Tuesday, September 3, 2013

DIY Constellation Tubes

Somehow summer is over and I have no idea how that happened.  Maybe its the weather - it's been hot, hot, hot and sticky for the last couple of weeks around here - but whatever it is, I am NOT ready! Regardless of my desire to stop time, my middle kiddo goes back to school tomorrow and my oldest has been in school for almost three weeks.  (Which is still hard for me to wrap my mind around since we are so used to starting school after Labor Day.)

This year we compiled a "Summer Fun List" of around 30 things we wanted to do during the summer.  (We still have several items on our Summer Fun List that we haven't completed, but I'm going to claim an extension until the autumnal equinox on September 22nd for those.  Is that cheating?)  This activity was inspired by one of the list items - "Go Stargazing".  

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Happy Spring! Equinox Cookies and a Book Share

Oh, Happy Spring!

We spent the day doing all things springy - spring crafts, spring baking, spring song... You get the idea.  (The spring song was made up by Sydney, no less.  And, it was cute.  For the first half hour.  Maybe for the first 10 minutes.)

I wanted to share a lovely spring book that I found at the library.  The charming illustrations and lyrical language remind me a bit of If You Find a Rock, another favorite.  The book is and then it's spring, by Julie Fogliano and Erin E. Stead.  It tells of a boy planting some seeds in his garden in the spring and then waiting.  And waiting.  And waiting some more.  A few of my favorite lines:
"... and it is still brown,
but a hopeful, very possible sort of brown,..."
"please do not stomp here -
there are seeds
and they are trying"
Lovely, right?

We don't have quite the same level of brown at the start of spring here that I am used to in Michigan, but I can still visualize those little seeds trying.  I'm still learning the rhythm of the seasons and I have to admit that its a fun kind of local education.  And, don't worry, I'm sure we get our fair share of brown - probably the end of the summer when its 100 degrees and there hasn't been any rainfall in a month... I may have to write a parody.  (Okay, my sister, Kate, may have to write it.  She is a much better writer and way funnier than I.)

I also wanted to share a fun treat that you can make with your kids to celebrate spring: Spring Equinox Cookies!

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Estimating and The Great Backyard Bird Count

"Momma, do you know why George Washington is one of the best presidents?"

This was from my eldest one after I picked her up from school a few weeks ago.  With several accolades flying through my head - 1st president, Revolutionary War general, honest chopper of cherry trees - I let her continue her thought uninterrupted.

"Because he gave us a day off school."

Well, there is that, too.

A highlight of President's weekend for our family each year is the Great Backyard Bird Count, a joint project of the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology and the Audubon Society.  It's a great example of an accessible citizen science project that can be done with kids.  For at least 15 minutes during the long weekend, contributors are asked to count the number of each type of bird they observe and submit it online at the GBBC website.  As the name indicates, many people conduct the count in their backyards, although others may do it at local parks or other public spaces.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

The Pine Cone Experiment

One of the other things the girls have been collecting during our recent explorations are pine cones.  In our community, there are some beautiful and prolific pine trees that line the main thoroughfare.  Have you ever noticed how pine cones change after a few days of rain?  This is an easy experiment to do with very common (and free!) materials.

Materials Needed:
  • pine cones, at least 8 - 10
  • small kitchen towel
  • container with water (we used a plastic storage container)
  • magnifying glass (optional)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Cool App: Project Noah

We are slowly getting settled in Southern California and I... mean.... sloooooowlyyyyyy.  I suppose that is to be expected when I am simultaneously trying to unpack a home and act as the primary caregiver for three little girls.  It seems most days I make some progress in one area of the house and the girls are systematically creating chaos in another part.

Systematic chaos?  Now, who's being dramatic?  Fine, I admit it.  But, someone out there sympathizes.  Right?

And, our welcome has been a bit chilly thus far.  Not from the neighbors, who seem lovely, but from the weather.  Southern California has just experienced a massive cold snap; we even had frost on the car windows for several mornings in a row.  My father, hearing me say that it was "cold" here, sent me this picture:

Ha! I was beginning to worry that we had somehow brought the cold weather with us from Michigan.  Not to mention the fact that I think I oh-so-generously bestowed upon my northern friends all manner of cold weather equipment like ice scrapers.  Or, maybe they are in the filled-to-overflowing garage.  Let's not even go there...

We've had a bit of a delay getting our oldest into kindergarten (the schools around here are not dissimilar to our garage), but that's given us more opportunity to explore the new neighborhood.  And, Explorers we have been!  We have four parks within a 10-20 minute walk or bike ride.  (How cool is that?)  Along the way, we have been collecting leaves and seeds from the local flora that the girls promptly stick into their bike's little pack.

The only problem is that, to be honest, many of the plants looks quite foreign to me.  Luckily, I remembered a great (free!) app I downloaded a while ago called "Project Noah".  (Note: I have it on my iPhone but they also have an Android version.)  From the Project Noah website:

Our ultimate goal is to build the go-to platform for documenting all the world’s organisms, and through doing this we hope to develop an effective way to measure Mother Nature’s pulse. 

I just love the phrase, "...measure Mother Nature's pulse".

Anyway, the girls have been collecting a cool looking seed from a tree near our house - spherical, brown, about 1 1/2" in diameter with spikes and holes all over it.

Source: wikipedia
We collected many of them as well as a few of the remaining leaves - it was tough to find one that was really photogenic as the tree is currently dormant (yes, there are seasons in SoCal!).  When you log in, you can create a "spotting" that includes both photos (up to 5) as well as notes or a description.  If you know the organism, common or scientific name, you can add that when you create the record.  If, like us, you don't know what it is, you can mention that in the note.  Here's a screen shot of the spotting I created:

As we didn't know what it was, I was able to indicate that and added that in the note about the organism and within 48 hours, I had a species suggestion from a fellow Project Noah user: Sweetgum tree (Liquidambar sytraciflua). You can check out this spotting as well as our spottings of the Ctenucha moth larvae, a monarch butterfly, and a luna moth from this summer.

This is such a great tool for citizen science! Spottings can be added to "missions", such as "Birds of the World" or "Global Urban Biodiversity".  There are also the "BioBlitz" in which participants identify and count all the organisms found in a given area, say Rocky Mountain State Park.  You can also create your own mission - this would be really cool to do in a school, nature center or homeschool setting!  Maybe we should do a BioBlitz of our new backyard!

Other tools on the website and mobile application include a map on which you can search for spottings in your local area or by types of organisms.  It's pretty cool to see the spottings that are posted from all over the world.  You can also share your spotting via Facebook or Twitter and connect to friends that are also also using Project Noah. 

We have lots more to learn about our new community.  In the meantime, we have added the collected sweetgum seeds to our new Nature Jar on our mantle.  We haven't quite figured out where to put our Nature Table, especially with a very mobile and curious 10 month old, but seeing it up there every day is a great reminder of the beauty and adventure awaiting us.

Do you use Project Noah?  If you do, please let me know as I'd love to connect!

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Our Favorite Trees

As I mentioned last week, my family and I have a big move ahead of us and we are getting a bit sentimental about leaving this area.  While we are very excited about the opportunity to move west, it is a bit bittersweet as big moves tend to be.  We've made some amazing friends, especially over the last couple of years as our girls have entered school.  We also have an idyllic piece of property - one in which we feel completely comfortable letting the kids and dog roam and explore the many natural treasures found on it.  (Okay, so sometimes I'm not so happy with the "treasures" that the dog finds...)

This past weekend, my husband had the idea of documenting our favorite trees on the property.  So, Sunday afternoon we went on a ramble and each of us picked out favorite tree and took pictures with it.  We also had to share why it was our favorite tree - I thought the girls' answers would be a fun thing to look back on in the future.  As this blog is as much a place for me to document some of our family's activities as well as a place to share fun science things to do, I thought I would share.

If you want to do this, its helpful to have a way to identify the trees.  There are several good pocket guides (I like any of the Peterson ones) as well as apps (such as from the National Audubon Society).  I had a few other resources listed in our seed hunt activity from last fall and recently found the Tree Leaf Key from About.com which does a pretty good job describing the characteristics of the different leaves.  Another thing you can do is visit a local arboretum, park or college campus that has identified and labelled many of the trees for you.  It would be great fun to document your child in front of their favorite tree each year to see how each has grown over the years.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Weathering and Erosion with Found Rocks

Yoohoo?  Hello?

Hi.  It's me again.

School is back in session, the leaves are turning color and I have a huge variety of science activities rolling around in my brain that I am ready to share!  Sorry for the prolonged absence... this summer became more than a bit crazy for our family.  

In June, we were strongly considering putting our house on the market and started to do some of those little projects that have been hanging around for a little (long) while.  In July, my husband quit his job to pursue an exciting start-up company so then we really did have to put our house on the market.  (Which is not an easy feat with three young kids - thank you, thank you to my family and friends that helped us out so much!)  We got the house on the market in early August, sold it in early September, and are closing this week.  We make our official move in early November.  Oh, and did I mention this is not a small move... we are moving to California!  I think that phrase, "Life is a moving target", was invented for me this past summer!

Anyway, this activity evolved while we were in California looking for a new community in which to call home.  (We are moving to the San Diego area.)  We stayed for a week in two different locales and spent time each day exploring the area's offerings, from parks to restaurants.  And, of course we spent one day at the beach!  My little rock hunters continued their collecting ways and found a couple of rocks at the beach as well as a few at some of the more mountainous hikes that we took.  I was struck in the very clear difference due to weathering between the rocks and allowed the girls to take them home so we could do an activity with them.

Note: And, yes, I do believe in the idea of Leave Only Footprints - and got lectures by both my hubby and best friend when I let the girls take their rocks home.  I hereby promise to return the rocks to their rightful homes once we move.  (Happy, M & H?)

Materials Needed:

  • Collected rocks from "beach-type" and "mountain-type" locations
  • magnifying glasses
  • sandpaper
  • science journals

Thursday, May 24, 2012

From Caterpillar to Moth: Ctenucha virginica


I call him "Stan". 

Yes, yes, I have heard the arguments against anthropomorphizing, especially with children, but, really, "Ctenucha" is such a mouthful. 

So, Stan he is. Until he hatches anyway, and then he might just be "Stanette". 

Maya found him yesterday clinging to the side of our plastic pool.  It is the larvae ("caterpillar" or, as Maya says, "killerpatter") form of the Ctenucha virginica moth. We found our bug jar and the girls dug out their magnifying glasses and spent some good quality time investigating our new friend.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Recycled Mini Greenhouses

Happy Earth Day! We love Earth Day at our house; not just because of the concept behind it but also because it is the anniversary of our engagement!  11 years.  Which means that this year marks our 10th wedding anniversary - wow!  

Anyway, back to Earth Day... To celebrate this year, Maya and I raided our recycling bin and made some mini greenhouses in which to start our seeds.  Okay, to be honest, the toilet paper tubes hadn't even made it to the recycling bin.  I have an issue with disposing (even recycling) toilet paper tubes.  I keep thinking, "There has to be something I can do with this."  So, rather than throw them in with my other recyclables, I end up lining them up on the window sill behind the toilet waiting for inspiration to strike.  My friends that use my bathrooms must think I'm very odd.  Check that.  They already know that I'm odd, it's the visitors that happen to use the bathroom that must think I'm very odd.  Oh well.  

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Dissecting Bean Seeds

Spring has definitely arrived here and I am itching to get outside in the garden.  We have big, maybe too big given our newborn, plans for the garden this year including a square foot gardening project for the older girls.  (That particular project involves power tools - hooray!)  We just received some seeds we ordered in the mail this week from Seeds of Change (a great source for organic seeds - we got some San Marzano tomato seeds this year because I hear they make an amazing sauce!) and I made the comment about every seed having a baby plant inside.  The girls, as you can imagine with a new baby in the house, are fascinated by babies right now and wanted to see the baby plant so we decided to dissect some beans!
Materials Needed:
  • variety of dried beans - we used a bag of mixed dried beans intended for soup
  • water
  • paper towels
  • 5 plastic containers
  • magnifying glass
  • markers - I recommend permanent (for adult use!)
  • science journal