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Celebrate Spring with Some Fun Educational Nature Activities

Nature’s Workshop Plus! 

Copyright 2015

All Rights Reserved.

Website:  http://www.workshopplus.com/

Spring! What a wonderful time of the year. The sunshine becomes warmer, dormant grass awakens from its necessary winter nap,  trees seem to wake up and wave hello to all who take notice, and life springs from nearly every place we look.  We also get to experience the spring rains which boost the season into its new identity. Your students might like to start a nature journal during this season.  There is so much to record!  Here are a few ideas.

  1. Begin by noting the daily weather patterns and discuss how it relates to the greening of the grass. Make a grid in the journal and record the daily temperature, rainfall quantities, amount of sunshine, types of clouds, etc. Reinforce the journal concept with a study of cloud formations.
  1. Sketch a tree and the growth of its leaves. Look up the scientific name of the species and record it in the journal along with its common name.  Leave space in the journal for revisiting that section during the season and resketch the leaves as they grow.  Once the leaf is full grown, leave enough space for a sketch of the colorful Fall leaf. You could even begin a leaf collection of several species beginning with the smallest leaves in the Spring and ending with a colorful Fall collection.
  1. Record beautiful poetry about the spring season in your journal.  Perhaps adding appropriate Scripture, personal thoughts, and beautiful artwork could complete each entry.
  1. Plant seeds and record their growth.  Small children love to plant bean seeds.  Plant the bean seeds in a glass jar so that the growth is visible. They grow quickly, and the seeds are so large that the shoot, growing up, and the root, growing down, are very easy to see. Draw the growth stages in your journal. Label all parts of the plant. Older students might like to plant flower and vegetable plants.  Record the growth data in your journal using Metric measure. Keeping careful records now allows the children to gain experience in recording data.  Once they enter into the upper level sciences, lab reports will be required.
  1. Have an insect section in the journal.  It wouldn’t be Spring and Summer without our little “friends”.  Again, look up and record their scientific and common names, draw the species, label its parts, record where the insect lives, and what it eats. Study the metamorphosis of the insect.  Does this species experience complete or incomplete metamorphosis? Draw its life cycle. Start an ant farm and observe the diligent activity of the ant. Observe in nature or via video a butterfly leaving its chrysalis. The video “City of the Bees” examines the life of the honey bee.  This video shows the inside of the hive, how the bees gathers nectar, how the bees communicate, and more.  It is fascinating to watch. Don’t forget to serve toast and honey!  Using colorful photographs as your guide, sketch the bees and their hive into the journal. Label as mentioned before.
  1. Begin a rock collection.  Draw what you see.  Hand magnifiers or stereo microscopes allow for more detailed viewing. I haven’t met a child yet who didn’t have a touch of “rock hound” him or her! This activity just about requires a field guide for proper identification.  A beginner guide works better for children than an overwhelming larger volume which might be harder to use.
  1. Go on a nature hike and record what you do and see.  Take a pair of binoculars for bird watching.  Make sure to begin a bird section in your journal.  They are so beautiful.  Set up a bird feeding area in your yard and keep a field guide handy for quick identification. Learn the common birds of your area.

These are just a few ideas for you nature journal.  Allow your imagination to help you plan.  Your children might enjoy this activity better if they can decide which area in their journal to develop first. Always include art and poetry in the journal. Supply your students with a set of colored pencils, drawing pencils and a good eraser. One thing we have found is that children don’t want to “mess-up” a page in their journal, so we recommend that each page be completed in a loose leaf format then placed in a binder when the child is satisfied with the page. If you use a binder with a clear plastic cover, the students can decorate a page and insert it into the cover for a custom look!  For upper elementary and middle school students, look up the taxonomy of the species being studied and note it in the journal. The more you do toward preparation for high school biology the better.

Nature journaling will also require nature studying.  The “Handbook of Nature Study”, by Anna Botsford Comstock, http://www.workshopplus.com/ProductCart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=734&idcategory=0  is an excellent resource for a teacher or parent who needs to know more about topics in nature.  The book was originally published in 1911 and contains 887 pages. It is divided into 4 major sections: The Teaching of Nature Study, Animals, Plants,and Earth and Sky.  It is a store house of information to help you teach you children/students about nature.  Please see.http://www.workshopplus.com for information about both this book.

handbook-of-nature-study_1706_general

Below are some additional resources that you can use for your spring lesson planning.  You may have to copy and paste these links into your browser.

Garden Pirate

http://www.workshopplus.com/ProductCart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=4069&idcategory=0

Make the world a little greener by depositing seed “bombs” in forgotten outdoor spaces. Using fun shape molds, you can cast seed bombs from fast-growing flower seeds, growing medium, plaster gypsum, sand, and water. Once the seed bomb shapes have dried and hardened, they can be distributed in appropriate outdoor places. After a while, a beautiful cluster of flowers will explode in those spots. Learn about botany, flowering plants, seeds, nature conservation, tree planting, and more.

gardenpirate1_45_general

Nature Kaleidoscope- http://www.workshopplus.com/ProductCart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=3127&idcategory=0

A make-your-own kaleidoscope kit.

nature-kaleidoscope_944_general

Hanging Bird Feeder Kit- http://www.workshopplus.com/ProductCart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=3893&idcategory=0

Adults and children will enjoy building this old fashion, hanging bird feeder.

Deluxe Insect Collecting Kit- http://www.workshopplus.com/ProductCart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=4166&idcategory=0

tweberhangingbirdfeeder_662_general

This  Deluxe Insect Collecting Kit includes a 12 x 18 inch insect display case, professional grade 10 inch Safety Glo insect net, foam spreading board, 100

Love Plant (Great for Mother’s  Day!  http://www.workshopplus.com/ProductCart/pc/viewPrd.asp?idproduct=4176&idcategory=

loveplantgrowing(1)_1831_generalThese carefree plants are easy and fun to grow and will thrive in any terrarium.

With so much to see and do this Spring, don’t forget to take time for simple, peaceful, observation. Children need quiet time in their lives to reflect, think and form opinions about life. They can learn form observing nature, listening to nature, studying nature, drawing nature, planting, being outside, getting dirty, splashing in a creek, and chasing butterflies! If we can teach them to enjoy these lovely God-given gifts, we are giving them an enormous gift that no mass media gimmick can ever match.

Blessings to you,

Diana Ruark

Nature’s Workshop Plus!

For free catalog or more information:

(888) 393-5663

http://www.workshopplus.com/ 

All resources mentioned in the article are available through Nature’s Workshop, Plus.

Editor’s Note: For additional springtime articles, lesson plans, recipes and more, please visit http://www.amonco.org/montessori_spring_handson.html

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Bird-watching with Children

Copyright 2015

Are your kids (and you) starting to get spring fever? Are you anxious to get outside and enjoy nature? Many areas of North America have had pretty severe winter weather, and for many of us, it likely is not over yet. One fun way to enjoy nature year-round is by bird-watching and/or bird feeding. Actually, February is National Bird Feeding Month, and it’s a great opportunity to encourage your family’s awareness of the birds all around us.

For tips and ideas to get you started, American Montessori Consulting talked to Sanford R. Wilbur, a retired wildlife biologist specializing in ornithology (the study of birds) and a lifelong recreational bird-watcher and outdoor enthusiast. Mr. Wilbur is also a father and grandfather who has had plenty of experience “birding” with children of all ages. We hope you enjoy the information he shared with us.

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AMC: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us about bird-watching today. For families that are looking for engaging and educational science and nature experiences for their children, why would you recommend bird-watching, specifically?

Sanford Wilbur: Given that it’s a good thing to get kids outdoors, bird-watching is an especially good way to do it. Studying any group of animals can be fun, but watching and studying most groups is not easy on a casual basis. For instance, mammals are familiar to everybody and they’re easy to be interested in, but we usually see wild mammals by chance, rather than by planning. That’s because a lot of them are most active at night, or in the very early morning or late evening, and most of them are very secretive. Amphibians, like frogs and toads, are favorites with kids because of their looks and activities, and they are sometimes very colorful and make wonderful noises. Unfortunately, you can usually only find a couple of common species in any given area. There are jillions of insects but, except for butterflies, it takes an expert to get very far beyond the basics of bees, beetles, dragonflies, and such. Insects and amphibians are also hard to see outside the main spring-summer period.

On the other hand, birds of some kind are around all year, and in almost every environment. Most areas have a variety of species, which adds to the fun of identifying and keeping lists of what you see. Birds are often bright-colored; you can often tell the males and females apart by their color (which is not true for most groups of animals); their singing makes them visible and helps identify them at certain seasons; and their seasonal flocking habits make them very noticeable and interesting.

 You can watch birds on your back porch, in a city park, on a wildlife refuge, or combined with other activities like hiking, camping, bicycling, etc. You can also watch for other kinds of animals or look at plants on a bird-watching outing. About the only things you can’t do while trying to watch birds are riding motorcycles, shooting guns, and yelling.

bird_watching

AMC: You’ve said that we can probably find birds in any location or season. What sort of equipment or information do families really need to get started?

SRW: Bird-watching is a fairly simple hobby, and inexpensive. The only real need is for each person to have binoculars, and for someone in the group to have a bird identification book. Binoculars for beginners don’t have to do more than provide a little magnification, so you can buy very inexpensive ones until you know whether this is a hobby that’s going to last.

 AMC: Excuse me for interrupting, Mr. Wilbur, but could several people share one pair of binoculars, if necessary?

SRW: Sure. If you’re watching a pond full of ducks, you can pass the binoculars around, and everybody gets a look. But birds in bushes or hawks flying overhead often don’t stay in one place very long, so some might miss out if their turn doesn’t come in time. But we’ve often shared binoculars in our family on all-day hikes or other times when only one pair was available.

AMC: You also mentioned needing a bird book to help with identification. Can you tell us more about what to look for?

SRW: There are quite a few field guides available now, and most are pretty good. Bird species are quite different in different parts of the country, so just be sure yours either covers the whole United States or is a version that fits your locality. A new bird guide might cost $20 or so, but since birds look the same today as they did twenty years ago, you don’t necessarily need to invest in a new book right away. You can probably pick up a very serviceable used copy of a good guide for your area for a few dollars. I think I’ve been using some of my guidebooks for 30 or 40 years, and they still work just fine.

AMC: How about borrowing a bird guide from the local library? Would that be a practical idea?

SRW: That would be a reasonable way to start getting an idea of the birds in your area before you actually go out looking for them. But once you get outdoors, you need your own copy. That way, you won’t worry about the book getting dirty (almost a certainty), or of getting its pages bent when you take it in and out of your jacket. With your own copy, you might even want to jot some notes beside the pictures of birds you see, something you wouldn’t do with a library book.

 AMC: That’s why they call them “field guides,” right?

SRW: Exactly. You can bird without carrying a guide with you – and you probably will, sometimes, as you get better at knowing what to look for on the birds you see -but it’s a lot easier to look in the book just after you see the bird, rather than trying to remember later on what you saw. If you do see a bird when you don’t have a bird book with you, try to pay attention to details and remember them as best you can. Carrying and jotting in a note book can help you remember such things as the color of the head or the way the bird held its tail. Between your memory and your notes, you can sometimes visualize a bird you see well enough to do the identification when you get to where you can look it up.

AMC: If you’re going to wait until you get home to do the identification, how about looking for bird identification information on the internet?

SRW: There are some sites with identification search engines and photos of common birds, but often a field guide is easier to use, especially for beginners. Guides are designed to group similar birds together in pictures, making it easier to compare the sometimes small details that differentiate one species from another.

 AMC: Isn’t it confusing to sort through all those different birds in the book?

SRW: Not necessarily. Birds come in a wide variety of basic sizes, shapes and colors, but those characteristics help you narrow down your search. After noticing the obvious differences, you can quickly learn to look for specific things. Most good bird books will direct your attention to characteristics like the color of the bird’s throat, the color of the rump, the size and shape of the bill, whether the bird twitches its tail or not, if it goes down tree trunks rather than up, etc. It really doesn’t take long to start homing in on those features, rather than just looking at the bird.

 If you’re starting out not knowing birds yourself, you could feel intimidated trying to help others learn. But, remember, even though there are over 500 species of birds in the United States, there are probably not more than 25 or so common ones in any given area. And you already know a lot of types of birds, even if you don’t think you do. Most everyone recognizes crows, robins, blackbirds, doves, sparrows, hawks, woodpeckers, and “sea gulls.” Many of the birds you see are going to look similar to some of these that you know. With a very little study of a bird guide covering your region, you will find that although there are 50 “sparrows” in the country, only two or three of them will be found in your area or in the type of environment you will be looking in. Twenty hawks become only one or two you’re likely to see; most areas won’t have more than one type of dove or quail, etc.

AMC: That makes sense, and it seems like knowing that would help children stay interested and not get frustrated by feeling there is “too much” to learn. Can you give any additional tips about how to get the most out of our bird-watching adventures, especially now while winter is still hanging on?

SRW: Right now, most of our bright-colored northern birds are wintering in Mexico and Central America. The biggest flocks of waterfowl have gone south to coastal Texas and Florida, and the valleys of California. But, no matter where you live, there are still birds around, and this is the time of year for backyard bird feeding. Not only is it fun to see what you can attract to your house using different kinds of food – millet seed, sunflower seeds, peanuts, suet – but a bird feeder gives one of the very best chances for seeing birds up close. Kids can get really interested in birds that come to a feeder close to a window, where even without binoculars you can often get good looks at a number of different species. This might prove to be motivation to get them out on walks farther afield as the weather improves. Winter bird feeding can often be exciting for adults, too, because providing feed when natural foods are scarce can attract unusual birds to the “easy pickings” along with the common residents.

bird_watching2

Spring is the best time to study songbirds because they are in their most colorful plumages, and the males are actively singing, which helps you spot them. Unfortunately, spring is the worst time for bugs in many parts of the country, something that needs to be considered to keep the experience for kids (and you!) from being a discouraging one.

Summer still gives you a lot to see, but you have to work harder than in spring. The males have quit singing, and the pairs are spending a lot of time quietly on their nests. It takes more effort to spot them in the leafy summer foliage, too. Most birds are not very interested in the winter bird feeder fare of seeds and suet, because there is plenty of natural food. But hummingbirds quickly find feeders filled with sugar water, and putting out some orange halves often attracts bright-colored orioles, tanagers, or grosbeaks. Summer is also a good time to go to marshes, where you can see broods of baby ducks and geese – almost always a hit with children.

In fall, the highlights for birders are the big migrations of waterfowl, hawks, shorebirds, and warblers. Particularly in the Northeast, there are designated hawk watching spots where you can sometimes see hundreds of hawks passing overhead in a few hours. Federal and state wildlife areas are particularly good for seeing major flights of ducks and geese. Some forested areas and beach headlands can have big flights of migrating warblers and vireos, but they are in their dull fall plumages and are difficult to identify. It can still be exciting to see the large numbers, even if you can’t identify them all.

In general, you can watch waterfowl, shorebirds, herons, hawks, etc., any time of the day. Songbirds are most active in the early morning; depending on the region of the country, the woods can seem pretty quiet after 9 or 10 in the morning.

AMC: Thank you very much, Mr. Wilbur. We appreciate your time and information.

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More ideas for bird-watching information:

National Wildlife Refuge System

http://www.fws.gov/refuges/

National Wildlife Refuges are excellent destination for watching birds and other wildlife. Many are located in rural areas, but almost every bigger city has one relatively nearby. Most have modest entry fees, if any, and offer lots of interpretive signs, leaflets and lists to help you enjoy the areas. Many also offer driving tours, hiking trails, and other recreational opportunities.

Mr. Wilbur recommends this informative article on birding with children. You’ll find many ideas and tips here:

http://www.easyfunschool.com/article1975.html

General information about bird identification:

http://www.birding.com/bird_identification.asp

Patuxent Wildlife Research Center’s “Tools for Learning About Birds:”

http://www.mbr-pwrc.usgs.gov/bbs/ident.html

Bird identification search engine:

http://identify.whatbird.com/mwg/_/0/attrs.aspx

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Sanford Wilbur is retired after nearly 37 years with the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service. He still watches birds, and has written several books on birds and other wildlife. He and his wife live in Oregon. Please visit the following links for additional information about the author and his resources:

http://www.condortales.com/newbooks.html  

http://www.condortales.com/ninefeet.html

http://www.condortales.com/

Read the other parts of this creative hands-on lesson planning newsletter by visiting   http://www.amonco.org/montessori_spring_handson.html

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February is Bird Watching Month

Help children and teens develop a new hobby and learn about biology in the process.  Use the information provided by Diana Ruark of Nature’s Workshop Plus!,  Dale Gausman of the North American Montessori Center, and Sandy R. Wilbur, retired wildlife biologist specializing in ornithology, from Condor Tales to take you step-by-step through a series of integrated lesson presentations.

In Part I of the AMC Spring 2011 edition, Sandy answers general as well specific questions which will help you to understand the benefits of this hobby. You’ll learn how to get started, what types of products to buy, and what pitfalls to avoid, to name a few. Sandy is also sensitive to the concerns educators may feel about presenting lessons on this topic.

“If you’re starting out not knowing birds yourself, you could feel intimidated trying to help others learn.  But, remember, even though
there are over 500 species of birds in the United States, there are probably not more than 25 or so common ones in any given area. And you already know a lot of types of birds, even if you don’t think you do. Most everyone recognizes crows, robins, blackbirds, doves, sparrows, hawks, woodpeckers, and “sea gulls.” Many of the birds you see are going to look similar to some of these that you know. With a very little study of a bird guide covering your region, you will find that although there are 50 “sparrows” in the country, only two or three of them will be found in your area or in the type of environment you will be looking in. Twenty hawks become only one or two you’re likely to see; most areas won’t have more than one type of dove or quail, etc.“

Sandy R. Wilbur  Copyright 2011

Diana Ruark of Nature’s Workshop Plus! also offers useful lesson planning information for helping your students appreciate nature in general, with an additional tip or two about birds and bird watching.  Click here for details. Diana provides you with resources and a useful book to help you with your nature planning lessons.

Last, but not least, in Part IV of this issue, Montessorian Dale Gausman leads you through the process of introducing a bird feeder to a group of children.  Besides offering suggestions on how to get started, Dale provides a list of materials and other resources you will need to ensure a successful set of lesson presentations.

Enjoy!
Heidi Anne Spietz
http://www.amonco.org
American Montessori Consulting

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