NOTICING NATURE: Nature Prompts – October 2017

Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts for Children and Their Families - October 2017

“There is no season when such pleasant and sunny spots may be lighted on, and produce so pleasant an effect on the feelings, as now in October.”
–  Nathaniel Hawthorne

This quote expresses how I feel about fall and this month in particular. It lays between the blur of September – full of transitions – and the delightful, although busy, holiday season. It is quieter, cozier, slower and full of colorful fall beauty. I hope the prompts for this month help you slow down and notice some of the splendor of the season.

Track the changing temperature

The temperature can shift quite drastically this month. From day to day and even hour to hour. Today in Maine the temperature reached near 70°F in the afternoon and is supposed to dip to the low 40s tonight. That’s a big change! Use our weather log to track the temperature and weather throughout the month and see what a difference a day can make.

Life of a log

Even after it’s life, trees continue to be a crucial element in the ecosystem. They help lessen erosion and provide shelter, food and nutrients. Examine a fallen log and you’ll see that it’s full of life. Search for signs of animal activity and fungal growth. What did you observe? Why do you think they were in, under or around the log? What role do these things play in the cycle of life?

*Note: While observing fallen logs, please be very gentle and careful. This is a living habitat.

These are some of our favorite books to accompany the exploration of fallen logs…

Go on a bark scavenger hunt

The outer bark serves the same function for all trees but there is a lot of diversity in how it looks.  So many different patterns and textures and colors to notice!  Your young naturalist will gain a greater appreciation for trees with this scavenger hunt.

bark scavenger hunt

You can take this activity further by adding some sensory elements.

  • Ask your child to feel the difference of the barks.  Do they feel rough or smooth?  Are they thick or thin?  Take some bark rubbings too.  They will aid in remembering the experience and serve as prompts for reflection and further discussion.
  • Try smelling the bark. Go ahead, don’t be shy. The bark of some trees have very distinct odors. Sandalwood, red cedar, yellow birch and ponderosa pines are some.

Notice the night sky

This month is the perfect time to get outside after dark and observe the night sky. It’s getting dark before bedtime, still warm enough to not have to bundle up too much, and the skies tend to be clear.

While time spent together simply gazing at the night sky is a wonderful thing, you can make it engaging and educational by doing a little prep work. I like this short video for generating some ideas: Stargazing with Kids.noticing the night sky

Here are some other resources you may want to have at the ready…

Happy October. Have fun exploring and noticing nature!

Fondly,
Monique

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Hitchhiking, Flying and Other Exciting Ways Seeds Travel

Hitchhiking, Flying and Other Exciting Ways Seeds Travel: a seed dispersal study with activities and free printables.

Year after year my children are captivated by the seeds that they find, especially in the fall. There are so many interesting characteristics that grab one’s attention and stimulate the imagination. They are creatively designed packages that contain precious, life-bearing gifts. Some of them even employ quite dramatic delivery methods. As we add collected seeds and pods to our nature table once again, we are revisiting our study of the different types of seeds and how they travel. I have updated the printables we use so that I can share them with you.

Hitchhiking, Flying and Other Exciting Ways Seeds Travel: a seed dispersal study with activities and free printables.

Seed dispersal is a fascinating, fun and rich topic. With the abundance of seeds around, it’s fairly easy to find some to examine. And their diversity is sure to spark some awe and wonder. I hope after doing some exploring, your child will be curious and inspired to learn more. The resources and activity printables provided will help guide his interest into meaningful experiences.

Activities & Printables

  • Start by reading about the different types of seeds (see resources provided below) and print this chart as a quick reference.

Seed Categories

  • This activity will help your child learn the different seed classifications. Cut out the images on the second page and sort them into the appropriate category (hint: The images are arranged in the correct order. You may like to print a second copy to use as reference.)

Seed Type Sort

  • After your child has collected a variety of seeds and pods, use this printable to sort them by how they get dispersed.

Dispersal Sort

  • Animals play a huge role in helping to disperse seeds. Your child can record what they have learned about the methods animals use on this sheet.

How Animals Help Seeds Travel

Hitchhiking, Flying and Other Exciting Ways Seeds Travel: a seed dispersal study with activities and free printables.

Resources to compliment your study of seed dispersal…

Read

Watch

On-line Resources

Hitchhiking, Flying and Other Exciting Ways Seeds Travel: a seed dispersal study with activities and free printables.

Happy exploring!

Fondly,
Monique

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Create Poetree: 2 Nature-Based Activities for National Poetry Month

Create a Poetree: 2 Nature-Based Activities for National Poetry Month via Green Acorns

It’s National Poetry Month!  You know how I love to incorporate nature into our learning so today I have a couple of nature-based poetry activities for you and your children.

Why should our children learn about and read and write poetry?  Poetry is a wonderful form of creative self-expression.  It can be a way to connect with the world and with others and a way to process emotions.  It encourages the writer to carefully consider the use of words and the reader to consider their interpretations.  Poetry can be used to foster the skills of observation and to heighten the use of imagery.  And often, poetry has rhythm that kids can relate to.

Now on to the activities…

Grow a Poetree: Nature-Based Poetry Activities for National Poetry Month

Grow a Poetree

This activity is an open, relaxed way to create poetry.  Similar to using magnetic poetry.  Print the provided activity pages and cut out the leaves.  For young children, you may want to fill them in with words yourself and leave them out as a provocation.  My eight year old used a combination of words I filled in and words of her choosing.  I have also provided a list of words for inspiration for your child.

There is no need to have a poem already worked out when choosing the words.  That’s the fun of it!  Think about nature-related words, move the word leaves around until you like the order, and place them around your tree.  Inspired by our walk around the neighborhood earlier in the day, here is what my daughter created:

Flowers grow
Buds turn into leaves
Birds sing, Sun shining
Melting snow drips

Think about other ways you might adapt this activity for your child.  Perhaps she would like to string the word leaves onto a garland and hang it up.  It could be used to decorate some branches in a vase or even temporarily on a tree outside.  Have fun with it!

Create a Poetree: 2 Nature-Based Activities for National Poetry Month via Green Acorns

Shape a Cinquain Poetree

Cinquain is form of poetry that is composed of five lines.  The most common version we see in more modern poetry was developed by Adelaide Crapsey.  In this form each of the five lines has a set number of syllables: 2,4,6,8,2 respectfully.  There is also a framework for the number of words on each line: 1,2,3,4,1.  These patterns lend themselves well to create shape poetry.  We thought it fit perfectly with our “poetree” theme but feel free to use any shape you’d like.  Maybe a flower or a fish or anything that you’ve been noticing in nature lately.

Think about what you have been noticing in nature lately, something you enjoy doing outside, or your favorite plant, animal or outdoor location.  Or maybe there is something you saw in a book or something from your nature collection that has sparked your imagination.  Use that to inspire a topic for your poem.  Simply follow the format provided on the printable to create your own cinquain.

Here is my son’s:

Moon
Bright, Round
Shining, Waxing, Waning
Sun of night
Satellite

I hope you enjoy these poetry activities.  If you are looking for more poetry inspiration, I share some of our favorite nature-related books in this post.

Poetree Printables

Fondly,
Monique

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.

Fondly,
Monique

Nature by the Numbers – Nature Journal Prompts: December 2015

Nature by the Numbers - Nature Journal Prompts for Children and Their Families: December 2015

My children love being outdoors and even on days when they feel like they would rather stay inside, all it takes is a gentle nudge out the door and then I usually have a hard time getting them to come back in.

They also have enjoyed nature journaling since they were wee ones.  After I had spent time marveling with them over something that had caught their attention, I made the simple suggestions that we might draw it so that we can always remember it.  That was all it took.  After that they wanted to bring their journals whenever we went on a nature outing or visited the botanical gardens.  Although they still enjoy it, it does not happen as often as it use to and some months only with some gentle suggesting on my part.

I never want nature journaling to feel like a chore to them.  It should be something that they are motivated to do on their own and for their own reasons.  But we all need some encouragement from time to time.  Even for things that bring us joy or help us relax or that fill us up in the best ways.  Right?

December Nature Prompts

That what our monthly nature journal prompts are meant to be – gentle suggestions to get us out the door and noticing the nature that surrounds us everyday.  No pressure.  No right or wrong.  No deadlines.  And for this month, no numbers.  December can be a hectic month and making the time to appreciate nature’s gifts, large or small, can be refreshing in so many ways.  I hope these suggestions will help…

Nature Prompts - December 2015

I wish you all a holiday season full of love and laughter and a child-like sense of wonder!

Fondly,
Monique & family

What Makes a Bird a Bird? Learning to Identify Songs and Calls

What Makes a Bird a Bird? Songs and Calls | Activities for introducing children to identifying birds by their callimage source

 

Have you been waking up to a chorus of song birds each morning?  It can be such a pleasant welcome to a new day, can’t it?   With the exception of the summer that we had a flock of very loud blue jays right outside of our bedroom window, I find listening to the birds’ morning songs a delightful way to start to my day.

Birds communicate for many of reasons: locating each other, warning of danger, and marking the boundaries of their territory are just a few.  The variety of their vocalizations is quite astounding.  It can seem overwhelming to learn to identify a bird by it’s call but it doesn’t have to be.  Continue reading to find out how to introduce children of any age to identifying bird calls…

Marsh Wren, Hill Road Marsh, Tule Lake National Wildlife Refuge, California

Children have such a keen ear and are able to distinguish differences in pitch and tone at such a young age.  They also seem to have an innate sense of rhythm.  Of course, like with anything else, the more exposure they have and the more variety there is, the stronger their abilities become.  You will find this to be true with learning bird calls.  So, let’s get started!

Who Said That?

Play an auditory matching game with Audubon plush birds.  Start with introducing two of the plush birds whose songs are quite different from each other, like a Robin and a Great Horned Owl (a melodic versus a rhythmic).  Play the recorded song while the child is looking at the corresponding bird.  Talk about the sounds and patterns you hear.  After your child has become familiar with the calls and the bird that made each, hide them behind your back or in a bag.  Play one recording at a time and ask your child to identify the bird.  Feel free to add additional birds.  Just introduce one at a time and stay within your child’s comfort level so that it doesn’t get too overwhelming.  Now let your child hide the birds from your view and ask you to identify the bird.

Make a Sound Map

Print off this simple sound map before you begin.  Head outside and find a sit spot in your yard.  Sit quietly for 2-5 minutes and observe the different bird songs/calls that you hear.  You can listen with your eyes closed to help you focus better on just the sounds.  When you are done listening, record the approximate location that each bird call was coming from in relation to where you are sitting.  If you know the name of the bird you can write that.  You can also just draw a symbol such as an open bird beak or a musical note.  Remember, the purpose of this activity is to train your ear.  It is not a drawing exercise.

IMG_0018

Clap, Run, Wave: Using Your Body

There are several developmental approaches for teaching music to children that uses body movements to represent rhythm and pitch (have you ever heard of Eurhythmics or the Kodaly method?).  This is a great way to reinforce the concepts kinesthetically and you don’t need any special training to incorporate it into your practice of identifying bird songs.  Listen to some bird sounds and decide with your child how best to represent them.  For example, you might represent a morning dove’s song by waving your arms like a conductor’s.  The movements would be smooth, rise and fall in correlation to the change in pitch, and be small or large to indicate duration.  A Northern Cardinal’s call could be represented by claps that match it’s pattern.  Maybe your child could wiggle about or run in place at a speed that matches a Robin’s song.  Get the idea?  Create your own interpretation and have fun!

Disclaimer:  My children thought this activity was quite silly and getting them to give it a try did not go over so well.  They did enjoy watching me make my interpretive movements, however.   They were open to clapping and tapping out the rhythms of various calls at least.

Drawing Sound

Spectrograms are visual representations of sound indicating duration, pitch, and intensity.  Spectrograms are one tool used to help scientists study animal communication.   Show your child some examples (there are some here and here) before beginning.  Then listen to some bird sounds either in your yard or on a site like All About Birds  or Audubon Birds.   Try to choose some simple calls to begin with, such as a Great Horned Owl or a Chickadee.  Talk about the sounds you hear: short versus long notes, increase or decrease in pitch, rhythms, intensity, etc.  Now put pencil to paper and draw out the representations.  For example, short notes could be indicated by dots, longer notes by dashes, trills by wiggly lines.  Here are some examples from my children:

spectrograms

Cornell’s  Lab of Ornithology has a great interactive game called Bird Song Hero that you should really try.  Exploratorium also has a similar interactive game that is more appropriate for younger children.  These are both worth checking out.  They are great tools for training your ear.

Stop, Look and Listen

Take advantage of birds’ active time of day (dawn and dusk are great) to observe birds and the sounds they make.  Sit quietly, listen for bird songs and calls, and look in the direction that you hear them coming from to try to catch a glimpse of the birds making the sounds.  This is one of the best ways to match birds to their sounds.  It does take patience and time but is well worth it.

If you are not having luck getting a good look at the birds, referring to a book like Bird Songs: 250 North American Birds in Song can be very helpful.  Locate the birds found in your area and especially birds seen in your yard and play their calls.  Listen for familiar songs and make note of the bird that makes it.

The more you practice, the better you’ll become at identifying bird songs and calls.  Most of all… have fun!

What Makes a Bird a Bird? Activities for Exploring Nest Building

What Makes a Bird a Bird Activities for exploring nest building

My children are fascinated by birds!  They love observing them and learning to identify them and are SO excited when they spot one they’ve never seen before.  They are completely captivated.  We bring three pairs of binoculars on our outings and perpetually have our favorite birding books checked out from the library.  Why I don’t just buy them, I don’t know.  Probably because I’d have to clear off an entire bookshelf just to house them.  Anyway…

We’ve embarked on a comprehensive bird study.  My children know so much already but I’ve decided to start with the basics (because sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know).  We’ll be exploring all the characteristics of birds from beak shape to songs and calls to unique behaviors.  I’ll be sharing some of our explorations here and hope you’ll follow along.

cavity nest

With spring in full swing here in Maine (finally!), birds have been busy collecting nesting material.  They’ve been spotted flying overhead with twigs and bits of fuzzy stuff.  It seems fitting then that we start our study by exploring birds’ nests and nest construction.  As an opener we read What Makes a Bird a Bird? by May Garelick which leads the reader through the various characteristics of birds until that one special feature that truly makes a bird a bird is discovered.  We then read some books just about birds’ nests.  Here are some that I recommend:

My children decided to help out the birds in our yard by providing some extra nesting materials.  They collected yarn, shredded paper, lint, cotton balls, and some clumps of fur found in our yard.  They left it all in a shallow dish in a spot that they have observed birds near on a regular basis.

They then set off  to build nests of their own.  The idea is to gather materials from nature that a bird might use and construct a nest, to the best of one’s capabilities, that will stay together.  A popular method with my children was using mud to make everything stick together.  They’ve held up quite well too!  They are hoping that some birds will move in.  Through this activity the kids learned not only that cup-shaped nests seem to be one of the easiest nest types to build but that birds are amazing architects.  Their intricate weaving techniques seem a near impossible achievement.

bird nest constructions

We then played a game that I came across on the Cornell Lab of Ornithology Bird Sleuth website.  You can find it by clicking their “kits and free resources” tab and downloading the free activities.   Scroll to the “Nests & Chicks” section and look for the “Baby Bird Run” game.  Follow the directions for the simple game in which children identify statements about birds and their nesting behaviors as being either true or false.

I also created a matching game to help my children think about how different nests are tailored for different habitats.  If you would like to download your own copy, just click on the image below.  Read the statements about nests and fill that statement’s number in the box next to the matching nest.  There are more types than listed on the sheet but I wanted to keep it fairly simple.

what type of bird nest is it?

These activities should prove to be effective ways to introduce children to birds’ nests and their construction.  I hope you enjoy!

Note:  My children range in age from five to eleven and these activities were appropriate for them all.  With my older children I spent some time talking about the different types of nests in more detail and asked them to identify what birds might build what type of nests.  If you give any of these activities a try with your children, let me know how it went.