Outside

Bubblemania

This is my favorite time of year. It’s warm but not too hot. At 70 or 80 degrees, we can play outside any time of day. The pool is toasty enough for a late afternoon dip, the perfect segue to bath time. And the house is warm enough that I have to avoid turning on the oven, meaning our menu transitions to salads, sandwiches and grilled food. Oh, and I can wear my flip flops everywhere I go.

With that said, I’m always on the lookout for ways to spice up our growing outdoor play time. Finley’s teacher first recommended the following “bubble brew” recipe, which also appeared in the May 2012 issue of Big Backyard.:

1 cup dishwashing liquid (Dawn is highly recommended)

10 cups warm, distilled water

1/4 cup light corn syrup or liquid glycerin (purchase at the drugstore)

Mix all your ingredients in a large container. (I reuse an old bubble container I have). Word has it if you let this bubble brew sit for about a day, it works better.

My kids love using this mix in bubble guns and inexpensive bubble makers. You also can experiment blowing bubbles with all kinds of household objects, for example a drinking straw. Big Backyard recommends cutting off the top and bottom of a milk or orange juice carton and encouraging your child to guess what shape bubble the rectangular container will produce. The answer: bubbles are always round, since spheres have the smallest surface area.

You can create bubble art by adding food coloring to your bubbles. Blow them into the air and encourage your child to catch them on a blank sheet of paper.

With my apologies to my friends still facing snowy days, get out there and blow some bubbles.

Homeschool, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Monarch Migration

First I send a big thank you to fellow blogger Mamadestroy for prompting this post and providing the source materials. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Some of you have been following our adventures as we attempt to grow painted lady butterflies from caterpillars. Our little guys should be making a chrysalis any day now.

Now here’s your chance to get into the butterfly act and become scientists from the comfort of your armchairs without committing to raising caterpillars.

Scientist need your help tracking monarch migration. Each fall, monarchs migrate to Mexico (and some to Southern California) where they spend the winter. Come spring, the females return to the U.S. and lay their eggs on milkweed in the southern U.S. Once the caterpillars hatch into butterflies this new generation continues north for the summer.

Monarch migration is mysterious. The butterflies overwinter in the same forests year after year. Amazingly, these butterflies know where to fly even though no monarch makes the trip to Mexico more than one. Still, logging in Mexico has made monarch migration a “threatened phenomenon” since many of the trees where monarchs spend the winter have been destroyed.

You can help the monarchs. Record sightings of monarch butterflies, eggs and caterpillars, as well as milkweed (their food source)….here. This data helps scientists learn how climate change and other factors affect this butterfly beauty.

The site also has integrated maps of reported sightings…here. The Kids section provides a host of resources, including videos of caterpillars hatching from their eggs and butterflies bursting from their chrysalis. National Geographic Kids also has a wonderful overview of creature including video…here. If you are a teacher or homeschooling parent, these resources would be an excellent accompaniment to a spring unit or caterpillar study.

Have you seen a monarch in your neighborhood? Report it and help scientists learn more about this fascinating creature.

Homeschool, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Eagerly awaiting very hungry caterpillars

Yesterday was the first day of spring. This year, I’m working hard to make sure we have lots of spring fun. Aside from our seed-related activities, I’ve ordered painted lady caterpillars from Insect Lore. Choosing among ladybugs, butterflies and ants was tough, but butterflies definitely offer the most drama.

So, here’s the deal. Insect Lore is shipping us caterpillars in a cup with special food. The caterpillars should feed, molt and grow for about a week. (Did you know, caterpillars molt? As they grown they burst out of their skin, revealing the new skin underneath. Eric Carle never mentioned that one.) Then they should build a chrysalis and transform into butterflies within about a week.

Our kit includes a special butterfly-net habitat so we can feed and watch the butterflies for a couple of days before we release them into our backyard. I’ve already double-checked to make sure painted ladies will survive in our area. I know from research I’m doing for a book that some butterflies are very picky eaters. Monarchs stick to milkweed. Karner Blues love only lupine.

The boys are excited. One of their Nature’s Miracles books is called Once There Was a Caterpillar. We’ve read it over and over to learn about the caterpillar life cycle: eggs, caterpillar, pupa (in a chrysalis), butterfly. As I’ve noted before, I love this series because each book contains ideas for talking with your children about the subject. as well as activity suggestions, books to read and useful Web sites.

Do you have any spring activities on your agenda? How do you celebrate the arrival of sunshine, warmth and new life?

Homeschool, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

First Day of Spring Fun

March 20th marks the first day of spring this year. At our house, I’m hoping spring will mean the end of an intense winter storm with high winds and cold rain. Didn’t the Punxsutawney clan predict only six more weeks of winter?

Nevertheless, we are celebrating the beginning of spring at our house by engaging in a number of spring activities. As we drive and play outside, I encourage the boys to look for signs of spring: buds and blossoms on trees, ants scurrying about, birds singing their spring songs, bunnies hopping, warming weather. We’ve talked about spring weather and how it differs from winter. (NOTE: Click here for a Kindergarten spring weather lesson plan.) Finally, last week I took Cooper and Finley to Lowe’s where they each picked a packet of seeds and a pair of gardening gloves. We started our seeds in egg cartons since it’s still too cold to sow them outside. They are so excited about their plants, spritzing them with a spray bottle every day; I am crossing my fingers they germinate.

Many of our spring activities have been inspired by Scholastic’s Nature’s Miracles book series by Judith Anderson and Mike Gordon. The set includes four books — one each about seeds, caterpillars, tadpoles and raindrops. Each book explains a natural cycle; for example Once There Was a Seed  begins with a young girl and her grandfather planting a seed and follows that seed as it sprouts, blooms, produces pollen, and dies and spreads its seeds starting the cycle over again. The back of the book includes for reading the book with your child and suggestions for more spring activities, books for additional reading and helpful Web sites.

Hopefully warm spring weather has made it your way. Happy spring!

Books, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: Bug Shots

Author: Alexandra Siy
Illustrator: Dennis Kunkel
Publication Info: Holiday House, 2011
Intended audience: Ages 6 to 10
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: science, nature, insects
Opening and synopsis: ”Bugs bite. Some drink blood. Bugs rob. They steal food from gardens and fields. Bugs kill — mostly each other, but also plants, animals, even people sometimes. Bugs destroy. They eat houses, clothes, and furniture. Bugs bug. (Is bugging a crime?)”
In her latest book, Siy invites children to become Fellow Bug Investigator (FBI) agents, surveying page after page of bug “mug shots” (photomicrographs) and learning more about them via their “rap sheets.” Thus informed, Siy encourages  children to deliver a verdict: are bugs good, bad or just plain bugly?
Why I like this book: Siy is one of my favorite nonfiction science writers for children. We love her Cars on Mars book, which chronicled the adventures of Spirit and Opportunity as they roved the Red Planet. She has a snappy, engaging style that ensures her subjects are never boring. With that said, this book would be nothing without Kunkel’s photomicrographs — essentially colorized pictures taken using a scanning electron microscope. Imagine a honeycomb-like grasshopper exoskeleton magnified more than 3000 times. Picture the hairs on a water strider’s legs magnified 2100 times, so you can truly understand how it walks on water. Even my three-year-old wants me to read him this book because the pictures captivate him.
Resources: This would be a great addition to any unit on bugs. Teachers and homeschoolers also can reserve time on the University of Illinois’s BugScope so kids can control the scanning electron microscope on their own while taking a close up look at the bugs they captured.
At home w collect our own bugs and look at them using our 99-cent magnifying glasses (thank you 99 Cent Store). I also bought a bug catcher at Target for a couple of dollars a few weeks ago. This can provide endless hours of entertainment on a nice spring day. A friend introduced me to Insect Lore a wonderful Web sit chock full of fun bug products. We just ordered painted lady larvae. Finally, Penn State has a list of fun bug  sites for kids….here.

Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, Holidays, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

April Fool, Phyllis!

Phyllis in front of an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter plane
Phyllis in front of an F-117 Nighthawk stealth fighter plane

As avid readers of Punxsutawney Phyllis by Susanna Leonard Hill recall, Phyllis predicted an early spring. Bored from all that hibernation, Phyllis decided to take a little trip this year in anticipation of April Fool’s Day, the subject of her newest book.

I am flattered to say that our family was selected as the first stop on Punxsutawney Phyllis’s World Tour to promote  April Fool, Phyllis! We are big fans of her original Groundhog Day story, and her April Fool follow-up continued to delight.

During her less-than-24-hour stop in Southern California, Phyllis received multiple readings. Cooper and Finley read the book for bedtime Thursday night. On Friday, Ms. Dina’s class at Palmdale United Methodist Preschool read the story. The class also helped Phyllis find her way to the sugarhouse using the maze from Susanna Leonard Hill’s site. We also shared the book with some of other friends in the area.

We made sure to snap a few photos of Phyllis alongside some of our more recognizable landmarks: Joshua trees and super fast airplanes. (Important note: Our area is the birthplace of the Space Shuttle and the spot where Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier for the first time. Planes that have flown higher, faster and further are all developed, built and tested here.) Phyllis really enjoyed the trip to the Joe Davies Heritage Air Park where she saw all kind of stealthy aircraft including the SR-71 Blackbird, U-S Dragon Lady, and F-117 Nighthawk. Rumor has it she might have taken the Nighthawk for a spin.

Phyllis loved the Joshua trees.

And now, for a review of the book (drum roll, please!):

Author: Susanna Leonard Hill
Illustrator: Jeffrey Ebbeler
Publication Info: Holiday House, 2011
Intended audience: Everyone!
Genre: picture book (32 pages)
Themes/topics: April Fools Day, nature, weather, groundhogs
Opening and synopsis: ”Phyllis knew everything about the weather. After all, she was Punxsutawney Phyllis, Weather Prophet Extraordinaire! So, when she woke up on April first, the day of the Spring Treasure Hunt, it took only one whiff of the morning air to tell her something wasn’t right.”
All the signs point to a blustery blizzard for April Fools Day. No one believes Phyllis’s prediction that a storm is on its way. When the snow hits during the annual Spring Treasure Hunt, will Phyllis be able to save her cousins?
Why I like this book: Honestly, there aren’t that many April Fools Day books on the market, and with small children at home, I like to celebrate each new holiday and season with a themed book. Beyond its theme, there are several elements to recommend this book. First, its discussion of weather and natural cycles can inspire lessons about how to predict weather, signs of spring and winter and the like. Second, children actually participate in the Spring Treasure Hunt along with Phyllis and her cousins. My three and five-year-old love puzzles and mysteries, and they enjoyed shouting out their guesses to each new clue. Finally, Hill includes a historical note in the back of the book detailing the origins of April Fools Day. As with the best children’s books, I learned something new. I had no idea that April 1st originally was considered New Year’s Day under the Julian calendar. When the Gregorian calendar took root beginning in 1582, New Year’s Day became January 1st. Those who continued to celebrate April 1st as the first day of the new year were considered the original fools.
Resources: Hill includes classroom guides for kindergarten, first and second grade on her Web site. This guides align with many state standards for several subjects. Just for fun, Hill also has a Phyllis paper doll dress up page and a maze worksheet.
And now, we must say “bon voyage” to Phyllis and send her on her way. Next stop….Texas!

Books, Nature, Outside, Reading

Perfect Picture Book Friday: The Camping Trip That Changed America

I feel truly honored to review this delightful book. I had read so much early press about it on several nonfiction blogs. The story intrigued me, especially since we recently took the boys to Muir Woods, named for naturalist John Muir. I was lucky enough to win my a copy from one of my favorite blogs, Teaching Authors. And Barb wrote a beautiful inscription to Cooper and Finley so that they’ll always remember their trip to Muir Woods.
Author: Barb Rosenstock
Illustrator: Mordicai Gerstein
Publication Info: Dial Books for Young Readers – Penguin Young Readers Group, 2012
Intended audience: Ages 6 to 8
Genre: nonfiction, picture book
Themes/topics: U.S. history, nature
Opening and synopsis: “Teedie and Johnnie didn’t have much in common — but they shared a love of the outdoors. They both loved a good story, too. And that was enough to change America.”
Rosenstock focuses on a brief excursion in 1903 when famed naturalist John Muir and then-President Theodore Roosevelt camped amongst the giant sequoias in the Yosemite wilderness. The two grown men swapped tales and relived their boyhood during their three-night camp out. Though Johnnie and Teedie never saw each other again after the trip, they became lifelong friends, and that friendship influenced outdoorsman Roosevelt, spurring him to protect more of America’s wilderness. Roosevelt subsequently helped establish 18 national monuments and 55 bird sanctuaries and game preserves. He also added 148 million acres to the National Forest system and doubled the number of National Parks, according to Rosenstock’s notes in the back of the book.
Resources: Rosenstock’s site has a lesson plan for teachers and parents, which is written to Common Core Standards. The boys and I also enjoyed exploring the Yosemite Web site, taking in numerous photos and videos of the majestic park. There are separate sections for kids and teachers.
Why I like this book: As a writer, I am always interested in narrative frameworks. In this book, Rosenstock focuses in on a period of four days, yet these few days have far-reaching impact in America’s history. This approach stands in sharp contrast to books that attempt to cover whole lives of well-known figures or entire historical periods. By narrowing her focus, Rosenstock is able to explore the camping trip in great detail, drawing upon primary resources like newspaper articles and government reports.
Mordicai Gerstein won a Caldecott Medal in 2004 for The Man Who Walked Between the Towers. His illustrations capture the beauty and majesty of the ancient redwood forests.
This book would be a great read for Arbor Day or Earth Day. Or, if you have budding naturalists or history buffs, this book is a perfect everyday read.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Books, Nature, Outside, Science/Math

Perfect Picture Book Friday: When the Wind Stops

Author: Charlotte Zolotow
Illustrator: Stefano Vitale
Publication Info: HarperCollins Publishers, 1995 (third edition)
Intended audience: Ages 4 and up, though my three-year-old loved it
Themes/topics: nature, natural science, weather
Synopsis and opening line: “The bright yellow sun had shown all day, and now the day was coming to an end. The light in the sky changed from blue to pink to a strange dusky purple. The sun sank lower into the long glowing clouds. The little boy was sorry to see the day end.”
In Zolotow’s beautiful, lyrically written book, the boy’s mother explains that nothing comes to an end. When the day ends at his house, night begins and day breaks at another spot on the globe. Falling leaves signal not the end of autumn, but the beginning of new life, as the decaying leaves nourish the soil. Zolotow’s text is a poetic preschool introduction to the natural world and its cycles.
Resources: This book encompasses much of the natural world. To explain the Earth’s rotation, you need only a flashlight and a globe. Don’t have a globe? Try an orange instead. Show children where you live on the globe (or mark the spot with an x on the orange). Tell the children that the flashlight is the sun. When the sun shines directly on the x (or your city on the globe) it’s daytime there. Now rotate the globe or orange 180 degrees. Explain that now your home is in Earth’s shadow, and it’s nighttime. But see, the sun is shining somewhere else! You could also compost to explain how old leaves and dead plant matter create nutrients and new life. Boil water to show how water becomes water vapor, which creates clouds. Trap some water vapor in a bottle and let it cool. Now you’ve got rain.
Why I like this book: A busy two-year-old serendipitously handed me this book at the library when he saw me pulling books off the shelf. His choice couldn’t have been more perfect. At each sunrise and sunset my three-year-old asks, “Is the sun coming up or going down?” We talk about the Earth’s rotation and the fact that sunset means a new day is dawning somewhere else in the world.  This beautifully written book provides just enough information about nature and its cycles for preschoolers.
Every Friday bloggers review “Perfect Picture Books.” Find a complete list of book reviews organized by topic, genre and blogger at author Susanna Leonard Hill’s site.
Nature, Outside

A walk in the desert

For some reason, taking a nature walk has become a kind of New Year’s tradition. Typically, we have lots of time on our hands around the holidays, and the museums we frequent are closed. The kids have played with their new toys and are getting bored and restless. The bottom line: it’s time to get out of the house.

This year, we made sure to tote our “explorer gear.” We brought along binoculars to spot wildlife, a magnifying glass in case we found interesting bugs or rocks, and brand-new walkie talkies “in case we got lost,” according to Finley. We spotted rabbits, a roadrunner and a variety of birds. We collected tumbleweeds. We ran. We explored. We enjoyed being outside on the trails.

Nature looks a lot different in the wintertime, even in southern California. A nature walk can prompt children to ponder: where did the birds go? What do animals do in the wintertime? What do they eat?  Exploring the trails is a perfect adventure in any season.

Field Trip Ideas, Homeschool, Nature, Outside, Travel

Field Trip Ideas: National Parks

Inside a Coastal Redwood

The National Parks are some of our greatest national treasures. From Ellis Island to Yosemite these places of natural beauty and historic significance hold a special place in our hearts. Our family recently visited Muir Woods National Monument, a beautiful coastal redwood forest named for conservationist John Muir featuring trees two hundred feet high. It was a magical experience for our two children.

The walk to Cathedral Grove, with some of the most magnificent trees, is only a mile round trip, and the paths are stroller friendly. We transformed our visit into a learning experience by requesting a Junior Ranger Activity Book at the entry gate.  The Park Service has these guides for many (and I mean many) of their parks. The Muir Woods Book encouraged us to listen to the sounds of the forest and observe our surroundings to appreciate their beauty. We learned about tree rings, how redwoods reproduce (via burls and cones), how these trees drink 500 gallons of water a day, and how tannins in the trees’ bark protects them from fires, insects and rot.  The book also helped us identify plants and animals of Muir Woods.

At the end of the trip, we answered a few short question. I emailed them to Muir Woods, though you could leave them with a Park Ranger or mail them in, and we are now expecting a Junior Ranger Certificate. A Junior Ranger sticker badge was included with the book, which Cooper proudly wore on his shirt.

The National Park Service has a number of other resources for teachers and children:

  • WebRangers contains more than 50 games that help children learn about the National Parks.
  • Online Park Fun helps you explore the parks  in person or online.
  • Many of the parks also have curricular resources for teachers planning field trips. These are perfect for serious homeschoolers.