildly by the walking path to give it the finishing touch.

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Spring is truly a wonderful time of year for us! It’s not too hot and humid yet so we can keep the windows open to the fresh air, the gentle breeze (sometimes), and lovely bird songs. I love to discover each knew flower that blooms and even though I love all flowers, I have to admit that I have a couple of favorites…peonies:)DSCN6256

Birds in Our Backyard

It all started with a nature windowsill theme about birds that would help us in our backyard observations suggested by Handbook of Nature Study. There were Dover coloring books, bird identification books, old bird calendar pages, Birdcage Press card games, Audubon plush birds, and binoculars. I brought it all out and waited for the oooohs and aaaahs. Ok, so none of those were heard, but I did get a, “That looks cool, Mom.”  I can work with that!

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One of our nature study goals this year was to identify 5 new birds. When I asked the children which bird they would like to learn about first, they chose the Belted Kingfisher out of Common Birds and Their Songs. We have never seen one or heard one, but I didn’t want to squelch their enthusiasm so we read about it, took some notes in our nature journals and looked at the picture to make an outline sketch. Then each of them started filling in colors as they looked at the picture. I was so impressed with their entries that I counted it a successful “assignment.”DSCN6210

Each week, we did another entry in our journals. I steered them toward birds we could possibly see in our backyard this time, and they chose the American Goldfinch. That day, we saw one fly in the backyard, and the kids knew it right away even though it was a dull colored female because of its undulating flight. Perfect! Bird #1

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Next we drew the House Sparrow. We have previously identified it, but had never really studied it. Both birdhouses are full again this year with sparrows.

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Our next bird study was the American crow.  Everyone knows those noisy birds, but our experience got even better when Little Bundle starting walking around saying, “Taw, taw.”

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Little did I know that this bird drawing exercise would turn into a new pastime. Explorer took right to it and began drawing a new bird every couple of days while I read aloud. He put each one up on the “Bird Wall”: yellow-rumped warbler, kestrel, magpie, mallard, cardinal, sparrow hawk, green heron, loon, red-tailed hawk, and a bobwhite quail,. He even told me, “Mom, I can’t wait to do school today so I can draw a new bird!”  How’s that for motivation! As Brilliant began to see the drawings accumulate, she too started sketching a blue jay, barn swallow, scarlet tanager, indigo bunting, and a brown-headed cowbird. After a week of watching his siblings have fun drawing birds, Navigator finally joined in by finishing an old drawing of a toucan and began a great blue heron, swan and a robin.

 

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Having only a limited amount of drawing experience through the Draw Write Now series, it has been such a wonderful month of sketching and noticing details and colors while looking at pictures.  I smile a deep smile and am thankful for nature study and nature study goals that got us here in the first place.  Already we know the names of birds that we had never heard of before. As the love for birds continues to grow, so will our knowledge and identification skills.

Little Bundle also got in on the bird watching this month. As she eats her breakfast each morning she watches the robins looking for worms in our yard. “Bird” is one of her new words.  She will run to the window often and look for birds and dogs.

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And if all this wasn’t enough, God brought a pretty little robin momma to our patio. She started building a nest up in the corner, but her pieces kept falling and blowing away.

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The adults weren’t too sad because we didn’t really want the mess and poop to get on the patio anyway, but the kids kept saying, “Pleeeeeassse, let her build  the nest!”

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After seeing their eager faces, who could resist.  We consented to let her persevere. She tried for two or three days to get something going there under the eave, but to no avail.  The nest was just not working until…it rained.  She flew like crazy, bringing mud and grass.  We were all fascinated at how quickly she was building it.

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When it was finished, she disappeared for about four days!   It has been cold, windy and rainy the last couple of days and our patio gets used a lot so we thought she had decided to find a quieter place. We were heartbroken. At lunch today, though, we noticed that one of the robins on the grass looked awfully fat. Lo and behold, it hopped on to the patio, then the patio chair and finally flew into the nest. She didn’t abandon it after all. We think she was just out eating so she can sit on her eggs!!

 

 

 

Fun Filled March

We all know the old saying, “March comes in like a lion and out like a lamb.” Well it is going to play out here on the prairie this year. Although it has not been as bad as it has been for some, we are ready for spring to arrive after a crazy winter. In early March we had the coldest start we have ever had, but this coming weekend should be in the high 60′s.

So with winter giving way to spring, our adventures this month from The Handbook of Nature Study were to find winter mammals, winter birds, a spring tree and spring weather. Here is what we did:

Winter Mammals-This was Little Bundle’s first encounter with a neighbor cat on our walking path on a sunny afternoon.IMG_2657

Winter Birds–We would like to learn more about birds. We only know the easy ones like cardinals, robins and crows, but we are going to do a whole nature windowsill on birds next month and get going on our goal to identify 5 new birds. So for this challenge I guess Brilliant’s high flying kite story will have to do!

As soon as the wind started blowing, she would race out to practice. It was frustrating at times because the wind would only gust and not stay steady, but she just kept honing her skills. Then on this gorgeous sunny March day, the wind blew steady and strong and the kite flew beautifully. It was sooo cool to see her hard work pay off!IMG_2674

But alas…one really strong gust whipped it from her grasp, and the kite flew high up into a neighbor’s poplar tree where it still resides. It was very sad indeed. We did, however, replace the old kite with a spiffy new ladybug one that is just waiting for that spring wind to pick up again:)

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Spring Tree–Well if you have been following along on our journey last month you might remember that we tapped our first sugar maple tree. The whole process was so much fun! Because it wasn’t in our own yard we had to rely on our good friends to check on the bucket and replace it when it got full. We would come by every couple of days to check up on it and take the collected sap home to store until we could boil it down into syrup. We finally took out the tap when the tree started to bud because everything we read said that would be the end of the sap season due to the chemical changes in the tree giving off an unpleasant flavor at that point.

We got a total of 5 1/2 gallons of sap (although we are pretty sure we lost some when a storm blew the bucket off the tree). As you can see, the sap is clear after it is collected. After many hours of boiling, the sap turns a beautiful amber color and tastes perfectly sweet. The total syrup count out of 5 1/2 gallons of sap was about 1 1/2 pints:) It totally explains why maple syrup is so expensive!

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Explorer has also been doing a year-long nature study on our cottonwood tree.

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Spring Weather–We have been doing a year long study about weather this year in science with Answers in Genesis. During February and March we have been specifically studying the instruments that meteorologists use to forecast the weather like barometers, anemometers, psychrometers, and thermometers. We didn’t take any pictures, but our understanding of how God created the earth to operate within the natural laws He established as well as outside those laws to accomplish His purposes has been deeply enriched. I think I even understand how weather works now:)

We also continued to graph the highs and lows of March.

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Navigator made a list of all the weather we have had in March.

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We will leave you this month with one final thought. Isn’t it grand to be outside?

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Updates and Trees

This month we seem to have a lot of projects started but not much finished.  In a way that is good because we know that nature study is on going, but in a way it is bad because we are running out of room to collect and do all of our ideas:)

Here’s what we have going on:

Nature Table update: The parsnip is not dead! It has grown roots along with the carrot. The avocado is starting to break open and the root has appeared. The rutabaga and the turnip have lovely green tops.The sweet potato…well I’m not sure it isn’t the dead one now…:)

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We had another great snowstorm that brought us a foot of snow. Tunnels and forts abounded even though some of the temperatures did not!

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Those are 5 gallon bucket turrets!

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A tunnel from the snow off the driveway made by Black Maple.

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Red Maple skiing with Dad.

Red Maple made the line graph this month.

Red Maple made the line graph this month.

This month at the Handbook of Nature Study blog, we have been learning some of our trees by their winter silhouettes.

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Our cottonwood with snow

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Young Kentucky coffeetree

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Young Gingko tree

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Young bur oak

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Linden or American Basswood silhouette

Sugar Maple did some research for his 4H demonstration about tapping maple trees for their sap and how to turn into maple syrup. We even rigged the “trunk” to expel water.

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And then we found a friend’s sugar maple tree that we actually got to tap for real! So cool!

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Drilling the hole for the tap

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Tapping in the tap

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Letting the sap run

We started on our goal of learning the differences between 3 evergreen trees. Our first tree is the pine. This pine cone we identified as a scotch pine. We are also working on our goal of identifying 10 trees by their bark so we included  a picture of it as well.

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This is the bark of the scotch pine.

The more we learn about trees, the more we appreciate how carefully and wonderfully God created this earth for us.  We are so thankful and want to keep sharpening our nature skills.

The Winter Wish List Continued…

In our blog last month, we started a Winter Wish List of activities that we wanted to do during the winter. Out of 20, we had completed 15. So this month we are working on the following unfinished ideas:

  • Plant a windowsill garden with root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, parsnips, radishes, rutabagas and turnips to watch them grow. Check.
  • Learn all about Snowflake Bentley. Check.
  • Give postponed “inventor wax museum speeches” with our buddy homeschool family.
  • Read winter books like The Mitten, Winter at Long Pond, The Runaway Giant, Now That the Days Are Colder, and Plants in Winter.
  • String cranberries and popcorn and put them up in trees for forest friends.

At the Handbook of Nature Study Outdoor Hour, the monthly newsletter focused on nature tables and tabletop gardens. We didn’t have a spare table top so we made a root vegetable garden in our windowsill instead.  Each day we observed any changes that had taken place in each vegetable. We learned that some vegetables are actually roots like the ones we planted while some are considered a tuber like the yam and potato. You will also see an avocado seed that we decided to watch as well. Our first parsnip didn’t do very well so we had to replant it, the radish was a dud and got spilled during basement basketball, and the sweet potato and avocado are taking their own sweet time, but the others were very fun to observe. One of the favorite activities that we did together was read The Gigantic Turnip. Even though the story is written for younger readers, we all sat on the floor and belly laughed at the story’s wonderful ending. Oh the small things in life….

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Here is what they looked like at the end of the month.

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Our next activity was to read about Wilson Bentley, also known as Snowflake Bentley, who took pictures of snowflakes on his farm in Vermont in the late 1800′s. His love for nature and determination are inspiring. It is a must read.  We followed up the reading with a journal page. Each one tried their hand at drawing snowflakes.

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Lego Buff has taken a keen interest in line graphs.  He decided to graph the high and low temperatures for the whole month of January. It was interesting to see the differences over a month.

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Finally we set some nature study goals for 2014 that we would like to share with you.

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We still have a few items on our wish list and our goals are before us. Off we go to another month of adventure!

Winter Wonders

December is so full of expectation and hope! From the cutting down of the Christmas tree to the searching for the nativity figures each morning hiding somewhere in the house as they travel to the manger on Christmas Day to the hope of snow for Christmas, all is wonder and delight. Our nature study this month focused on our December world from the Outdoor Hour.

One of our favorite nature study trips in December every year is to a local tree farm to cut down our Christmas tree. This year we had something special happen that caused us to change our plans. My dad picked up a load of douglas fir Christmas trees in Idaho in his truck, took them back near his home in Montana where they withstood record-setting, below freezing temperatures, and then brought one through snow and ice to us in Kansas! Thanks, Grandpa, for the tree with a story to tell:) Maybe we will write a book about its adventures someday.

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Our family always dreams of a white Christmas, but this year “Brilliant” wanted a white Christmas Eve too so she could celebrate her birthday with some snow. Knowing that I couldn’t promise snow, we made a Winter Wish List to do throughout December that would at least give us something to look forward to if no snow arrived. Here is our list:

  • Believe for snow on Christmas Eve for “Brilliant’s” birthday. Check.
  • Drink hot cocoa with friends. Check.
  • Make paper snowflakes and have a snowflake making contest. Check.
  • Play winter bingo…Make your own customized bingo cards. Check.
  • Play freeze tag in the snow. Check.
  • Make ice cream pops. Check.

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  • Watch “It’s a Wonderful Life” as a family. Check.
  • Go sledding…”Little Bundle” loved every minute. Check.

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  • Make a snow fort. Check.
  • Play in the snow. Check.
  • Make peppermint bark and share with friends. Check.
  • Take treats to an elderly neighbor. Check.
  • Have a game or puzzle day/night. Check.

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  • Learn a new craft. Check.

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  • Give “inventor wax museum speeches” on Christmas with our buddy homeschool family. Postponed due to sickness:(
  • Read winter books like The Mitten, Winter at Long Pond, and The Snowman.

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  • Plant a windowsill garden with root vegetables like carrots, sweet potatoes, avocados, and turnips to watch them grow
  • Learn all about Snowflake Bentley.
  • String cranberries and popcorn and put them up in trees for forest friends.
  • Watch the snow melt and believe for more snow!!!! Check.

As you can see we did get our snow, on the first day of winter as a matter of fact, and it lasted through Christmas and beyond.  It was a wish come true!  We were able to do a lot of fun outdoor and indoor activities, but we aren’t finished yet…

Our November World

This month’s Outdoor Hour Nature Study grid challenges included woodpeckers, mushrooms, field notebooks and the November World.  We enjoyed trying to complete as many of the challenges as we could.

Our November started with a trip to St. Louis to visit our good friends, the Browns. This is a pathway near the Gateway Arch that was littered with leaves and rich in color from the recent rain. It begs for a stroll doesn’t it?

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When we returned home the colors were vibrant everywhere. This is the cottonwood tree in our backyard on a warm evening at the beginning of November.

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The middle of the month brought clouds and LOTS of wind.  We could tell what the temperature of the day would be by the direction of the wind. In the picture below a cold front is blowing in from the north.

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Little Bundle got a new backpack so she can enjoy the November adventures.

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Although we didn’t observe any woodpeckers ourselves, we watched some videos and did some colored pencil work.

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We enjoyed some great nature literature as well.  At Barb McCoy’s recommendation, we read Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow. It is a book with riddles about meadow creatures and illustrations that are absolutely beautiful.

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We had fun writing some of our own riddles for you to enjoy.

Lego Man wrote:

I prey on mice.

I feast on rabbits.

I’m not very nice.

Sneaking and preying are my habits.

Who am I?

Soccer Girl wrote:

I live in a patch

Among all the tangly vines.

With lots of seeds inside me,

I can be big or small.

I can be eaten by one and all.

What am I?

Mountain Man wrote:

Beasts of the plains

Rumble, rumble, crash, crunch

Over the plains they travel and run.

They eat prairie grass: munch, munch.

Who am I?

Mother Hen wrote:

Crawling, eating, sleeping,

Exploring the world around me,

With smiling eyes that are so bright,

I am finally sleeping through the night!

Who am I?

This is the cottonwood tree at the end of November. Quite a change huh?

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November is such a month of contrasts: warm and cold, bright fall colors and dull winter grays, and the closing of a favorite season and the anticipation of a new one filled with winter wonders.

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