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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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Starting in September, the girls will begin a multi-year unit study about the United States.  I purchased the curriculum Cantering the Country which addresses not only geography, but a variety of other subjects (e.g., science, art, history, current events, home economics). 

During the summer, we’re participating in the Smart Summer Challenge and the second week focuses on government.  Doing a week-long government study is a wonderful preview of what we will be doing in a couple of months. 

This week, we’re going to explore the national government and some key national symbols since we will be exploring each of the states in greater detail beginning in September. 

Sunday – Today the girls learned about the American flag.  They did a worksheet called “Math Flags” which challenged them to describe the flag using numbers, shapes, patterns, and one other way related to math.

Olivia and Sophia coloring a picture of the American flag.

Monday – In addition to celebrating the Fourth of July, we learned about the Statute of Liberty.  The Statue of Liberty was presented by France to the people of the United States in 1886.  It was given as a gift to symbolize freedom in France, America, and around the world.  It became a national monument in 1924. 

The girls measured different parts of the Statue of Liberty and found out:

One arm is 42 feet long – wider than the width of our home (from the dining room, through the living room, and into the family room). The Statue of Liberty’s arm would start at a one window and stick out about four feet on the other side of the house.

The nose is 4 feet 6 inches – taller than Olivia.

Sophia’s hand goes up to 4 feet 6 inches
on the tape measure –
making the Statue of Libery’s nose taller than Olivia.

The mouth is 3 feet wide – about the length of Montague when he’s laying down on the floor.

Montague letting the girls measure him from head to toe.
He’s almost as long as the Statue of Liberty’s mouth.

The index finger is 8 feet long – that’s a very big finger compared to their own.

The girls holding up their index fingers in comparison to
how big the Statue of Liberty’s index finger is at 8 feet long.

The eyes are 2 feet 6 inches across – significantly larger than Olivia’s eye…who (by this time) was done with the measuring activity and ready to move on to something else.

Olivia pointing to her eye.
Quite small compared to
the Statue of Liberty’s 2 foot 6 inch eye!

So…we talked about how the Statue of Liberty wasn’t always green.  She use to be copper.  Gradually, the statue changed color over time.

To demonstrate this, Sophia and Olivia each chose two pennies – one shiny one and the other a dull one.

Picking two pennies each from the coin pile.

Each had their own bowl filled with water and some vinegar, paper napkin, and two pennies.  I had them fold the napkin in a square, place it in the bowl, and soak it with vinegar.

I asked them what they thought would happen to the pennies if they put them on the paper towel.  Sophia thought “they will get shiny and the vinegar will clean them” and Olivia thought her pennies “will get clean.”  They put the penny on the vinegar-soaked paper towel.

The pennies sat overnight, and then the girls lifted their pennies the following morning.  The facedown side of each penny had parts that turned a blue-green – just like the Statue of Liberty.

Olivia and Sophia turning the pennies over
to look at the reaction the pennies had with the vinegar.

The vinegar reacted with the copper in the pennies, causing them to turn green.

Parts of the penny are blue-green in color now.

A similar change caused the Statue of Liberty to change color over time.  In this case, weather and pollution caused the statue to turn green.

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

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter M…is for Math.

I remember sitting in a college calculus class and one of the students asked, “When are we ever going to use this in real life?”

The professor gave an answer that I wished some of my junior high and high school math teachers would have said when I was learning algebra and trigonometry, “Chances are, you’re never going to use this in your daily life. This level of math isn’t so much about using it in ‘real life.’  It is more about being persistent and disciplined, and finding the answer to a problem.” 

Math comes down to simple problem solving; and training one’s brain to be able to think through a variety of situations and get to the right answer or come to a conclusion. Math, to me, means essentially fostering a sense of determination and commitment to finish something you’ve started.

Because math goes beyond just learning numbers, functions, and concepts, I try to give Sophia and Olivia opportunities to learn math through a variety of methods: traditional/book learning, singing, learning tools, games, and real-life application.

TRADITIONAL/BOOK LEARNING

The girls learn core math concepts and facts by using their math books.  I use Rod & Staff books since both girls say they like them.  At the last homeschool conference I attended, I looked at a variety of math books. Some had a lot of color and impressive graphic design; some used the computer; and others used DVDs to teach math.  After looking at the variety of resources, I decided to stick with Rod & Staff.

Rod & Staff isn’t fancy – the text and images are all in black and white.  However, the majority of examples they use all tie into agriculture, farm animals, and cooking/baking – all things that are quite applicable to the girls’ life right now.

Sophia's Math Book
Sophia’s fourth grade math book. 

There seems to be a lot of repetition with some of the fundamental concepts and facts (e.g., addition and subtraction facts, skip counting by 2s/5s/10s, multiplication and division facts). However, knowing these facts by memory is critical to forthcoming math skills, so I think that’s valuable.

That being said, once the girls have “mastered” a skill, I don’t make them continue doing pages of the same thing. They can move onto the next skill. That’s one of the benefits of homeschooling – adapting the lessons to the each child’s skills and knowledge.

Olivia Doing Math with Shells
Olivia likes to use manipulatives to help her visualize
some of the math problems she’s doing.
For this lesson, she chose to use shells.

SINGING

The girls both enjoying singing and seem to retain information much better when they learn it by listening to and singing songs. 

Some of the CDs that the girls use for math.

Some of the CDs for math that they use include:

Shiller Math Songs – this was a CD that Olivia used a couple of years ago when using the Shiller math curriculum.  There are a variety of songs that had her moving about while listening to instructions on the CD.

Addition Songs by Kathy Troxel – this CD comes with a songbook/workbook, and has helped Olivia learn counting from 1 to 20 as well as all the addition facts from 1+1 to 9+9. There are sing-along songs as well as echo-style songs for self-testing.

Multiplication Songs by Kathy Troxel – this CD also comes with a songbook/workbook, and has helped Sophia learn all the multiplication tables 2 through 12.  There are sing-along songs as well as echo-style songs for self-testing.

  One Hundred Sheep by Roger Nichols – There are nine songs on this CD that teach counting by 2s, 3s, 4s, 5s, etc. This skill is known as “skip counting” and is used in every math process from multiplication to algebra.  The songs use stories from the Gospels as a basis for the lyrics.  Both the girls use this CD.

Sophia singing along with the
One Hundred Sheep CD.

LEARNING TOOLS

Dice

Olivia playing with some of the math dice.

One of the ways to learn and/or review the basic facts is by using dice. 

Basic math equation that Olivia put together
using three different types of dice.

I have a variety of dice that the girls can use.  Some have the basic six dots representing numbers on them (white ones).  Others are special ones:

– Blue dice with the numbers 1-6 on them.
– Green dice with the numbers 7-12 on them.
– White dice with different symbols (e.g., plus, minus, times, divided by).
– Yellow dice with Roman numbers.
– Big red and orange dice with little white dice inside it. Both the dice have the traditional 1-6 dots on each side.

A variety of dice to use with math games.

Electronic Flash Cards

Learning Resources has a Minute Math Electronic Flash Cards in which the girls are presented with different facts (e.g., 2+9, 8×7) and need to type in the answer. The “game” is based on speed and accuracy. There is a voice that tells the player if she typed in the correct answer.

Sophia testing herself on multiplication facts.

Sophia likes this “game,” but Olivia finds it frustrating.  So, when Sophia needs/wants to do something different for math, she’ll use the Electronic Flash Cards.  

Learning Wrap-Ups

Both the girls learn best when there is a hands-on component to the lesson.  One of the things that I found at the last homeschool conference was a set of Learning Wrap-Ups. Each Wrap-Up focuses on a different process (e.g., addition, subtraction, multiplication, division). 

Olivia testing herself on addition facts.

To use them, the girls start with the first number on the left side and add/multiply it by the number in the middle of the key.  Then they find the answer on the right hand side and bring the yarn to the other side and wrap it around the backside before bringing it to the second number on the left side. They repeat the process until all the numbers and answers have been wrapped.

Olivia with the finished Wrap-Up.
The string was where it should be on the back,
so she got all the answers correct.

The Wrap-Up is self-checking on the back. The key has a raised pattern to show where the yarn should be. If the yarn matches the pattern, then all of the answers were done correctly.

GAMES

The girls have many games that they enjoy playing that have a math component to them:  Horse-opoly, Life, and Farm-opoly.

Farmopoly - Homeschool Math Lesson
The girls playing Farm-opoly.

In addition to purchased games, we’ve also made our own math games.  For Thanksgiving, we made a turkey racing game (see below) that involved counting and probability.  The girls had fun making and playing the game, and having it be a part of Thanksgiving activities in the future.

Turkey Racing Game
Homemade math game.

REAL LIFE APPLICATION

Bringing math into everyday activities provides the girls with a learning experience in a real-life setting, and helps enhance comprehension of what they are learning.

Counting by 5s and 10s
Sophia learning to skip count
by 5s and 10s using buttons.

An early math skill is sorting, although it is one that people use in their daily lives. One of the ways that sorting was incorporated into homeschooling is through stamp collecting.  The girls each have their own books for stamps, and have enjoyed sorting them into categories (e.g., horses, flowers, pandas, wild animals).

Olivia Working on Her Stamp Collection
Olivia sorting through stamps when she was very young. 
She still has and adds to her stamp collection.

Another way that the girls have used math is when they have sorted items to donate.  Each year we do Operation Christmas Child.  The girls enjoy choosing items to put in the boxes, and then dividing and sorting them at home. 

Olivia and Sophia Sorting Operation Christmas Child Items
The girls sorting items for Operation Christmas Child boxes.

Of course, each October the girls look forward to sorting candy they get when they go out for Halloween.  They will compare what each one got, and often will trade candy.

Olivia Sorting Halloween Candy
Olivia with candy she sorted.

Math also is used when studying science. 

Sophia Measuring the Jaw
Sophia measuring the length of a bone.

One of the easiest ways to tie the two subjects together has been when we have been able to measure something tangible (e.g., feathers, depth of a woodpecker hole in a tree, the circumference of a tree, the length of a bone).

Sophia Measuring Snow Depth
Sophia measuring the snow depth.

The girls enjoy cooking and baking.  Reading a recipe and then measuring the ingredients is something that I have involved them in well before they were doing their math books.

Making a Strawberry Smoothie
Sophia measuring and adding an ingredient
to make a fruit smoothie.

I’ve had a food scale for many years, and it seems like in the past few years that it has been used more frequently by the girls – whether they are making food in the kitchen or weighing an item for a science lesson.

Girls Putting Mushrooms on Scale
The girls were weighing some mushrooms they found
on the nature trail.
Sophia Measuring and Weighing  Rhubarb
The girls are cutting and measuring rhubarb
to make dessert.

Money is something that the girls have enjoyed learning about in math.  Rather than just using pictures in math books, the girls receive a bit of money for doing some chores.  They also receive money periodically as gifts from grandparents and relatives. 

Originally, I had the girls set up save-spend-give jars and a percentage of each amount they earned or was gifted was divided into the three jars in a 50-40-10 percent ratio (respectively).  Now, I have them do a 50-50 split – save half/spend half.  Of the spending money, some they use as donation money. 

The girls have their own wallets with money and gift cards, and have learned to interact with cashiers; and vendors at craft shows and farmer’s markets. They have to learn to use only the money they have available (no loans or borrowing money). This has taught them the value of budgeting and patience (especially if they need to save for a larger item). I’m hoping that they carry this into their adult life and save half of what they earn.

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