Sunday, May 29, 2011

Queen Anne's Lace and Other Pretty Things

It seems like we went from winter to summer in the blink of an eye. We have had a stretch of weather with high, high humidity and temperatures in the high 80's for about a week, and have found ourselves in 90+ degree weather for the holiday weekend. But gardening still calls!

I came upon some free vegetable plants. I mean lots of them. My husband saw them all and inquired, "Where ARE you gonna put all those?" To which I replied, "Everywhere." And we started today!

I always have loved the gardens where roses mingled with some pole beans, and nasturtiums rambled between pepper plants. So I plopped some tomatoes in between the knock-out roses (you know, the ones my son and I sat in a few weeks ago), and found some "extra" space in front of the rose bed that became part of the flower bed "accidentally." Here's how you  do that:

 Yes, I simply moved the brick border out and filled in the gap with soil and woodchips. My husband didn't notice the first time I did it, but he caught me this time and accused me of taking over the whole yard. I said, "But look how pretty the garden is," and he concurred. You can follow along with our gardening adventures by checking our online family journal, The Urban Farmer.

I bought a couple of yellow trumpet creepers and planted them along a trellis where I currently hang my bird feeders. It's really a bad place for them, traffic wise -- I hit my head exactly three times on them while I worked in the yard today. Malik thought that was funny, and I guess it really was, by the third time. But it's the best place to hang it for viewing from the back of the house. So I practice ducking. Except today.

Part of one flower bed has become invaded by Queen Anne's Lace. I let it grow there, because I just love them, and they remind me of the banks of them growing along the rail bed near my home, growing up. So I let them tumble into the lawn, and my husband weed whacks around them. When they get too unruly, I root some out. But I don't get too hung up on them growing in the garden.

We began the Queen Anne's Lace Year-long study last week, fighting an incredible batch of mosquitoes until we were forced to take a sample in to study inside (it makes a pretty centerpiece, too).  Here are our sketches.

Malik was particularly fascinated by the arrangement of the leaves and leaflets of the plant, since we are studying fractals (repeating patterns in nature -- see my new article on Fractals in Nature for more information and photos). He noticed that the leaflets looked like little versions of the whole leaf, so they must be fractals, and said, "See, I really AM learning stuff in homeschool!"

As the school year winds down, check out these updates to two of my previous articles:

"Engaging Books for Boys" is a list of book series that covers boys from grades K through 6, with links to other books that will keep boys reading all summer. Check this out in my Literacy 101 article.

I also added some additional activities and links to the "Sandy Beach" excursion in my Road Trip! 2010-2011 article -- Aloha!

Remember: We live in the land of the free BECAUSE of the brave. Have a safe Memorial Day weekend.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Spring Nature Study: Feathers

We have been enjoying taking a closer look at our garden, following Handbook of Nature Study, by Anna Botsford Comstock (follow the link to download the e-text) , and the curriculum designed by Barb ("Harmony Art Mom") in her blog, Handbook of Nature Study.  The time outside to just slow down and enjoy spring is a delightful way to enjoy one another's company at the end of the day (remember, I'm one of those homeschool parents who works outside the home during the day and completes lessons in the afternoon and evening).

Because I felt the need to slow down, we went back to the first Outdoor Hour Challenge, read pages 1-8 of the "Handbook," and went outside just to ... BE.  Outside, we found some bird feathers, which our little guy wanted to study more, and discovered a new flower in our garden. We used his "critter catcher" to hold the little wispy feathers, which wanted to blow away, and got our hand lenses ready. Then I took a photo of the wildflower, so we could look it up online later.

We supplemented the feathers we found outside with some from an old down coat, studying the parts of a feather and trying our best to figure out what part of the bird our feathers came from. We found a great section of the "Handbook" that we used for information, and watched our birdie friends at the feeder.

The story of the new wildflower is a nice one. Earlier this spring, our son was watching me working in my flower gardens, and he asked if he could have his own garden. I had cleaned a flower bed out last year, to make room for I-don't-know-what-yet, but had left behind little seedlings too small to relocate. So Malik took his trowel and moved the little seedlings carefully into his own garden.

Soon after moving them, they began to bud, and formed pretty, bright orange flowers -- nothing like anything that had been in that bed. I then recalled that I had scattered some old wildflower seeds (mixed) in the bed, and I truly forgot about them. We got on the computer, and searched and searched. We discovered that our new garden friend was a Siberian Wallflower.

I am buying my own copy of Handbook of Nature Study, as well as some wildflower seeds: Siberian Wallflower, Perennial Flax, Purple Coneflower. Malik and I will scatter them along our back fence, and observe some more!

We used notebooking pages from The Notebooking Treasury, plus free nature study notebooking pages that a homeschool mom developed to use with the Outdoor Challenges.

Here are other things we observed, but are awaiting deeper study...

 1. Ornithogallum  (Star of Bethlehem) -- a patch that dates back to my husband's childhood. Has sentimental value to us.

2. A cute little pink Heucherella that is sneaking a peek between a big patch of Bee-Balm and the creeping Phlox (background). I just moved it last summer, and forgot that I had moved it.

3. Here come the snap-peas! We are pea-staking this year (hence the branches in the bed). The birds ate some, but we planted extra so our birdie friends could share.

 4. An interesting "family" of mushrooms (right), growing on the woodchips next to 'Gold Dust" Sedum and a "toad house." No toads yet. (NOTE: if you have clay flower pots, they make good toad houses too -- bury one on its side, with half the pot above the surface.)

We have a lot of interesting mushrooms this year. We usually buy pine mulch, but last year I left the leaves down, as well, and I wonder if that's not the reason for the variety this year.

 5. One of our new "babies" -- a gold-leafed Heuchera (Coralbells) that I got for Mother's Day from my oldest son, who is a plantsman and naturalist. (NOTE: if you buy yellow-leafed or red-leafed plants, you might need to plant them in fuller sun, as many will lose their bright colors if they are in the shade (they will make more chlorophyll to compensate for the lower light level).

6. Remember the story in my last post about me falling in the roses while bird-watching? Well, the roses are none the worse for the squashing -- and they are covered with buds! Here is one that is just ready to bust loose! (As we looked it over, Malik quietly said, "And THIS time don't push me into the rose bush."). Where's the love, man?

As you can see, we are excited about our gardens. Except for the thorns.

The Notebooking Treasury has a set of pretty pages ("Wildflowers, Weeds and Garden Flowers") that we have all printed out, waiting for tomorrow, when we can get outside and do some more sketches of our new wildflower friend, the Siberian Wallflower.

Looking for math ideas?  Check out these two sites:

Homeschool Math has a free worksheet generator that you can use to create a variety of math worksheets for independent practice.

Adapted Mind also has free worksheets for printing -- like other sites, if you want nice, clean worksheets without ads and other "stuff," you have to have a paid subscription.


Like word puzzles and other brain-teasers? Check out Lumosity. There are a number of games that are guaranteed to put more wrinkles in your brain. Try the site out for free, then pay a subscription to keep those neurons pumping over the summer.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Nature Study Notebooks and Literacy

We are on day seven of our rainy weather (with one more to come), but I see sunshine beating through the haze right now. We are in for thunderstorms! I love it...

All this inside weather has made tensions run high amongst the four-legged members of our family. Our pit bull, Lucky (of Lucky Boy, the Wonder Dog fame) gets along really well with one of our five cats, peacefully with two others, and not at all with the remaining two. Individually, the cats ignore him, at worst. However, they have been known to tag-team him, if one of the less dog-friendly ones decides to go on the offensive. Our dog doesn't seem to learn.

So we decided to use our rainy Saturday last weekend to do a bunch of housecleaning. My husband was vacuuming the hallway where the kitty beds and window seats are, so the frightened felines all retreated under our bed. Apparently, the dog decided he wanted to join his friends, and squeezed under the bed. Not good. It's a lot easier to squeeze in than to squeeze back out, especially when there are claws coming at you. He came out happily sporting a cut on his ear that bled all over the laundry room before we wrestled him to put a bandage on it. Our youngest son said the laundry room looked like a crime scene. What fun -- NOT! Needless to say, dog and cats got sent out during a break in the rain.

I wanted to give you all an update on our notebooking and nature study work, and the sometimes surprising things that happen as a result.

We have been having a great time notebooking every day, following up on our zoo trip with more nature studies (on biomes). Our son is enjoying delving into my scrapbooking bag for templates and fancy papers -- it's been a long time since I scrapbooked, so it's been fun for me, too.

Here are some of our recent pieces...

I also just HAVE to share a spontaneous piece that actually was created in the bathtub while our son was bathing (who said writing has to happen with your clothes on?). When I went to see if he was pruny yet (!), he said, "Mom, listen to this song that I made up!" It went like this:

Hungry Herbivore
by MB, Age 7, 2011

I'm a hungry, hungry herbivore --
Plants are what I'm hungry for.
Don't eat insects, don't eat critters;
Just gimme some of those fern-fern-fritters.

When you're a hungry herbivore, 
The world is full of food.
I always follow this simple rule:
"If it's green, it's good!"" 

[Papi, the musician, is helping him set it to music...]


We are going to continue some of our homeschool activities through the summer, with an emphasis on lots more excursions and hands-on activities. If you are in need of ideas for the spring and summer, check out the following links:

  • Math Mammoth is holding a May sale on all downloadable workbooks or CDs. Get 20% off your purchases through May 31.
  • CurrClick is giving away anthologies of homeschool advice, written by kids for adults!  There is a version by younger kids (6-11) and one by older kids (12-18). Good summer reading as you reflect on this year and plan for next. Also check out their other homeschool resources for purchase.
  • Aurora at Supercharged Science is giving away her video series and teacher's guidebook of some of her most popular science experiments. Her projects are all done with materials you probably already have in your house, or can buy on your next grocery store trip. Registration for her very popular Summer Science e-Camp is closed, but you can access some of the activities to preview next year.
 Enough computer time! Go outside! Have fun! Learn something new!


Sunday, May 15, 2011

And Now Time for Some Much Needed Rain...

We have enjoyed a week of spectacular spring weather, with highs in the mid-70's, and lows warm enough to turn off the furnace for good. So much gardening in a week! And now we are heading into a rainy stretch that is expected to last through most of the coming week. Can you spell, "galoshes?"

Sunny warm followed by a cool and rainy spell means lots of growing things in the days to come! It's time to add linear measurement to your gardening observations and notebooking activities.

Kids love measuring things. By simply adding rulers and tape measures to your basket of "school tools," you will encourage your child to try his hand at measuring things. Here are some tips for working on measurement with your child:

  • Use both American Customary (i.e., inches) and metric (centimeter) rulers. The world is metric, so we owe it to our American children to teach them metric measurement. Metric measurement also helps with place value (1s, 10s, 100s, 1000s).
  • Watch for common measuring errors. Children commonly confuse inches and centimeters, start with the wrong end of the ruler, or start measuring with any random number in the middle of the ruler. Practice choosing the proper side and finding the "zero" end.
  • Include some non-standard measurement, too. How many erasers long is it? How many hair clips tall is it? (From one teacher to another: the following real objects are about 1 inch long -- the first finger joint of most adults; a small paperclip; the length from the end of the eraser to the bottom of the metal "sleeve" on a pencil).
  • Talk about where "feet" came from. (Here's a link to a cool list of the origins of some common measurement units, from Fact Monster, if you don't know). Then take turns measuring your sidewalk, the edge of the flower bed, the width of the driveway, using heel-to-toe measurement. Compare and talk about why there was a difference.
  • Estimate first.  Kids (especially once they get to eight and nine) like to have the "right" answer, and rebel at estimating. Use real opportunities to show the value of a ballpark figure (e.g., About how many bags of wood chips do we need?) Have kids write their estimate in pen, then switch to pencil for their measurement, to keep them from going back and changing their estimate.
  • Change up your tools, for variety and fun. Include rulers, retractable tape measures, dressmaker's tapes, yardsticks. Buy a supply of inexpensive plastic rulers at the dollar store. Photocopy rulers onto cardstock, cut apart and keep a supply in a can with your school supplies.

I have posted a new activity on one of my previous web pages, entitled, "Adopt-a-Plant." The activity includes downloadable data collection forms that can be used as part of your measurement activities in the garden.

Also check out my newest page on our trip to Connecticut's Beardsley Zoo. The page outlines a week-long (minimum) unit of study that follows up our field trip, including a biomes study, nature study through notebooking, fractals in nature, and connections to the Creation and Noah's Ark Bible stories.

Are you intrigued with the topic of notebooking? Check out the 5-year "birthday sale-a-bration" at The Notebooking Treasury, featuring extended subscriptions, bonuses for new subscriptions and renewals this month, and weekly prize drawings.

"There is more to life than increasing its speed." --  Mahatma Gandhi

Friday, May 6, 2011

Our Garden is For the Birds!

The month of May always amazes me. The month begins with only a hint of greenery, looking more wintry than springy. By the 31st, however, the trees are fully leafed out, and the world looks like summer. Even since the 1st, the changes in the garden have been incredible.

Malik and I planted our snap peas today, and are gathering "branchy branches" for pea-staking them this year. The inside of my house is starting to feel neglected as we spend more time outside. Oh, well...

We bought a new thistle seed feeder, and repaired the bin feeder (a big wind in the fall blew it down), and have been enjoying the many birds that come to them. We also cleaned out and filled the bird bath, which gets a lot more traffic now that we moved it into the corner of the garden.

In homeschool, we have begun a bird study, since we see so many of them (this surprises many people, who think a city lot would only attract English sparrows).  Our study is a meandering one, and includes identifying bird calls, site identification of birds, learning the parts of a bird's body, and (because my son was interested in it), a food study to see what kind of food they prefer.

If you want to try out your own bird food study, here is the journal page.

The Notebooking Pages Treasury has a beautiful set of notebooking pages for a bird study (we love data tables, so that is the only thing I wanted to add to the set). The Treasury has some free pages, or you can download collections for a charge (very economical for what you get). Or, you can do as we did, and pay an annual  fee of $52.95 for unlimited access to the entire treasury.

If you want some other kinds of pages for your bird journal, check out Enchanted Learning. There are some free pages, or you can pay a $20 annual fee for unlimited access (that's what we did). They have all kinds of bird pages, from bird anatomy to comparison between birds and dinosaurs, to life cycle pages. Good stuff.

Here's our bird list for the month:
  • Catbird
  • Cardinal (a mated pair)
  • Flicker (a mated pair)
  • English sparrow
  • Common grackle
  • House finch
  • Goldfinch
  • Whitethroat sparrow
  • White-crowned sparrow
  • Wren
  • Mourning dove
  • American crow
  • Phoebe
  • Northern oriole (nests in the oak in the corner every year)
  • Downy woodpecker
  • Warblers that we haven't seen yet...

Check out my other recent web pages (I've been busy):

Science Skills: Making Observations and Asking Questions -- I added another activity called "No Place Like Home," a study of the secret life under a rotting log
Books We're Reading in Homeschool-- a running list of the titles that we are using for homeschool
Road Trip! Field Trips for Homeschoolers -- a list of our favorite outdoor experiences away from home
Lucky, the Wonder Dog and How He Lived Up to His Name -- about our doggy :)
Literacy 101 -- the basics of literacy instruction, using The Daily Five
Living Math: Beyond Math Facts -- a description of The Rule of Four


Here is a link to a fellow gardener's page, with lots of garden lay-outs and information about different styles of gardens.

I also love Better Homes and Gardens for their Garden Planner and downloadable garden plans. Check them out and make a wish list!

    Wednesday, May 4, 2011

    Garden Songs...

    It's funny how you get some songs stuck in your head. Ever since gardening season began, we have all been singing a few family favorites. The first one is our hymn study for the month of April...

    "In the Garden," sung by Alan Jackson...

    The second one is an OLD favorite from Sesame Street. I love it because it reminds me of gardening with my kids. I don't garden barefoot, but I DO wear my gardening flipflops (no lie!)... And I love the banjo and fiddle...

    "Come Into the Garden"

    The last one on our list is an oldie from when my oldest son was a kindergartner. I can't find a You Tube clip (maybe one of you can?), but the lyrics to "In My Garden" go like this:

    Planting, planting, this is how we plant our peas,
    In the garden, in the garden.
    Planting, planting, this is how we plant our peas,
    Early in the morning.

    Hoeing, hoeing...
    Growing, growing...
    Picking, picking...


    Monday, May 2, 2011

    Hope Boxes

    We finally made it to "real" spring! This weekend was absolutely gorgeous in Connecticut. I hope it was where you live, too.

    To celebrate turning the page to a new month, our family put mulch down around our flower beds, planted some pansies, moved some perennials to new homes (I am always shuffling things to new homes), and planted cold-weather veggie seeds (radishes, carrots, lettuce). My hot peppers arrived a bit early, but we sneaked them into the ground anyway (hope... hope... hope...).

    Speaking of "hope" my youngest son and I began creating "Hope Boxes" that he is placing in his corner of the garden. You really don't need anything special to do this experiment -- it makes use of things you probably have right in your kitchen, today.

    What You Need:

    • Anything from your kitchen that has seeds in it (an apple core, a peach pit, seeds from the pulp from a squash...) OR
    • Anything from your kitchen that looks like it has "sprouted" (an old onion, an old potato, a "hairy" carrot...)
    • Something waterproof to plant in (an old margarine tub works fine -- a planter box is pretty. You will need to punch drainage holes in the bottoms of plastic containers)
    • Potting soil or a shovel full of soil from your garden
    What You Do:
    •  Have each child build her own "Hope Box." Fill whatever container you are using with potting soil or garden soil.
    • Carefully dig a hole and "plant" your item that you collected (your peach pit or sprouted carrot or whatever). When in doubt, try it out!
    • We like to stick a plant label in the pot with the name of the item and the date we planted it. Some things will sprout quickly, others will be very slow or need to be chilled over winter before they sprout, so dating the label helps us see how long something takes to grow.
    • Place the Hope Box in a part of your garden with full sun (most things that you will plant will need that sun).
    • Make sure that you keep your Hope Box watered (but not soggy), and watch for signs of growth. Don't give up! Some things take time.
    • You can also gather maple samaras (the "helicopter" seeds of maple trees) and other early seeds from the wild to try out, or plant some old veggie seeds that you have laying around.
    Get Ready to Observe:

    Here is a journal page you can use to record what you observe in pictures and words.

    If you prefer to take data, here is a data table that you can use (I am a data table geek...).

    Let us know what you tried out!

    For more lessons on Science Skills and Key Science Concepts, please see my sidebar.

    Sunday, May 1, 2011

    Are Your Peas Planted Yet?

    In this part of the country, we have some traditional guidelines for farming and gardening: Corn should be "knee-high by the 4th of July." Plant root crops (carrots, turnips, etc.) when the moon is waning -- never plant anything during a new moon or full moon (I don't know about that one -- I'm not organized enough right now to take that into consideration, but maybe I should!).  And the one I try for: "Plant your peas on St. Patrick's Day." In Connecticut, the ground wherever I've lived is always a bit squishy for peas then, but I DO try to get my peas in as soon as the ground is workable.

    So we have added peas & carrots, kohlrabi, a bunch more potatoes and onions, and some perennials to our garden over the past week: two new coralbells, a double-flowered purple coneflower, a gold-leafed bleeding heart, and an iris with jaunty striped leaves. We even got excited during this beautiful stretch of weather, and planted our pole beans, complete with their refurbished teepees. Then we moved around some wildflowers from last year's experiment with a bargain-basement box of wildflower mix -- found them proper homes grouped together in the beds. As we worked, our resident robin and catbird followed us around the yard, mining the newly overturned soil for grubs and worms. Malik is trying to teach the catbird to eat out of his hand. We'll keep working on it.

    It was during our last planting extravaganza when I spotted the rose-breasted grosbeak on the feeder. Now, we live in Hartford, a small city, but definitely not even suburban -- very urban. But our lot is very large, and protected by a rambling hibiscus hedge row on two sides. And it backs against the lot of a rec center. So there is a nice little green spot for critters. And we get a lot of different birds that you wouldn't expect in the city.  But I had never seen a rose-breasted grosbeak here in the seven years we've lived here. I was so excited to show the bird to our youngest son that, when I crouched down to show it to him, I backed over the brick edging to my rose bed, and ended up sitting directly on my set of "Knock-out" shrub roses!

    So that was a little embarrassing. Unfortunately, I guess I grabbed onto the nearest thing to keep from falling. Which happened to be my son. My poor baby came right into the rose bushes with me! He was not happy with me. But he DID see the grosbeak, and we looked it up later that evening for our notebooking time.

    Here are updates to our bird list. I found an excellent site to add to your links for nature study, if you are studying birds: "Birds & Birding" -- tons of information, links to birdsongs, games, etc.  If you click on the individual birds, you will go to the individual page on that bird from the site. Also, go to my post from last time -- I have edited the bird list so it is "live" too! Have fun!

    American Robin
    Blue Jay
    Common Yellowthroat (heard, not seen)
    Eastern Towhee (female)
    European Starling
    Rose-breasted Grosbeak

    The Notebooking Treasury has a wonderful set of science notebooking pages, which includes a number of pages for common North American birds. You can download it for free, but also check out the information on the complete North American Birds package, which is available from the site for purchase separately. We purchased the annual membership, which gives you access to the complete Treasury -- recommended!