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Archive for the ‘Handbook of Nature Study’ Category

This week, as part of our nature study, we focused on bats. We’re using the Handbook of Nature Study website which features different Outdoor Hour Challenges based on the book with the same name.  I used two different challenges on the website: Outdoor Hour Challenge #49 Bats and Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer Series #4 – Bats and the Sense of Hearing since each has different activities.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

1. Read pages 241-245 in the Handbook of Nature Study. Although the lesson for bats states that it should not be given unless you can directly observe bats in person, I think this interesting creature deserves his own Outdoor Hour Challenge.

These are some points that were made in the book that I shared with the girls:

[The] wing [is a] thin membrane…equipped with sensitive nerves which inform the flier of the objects in his path, so that he darts among the branches of trees at terrific speed and never touches a twig.

Bat wings have raised domes which act as touch receptors.

The flight of the bat consists of darting hither and thither with incredible swiftness, and making sharp turns with no apparent effort.

[Bats]…catch insects on the wing for food. He makes a collecting net of the wing membrane stretched between the hind legs and tail, doubling it up like an apron on the unfortunate insects, and then reaching down and gobbling them up; and thus he is always doing good service to us on summer evenings by swallowing a multitude of insects.

The short fur of the bat is as soft as silk, and covers the body but not the wings.

The plan of the wing is something like that of the duck’s foot; it consists of a web stretched between very much elongated fingers.

If a boy’s fingers were as long in proportion as a bat’s, they would measure four feet.

Since fingers make the framework, it is the thumb that projects from the front angle of the wing, in the form of a very serviceable hook.

\
Bat wing bone structure.

These hooks the bat uses in many ways. He drags himself along the floor…or he scratches the back of his head with them.

He is essentially a creature of the air and is not at all fitted for walking; his knees bend backward in an opposite direction from ours. This renders him unable to walk, and when attempting to do so, he has the appearance of “scrabbling” along on his feet and elbows

Bat walking using its wings/elbows to help move it along.

He uses his teeth to aid in climbing.

The little brown bat’s wings often meausre nine inches from tip to tip.

Brown bat flying with wings outstretched.

He does not fold [his wings] like a fan, but rather, like a pocket knife.

The tiny foot…is armed with five wirelike toes, tipped with sharp hooked claws. It is by these claws that he hangs when resting during the day, for he is upside-down in his sleeping habits, slumbering during the daytime.

The bat is very particualr about his personal cleanliness. 

He washes his face with the front part of his wing, and then licks his washcloth clean; he scratches the back of his head with his hind food and then licks the foot.  [To] clean his wings, he seizes the edges in his mouth and stretches and licks the membrane.

The bat has a voice which sounds like squeak of a toy wheelbarrow, and yet it is expressive of emotions.

He squeaks in one tone when holding conversation with other bats, and squeaks quite differently when seized by the enemy.

Little brown bat.

The mother bat…takes [her babies] with her when she goes out for insects in the evenings; they cling to her neck during these exciting rides; but when she wishes to work unencumbered, she hangs her tiny youngsters on some twig and goes back for them later.

The little ones are born in July and usually occur as twins.

During the winter, some bats hibernate like woodchucks or chipmunks. They select for winter quarters some hollow tree or cave. They do not awake until the insects are flying. Others migrate to the south with the advent of cold weather.

Hibernating bats.

2. Supplemental reading in The Burgess Animal Book for Children: Read Story 21. Use the illustration on page 128 to prompt a narration after reading the story about the Little Brown Bat.

The girls both enjoyed the story. There was one section about where bats will rest, and barns were mentioned. This, of course, made them think about how fun it would be to take flashlights and go the hayloft in the barn and see if they could spot any bats.

“Should we go at night? Like around 10 p.m.?” Olivia asked.

“No, they’d be outside eating bugs,” said Sophia. “Let’s go up during the day when they’d be hanging there.”

We went to the barn loft and I gave each of the girls a flashlight. They were so eager to shine their flashlights on the inside of the barn roof and find bats. 

Climbing on top of some old hay bales to find bats.

They walked the entire loft and then Olivia suggested they climb on top of some hay bales. Although they wanted to see bats, I couldn’t even begin to imagine what would happen if bats flew out from behind the wood pieces in front of them.

Looking for bats in the barn loft.

Since we didn’t see any bats in the barn, we headed to the pine trees in the front yard since I’ve seen bats flying around the trees at night. Again, we didn’t see any bats from the ground.

The girls even climbed one of the tallest pine trees to see if they could spot any bats.

Sophia enjoys climbing trees.
She said the pine tree had a lot of sap where she was standing.
She even spotted raccoon scat on one of the limbs.

If there are any bats in the front yard pine trees, they must be up near the top of them.

Olivia was determined to find at least one bat.

3. This week during your 10-15 minutes of outdoor time, look for any mammals in your neighborhood or in a near-by park. Many of us will not find any mammals to observe or signs of mammals like scat or tracks. This should not discourage us from taking the time to be outdoors with our children.

When the girls were climbing the front pine tree, Sophia spotted some raccoon scat. Near the base of the tree, there were parts of pine cones that the raccoon (s) didn’t want to eat.

Parts of pinecones that the raccoon didn’t want to eat.

Both of the girls were excited to have spotted evidence that there are other wild animals here that we don’t see during the day.

4. After your walk, discuss any interesting things that you observed. Help your child to find words for their experience. Record their words on paper and have them sketch a simple drawing for their nature journal.

Use some of the ideas that worked in the past like a rubbing of a leaf or feather. Take photos for your nature journals. Research and record what you learned about the bat this week from reading in the Handbook of Nature Study. One idea would be to sketch and record how a bat’s wings are different from a bird’s wings.

You could discuss why a bat is considered a mammal and how it differs from other mammals that we have studied. Keep it simple but make some connections this week.

The girls will be working on their nature journals and doing an entry about bats now that they saw the bats flying at night (see more information below).

*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*~*

Summer Series #4
Bats and Sense of Hearing – Train Your Senses

Sight: Observe the sky at sundown, look for the silhouettes of birds, bats, or insects in the air.

Hearing: Observe the sounds of the night starting at sundown: bats, crickets, frogs, bark of a dog, hoot of an owl, birds, rustling in the leaves, wind, etc. Can you hear more sounds on a damp night? Can you hear more sounds at night when your sense of sight is not as keen?

Inside Preparation Work – The reading from the Handbook of Nature Study is the same as above. There was another book reference “Discover Nature at Sundown,” but I didn’t have this book.

Outdoor Hour Time:

1. Things That Go Bump in the Night: Spend 15 minutes outdoors at sundown, observing some of the sounds suggested in the book. The book suggests observing sounds on a damp night and a dry night and comparing your results. Something else to listen for is “sudden silence” where the night noises completely stop and then start up again after a period of time.

Since we didn’t spot any bats during the day, we agreed that we would go out again when it was starting to get dark. So, around 8:45 p.m., we walked to the front yard.

The girls both heard frogs in the pond and pasture and birds in the trees. They said they felt a few rain drops and the wind.

We looked at the pine trees and walked up and down the driveway where the bats are often seen, but there wasn’t a single bat out at that time. I suggested that we come out again when it’s a bit darker…in about 15 minutes.

So, around 9:00 p.m. we went out again when it was much darker. It took a moment for our eyes to adjust from being in the light indoors to the dark outdoors. Yet, we could easily see everything outside after a few minutes. 

Again, Sophia and Olivia heard frogs calling to one another, but the birds had now quieted down. A new sound was apparent: mosquitos buzzing around our ears. 

Then…the first sighting!  “Bats!” the yelled enthusiastically and pointed up. 

Sure enough, the bats were flying within 3-4 feet of our heads. It was a great opportunity to see the bats up close and in flight.

Olivia and Sophia looking at the pine trees
where the bats were flying to and from around 9:00 p.m.

We walked to the pine trees again and saw that they were heading in and out of one of the trees more so than the others. Olivia began counting the number of bats she saw and got to 14.

As we walked back to the house, I saw a firefly near the pasture gate. We walked over to where I saw it, and then the golden glow happened again, but closer to the girls this time.  Needless to say, they were thrilled!  They had never seen a firefly up close.

Firefly.

The more we looked, the more fireflies we saw around us. It was a wonderful time outside – seeing both bats and fireflies!

2. World of Bats:


“Although an occasional bat can be found flying about during the day, most bats take to the sky during the twilight hours. On a summer evening you can observe them in a dance of twists, spirals, and loops that is choreographed by the insects they pursue.” Discover Nature at Sundown, page 148

If you have the opportunity to observe some bats up close, make sure to use some of the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study and/or the Discover Nature at Sundown.

The girls were able to see quite a few bats fly and the variety within the flight pattern. Both were amazed at how quickly they flew.

Although some bats did fly relatively low (about 8-9 feet from the ground), the majority flew much higher (about 20-40 feet high).
Follow-Up Activity:

Make sure to give time and the opportunity for a nature journal entry.

Sophia and Olivia will work on their nature journal entry in the morning and recall their experience of seeing the bats flying around them.

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In the spring, we did a nature study about cattails.  It was the first of four studies that we will be doing over a course of the year.  This idea came from the Handbook of Nature Study website, and is the
Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer #7 – Summer Cattail Observations.
.
Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

Inside Preparation Work:


Read pages 500-502 in the Handbook of Nature Study if you have not done so before (starting on page 551 if you have the free download version) . It might also be beneficial to read it again this season and highlight the parts that contain information about the leaves of the cattail plant.

The following parts of the book were shared with Sophia and Olivia:

In June and early July…it will be seen to have the upper half of the cat’s tail much narrower and different than the lower half – as if it were covered with a quite different fur.

Cattail balloon and the part above it
(this is where the pollen comes from).

It seems to be clothed with a fine drooping fringe of olive yellow.

The fringe is a mass of crowded anthers, two or three of them being attached to the same stalk by a short filament.

These anthers are packed full of pollen.

All the leaves have the same general shape, but vary in length.

Olivia and Sophia by a group of cattails.
Olivia is swatting off mosquitos and
is ready to do something different.

Each leaf consists of two parts: the free portion, which is long and narrow and flat towards its tapering tip but is bent into a trough as it nears the plant; and the lower portion, which clasps the plant entirely or partially, depending upon whether it is an outer or inner leaf.

The texture of the leaf is soft and smooth. 

The cattail is adopted for living in swamps where the soil is wet but not under water all the time.

The cattail roots are fine and fibrous.

Outdoor Hour Time:


Enjoy your outdoor time this week at your cattail spot. If you have been participating in the year-long cattail study since last autumn, you will know just where to look for cattails. Use the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study to talk a little about the habitat where your cattails are growing.

Is your cattail still growing in water or has it dried up?

The cattails are both growing in and out of the pond.

The cattails grow in and out of the pond.

What does the “cattail” parts of the plant look like now?

Sophia said that the cattail part is, “Brown, fluffy, and tough.”

“There’s some kind of stem at the top,” Olivia said.

I asked the girls to remove one of the cattails so that they could observe it closer inside. Olivia tried to snap off the cattail, but the stem was very tough to remove. Sophia tried, struggled a bit, and finally was able to break it off.

The girls were trying to break off the top of a cattail
so they could examine it indoors.

What color and shape are the leaves?

Olivia said, “Long and green.”  Sophia said, “Long, pointy at the end, silky, smooth, and green.”

Do you see the cattails seeds or balloons?

The balloons are the parts that we see now. (We had to look up what a cattail balloon is on the internet and found that it is the term for the long, oval brown part of the cattail.)
Can you pull some of the fuzz from the cattail and observe it more closely?

We took one cattail as well as a small section that was on another stalk.  We brought these two items inside to look at them closer with a magnifying glass. Some of the plant is included in the nature journal page.
How do you think the seeds spread, by wind or water?

The girls both thought they would be spread by the wind.

However, as we discussed it more, we thought the seeds could be spread by both wind and water – the wind could carry the seeds to different nearby areas of the pond and pasture; and the water could carry the seeds (once they landed on the water) to different parts of the pond itself.
How crowded are the cattails growing together?

Some of the cattails grow close together in the pond while other cattails are growing by themselves in different parts of the pond. and pasture.

The pond where the cattails are growing.

Train Your Senses


Sight: Observe the cattail’s habitat. Look for birds, insects, and animals living or resting in or on the cattails. Look for nests. See if you can find the cattail flowers.

The girls saw red-winged blackbirds, two unidentified birds, many dragonflies, and mosquitos. The dragonflies were twelve-spotted skimmers. We were seeing the brown and white winged ones – the males. We didn’t see any females.

Twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly.

Smell: Sit or squat near your cattails and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and see if you smell anything.

We didn’t sit near the cattails because most of them were near or in the pond. There seemed to be a lot of mosquitos and other insects near the edge of the pond.

Olivia was having a particularly difficult time with all the bugs, so I opted to move on to walking in the wooded area of the pasture and see if we could spot anything else of interest.

Touch: Feel the leaves, edges, and spikes of the cattails.

Both of the girls felt the leaves and thought they were soft and silky. Despite the softness, they are quite tough and provide a bit of challenge when trying to break a small section off.

Hearing: Take a minute to listen as you stand or sit near your cattails. Can you hear any birds or insects? Water running?

The red-winged blackbirds were the predominant sound…that and the buzzing of mosquitos.  The water is in a pond, so there isn’t much movement on a relatively calm day.

Follow-Up Activity:

Make sure to allow some time after your outdoor hour to discuss any subjects that your child finds interesting. Encourage the completion of a nature journal entry recording your observation of your cattails. You may wish to pull out your other cattail entries and compare the year-long changes in your cattails.

Once we were inside, we spent time touching and looking at the cattail balloon and leaves. From a sensory aspect, the cattail has such a diversity of textures which makes it an interesting plant to explore.

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I was looking at the Handbook of Nature Study website, and came across One Small Square – Outdoor Hour Challenge #9.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

“Children should be encouraged to quietly and
patiently watch the bee, spider, ant, caterpillar or
other wildlife that crosses their path.
If this seems dull to them,
they just need to watch more closely,
because their alert eyes can catch the smallest ways of insects
in ways that grown-ups can’t without magnifiers.”
~ Charlotte Mason, volume 1, Outdoor Life, page 57 ~

1. Let’s give ourselves a challenge. Gather yarn, scissors, ruler, and four rocks. (Optional: small garden trowel and magnifying lens.)


Measure off one square somewhere out in your yard or near-by park. (I prefer to do this somewhere I can dig up a few inches of soil and not get into trouble.) Use your ruler to place rocks in a one foot square plot. Use the yarn to mark off the edges of your square.

Now the challenge comes in. See how many different things you can find in your square. If there are leaves, lift them up and see what is underneath. If there are rocks or gravel, scrape them aside and see what is underneath.

If there is grass or weeds and you have permission, use your trowel to dig up a few inches under the grass, moving it carefully to the side to replace when you are done observing. Use your hand lens if you have one along with you on your challenge.

I remember reading about this activity when I did a summer camp program for children and thought it was such a wonderful way to closely explore a small section of the world.

By having such a tiny section in which to explore, one is essentially “forced” to take her time to look carefully and go section-by-section and find new things.

Olivia discovering a world within the square of yarn. 

Olivia found some things right away within her square: a small stick, odd-shaped leaves, grass, and moss.

Sophia identifying what she sees first
without a magnifying glass.
After a little while, Olivia felt she had identified everything in the square. I joined her and we were able to find some more items that she had missed on her first time around the square.
Looking a bit closer,
Olivia found even more items.

Olivia used her magnifying glass to find a few more items: part of a pinecone, ferns, creeping Charlie, some kind of clover, dandelion leaf, dew, and a pine needle.
Sophia seemed to have found an interesting section of the front yard. Right away she said she saw: grass, pinecone shaving, wood, creeping Charlie, old pine needles, a bit of dirt, moss, dew, and a few little ferns.
Sophia exploring another section of the square.
By alternating with her magnifying glass and getting closer to the ground, Sophia found even more items in the 1 square foot of space: seed pod, few pieces of bark, a weird-shaped leaf that looks like a heart, a few roots, old grass that’s turning brown, a dandelion leaf, wet ground, and tiny little bugs.
That’s quite a diversity of natural items within such a small amount of space. Imagine what is in twice that amount of land…or the entire farm. 
It’s so easy to rush through each day without taking the time to slow down and appreciate the small things in life. If we hadn’t done this Outdoor Hour Challenge, we would not have enjoyed seeing two miniature worlds right in the front yard. 
Although each one was similiar to the other in some respects (e.g., both had grass, moss, and dew), there were unique elements in each square which made it all the more fascinating to further explore and take one’s time in finding as many different things as possible.
2. Add any new items to your focus list that you are keeping in your nature journal. Add any items to your collection that you found during this week’s challenge time. Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry. If you used your hand lens during this week’s challenge, encourage your child to draw something they saw that you would not normally see like a small insect, worm, or seed.

The girls each chose a few small items that can be pressed and placed into their nature journals. Once the items are pressed, they will write and illustrate the entry for the day. 

Because I wrote the list of items they found as they were saying them, they can simply copy their lists at a later date.

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I was looking at the Handbook of Nature Study website, and came across Summer Tree Observation – Outdoor Challenge #20 and OHC Summer Series #2: Summer Tree Observations. I’m combining these into one nature study.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

Indoor Preparation


If your first observation was in spring, you are now into summer and your tree should look a little different. Check in the Handbook of Nature Study to see if your tree is listed there and then do the reading about that particular tree. There should be some suggestions for observations that you can follow.

Read pages 618-620 in the Handbook of Nature Study: The Parts of a Tree. For your summer tree study, make sure you read the information on these pages so you have in mind the parts of a tree: trunk or bole, head or crown, spray, and branch.

Also, make sure you have a general idea of how a tree makes its own food by reading in the section, How a Tree Grows, on pages 620-622. Your job will be to relate any of this information that you think might be of interest to your child as you study your tree.
“The leaf is a factory; the green pulp in the leaf cells is part of the machinery; the machinery is set in motion by sunshine power; the raw materials are taken from the air and from the sap containing food from the soil; the finished product is largely starch.

Thus, it is well when we begin a study of the tree to notice that the leaves are so arranged as to gain all the sunlight possible, for without sunlight the starch factories would be obliged to ‘shut down’ “.

~ Anna Botsford-Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study ~
Train Your Senses

Outdoor Hour Time

Take your 10-15 minute outdoor time to study the tree you are going to observe over the next year. You can take photos of your tree to put in your nature journal or you can sketch the tree in your journal.

I’m taking pictures of the girls standing next to their favorite tree so that they have an accurate representation of how their tree, the immediate environment, and they change over the course of a year.

Olivia is standing by her favorite tree:
a white pine in the backyard.

Olivia noticed as we were standing by the pine trees that the needles still had quite a bit of water on them from the rain that fell earlier in the day.  She shook some of the branches out which created a “shower” for the grass below.

The girls then had the idea of having one another stand under the branches while the other shook a taller branch. Each one had a refreshing “rain shower” which they said felt good given that it was in the 80s.

Sophia shaking a pine branch filled with water
onto Olivia. “That felt good!” she said.
We headed out to the nature trail and then into the back part of the property where Sophia’s tree is located. The last time we visited her tree was in the spring on a very chilly day.
Today, it was beautiful and sunny, the birds were flying overhead, and there was a nice breeze.
Sophia by her favorite tree: a maple tree.

Your tree should have its leaves now and we are going to spend 10-15 minutes of your outdoor time using the ideas from the Handbook of Nature Study to do some focused observations of your tree. Remember you may want to start using the proper vocabulary for the parts of a tree when you are completing your tree observations.

Sight: Look closely at the bark and/or leaves. Stand or lay under your tree and look up. Use a magnifying lens to look at the bark and leaves. Look for birds, animals, or insects in your tree. Look for all the parts of your tree: trunk, crown, branches, and spray.

Sophia brought in a trio of leaves from her maple tree. With a magnifying glass, she noticed “bumps, tiny cells, and a half-eaten leaf…like a bug ate it. One of the leaves is slightly lighter than the other.”

Tree galls on a maple leaf.

She said, “On the back side of one of the leaves where the bumps are there are brown stains and the remainder of an old web.”

I didn’t know what the bumps were, so we looked it up on the internet. We found out that they are tree galls.

Tree galls look like green or brown bumps, and may resemble a wart, blister or pouch. Galls are created when insects, mites, nematodes, or other organisms such as bacteria or fungi feed on a tree’s leaves.

Galls usually do not cause any serious damage to a healthy tree. However, large numbers of galls can affect the tree’s appearance and cause premature leaf drop.

There were no birds or animals in the maple tree. The tree galls indicate that there were insects at some time in Sophia’s favorite tree.

For Olivia’s favorite white pine tree, she said that she did not notice any birds, animals, or insects. 

Smell: Smell the bark. Rub a leaf and see what it smells like.

Sophia smelled the trio of leaves. “It smells like box elders. It doesn’t smell good,” she said.

Olivia rubbed her fingers over the pine needles. She said, “They don’t have much of a scent. There’s nothing” she said in terms of smell.

White pine needles.

Touch: Close your eyes and feel the bark. Feel the leaf or needle from your tree and describe its texture. A tree gall is an abnormal growth on a tree’s leaves and stems. The growth is the plant’s reaction to the feeding of insects or other organisms.

Sophia described her leaf as: “…kind of leathery.  Maybe kind of silky. You can kind of feel the veins. They feel like pieces of string on a piece of paper…but maybe not as pronounced.”

Olivia said the pine needles felt “soft and silky.”

Hearing: Quietly sit under your tree for one minute. Can you hear the leaves or branches moving? Can you hear a bird in the tree or insects buzzing near the tree?

After taking a look at her tree, Sophia said, “I’m going to lay down by it.” She found a nice area of tall grass and laid down. “It’s so soft…like a bed!”

We talked a bit about the deer who sleep in the grass at night and how soft the grass is for them.  As she was laying down said she could hear birds.  “I heard insects buzzing around my ears which was kind of annoying. I also heard a dragonfly. I could hear the wind blowing through the grass.”

Olivia said she heard wind near her tree, but no other sounds.

Follow-Up Activity

After your outdoor time, complete your Seasonal Tree Study notebook page sheet or record your tree observations in your nature journal. Take a few minutes to talk about your time outdoors to see if there is anything that your child wants to learn more about. Follow up any interest shown.

We learned about tree galls which was something new to us all. We found out that you don’t have to spray the tree which is good – the natural predators will eat the insects on the leaves.

We walked by the willow tree which reminded the girls of having picnics under it last summer and early fall. “Can we do that again?” Olivia asked. “Can we take Eenie outside with us again?” Sophia asked.

The willow tree. It was planted about 9 years ago and
was about 5 1/2 or 6 feet tall at the time.

Once the weather cools down a bit and the mosquitos aren’t as bad, the girls and I will definitely be having some picnics under the willow tree.

After your outdoor time, complete a nature journal entry using the notebook page provided for the Summer Series, a general notebook page from the sidebar of my blog, the original notebook page, or your own blank journal. Photos of your tree are a good record in your nature journal as well. This might be a good season to press a few of the tree’s leaves for your nature journal.

The girls each wrote in their nature journals, attached a pressed leaf or pine needles, and put photographs to accompany their entry.

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Sophia, Olivia, and I found four caterpillars on my parents’ carrots in their vegetable garden on July 2nd. The girls were excited to see different caterpillars than the monarchs that they’ve raised during past summers. These caterpillars are much bigger than monarch caterpillars.

Black Swallowtail on Branch
Black swallowtail caterpillar.
Notice the thin silk thread that it made.
It attaches to its body and the stick.

When we came home, I looked up on the internet the type of caterpillar and what the butterfly will look like. Found out they are the black swallowtail butterfly that like to eat plants in the carrot family.

Black Swallowtail Cocoon
The first butterfly had already transformed itself in two days.
Notice how it it blends in with the background.
The thin silk thread it makes prior to turning itself into a chrysallis
is on the right hand side.

Found out that the black swallowtail caterpillar will make its cocoon similar in color to its surroundings. Three of the cocoons are green and one is brown (the caterpillar chose to make a cocoon on a stick).

All of the cocoons are held in place by a very thin silk line.

Once the butterflies emerge, the pictures will be added to this post so the life cycle is shown in one place.

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On 5 Kids and a Dog, there’s a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week’s letter is “N.” 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter N …is for Nature.

Nature is a major focus of homeschooling. Living on almost ten acres of land, nature surrounds us each day.

One of the girls’ favorite activities during the summer is raising butterflies. In 2008, there were an abundance of monarch caterpillars. Seeing the life cycle – from caterpillar to butterfly was fascinating for the girls.

#1 - Look at Me!
Olivia with a monarch butterfly.
This one was ready to be released.

Perhaps the most memorable release was when a monarch butterfly was brought outside and didn’t want to leave the girls. It stayed on their fingers, flew to a nearby milkweed plant, flew back in front of them, and then…eventually…flew off.

August 23rd - Third Monarch Butterfly Release
The third butterfly to be released in August 2008.
This one was quite content
to stay around the girls for a long time.

Both Sophia and Olivia enjoying feeding the birds and squirrels. One of the first activities I had both of the girls do for homeschooling involved watching the birds that visited the feeders. Each time a bird would visit, the girls would add a check mark next to the type of bird.

After a certain period of time (10-15 minutes…30 minutes if they were interested and lots of birds were visiting the feeder), they would create a chart to show which type of bird came to the feeder the most.

Sophia by Squirrel Buffet and Feeder
Sophia standing by the squirrel feeder that she and Olivia built.
The corn cob pathways with shell corn
sprinkled on the paths was Sophia’s idea.
The birds and squirrels enjoyed eating the corn.

One of the nice things about living in the country in a home that was built in 1890 is that the surrounding land has some very old trees which are great for climbing. The girls started out climbing the apple trees in the backyard, and have moved onto some of the larger pine trees in the front yard now.

Girls in the Tree
The girls in the tallest pine tree on the property.

During the past year, we have begun taking time for weekly nature study using the book Handbook for Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.

Taking the time to learn more about the wildlife, trees, and seasons has been such a highlight of the past year. It has given us a new appreciation for the land here as well as the wildlife that visits and lives on our farm.

Sophia Taking a Break From Nature Journaling
Sophia taking a break from nature journaling.
She is listening to and writing down sounds she hears.

Olivia Drawing in her Nature Journal
Olivia enjoyed nature journaling even when she was much younger.
Here she is at four years old
drawing a picture of what she sees outside.

Since the girls were young, gardening has always been a part of their life. They have learned to raise vegetables, pumpkins, fruit, and flowers. Both have been able to plant seeds; transplant trees; and harvest and preserve what they’ve grown.

Sophia with Pumpkin
Sophia with one of the pumpkins that she grew.

We enjoy going on walks with the dogs and horses. Living in the country, there’s always something interesting to see in the fields, in the sky, along the road, or in the ditches.

Olivia Looking for Rocks

Olivia is looking for rocks and
then putting them in her cone-shaped purse.
If you notice…she picked heavy winter boots
to wear with her light summer dress.
(Summer 2008)

One of my favorite pictures is of Sophia on the far nature trail spreading milkweed. She had lots of milkweed pods in her pocket and she would open them and let the wind carry the seeds to new locations.

She hoped that by doing this, there would be more milkweed available for the monarchs the following year…and in years to come.

Floating Milkweed
Milkweed seeds being carried off by the wind
as Sophia releases them.

Even though there are plenty of opportunities to explore nature right at our home, in the pastures, and on the nature trail, we enjoy exploring other areas as well. One of our favorite places to visit is William O’Brien State Park.

Girls Running on Trail at William O'Brien State Park - Homeschool Phy Ed
The girls running on one of the trails
at William O’Brien State Park.

We also have enjoyed walking on some of the trails at the Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge. This is a bit of a drive, but the trails are easy to walk and provide a different view of what we normally see at home.

Olivia Looking at Hawk in Tree
Olivia observing a hawk in a tree at the
Minnesota Valley National Wildlife Refuge.

We enjoy picnics outside (especially when there are no bugs – which is spring and fall in Minnesota).  There are lots of places to have picnics, but parks that have a lake or river by them are ones that are especially nice.

Feeding Ducks and Gulls
The girls feeding ducks and sea gulls
after a picnic we had.

Sometimes we visit places after we read about book. If a topic in a book interests the girls or if seeing an example of what was mentioned in the book would be of benefit, I try to find a place to go that would extend their learning.

For example, a few years ago, we visited Interstate State Park as part of a unit study we did on the ice age (after reading one of the Magic Treehouse books about the ice age).

Since the girls learn best by seeing and touching, I took them to this park to see first-hand what gorges are and the impact the ice age had on the area where we live.

This park has some fascinating and beautiful rock formations, glacial potholes, and gorges. The St. Croix River runs between the Minnesota and Wisconsin sides of the park.

Girls at Minnesota Interstate State Park
The girls on a rock overlooking the St. Croix River.
This was taken at Interstate State Park
on the Minnesota side.

When we travel, we always make sure that nature is part of our trip. One of our favorite places to visit is Grand Marais (Minnesota). The girls enjoy being able to be in Lake Superior (although the water is very cold) and play on the shoreline.

Walking on Water
Olivia and Sophia in Lake Superior
at Grand Marais, Minnesota.

One of their most memorable moments on a trip to Grand Marais that we took in September 2010 was being able to feed a chipmunk. We traveled up the Gunflint Trail and stopped along the way.

At the stop, there was a very friendly chipmunk who the girls fed Pik-Nik sticks (fried potato sticks). The chipmunk came up so close to them. They still – almost a year late – recall that moment as if it happened yesterday.

Close Enough To Pet the Chipmunk
The girls feeding a chipmunk.
Nature is such an integral part of homeschooling. Each day, the girls are outside playing or discovering something new. Having both of them so excited about wildlife and caring for the environment is a direct result of being able to homeschool them and have the opportunity to spend so much time outdoors.

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This week we focused on the Outdoor Hour Challenge Crop Plants #1Clover that is at the Handbook of Nature Study website.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
– Bold – are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
– Italics – are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
– Regular – are my own words.

Inside Preparation Work

1. Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 591-598.
These pages cover three sections in the Handbook of Nature Study but are closely related. I encourage you to read all the pages even if you do not think you have the particular clover in your area. Use your highlighter to mark sections you found interesting and that at some point you want to share with your children in the follow-up activity.


You can do an internet search for each of these kinds of clover so you and your children will know what you are looking for during your Outdoor Hour time this week. I use Google Images.


=>White Clover
=>Red Clover (Vermont’s State Flower)
=>Buffalo Clover
=>Crimson Clover
=>Rabbit Clover


This is some information from the Handbook of Nature Study that I found interesting and shared with the girls:


– Clover has for centuries been a most valuable forage crop; and…it has been the special partner of the bees, giving them honey for their service in carrying as pollen.



Those blossoms which are lowest, or on the outside of the head, blossom first.

White Clover

– All of them have upon their roots the little swellings, or nodules, which are the houses in which the beneficient bacteria grow. 



– If we pull up or dig out the roots of alfalfa or…clovers…we find upon the rootlets little swellings whic hare called nodules, or root tubercles.


– Each nodule is a nestful of living beings so small that it would take twenty-five thousand of them end to end to reach an inch.


– Even a little swelling can hold many of these minute organisms, which are called bacteria.


– The bacteria…are…underground partners of these plants.  The clover roots give the bacteria homes and places to grow, and in return these are able to extract a very valuable chemical fertilizer from the air, and to change its form so that the clovers can absorb it. The name of these substance is nitrogen.


– Clover roots, which penetrate very deeply, protect land from being washed away by…heavy rains.


– Clover foliage makes a thick carpet over the surface of the soil [and] prevents evaporation and thus keeps the soil moist.


– [Sweet clover has] a perfume so sweet, so suggestive of honey…in the blossoms. It may be the species with white blossoms or the one with yellow flowers.

Field of sweet clover in
Custer State Park, South Dakota.

– [It is] beneficial alike to man, bee, and soil.


– [Sweet clover can grow] on soil so poor that it can only attain a height of from two to four feet; but if it…gets foothold on a generous soil, it rises majestically ten feet tall.


– The blossom stalk…is at first an inch or so long, packed closely with little green buds having pointed tips.  But as soon as the blossoming begins, the stalk elongates, bringing the flowers farther apart.


– [White clover has] flowers [that] are all in one bunch, the tip of the stalk making the center of the clover head.

Clover growing in the backyard.

– The leaves are very pretty.

White clover leaves.

– The white clover, in common with other clovers, has the…habit of going to sleep at night.  Clover leaves fold at the middle, the three drawing near each other, looks like going to sleep.

Olivia looking a clover leaf she found.
They each picked a young leaf and older leaf
and compared the markings.
(The older ones have a more pronounced design in white on each leaflet.)



– The clover head is made up of many little flowers; each one has a tubular calyx with five delicate points and a little stalk.

Clover head made up of tiny little flowers.
This one is in the backyard.

– The outside blossoms open first; and as soon as they are open, the honey bees, which eagerly visit white clover wherever it is growing, begin at once their work of gathering nectar and carrying pollen.

New clover with the outside blossoms opening first.



– White-clover honey is in the opinion of many the most delicious honey made from any flowers except, perhaps, orange blossoms.  So valuable is the white clover as a honey plant that apiarist often grow acres of it for their bees.


Outdoor Time

2. Your outdoor time this week can be spent in your yard or at a near-by park.
Look for areas of lawn or pastures that may include clover. You may find clover at the edges of trails as well so keep your eyes out as you have your outdoor time this week.


We use to have a beekeeper who had several hives here.  This past winter was particularly difficult for the bees, and he lost all the bees. So, this is the first year in many years that we haven’t had bees here.

Beehive 2
One of the beehives that was here for many years.
After this past winter, which was very difficult,
there are no longer beehives here.



One of the years, he suggested planting white clover near the bees. The clover has since spread throughout different areas of the farm – the nature trail (which is used as a pasture during the late-fall and winter), backyard, and main pasture.

Clover growing in the backyard.



3. Another subject for your outdoor hour time could be the honeybee. The relationship between clover and honeybees is a beneficial one and if you can observe bees in the clover you have witnessed a great partnership.


We did a study about bees several years ago, learning about the different types of bees, and the different stages of honey (from the bees gathering the nectar to harvesting). This was a fun hands-on lesson that had the girls pretending they were bees as they visited different activity stations (e.g., clean the hives, drink nectar).


This time we went out and sat by the clover for a while to see if any bees visited the flowers.  We didn’t see any in the backyard.  However, later while I was mowing on the nature trail where there’s a combination of white and red clover, there were some bees visiting the red clover.
4. Pollen can be a topic for your outdoor hour time if you don’t find clover or honeybees. You can review Outdoor Hour Challenge #18 if you need help knowing where to look for pollen.


We found plenty of clover so we didn’t focus on pollen during this nature study.


Follow-Up Activity


5. After your outdoor time, make sure to discuss with your children what interested them from their nature study this week. They may be more interested in learning about something they observed and our job as parents is to help them answer their questions. Use the Handbook of Nature Study by looking up the topic in the index or the table of contents.


In the Handbook of Nature Study, on page 593, there is a section on nodules. The nodules will be found as little “swellings” on the roots of clover. These nodules have an important job which is explained in the Handbook of Nature Study on the same page. Make sure to read this section to yourself so when you have your follow-up activity you will be prepared to talk about nodules.


Sophia wanted to know if you can eat clover. Told her that it is edible so she tried some. “Please do not take a picture of me eating clover,” she said. She tried it and said it had a “pleasant” taste…”kind of sweet.”

Sophia holding some clover and
wondering if it was edible.

Found some recipes for ways that clover can be used for eating. Since there’s an abundance of clover on the nature trail, we will pick some of that later this week and make some recipes using clover. In the mean time, there are recipes listed below that use clover.
5. On page 594 in the lesson, #3 suggests that you take up the clover plant and look at its roots. This would make a great addition to your nature journal. Sketch the whole clover plant and then perhaps one of the flowers.


The girls picked several clover plants and leaves to draw in their nature journal and observe closer with a magnifying glass indoors.

Olivia holding a clover leaf and blossom
that she brought indoors to draw.

We did not dig any of the clover plants up since it was so hot outside (almost 90 degrees). On a cooler day, this would be an interesting thing to do.
6. On page 598 in the lesson, #5 suggests that you tie a string around a clover head that has not yet blossomed. This way you can observe the same flower over a period of several days. You could record each day’s observations in your nature journal either in words or as a sketch.


There were many clover plants in different stages of growth in the backyard. The girls looked for ones at the early stages of growth, middle, and end.

Sophia looking for clover in different stages of growth.



Optional activity: Find some clover honey at your grocery store and enjoy it on bread or in some herbal tea.


We enjoyed some honey that was produced from the bees/hives on our farm.


Other activities


I read on Healthy Home Gardening that “Native Americans used whole clover plants in salads, and made a white clover leaf tea for coughs and colds. Leaves of white clover are edible, raw or cooked. The young leaves are best harvested before the plant flowers, and can be used in salads, soups etc.


“They can be used as a vegetable, cooked like spinach. Flowers and seed pods have been dried, ground into a powder and used as a flour or sprinkled on cooked foods such as boiled rice. The young flowers can also be eaten raw in salads. The root can be eaten if cooked first.


“A sweet herb tea is made from the fresh or dried flowers. It is considered delicate. The dried leaves impart a vanilla flavor if mixed into cakes etc.”


The recipe below is from the Manataka American Indian Council


Clover Soup


Ingredients:


2 cups clover flowers and leaves
1 onion, chopped
3 tablespoons butter (we used dairy-free butter)
2 pints water
3 potatoes, peeled and quartered
Salt and pepper to taste


Directions:


Clean and dip clover flowers and leaves in cold salted water. Remove and cut into pieces. In a large saucepan, sauté flowers, leaves and onions in butter.


When all is softened add water, then potatoes, and season with salt and pepper. Cook gently for 20 minutes. Drain the cooking liquid and save it.


Puree potato mixture and dilute with the cooking liquid, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil, the reduce heat and simmer for 3 minutes. Can sprinkle with grated cheddar cheese if desired.


White Clover Salad


Make a fresh salad using lettuce and onions from the garden.  Sprinkle white clover blossoms on top.


White Clover Tea


White clover has many health benefits. According to the Peterson Field Guide of Eastern/Central Medicinal Plants and Herbs, American Indians used leaf tea for colds, coughs, fevers, and leukorrhea. In European folk medicine, flower tea is used for rheumatism and gout. Like red clover, white clover contains the estrogenic isoflavone genistein which has cancer-preventative properties and antioxidants.


To make white clover tea:


1. Pick fresh flowers and leaves.
2. Rinse.
3. Place in a tea kettle or small pot with water.
4. Heat to almost boiling.
5. Strain into tea cup.
6. Add sugar or honey (if desired).


We enjoyed learning about clover and its benefit to bees and environment.  It was an added bonus to learn about its use throughout history by American Indians as well as other in folk remedies.  I’m sure that when we use the blossoms in a variety of food this weekend, it will be something that we will remember for a long time!


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