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.



Un-Nature Trail – A Scavenger Hunt

I volunteered to coordinate a monthly nature hike for the homeschool co-op with whom we’ve connected. My plan is to develop a hike around a specific theme or topic area and meet every 3rd Tuesday of the month (allowing for changes due to holidays, the calendars of potential resource specialist/guest speakers, etc.).

We gathered yesterday for the first time and seeing as it was the first time, I thought it would be fun to do an Un-Nature Walk or nature scavenger hunt. I’ve done them with my students in the past and have always had success. The students have enjoyed them and everyone is engaged in the activity … suitable for all learning styles.

nature walk

Literature Connection

These walks are designed to get the ‘learners’ to be more observant while walking … encouraging them to slow down and listen, taking note of small movements and sounds, connecting with their surroundings. So, to begin, we read The Other Way to Listenby Byrd Baylor and Peter Parnall.

unnature walk

Un-Nature Trail

We then started our walk. I slowly led the group along a meandering trail on which I had intentionally hidden objects that would not normally be found in this area. Some objects were natural (flipper bone from a seal, Douglas fir cone, a pumpkin, shark jaw bone, sand dollars, sandstone w/fossils) and others were not (handmade pine needle basket, small stuffed porcupine). Some objects were concealed well and others were hard to miss. Some were placed on the ground while others were suspended from trees or within the branches of shrubs.

After the initial walk-thru, we all went through together as a group and I pointed out to everyone the objects that were hidden. This provided time for questions and discussion. Many of the boys were intrigued by the piranha specimen, the one object that most overlooked. 🙂

Most everyone found more than 12 objects (there were 16 all together). I obviously didn’t hide them too well… and perhaps more objects were needed. Nonetheless, everyone had a good time. Due to the cold (it was threatening to rain and many of us were shivering despite our layers of clothing), I opted not to extend the activity and provide time for sketching in our nature journals as I normally would. We needed to be moving around. To top it off, my little buddy informed me (non-verbally) that his diaper needed attention, anyway.

This activity is adapted from Sharing Nature With Children by Joseph Cornell.