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?

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Flower Study Private Eyes

After our nature walk the boys took their samples home and began work on their sheets.  Even though we brought moistened paper towels and plastic bags for our specimens they did not make it home in very good shape. (I need to come up with a good solution for that problem.)

Ds#1 chose the blue toadflax to Observe and draw. He made analogies for the Compare step:
  • a paw
  • an asteroid
  • a fly and a fly swatter
  • a violet
  • a jumping man
  • a bug
  • a tree
  • a bird
  • a butterfly
  • woodchips

For his Consider step he wrote, "I think the petals grew out--spread--so they could suck in the sun easier.

He also did some journal writing:  "The dam where I found my flower is a beautiful place.  You can do tins of stuff there like walks, hike, have picnics, go swimming, and much, much more."
Ds#2 really liked the patch of Maiden Pink on the grassy areas by the reservoir.  (Unfortunately it has since met the demise of the lawn mower.)

Here are his analogies:

  • a pink hand
  • pink explosion
  • elephant's trunk
  • carnivourous plant's mouth
  • multiple hands connected to one another
  • a swirl of colors
  • a nose
  • a spear point
  • a broom
  • pink lights

This is what he thought when considering why it looked as it did: "I think the flowers are spiked because when the flower was not in bloom, the pedals were connected.  So when it bloomed it tore the pedals evenly."

He decided to write a comparison for his journal entry: "The pedals on my flower are brighter and lighter than the ones on a violet.  The leaves on my flower are longer than the ones on a violet.  the stem on my flower is about the same width as a stem on a violet.

Ds#3's flower did not make it home in any condition for drawing, so he decided to draw the remains of a robin's egg he found in the yard a few days before.

His comparisons:
  • a lake
  • a blue rock
  • a blue heart
  • a blue pastel
Since this walk I have been buried in work I have to do over the summer for new classes I am teaching in the fall.  The boys have been swimming, and even spent a week at nature camp.  They still look at all kinds of things through their loupes, though we have not done anything formal in a bit.  We will again soon...

Sunday, July 18, 2010

More On Our Nature Walk

These pictures are from the same walk in which I took the bird pictures.  As you can see, the boys had a lot of fun as we wandered around, and we found quite a variety flowers and things to photograph and identify.

Ds#2 is perched on the rocks.
Ds#3 is throwing rocks into the reservoir.
Ds#1 is enjoying a Brian Jacques book.
They found the remains of some tall and sturdy plants...well, somewhat sturdy:

Ds#3 is feeling very big atop the rocks and waves joyously!

We read that the mullein plant had many uses in days gone by, including using the large, soft leaves to line your moccasins.  Ds#2 decided to give it a try.  He said it was quite comfortable!
Ox Eye Daisies   
A dandelion seed head.  It looks as if a second one merged with this one.
White water lily
Evening Primrose
Maiden Pink
Blue Toadflax
English Plantain
A deciduous tree with "cones"?  They are catkins on this Mountain Adler.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Birds at the Dam

During the summer we've been taking morning walks on a dam with some friends. We have been able to identify all kinds of birds there, the most common being the myriad swallows that soar along the the dam walls.  We also collected flowers from here, but I'll write about that in a separate post.

We've seen birds like these Canada geese.  We've been visiting since the goslings were very little.  In this picture they have their adult coloring.  Seven in all, following closely behind their parents.  They often sit in the shade on the shore.

And these mallards, who are relatively new to this small pond.  Maybe we'll see ducklings soon, too.

We've seen bluebirds, goldfinches, great blue herons, and the brilliant orange of Baltimore orioles.  One day I saw a flash of a dull orange, almost brown.  the medium-sized bird perched on the fence at the edge of the water.  It was a new bird to me, and it did not have distinctive marking on its back for me to look up later in my guide.

When we went for our nature walk, though, I brought my camera.  Fortunately the mystery bird stayed around the ranger station, perhaps nesting nearby, and I was able to capture an image.  Its a brown thrasher, and the orange-brown color is known as "rufous."  It has the distinctive yellow eye, barred wings, and curved beak--though a very thick one compared to the images online.

It's a member of the mockingbird family and has one of the largest song repertoire of any North American bird.

Hopefully I will get pictures of the other birds we've spotted and maybe of the kids will even draw one.  It would be great to find a feather for us to look at with the loupes.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Closer and Closer Macro Photography

A Private Eye Nature has a way of inspiring all sorts of creative endeavors.  Besides writing and drawing, it can also lead to very close up (macro) photography.  Here is a slide show from the Close and Closer Macro Photography group on Fickr.

CM Blog Carnival is up!

The latest edition is up at The One Thing.  Enjoy!

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Pictures from a Pond Walk

We recently met up with some friends to walk down to the pond near their home to see the sights.  While we didn't bring our loupes with us this time, we did encourage the kids to make analogies (and to try to stay dry at the waters edge.)

The fish beds were a striking observation.  With the dark muck pushed aside, the beds gleamed below the surface.  We did see one fish lurking at the edge of a bed, though it quickly swam away as our gang all huddled around to try to see.  A half dozen beds were easily visible from the shore.

Water lilies spread their broad leaves and shot up their yellow blooms but they had yet to open their pedals.  A bee is crawling on this one frantically seeking nectar; neither will she enjoy the bloom today.

Dragonflies dominated the air above the pond, darting after smaller insects and resting on the lily pads.  The kids tried to catch them, but these are not as tame as the ones in our yard who seem to wait for my children to gently hold them by their tails.  And we mothers again warned them about falling into the pond.

Across the pond we could see the handiwork of beavers, though not the beavers themselves.  We found old gnawed remnants on our side, too, from years gone by.

What will the pond look like in summer?

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

From Observe to Compare

Compare is the second step of A Private Eye Nature for good reason (see The Basic Steps.) So much of what is learned and then what is created comes from this step.

The comparisons are really two-fold.  First, specimens are compared to others we've looked at, or to other parts of the same larger specimen.  During our Signs of Spring project, Ds#3 looked at a rhododendron bud and an acorn on two separate occasions.  The differences are striking since one becomes a flower while the other is a seed.  However, Ds#3 did notice something they had in common: they both sprouted or opened at the narrow end.  Most of the projects are centered around comparisons of this sort.

The second kind of comparison is through analogy.  In this case, children are comparing their specimens to other objects they have encountered in their lives.  This is often harder for younger children because of their limited experiences in this world, or for those who have trouble turning on their imagination upon request.   Good analogies are those in which the two objects have two or more features in common, and the more common features the better the analogy.  Ds#3 thought the acorn looked like a brown cat with a long, curled tail.  I though a better analogy would be a brown mouse because it also adds in smallness, and because the overall shape was more like a mouse than a cat (though I didn't suggest that to him since they were his analogies and he is just starting out.)

By looking through the loupe, children are better able to focus on details.  Drawing and comparing gives two reasons to sharpen those observations skills.  Children improve analytical skills by comparing objects; by making analogies, they improve their descriptive skills.  Together they make for a better nature writing and scientific exploration, and for a better Habit of Attention overall.

Observations on Observation

The first step in A Private Eye Nature is Observe (see The Basic Steps) which is closely related to Attention, the first of Charlotte Mason's Habits of Mind.

It's hard to get my kids to stop and see the details.  We love looking at nature but I am usually the one pointing out the curious sights (though they did find the lovely pink lady slippers in the front yard.)

Using the loupe is a great tool to help train Attention.  Because you must look through such a small opening and focus on such a limited area you cannot help but pay attention to the details.  Vistas and landscapes are breathtakingly overwhelming especially for my attention-short boys; they are challenged even by a whole plant!

Looking is followed by drawing, both a part the Observe step.  Drawing demands attention if you are to end up creating something that looks anything like your specimen.  Looking and drawing are a natural pair of activities to fostering attention, and limiting the view increases your ability to be detailed.  I have been very pleased with how well my boys have improved in their nature drawing since we began this process.

I've included a macro-shot photo of a giant Cecropia silkworm wing my aunt found in her yard the other day.  The kids were excited to get their loupes out to look!

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Nature Study Resources

I recently read a discussion about Amateur Naturalist: A Practical Guide to the Natural World. The book came highly recommended so I was thrilled to find it on the shelf of my favorite used book store last weekend. I am not disappointed; this book is a great nature study reference.

Just the last section alone, At Home, is great to have.  It gives lots of details about the tools and techniques for collecting, inspecting, and preserving plants, insects, and animals, as well as keeping a good nature journal.  As you can see by the cover, a loupe is recommended.

Most of the book contains extensive descriptions of the flora and fauna of various environment.  While the Handbook of Nature Study is great for those of us living in the Northeast where it was written, Amateur Naturalist contains sections on sixteen different habitats like grasslands, deserts, mountains, and oceans.  It also crosses that bridge from nature to science with directions for microscopes, dissections, and anatomical displays.  This is an invaluable resource. (Caution: a new book from National Geographic has the same name but is not the same book.  Be sure to look for Durrell as the author.)

While I was looking through the Nature section, I came across two other stunning out-of-print books for intermediate to advanced nature studies.  The first is TRAVELS, a collection of journal entries from the Father of Classification, Carl Linneus, during his travels through his native Sweden.  It is edited by David Black with some nice illustrations by Stephen Lee.  It is 108 pages. (I find it interesting that Amazon and Library Thing list this book under David Black Linnaeus Carl, Ed.)

I also found another intriguing book, Nature Through the Seasons.  It was written by Richard Adams, the author of Watership Down and also has beautiful illustrations by David A. Goddard along with separate science text written by Max Hooper.  Literary writing, lovely illustrations, extensive scientific information...seems like the perfect mix for a Living Book.  I can't wait to read all 108 pages of it (interesting coincidence), particularly the section about winter since we are always looking for novel ways to study nature in the snow.  The loupe alone promises to add another dimension!

By the way, in that same section I also found a 1927 ex-library hardcover of CURIOSITIES OF SCIENCE. Edited, annotated & translated by Percy F. Bicknell by Jean Henri Fabre.  It was a very good trip!

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Flower Study

We've embarked on a flower study now that all those buds have bloomed!  Here is our first session.  I read through the parts of a flower from the Hand book of Nature Study and sent the kids out to get a specimen of their choice. They each came in with a different flower and I helped them identify the parts. They then went to work looking and drawing and writing.

Ds#1 had the Violet and wrote the following analogies:  a purple cosmos (as in astronomy and not flower); a string bean (the stem); the optic nerve and the orbit; colored fire. He has not gone back to do any writing for this session.

Ds #2 wrote these analogies for the beautiful pink azalea: erupting volcano (my kids are so stuck on volcanoes); a group of worms; gold on a red pillow; a king with his guards; a grabber; a group of tornadoes (another fascination); ice cream sundae; a group of people; people crowding around a famous guy; lightning.

The gold on the pillow was ultimately his inspiration for writing:

I started as a bud.  The I bloomed and rain fell on my white leaves and reacted with my argouth acid* in my pedals.  Then I turned pink.  Then, in between my pedals, little, thin sticks grew.  But one stick was special to me.  It had a pink stem, and had gold glitter on it.

He stopped there because it was the bottom of the page.   *He made up argouth acid for his story.

Ds#3 chose one of the many dandelions growing in our back yard.  He told me the following analogies: the sun; a tornado (yet another!); a duster (as in feather duster); a head of frizzy hair.  He did a wonderful job drawing the details in his flower.

There's plenty of more flowers to examine for comparison and review. Their vibrant colors and interesting structures make them a natural for this process. There'll be more to come for this topic!

Monday, May 3, 2010

Finishing Up Signs of Spring

We are wrapping up our Signs of Spring study.  Besides looking at a variety of buds (that have now become blooms) we also went back to check on some plants we had first examined.  Ds#2 checked out the Mountain Laurel at the edge of our yard.

We looked again and noticed that the laurel had two distinctly different buds on them.  Flowers are modified leaves so it was interesting to see some buds that would become leaves and others that would become

Ds#2 didn't write any poetry for this second examination, but here are the analogies he wrote:
  • A star
  • A palm tree
  • A spider
  • A flower
  • Sea weed