Apple Trees :: Winter Nature Study

I’m always amazed at how easily I can integrate mini-lessons while hunting for hidden letterboxes. On a recent excursion to the valley, we did a little letterboxing and it was no surprise that we were presented with multiple opportunities to incorporate science, nature study, agriculture and geography into our outing.

We talked about the differences in climate comparing the high desert region where we live to the valley. We talked about how the differences in rainfall and temperature (the valley having a more temperate, wet climate) enable mushrooms and agriculture to flourish. We also observed a variety of trees that do not grow on the east side of the Cascade mountains.

The topic that most intrigued us were the apple trees we observed at Bauman Farms. Parallel to their entry drive were a number of apple tree species along with a a sign encouraging visitors to watch the trees over the seasons and observe the differences. We needed no encouragement… what a great display! I wish we lived closer so that we could make more regular observations – perhaps I’ll give them a call each season to see if they can’t take a few photographs for us ??

Unfortunately, I only had my camera phone, so these aren’t the greatest – but you can see some differences. We photographed the apples that we most enjoy eating. The picture above showsHoneycrisp (my absolute favorite) andArkansas Black (pictured by chance – don’t know that I’ve ever tasted an Arkansas Black).

Pictured here are Granny Smith and Fuji (another favorite).
Lastly, Red Gravenstein and Johnathan.

We have a Crab Apple in our front yard. It has always bloomed so dynamically in the spring. We trimmed it quite a bit in ’08 so it wasn’t quite as impressive in ’09, however. I am interested in seeing if will turn around this coming spring.

For more information about Letterboxing, see my post at Curriculum Choice entitled Creativity & Nature Study.

Cattails Part 2 :: Winter Nature Study

While on a mini-getaway to the valley last week, the kiddos and I did a little letterboxing at the Oregon Garden. While we were not successful finding the letterbox, we did come across accessible cattails. We collected a few to investigate more intimately.We pulled off the seeds to observe closely and recalled how Native Americans would use the fluff in their cradle boards as well as a variety of medicinal and nutritional uses.

After reading about an experiment another family [Delightful Learning] had tried with a cattail, my kiddos were anxious to give it a go as well. We thereby brought one home to use as a torch!

Admin Note :: This is a follow-up post to an earlier Nature Study lesson on Cattails. Click here for Cattails Part 1.

Air Pressure and Wind Activities

Last week, we read a few introductory selections about weather and narrowed our focus to wind as it happened to correspond to our poetry selection, Robert Frost’s Now Close the Windows.  We then spent a few hours (over the course of a couple days) engaging in a few inquiry lessons to learn more about wind.  Read on to learn more about air pressure and wind activities in which we took part.

I began by asking, “Does air have weight?” They both said yes.

I then asked, “What is wind?” Sweetie replied, “Wind is oxygen and other chemicals. A little bit of dust and stuff, too.”

“Does dust have weight?” I asked. “A tiny bit,” she replied. “How about oxygen and other chemicals?” I inquired further. She said, “No.”

“Okay then, if dust has a tiny bit of weight. Does air have weight?” This time she responded, “Yeah. A little bit.”

We then set up a little experiment with a balance scale made of 2 meter sticks, some string, and 2 balloons. I blew up each of the balloons and they assured me that they were the same size and had the same amount of air inside (more or less). We then tied them to the strings on opposing ends of the stick so they would balance.

As the kids sketched the set-up, I asked them to predict or make an hypothesis about what would happen if I were to poke a hole in one balloon. They both stated that the air would go out but neither inferred that this would cause the balance scale to tip.

We proceeded and they were delighted to see that though the action was slow (it was a small hole), the orange balloon gradually got smaller and the blue balloon got closer to the ground (gravitational pull). I then asked that they record their observations in words or pictures. [Sweetie’s observation and sketch of the results is shown below with the orange balloon.]

Thereafter, I blew up another balloon but did not tie it closed. We then hypothesized what would happen when we let go of the balloon. Of course, they had had some prior experience with this so they both said, “It will sound like a fart and fly all around!” [I chuckled at that…]

I released the balloon and I then asked them to explain what had happened. “What caused the balloon to zip around like that?” Buddy said, “They air went out!” I then explained, “As we blew up the balloons, we forced air into a small space. There wasn’t a lot of room inside the balloon so the air made the wall of the balloon stretch and get bigger. This created a lot of pressure inside the balloon. The pressure in the balloon was high. The pressure outside the balloon was low. When we let go, the high-pressure air inside escaped into the low-pressure air outside, resulting in a rush of air. Winds behave in the same way: air moves from areas of high pressure to areas of lower pressure. The larger the difference in air pressure from one area to another, the stronger the winds.” We then sketched this in our notebook as well. [Buddy’s sketch of part 2 is visible above.]

We also discussed fronts and air masses. We did a little experiment to answer the question, “What is heavier, hot air or cold air?” using a small jar of warm water (“Hong!” – the kids proclaimed in Korean) and an identical jar of cold water (“Chung!”). We covered the blue jar with an index card and carefully turned it over and placed it atop the red jar (mouth to mouth). While one child held onto the bottom jar, I removed the card. We observed the colder, heavier blue water sinking down into the warmer, lighter red water. We repeated the experiment another time, reversing the position of the jars. This time, the warmer red water stayed on top, though there was a little mixing of the two in the middle.

We discussed that in the same way as the jars of water, a cold air mass will push under a warm air mass to create a cold front. A warm air mass will climb over a colder air mass to form a warm front. Sweetie then completed a couple of worksheets on air currents and fronts. She also learned the difference between a sea breeze and a land breeze and of the cause, the Coriolis effect.

In addition, we also began to compile data on a chart to document our local weather. We continue to do so for 4 weeks and thereafter create graphs with the data that we collect. Click here if you’d like a copy of the chart we are using.

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 for Young Learners

On Tuesday, our Roots & Shoots club gathered in our room with the intention of studying the science of snow. Unfortunately, it hasn’t snowed in some time and we didn’t  have much of a snowpack to observe. I thereby had to make some modifications to my original plan.

Young girl examining fresh snowflakes on a black piece of paper

Capturing freshly fallen snow

Connecting Literature

After everyone arrived, I gathered the kids on the carpet and read aloud a favorite book, 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.  [ One of the true joys of homeschooling diverse ages of children. ]

After the story, we got the wiggles out and then sat down in the office where I showed a short video clip 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 made of 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.

A young girl captures snow as it's falling onto black contrasting paper

Art & Writing Activity

I then gathered everyone around the dining room table and showed them how to make paper 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 as well as a haiku she wrote later that day.

Hands-on Snow Study

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. We thereafter spent time sketching each in our nature journals. We recorded the outdoor temperature was 20 degrees, no wind.

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