Celebrating Arbor Day

Our family loves learning about trees. In honor of National Arbor Day, which was April 27, 2018, we wanted to celebrate by sharing a wonderful little book with you:

The Acorn and the Oak Tree, by Lori C. Froeb is a wonderful tale of the journey of an oak tree. Told from the acorn’s perspective, the life of the tree unfolds through the four seasons. As the years go by, the acorn experiences winter’s white blanket, spring’s fresh beauty, summer’s violent storms, and fall’s radiant colors. The flip pages in this book have vivid illustrations that help tell the story. This book is great for younger children who are learning about the life cycle of a tree.

You can do many activities with young ones after reading this book. First find an oak tree and remember where it is so you can visit it in every season.

If it’s autumn, you can go on a scavenger hunt to collect acorns and make up counting games. It’s also appropriate to make a pile of oak leaves with your cousins and jump in!

If it’s winter you can make an acorn shape book telling about the life of an oak tree.

If it’s spring you can make a paper bag acorn and write a little poem about an oak tree. (You can find the complete directions and patterns for this craft on Danielle’s Place of Crafts and Activities on the Acorn and Tree Crafts and Learning Activities page.)

If it’s summer you can sit in the shade of the tree and read a good book! You might try these titles: The Tiniest Acorn by Marsha Danzig and The Oak Inside the Acorn by Max Lucado.


October Challenges

Where did October go? I think I ask this every year, but this year I’m positive it flew by!  We have enjoyed some great weather, and the colors seem especially beautiful this season. Here is a look at some of our discoveries:

This month on the Handbook of Nature study blog one of the challenges was to study hawks. Throw us in the briar patch! If you know us at all, we love hawks, especially red-tail hawks. In fact, we are anticipating the arrival of the hawks in our area any time. Every winter we see dozens of hawks that sit on our power lines and in the bare trees on the outskirts of town, but we have never really studied their arrival or departure times.  We believe it to be a wintering place for them because the temperatures are more mild on the prairie than up north. We will try to do some monthly graphs when we see them start to appear as winter approaches. In the meantime, we enjoy watching a red-tailed hawk that roosts on the top of a silo.


Sumac was also one of the weekly challenges for October. We  found a patch of Staghorn Sumac bushes that had lost their leaves but the fruit panicles, or crimson colored cones, were in full autumn beauty. We read in the Handbook of Nature Study on pages 683-686 that the staghorn sumac gets its name for the way its bare winter branches look like the horns of the stag, or male deer. Journal pages and watercolor paintings of sumac are still to come…hopefully:)

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Finally, we used sugar maple leaves and Mod Podge to decorate recycled jars to use as tea light centerpieces for a 4H banquet. Although a bit time consuming and messy, it was a fun to give one to each family as a take home gift. It is amazing how the Mod Podge brings out the colors of the leaves! Isn’t Fall wonderful?


September Adventures

Our new school year has begun with some great new opportunities with other homeschooling families.  What a blessing to have friends who want to study together and are willing to come alongside us in our adventures.

Every September we catch and tag Monarch butterflies. You might be interested in reading some old posts about how to do this and how to tell if your butterfly is a male or female; it’s quite fascinating! Here are some shots from this year’s adventures.








This is a male monarch because he has the two black dots on his hind wings, which are scent pouches.


This is a female because she does not have the black scent pouches.

We also studied the thistle this month. You might be wondering why we would study such a noxious weed? Well, first of all, it is in the Handbook of Nature Study so it must be noteworthy and secondly, it seems to be blooming nearly everywhere right now so why not? Ms. Comstock describes two kinds of thistle in the HONS, the common thistle and the Canadian thistle. After studying the patch on our friends’ property, we concluded they had common thistle and completed our notebook pages found in the More Nature Study Book #1 Autumn 2011 collection from the Handbook of Nature Study blog. As you will see, the older ones worked on the advanced notebook pages, while the younger ones had a simpler version to complete. Some of the information that we learned will be helpful to our friends as they keep this weed from taking over their land.


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Another topic of study has been leaf miners and leaf rollers. We learned on pages 332-334 of HONS about the three basic types of leaf mines: the serpentine mine, the blotch mine, and the trumpet mine. We found two of them!

This is a serpentine mine on a cottonwood leaf.

This is a serpentine mine on a cottonwood leaf.


A blotch mine found in a chinquapin oak leaf.


Here are the blotch mines held up to the light. If you look closely you can see the individual plant cells that have been “mined.”

We also read about galls, or insect dwellings, on pages 335-337 in HONS. As we were hunting for leaf miners and leaf rollers, we found a gall on a chinquapin oak and several on hackberry leaves. When we cut open the hard casing of the hackberry gall, we found a small black larva inside the hackberry gall who seemed quite upset that we disturbed his house:)


Hackberry gall


Chinquapin oak gall

It has been a great month to study some old favorites and have some new adventures as well! It’s a fabulous way to enjoy the beautiful weather and my beautiful children at the same time.


Fun in July

This has been a month of nature study sadness and nature study delight for us as a family.  Let me tell about our adventures…

July 7th–A severe thunderstorm with reported wind shear of 70 mph took a huge bite out of our beloved cottonwood tree that has been the subject of our year long tree study from the Handbook of Nature Study blog. The limbs littered the walking path, closing it completely to travelers until we could clear it.  The storm toppled other trees nearby, took off parts of roofs, and turned trampolines into frisbees.  Thankfully, no one was hurt, but we definitely felt nature’s fury that night.


Before the storm


After the storm


July 14th–We met a nature study goal of ours this year to visit three national parks when we went to visit our family in California. Our first park was Sequoia National Park. The trees were huge and amazing. We visited the General Sherman tree and took a hike on the Big Trees Meadow Trail where we saw a couple of  marmots playing. The older kids and their cousin enjoyed participating in the Junior Ranger program while Little Bundle enjoyed the hike in her own special way.







July 17th–Our adventures took us to San Francisco, CA, to walk the Golden Gate, drive down Lombard Street, watch sea lions on Fisherman’s Wharf, take pictures of sea gulls, and, of course, play in the Pacific Ocean.  Who can resist getting wet even if it is freezing cold water?


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Rest of July–We have been working on 4H projects ranging from forestry leaf collections to maple syrup displays to leaf print art to repurposed woodworking projects just to name a few! It  has been busy and rewarding all at the same time.

Visiting family and good friends, making memories, having the opportunity to share what we have been learning all year and nature study…that’s what we call summer!

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…




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.


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.


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!



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


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.


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.



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!


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


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.


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.”


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.



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.


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.


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!”


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.


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:)


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!




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



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.


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



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