Discovering Patterns in Nature

spirals header2

Welcome and thank you for stopping by!  I have enjoyed being a contributing blogger for Playful Learning so much, I am now making the leap to my own blog.  My hope is that Green Acorns will be a resource where you can find engaging activities that help children deepen their connection to nature.  After all, our children are the stewards of the environment, now and for the future, and it begins with exploring the nature right in our very own backyards!

My most recent post over at Playful Learning was an introduction to the various patterns that can be found in nature.  Doing the scavenger hunt is a great way to get thinking about some of the patterns that surround us and to start noticing more details in the nature that we see everyday.  Patterns are everywhere in nature.  They inspire curiosity and lead to scientific, mathematical and artistic investigations from the very basic to the advanced.  A variety of patterns can be found in the nature right in your own backyard.  Now you can visit Green Acorns each week to learn about these natural patterns in more depth.  Let’s begin with spirals…

acorn cap spiral

Spirals are fascinating.  They can be found in various forms all throughout nature, from the swirl of the nautilus shell to the form of a hurricane to the double helix of our own DNA.  Its very shape hints at the process by which it took shape.  As the nautilus outgrows the space within its shell it adds a new chamber similar in shape to the previous one, just a bit larger.  As new florets emerge in the center of an aster, older ones continue to grow as they get pushed outward in a spiraling fashion to make room.  As the outer layer of bark dries more quickly than the inner layer, it begins to shrink and curl.

flower spiral

There are three common types of spirals: Archimedes spirals, logarithmic spirals (also called equiangular or growth spirals), and helixes.  The basic components of each of these types of spirals can be found in various forms throughout nature.

In Archimedes spirals, each successive whorl retains the same width as the previous one.  Examples include the spiral of a spider’s web or a coiled millipede.  This type of spiral is the least common in nature.

Helixes are three-dimensional, uniform spirals like that of a coiled spring or a corkscrew.

Logarithmic spirals are the most common type found in nature.  In these spirals, each successive whorl grows larger while maintaining the same shape.

shell spiral2

The study of spirals can get quite complicated but appreciating their beauty and gracefulness is easy.  Before you head outside with your child,  this quick video and these wonderful books will help you get more acquainted:

Swirl by Swirl by Joyce Sidman

Growing Patterns by Sarah Campbell

By Nature’s Design (an Exploratorium book) by Pat Murphy

You can also download the following activities.  The first one helps young children differentiate features of spirals.  They can get creative drawing loose and tight spirals and sort photos into different categories.  Older children can use the second activity download.  Start by having them sort the photos into the appropriate spiral types.   Be sure to print a blank recording sheet and bring it outside to record their findings in nature (with their own photos or sketches and descriptions).  These would be a great addition to a nature journal!

Exploring Spirals (preK – early elementary)

Exploring Spirals II (upper elementary, middle & high school)

Now it’s time to explore!  You might just be amazed at where spirals can be found…

P.S. If you or your older child are interested in digging deeper into spirals, this video series is a fun way to start.


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