Sunday, July 24, 2011

The Mountaun Laurel Seed

We walked into the woods to find something interesting to examine and yet again the Mountain Laurel captured our imagination.  This time it was its seed.  A small, round, hard, sticky ball.

"That seed spreads by sticking to things," my boys informed me.  Was it sticky because of a substance with which it coats itself, or does it have tiny hooks, as Ds#2 suggested?  We needed a closer look.

We looked with out loupes and he was right about the hooks.  We took pictures and compared it to Velcro.  The boys noted that it holds firmly, but not as tightly as a burseed.

They went right to work drawing.  Ds#1 and Ds#2 finally know to draw the magnified image while Ds#3 still uses the loupe but draws it actual size, so it must be an age-related phenomenon.

Green bouncy ball;
Candy apple;
Gas nebula;
Arrow through an apple;
The hand to a Lego figure;
A planet;
Dragonfly head.

 I was born on a mountain laurel and one day a kid with a green lollypop walked by. He suddenly dropped his lollypop and it hit me right on the noggin. I immediately stuck to it and I was dragged to the ground. I stayed there for three days before a black bear decided to eat the lollypop I was stuck to. In doing so I somehow got stuck to the fur on his back. The bear wandered away and in about a half hour I was rubbed onto a tree. I stayed on that tree for a week and I nearly sprouted, but before I could sprout, a very strong wind blew up and up into the air I went. I blew for so long that I blew up into a cloud that I stuck to. The cloud blew and blew. By the time I got unstuck, I was in Indiana! I started in Massachusetts. I dropped slowly to the ground and I suddenly landed on a NASCAR Indy Racer! I had never gone so fast in my life and never got so dizzy. When I got off that car I landed on the forehead of a crazy fan who was jumping all over the place. I was dizzy enough, and I didn’t need more. So I quickly jumped out a there. I landed on a pigeon which was in the middle of its migration to France. Weeks later, I was in France. I dropped down off the bird and landed on the tippy top of the Eiffel tower. I really liked the view. I jumped off and landed in a school yard. The kids were playing with a green bouncy ball. The bouncy ball hit me and then rolled into the sewer. Down in the sewer, I found many thing, my two favorite was a dragonfly head and the hand of a Lego figure. I found a way out of the sewer and I hopped onto the roof of a French bus. I chose the perfect bus to go on. Its destination was China. I was on the roof of that bus for two months and when I finely jumped of the bus I was in China. I decided to move on and I found another bus that was headed for India. When I got to India, the first thing I did was go to the Taj Mahal. The place was huge. I stayed for three days enjoying the vastness of the place and eating. After that I decided that I wanted to sprout. So I went back to China and there I sprouted. I then ended up in the world records book for being the first mountain laurel to grow in China.

[So many rabbit trails here--do pigeons migrate?  Are there buses from France to China and back to India? Just how far is is from Massachusetts to Indiana?  From France to China?  Are there mountain laurels in China?]

Loaded catapult;
An arm holding a ball;
Unripe blueberry;
A green bouncy ball;

One day a seed was sleeping on his bush when a person brushed against him.  He was still sleeping and he stuck to his shirt and went on an adventure.  Hours later he woke up and found himself miles away.  He let himself down and landed on fresh soil and grew to be a mountain laurel bush.

Branch with a beehive;
Arm holding a ball;
Green tomato;
Unripe blueberry;
Green ball

We went outside.  The day was warm with a nice breeze.  We went into the woods.  When we first started, I saw a black butterfly with a little white on it and had little orange dots on the bottom.  It looked like a spicebush swallowtail.  After that we walked a littler farther when Sam found green dots that were sticky.

[We have been on the hunt for a spicebush, another member of the laurel family and commonly found in this area, according to our research.  We keep breaking off and sniffing the leaves of possible plants.]

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Surprising Wealth of Living Nature Books

Part of A Private Eye Nature is to use nature studies as an inspiration for creative arts, though my kids have not quite picked up on this aspect of it.  After discovering the Nature section of my favorite used bookstore, I realized that I was neglecting a fundamental tenet of a Charlotte Mason education: Living Books as examples of excellent nature writing.  I have found such a wealth of inspiring nature writing that I will be sure to put them regularly on my children's reading lists.  Here are some of my recent finds.

Several of the great nature titles I found are in the public domain.  Eye Spy by William Hamilton Gibson is a beautiful book.  He wrote it in 1897, and besides his rich language, speaking directly to children, he also included many delightful drawings throughout the book.  Though long (264 pages), it is more a series of short stories rather than one long narrative.  Much of what he writes about can be found here in the Northeast United States.  I found a first edition hardcover in excellent condition at the used book store.  Of a local note, he also wrote Highways and Byways, or, Sauntering in New England.

A couple of other titles I found on Manybooks.netAdventures of a Young Naturalist by Lucien Biart is about a Naturalist's travels through Mexico with his seven-year-old son.  The story looks to be a mix of cultural as well as natural descriptions, with moral lessons learned along the way.

Also from Manybooks is Country Walks of a Naturalist with His Children by British author Rev. William Houghton.  While not available in a digital format, another of his books, Sea-side Walks of a Naturalist with His Children is available as a free pdf download from Google books.

Another authors deserving mention here is French naturalist Jean-Henri Fabre.

I have found quite a variety of beautiful picture books to inspire my youngest naturalist, enjoyed by all of us.  The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller; Field Trips:Bug Hunting, Animal Tracking, Bird-watching, Shore Walking by Jim Arnosky (another outstanding nature illustrator); Autumn Leaves by Ken Robbins; and finally, one that fits in particularly well with this blog, Sky Tree: Seeing Science Through Art by Thomas Locker.

To finish off I want to mention these unique nature books by Maryjo Koch.  In these books even the text is part of the spectacular illustrations.  The writing is not as engaging as the rest, but one could spend hours just browsing these titles.

I am sure countless other inspiring nature writers for children are out there waiting to be discovered.  May they inspire us to write and learn about Nature too.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Curiosity Shop

We like to visit a small science museum known as The Ecotarium.  I think of it as a Nature Study museum.  They have many live animal exhibits mostly of local wildlife but also includes a polar bear.  The day we went happened to be a rare mild day in the middle of winter so we even wandered the grounds after looking at the indoor exhibits.

One of our kids' favorite exhibits is the Curiosity Shop.  No matter how many times we go in there, we always pick up some interesting nature item that the curator discusses with us.  They love to just rummage around in the room full of all sorts of curiosities!


As you can see by the pictures, the shop has a very interesting variety of items.  Porcupines, whale spines, turtle shells, skulls, petrified rocks, baleen, shark jaws, even the snout of a sawfish.

I have long wanted a curiosity corner in our house; places like this are inspiring.  Perhaps I will come up with one soon.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Winter World

It's been a few years since we've had this much snow, and after all the frustrations of moving it out of the way of our vehicles and getting it off the rooves of our houses, we can then get out and enjoy it.

My boys were convinced that we could not do A Private Eye Nature in the winter because there was nothing to look at.  What an opportunity that presents for learning!

It didn't take them long to find all sorts of interesting things out in the winter world.  Snowshoes make traveling through the woods possible especially now that a firm crust has formed.

We have not been doing a lot with our loupes recently mostly because of difficulties I've had in my schedule.  But prayers have been answered so I hope to be back to it again very soon.  Meanwhile we have been having a great time just exploring.

While looking for winter nature books I discovered the fascinating and beautifully written Winter World: The Ingenuity of Animal Survival by Bernd Heinrich. I borrowed the audiobook from the library, and though I don't care for the way it's read, I could easily distinguish the beauty in the writing. With the science it contains, this is a great biology title for high school students; yet in small portions this makes a great nature study read aloud for middle schoolers as well. . Heinrich has written several other titles including Summer World: A Season of Bounty as well as The Trees in My Forest. They certainly will inspire you to get out and explore!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Autumn Colors

A mild September remained green for so long that we almost forgot autumn's regular show.  October quickly blazed and summarily faded to the rich brown hues of November, when the trees go bare one by one.

During that brief time of beauty we could not help but look closer at Nature shouting all around us.  A maple leaf, a wild cherry, and the lavender that would soon be gone.

A Maple Leaf by Ds#1
The sunset, an arrowhead
A mountain, Fall
Long Island, a scab
A flame, a cardinal
A red flag, a ripped tablecloth

"I think it looks the way it does because the trees are getting ready for winter.  The tree's leaves are changing color and losing their leaves."

Lavender by Ds#2

Fireworks, a missile, an outside view of a time warp, a candle, a bow staff with flaming ends,
exploding firecracker, two fuse dynamite stick, a charged battery, two lightning strikes, lightening staff.

"I think that my flower has its smell because when you water the plant, it reacts with the plant and releases a nice scent."

My Story: "I came from a plant, and I rolled around  until a storm found me and packaged me up and I was put on a shelf.  I waited for a month until someone bought me and I was planted and I grew to be a plant."

A Wild Cherry by Ds#3

Lady bug
Red balloon

The kids discovered the water colored pencils I have had in the nature kit for years and decided to put them to good use.  They really liked the effect with these bright colors.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Baldfaced Hornets

I have a lot of nature pictures that I intended to post but I have not been able to blog these past few months.  We have had weekly Private Eye sessions that I will get to posting soon, I hope.  I at least wanted to post these pictures and video of a giant baldfaced hornets' nest that was in a bush right outside our back door.

We were immediately impressed by the sheer size--a gray basketball in the bushes!  White and gray that seemed to once flow in currents now solidified.

One day we went outside and found it split open, pieces lying on the ground.  The hornets, though few, still came and went from it.  Inside, along the edges, were hexagon chambers with opaque amber filling erratically pulsing from something inside it. Other chambers contained thin white remnants with holes, while others still were empty completely.

I took a video of what was left.

Sunday, August 1, 2010


What I hope to achieve with A Private Eye Nature is not only a knowledge and love of Nature, that weak reflection of God's grandeur, but also to spark creativity through observation and consideration.

Newsweek ran an article this month about The Creativity Crisis in America.  According to the article:

"It’s too early to determine conclusively why U.S. creativity scores are declining. One likely culprit is the number of hours kids now spend in front of the TV and playing videogames rather than engaging in creative activities. Another is the lack of creativity development in our schools. In effect, it’s left to the luck of the draw who becomes creative: there’s no concerted effort to nurture the creativity of all children."

[Perhaps it is all those hours in school where the task is to learn what you are told in the manner in which you are expected, and we are not creative enough to design a better system.  And it is probably not so much "luck of the draw" as it is parental inspiration that determines who becomes creative.]

A lot is going on during the Compare and Consider steps that opens the door to Create; it has inspired so much creativity in my own mind.  My children, while showing a strong creative writing streak this past school year, have yet to be as inspired.  Maybe it shows a need for their creativity training and practice. Then again it may be all the other outdoor distractions summer brings that keeps them from sitting to write or draw.  Still, when they do take the time I see diamonds in the rough.

This is but one of many ways to build creativity in our children.  I see them spontaneously building pretend machines out of old bicycles and sticks, or putting each other in a sarcophagus made of pillows and being archeologists who discovers it, or racing spaceships made of toy desks in the playroom.  Perhaps they are destined to be great builders rather than great artists--or is there a difference, really?