Monday, December 27, 2010


This morning we woke up to a few inches of snow from the storm that came up the coast.We caught the tail end of the storm, which only accumulated to about four inches.  This is really not much snow for us, but for the boys it is a big deal.   I wasn't sure that we were going to do our nature study today, but once I saw the snow I realized that we could do some informal "study."

We bundled up with all our gear and headed out into the winter wonderland.

As the boys walked through the yard they discussed the texture and weight of the snow.  This snowfall was very light and fine.  Each of them tried to make a snowball and realized that it wasn't the right kind of packing snow.  Of course this also meant no snowman this time around.  After some further exploration "I" decided to lay down in the snow.  

The snow actually seemed to pack when laid on, so this meant that it would be good for sledding.  It was really fast.  The boys took a few turns up and down the hill before they were absolutely frozen.  We headed back inside for some warm milk and a few snow crafts.  
Each boy painted a snowy picture with a combination of white paint and sugar to make it textured and sparkly.  They colored and glued a sled into their "snow."  
As we were working, I found myself humming the old song "Snow!" from the movie White Christmas.  As a little treat we watched the skit on YouTube.  If you haven't seen this movie, it is a holiday season must... Here is the clip.  

Then we settled down with some scissors and white paper and cut out some snowflakes.  We came up with many different designs.  

This was a pretty informal study for us today, but for a holiday week it kept us focused on learning about God's creation.  

Monday, December 20, 2010

Homemade Gifts

This week we are taking a break from our nature study in order to get ready for Christmas.  I thought it might be nice to share a few of the handmade gifts that we have been working on for the children in the family.

The first gift was inspired by some blocks that I found on  These are vintage paper doll blocks for my boys.  Each side featured a different outfit for the boy from the 1920s.  Here are some sample outfits.  Most of the sides line up to make crazy outfits too.

I downloaded the doll for a dollar, decoupaged them to maple blocks that I had painted with acrylics.  For about $8.00, they have a one of a kind gift that I hope they will love.

The second gift is one for my sweet little niece who will receive a play kitchen this Christmas.  They are felt strawberries.

Simply made from wool felt scraps, bamboo stuffing, and embroidery floss, these will surely prove to be a favorite.  Ours have been played with so much that they are starting to show some holes.

The gift that has taken the most time this season has been what is usually termed a Waldorf inspired doll.  This one was made for my daughter.

Let me just say it has been a labor of love.  The hours that have gone into this makes me realize why they are so expensive to buy.  I made my own pattern for the head and body, used fine quality knit for the skin, wool and mohair for the hand hooked hair, and made the clothes.  It really has been fun.  The boys have made some gifts as well, but we will share what we did after Christmas so we don't spoil any surprises.  Have a wonderful Christmas.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Seed Hunt - December Challenge

Outdoor Hour button
It was one of those mornings know what I mean if you have young children.   It was one of those that I am tempted to complain about.  I have a huge list of what went wrong.  I had many good reasons to drop our nature study today,  however I have committed to be faithful to homeschool my children.  I find that the Lord meets me every time I get over  each little barrier and into His marvelous grace.  There was plenty that went right this morning, it just didn't go as planned.

We began by reading A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long.   This is a gorgeous book wonderfully written and illustrated.  It reminds me of Lynn Cherry in that it pulls in many "field guide"  drawings as you read.  Even the end papers are littered with drawings of seeds.  My boys wanted to know the names of every single one.  We were off to a great start.  The plan was to go to our normal walking path at Moreau Park and collect seeds and anything else that we found of interest.  Also we wanted to check in on our beaver tree.

We piled into the car and drove over to the park.  When we arrived the inside gates that lead to our favorite path, they were bolted shut.  When I stopped by the ranger station to inquire about the gates, I was informed that they would be closed until spring.  I explained that my boys had been studying the tree that the beavers have been taking down.  I asked her if it was down yet.  I think she thought I was a bit off my rocker.  She then said that she didn't think that they had it down yet.  The road is quite  long for a walk with three little children in the rain, so I needed another location for our study.  The boys were disappointed and eager to get fresh dirt in their boots.  Suddenly I remembered that my father-in-law had a piece of property that the boys had not been to, so we headed in that direction.

When we got there the rain had let up and we headed down the path in search of seeds.  First we saw this.
The brush had prickers on it, but we took a sample for our drawings later.

As we continued down the path toward the pond we came across a tree that had shelled nuts of some sort.

We were not sure what kind of tree it was.  "I" collected some samples into his pockets and we continued.

We found a huge patch of Queen Anne's Lace.  I was thrilled that the boys recognized it immediately.  Even amongst all the other overgrown weeds, they still spotted it.

By the bank of the pond we found a second type of red berry, and some Sumac.  The boys knew that as well and said that it could give a rash, so they left that alone.  They spotted ice on the pond and were very excited.
We also found a white birch with some seed cones.

As the boys were running back to the car, I noticed my favorite find of the day....

I have no idea what the tiny red flowers are, but they were growing amid some moss.   I was very surprised to see something flowering in December.  What a blessing.  It completely lifted my spirits.  In this dreary, cold, wet weather there are sweet little flowers poking their heads up to the light.  The Lord was surely teaching me that no matter what our circumstances are, that we can lift our faces to Him.  In addition I know that we will continue to press and get out this winter to discover whatever He has in store for us to find.  We all are learning!

When we returned home the boys completed their drawings on the December World notebook pages.  Most of their drawings focused on the seeds we collected.  We completed the drawings together and then the boys dictated to me what they saw on our "Outdoor Hour."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Nature Study - Bees and Honeycomb

Last week we checked out the Winnie the Pooh anthology from the library for the second time.   Like many generations of children, the boys are quite taken by Pooh.  As a result of our reading material, the dramatic play in the house has shifted to honey and bees, along with the usual doctor and chef play.  Last week my mother informed me that they had found a large wasp nest in one of their trees.   She was able to dismantle it and save it for investigation.  This led us into a a brief study of bees.

We began by reading several books on the topic.  

This was not our first discussion of bees.  Over the summer we had several stings, which prompted informal study.  We also observed bees at Hick's Orchard during our apple study this past fall in an observational hive.  Reading these books brought back prior background on the subject, and expanded our knowledge base quite a bit.  Here are five things we learned. 

Bees drink nectar from flowers to make honey for their young. 
There is only one queen in a hive. 
The other bees are the drones and workers. 
They build their hive out of wax from their bodies.  
The young are raised in cells that are hexagon shaped. 

After reading my mother arrived with the find from her property.  

We investigated the wasp nest and discussed the similarities and differences between the two insects.  On our science table we had a piece of comb from another nest that we explored.  We also used a flashlight to look inside the entrance.  The boys were able to observe the comb inside as well.  

If you look closely, the camera was able to capture the comb inside the nest.  

I took out our pattern blocks so that the boys could build their own comb on the table top.  We discussed how strong a shape the hexagon is to build with.  We settled into the kitchen to have some honey and bread with warm milk, before we ventured out into the cold for a quick field trip to Betterbee.  

Betterbee is an excellent source of beekeeping supplies for our area and the entire northeast.  If you are in need of supplies or have an interest in keeping bees, here is the link to their website   We traveled there to take a look at beekeeping tools, buy honeycomb, and to pick up some crafting supplies for making Christmas gifts.  

Inside we were able to check out the tools of the beekeeper, as well as get some honey sticks.  

The Handbook of Nature Study suggests looking at a honeycomb, so I was hoping they would have some for sale.  Unfortunately they didn't have any.  I am sure we will be able to find some for an investigation in the future.   Overall it was a quick little study of bees.  It is surprising how we ended up doing it in December!  I am sure we will expand our study this spring when we can investigate some hives with a beekeeper and finally get to the honeycomb.  

Monday, November 29, 2010

Black and White Bird Study

I hope everyone had a wonderfully blessed Thanksgiving holiday.  We enjoyed ourselves immensely with friends and family.  As I had mentioned in prior posts, we live in a farmhouse that dates back to 1782.  One advantage to living in a house with so much history is a cooking hearth.  Each Thanksgiving we cook our entire meal over the fire and in the beehive oven that adjoins it.  The only exception would be the turkey.  I had great plans to document the process for a post, but unfortunately I was too busy cooking to think about the camera.  Next year I will try to capture the event.  It really is like stepping back in history.

Today we got back into our school work, and as you know we have science Monday.  Our friends at the "Outdoor Hour" are in between sessions and will start up with the winter challenges in January.  So from now until then we will be using The Handbook of Nature Study to guide us through some investigations of our own.  We have had a flurry of activity at our bird feeder, and our new feeding platform.  The boys enjoy sitting in the kitchen window and observing the antics.  They are able to identify several of our visitors including the bluejay, cardinal, and goldfinch.

I have strategically placed a hanging bird identification guide between the windows.  As the boys sit there, we are able to discuss what birds we see, most of which are represented by our little identifier.

Our focus this week is on black and white birds- specifically the chickadee and the downy woodpecker.  We began our study reading a few books.

Then we watched several video clips from the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology.  If you love birds, and have not had the opportunity to discover this site, beware.... you will be on it all the time!  The site is one of the most comprehensive on the web.
Here is the link to the video of the black-capped chickadee.
This one is of the downy woodpecker.

The boys were fascinated by not only the visual, but the excellent recording of the songs of the birds.  "I" really enjoyed trying to copy the voicing of the chickadee by saying "phoebe.....chicka dee dee dee."  The downy woodpecker makes a whinny in its song that was reminiscent of our horse study.  They both thought that was pretty funny.

We headed outside for a walk on our property.  We are surrounded by woods,  wetlands, creeks, and small farms.  It is a haven for birds.  A few steps into the woods we could hear the sweet songs of several chickadees.  We climbed down a slope into the marsh where there is an abundance of dead waterlogged trees.  One was particularly noteworthy.   It is riddled with holes created by our local friendly downy woodpeckers.

They boys approached the tree and were able to put their hands inside the holes made by the woodpeckers.

As we climbed out of the swamp, we looked for other evidences of woodpeckers.  We found this on the ground.

Back inside the house we watched the feeder for a bit and recognized the black-capped chickadee.

(Sorry for the photo quality, it was through the screen and window....) We did not see any downy woodpeckers today.  Each of the boys completed two coloring pages courtesy of the Lab of Ornithology.   They were very careful to color each part with the correct markings for the black-capped chickadee and the downy woodpecker. We used our field guides to help us keep the markings straight.

We discussed the differences between tree climbing birds such as the downy woodpecker, and perching birds such as the chickadee.  It is amazing how two feeder birds can use their feet so differently.  We learned how the male and female chickadee have the same markings, and how male downy woodpeckers have the red head and the females are more black.

Then I was inspired by two things.
 The paper puzzle I made for the boys for our goose study

and these beautiful counting cards made by Eboo

I liked the idea of creating two new bird puzzles for the boys, but I wanted them to last longer than the paper did.  Looking at these wonderful counting bird cards, I noticed that some of the prints used to make the birds look like fabric.

I pulled out my quilting scraps and worked with the boys to cut out the colors and markings for each of our featured birds.  We used a piece of blue wool as a background and built the bird puzzles. The fabric is not only durable, but captures some of the color variation in the feathers.

The completed puzzles were placed in separate bags and put on the science center along with the wool background.  By practicing with the puzzles, the boys are sure to learn the distinctive features of each of these birds.