Nature Word of the Month: Crepuscular

An acquaintance recently introduced me to the word ‘crepuscular’, using it in reference to her cat.  I found the word fascinating and it made me want to research other unusual words that related to nature.  I developed a list and decided to introduce one a month to my children.  It could be fun to incorporate them into our nature journaling (as well as other home-education activities).

Would you like to learn along with us?  Here’s our first word…

CREPUSCULAREven though I plan to start in August, we just happen to have Lizi Boyd’s book, Flashlight, checked out from the library.  We loved her book Inside Outside (and were inspired to create this activity) so we were anxious to read this one. While flipping through Flashlight, we pointed out which animals we thought were crepuscular and discussed the possible reasons why.

Another good book to read with your children is Daylight Starlight Wildlife.

We’re looking forward to the fun we’ll have exploring crepuscular animals both near and far.  My kids are already having fun just saying the word!  We hope you have fun with it too and would love for you to share how you and your children explore crepuscular animals.


Finding New Nature Spots to Explore

Finding New Nature Sites to ExploreI had been hearing about a local trail network for a few years before my family and I finally decided to go explore them.  They are located on a nature preserve just ten minutes from our home.  We drive by the area on a regular basis yet had no idea what it was like.  When we arrived and ventured along one of the trails we were amazed.  Amazed that there is such a different world so close to us.  Amazed at the variety of nature that exists there.  Amazed that it had taken us so long to explore it!

This got me thinking about what other local areas there might be that we don’t know about.  And this set me on a mission: discover, locate and explore new-to-us nature sites.  My goal is to visit a different location every couple of weeks and summer time seems a perfect time to get started!

I also got to thinking that perhaps there are others, like my family and I, that love nature and exploring the outdoors but that might not be aware of all the nature sites in their area.  There are well-publicized areas and hidden gems.  Groomed, marked trails and “I’m not sure we’re still on the path” trails.  Public gardens and tours of private ones.  State parks and local farms.

exploring new placesWhatever type of habitat you are looking for and whatever activity you want to do, there are lots of resources to help you find new nature sites.  Here are some suggestions to get you off to a good start…

National resources:

State resources:

  • Department of Agriculture, Conservation, and Forestry
  • Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife
  • Natural Resources Council
  • Huts and Trails Associations
  • State Tourism Office (ours has a fabulous, informative site)

And my favorite resource of all – Ask a local!  Long-term residents are usually knowledgeable of little-known spots.  Don’t be afraid to ask.  I learned about a great sledding spot from my children’s pediatrician (which also has trails to walk during spring/summer) and just recently learned about a nearby pond that’s great for swimming from a another parent during our children’s swim lesson.  In talking to farmers at a local farmer’s market, we learned that some farms welcome visitors (one even has a variety of ecosystems like a wetland, meadow, and woods) and my husband heard about some great fishing spots from a co-worker.

Will you join us in exploring new-to-us nature sites?  We have our “wish list” made out and have hung it where we can see it.  You could use our Nature Areas to Explore to write out your family’s wish-list of nature sites to explore and pages to record your explorations.  Have fun and let us know how it goes!

Have a wonder-filled weekend.  We’re off to explore a local arboretum…


Let’s Go on Mini Adventures!

Let's Go on Mini Adventures!

When I use “we” in a post I am referring to my family. Everything I post about are things that my children enjoy doing or that we do together as a family. My children are at the heart of Green Acorns. So, I figured it was about time for them to share directly with you. This post is from my 12 year-old daughter, Em. She writes about one of my children’s favorite play activities. It inspires creativity, ingenuity, thinking from a different perspective, and of course getting outside. We hope you enjoy it!

My brother and sister and I love to play with our miniature stuffed animals. Especially the favorites, Chompers and Oliver. Chompers and Oliver are about three inches tall, so they can do plenty of things that we wouldn’t be able to do in real life. To a miniature stuffed beaver, and a tiny cat with a button nose, a pile of twigs becomes a giant beaver dam, a bunch of duct-taped shoe boxes becomes a mansion, a puddle becomes a pond, and a flower garden becomes a giant forest. In the world of mini animals, you can imagine anything. That’s why we love playing with them so much, because they can do things that a person couldn’t, like jump down a mouse hole and explore like it’s a secret tunnel, or ride on the back of a stuffed dragon. Another thing that we also love about playing mini animals, is that we can make and create any thing for them, like draw a big city out of chalk on the driveway, or a giant castle out of blocks. Me and my brother have created an entire mansion for Oliver out of cardboard, paint, lots and lots of duct tape, and nine shoe boxes. My brother and sister and I also all love to make little things for Oliver and the rest of the minis, such as tiny cardboard furniture and little clay food. I have made cardboard box houses for our other mini animals, too like Chompers, and two other little cats named Clover and Skyler. We now have four mini houses, and we like to set them up in the front yard and make a little town.

Chompers and Oliver also have lots of outdoor adventures, too. We also love playing and exploring outside, but the mini animals can do lots more outside. Like a tiny trickle of water running down the driveway is a rushing river to Chompers, and he goes sailing in a puddle after a rainstorm, or flies through the air on the back of a kite. You can also make houses and shelters for mini animals outside, too. Like a little Oliver-size mud hut or a fort out of sticks. They are also just the right size to go into a fairy house! And if they ever get dirty, (which is often) they take a bath in the sink and dry in front of a fan.

Do your children have any tiny stuffed animals? Get them out and let your kids imagine all they want! Turn on the hose and let a flowing river run down a slanted driveway, or turn a cardboard box into a miniature hotel. With your imagination, somewhere to play, and a mini stuffed animal or two, anything is possible!

Dazzling Dragonflies

Dazzling Dragonflies - Facts and Fun for Children to Explore | by Green AcornsMy family and I have been spotting lots of dragonflies – and some damselflies – lately.  We have even had the privilege of witnessing some emerge from their nymph skins.  We find them so fascinating and beautiful.  And we really appreciate their mosquito-eating abilities.  My husband, children, and I once all snuggled in our hammock together and watched as a dragonfly swooped over and over picking mosquitoes out of the air.  It was a marvelous show! dragonfly emerging dragonfly emerged

dragonfly nymph skinIf you are wondering… yes, the nymph skin above came home with us and is part of our nature collection.

So, my children decided that they would like to learn more about these dazzling dragonflies.  Here are some fun facts that we discovered…

  • Dragonflies have been around for 300 million years!  The prehistoric version of this insect had a wingspan of up to 24 inches.
  • Dragonflies and their cousins, the damselflies, belong to the order Odonata – which means “toothed one”.
  • Dragonflies don’t actually have teeth but do have some strong mandibles!
  • Dragonfly larva are aquatic.  This stage can last any where from one to six years.
  • Dragonfly nymphs molt up to 15 times.
  • A dragonfly breathes oxygen through gills located inside its abdomen.  Damselflies’ gills are located externally.
  • Dragonflies can fly straight up, down, sideways, and backwards.  They can even hover.
  • Dragonflies sometimes swarm – which means flying together in a large group – for either feeding or migratory purposes.  If you are ever lucky enough to see one, visit The Dragonfly Swarm Project and record your observation.
  • Dragonflies are the subject of folklore all over the world, From China to Sweden.  Some are more pleasant than others.  I won’t tell you what my mother grew up believing.

dragonfly anatomyI’ll let your child discover some other fun facts for herself.  These are the resources we used:


After observing and learning more about dragonflies, I wanted to come up with some games to help reinforce what my children learned.  I came across this outdoor game about the life-cycle of dragonflies and, with my children’s input, tweaked it a bit.  This is what we came up with…

– One area of our yard was set up as a “pond” with prey (which were really various sized balls) scattered all around.  My children, pretending to be dragonfly nymphs, used nets to “eat up” prey.  Once they had ten in their nets they could crawl out of the pond, deposit the balls in a bucket or bin for later use, and find a place to rest.

– They scrunched down and slowly rose until they were standing with arms outstretched – which represented the dragonfly emerging from its nymph skin.  They could then fly around with arms flapping and start catching mosquitoes (which were represented by bubbles).

– One dragonfly then flew to the bucket of balls and passed it to the other dragonfly (to represent mating) who then deposited the “eggs” into the pond area.  Now the cycle can begin again.

dragonfly life-cycle gameYou could come up with your own variations of this life-cycle game.  For example, my children thought it would be a lot more fun to use a kiddie pool as the pond and to use tongs to represent the nymph’s mask pincers.  If you give it a try I’d love to hear how your children enjoyed it and if you made any adjustments.  We’ll also be making clay dragonflies to reinforce learning the various body parts.  For younger children there are lots of cute and easy dragonfly crafts.  You can find a nice collections here.

I hope you and your children are feeling inspired to head out for some dragonfly spotting and to learn more about these amazing insects.  Don’t forget about recording observations in those nature journals!

Have a wonder-filled week.


Nature by the Numbers | June 2015

Nature by the Numbers | June 2015 - Green Acorns June 2015 – Nature Journal Prompts

This month’s nature journal prompts have been inspired by my son – a boy who loves adventures and wants to experience them to the fullest.  That’s him in the photo above.  Well, his feet anyway.  The photo was taken during a walk on a trail through a wooded area in the early spring.  The temperature was rising and the early spring plants were beginning to grow but there was still snow on the ground here and there.  When we came to a favorite stream there was no resisting.  My girls kept their boots on to explore but my son’s came off immediately. He knew intellectually that the water would be ice-cold.  But he needed to know it in his body.  He wanted to be fully engaged in the experience.  Like the time we had hurricane-strength winds this past winter and he just had to go outside.  We could hear the wind howling and see the trees swaying and the snow blowing horizontally but he had to get out there and know what it was like to be in the midst of it.  He had to be a part of it. So, this month’s prompts are all about encouraging your child to engage with nature with all of his or her senses – to be a part of it.

I hope your child has fun with it (Just click the link at the beginning to download your copy).

Have a wonder-filled week!
Fondly, Monique

With all the wonder of a child

the wonder of a childOn any given day a smile is brought to my face when I witness my children’s excitement over what they discovered out in nature that day.  I love how observant they are.  I love that they recognize natural rhythms.  I love that they want to experience more and learn more and share their stories with their dad and me.  I love that I can share my own appreciation for nature with them.

But the moment captured in the photo above reminded me that I have so much more to be grateful for.  This is my daughter happily running down the trail toward our destination just moments before…

the wonder of a childThis was one of those smile moments – when she arrived and paused to take it all in.  We have visited this pond many times before yet she still marveled at the sight of it.

I am grateful that she has this sense of awe and wonder.  What I am most grateful for, however, is that I get to experience nature through their eyes, not just my own.  They each have their own perspectives and ideas and each notice things that maybe the others hadn’t.  They each have their own connections and emotions.  They are each discovering their unique relationship with nature and where their place in it is.  And I get to not only watch them have their experiences but become transported into them as they share with me.

I am so appreciative to behold the wonders of nature through my children’s eyes.  It is a gift that I cherish!

Have a wonder-filled week!

Creating a Bird Feeding Haven

Creating a Bird-Feeding Haven | Green AcornsDo you feed birds in your yard?  Having bird feeders nearby provides many opportunities for some close-up observations.  A simple provocation with the right tools and your children will be off on some wonderful explorations.  We’ve been feeding the birds in our yard for quite some time so my children have been able to make some long-term observations of the birds’ behaviors.  They also like watching various bird cams and have learned from those as well.  As their understanding of the types of birds that frequent our yard has grown, they have become more interested in doing what they can to take care of our feathered neighbors. So, my children decided that where our feeder is currently needs to become a bird-feeding haven.  Just having a feeder was no longer enough.  When they first brought it up to me, many ideas were excitedly shared.  The next day I took a photo of the area of our yard, printed off several copies, and left them out as a simple invitation: bird feeding sanctuary invitationMy children snatched them up as soon as they saw them and set to drawing out their ideas.  The activity also led to designing their own bird houses and feeders.  They were so excited! bird-feeding haven bird-feeding havenOver the course of a couple of days, they would revisit their designs and make adjustments.  For example, each child had included a bird house or two but realized on their own that perhaps birds would not want to nest where so many birds were feeding.  My youngest had designed a bird house with a platform feeder just outside the opening but came to the conclusion, all on her own, that perhaps that would not be best.  I just love how much consideration they put into their designs and that on their own came to some conclusions based on what they know about birds. If you would like to create your own bird-feeding haven, here are some things to consider:

  • Feeders/Food: What types of food are best for the birds in your yard?  What type of feeders are most appropriate?  Can you incorporate some plants/bushes that will provide food?  Are you able to provide food year round?  Can you easily keep the area and feeders clean?
  • Shelter/Structure: Provide a variety of places to rest and find shelter and be sure to consider various heights.  Some birds may seek ground cover, others a higher place of refuge.  Also consider nearby windows that may be a hazard as well as hiding places for predators.
  • Water:  Don’t forget water!  Do you have a space for a bird bath?  Water is just as important as food to the birds.

bird-feeding haven sketchWe’ll be incorporating several feeders (a caged tube style, a platform feeder, and a suet cage), a bird bath, a small loose brush pile, and a bush or two.  There are already trees of various types and heights in the area.  Nearby we also have some flowering bushes which the hummingbirds love and so we hang a hummingbird feeder there.  Throughout our yard we have placed bird houses, provided bird-friendly plants, and have lots of areas for shelter.  Last season we were blessed with three different types of bird nests and could watch the birds raise their young.

If you would like to create your own bird-feeding haven, encourage your child to spend some time observing the birds in your yard and research with them the types of food and shelter you can provide.  A nature journal would be a great place to record those observations!  These resources will be helpful when helping your child plan your bird-feeding area or creating a bird-friendly yard:

What would you include in your design?  If you have any helpful tips or have a successful bird-feeding area already, we would love to hear about it!

Happy bird watching!