Monday, October 25, 2010

Autumn Series #6: Queen Anne's Lace

Outdoor Hour button
Our study of Queen Anne's lace began with a quick visit to the meadow next to our house.  We were able to observe and collect several specimens to examine and then add to our science table.  The boys were able to find some flowers that were still blooming and some that were dried and full of seed.

We noted how the fresh green leaves sprouted from the ground and how the leaves are a feathery shape.  Also the boys were very excited about the carrot-like smell from the uprooted plants.

We then ventured to our garden.  The carrot patch was probably the worst part of my garden this summer.  The soil needs to be enhanced with carrot happy elements such as peat and sand.  This past year the carrots tried to grow in heavy clay.  As a result we ended up with stunted carrots.  Needless to say I haven't been picking too many.  However I realized the value of comparing and contrasting carrots to Queen Anne's Lace.  So I was very glad that the sad little patch had redeemed itself.  We even had a few blooming.  

We picked one that had some nice blossoms..... 

and a stunted carrot. 

We then went back to our classroom to begin our compare and contrast.  We put the two plants side by side to begin.  

As we began to make our comparisons I recorded what the boys noticed on a chart Venn diagram.  The root was our first observation.  The Queen Anne's Lace was white and the carrot orange.  We also recognized differences in the size of the root, coloration of the flower, the thickness of the stem, and the use of the plant.  The boys used magnifying glasses to look at the flowers closely.  The whites of each flower vary from green to white.  

We also found many similarities.  Both smelled like carrots.  They each grow in dirt, have circular flowers, and feathery leaves.   Here is our final diagram.

Our next step was to draw in our journals the Queen Anne's Lace.  This was our first shot at representational drawing.  I was thrilled by what the boys produced.

The Handbook of Nature Study suggests doing a seed count from one blossom.  I decided that it would be a good idea until we started doing it.  The boys are not quite ready to count that high!  We were amazed and ended up saying that it was "a lot."  

Our last experiment was one I had never tried with Queen Anne's Lace.  We aimed to learn about capillary action by placing our fresh blooms in colored water.  


I was surprised that the results were not darker.  You can barely tell from the photographs, but you could tell in person.  The underside was more obvious.  Maybe we did something wrong.  If you have had success with this I would love to hear from you.  I have done it with carnations.  It comes out much darker.  

Overall we really enjoyed this study.  I am looking forward to continuing it next spring.  

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Check Out This Spider

Today was a perfect day for raking.  The sky was blue, the leaves dry, and the weather just comfortably crisp.  While I was soaking up the experience in the front yard, my son "T" came running up to me.... "Mom, mom...I found an 'aminal'!"  He began describing the "aminal" to me as a yellow guy with brown legs.  I dropped my rake and followed him to the driveway where he found his discovery.  I was shocked to see this spider.  I have never seen one before, which of course made me want to find a container.  I begged the boys not to touch their find.  I did not know if it would bite or if it were venomous.

We collected it into one of our many bug containers and brought it inside for identification.  It seems to be a spider called a Marbled Orb-Weaver.  Thankfully it is a harmless.  It was not that easy to identify due to the fact that the markings can vary a great deal.   These close ups show the orange body with the distinctive markings.  It is really quite beautiful.  What is also unique is the size of the back on this spider.  It is hard to appreciate in the close up photos.

Here is a view into its temporary container.  It is sitting next to a dead housefly to give you an idea of scale.  I am always amazed at how many things we learn when we are not even trying.   I love how the boys are such keen observers.  They really keep me on my toes.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Leaf Math

After our nature study on leaves we had a large bag sitting around the house and plenty more out in the yard.  I decided that our math this week should use these as a fun manipulative.  The focus skill of sorting and sizing fit very nicely.

First we sorted the leaves into rough piles of small, medium, and large.  We then laid out a large roll of craft paper and ordered the rough piles from smallest to greatest.  This was challenging at times due to the fact that the leaves have various widths.

Our second leaf sort was by color.  I placed construction paper of each leaf color on the table and the boys selected one leaf at a time and placed it on the appropriate paper.  Some leaves were more than one color, so there was much discussion about where they would go.   We concluded with a final count of each color.

Autumn Series #5: Leaves

Outdoor Hour button
We began our leaf study by reading the books I Am a Leaf by Jean Marzollo and How Do You Know It's Fall by Allan Fowler.  We then watched the You Tube video on how a leaf changes color.  This was a bit of a stretch for our boys, but they enjoyed watching anyway.  We talked about how different trees have different shapes of leaves and how some trees are evergreens.

We took to the car for a drive around town and up Prospect Mountain.  Each of the boys received a pillowcase to begin their leaf collection.  I carried along the camera to document the shape of the trees and the bark of each tree we would visit.  As we drove we made several stops at colorful trees that we observed in town.  We stopped and collected leaves from each of those trees.  Each one happened to be a maple.

We headed up to Lake George to drive up Prospect Mountain.  At the top there is a small hike that is just enough for three year olds.  This allowed us the time to observe the fall foliage from afar as well as up close.  When we got to the parking area we took in the view which was quite orange and yellow.  Here are the boys with their pillow cases ready for the hike.  It was a bit nippy.

It took a little bit to climb to the top.  We took our time and collected leaves as we went.  We stopped and took some small red leaves from some wild blueberries.

We found a maple that was just starting to turn, predominately green with the red just beginning to take over.

We finished climbing to the top to take a look at the Green Mountains and the Adirondacks aflame.
We then collected red and yellow leaves from an oak and a white birch tree.  
Later in the week we also collected leaves at another state park.  We found plenty of varieties of maples and oaks, but also poplar, black birch, and ginko.  There were also many I could not identify.  
poplar leaf
As soon as we got the leaves home, we immediately color photo copied them while they were flexible and full of color.  This gave us plenty of time to complete any work we would do with them.  My main objective was to have the boys make a mini field guide with the leaves that they found.  We decided to focus on the maple, oak, and white birch.  I created a page for each of the trees with the photos that we took of the bark and the full tree.  Then we cut out each leaf from the color photocopy and pasted them on each page.  The final result we laminated and bound to make our guide.  

In years past of teaching with leaves, it never occurred to me to color copy them.  I am very excited that this will not dry, bubble up, and fade over time like leaves tend to do.  The boys were very excited about the results.  It is displayed on our science table where I know it will see much use.  My hope is that they will be able to identify these trees by the spring.  We will see when the fresh green leaves come out if they were able to learn the shapes.  

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Caterpillar Update - Black Swallowtail

After we unexpectedly found our sweet new friend crawling on some carrot tops from the garden, we made him a nice home for observation out of a clear cookie jar.  The boys really enjoyed playing with this Black Swallowtail caterpillar simply for one reason,  the orange "horns" that show themselves when the caterpillar is threatened.  It then releases quite an interesting smell clearly saying "stay away."  I guess that the odor makes it unpalatable for birds.

I was very careful to clean out the caterpillar droppings and place in fresh carrot tops and some Queen Anne's Lace.  We had just finished reading the classic  The Cricket in Time by Square by George Sheldon.  In the book there is much talk about what the cricket prefers to eat.  This made the boys acutely aware of our caterpillar's preferences.  After some quick research it was clear that carrot tops, Queen Anne's lace and dill are all favorites.  The boys had lost interest after a few days.  I was hoping that we would be able to watch the life cycle unfold before our very eyes.

One morning I looked into the jar and it seemed as though the poor thing had died.  It was smaller than it had been-  almost dehydrated looking.  It was sitting on a branch that we had put in.  There were no droppings.  I was concerned that I had not provided water.  The greens had some dampness which I thought was enough.  I then decided to drop a few water droplets near him to see if there was any response.  It did move slightly.  I of course did all of this without calling it to the boy's attention because I wasn't sure how they would react.  I noticed a slight webbing attachment that was on the stick near the caterpillar.  It was a bit of hope that it was going to go into a chrysalis.

A few days passed and nothing.  It did not move.  It did not eat.  I asked my husband to take a look and see if it had died.  He pretty much confirmed that it had.  I decided to research how long it would take to turn into a chrysalis, if indeed it was going to.  I referred to my Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.  It filled in a lot of detail about what to expect and showed a picture of the chrysalis.

My husband brought the jar over to me to take a look.  I was delighted by what I saw.   It was the chrysalis!  He thought that it was all dried up, but in fact it had changed.  Here is what it looks like.

I showed to the boys with great excitement.  They were not that impressed.  T said to me, "A butterfly won't come out of there Mama..."  I realized there is no convincing.    How many times did I read The Very Hungry Caterpillar  when they were smaller?  It seemed like hundreds....they will have to see with there own eyes.

Now that it is autumn, I am not sure if it will be a few weeks or many months before the final transformation.  The weather has turned a bit cold in upstate New York.  I again grew concerned that the habitat we made was not sufficient, as we had it in the house.  So it is now out on our screened porch where it can be in the same cool elements as its peers.

I have decided to hang this chart I found above our science table in hopes that they will indeed see with their own eyes.  We will keep you posted.  

Monday, October 11, 2010

Autumn Series #4: Apples

Outdoor Hour button

We began our study of apples a few weeks ago by reading some books that we had on the shelf.  We took a look at our apple tree in the backyard and noted our observations.  The  tree is very old and likely a "cider" apple tree, meaning it was planted for making hard cider.  I am sure it is some heirloom variety.  We had an arborist look at it a few years ago, and he was unable to identify it.  Our house was built in 1782 so the tree is not only a lesson in science, but also history.  We briefly discussed how people use to make hard cider.  

We then took a trip to the oldest "U Pick" farm in New York State.  It is called Hick's Orchard.  Some of my fondest childhood memories were made here, and so we are passing that tradition down to our children.  This year the apple crop is absolutely amazing.   According to the owner of the orchard, the drought that we have had this year produced very sweet apples.  She explained how the sugars get concentrated because the apples are retaining the moisture that they have, because of the lack of rain.  We picked Empires this year.  Empires are an apple that was developed in 1966 in Geneva, New York.  They have a very dark red skin with a super white flesh.  They are a cross between a McIntosh and a Red Delicious.  

We then took a stop in the apple barn to appreciate the role that bees play in an orchard.  

Apple pie was on our mind, so when we got home we began to peel, chop, sift and stir.   We patiently waited and watched the oven until finally it was done.  The eating was much quicker than the baking!  The Empires did a nice job of keeping a good texture.  The next phase of our study led us to a bit of pencil and paper work.  

I made a small journal including the handouts from Barb at OHC and some other resources that I made.  

The aim this fall is to compare and contrast.  We focused on comparing color, taste, shape, and size.  We made a list of words that describe apples...

which led to our next field trip to Saratoga Apple in Schuylerville, NY.   They grow many varieties of apples.  For our experiment we selected one apple of eight different types from the bins in their apple barn.  Each apple was placed in a brown paper bag and labeled with the matching name.  We chose Honey Crisp, Fuji, Crispin, Ginger Gold, Jonagold, Paula Red, and Gala. When we got home we placed all the apples side by side and discussed similarities and differences between each, focusing on the physical characteristics.  Then we tasted each and voted a "thumbs up or down."  We found our favorites to be Honey Crisp and Ginger Gold.  

For math later in the week, we surveyed various people at my husband's office on their preferences.  We again set up the taste test and found that Honey Crisp was the favorite.  

I thought this was going to be the close of our study, but after I looked on our church calendar I realized that Apple Day was coming.  This is a day when all the home schooling families in our church gather to learn about apples.  Activities range from making apple sauce to apple printing.   We contributed a taste test table this year.  We used several other varieties that we did not try on our first survey.  We were surprised to see that Northern Spy came out as the favorite.  It is just coming into season now, and is one of the oldest apple varieties that we tested.  It was developed in 1800.  

The boys really enjoyed taking their turn on the antique cider press.  Here is a quick video of their work.

This was a long study for three year olds, but it really kept their interest.  I am surprised at how well versed they have become in apples.  The other day "T" asked me as I was eating an apple, "Is that a Jonagold Mom?"