Running with the Chinook

The Chinook salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, is the largest species in the Pacific salmon family. Other commonly used names for the species include king salmon, Quinnat salmon, spring salmon and Tyee salmon.  The fall run (July through December) is taking place now so we joined our Roots & Shoots group for a special outing to observe these magnificent fish in the wild.

Chinook salmon originate in rivers from central California to northwest Alaska and are harvested in ocean and river habitats.  The status of chinook populations in California and the Pacific Northwest varies; some populations are healthy while others are listed as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act.

Salmon live in the ocean but are born and spawn in freshwater rivers and streams.  They’re extremely sensitive to a variety of natural and man-mande stressors, on land as well as in the ocean.  Changes in ocean and climatic conditions, habitat loss from the construction of dams and urban development, and poor water quality from agricultural and logging practices are just a few of the factors that have taken a toll on wild salmon populations, especially in the Pacific Northwest.  

We have seen a few salmon in our creeks and rivers in the past, but this was the largest number we’ve seen (at least in my recollection).  It was quite exciting – we even caught glimpses of them leaping out of the water but I wasn’t quick enough with my camera.

One of my favorite books on the life cycle of salmon is called Salmon Stream (Sharing Nature With Children Book) by Carol Reed-Jones.  I read this to the kids again after we returned home from our outing.  Inspired by the perseverance of these remarkable fish, my kiddos have started work on a series of letterboxes that will teach others about the salmon life cycle.  We plan to hide the boxes along the same trail we enjoyed.  

I also created a notebooking page or printable for the kids to illustrate the life-cycle in their journals. You can download it for free here, The Mighty Chinook.

Southern California Surprise Vacation

We (my husband and I) have been planning a surprise family vacation to southern California for some time.  In preparation, as our excitement builds, it was harder to keep our enthusiasm contained.  On occasion, we would ask the kids, “If you had the choice, where would you most like to vacation?  Yosemite or Disneyland?”  Surprisingly – or perhaps not so surprisingly if you know my kiddos – they would answer Yosemite.  We thereby began to wonder if shouldn’t rethink our vacation plan.  Heck!  We wanted to go to Disneyland … so we proceeded forth with thrusters.  🙂

Day #1 – Drive South

We woke the kiddos early Friday morning and informed them that we were going to southern California and would be spending time at Legoland and Disneyland both as well as a few other surprises.  You would expect that they would leap up and cheer ecstaticly but a las, their response was the complete opposite. They both sat on the floor and looked up at us with dismay, “Really? Okay.”

The first day we did a lot of driving.  Though we departed at 4:30 a.m., we didn’t arrive until nearly 3:00 p.m.  We laid down for awhile after we had checked into our hotel – I believe Patrick even took a short nap. We later walked down to Downtown Disney for dinner.

Day #2 – Legoland

Our true adventures began today with an excursion to Legoland.  As we awaited opening, the kids were bouncing with excitement.  Buddy even said, “I can’t believe I am here!  I’ve been wanting to go to Legoland all my life.  This is like a dream!”  Finally!! Some enthusiasm is revealed … phew! 🙂

The kids loved the park – they marveled at the life size lego sculptures and the city-scapes built with Legos.  Buddy said he’d like to expand his Lego city .. sadly, I don’t think he has much room in his bedroom.  They also enjoyed taking par in a robotics class whereby they learned how to use the Lego Mindstorms product to build and program a robot to do simple tasks.  I see a Mindstorms purchase in our future.


Day #3 – La Brea Tar Pits  Dinner at Medieval Times

We headed downtown Los Angeles for day #3 .. stopping at La Brea Tar Pits (we did a little letterboxing beforehand), the Los Angeles County Art Museum (to see the street lights – we didn’t go inside), Hollywood Blvd (we just drove through), and a little shopping (American Girl Doll Store, Apple, and Nordstrom’s Rack).

That evening we went to Medieval Times for a thematic dinner.  I found this to be a little cheesy but the little guy absolutely loved it!  “Mom!  Is this your favorite restaurant because it is mine?!

Day #4 – Disneyland

Our first day in Disneyland turned out to be much more crowded than I anticipated.  We had visited the park 5 years ago (Buddy doesn’t remember it) on the same weekend if I recall correctly, and there were few crowds.  Today .. turned out to be a holiday (ColumbusDay) on top of the fact that Arizona schools were on ‘Fall Break’.  Ah well …

We had to force Buddy to go on every single ride.  After his first ride in Legoland (which we also insisted he ride), we knew he would enjoy each one.  The Legoland coaster was a little more stomach churning than we knew the rides in Disney to be and yet after his first ride, he kept talking about how fun it was.  His fears just get the best of him and he’ll hold back so we knew it was the right decision.  If he hadn’t liked the ride(s), we certainly wouldn’t have continued to pressure him.


Day #5 – California Adventure

We loved California Adventure.  The new Radiator Springs area – particularly the new ride, Radiator Springs Racers – is awesome.  We all love Pixar movies so we like this part of the park the best.  We also love Soarin’ Over California and California Screamin’ (the only ride the kids did not go on).

While waiting in line (once to get into the park and again in a line for an attraction), we bumped into friends of ours from Central Oregon. It was great to catch up and hear news from home.   It is indeed a small world!


Day #6 – Disneyland

Though we enjoy California Adventure, we returned to Disneyland on our third and final day because there were more things we had not yet seen or done.  Buddy loved the Jedi Academy and was very pleased that he was NOT selected to go up on stage.  Darth Maul took a liking to him though and came over to where he was seated and interacted with him a couple times.  I was seated right next to him so I couldn’t get a great picture of them both together but you can see Buddy’s reaction (he’s using the force to repel Darth Maul) when he approached the second time.


Day #7 – Aquarium of the Pacific

On our last day, we ventured to Long Beach to visit the Aquarium of the Pacific.  We really enjoyed this one – the kids loved finding all the passport stations throughout the aquarium and embossing their books with the images.  Our little pirate climbed on board the ship outside immediately and as he stood on the bow yelling, “It’s a pirate’s life for me!” Sweetie pushed a button on this giant fish and it squirted him dead center.  His surprised reaction was perfect and we all about died laughing!  Fortunately, he took it good heartedly and even asked her to do it again. 🙂

Day #8 – Drive Home

Another long day of driving.  We were sad to leave but a wonderful family vacation full of memorable moments.

World Water Quality Monitoring Project

 Science and Service Learning have long been seamlessly intertwined in my life since I started teaching full-time.  Though I am no longer in a formal classroom, the two share an even larger part of my life.  Hands-on, real-life science comes naturally to me.  It is a major component of our daily living and learning.  We seek out opportunities to put our skills to work and to learn about the world around us in a natural way.  This is Unschooling at its finest.
wwmprojectOur Roots & Shoots group has been taking part in a great service learning opportunity called the World Water Monitoring Project for the past few years.  The international education and outreach program builds awareness and involvement in protecting water resources around the world by engaging citizens in basic monitoring of local water bodies.
Upon learning how to collect water quality data with our group, the kiddos asked if we could purchase our own.  The cost of a Basic Kit (shipped to any location in the US) is just $13 plus shipping. At this price – I couldn’t pass it up!  We now carry the kit with us on all our nature outings and it has provided us the necessary tools to engage in meaningful, hands-on science.  I supplement the kit with other tools that I have used for years – including a Kestrel 3000 Pocket Wind Meter – a handheld weather-monitoring device that provides a wide range of functions.
We also make every effort to identify the little critters we capture in our nets.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, but dichotomous keys are helpful and we carry a few laminated ones with us.  We record our findings in a Rite In The Rain Journal.  When we return home, we upload our data to the  World Water Monitoring Project and if we’ve spotted critters, we upload images to Project Noah.

Our outings are more meaningful when we know that our data will be used to help the scientific community better understand our world.

The Invertebrates of Trinidad Beach: An Intertidal Scavenger Hunt

I recently shared details of a family weekend getaway to Trinidad in Humboldt County. The short road trip provided us an opportunity to get away from the burdens of work and household chores, learn more about the local history, and explore the tide pools and sandy beaches of Northern California.

A trip to the coast is not complete without a visit to the beach.  We chose Trinidad State Park and we were not disappointed.  While some of the critters we encountered were familiar to us — Ochre Star (Pisaster ochraceus), Giant Green Anemone (Anthopleura xanthogrammica), and the California Mussel (Mytilus californianus) — others were new discoveries, at least for the kids.I was delighted to introduce them to Purple Olive Snail (Olivella biplicata) and the Pacific Mole Crab (Emerita analoga).  These are two of my favorite invertebrates and they make their home in the dynamic, ever changing sandy beaches of the Pacific coast.

Enjoy this free scavenger hunt to guide you on your discovery of the invertebrates and other common inhabitants on the beaches of the Pacific coast.

Every time we go to the shore, I spend time looking for these critters – the kids had always told me to give in for I hadn’t been successful in their lifetime.  I’m happy that I persisted. They, too, can now share in my enthusiasm.  I also now know that a low tide is critical to finding these elusive fellows.

As you and your children enjoy your own discoveries, engage them in a guided discussion as they share their observations. Keep these questions in mind:

  • What other invertebrates can you find on the sandy beaches?
  • How are these animals adapted to life here in the ever changing, shifting sand?
  • What predators might feed on these animals?
  • How do they protect themselves?

Exploring the Redwoods 红木

The past few weeks have been all about the world’s largest trees.  We recently accompanied DH on a business trip to Oakland.  We got an early start and arrived at the Muir Woods National Monument just as they opened.  We thereby had the serene wilderness nearly to ourselves and the kids were able to really take the time to read the signs and journal without distractions.   

They completed two activity books while at the Muir Woods … Redwood Discovery: A Quest at Muir Woods  and the Muir Woods Junior Ranger activity book.  They were delighted with the badge they earned as it is made from redwood!  
A few weeks later we made an excursion to Humboldt County for a little sightseeing where we took in Humboldt Redwoods State Park. Here we enjoyed the Visitor’s Center (which featured several great hands-on activities) and did a little letterboxing.  Our letterbox quests led us to the Albino redwood tree!  I didn’t realize that albinism occurred in plants.  The albino redwood is a redwood tree (Sequoia sempervirens) which is unable to produce chlorophyll, so has white needles instead of the normal green.  It looked like a tree from the Chronicles of Narnia.
While we were seated in the woods to record a letterbox find, a woman inquired casually, “Do you homeschool your kids?”  When I assured her that I did, indeed, she replied, “I thought so.  They are so engaged and taking in the moment.”  This really touched my heart. 🙂
Upon our return home, we journaled about our adventures.  We added a few John Muir quotes and talked about what it must have been like when Muir saw the woods himself … before paved highways. I was delighted when I stumbled upon a book, Steep Trails by John Muir, in our local library.  The book is a volume of papers brought together in one volume.  They span a period of 29 years of Muir’s life, during which they appeared as letters and articles for publications of limited and local circulation (for the most part).  I’ve read just one excerpt thus far, “A Geologist’s Winter Walk,” and the kids have really enjoyed his writing style.  We look forward to reading more in the days to come. 

[Admin Note ~ You can enlarge the images by simply clicking upon them.]

Looking for Birds, We Discovered Caterpillars

I love to travel and to explore new places.  Now that we live in a new state, we take advantage of our new home base to explore new environments.  This weekend, we drove over to Humboldt County where we enjoyed two nights on the coast.   
 Saturday morning, we drove out to Arcata Marsh for a bird walk.  We enjoyed talking with the locals about the resident and migratory birds.  We took advantage of their spotting scopes to see many of the birds in more detail than our naked eye or small binoculars would allow.  
What surprised us, however, was the diversity of caterpillars.  They were everywhere!  I had a hard time focusing on birds when I was encountering caterpillars at every turn.  
We observed them on the foliage as well as meandering across the pathway. It was indeed a successful morning. I can’t wait to journal about our discoveries and sketch these beauties.