Nature Word of the Month – August 2016: MIZZLE

Nature Word of the Month - August 2016: MIZZLE

I am currently reading Rain: A Natural and Cultural History by Cynthia Barnett (which is a fascinating read that I highly recommend). In the prologue she quotes a line from Ray Bradbury which includes the word “mizzle”. I immediately loved the word. I could easily conjure up memories of being out in this sort of fine rain – not being able to feel the individual drops but becoming quickly and completely blanketed in wetness. Have you ever experienced it?

As you try each of the August nature prompts that involve being out in the rain, pay attention to the differences in the rain and how each affects the outcome. What would produce a better rain print, a mizzle or a downpour? What type of rain would produce the best rain symphony?

If you’d like to print a copy of this month’s nature word, click the image above and download it.

Before going, I wanted to note that August is the one year anniversary of sharing monthly nature words. I’m hoping to keep it going for as long as I can. If you ever come across an interesting nature-related word, please do share. I’d love to include your contribution.



Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families- August 2016

Noticing Nature - Monthly Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families: August 2016

August has always been one of my favorite months. I love the deep yellows of Goldenrod and Black-Eyed-Susans punctuating the landscape. I savor the last of the leisurely summer days. And there is something about the hot days and cooling nights that awaken some long forgotten visceral senses.

August is also a great month to play with water. Specifically, rain. If there hasn’t been much rain, or won’t be, where you live, grab a spray bottle and a bucket and read on.

Rain Symphony

Did you know that rain can create a symphony of sounds? The next time there is a good steady rain, put on your rain gear and head outside to listen to all the marvelous sounds playing around you. Look for different surfaces and listen closely to how the sound of rain varies on each one. Maybe you’ll hear a muffled plunk on moss or a loud splat against a rock. How does the rain sound as it plops onto a leaf? Can you make out a melody as drops splash into a puddle?

Create a Rain Print

Are you familiar with Andrew Goldsworthy? He creates amazing pieces of ephemeral land art using leaves, twigs, rocks and the likes. One of his outdoor works is created only with rain and his own body. He calls them “rain shadows” and he has been known to lay in place for hours while immersed in this work.  Mr. Goldsworthy says, “The point is not just to make the shadow, it’s to understand the rain that falls and the relationship with rain and the different rhythms of different rainfalls.” How wonderful is that?!

Your children can follow suit and create their own rain shadows or they can create rain prints using various objects such as rocks, leaves (weighted down), and other items with a fairly flat surface. It is best done during a light rain but do feel free to explore the results from different rains.

Ephemeral Puddle Art

Like land art except on water. Gather some natural, lightweight objects like leaves, twigs, or flower petals. Find a calm, small body of water like a pond or a puddle. Use the objects from nature to create a temporary “picture” on the water’s surface. If the water is shallow and clear, you could also create a design on the bottom using rocks.

Notice how the objects interact with the water. Do they stay in place? Do they let any water seep through? Do they become slightly transparent or deepen in color? What else do you notice?

Noticing Nature - Monthly Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families: August 2016

Make Some Ripples

Children find water fascinating and water play can be a focusing and calming activity for many. But it is so much more than play. Children are observing, investigating, experimenting, theorizing. They are getting hands-on experience with scientific concepts. Encourage them to investigate waves by making some ripples.

The next time you are near still water (like a puddle or pond), take some time to play with ripples. Toss in a pebble and notice the ripple pattern. Would a leaf dropped onto the water’s surface create the same pattern? What kind of ripples would appear if you lightly tapped a straight stick on the water’s surface? What if you dropped two pebbles side by side? What other ripple patterns can you create?

Resources to Inspire

Download and print the August prompts and be prepared to get wet. Have fun!

P.S. Please keep safety in mind at all times during any water play. Also, use water conscientiously. If you are using water from the tap for any of these activities, find a way to put it to good use when the play is through (like watering plants).


Nature Exchange: Deepen your connecting to nature by sharing it

Nature Exchange: Deepen your connection to nature by sharing it

Have you heard of a nature exchange? Simply put, it’s collecting nature from your local environment and sharing it with someone who lives in a different part of the country (or world).

I first learned of the idea a few years ago on the Mud Puddles to Meteors blog and recently heard of it again from a group of lovely ladies that I connected with on Instagram who have banded together to organize an ongoing Nature Pal Exchange program. After seeing photos of amazing collections and reading about the impacts on children and their families, I couldn’t resist joining. I signed us up for the spring 2016 round and I’m so glad I did!

Whether you join an organized group like this or on your own send a nature collection to a family member or friend, I highly recommend giving nature exchange a try whatever your child’s age or level of interest in nature. It’s a terrific way to awaken a child’s enthusiasm for noticing nature and for fostering a deeper connection with your local environment. Plus it’s fun and you can be as creative as you want!

Deepen your connecting to nature by sharing it

For the nature newbies

What you need: Participating in a nature exchange is a wonderful way to introduce children to the practice of noticing nature and to spark their curiosity. There’s no need for planning and you don’t need to have in-depth knowledge of the surrounding nature. When you go out to discover with your young one all you need is mindfulness and the willingness to role model curiosity. Let go of expectations and be fully present with your child.

What to do: Anytime that you are outside with your child, even in your own yard, make a point to stop and notice. Engage your child’s attention. Be playful. Share your observations. Ask “I wonder” questions. Take the opportunity to help your child focus his attention a little more each time you are outside. Nature provides unlimited opportunities for discovery. With time you will see his observational skills improve and his enthusiasm for nature grow.

Extending the experience: Collecting the nature that excites your child is an affirmation of his interest and will keep the spark alive. If you don’t already have a designated area in your home for displaying nature finds, this is the perfect time to create one. While you are collecting nature for your exchange, remember to collect two of each item – one to send and one to keep. Display appropriate items within your child’s reach so that he may explore them at any time. Depending on the child’s age, add magnifying glasses and resources or materials for play to the area.

Resources to inspire:

Nature Exchange: Deepen your connection to nature by sharing it

For young naturalists

For children that have some experience noticing nature and are motivated to do so, participating in a nature exchange can be a way to deepen their understanding. It provides the perfect opportunity for further inquiry, making connections, and forming hypothesis about the interconnections of life.

What you need:  The most important thing you need for your experienced naturalist or older child is a desire to cultivate inquiry.  It’s also helpful to have access to resources like field guides, apps, and books.

What to do: Provide resources and provocations, ask open-ended questions, help your child connect what he already knows, use your child’s questions to sprout more questions.

As your child considers what nature to include in the collection, encourage him to think about how the local wildlife may differ from that found in his pal’s environment. He may consider the difference in climate and how wildlife has adapted accordingly. His interest in geography may be piqued. The experience of participating in a nature exchange will be enhanced by these deeper investigations.

Extending the Experience: Encourage your child to record his observations in his nature journal.  If he doesn’t have one already, capitalize on his enthusiasm and suggest he start keeping one.  Create a “wonder” wall or journal to keep track of questions that your child would like to investigate.  Use your nature area to support his growing interest and inspire further exploration.

Resources to inspire:

Additional benefits

  • Sharing discoveries and interests will help clarify and reinforce your child’s growing knowledge base
  • Preparing the collected nature provides and opportunity for reflection on experiences and learning
  • Personal bonds with nature will be established
  • Exploring surrounding nature helps foster a sense of place
  • Bonding with one’s own environment lays the foundation for future stewards of the environment

If you are interested in giving this activity a try but are feeling intimidated, remember that the act of noticing nature with your child and collecting & packaging specimens to share is alone a valuable experience.  You need not go any further.  Keep it simple and have fun!  Hopefully the experience will be a catalyst for continuing your nature explorations.

An important note: Whether you join the Nature Pal Exchange group or create your own, please be sure to collect responsibly and follow these safety guidelines.


Noticing Nature Nature Prompts – July 2016

Noticing Nature - July 2016: Nature prompts for children and their families

Hello again.  Happy July!  I hope you are enjoying the season so far.  We’re loving the summer weather and enjoying every moment.  You can check out some of what we’ve been getting up to on Instagram.

Some of this month’s prompts are related to a couple of global citizen science events – National Moth Week and World Listening Day.  All of the following prompts are meant to encourage your children to notice the often unnoticed – the variety of sounds in our surroundings, how sounds effect the way we experience our environment, and the variety of life that exists right in our yards.  Whether noticing nature is a part of your everyday life or you seek to get started, these simple nature prompts will provide some fresh inspiration.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Soundscape Inventory

Our experiences in nature are greatly enhanced when we tune in with all of our senses and there is growing research on the health benefits of listening to natural sounds.  But perhaps listening is becoming a dying art.

Kurt Fristrup, a senior scientist at the US National Park Service reports that “There is a real danger, both of loss of auditory acuity, where we are exposed to noise for so long that we stop listening, but also a loss of listening habits, where we lose the ability to engage with the environment the way we were built to.” (ref)

Help your child practice listening skills and deepen experiences in nature by tuning in to the sounds of nature and creating a soundscape inventory.  It’s as simple as finding a comfortable place outside to sit quietly and paying attention to what you hear.  I found that sitting with eyes closed can be very helpful for focusing auditory attention.  This takes only a few minutes and can be done in your yard, during a hike, or while visiting a park.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Who’s There?

The other day I went to the backyard to photograph some feathers (more on that soon!).  I lay down a white poster board and before I could pick up the feathers at least four different little critters had hopped or crawled aboard.  A couple were so tiny that I don’t think I ever would have noticed their existence in the lawn.  You may have experienced something similar if you hang your laundry out to dry.  I have brought in many accidental hitchhikers this way.

Head outside, lay down a white poster board or large piece of paper, and see who shows up.  Notice how many different critters appear and how long they stay.  What if you used a different color paper – say blue or black?  Try it and note any differences.

Noticing Nature - July 2016: Nature prompts for children and their families.

Silent Sharing Nature Walk

This activity is adapted from Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.  Walk silently with your child through an area surrounded by nature.  When one of you notices something of interest, find a non-verbal way to share it with the other. Continue for as long as your child is engaged, staying silent the whole time.  Walking and noticing in silence will promote a sense of calm and allow you and your child to be fully present in the moment.

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Meet Some Moths

National Moth Week takes place July 23rd through the 31st and it’s the perfect opportunity to gain a better appreciation for this cousin of butterflies.

I grew up thinking that all moths were brown and nothing but a nuisance at night when trying to get in the door. But since having children and spending time noticing nature with them, I have discovered so much more about them.

For this prompt, you’ll be attracting moths with moth bait.  You can find a recipe and tips here.  The most important thing to keep in mind with the bait is that it should be paste-like and not runny.  Try painting the bait on trees in your yard during the day to observe any diurnal (there’s that nature word of the month!) moths that may want a free snack.  Head out just before it gets dark to see crepuscular moths and again once it’s dark to see the nocturnal variety.

Resources to spark interest:

Nature prompts for children and their families - July 2016

Don’t forget to download and the July nature prompts before you go.  Print and hang them up so they’ll be easy to find whenever you need a little inspiration for noticing nature.


Nature Word of the Month – July 2016: DIURNAL

Nature Word of the Month | July 2016: DIURNAL

Wow!  I just realized that I started sharing our ‘nature word of the month’ almost one year ago.  It was last August that we learned the new-to-us word, crepuscular.  Do you remember what it means?   It’s a word that my children have remembered because they use it quite regularly when referring to animal behavior. If you need a refresher, you may want to review it with your child when you introduce this month’s word.  We’ll be revisiting ‘crepuscular’ in the July nature prompts.

So, we’ve learned the word for being active at dawn or dusk and most children know what  word means being active at night, but what word refers to daytime activity?  This month we are learning ‘diurnal‘.

Introducing the word…
When introducing new words to your child, keep these simple tips in mind.  After defining the word give an example or two.  Spend a few moments together naming animals that are active during the day and brainstorm how that may be of benefit to them.  Do they need more light for improved vision?  Are their prey available during the day?  These books will help provide some inspiration

Reinforcing its meaning…
To help your child become more familiar with this new vocabulary word, use it as often as you can.  Set up a simple activity such as sorting animal figurines into baskets  with diurnal and nocturnal labels (or night and day pictures paired with labels for the pre-reader child).  Create a poster on which you could paste a picture on to the appropriate section.  Designate a page or two in your nature journal to keep a record of your diurnal and nocturnal related observations.

We’ll be playing with this word again as part of the July nature prompts.  Be sure to keep a lookout for them!







Noticing Nature – Nature Prompts for June 2016

Nature prompts for children and their families - June 2016

Hello and happy June!

This month’s prompts were created with summer fun in mind but if you are heading into the winter months, there are still some prompts for you to enjoy.

Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts - April 2016

Terrific Textures

This is a prompt that we have done before but it is worth repeating.  So much information about the outside world can be learned through our sense of touch, which most children are naturally compelled to do.  Have you ever noticed how many textures there are in the nature around you?   Have you ever been surprised that something feels completely different than what you expected?  Remember to feel things in different directions, especially leaves and grasses.  Run your finger one way along the length of it, then the other.  Make a prediction before feeling and then use as many descriptive words as you can to describe the texture.

Nature Prompts - June 2016

Fun With Flowers

My kids and I have a few spots that we visit regularly and we like to keep track of what flowers are blooming during each visit.  We take photos of the ones that we do not know the names of so that we can identify them at home.  But there are lots of other ways to enjoy flowers.  We recently made violet and dandelion jelly from the flowers in our yard.  It was really more like a runny syrup but it was yummy on our pancakes!  Here are some ideas for creative flower fun…

Important note:  Please do not pick native wildflowers.  They are so important to the ecosystem.  It is illegal to dig them up to transplant and some plants and flowers are endangered or protected.  Flowers from your yard or garden are best for the activities that require picked flowers and there’s always the option of buying some.  Thanks in advance for being responsible with your flower fun!

  • Make a bookmark
  • This flower petal “stained glass” activity is so pretty
  • Who wouldn’t feel special in a flower crown?!
  • Make ornaments or a mobile
  • Create some flower characters (click here and here for inspiration)
  • Use edible flowers in tea, salads, and cookies.  You can find some at your local farmer’s market and grocery stores even sell some packaged.
  • Go on a flower color hunt.  Take photos and create a color collage.
  • Notice the patterns and symmetry of different flowers.


Go Barefoot

There has been much research in recent years about the benefits of letting children go barefoot and there’s even a book about it.  Our goal is to focus on the sense of freedom and the sensory stimulation it provides.  It’s also one more way to feel more closely connected to nature.  So go for it… Free your feet!

P.S. International mud day  is June 29th.  Try stomping in mud puddles barefoot to celebrate.


Rock Your World

My children are 7, 11, and 13 and they still like to collect rocks.  I still like to collect rocks.  Collecting nurtures a child’s curiosity, it helps them connect, it triggers memories, and it’s fun.  Whether you have a rock collection at home or want to try some ephemeral art that stays in nature, these books and activity ideas will give you some inspiration…



Download and print the prompts by clicking the image below.

Noticing Nature Monthly Nature Prompts_ June 2016Enjoy!


Puddle, Pond or Pool? Exploring Vernal Pools

Puddle, Pond or Pool? Exploring Vernal Pools

My children and I first learned about vernal pools a couple of years ago while visiting a local nature preserve.  I noticed it labeled on the trail map and it piqued my curiosity.  When we arrived, we thought it was an interesting spot but it didn’t look any different from a small pond.  Why was this called a “vernal pool”?  What exactly is a vernal pool any way?  We had to find out.

What is a vernal pool?
Vernal means ‘of or relating to spring’ (the April nature word of the month).  So… how is it a spring pond?  Vernal pools are typically formed in shallow depressions from spring rains or melting snow (although they can also start filling in the fall).  But there’s more to defining vernal pools.  Vernal pools:

  • only hold water for part of the year, typically spring through fall
  • are not fed by a permanent water source
  • do not have an inlet or outlet
  • do not support fish life
  • are an important wetland habitat with key indicator, or obligate, species

And that last tidbit is the fun part to explore – the indicator species found there and the ecological importance of the habitat.

Indicator species
Indicator species are plants and animals that define a characteristic of an environment and are often used to measure the conditions of that environment.  The indicator species of vernal pools require this temporary habitat for continuing their cycle of life.  These species include:

  • Spotted, Blue Spotted, Jefferson, and Marbled salamanders – Salamanders migrate to vernal pools in early spring to mate and lay their eggs, where they will develop and hatch.
  • Wood frogs – Wood frogs also return annually to vernal pools to lay their eggs.
  • Fairy shrimp – Fairy shrimp are very small crustaceans that have specialized for a short life cycle.  Eggs remain embedded in the mud once the pool has dried up and freeze over the winter.  They hatch once the spring rains return and the pool fills up again.

Many places host a “big night” in early spring to observe the mass migration of salamanders and frogs and to even give them a helping hand in areas where they cross roads.  Early spring is a very exciting time for vernal pools but the activity continues through the spring and summer and even into fall.


 Look closely
Vernal pools can be easily overlooked as they may seem like a large puddle or because upon first glance there may not seem like much is happening.  If you take your time and look closely, however, you will begin to notice a very active and interesting habitat.

There are eggs and newly hatched life to spot, other animals that come to take advantage of this special environment, and unique plant life.  Watch predacious diving beetles feed on newly hatched young.  Keep an eye out for different types of frogs, turtles, dragonflies, and birds.  Look for tracks that indicate a mammal has been visiting.


If you have access to a vernal pool, a great activity is to observe it throughout the seasons and record your observations.  We like to bring our net and a clear container for some closer observations.  Does the water level remain constant?  What plant life do you notice?  What animals are you noticing at the different times?  Sketch your observations in your nature journal or take photos during each visit and compare them.

Here are some resources that we have used to help further our vernal pool studies…

Books about vernal pools:
The Secret Pool by Raye & Ridley
Frog Heaven: Ecology of a Vernal Pool by Doug Wechsler
Big Night for Salamanders by Sarah Marwil Lamstein
Salamander Dance by David Fitzsimmons

Online resources:
The Vernal Pool Association
Wild by Nature – Vernal Pools
Vernal Pools for Kids video
Plum Landing – Visit a Vernal Pool
Amazing Animals That Use Vernal Pools

Happy exploring!  Let us know what you discover at your local vernal pool.

Have a wonder-filled weekend.