Wednesday, September 30, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Colors of the Season

 The landscape's palette of colors changes with the seasons. This week the greens are fading as the trees show off their scarlet and gold, and flowers bloom with golds and purples.

This week check out your neighborhood for colorful signs of the changing season. Check out the leaves on trees...


the last blooms in your garden.

Friday, September 25, 2020

A True Blue Treasure Hunt!

Rare and Blue: Finding Nature's Treasures 
by Constance Van Hoven; illus. by Alan Marks
48 pages; ages 7-10
Charlesbridge, 2020

theme: nature, color, exploration

How do you find nature’s treasures, both rare and blue? Set off on a hunt!

This book takes readers on a nonfiction treasure hunt to discover eight species that are blue. Not only that, they are naturally rare, or threatened or endangered. And there’s a lot to discover: the Karner blue butterfly, a blue lobster, bluestem grass, and the Cerulean warbler.

What I like about this book: One spread introduces a habitat and presents a clue … leaving the answer to the mystery just beyond the page turn. For example, if you are hiking in a forest then listen carefully for the “zray, zray, zray, zreee…” It’s a cerulean warbler up in the tall trees.

There are so many other things to like in this book. The details about each plant or animal. The different ways of seeing blue: sapphire, cerulean, silvery, indigo. The illustrations that invite you to look and look again. The surprise ending that celebrates our “blue planet.” And, of course, Back Matter – where you can learn some cool words and discover more facts about the plants and animals featured in the book.

Beyond the Books:

Go on a Blue treasure hunt of your own. What blue animals and plants do you find in the nature around you? Maybe you will find Bachelor buttons in a garden, or an Indigo bunting perched on a branch. A zoo or arboretum might be good place to hunt for blue.

Look for little blue bugs. Scientists recently found a rare blue bee in Florida. Other people have found blue beetles and blue “roly-polies” or woodlice. So next time you’re in the garden or moving the compost or wood pile, pay attention to the little critters.

What’s your favorite color? Grab a thesaurus and find out how many different words there are for that color. Or visit the Color Thesaurus.

You can find a bunch of book-related educational activity pages here.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 23, 2020

The best time for Spider Webs

This is the time of year I see a lot of spiderwebs. They're stretched between plants, fence wires, bridge railings - pretty much anywhere a spider can find a good hunting place. I've found that the best time to see them is early morning, when dew is still clinging to the threads.

This week head out on a spiderweb survey.

  • Where do you find spiderwebs?
  • How big are the webs you find? 
  • How far are they from other webs?
  • Can you find the spiders?
  • If you can, watch a web over a day. What do you notice?
  • Does the spider move her web each day?

Friday, September 18, 2020

Butterflies Belong Here!

As summer comes to an end, I’ve noticed tons of butterflies flitting around my garden and along the roadside: Monarchs, cabbage butterflies, sulfurs, blues, checkered, and cute, fuzzy skippers.

theme: butterflies, nature, environment

Butterflies Belong Here: A Story of One Idea, Thirty Kids, and a World of Butterflies 
by Deborah Hopkinson; illus. by Meilo So
68 pages; ages 5-8
Chronicle Books, 2020

Last spring, we took a class picture… I was a little like a caterpillar then: quiet and almost invisible.

When a girl moves to a new home, she learns all about monarch butterflies. But when she looks for them in the gardens of her neighborhood, they are hard to find. She hears about way stations – gardens filled with plants that monarchs like – and wonders if she could plant a way station at the school. All it takes is one person with an idea, says the librarian.

What I like about this book: I like that the main character, who remains unnamed, feels empowered enough to lead a class project in planting a monarch garden. It requires a plan, a presentation, and persistence. Planting flowers can sound so simple and small – but when it’s done to make the world a better place for butterflies, it’s huge. Back matter includes a guide to making a monarch way station, monarch facts, and resources for monarch activists of all ages.

Beyond the Books:

Do Monarch butterflies live in your neighborhood? Look for orange and black butterflies flitting around or nectaring at flowers. Then look closer to make sure it’s really a monarch. Here’s how to tell whether you’ve got a monarch.

Make a plan for planting a monarch way station. If you need some help, check out these articles here and here.

Draw or paint a picture of a monarch butterfly. Take a close look at its wings. Are they tattered? Maybe your monarch has been flying south for days.

Monarchs migrate in the fall. You can track the migration here.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. Review copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Berries, after rain

One thing about Virginia Creeper is that it likes to climb. Fence posts, trees, the speed limit sign where our road turns off from the highway...  in the fall, their leaves turn brilliant red, contrasting with the deep blue berries. Those berries are poisonous for people, but birds love them. Mary Anne Borge writes about birds and creeper berries over at her blog.

What kinds of berries do you see ripening on plants in your neighborhood? Do you have any trees in your yard that birds flock to for fall and winter snacking?

Grab some binoculars and head out to where the berries grow. If you've got some Virginia Creeper growing nearby, watch for these berry-nibbling birds:

  • Woodpeckers
  • Titmice
  • Chickadees
  • Nuthatches
  • Thrushes
  • Robins
  • Catbirds 
  • Eastern Bluebirds
  • Cedar Waxwings 

Friday, September 11, 2020

Meet Beatrix Potter

Beatrix Potter, Scientist
by Lindsay H. Metcalf; illus. by Junyi Wu
32 pages, ages 4-8
Albert Whitman & Company, 2020

theme: biography, STEM, nature

You may know this girl, or who she’ll become…

Maybe you remember Beatrix Potter’s tales and illustrations of Flopsy, Mopsy, Cotton-tail, and that rascally Peter Rabbit… those Two Bad Mice. But there’s more to Potter’s story than writing stories.

Did you know she collected hedgehogs, newts, and mice and drew detailed illustrations of these “pets?” Way cooler: she studied – and drew – fungi! She studied them under the microscope and even did some experiments, writing a paper about germinating mushroom spores. But when the scientific community ignores her discoveries, Beatrix tucks away her scientific paintings and begins drawing pictures of her bunny, Peter. The rest is history – or rather, herstory.

What I like about this book: Beatrix loves nature, and is lucky enough to find an adult to mentor her. Lindsay Metcalf shows us how serious Beatrix is about studying fungi. She turns the kitchen into a lab. She tries to present her discoveries to other scientists, but she’s got two strikes against her: she’s an amateur and she’s a woman.

And of course, I like that there’s back matter. Lindsay includes more details about Beatrix’s life, and a timeline. She also includes a fun list of books kids can read to learn more about Beatrix Potter.

 I caught up with Lindsay by email to ask her One Question:

Archimedes: Beatrix Potter loved fungi. Do you have a favorite group of organisms that you like to observe?

Lindsay: I am an equal-opportunity observer of all life in my backyard, especially since we aren’t traveling during the pandemic. I love spying through binoculars on the family of Mississippi kites roosting on dead branches across the street. I smile each time I witness butterflies drinking up my zinnias. And I reserve a ringside seat on my porch for every neighborhood hummingbird fight. (They can be aggressively zippy.) It’s fun to listen as the squirrels argue, chitter, and chase. I look for snail trails in the garden and pill bugs under rocks, marveling at how on earth these tiny crustaceans evolved to live on land. And I love to zoom in on the magical hidden world of lichens like Beatrix Potter might have, but I get to use my cell phone’s camera lens. I’ll bet she’d be amazed at that.

Beyond the Books:

Listen to the Science Friday podcast, “The Scientific Tale of Author Beatrix Potter

You can download an activity guide for the book here

Beatrix Potter loved to draw her pets and fungi. What would you like to draw? Grab some sketching paper and pencils and sketch a plant or animal that you are particularly interested in. Do you learn anything about this organism as you draw it?

Head over to Growing With Science to read what my colleague and fellow STEAM-teamer Roberta has to say about the book!

Lindsay is a member of #STEAMTeam2020. You can find out more about her at her website.

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's website. ARC provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Filling up for Fall

Seems like every morning I find stripped down pine cones on my porch. And those gorgeous, seed-bearing sunnies in the garden? Someone's been munching on them. I know goldfinches are sneaking seeds out here and there, but who is taking huge bites out of the seedhead? 

One morning, while minding my own business (in the tomato patch) I heard a rustling. Aha! Culprit uncovered at last!

The chipmunks are busy filling up for fall. This week pay attention to animals harvesting seeds and fruits from gardens and yards in your neighborhood. Look for:

  • squirrels collecting acorns, hickory nuts, and more
  • birds and squirrels on sunflowers
  • birds feasting on dried seed heads of garden flowers
  • birds and squirrels nibbling rosehips and other berries
  • scales and bits of pine cones

Friday, September 4, 2020

Jefferson Measures a Moose

Jefferson Measures a Moose
By Mara Rockliff; illustrated by S. D. Schindler
48 pages; ages 6 - 9
Candlewick, 2020

theme: US history, math, Thomas Jefferson

Thomas Jefferson loved asking questions about NUMBERS.

He wanted to know how far an hour’s walk was, how long it took to grow peas, and even how much it cost to see a monkey. So when a famous Frenchman wrote that American birds didn’t know how to sing and American animals were just too small, that got Jefferson’s dander up.

After all – had that Frenchman measured American animals? Or weighed them? Or even seen them? No. No. And no! Jefferson would show him that American animals were every bit as big – and maybe bigger – than French animals. He would measure a Moose!

What I like about this book: I love the light-hearted poke at history, and the way author Mara Rockliff works in the reality that measuring a moose is harder than it sounds. I particularly like the back matter. “A Mania for Math” provides a closer look at Jefferson’s love of numbers and his desire to present facts. Another section answers many of the questions that Jefferson asked.

Beyond the Books:

How big is a moose? Find out and, if you can, create a paper cut-out to show its size. How big are you compared to a moose? What about your parents? The family car?

How far do you walk in an hour? Jefferson walked just a bit over four miles in an hour. If you and Jefferson met at the flagpole of your school, and began walking to the edge of town, where would you be after three hours? Where would Jefferson be?

How long does it take for a pea to grow? The best way to find out is to plant peas and note when the first ripe pod is ready to eat. Extra credit: do different kinds of peas take longer than others to ripen?

Today we're joining Perfect Picture Book Friday, an event where bloggers share great picture books at Susanna Leonard Hill's websiteReview copy provided by the publisher.

Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Explore Outdoors ~ Older and Wiser

Earlier in the season, the disk flowers were full of pollen and the flower was busy with bees. Now that activity is over, and each of those flowers is growing into a fat seed. Goldfinches and chipmunks are already busy harvesting yummy sunflower seeds - I have to be quick to harvest some to plant next year.

As you walk around your garden or your neighborhood, pay attention to the flower "elders". Sunflowers, poppies, lupines, and roses are good flowers to observe.
  • What sorts of things do you notice?
  • What happens to their petals?
  • Do they form seedpods or fruit?
  • Do you see any animals eating the seeds or fruit?
  • Or do the seeds travel to other places?