Tuesday, September 27, 2011

White Pine Tree - Outdoor Nature Hour Challenge #32

As the girls study about each of the states in the United States for their multi-year, multi-disciplinary unit study, a component that we all enjoy is studying about nature.

The Handbook of Nature Study blog has many Outdoor Hour Challenges for homeschooling families including one for pine trees.

We've been learning about Maine this month and its state symbols (e.g., bird, tree, flower, rock/gem). Today, we took a look at Maine's state tree and flower which is the Eastern white pine cone and tassel.

The girls listened to some facts about white pine trees from in The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. The following facts are paraphrased from the book:

----->> The white pine can grow 100-200 feet and live to be 200-300 years old.

The girls by one of the white pines in the backyard.
Notice how some of the pine needs are changing colors.
The yellow/brown ones will drop and
the green ones will remain during the winter.

----->> All cone-bearing trees have a central stem from which the branches come off in whorls.

----->> The white pine has five branches in each whorl.

White pine needles in the autumn.

----->> The very tip of the central stem is called "the leader" which leads the growth of the tree.

----->> The bark on young white pines is smooth. On older trees the bark has ridges that are broad, flat, and scaly.

The bark near the base of the white pine tree looked like this.
Further up the tree, the bark was smooth.

----->> The needles on the white pine tree are soft and pliable.

----->> Pine cones require 2-4 years to mature.

----->> The seeds are winged and are developed in cones.

----->> The foliage is evergreen, but is shed gradually.

Raindrops on pine needles.
It was raining when we went on our nature walk.

- The girls colored a picture of the white pine cone and tassel in their book called State Birds and Flowers Coloring Book by Annika Bernhard.

Sophia's picture of the white pine cone and tassel
as well as Maine's state bird (the black-capped chickadee).

The description below said the flowers (without petals, as in all confiers) are yellow (male) and pink (female); and appear in the spring. The female flower turns into the cone.

Pine Blossom
Pine blossom in the spring.
This was on one of the white pine trees in the backyard.

The "tassels" are the delicate-looking clusters of needles which emerge in groups of five.

- The girls colored pages in their book United States Coloring Book by Rod and Staff Publishers. Each two-page spread shows the state they are studying about as well as some highlights and facts about the state. The state bird is included with each illustration.

Sophia's colored picture of Maine.
Each two-page spread about a state includes
a picture of the state tree, flower, and bird.

- Since we had studied white pine trees in February 2011, we did not do another nature journal entry.

Sophia's Nature Journal (age 10)
Sophia's journal entry about white pine trees
from February 2011.

- Since they didn't do journal entries, they did fact sheets about white pine trees instead. This is from Considering God's Creation which came with the "Cantering the Country" curriculum bundle.

Olivia's fact sheet about the white pine tree.

Olivia's sheet with pressed pine needles.

Sophia's tactile page about white pine trees.
She included green and yellow/brown pine needles
as well as pieces of a pinecone.

The next tree that we'll be studying is the white birch which is New Hampshire's state tree.

Woolly Bears & Isabella Tiger Moths - Outdoor Hour Challenge #23

On the Handbook of Nature Study blog there's an Outdoor Hour Challenge that is focused on insects...specifically moths.

Although we're not that fascinated with moths, we are noticing quite a few woolly bear caterpillars in the east pasture which the girls enjoy seeing. They seem to either be rolled into balls, basking in the sun, or quickly crawling to a new location.

In the book Handbook of Nature Study by Ann a Botsford Comstock, there were some interesting facts about Woolly Bear and Isabella Tiger Moths:

----->> If "woolly bear" caterpillars are already curled up for winter, they will "come to" if warmed in the hand or in the sunshine.

Woolly bear caterpillar in Sophia's hand.

----->> The caterpillars vary in appearance with a 5-4-3 segmented pattern of black-reddish brown-black; or 4-6-2 pattern of black-reddish brown-black.

----->> There are actually 13 segments to the caterpillar, but the last two appear joined so it looks like there are 12 segments (not including the head).

Some of the segments and rosettes of hair
on a woolly bear caterpillar.

----->> There are tubercles on each side of the segment and little rosettes of hair emerge from them.

----->> The yellow spot on either side of the first segment is a spiracle. It's the opening leading int othe air tubes within the body, around which the blood flowers and is thus purified.

The yellow spots were visible when we were looking at them.
They aren't quite so obvious in the picture,
but they are on the right side of the picture/caterpillar.

----->> The woolly bear's head is black and the antennae are two tiny, yellow projections.

----->> The eyes are too small to be seen. Because the eyes are so small, the woolly bear can't see very far so it stretches its body from side to side so it can see if there's anything it can cling to as it moves.

----->> When we try to hold the woolly bear, it rolls up in a little ball. The hairs are a protection from the attacks of birds which do not like bristles for food.

Sophia and Olivia holding caterpillars
that are rolled into balls.

----->> The caterpillar feeds upon many plants: grass, clover, dandelion, and others. It doesn't eat much in autumn since it is fully grown at that point.

Much of the east pasture/nature trail is goldenrod, grass,
clover, and these white daisy-type flowers
(a plant that has seemed to increase substantially
from last year to this year).

----->> Woolly bears hibernate over the winter. Bringing them indoors where it's warm to keep and observe them will prove fatal.

----->> The cocoon is made in April and May, and appears to be made of felt. The moth emerges in late May and is quite large compared to the caterpillar that went into it.

----->> The moths are night fliers.

The girls were interested in seeing how long the caterpillar were.  Most seemed to be about one inch long.

Measuring a caterpillar.
They were all about an inch long.

This year there have been an abundance of the woolly bears in the east pasture/nature trail area. We noticed there were none in the west pasture. Not sure why there would be so many compared in one area compared to another. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see if there are more of the moths in the late-spring and early-summer in 2012.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Black-Capped Chickadees - Outdoor Hour Challenge #7 - Black and White Birds

Over the upcoming three years, the girls will be learning about each state in the United States. I'm using "Cantering the Country" as a framework for this multi-disciplinary study.

As part of learning about each state, we are going to learn about the state bird, tree, and rock. Some states also have a state animal and insect.

Rather than just learn the names of these items (which the book offers), we're doing a nature study connected with each one of them. I'm using the Handbook of Nature Study blog which has the Outdoor Hour Challenges for homeschooling families.

The first state we studied this year was Maine. Maine's state bird is the black-capped chickadee.

Black-Capped Chickadee in Plum Tree
Black-capped chickadee in the backyard.

The girls did a number of things:

- Looked at pictures of the black-capped chickadee in two books: Birds of Minnesota Field Guide by Stan Tekiela and Black-capped Chickadee by Susan M. Smith. The latter book has some beautiful pictures of the chickadee in flight and drinking from an icicle.

A couple of interesting things from the Birds of Minnesota Field Guide include:

----->> They are usually the first bird to find a new feeder.

Black Capped Chickadee
We see chickadees quite frequently at this feeder
which is on the mudroom roof.
There's a window that is right by the feeder
so we get great, close-up views of the birds.

----->> Black-capped chickadees can be easily tamed or hand fed. (Of course, both girls want to do this!)

----->> Much of its diet comes from bird feeders.

----->> The birds need to feed each day in winter.

Chickadee Eating Bird Pizza
One year we made bird pizza.
The recipe was in a book that had variety of suet and seed mixes.
The chickadees enjoyed the special treat.

----->> They line their nests with green moss and animal fur.

----->> Chickadees are about 5" long.

- Read some interesting facts about chickadees in The Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock. The following facts are paraphrased from the book:

----->> Chickadees appear in small flocks in the winter and often in company with the nuthatches.

----->> Chickadees work on the twigs and ends of the branches.

----->> They hunt insect eggs.

----->> They can be enticed to a yard or orchard beef suet.

Black Capped Chickadee on Feeder
We make suet blocks each winter and hang them in the trees.
The birds enjoy eating the suet.
Even on very cold days, they are eating from the feeders.

----->> The nest is 6-10 feet above the ground, and has about 8 eggs in the spring.

----->> In February, the chickadees' song changes to "fee-bee" in an effort to attract a female.

----->> Both males and female chickadees look the same.

- We all wrote in our nature journals about the black-capped chickadee and what we wanted to remember about this bird.

Sophia's nature journal entry about black-capped chickadees.
The 4 pennies represent how much a chickadee weighs.

My journal entry.
(I know my skill is not in drawing birds.)

- The girls colored a picture of a black-capped chickadee in their book called State Birds and Flowers Coloring Book by Annika Bernhard.

Olivia's colored picture of the black-capped chickadee.
Each page has information about the bird and flower
including the Latin names for each one.

- Did a crossword puzzle about Maine which included a reference to the black-capped chickadee.

Sophia's completed crossword puzzle.
This is from the "Cantering the Country" curriculum.

- The girls colored pages in their book United States Coloring Book by Rod and Staff Publishers. Each two-page spread shows the state they are studying about as well as some highlights and facts about the state. The state bird is included with each illustration.

The black-capped chickadee got a colorful makeover by Olivia.
Earlier this month, we traveled to see
the lighthouse that is pictured above.

- Completed a word find about birds. This is from Considering God's Creation which came with the "Cantering the Country" curriculum bundle. (I purchased reference and activity books that were included with the curriculum at the homeschool conference this past spring.)

Olivia's completed word find.
She enjoyed finding the words
and learning some new things about birds in the process.

- Doing the "Animal Detective" sheet about black-capped chickadees. This sheet also is from the Considering God's Creation book.

One of the interesting things we learned and discussed
while doing this sheet
was how air sacs and lungs work together in the breathing process.

- This nature study also reminded me that I have a variety of small cross-stitch pieces that need to be incorporated into a final product.

Black Capped Chickadee Cross Stitch
Black-capped chickadee in cross-stitch that I did.
It's tiny - only about 2" in both directions.

The next bird that we study is the purple finch - the state bird of New Hampshire.

As for Maine, we plan to learn about the white pine tree. The nice thing is - there are white pine trees in the backyard...one of which is Olivia's favorite tree that she's been studying since the spring.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

52 Weeks of Giving - Weeks 27-38 - Helping in a Variety of Ways

The girls and I started 2011 with a 52 Weeks of Giving challenge. We were doing a good job with finding ways to give of our time or make a donation each week and documenting it on this blog...up until Week 27 (in July). We've fallen a bit behind (it's now Week 38). 

During the past 11 weeks, it's not as if we didn't do anything that related to giving or volunteering. However, I didn't actively seek out special projects or organizations since caregiving responsibilities were consuming much of my time.

I also didn't take pictures of each time we did something. It seems like giving is such an integral part of our days and weeks that we aren't thinking twice about all the ways that we give. It's just become a part of who we are and what we do.

Each week we tried to do something that went beyond ourselves. Some things we've done over the past 11 weeks include:

- donating to Retail to Refuge. This organization collects the coupons found in Sunday papers.

Donation box and information sheets
about Retail to Refuge.

Retail to Refuge clips the coupons, research sales, and shop for items - many of which end up being free. Then quarterly during the year, they schedule a drop off with a charity.

Sophia and Olivia donating coupons to Retail to Refuge.

- made desserts for grandparents so they didn't have to bake, but could enjoy homemade food.

Apple pie that the girls made for their grandparents.
They also made lemon bars and cake pops.

- donated clothing and household items to Family Pathways.

- donated a bag of food to the local food shelf.

- visited grandparents, played the piano, talked with them, and shared several meals together.

Grandparents that we visit as much as we can.
My mom has mobility, diabetes, vision, and other health issues; and
my dad is in the very late stages of Alzheimer's Disease.

- sung at two services.

Sophia and Olivia singing during one of the two services.
This was their first performance of the school year.

- helped create a display for a business window promoting 4-H and encouraging children to join.

The girls traced and cut out letters that will
be used as part of a display about 4-H that will
go in a business window during the first week of October.

As we go into fall and the holiday season, there will be many opportunities to donate time and resources. We are looking forward to different ways that we can share of ourselves to make a difference in others' lives.

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 34 - The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle

During August and the beginning of September, I took a bit of a break from reading a book each week as part of the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge.

There have been a lot of challenges with my father's and mother's health; and dealing with doctors, at-home 24/7 PCA care, and now arranging for this last stage in their life with 24/7 home health care and the eventual transfer to a nursing home. Needless to say, this has been very time consuming and has left little time for recreational reading.

So, I'm on week 34 (it's currently week 38), and there's a bit of catching up to do here. Being back in the routine of homeschooling makes it easier to incorporate reading each week.

Currently, I'm reading aloud to the girls The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle.

This is the second Newbery Award winner. Our goal is to read all the Newbery Award winners over the next few years. The version of The Voyages of Doctor Doolittle that I'm reading aloud is an edited, later version of the book. Earlier versions have some inappropriate parts and objectionable language that have been removed.

The story is told through the eyes of 10-12 year old Tommy Stubbins who is the son of a poor cobbler. He initially meets Dr. Doolittle because he has a wounded squirrel that needs medical attention.

Tommy is caught up with the new science of Natural Studies, and asks to become Dr. Doolittle's assistant. After Dr. Doolittle gets approval from Tommy's parents, Tommy embarks on a life and journey with Dr. Doolittle.

The girls have enjoyed listening to how Dr. Doolittle has created a menagerie of animals that live in his home as well as in his private, backyard zoo. Even more fascinating is that this respected naturalist can communicate with all types of animals.

Dr. Doolittle exhibits kindness, compassion, knowledge, and generosity. He freely shares his talents, time, and modest resources with others and animals.

Reading the book also led to some discussion about how times have changed since it was originally written in 1922. For example, in chapters 3 and 4, Tommy meets Dr. Doolittle by accident on the road in the rain. Dr. Doolittle brings Tommy to his home, dries his clothes by the fire, makes dinner for him, and then Tommy goes home. In this day and age, something like that simply wouldn't happen or (most likely) have a positive outcome.

There is another part of the book (a sub-theme, if you will) that challenges readers to consider if it is morally necessary to press upon a native culture another incoming and/or visiting culture. From a homeschooling perspective, this opened up another dialogue about American history.

Despite these side conversations about rather serious subjects, The Voyages of Doctor Dolittle is a light-hearted, funny book that kept the girls interested and engaged in the adventures of Tommy, Dr. Doolittle, and the doctor's devoted animal companions at home, aboard the ship, and on Spider Monkey Island.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Fall-Inspired Handmade Art on Etsy

Harvest Moon by Hand's work has been featured in three recent treasuries on Etsy during the past four days. Other shops on Etsy have chosen a variety of handmade items to include in visual collages.

It's a pleasure to be included in these treasuries because they show the diversity and talent of artists and craftspeople on Etsy.

If you're looking for quality, handmade items for gifts for others or yourself, looking at treasuries is a great way to support individuals who are creating art to provide for themselves and/or their families. 

The treasury below is titled "Pumpkin Spice Latte" by That Moxie Girl and features four of Harvest Moon by Hand's window stars (see top row).

Another treasury is called Autumnal Equinox and was created by Crazie Happy and show Harvest Moon by Hand's gold window star (see the fourth row):

The third fall-inspired treasury is called "Fall Flavor" by Badart. It includes the set of hand-embroidered wool felt cookies by Harvest Moon by Hand (see the second row):

Thank you to these shops for taking the time to create these treasuries, and show the variety of autumnal-inspired items on Etsy.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Z is for Zoo - ABCs of Homeschooling

On 5 Kids and a Dog, there's a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week's letter is "Z."

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter Z ...is for Zoo.

Some of the most vivid memories the girls have are times when they have visited zoos and had the opportunity to interact with and learn about the animals.

In 2009, the Minnesota Zoo hosted a special African exhibit. As part of it, visitors could feed the giraffes a treat. The girls both were able to feed a giraffe and see one up close.
Olivia Feeding Giraffe
Olivia feeding a giraffe.

The giraffe was so gentle and provided the girls with a memory that they will always remember.
Sophia and Giraffe
Sophia was able to spend a bit of time with the giraffe
after feeding it a special treat.

The girls also have challenged themselves to do things that were a bit "scary" for them - like touching freshwater stingrays. They thought they felt soft...leathery...and a hint slimy. After touching one stingray, they wanted to touch more of them.
Girls Petting Sting Rays
The girls touching freshwater stingrays.
This was taken in 2011 in Mystic, Connecticut.

Another fun - and unexpected - memory was made in Maine. Although technically not a zoo, the Maine Wildlife Park has many animals that have come to them who were orphaned, injured, or raised by humans who realized they were unable to care for them any longer.

These animals are unable to be released into the wild since they would be vulnerable or unable to survive on their own. So, the Maine Wildlife Park cares for them and gives the public an opportunity to learn more about the wild animals that can be found in Maine.

At the park, the girls each bought a handful of food for a quarter, and fed it to the bears.
Girls Feeding Food to Bears
Sophia and Olivia feeding the bears in Maine.

It was interesting to be so close to the bears and hear them breathe as they searched for the food the girls gave them. We talked about the bear that visited me many years ago when I was camping in Grand Marais.

I had described what the bear sounded like in the middle of the night...but until they heard the bears breathing, I don't think they knew what it would have sounded like. For me, hearing that black bear breathe brought me right back to the moment in the tent when I - along with my dog (Casey) - were truly scared for what could have happened if the bear ripped open the tent.

But I digress....let's refocus on zoos and homeschooling.
By visiting zoos, the girls have been able to see animals up close that they have only read or heard about through homeschooling. 

In early-September (2011), Sophia, Olivia, and I visited the Roger Williams Park Zoo in Providence, Rhode Island. It's one of the oldest zoos in the United States, being founded in 1872.

One of the reasons I wanted to take the girls there was because there were elephants - animals they have never seen in "real life." 

The day we visited it was raining and the day after Labor Day, so there were very few people there. We went to the building where the giraffes and elephants could come inside. On this particular morning, the staff was bringing in the three elephants so they could check them out as well as provide foot care for each of them.

One of the staff members talked with the girls for a long time and answered each of the questions that they had about elephants.

After that, the girls saw them:
- bring the elephants in (one of the elephants was even holding the tail of the elephant in front of it),
- ask the elephants to do certain tasks (e.g., lift their trunks so the staff could make sure their mouths were healthy and there were no problems),
- give them water by filling their trunks (when the elephant had enough water in its trunk, it would lift it to its mouth and release it there, and then put its trunk down for more water from the hose),
- wash their feet, and
- begin with the foot care/trimming.

Foot Care Time
One of the elephants receiving foot care
after its feet and legs had been washed.

The girls have been able to safely see animals up close and learn about them.

Grizzly Bear Resting
The girls saw the grizzly bear up close.
Check out those claws.

Lion Cub Gnawing on a Bone
Lion cub gnawing on a bone.
One of Olivia's favorite animals is the lion.
Seeing the cubs (there were three of them)
was such a highlight of the visit to the zoo
in Duluth, Minnesota.

What is nice for the girls too is that they can visit their favorite animals year after year and see how they are doing. This sense of connection and continuity throughout the years is important to them.

The girls enjoy seeing the Siberian tiger
every time they visit the Como Zoo.

They also are particularly happy to see the animals have living spaces that are reflective of the environment in which they live. For a few years, the Como Zoo worked on upgrading the polar bears' living space.

This summer, the polar bears moved into their new space; and the girls were so excited to see them have grass, water, and more natural space in which to live.
One of the Polar Bears
One of the polar bears in his new home.
He was enjoying being in the grass
while his brother played in another area.

Being able to see aquatic life also has been a highlight of zoo and aquarium visits for the girls. Learning about life in the sea has been fascinating for them for many years.
Girls by Coral Reef
The coral and fish display mesmerized the girls for a long time.
They drew pictures of what they saw in their nature journals.

The girls also have taken classes at zoo to deepen their knowledge about wildlife and the animals that live there.
ggs-cellent Class at Como Zoo
Class about eggs at Como Zoo.
This class was for homeschool families.

They enjoy the displays and interactive learning stations that some of the zoos offer.
Olivia's Hand Compared to Siberian Tiger Paw
Olivia comparing her hand to that of a Siberian tiger's paw.

Being able to touch and explore items helps process what they are learning on a different level.
Hammerhead Shark - Preserved
Olivia getting a closer look at a
preserved hammerhead shark head.
She is fascinated with sharks,
so this was a great way to learn about them.

Sometimes going to the zoo has led to unexpected connections with other things we have been studying. For example, one year we had just completed a unit study on Madagascar and the girls learned about the elephant bird (an extinct animal that once lived on the island of Madagascar).

We decided to visit the Minnesota Zoo since we had not been there for a while. As we were walking through a section of the zoo, we saw a replica of the elephant bird egg. This was a perfect tie-in to what I had taught them. They also saw other animals from Madagascar that were at the zoo.
Elephant Bird Egg
The girls by a replica of an elephant bird egg.

Going to zoos have provided other opportunities beyond learning about animals.  They have given the girls time to play...
Sophia and Olivia Pretending to be Zoo Vets
The girls playing in the discovery room at the Minnesota Zoo.
They are pretending they are wildlife veterinarians.

to see art...
Girls by Russia's Grizzly Coast Animals Exhibit at the MN Zoo
Sculptures outside of Russia's Grizzly Coast exhibit
at the Minnesota Zoo.

to see flowers...
Hibiscus at the Como Conservatory which is
connected to the Como Zoo.

to see and learn about bonsai...
Bonsai Forest
Bonsai forest at the Como Conservatory
which is part of the Como Zoo.

and to see a Japanese garden.
Japanese Garden
The girls overlooking a pond at the Japanese Garden
at the Como Zoo and Conservatory.

Zoos have been an integral part of homeschooling since we began several years ago. Being able to visit local zoos as well as ones at places where we've traveled has augmented what the girls learn in books they read and videos they watch.

The impact of being able to visit zoos has helped spark further interest in science, wildlife, and care for the environment. For these reasons, zoos will continue to be part of homeschooling for years to come.