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!