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Outdoor Hour Challenges – Maples (and Seeds)

 Outdoor Hour Challenge Autumn Maple Tree Study @handbookofnaturestudy

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Maple Trees (and Seeds) – from the More Nature Study Autumn ebook and the Archives.

Maple Keys @handbookofnaturestudy

We just returned from an Oregon trip filled with colorful maples. We also found the most amazing clump of maple keys ever.


Maple Leaf

Use the ideas and seasonal tree printable in this week’s archive challenge to learn a bit more about this beautiful tree along with its interesting seeds. Don’t forget there is a Maple Tree notebook page in this month’s newsletter for you to use as a follow up to your outdoor time.

Even if you don’t have a maple tree to enjoy…pick a different tree and make some careful observations!

Outdoor Hour Challenge Plans for Sept 16 to March 17 @handbookofnaturestudyNote: You do not need to purchase the ebooks to participate but they are handy to have for planning and for the regular and advanced notebook pages included in each one. Click the graphic at the bottom of this post to go over to check out the Ultimate Naturalist Library membership. You can click over and download a sample for both the More Nature Study Autumn and More Nature Study Winter ebooks. This may help you decide whether to purchase a membership.

Ultimate Ebook Library @handbookofnaturestudy


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Yosemite Autumn Trip!

Our much anticipated trip to Yosemite for our autumn visit was a huge success. We didn’t plan it but we were leaving the day the park was closed because of the government shutdown. I was very grateful that we were able to get in our visit and hikes before the trails and campground were closed indefinitely.

The image above shows a glimpse of the devastation from the Rim Fire. This is along Hwy 120 above Groveland, CA. It was an awesome sight to see and you could see signs of the fire as we continued into the national park itself and up along the Tioga Road. Much of the area along the road had been cleared before the fire so my husband thinks that many of the trees, although scortched, will revive. We shall be anxious to see if he is right.

We had reserved a campsite along the Merced River in the Lower Pines Campground…perfect! We enjoyed our two nights in our tent with a show of stars at night that was unbelievable. The camping was a little quiet for us with no children along for this trip but it was fun to just be a couple again.We sat in chairs and watched squirrels and birds. We huddled around the campfire and enjoyed the peaceful cracking and snapping of the flames on the oak wood. The air was crisp in the mornings but not so cold we couldn’t break from the cocoon of the sleeping bag.

One afternoon we took a long walk along the valley floor. This time of year there are no big crowds around so you see lots of wildlife. In the image above, you can spy a bobcat! He was wandering along the trail and then he went down to the river. We also so numerous deer…adults and babies too. One time we saw a herd of 20+ deer grazing in the meadow.

Yosemite Falls is bone dry right now. I felt sorry for all the travelers who came from all over the world to visit Yosemite when the falls are dry…just not the same. Autumn is not a time for huge waterfalls in Yosemite but their are other reasons to come at this time of year. The story of Yosemite in the autumn is the change of season with colors and the quiet awesomeness of viewing the granite that also change in color with the light.

Our campsite was visited by many, many squirrels. They were busy collecting seeds of some sort and having a feast. The Stellar’s jays and Common ravens also came to visit and first thing in the morning they were very noisy. The seemed to say, “Wake up! Wake up! You are missing the sunrise!”

Our second day we hiked the complete Panorama Trail. This is an eight mile hike that includes three waterfalls…that actually have water. The image above is the very top of Nevada Falls and although it is not running with much water, it is still a fabulous waterfall. (see below)

Here I am after hiking down from the top with Nevada Falls in the background. Isn’t it an awesome sight? It is hard to describe the sound of a big waterfall, especially this one back in the corner of the valley. The sound cracks and echoes all around you. About this time in the hike, I am getting tired and the downhill climb is harder than climbing up.

Here is a portion of the trail that is a little easier and the views are phenomenal. I love the sky in this image. When I’m hiking, I always watch the sky for signs of storms but this day it was perfect with partial cloud cover a lot of the time. Breezes would cool us off as we hiked. Autumn really is a terrific time to hike at Yosemite.

This is also about the point where we observed a mama Black Bear and her cub…off in the distance but we still became hyper-aware of our surroundings. There were several other hikers, some in front and some in back of us, so we alerted them to our sighting and shared bear stories before we all spread out again.

I was in the mood for looking for fall colors. The maples and oaks were starting to turn color and I found this large leaf along the trail. My husband thinks I’m nuts sometime but he cooperated and took my picture so I could share it with you. This is a good place to point out that hiking in Yosemite is a bit of a rock scramble at times (that is the trail behind me). These are not smooth, easy trails that you can hike along without paying attention. You are always looking down for your next step…not many flat trails here. This is why I started using a walking stick…it makes my hiking so much more pleasurable.

I was so inspired by the Bigleaf maples that back at the campsite I created a nature journal page with some of the information I found interesting. My leaf sketch was a bit of a fail..I think I was hung up on trying to get it to fit in the box I had created on the page and so it looks sort of squished. Oh well, you get the idea of a maple leaf.

The last day of our trip we took the long way home and drove out Tioga Pass, along Hwy 395, and then across on Hwy 89 and 88 to get home. This took us through the high country where the aspens were ablaze with color. We stopped several times to enjoy the views. Now this is what autumn should look like!

It was a fun trip and I am looking forward to the winter season and visiting Yosemite National Park to really see the full circle in this amazing place. We are aiming to hike in the Mariposa Grove of sequoia trees whether there is snow or not. Not sure where we will stay yet…hoping that the government closure is over by then.

You can read about our seasonal visits to Yosemite in these entries:
Yosemite in Spring – Waterfalls and Biking
Summer Trip to Yosemite – Hikes, Wildflowers, Rocks, and More

This post is part of my Nature Study Goals for 2013 – to visit Yosemite National Park in each season.

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Buds and Catkins – Our Spring Nature Study

Bud Study - Spring 2012
We still have plenty of tree buds to use in our nature study this week as part of the More Nature Study Book 3 study of Buds, Catkins, and Blossoms assignment. We went out after dinner last night to observe and gather some specimens for our study. Can I just say that we were intrigued with the variety we have right in our own backyard?

Mr. B and I both sketched buds into our nature journal. There has to be no better way to really see what a bud looks like than to try to sketch it in detail. Picking the correct color and seeing the different ways that buds are shaped lead to really truly *seeing* the subject.

Bud Drawing - Nature study
Advanced Study Notebook Page from More Nature Study Book 3

Mr. B used the advanced notebook page from the ebook to try his hand at sketching an enlarged bud using the grid paper. He thought this was hard…..I think he just needs a little practice.

Sweet Gum Bud
Sweet Gum Tree Bud

What a glorious bud he chose to sketch! This is the sweet gum tree bud…it looks like it is ready to burst open at any moment. We placed it in a glass of water to see if we could get it to open up in our window sill.

Birch in the Sunset
The vertical twig hanging down has our string on it…still no leaves.

We also observed the birch catkins we have on our backyard tree. This was the same tree we used in our twig study and we found the branch with the string marker. Not much of a change yet so we will continue to watch our twig as the season progresses.

Birch Catkins and Leaves
New leaves on this twig of the birch tree and some catkins too.

Currently there are no tree blossoms in our yard. The plum is done and the pear and apple are not yet blossoming. We found a few more interesting things to gather and bring inside for our bud study.

Walnut Tree Twig with Buds
Walnut Tree Twig with Buds

The most interesting thing from our study is the walnut tree twig with its unusual buds…both color and shape. We had never taken the time to really examine the walnut tree bud before so it was a surprise. It was a fun exercise to try to get the sketch right in my journal. It helps to know a little bit about twig anatomy so you notice all the important parts like the leaf scars and the lenticels.

Maple Tree Keys
Silver Maple Buds and Key

The maple tree buds are all burst open and you can see the keys in the image above. If you are interested in doing your own Spring Maple Tree Study, you can look back to a previous study we had here on this blog. You may wish to use the free printable: Spring Maple Tree Notebook Page

Birch Catkins
Birch Tree Catkin – April 2012

So this was another wonderful study with my teen. He did a little grumbling at first about doing the study this week since he thought there wasn’t much to learn but as you see above once we got started there were many things to be interested in. If all that he gleaned from this study was that all tree buds are unique and we can identify trees from twigs and buds, then I am a happy mama.

More Nature Study Book 3 Button

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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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OHC More Nature Study #10 Maple Seeds and Update for Nov/Dec OHC

Outdoor Hour Challenge Maple Tree and seeds @handbookofnaturestudy

OHC More Nature Study #10
Maple Seeds and Maple Tree

Sugar Maple Seeds clipart


Inside Preparation Work:

  • Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 628-632 (Lesson 174). This is the section on the sugar maple. Pay special attention to the “Fall Work” section, especially #2 which describes the “key” and how to observe it. There is also a previous OHC for the Maple Tree that you may wish to look up and read for ideas to include in this challenge.
  • Other Maples to Investigate: Bigleaf Maple, Silver Maple, more listed on USDA. If you have a tree field guide, page through the maple tree section and get an idea of what kind of maples you have in your local area.
  • You will want to discuss with your child any winged seeds you are familiar with. We often call these winged seeds “helicopter seeds”. Another name for the winged seeds are samaras.

Outdoor Hour Time:

  • For this challenge, spend some of your Outdoor Hour time looking for maple trees and maple seeds. Gather a few of the winged seeds to observe and investigate. Maple trees in the autumn have beautifully colored leaves and should help you in finding one to study.
  • Have some fun with your maple seeds. Release them and measure the distance they travel and how long they stay afloat.
  • If you don’t have a maple tree or seeds to observe, see if you can find another tree observe that has seeds (oaks/acorns, conifer/cones, sweet gum/sticker balls, etc). Collect a few to bring indoors to observe with a magnifying lens.

Supar maple coloring page
Follow-Up Activity:

  • You may wish to talk about other seeds you have observed that fly or float in the air. How about dandelions, milkweed, and elm seeds as well as the maple? If you found maple seeds, compare them with other seeds you know about.
  • Allow time to make a journal entry, complete a notebook page, and/or finish a coloring page. Make sure to sketch the key with the seed and wing labeled. If you observed a tree other than the maple, you can complete the Seasonal Tree Study notebook page if you wish.
  • Plant a maple seed where you can watch it grow.
  • Read about why and how leaves change color in the autumn: A Tree’s True Color.
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Use a field guide to learn more about your maple. You can use this online tree field guide. Complete a notebook page for your nature journal (ebook users).
  • Advanced Follow-Up: Find other autumn seeds and make some observations. Suggested seeds: acorns, seeds from a cone, sticker balls, etc. Sort your seeds: Round/Not Round, Float/Not Float, Fly/Not Fly, Seeds That Lie Flat/Seeds That Do Not Lie Flat, and by Size.

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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Our (Humble) Spring Maple Tree Study

So now that we know that one of the trees in our row of sweet gums trees is actually a maple, we have a subject for this week’s maple tree challenge.

We found some information about maples online:
Maple tree identification video from
How to Tap a Maple Tree

We are holding off on the exact identification until it totally leafs out. We think it may be a silver maple which is not native to our area, but we know that we did purchase it from a nursery over a decade ago. The whole situation with this tree makes me wonder if I will ever know my own backyard.

It humbles me.

We always enjoy the tree no matter what its exact species is anyway and my husband reminded me of how much I enjoy this particular tree with its beautifully shaped limbs and its pretty leaves. It also gives us much needed shade on the back of our house when summer comes.

Sweet gum
I already shared a photo of the helicopter seeds but here is another one for this study. We did learn from our research that these are officially called samaras.

My son and I went out and really truly looked at this tree one afternoon this past week. We observed a few new things. First of all, it is ready to leaf out and the sweet gums are still in buds. Next, the samaras are not on every branch. We have looked in our field guide and then online, finding no information about why that is so.

maple seed and leaf
We remember now that the leaf buds on this tree are bright red and the sweet gums are light green. My son also reminded me that this tree has a time of year that it drops sap lightly on the rocks below it. The leaves and the rocks below get all sparkly with a sticky substance.

After discussing it as a family, we decided that all these years we just thought we had two different varieties of sweet gum trees. It never occurred to us that it could be a totally different tree.

Okay, so now the really humiliating part of the entry. My son studied this maple for a whole year thinking it was a sweet gum tree.
Spring Tree Study
Fall Tree Study
Winter Tree Study

This should make all of you feel better knowing that I am just like you. I am learning every week as our family slows down to study and learn about all we have living in our backyard. The other lesson that we learned over the last week is that we actually learn more when we are wrong about something. It takes real determination to research and compare in order to dig down to the bottom of a mystery. We now know more about maples and sweet gum trees than ever before. I am positive there is still a lot more to learn on this topic.

What is the saying? The more you know, the more you realize you don’t know. I think that is how it goes. It perfectly illustrates how I feel right now.

We have been trying to spend some time outdoors every day, but we are told to expect more snow tonight. It has been a crazy spring so far!

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Spring This and That From Our Yard

Maybe it is in anticipation of starting the Spring Series of Outdoor Hour Challenges, but I am very much alert to the signs of spring around us. Mr. A and I were in the backyard doing some clean up and we noticed the winged parts of the sweet gum tree for the very first time ever. How could we have this tree in our yard for over a decade and not notice them before?
Sweet gum
Does anyone know what these actually are?

Edit to add 3/31/10: After a few comments and some investigation on my part, I have come to the conclusion that this is not a sweet gum as we thought but a maple. I would like to thank those of you who commented about it being a maple this morning and helping me.

Here is what I wrote to Amy in an email:
I guess what has stumped me about this particular tree is that my husband is dead set that he planted a row of four sweet gums. I was thinking that this tree had the sticky balls on it but after going outside this morning, I might have been wrong. The other three in the row still have remnants of the sticky balls but this one doesn’t. This one is the only one with the helicopter seeds on it and the other three still have buds and no leaves. I still never noticed the helicopter seeds before so it just shows how we really don’t “see” until we stop and take the time to really “see”.

My most favorite things in the garden right now are my blueberry bushes. We planted three bushes last fall and they are bursting out with blossoms right now. I have never had blueberries growing in our yard and it is something that I have wanted to try for a very long time.

Tulips in Bloom
The tulips are in full bloom right now as well with their pretty colors all in a row. These are definitely going into my nature journal again this year.

Tulips in a Row
Aren’t they pretty? We started this tulip garden last year with ten bulbs and I added ten more this last fall. There is a row of pansies behind it and when the tulips die back the pansies fill in for the summer.

Money Plant
This is a volunteer plant from seeds blown in from another part of the yard. We call it Money Plant but it is actually called Annual Honesty. It is really easy to grow and it has wonderful pods at the end of the season.

One more photo that is not from our yard but still really fun.
Turtle on the Loose
This turtle was on the loose at the flower nursery last week. My hubby and I were getting some garden inspiration by browsing the aisles of plants and this guy was walking down one side. There is a pond at the nursery and somehow he had taken a wrong turn and ended up in the wrong place. One of the nursery workers picked him up and carried him safely back to his pond and friends.

Tomorrow the weather man has predicted some light snow. I can hardly believe it. I am hoping he is wrong and we just get some much needed rain to water our garden flowers. I didn’t get a photo of my climbing rose that is just beginning to bloom so I will make another post as soon as I can get back outdoors to capture it. Oh, I forgot to take a photo of our strawberries blossoming too. So much going on outdoors right now in our little yard. I suppose that will give me something to post about tomorrow.

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Outdoor Hour Challenge-Spring Maple Tree Bonus Challenge

Outdoor Hour Challenge
Spring Bonus Challenge-Maple Trees

Inside Preparation Work:
Read in the Handbook of Nature Study pages 628-634. Pay special attention to the section on page 629 where it talks about how maple trees change in the spring. Also on page 634 there are specific suggestions for spring observations of a maple tree.

Please do not worry if you do not have a maple tree to observe and perhaps instead you would like to complete the Signs of Spring Challenge from last week or you can download the Spring Nature Walk sheet from my daughter’s Hearts and Trees blog.

Outdoor Hour Time:
If you have a maple tree, spend some time making springtime observations. The Handbook of Nature Study suggests looking for the leaves and blossoms. On page 629 of the Handbook there is a photo of the sugar maple blossoms.

If you do not have a maple to observe, spend some time looking at any tree that perhaps has some buds forming or a tree that is just beginning to leaf out.

Follow-Up Time:
You can use the Maple Tree Study page provided below for your follow-up activity or you can sketch your maple tree right into your nature journal. The best way to follow up any maple tree study is to eat something with real maple syrup.

Spring Series CoverGarden Flowers CoverMore Nature Study Book 3 Cover image
Spring Themed Ebooks Available – click the cover image to read more.

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Visiting Maple Tree Country: Outdoor Hour Challenge #34

Our Outdoor Hours this week were spent along the northern California Coast and southern Oregon coast. Our first stop was camping at Humboldt Redwoods (great place for camping) where most of the tallest trees in the world live. We saw ancient redwoods towering overhead.

These trees are so tall and grow so densely that the forest floor is dark and quiet. It is quite the experience to hike along the trail and silently observe these magnificent trees up close.

The forest seemed to have its own atmosphere in and among the trees. The mist in some areas was high up in the canopy of the redwoods and it was dripping down on our heads as we hiked underneath.

In some parts of the redwood forest, it seemed as if the light never penetrated down to the floor and there were mushrooms and moss growing everywhere. It was like stepping back in time.

Mixed in among these forest giants are Big leaf maples. This time of year they are a brilliant yellow and orange and the leaves are *large*. My tree book says that the leaves are between 16 and 24 inches long.

Here is a leaf I saw on the ground that shows how big they are in real life.

“It is its autumn transfiguration which has made people observant of the maple’s beauty; yellow, orange, crimson, and scarlet foliage makes these trees gorgeous when October comes.”
Handbook of Nature Study, page 628

This leaf was on a tree in Ashland, Oregon in Lithia Park. The trees in the park were just turning colors as we walked through last weekend. It was really cold and the air had a bite to it. We bundled up and enjoyed the walk.

After this trip along the Pacific coast, I have thought a lot about our dependence on wood from trees. We passed many areas in the forest where it had been clear cut, leaving nothing left standing to speak of. There were many, many lumber mills and great stacks of both logs and lumber.

Here is a stack of logs that we passed in the town of Eureka, CA. You cannot even imagine how tall and long these piles of logs are but this gives you an idea. It is a big reminder how useful certain trees are in our every day life. Look around you at this very moment and you will no doubt see lots of things made from wood.

I know that trees are a renewal resource but it does make you stop and think when you see so many areas clear-cut and then the piles of logs sitting at the mills. It truly is a balancing act….the love of the forest and the love of wood products.

Just a some thoughts as we travel along on this trip.