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

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Noticing Nature Prompts – March 2016

Noticing Nature: Nature Prompts - March 2016

Hello!  I hope you enjoyed the weekend.  Were you able to get outside?  My family and I wandered through some trails to a pond that adjoins our neighborhood and we were out for nearly three hours.  And my kids didn’t want to go home.  It was a great way to start the day and set the tone for the week ahead.

We try to get outside every day, even if it’s only for a short walk around the neighborhood.  Sometimes it’s nice to have a reminder to explore a little more.  Our outing started with one of us saying, “We haven’t been to the pond in a while.  I wonder what it’s like there right now”.  Even an everyday neighborhood walk can be a bit more intriguing with some prompts to consider.  I hope these will get you on your way…

Nature prompts for children and their families - March 2016

Signs of the Season

We are approaching spring and we have been noticing some early signs (Did you catch our nature words of the month?  This is a great opportunity to use one of them if it’s the spring equinox that’s approaching.)  It’s a tiny bit lighter out when we wake up (yay!) and we have noticed the male goldfinches just beginning to get their brighter mating plumage.  What have you been noticing?  Different sounds, smells?  Don’t forget to engage all of your senses when observing seasonal changes.

Nature prompts for children and their families - March 2016

Noticing Patterns

Patterns in nature is defined as “visible regularities of form found in the natural world” and can include symmetries, spirals, meanders, waves, tessellations, cracks and stripes.  They can be found everywhere, high or low, big or small.  Keep your eye out for some that interest you and peak your curiosity.

Nature prompts for children and their families - March 2016

Making Connections

“This makes me think of…”  is a great phrase to keep in mind when making observations in nature.  My daughter peered inside a dead tree riddled with woodpecker holes and said that inside one of them reminded her of a rustic cabin we stayed in recently.  Hmm.  Could some animal have used this has a home?  What kind of animal might shelter in there?  The connection led to these and other wonderful questions.  Maybe a connection will be made to some prior knowledge.  Maybe some similarities will be made to another object.  Even if it seems a little silly, state what it reminds you of.  You never know where it might lead.

This month’s nature prompts can certainly be used as a one time activity but would be best revisited throughout the month.  Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem to come easily at first.  Curiosity and observation are skills that can be developed through practice.  Keep getting outside and keep making and effort to notice.  And remember, you are a powerful role model for your children!

Fondly,
Monique

“I see no more than you, but I have trained myself to notice what I see.”

—Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Blanched Soldier

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts – February 2016

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - February 2016

This month’s prompts are all about the trees.  Download and print them to get started today.

Notice what’s going on in a tree as wind blows through it, whether it’s a gale or a gentle breeze.  What do you hear?  How does the canopy behave differently from the trunk?

Notice the signs of animal use.  Has an animal used the tree for shelter?  Food?  Who do you think was there?  Why that tree?

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - February 2016

Notice the unique characteristics of some trees.  Does it remind you of anything?  Do you see any shapes?  You may even see a face or eyes staring back at you!

Noticing Nature Nature Prompts - February 2016

Enjoy taking a closer look at individual trees and have a wonder-filled week!

P.S. Don’t forget to keep in mind the nature word of the month while you are looking at trees.

Fondly,
Monique

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!

Dandelions: A Playful Experience For Bringing Them To Life

Dandelions: A playful experience for giving new life to the dandelion

Hello there!  If it’s spring time where you are, no doubt your yard is dotted with dandelions.  Kids love them, don’t they?  Mine sure do and I seized the opportunity to do a dandelion nature study with them.  We all learned some new things.  dandelion journal entry

One thing I learned (or was reminded of) is to take notice of my children’s comments about their interests and activities to inspire further exploration.  It wasn’t until late in the evening that I became aware of a cue that my daughter had provided for a fun twist on our nature studies.

Hop on over to learn more about a fun way for kids to give new life to the dandelion…

Studying Phenology with Time-Lapse

Today I am sharing a fun way to add a new twist for your child’s nature study over at Playful Learning.  I hope you will stop by…

Studying Phenology with Time-Lapse

TOUCH DRAWING: Help Your Child Deepen Their Understanding of Nature

Touch Drawing: an exercise to help your child deepen their understanding of nature

Today I’d like to share with you an engaging activity to help children improve their observation skills and deepen their understanding of nature.  It is inspired by one of my favorite books for teaching children about the world’s great artists and their work: An Eye for Art.  For painter Joan Miro, manipulating and using color came naturally but he struggled with form.  One of his teachers encouraged him to practice drawing common objects based only on his sense of touch.  He could not look at the objects but rather was asked to spend time feeling them and examining their shape, texture, size, etc. and then drawing them based on only on those physical sensations.  Sort of like a reverse of blind contour drawing (an effective exercise for learning to draw what you see).

nature artifacts for touch drawing exercise

Here’s how it works:  Choose a found object from nature that is safe for children to touch.  Place that object in a bag that your child cannot see through.  Ask your child to reach in and feel the object without peeking.  Prompt him to think about it’s texture, size, and shape.  Is it smooth or rough?  Ridged?  Scaly?  Do all sides have the same texture?  Is it thin, long, pointy?  Is it soft or hard?

Once your child has enough information to visualize the object it’s time to put pencil to paper and try to capture the object’s image in a drawing.  Allow your child to feel the object again as he draws.  Remind him of the details that he noticed through his sense of touch and to incorporate them into the drawing.  The level of details that your child notices will support the accuracy of the drawing.  Once the drawing is complete your child may like to take the object out and compare it to the drawing.  At this point, my children wanted to add a second drawing of the object by looking at it.  They enjoyed comparing them.

(Note: This activity is recommended for ages 7 and up but don’t hesitate to try it at a younger age.  You know your child and what they are capable of.  Toddlers and preschool-age children may enjoy “feely bags” – just feeling and identifying the object from nature.  This simple activity will strengthen your child’s tactile perception, which is a great precursor to touch drawing.)

rock touch drawingMy children enjoyed this unique way of observing nature and we plan to practice it regularly in our nature journals (a great addition to any nature journal!).  It was very effective for getting us all to really notice details that we may have overlooked otherwise.  My oldest daughter was amazed to see that through her sense of touch she thought the pine cone had smaller scales and more of them.  I’m curious to see how my children’s tactile perception, skills of observation, and touch drawings evolve over time.

comparing touch v. sightThis would also be a wonderful activity for those inside days when it’s too cold or too wet to be outside…