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The Play of Light – Changing Landscapes

Leaves and Rocks
Leaves Bathed in Light

Autumn is a time for colors and textures…and this year autumn is featuring its light side. The sun has ushered us through the season, bathing us in warmth and cheerfulness. The usual seasonal sadness did not arrive and I am grateful.

“Call attention to the changing beauty of the landscape. Let the children tell what they enjoy in it. Point out more, if they are old enough to appreciate it. Show them the play of light and shade, the harmony of the colors, the subdued hues, the neutral tints of forest and meadow, of mountain and fading perspectives.”
Nature and Children

Colorful Fall Leaves
Piles and piles of colors to behold.
Leaf Raking in December 2
Early December yard chores

“Hey mom, look how many leaves came down in the wind! Why do you think only one tree still has its leaves? Now it seems like winter.”

What a wonderful way to teach about the cycles of life: the growing and dying, the green and the brown, the fullness and the bareness. One just leads to the next, round and round. He notices. We notice.

Autumn Trees with sun
More light to capture

Today I am reminded of how my season in life is changing, grateful for sons who remind me to stop and notice things that I might have otherwise missed, filling up on the light they bring to the day.

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Maple Study – Leaves Instead of Seeds

Apple Hill with Barn
Autumn Scene – Sierra Nevada Foothills

Our last study for the Autumn series (More Nature Study with the OHC) was one that took us up the mountain to see maples brilliantly colored against the autumn sky. The Bigleaf maples are ablaze with color right now and so easy to spot since they grow in and among the evergreens of the Sierra Nevada. Our field guide says that Bigleaf maples grow at an elevation of 2,000 – 5,000 feet so we live right at the lower edge of where they naturally occur.

Maple Trees
Perfect spot to stop and observe some Bigleaf Maples

We stopped alongside the roadway to gather a few leaves and take some images. When I opened the car door…Mmmmmm…it smelled like fall. I hope I don’t ever stop remembering to slow down enough to drink in the fragrance of autumn leaves, damp and woodsy.

Maple leaf
Lobed leaves, turning yellow-green

Now to the part that I have to be humble about. When I wrote the Maple Seed Challenge months ago I thought that this would be the time to gather seeds. Turns out after some direct observation and some reading in my tree book….that this may not be the right time for maple keys so now that we know where to find our little grove of maples, we will revisit it in the winter to see if can see any changes.

We decided that we might as well observe and learn more about the leaves of the Bigleaf maple.

Measuring the Maple Leaf
We brought one really big leaf home and measured it…a little less than twelve inches across. Our field guide says that the leaves should be 16-14 inches in length including the stalk so that is in line with what we found. Mr. B decided to start the advanced notebook page with the field guide information but wait on sketching the maple keys until we gather some at a later date.

On another big leaf note….

Catalpa Tree Leaf
How about this gigantic catalpa tree leaf that we found at my mom’s house last weekend? Isn’t it glorious? Amanda took a quick photo of me holding the leaf and I thought you  might get a kick out of seeing it, especially after seeing the maple leaf and thinking THAT was big. My little three year old grand-niece said, “What is that?” I told a it was a really big leaf and she laughed. I miss having little ones around who have lots of questions and everything is new and interesting.

Sigh, that finishes up the autumn challenges for now. This season of nature study went by entirely too fast!

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Our Fall Leaf Study – A Lesson in Teen Nature Study

Orange Leaves in My Nature Journal
Pressed leaves going into my nature journal (See the November Newsletter for instructions.)

We are finally starting to see some fall colors all over our neighborhood. With our autumn color words in mind, we try to challenge each other to find just the right color words as we drive around town…noticing the crimson, the indigo, the mahogany, and the bronze of the leaves. (Download your own Advanced Fall Color Activity from Hearts and Trees.)

As part of the Leaf Close-Up challenge, Mr. B was happy to come along to gather fall leaves but not too excited about doing the follow-up for this one. His teen attitude was that he knew all there was to know about leaves. I let it go for that day since we had enjoyed spending time together outside and I did not want to spoil the mood.

11 2011 Red Yellow Green Leaves

I waited until another day to try the advanced study work suggested in the challenge which was to make our own slides using the leaves we gathered, looking closer at them using a microscope. As much as I want my teen to continue his nature study, I know that pushing him too hard takes the joy out of it and that is the opposite of my aim in continuing nature study through high school.

It can wait.

11 2011 Leaves on the tree
Fall leaves with larvae.

So, even though a leaf study was not a great fit for Mr. B, I tried to finish the challenge myself this week, hoping he would join me. Well, right off the bat I needed his help with the microscope. It did not seem to be working so he took a look at it for me but he could not get it going either. That ended another day of trying to get this challenge done.

Then on Friday, Mr. A (my older son who has graduated from high school) was home and I asked him if he wanted to finish up the challenge with me. He actually was eager to participate. He brought his own leaves in and got to work. The image below is a glimpse at his notebook page from the More Nature Study ebook. He ended up using the hand lens instead to view the leaves up close.

Leaf up close Notebook Page
Advanced Study notebook page from More Nature Study ebook

This challenge led to a light bulb moment for me.

  • Mr. B was not interested in this particular challenge but we did enjoy our time together outdoors viewing the trees and leaves. For Mr. B, that was enough.
  • Mr. A *was* interested in taking a closer look with me at the fall leaves even though he has graduated from homeschool.

Lesson? I am succeeding in keeping my teens interested in nature study. As always, I need to learn to be flexible and allow for personal taste and styles of learning.

For more on that topic make sure to read the article in the November edition of my Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter from Ellen Crandall (available to all subscribers to my blog-see the sidebar to sign up). She has a few teens in her home that she is encouraging nature study with each month.

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OHC More Nature Study #8 Fall Leaf Study – Close Up

Outdoor Hour Challenge Fall Leaf Study @handbookofnaturestudy

“Make the lesson an investigation and make the pupils feel that they are investigators…….The ‘leading thought’ embodies some of the points which should be in the teacher’s mind while giving the lesson; it should not be read or declared to the pupils……..The outlines for observations herein given by no means cover all of the observations possible; they are meant to suggest to the teacher observations of her own, rather than to be followed slavishly….If the questions do not inspire the child to investigate, they are useless.”

Handbook of Nature Study, page 23

More Nature Study #8
Fall Leaf Study – Close Up

Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 9-10 (The Lens, Microscope, and Field Glass As Helps in Nature Study).
  • Have on hand a magnifying glass to use as part of this leaf challenge. You can see more ideas on my: Squidoo Lens on Magnifying Lenses.

Leaves for nature journal

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • Spend your Outdoor Hour time in your own backyard or neighborhood.
  • Look at the various kinds of leaves and have your child point out several that capture their interest.
  • Choose four or five leaves to collect and bring home to look at with the magnifying lens.

Follow-Up Activity:

  • Use the hand lens to make careful observations of your leaves. One at a time have your child describe what he sees as he looks at the leaf carefully. Record your results in your nature journal (or use the notebook page in the ebook).
  • Press your leaves to add to your nature journal at a future date. You can watch my YouTube video to learn how to do this with simple household items.

Leaves with loupe

  • Advanced Follow-Up: Use this LINK and scroll down to the section, “Taking a Closer Look At Plant Cells”. Make your own leaf slides to look at under your microscope. Ebook Users – Use the Leaf Morphology page and the notebook page to complete your study.
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Read this article on Wikipedia: Leaf. Read this page that illustrates Leaf Margins and Shapes (love this page with the clear images).

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy


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Our Pear Study Using the Outdoor Hour Challenge

Pear study - leaves

Our study has been actually on-going since the spring when we first noticed that our pear tree was loaded with blossoms. We have been eagerly watching the progress since then and it culminated this week with actually eating the pears…but not until after we had closely observed them and dissected them as part of the more advanced suggestions in More Nature Study #3.

Pear Tree -trunk
We took a quick trip outdoors to snap a few images of the leaves and bark but the highlight was to come inside and actually take a close look at the fruit.

Pear study - Dissection and observations
Mr. B was willing to complete the dissection lab with the pears from our backyard tree and he did a great job recording his results on the notebook page. I think taking the Outdoor Hour Challenges up a notch with the more advanced ideas is a great way to keep them interested in nature study. We actually talked about seeds as they relate to what he studied in biology and we also talked about how growing fruit can be so very satisfying. Tend the tree, pick the fruit, enjoy the labor. What a great lesson in life.

Pear study dissection lab
Notebook Page from my More Nature Study ebook

I love watching him sketch. Makes me glad that we made nature study a part of our high school plans.

Nature study that ends in eating your subject is always a good thing when you have a teenage boy around.

4 18 11 Pear BlossomsWe will look forward to seeing this sight again in the spring!

I look forward to seeing your results and hearing how your observations went.

If you are interested in more Crop Plants study, I have a series of Outdoor Hour Challenges listed here on the blog. You can find them listed HERE. Scroll down to the bottom of the page to see the list.


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Leaf-Miner Study Updated and Some Acorns Too

Leaf Miner 1

Today we hit the jackpot with leaf-miners while we were taking a hike with the dog. We found a whole bunch of leaves with signs of leaf-miners…how exciting!
(Original post HERE and the OHC Challenge HERE)

Leaf Miner 2
We were amazed at how crazy the path is on some of the leaves. Curls and swirls and then along the edges, there seems to be no rhyme or reason.

Oaks and Acorns 1

The creation of a thousand forests is in one acorn.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

We also were fascinated with the furry, fuzzy tops on these acorns. I like how they grow like twins on the branches of the oak tree.

Acorns and moss
I found a few on the ground along with some moss for a cute little acorn photo.

Just wanted to update our study with our latest finds.

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Searching for Leaf-Miners and Leaf-Rollers

Oak Leaves 2

We found quite a bit of leaf damage on the oaks in our backyard…nothing that really looked like leaf-miners though. We looked carefully which is part of what this challenge (More Nature Study #2 Leaf-Miners and Rollers) was all about.Taking time to really look and see the leaves opens up lots of interesting thoughts and ideas.  Who caused the damage? Were they nibbled by insects or something else like the birds that frequent our yard?

The preparation work from the Handbook of Nature Study really helped us with this challenge.

Leaf Rollers 2

We went around to the garden side of the yard and started to look at the shrubs there and we think we found several leaves that had been rolled up by insects. This one looks close to what we were looking for so we are going to assume it is our subject for this challenge. Amazing that I never noticed this leaf-rolling in our own backyard until now! What else am I missing?

Oak leaves

Now in the front yard we have a different kind of oak and we were able to see clearly some damage done by some insect…perhaps a leaf-miner. We couldn’t find any leaves that had insects working on them currently but these looked promising enough to bring a few inside to look at under the magnifying lens.

Leaf 2

Here is one image (through the magnifying lens) that was super pretty, almost looked like stained glass.When you hold the leaf up to the light as suggested in the Handbook of Nature Study it is even more beautiful. My husband was wondering what I was looking at and I had to share with him too. He was fascinated by our topic and since he spends lots of time outdoors as part of his job, he is going to keep an eye out for some more leaves to look at with the hand lens.

Leaf 1

Another image up-close at what we think may be what we were looking for this week.

So there you have it…our leaf-miner and leaf-roller study in our own yard. Amazing that we could find it right under out noses. I think that is the lesson I learned from reading the entries to the Blog Carnival for this challenge from different families… amazement that they could even find this subject so close to home.

If you haven’t taken the time to give this challenge a try yet, there is still plenty of time to do so. Make it an investigation after reading the information in the Handbook of Nature Study. Take your magnifying glass with you outdoors to look at the suggested plants (see Lesson 77 in the HNS).

Oak Galls
We also observed some oak galls which are covered in Lesson 79 in the Handbook of Nature Study. These are interesting to observe as well and surprising to most that they are actually signs of an insect.More Nature Study Button


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Outdoor Hour Challenge – More Nature Study #2 Leaf-Miners and Leaf-Rollers

Outdoor Hour Challenge Leaf Miners and Leaf Rollers Insect Study @handbookofnaturestudy

Here comes the second challenge in the new series of Outdoor Hour Challenges! I will be posting one new challenge each Friday and you are welcome to jump in and work through the challenges as you have time.

Leaf Miner 1

Inside Preparation Work:
1.Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 329-334 (Lessons 77 and 78). Pay special attention to the “Leading Thoughts” and the “Methods” sections in each lesson. These will give you hints and ideas for searching for Leaf-miners and Leaf-rollers.
2. Optional YouTube Video: Watch a leaf roller HERE. One short one showing it up close HERE.
3. Preview this YouTube video of a leaf miner at work: The Good, The Bad, the Ugly…Larva. Awesome! Watch it full screen if you dare.

  • Hints: Look on sumac, basswood, and witch hazel for leaf-rollers. We have found leaf-rollers on our crepe myrtle and coneflowers. For leaf-miners, look on nasturtium, columbine, lamb’s quarters, dock, and burdock. You may also try pine needles for yellow tips. We have found leaf-miners on oaks.

Outdoor Hour Time:
1. Go outside with the intention of looking for and observing some insects. Keep in mind the images of the leaf-miner and the leaf-roller. Look for signs of these kinds of insects on the leaves in your garden or in your neighborhood. There are many varieties of each kind of insect so you may wish to consult your field guide before you head out.
2. If you don’t find any insects to observe, take a few minutes of your Outdoor Hour time to examine various leaves with a hand-lens. Look for anything that has damaged the leaves and describe what it looks like. Many things can damage leaves besides insects.

Follow-Up Activity:
1. Insects are hard to identify but the point of this challenge is mainly to look for Leaf-miners and Leaf-rollers and how they use leaves during their life-cycle. If you can see the larva or the insect itself, you may have a good chance at identifying it. On the other hand, you may just need to talk about the behavior of this kind of insect and give the opportunity to sketch the leaf and your observations. You can use the accompanying notebook page for convenience (ebook users only).
2. Advanced Follow-Up: Read this link for more information on leaf rolling insects: Leaf Rollers on Ornamental and Fruit Trees ( UC Davis). Complete the Upper Level notebook page with your research (ebook users only).

More Nature Study Autumn

This challenge is part of the More Nature Study – Autumn series. All of the challenges are gathered into one ebook with notebooking pages (regular and for advanced students) and additional resources. You can gain access to this ebook by purchasing an Ultimate Naturalist membership here on the Handbook of Nature Study. See the Join Us page by clicking the link at the top of the website for more information about what comes with your Ultimate membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy


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More Nature Study With The Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn 2011 Ebook

More Nature Study Autumn Cover image

Nature Study Using the Handbook of Nature Study- Autumn 2011 Series

Completely updated in 2016!

The ten challenges included in this new ebook are written in the format of the Outdoor Hour Challenges that can be found on the blog. Each weekly challenge can be completed as you have the opportunity and you can complete as much or as little of each challenge as you have time and interest.

Each challenge has three parts: inside preparation work, outdoor time, and then a follow-up activity. Each challenge is written so you can adapt it to your own backyard or local area. Use the challenge ideas to get started with simple weekly nature study using the Handbook of Nature Study.

This ebook is written for families with children of all ages. In addition to the regular challenge, new to this ebook is the addition of suggested nature study activities and follow-up for more advanced students. I included “advanced follow-up” ideas and created “upper level” notebook pages to give each challenge a deeper study if you have children who are ready for additional learning opportunities.

Also, a new feature for Charlotte Mason style homeschoolers is the addition of suggested Charlotte Mason style exam questions to be used at the end of the term. The questions are meant to help your child recall and then share in some way his nature study experience. Since this is the first time I have included exam questions, I would love to hear your feedback after using them with your children. I am planning on using them with my high school age son.

More Nature Study Autumn Cover image
Included in the More Nature Study With The Outdoor Hour Challenge – Autumn 2011/2016 Ebook:
  • Ten challenges centered on the Handbook of Nature Study
  • Eleven notebook pages and eight coloring pages
  • Thirteen Upper Level notebook pages
  • Ten Charlotte Mason style exam questions
  • Complete instructions for each challenge included additional links and resources
  • Nature journal suggestions
  • Complete list of supplies needed
  • Coordinates with the monthly Outdoor Hour Challenge Newsletter ideas
  • 52 pages
  • Sample here: More Nature Study Autumn

Here are the topics covered in this autumn ebook along with alternate ideas for you to include if they are more appropriate to your area. 

  • Milkweed – any other autumn wildflower or weed
  • Leaf Miners – examine leaves with a hand lens
  • Pears – year long tree study
  • Cobwebs of all kinds
  • Fall Color – leaf gathering
  • Chipmunk – squirrel
  • House sparrow – any other bird
  • Leaf Close Up
  • Thistles – any other fall composite flower
  • Maple seeds – any tree that has seeds of any type

As always, please email me with any questions or comments.




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Seasonal Tree Study and Leaf Comparisons

I don’t usually enjoy the fall season…it is a melancholy time for me. I love the barefoot days of summer and the hot afternoons working in the garden or swimming in the pool.  I would much rather be hiking in the green, green hills with wildflowers blooming at my side in the springtime. The promise of spring and the activity of summer are much more likely to gain my vote for “favorite season”. Winter is the enduring time, the time for preparing for spring and summer.

Autumn days are soon filled with colored leaves, falling leaves, and raking leaves. It seems to creep up slowly but then you wake up one morning to find that the leaves are starting to turn colors…..oranges, reds, yellows, golds, purples.

Leaves on maple 10 10
Observing autumn trees and looking close though, you will see spring’s leaves preparing for the winter.

So here we are in the middle of our autumn challenges and making the best of what the season has to offer. We gathered a few leaves to compare and my son reminded me that we did an in-depth study of leaves and their parts as part of our biology study.

Botany notebook page 1
I went to the shelf and pulled out his biology notebook and his nature journal and we thumbed through to find our completed study.

So now what could we do to learn more about leaves?

Tree Study Leaves on copier
First of all, I shared with my son the idea that I gleaned from Amy at The Teachable Heart and her family’s study of autumn leaves. She actually color copied the leaves for their nature journals and they looked wonderful. I thought maybe we could do the same for our tree and other fall leaves that we were comparing just for a change in our journals.

We had already decided to choose another tree to study for a year-long tree study, the birch tree in our backyard. We gathered a few leaves and took a closer look at the tree while we were out there.

Tree Study Birch 10 10
Welcome to our new tree for the year! We are excited to see what we can learn by looking at and comparing this tree to our previous tree study subjects.

Tree Study Birch 10 10 leaves
These catkins are such interesting things to look at and we looked up some more information in our tree guide after our outdoor time.

Leaves with loupe
We brought some inside to look at with our loupes and to draw in detail in our nature journals.

Dandelion leaves 10 10
While we were out we looked at several other kinds of leaves….the dandelion growing in my pot is such an interesting shape in comparison to our tree leaves.

Broccoli leaves 10 10
How about these leaves on the broccoli? Amazing gray-green color.

Leaves on coleus 10 10
Our coleus is still giving us blazing amounts of color in the container garden on the deck. It makes me happy just to look at these leaves.

It had to go in my nature journal.

Coleus leaf in My Nature Journal
Watercolor pencils are fun to work with in your nature journals and we always have a set sitting on or near our work area table. It is easy to sketch quickly and then come back later to add water and details.

I will end my entry here since this journal is getting quite long. We are enjoying the connections between our biology study and our nature study using the Outdoor Hour Challenges.