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Our Green Hour #11 Year-Long Tree Study

For this challenge we were to choose a tree to study for a year, observing it in each season to notice the changes. My son and I used the Tree Study sheet to prompt our observations but in the Handbook of Nature Study on page 625 there is a section on “Spring Work” to use with your own tree.

My son has suddenly taken an interest in basketball and is bouncing a ball in every spare moment. I tore him away yesterday afternoon to have him to pick his tree and do a quick observation. He picked one of the sweet gum trees that we have growing just off our back deck. We have four of these trees planted as a shade break for the hot summer afternoons. They are perfect for shading us for the late summer sun and then they loose all their leaves in the winter and allow the sun to hit our house in the winter to make it light and cheery. They also turn the most magnificent colors in the autumn and make the view out our back windows very colorful and enjoyable to look at….I can see them as I wash dishes at the kitchen sink. they are not native to our area but they are very popular as tree plantings in neighborhoods and in yards for shade and their beauty.

So here is a copy of his notebook page for his journal. I am going to slip it into a sheet protector and hopefully the leaf will survive for the year that we have ahead. At least we will have the scan of the page so we can compare on the computer if we need to.

You can print the notebook page here: 
Seasonal Tree Study Notebook Page. 

Here is a little sampling of photos from his tree taken on May 3, 2008.


(note the bouncing basketball….I don’t always get rapt attention for nature study)


(click this photo and you will see an ant on the bark)

You can join the Outdoor Hour Challenges at any time.

https://naturestudyhomeschool.com/2009/02/announcing-outdoor-hour-challenge-ebook.html

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Outdoor Hour Challenge #10 Our First Outdoor Dinner/Picnic

We had been trying all week to get outdoors to have a picnic to complete Green Hour Challenge #10 but the weather just did not cooperate. It rained and then even though the sun was out, it was really still too cold to eat outside. I was determined to eat out on the deck this weekend and it could not have worked out better. We spent the whole weekend working in the backyard because the weather was perfectly perfect.

We added a few more plants to the new butterfly garden, replaced some jasmine plants that didn’t make it through the winter, and I found two new hydrangeas that I wanted in my newly made flowerbed…a pink one and a pretty blue one.

Sunday evening rolled around and we threw some steaks on the barbeque and got out the chair cushions for the deck chairs. All was going well. The kids lit the tiki torches just fine and we went inside to grab a few more things for the table. My youngest son went out on the deck and discovered that one of the torches had completely lit on fire. My husband, who is a firefighter, was so calm and ran over to try to put it out. The older children ran and got the garden hose and put the flames out.

So after the excitement died down, we really did have an enjoyable meal. The sky was beautiful and air was warm. It felt so nice to be outdoors together enjoying a nice dinner.
first spring dinner
Here is the sky on this beautiful spring day.

spring sky
Here are a few more photos from the week’s nature time.

Figs are on the tree already!
fig tree 2
Our sunflowers have sprouted it seems like overnight and we are going to have a bumper crop.
sunflower sprout
We also continued our tree study in the woods but we are going to also pick a tree in our backyard to use for the seasonal Green Hour Challenge, more on that in another entry.

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Our Small Square: Outdoor Hour Challenge #9

We had a chance today to enjoy the spring weather and complete our small square project. My son picked the spot and marked it out for us. Right away he picked the big objects out but I challenged him to list all the small items he found in his square. He used his magnifying glass and we used a small stick to dig around in the dirt a bit and we found a few things to be interested in.

We found quite a few of these clusters from the tree near the square. I suspect they are full of pollen since I noticed when they are on the tree that they send off little “puffs” of something every so often in the breeze.tree bud seed thing

Then we found some of these little plants that are not grass or dandelions.
little plant

A few misc. seeds were underneath the leaves in our square and we have no idea what kind they are.

doing our square
We both enjoyed digging around in the soil and we did see one small ant.

Here is his journal entry for the day.
small square journal
We are both interested to identify the tree that the clusters came from so that is our assignment for the next week. It is hard to identify since it currently has very small leaves and doesn’t look anything like the tree we see in the summer.

That was our Outdoor Hour assignment this week, nothing fancy right in our own yard but still very interesting.

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Desert Study: Outdoor Hour Challenge #8

Here is our family’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #8. 

We just returned from our week long adventure in the Sonoran Desert of Arizona. It was so surprising to find so much life and color and activity in this part of our world. If anyone says there is nothing to do for nature study in the desert, I can now whole-heartedly disagree. We spent every waking minute in the great outdoors exploring the fascinating world of the desert, even in a sudden desert rainstorm and at sunrise. We were hiking in Saguaro National Park just about everyday and found that we grew to love this place.

If you have been reading my blog this week, you will have seen some of the more interesting plants and birds that we have encountered. I will be posting more over there in the weeks to come.

Before we left for our adventure, the boys and I read several books to prepare us for what we would be seeing up close and personal. The most interesting and recognizable plant in the Sonoran Desert is the saguaro cactus. (pronounced sa wah ro) This cactus is a whole ecosystem in itself and we were able to observe the many phases of its growth while on our trip.

 

Here is a landscape with the saguaro sticking up prominently.
The saguaro grows very tall and provides shade for itself with its spines and grooves.

tall saguaro
It also provides homes for birds like the cactus wren and the gila woodpecker. They make their nests inside the saguaro. Here is a photo where you can see the nest holes.


saguaro with bird nest holes
Here is a gila woodpecker sitting on the saguaro and if you look closely, you will see a sparrow in a nest hole near the top of the saguaro.


saguaro and woodpecker
Here is a close up of the cactus itself.


close up saguaro
We enjoyed a sunrise walk in the desert and the colors and sounds are not soon to be forgotten.


saguaro at sunrise
There are so many things to tell you about from this trip but I will narrow this entry down to the saguaro cactus. Maybe later this week I will share all the many other birds that we encountered. I have some awesome hummingbird photos to share and some others that will surprise you that we found in our desert wanderings.

We did some close up work last week at home for this challenge with our hand lens. The most interesting thing we found was looking at the bark of our cedar tree…..there is so many interesting things in there like spider webs and egg sacs. If you didn’t get a chance to use your hand lens last week, I encourage you to take a few minutes this week to give it a try.

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Nature Study this Week: Field Guide: Outdoor Hour Challenge #7

Now to Outdoor Hour Challenge #7.
What did our family do for nature study this week? Remember that my boys are 12 and 14 years old so they do most of the follow up activities on their own. I remind them to make a journal entry or to complete a new field guide card but for the most part….they have taken on responsibility for their own nature study. If your children are younger or less experienced with nature study, they are going to need more help and probably only one follow up activity.

Our focus is garden flowers and my son found a flower to press for his nature journal. You may be interested in reading this entry: How To Make A Flower Press.

 
Annual Honesty: Lunaria annua-we call it money plant

We are busy trying to remember the official names of each part of a flower. We are going to draw and label a diagram each day this week so it will be set into our memory. (page 456 in the Handbook of Nature Study)
 
 

We saw a turkey vulture in our backyard yesterday so we really need to add a card to our bird field guide. If you have never seen a turkey vulture close up, you have no idea how BIG they are. The bird we saw yesterday swooped down through our backyard and we had a great view from our window.

The boys also spent quite a bit of time observing our cat hunting a mouse. They came in and told me all about it with great stories of how the cat would “play” with the mouse. The mouse ended up getting away….horrors. It made a great nature journal drawing though. 🙂

Here is a copy of the blank information form we use.

PDF of bird field guide blank
house mouse journal

As you can see, we are not very structured in our nature study. I love the way it folds into our everyday life. Once a month we take our nature day and really focus on some aspect of study but mostly it is bit by bit, everyday awareness.

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Collections: Pressing Flowers: Outdoor Hour Challenge #6

We have had a busy week and although we have been outside everyday, we haven’t really cracked the Handbook of Nature Study at all. Some weeks our nature study is like that but then we will make up for it other weeks.


The boys have been busy weeding the garden and my youngest even planted a few spinach seedlings hoping that they will make it through until the weather really warms up.

We have been busy birdwatching because our feeders are still full of birds. I think some of the birds are nesting and we will be putting out some things for them to nest with.

Our focus area is garden flowers so we took a trip to the Home Depot to see what we could add to the garden. Guess what they picked? Marigolds. Lots of marigolds.
marigolds
We also picked up a few packets of seeds: Sunflower (Mammoth), Peas, and Green Beans (Kentucky Wonders). We are going to wait a bit before we put the seeds into the garden because we are still having a little frost each morning.
seed packets
My son decided that for his collection he would like to press garden flowers.
pressing flowers 1
We started with pansies and violets.
pressed flowers 1
They are now slipped into a sheet protector and they will go into his binder. We are still working on a way of adhering them to the paper without damaging them. I will keep you posted. (in a future challenge we will be learning how to press flowers)

So that was our week, not as exciting as some but still VERY enjoyable.

https://naturestudyhomeschool.com/2009/07/new-outdoor-hour-challenge-ebook-garden_27.html

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Daffodils In Depth for Outdoor Hour #5

Outdoor Hour Challenge #5 Making a List

Our focus is garden flowers and we marked our table of contents for flowers we think we will study over the next few weeks. Last week we did pansies and this week we are learning about daffodils. We read the section in the Handbook of Nature Study and then headed outdoors to our garden “laboratory”.

We had our 10-15 minutes outdoors today looking for daffodils or jonquils. We have several varieties blooming right now so it was perfect timing. Here are a few photos.
jonquilsdaffodils

We read in the Handbook of Nature Study about the parts of the daffodil so when we went outside we made sure to look closely to see each part. Here is the sheath.

daffodil sheath

Here is the seedcase when we opened it up with a knife.
cutting open the seedcase

Okay, so now we were wondering why you grow daffodils from a bulb and not from seeds. We went to the internet and found the answer.

Here is what I found on the internet: The seeds are ripe when they literally rattle in the seedpod or the pod is about to burst open on its own. They should be black then. Hybridizers grow daffodils from seed to try to produce new varieties. The problem with it is it takes a really long time to get a blooming size bulb from seed. Typical is maybe five years! Most people buy and plant bulbs because they like results (flowers) sooner than that.

Here is the bouquet I was given at the end of our study today. It is in our special daffodil vase that my middle son gave to me as a gift many years ago. I love it.
jonquils in a vase

So that was our very enjoyable Outdoor Hour challenge for this week. We learned more about a flower we have grown in our garden for decades. I love nature study and so does my son.

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Picking our Focus for Outdoor Hour Challenge #4

As part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge, our family will be focusing on garden plants for the next eight weeks. This does not mean that we won’t be looking at anything else interesting that comes up during our nature study but rather we will keep our minds set on learning more about the garden plants that we have in our backyard. I am sure we will also take in a field trip or two to the local nursery and to our favorite place at this time of year, the Amador Flower Farm.

We got out the Handbook of Nature Study and skimmed down the garden flower selections and my son decided that he wanted to learn about pansies since we have a pot of them on the back deck. We read the introductory information together. He really enjoyed hearing how the flowers looked like human faces so that is what we decided to observe this week.

pot of pansies
My son took this one for his nature journal.
taking photos

pansy centers
I took this one of the center of the flower using my macro setting.

For our 10-15 minutes outside we took some time to really look deeply at the pansy. He saw the face and then we looked deeper for the little man that the book talked about. Found it! We brought one flower inside for pressing and eventually to add to his nature notebook. He had taken some photos of the pansies and those will go in too. Later this week he will put it all together into a page in his notebook.

I read the pages in the Handbook of Nature Study that talk about using scientific names and about the field notebook. We have kept nature notebooks for many years and have found them to be something we enjoy reading over many times. We use spiral notebooks with heavy paper and they have held up very well over the years, even with little hands.
forsythia

Pretty yellow forsythia.

We were overwhelmed with all the garden flowers already blooming in our yard once we started looking closely.

heart flowers

This is our favorite and soon it will fill in a whole flower bed on the side of the house.

violets
Violets, mmmm. Can you smell them?

Oh, and there was a little tree climbing during our nature time.

climbing a tree

Another successful Outdoor Hour Challenge…..done in 30 minutes.

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California Newts and Tree Frogs: Outdoor Hour #3

March 1, 2008
Dear Nature Friends,
Today we took our Outdoor Hour Challenge on the road, or should I say trail? The last Friday of every month we take the day off from our regular schooling to have a Nature Day. This is something I have been doing all year with my 12 and 14 year old sons. We take the day and focus on some aspect of nature that fits in with our science lessons or our interests.

Please remember when you read my post and view my photos (and a short video) that we have been doing nature study in our family since these two boys were able to walk….a long time. We also live in a moderate climate and have limitless access to wilderness. This hike is literally out our door and a few miles away. On a scale of one to ten, this day was a perfect ten. I hope that puts our experience in perspective for you beginners. This is what your nature study can look like in a few years if you keep at it, little by little.

In challenge number 1 I shared our hike on a new trail…the one with the ferns and the unusual bud. We wanted to take the hike all the way to the river this time so after a short stop at our tree in the woods, we headed over to the trail head. We set off at a quick pace but soon we found wildflowers blooming and of course I had to stop to take a few photos.
yellow wildflower 1
Buttercup
purple wildflower 1
I wasn’t able to identify this one yet, need to see it flowering.
We saw our first butterflies of the season, big brown ones and little blue ones. The sun was actually hot and we shed a layer of sweaters and sweatshirts…good thing I had my backpack on this hike. 🙂 We had good conversation as we hiked along. Oh, we saw what the “unusual looking bloom” was from our last trip. It is actually just the way the leaves pop out on this particular plant.


unusual bud 1 unusual bud 3 with leaves
It was a long downhill hike to get to the river, I think about a mile and a half but the hard part is that it was a really steep downhill grade. I kept thinking about the hike back up with great dread. Would the hike be worth it we kept asking?

B and the river trail
The minute we hit the edge of the river and I was shedding my pack, the boys excitedly called to me to come over and look at something. I could tell it was something good by the tone in their voices. Wow! A whole pool of California newts!

newts 1Ca newt 1
We spent quite a bit of time watching them in their courtship dance in the crystal clear water. Fascinating and we felt so grateful to have seen it. My youngest slipped into the water with one foot and had a soaking shoe, sock, and pant leg for the rest of the hike. After a few photos and a video, we all sat at the edge of the river and rested and listened and just soaked it all in.


sitting quielty
Yes, you can train your children to sit quietly and listen.

The boys were soon doing their usual river thing…throwing in rocks. I sat and worked in my nature journal drawing the blackberry leaves and vine next to me. The boys found a little gold flake in the gravel at the edge of the river. We actually live near where the California Gold Rush started on this very river.
gold flake
I need to make a note to put a little vial for collecting things in my backpack. This flake was dropped into the rocks and was never seen again. He wants to go back and try again some time.

But the highlight of the day happened right when we were packing up to go back up the trail…..yes, you haven’t seen the highlight yet. The boys spotted a frog that had just jumped out of the water onto a rock. Back out comes the camera to try to get a photo for their nature journals.
Pacific treefrog
While getting a few good photos, two of the frogs started croaking. Their throats blew up like balloons and the sound of it was awesome. Would you like to hear? [If you are on email subscription you will need to come over the the blog to see the video..I think.]There are actually two frogs croaking in the video and they croak at about 25 seconds and 50 seconds into the video. When we got home we pulled out our field guide and identified this as a Pacific Treefrog.

My YouTube video of a Pacific Treefrog. 

Both boys wanted to do their journals on the newt.
CA newt journal entry
I got a new scanner but I have not learned how to operate it very well yet…maybe next scan will be better.
Thanks for sharing our very exciting “day out” with us. Hope it inspired and encouraged you in to have some of your own adventures with nature study. Our family looks forward to each time we have to share time out of doors. The answer to the question earlier about whether the hike would be worth the effort? Yes, totally and completely. I would go again right now….sore muscles and all.
nature study 1
One last photo of my son and I kneeling over the water trying to see the frogs.

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Jerusalem Cricket: Our Outdoor Hour #2

This morning we had our official Outdoor Hour Challenge #2 time outside in the sunshine…we had a whole weekend of rain and wind making the sunshine all the more inviting.

My son found a “huge, ugly, insect” on the pavement and he wanted me to come and share in the ugliness. I am not a bug person. I am an outdoor nature-loving person, but definitely not a bug person. I am learning to not be so disgusted by insects and usually make friends with whatever we find after learning about it. If you are squeamish, close your eyes to the photos below.

J Cricket 2
Top View
J Cricket 1
Bottom View

Here are his words for the assignment:

  • Chirping
  • Fascinating Alien (bug)
  • Shiver cold wind


We came in and used our Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders to identify the insect.

It looked like a grasshopper to my son so we turned to the section for grasshoppers, crickets, and cicadas. What do you know? It was the *first* insect in the section. Bingo! Then we turned to the page that gave the description of the Jerusalem cricket and we found that we are within the range and habitat for this insect. After reading the size and brief description, our identification was verified. This one was easy. Insects are not always that simple to put a name to. I must admit that my older son said that it looked like a potato bug. Guess what? He was right too, Jerusalem crickets are also known as potato bugs.

Here is his journal entry.
J Cricket Sketch

To make up for the really yucky bug photo, here is one of violets we saw growing in our lawn.
Violets

So I think we were successful this week in our assignment. I did all my reading and enjoyed it very much as expected. We actually had quite a bit of outdoor time this past week cutting a tree down in our backyard. We also identified two new birds this past week.

https://naturestudyhomeschool.com/2010/08/ohc-summer-series-10-crickets.html