Cattails Part 1:: Winter Nature Study

It is my sincere hope to do a much better job in planning and following through this year. Particularly in the areas of composer & artist study, nature study, and believe it or not, science. I tend to let these topics drop when we get busy and this frustrates me.

In an effort to combat this tendency, I purchased Barbara McCoy’s Winter Nature Study with Art & Music Appreciation. Upon opening the ebook, I was immediately impressed. It is so complete and everything is laid out so concisely … I couldn’t wait to begin!
Friday morning, we went down to the park along the river to do the first winter nature study which focused on cattails – the only location I could think of with cattails accessible. Prior to departing, I read the suggested pages aloud from Handbook of Nature Study and printed off the accompanying notebook pages. Upon our arrival, we were disappointed to see that we were not in fact able to reach the cattails and would thereby not be able to investigate it more closely (i.e. pulling it apart and looking inside). Therefore, we made due with our observations from a far.
I had a difficult time getting Buddy to focus. He was much more interested in poking at the ice along the perimeter of the pond. He did manage to do a quick sketch but I know he can do better. Sweetie opted to do her sketch in her nature book rather than on the notebooking page that Barb developed. I did the same. Shortly before we departed, Sweetie started to express her frustration in her drawing abilities. She is a perfectionist – like me – something we both need to work on overcoming.
Her frustration and Buddy’s distraction proved to me yet again that we need to bring drawing and nature study back into our regular activities. We all need more practice.

Erupting Volcanoes: Science Saturday

We did a few mini-experiments this afternoon to learn more about volcanoes. Unfortunately, I don’t yet have safety goggles for each of the kiddos so I improvised. We may look silly in our snow goggles, but we are safe! :)


When you add baking soda to vinegar, a reaction occurs which makes lots of fizz and foam! What actually happens is this: the acetic acid (CH3COOH, and the thing that makes vinegar sour) reacts with sodium bicarbonate (NaHCO3, or baking soda) to form carbonic acid (H2CO3).

It’s a double replacement reaction, and is also a neutralization reaction. Carbonic acid is unstable, and it immediately falls apart into carbon dioxide (CO2) and water (H2O). The bubbles you see from the reaction come from the carbon dioxide escaping the solution that is left. Carbon dioxide is heavier than air, so, it flows almost like water when it overflows the container. The overall balanced reaction is this:

NaHCO3 + CH3COOH —> CH3COONa + H2O + CO2

To do this experiment, you’ll need ammonium dichromate, (NH4)2Cr2O7, an orange crystalline solid at room temperature, which resembles slightly, table sugar. It can be ignited with high heat, such as that from a bunsen burner or a match. As it burns, the dark green solid “fluff” that forms is Cr2O3. The orange, ammonium dichromate, (NH4)2Cr2O7,is decomposed according to the balanced equation below:

(NH4)2Cr2O7(s) —-> Cr2O3(s) + N2(g) + 4H2O(g)

The Study of Snow

On Tuesday, our Roots & Shoots club gathered here for a study of snow. Unfortunately, it hasn’t snowed in some time and we didn’t even have a snowpack to observe. I thereby had to make some modifications to my original plan.

After everyone arrived, I gathered the kids on the carpet and read aloud Snowflake Bentley. It is a rather lengthy story but most everyone was attentive and engrossed in the story. Everyone that is except Buddy who was much more interested in demonstrating his skills as a train engineer and Polar Express enthusiast. “Choo Choooooooooo!” he exclaimed loudly as he ran circles around the house. It took a little while to get him quiet – I was a little embarrassed – but he made us all chuckle.

After the story, we got the wiggles out and then sat down in the office and I showed a short video clip on the computer which explained how snowflakes are formed. For most of the kiddos, I’m sure it went over their heads – but it was exposure and if nothing else, they will understand that snow is tiny crystals, none of which are exactly alike. I then showed part of a second clip… which explained how to go about studying snow. I encouraged everyone to give it a try at home when it snowed again. I gave the adults a few handouts to take home.

I then gathered everyone around the dining room table and showed them how to make snowflakes. I was surprised that most of the kids had never done this before so it was a delight. I had templates with valentine themed patterns (hearts, of course) to make it easier. I also encouraged everyone to create their own designs. I didn’t anticipate the difficulty that some would have cutting into the thick layers of paper, however. Everyone, therefore, created at least one snowflake, but only the more experienced with scissors chose to make more.Sweetie loved it as I knew she would. The following day she continued to make snowflakes and we were able to create a curtain or arch in one doorway. See her post, Snow Haiku, for a visual.

Fortunately, it snowed again on Sunday so my kiddos were able to get out and do the snow study as shown in the video. I hope others did as well. We didn’t bother to count the number of each type of snow crystal – but we did, in fact identify a number of them including: Hexagonal Plates, Stellar Plates, and Capped Columns. [Outdoor temperature was 20 degrees. No wind.]

Submitted to Barb’s Winter Nature Study :: Snow 25th January 2009.

American Larch ~ Winter Nature Study

Yesterday before my swim workout we had time to spare so the kiddos and I stopped by the park near the fitness center. They spent a few minutes climbing on the structures and playing on the swings. We then became intrigued by a the multitude of small cones that were scattered about on the ground. We started collecting them – thinking of fun ways to use them in craft projects (pine needle baskets, fairy homes, etc.) – when I started to wonder aloud, “What tree do you think these came from?”

The kids started looking up and matched the cones to those still in the trees. There were only 3 tree species in the vicinity… Ponderosa Pine, Juniper and a third with which we were not familiar. We were able to immediately rule out the Pine and Juniper – these are very common in Central Oregon and we know these two intimately. We knew the cones belonged to the third species – but what was it?

Our biggest clue was that there were only 2 individual trees of this species… both of which were in the backyard of a residence that bordered the park. Interestingly, neither of these trees had any needles whatsoever. Sweetie asked if they were dying. I told her I wasn’t certain but that I knew there was at least one conifer that did in fact drop it’s needles in the fall.
We inquired with a friend with a strong interest in science who also happens to swim with us at the fitness center and she confirmed my guess that the tree in question was likely Tamarack or American Larch (Larix laricina). As these are not native to Oregon – it is no wonder that these 2 trees were likely ornamentals that were planted when homesteaders first came to the area (both trees were mature and I would guess about 100 years old based on their diameter).

Unfortunately, I didn’t have my camera so I was unable to take pictures. I hope I can get back to them before winter is over.

Posted to Barb’s Winter Wednesday Nature Challenge at Handbook of Nature Study.

One Small Square :: Nature Study

I know we are a little behind on the Green Hour Challenges. We just got off track a little but we are back! We plan to catch up when we can and post as we go along.

Today we ventured out to the meadow in our planned neighborhood to do #9 – One Small Square. We probably should have selected an area randomly, perhaps by throwing a hoola-hoop out and studying the area in which it landed. However, the kids wanted a shrub in their study plot assuming it would provide more interesting discoveries. I figured I could introduce scientific sampling methods when they are older. 😀
This first picture shows the kids working together to investigate a small hole they discovered. They found a stick and used it to poke down in the hole to find out how deep it was. The hole was as long as the stick (about 1 foot) but it also turned as it went deeper so I imagine it went even farther. There were holes all over the meadow and we hypothesized that small field mice probably lived in them and that the holes were connected by underground tunnels. We plan to do a little research to learn more.
We also got out the loupes and looked at the small plants that were sprouting. We were surprised to find mostly dead grass. There were only 3 different types of small plants growing – 4 if you count the shrub which I think was Bitterbrush (hard to tell yet without the foliage). We were surprised to see only 2 insects (one small black ground beetle and a few ants) – we even dug small holes beneath the grass.
We spent about 20-30 in the meadow and then meandered over to the pond. We were hoping to find tadpoles as the kids have been wanting to catch some to observe the metamorphosis. Again, it seems spring is late in arriving to Central Oregon. We saw only a few water striders and whirligig beetles. Three Canada Geese observed us from afar.

Backyard Safari Frog Habitat by Summit ToysThe kids were delighted to get out again. We had intended on starting a year-long tree study, but our goals morphed as we were underway. We captured a few aquatic insects and the kids wanted to bring them home to observe more closely. We have two small habitats that the kids received as gifts some time ago but discovered when we added our specimens that they are much too small and are more of a cool-looking toy than a true aquarium for scientific study.

Backyard Safari Bug Habitat by Summit ToysBoth habitats are products of Summit Toys and are a great idea in theory. Put to use, however, I am not impressed. The water in the frog habitat splashes out and leaks out the bottom when the kids try to move the habitat to see different angles and there is so much plastic inside that there is very little ‘liveable’ space for the critters. The bug habitat is too shallow to add any substrate. My thought is that these toys are designed for one-day use and not long-term observation. I would not recommend these to families interested in studying insects or rearing tadpoles.

Sedges Have Edges :: Nature Study

We went to the museum again for our weekly nature walk… though, the weather was a little chilly and due to a slight miscommunication in scheduling, our walk didn’t get put on the interpretive talks / animal encounter schedule until a just a few moments before we were to begin. Alas, it was just the 3 of us, allowing us time to practice and focus more on the challenge for last week’s Green Hour Challenge

I decided to focus on tree buds (as I knew it would be do-able in the field with lots of kids – should they come) and they would be able to extend the activity easily at home. Before we departed, I jotted down some notes and made a quick sketch in my journal to label the parts of a typical branch.When we started on our walk, we headed directly to the pond. In Central Oregon, the Ponderosa Pine and Junipers dominate… so I knew the best place for deciduous trees on the museum grounds would be near the pond.

We spent a few minutes watching the trout, a turtle and a Canada Goose before we turned our focus to ‘Signs of Spring’. Each of the kids pointed out trees that had buds on them. I told them that spring also brought out resident birds in search of nesting sights, migrating birds stopping by for a rest and a meal, and the rushes and grasses would send up new green shoots. They were quickly able to find evidence of new sedges growing up along the banks of the pond.

I shared with them a poem I used to teach my 4th graders:

“Sedges have edges,
Rushes are round,
Grasses have bumps all the way to the ground.”

We then took a small branch clipping so we could look more closely at the buds inside. It was uncomfortably cold out and I knew they wouldn’t be able to focus much longer outdoors. When we got back inside, they each climbed up on a bench and pulled out the small loupes to take a closer look at their discovery.

I encouraged them to sketch their branch in their nature journals. I was confidant Sweetie would have no difficulty but she struggled a little with the right technique. She wanted to trace the entire branch and was frustrated the branch was larger than her journal. I made a few suggestions and she was underway.

Buddy, on the other hand, surprised me. He doesn’t normally color or sketch anything! But he got right to it and completed his sketch in just a few minutes. Needless to say, I was impressed that he got even a slight resemblance (he’s done nothing but scribble before now). He is a little budding artist, too! (yes, the pun was intended).

I, myself, didn’t get a chance to sketch a single bud. Though I did bring home the clippings we took and I made a few notes. We’ll come back to our journals again tomorrow.