We are on Outdoor Hour Challenge #8– almost done with the first set of “Getting Started” challenges (there are 10). We started these Outdoor Hour Challenges in August, before the author of the blog changed the way you get started with the Outdoor Hour. But now that we’ve started the 10 “Getting Started” challenges, something in me demands that we complete the list. I see her posts every week about this month’s theme and the challenge grid and I am getting very excited about it. But for now, we are having a lot of fun with the challenges we are working on and I appreciate how simple and relaxed they are.
This week we have gone outside several times. We went to the Pumpkin Patch on Tuesday, to a park with a creek (there are many of these in my area!) on Wednesday, out in backyard on Thursday, and to another park (with a pond where one can usually find ducks and geese) on Friday. The time on Thursday in our backyard was the hour set aside specifically for Nature Study, but I am impressed with how my children have improved in their powers of observation since starting nature studies.
At the park on Wednesday, X-man came running up to me after spending some time at the creek. He exclaimed with awe, “Mommy, I saw a fish! An orange fish with brown legs!” Hmm, a fish with legs? So I said, “Let me see this thing!” It was an orange and brown crayfish with just one pincer. What an amazing find! We watched it crawl around on the stream bed and find some rocks to hide near. What a neat experience for my children- to see a crayfish in its natural habitat. Wow.
On Friday, while my daughter was at her dance class, we walked through the park and saw many ducks sleeping in the shade with their bills tucked into their back feathers. My son and I wondered together why ducks sleep like this. We came up with two ideas. One idea was that it helps them keep warm. The other was that perhaps their back feathers are like a pillow and it helps their head be comfortable. Later on, when we looked it up on the internet, we learned that because duck bills do not have feathers, they lose a lot of heat through them. Tucking their bills into their feathers is like sticking your hands into your jacket pocket. It is indeed to help them keep warm. We were right! I also learned that ducks need only three hours of sleep a day and that they are able to sleep with one eye open. This fact I definitely observed. It was kind of spooky.
We also talked about the difference between duck bills and chicken beaks. X-man noted the difference in the shape of the two beaks (he described the chicken’s beak looking like a “C”) and we discussed where each bird gets their food. When we got back to the car, I had the section on bird’s beaks from the Handbook of Nature Study and we read about how ducks bills are flat and wide to help them strain water out of their bills when they capture food. Chicken’s beaks are hard so that when they peck at the ground to get at their food, the dirt is loosened. Their beaks are also sharp and curved to pick up small insects and seeds. How much better lessons like these stick when they are based on real life experiences and observations from our nature studies!
Our official Outdoor Hour happened on Thursday in our backyard:
Task #1- Read in the Handbook of Nature Study about Object Lessons and the Field Glass in Nature Study. I was inspired by the sentence about using the magnifying glass- “it is such a joy to the child to gaze at the wonders it reveals.”
Task #2- Spend time in our backyard with the magnifying glass. I told the kids to go find something interesting to inspect and they went and found sparkly rocks and little leaves. K found a pumpkin we had brought home from our pumpkin patch field trip and we looked closely at it. I was amazed to see that it is not really solid orange. It is a light orange yellow and then it has all kinds of dark orange veins running through it. I never knew! Looking at things through a magnifying glass truly does bring a sense of wonder. I pulled out the feathers we had collected from the chicken coop last week and we took a closer look at them. Then they took turns with the magnifying glass we have to look at the sand box (X-man was pretty interested in the fact that sand up close looks like tiny rocks!) and then the leaves on the tree.
X-man noticed that there were tiny little holes in the leaves. He asked me what made them. I asked him what he thought made them. He replied, “Maybe a ladybug. Or a grasshopper. Or a bee.” Cool! I’m glad I didn’t answer his question at first, to see what he could think up. And of course, I don’t really know what makes the little holes so my reply was, “Good idea! Let’s go look it up!” I discovered that all sorts of things can make little holes in leaves and indeed, insects is one culprit.
Task #3- Talk. We talked about the interesting things we found to look at as we looked at them. It is harder to keep the kids focused on Nature Study when it is in our backyard, but it was good to examine some things in our yard. It gave me the motivation to spend some time trying to figure out what the tree is that is in our backyard. (That is a whole story in itself- you can read it below.)
Task #4- Nature Journal. The kids decided they wanted to draw the leaves of our “Cherry Tree”- ones with holes in them. So we each plucked a leaf with a hole or two in it and we went to the kitchen table to draw our leaves. X-man decided to draw everything he examined and K was pretty frustrated that her drawn leaf was too big, but overall, we enjoyed the process of drawing our leaves and writing our observations.
Task #5- Field Guide. We started work on this! We chose pictures of the birds we’ve seen and studied and pasted the pictures to the cards. Now we need to add information to the back of each card.
I plan to put out some bird feeders around our backyard this weekend (or some weekend soon, whenever I get to it), so I am hoping we’ll get to visit with many winged creatures this winter!
My tree identification story: I have been wanting to figure out the name of this tree for some time. My landlord called it a “Green Cherry Bush,” but when I googled that term, I didn’t find anything. The tree produces small sourish cherries in the summer that have the consistency of plums. So yesterday, I went to the Arbor Day Foundation website as they have a page where they ask questions and when you answer, they bring up the next question. In the end, it is supposed to give you the answer. It is a great website (and I recommend it!), but the process was a bit frustrating this time for two reasons:
#1- I had to look up a lot of the words. I did not know what “Margin” or “Petiole” meant. (On the other hand, mostly it defines everything that it asks and it uses very helpful pictures! Plus, I learned what “margin” and “petiole” mean. That is not a bad thing.)
#2- It did not lead me to the answer. Once I answered all of their questions, the answer it gave me just wasn’t right. The pictures of the leaves, flowers, and fruit did not fit. The leaves on my tree are finely toothed (as described by Arbor Day’s answer), but they were rounded (I learned this word: “Crenulate”) rather than serrated.
After quite a bit of googling “cherry trees with crenulate leaves” and other specifics like that, I think I may have discovered the answer: Montmorency Cherry Tree. Everything is right- the leaves look like they have crenulate margins and the fruit is described perfectly (light to dark red skin and yellow flesh that is sour), but on the zone maps on the Arbor Day website, this tree should not do well here in California. So I’m left with a bit of a mystery. I’m okay with that.