Wonderful Wednesday – Summer Cattail Study

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A few weeks ago, we headed back to our cattail patch for a summer nature study. By “our” I mean a cattail patch about five minutes from our house, where we did our spring cattail nature study.

I printed out the toppers from Handbook of Nature Study – a blog we follow loosely for our nature observations.

Summer Cattail Notebooking Pages

I glued the toppers to white paper and divided it into four parts, so they could draw four objects.


While there, I asked the kids to walk around and get as close to the cattails as possible.  Continue reading »

Cattail Nature Walk

Walking to get the best view of the cattails


“Look, mom! A snake hole!” exclaimed my son.

Noticing A Snake Hole

Look, mom!


Not sure if this was a snake hole, but it was a hole indeed.

Maybe a snake hole

Maybe a snake hole


I asked them to draw four things they saw. They did – their drawings were in pencil, so they don’t photograph well. They drew rocks, trees, the creek, and the bridge.


The pretty covered bridge where our cattail patch lies

The pretty covered bridge where our cattail patch lies


I also asked them to listen to the sounds of the area. At first, they could hear only man-made sounds: the air conditioning of the apartment buildings nearby, car engines driving by. I asked them to close their eyes and see if they could hear insects. They could. Also, the breeze through the cattails. Yes, they heard that, too.

Then, I allowed them to frolic around the creek.

Boy and girl are having fun in the sun, around a cattail area, jumping over creek

Fun in the sun, around the cattail area


It was fun and easier than the first time we headed over there. Maybe because they are older, e.g. my daughter could now jump over the creek without actually falling in. Maybe because I knew what to expect. I can’t wait for our fall cattail study.

Wonderful Wednesday – Ad-Hoc Science

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My plan was to spend at least two hours outside today. We are playing catch-up with time outside.

It has been raining lately and I have been busy with different projects, so I did not make outdoorsy time a priority. My children play so well indoors, away from screens, and I did not want to deal with bugs and/or DEET and sunscreen (there, I said it!) – it was easy to forget how important it is for them to be outside.

Well, we ended up spending five hours. We left after two hours because I had a planning meeting with other Sevier County Homeschooling Group moms, then they had swims lessons. On the way back from swim lessons, we stopped at the park again, for almost three hours.  Continue reading »

It’s called Mills Park and it has a playground, a covered pavilion with picnic tables, several benches, a creek running by, a disc golf course, restrooms, outdoor sinks, grills and a wonderful grassy hill, perfect for rolling down on.

Children rolling down the grassy hill at Mills Park

My children rolling down the grassy hill at Mills Park

I don’t know why we don’t go to Mills Park every day. We should.

Oh, I know why. Because I used to be really bothered by their getting wet in the creek or muddy in the puddles around the playground.

I have since transcended that. The more I read about how time spent outside helps children reverse myopia or not develop it at all, the more I want them to spend time outside – no matter what the cost. That’s why we do laundry, right?

The more I read about how time spent outside helps children do better in science, the more I want them to explore and dig and analyze and take note of bugs, bees, trees, birds and everything in between.

Today I heard a mother scold her toddler rather harshly about his getting in the muddy area. I cringed but looked down at my shoes because that mother used to be me. My kids could not help but notice the scene. It was rather embarrassing for all parties involved, but the mother was relentless. I said a quick prayer for her, that she may allow her little boy to get a little dirty – it’s good for him.

Here’s what I have observed about kids in nature: they don’t need toys. The playground gets them started, but they use it differently after a while. Instead of going down the covered slide, for instance, they straddle it. They go up and down on top of the cover. I try not to panic. The ground is soft.

I did bring a soccer ball and it helped break the ice with one boy in the morning and another one in the afternoon. But the ball got put up after the second boy brought his puppy out. The kids let the puppy chase them and ran around on the grassy hill for almost an hour.

Little bird in a cage - my kids observed it and played with it for an hour

Little bird in a cage – my kids observed it and played with it for an hour

Through it all, they learned some science. They observed “small fishes” in the creek. I told them they were tadpoles.

My son came to the bench where I was sitting with my book and grabbed the water bottle. After he quenched his thirst, he tilted the bottle and took a good look at it. “Mommy, why does the water stay flat even though I tilted the bottle?” I explained about gravity and the state of being liquid.

We noticed a cardinal on a power line. He was busy singing and we could see him open his beak and hear him at the same time – always a special treat.

During my planning meeting, which happened at the Sevierville library, somebody brought a small bird in a cage. My children observed it and played with it the way you can play from just outside the cage. I asked them how many “fingers” the bird has. My son said, “Three.” A few minutes later, “Mommy, I was wrong. There are three in the front and one in the back.” I congratulated him for good observation skills.

They should sleep well tonight after this day spent mostly outside.

Wonderful Wednesday – Mosquitoes

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The Handbook of Nature Study blog challenged us to study mosquitoes. I hesitated because I really dislike mosquitoes. But how long can I keep avoiding Ms. Barbara’s challenges?

We live in a heavily wooded neighborhood and, as such, mosquitoes abound. One morning I got bitten 10 times on my legs while watering my small garden. Not fun.

Another day I wore long pants and long sleeves for protection, in 88F weather, and I still got bitten, through clothing.

Meanwhile, I am trying to rise to the challenge of spending at least two hours outside with the kids, every day. I have been spraying our clothes with repellents of the “deep woods” variety and mosquitoes still bite us.  Continue reading »

My husband finally found a solution that has minimized them drastically though. Thank God for my husband. He sprays the gutters with an outdoor bug spray he picked up at Lowe’s. With all the rain we have had lately, there is some standing water inside the gutters and that’s where the eggs must be.

I have also noticed that this measure has cut back on gnats.

Another observation: to have a bug-free experience outside, it seems that early afternoon works the best.

I printed out a mosquito coloring page and let the children decorate it. I also asked them if they like mosquitoes or not. They said “no” immediately and then added, “because they bite.”

I have talked to experts in essential oils and, in all honesty, they told me their oils do not work 100% either.

After I get bitten, I immediately apply hydrocortisone cream and it helps.

As I read more about mosquitoes, I was reminded that it is only the females that bite. Hmmm… I’m not sure how I feel about that… I realize they are busy mothers looking for quick meals, but do I really have to be the one providing it?

Wonderful Wednesday – 4 Facts on Rhododendrons

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Back in April, our rhododendrons were putting on a show. Their explosion of color soothed our eyes, tired after a long winter.

We have several rhododendron bushes around the yard, mostly purple, my favorite color.

Our neighborhood has many of these flowers, too. My eyes feast on them as I take my morning walks.

They finished showing off for the year though. The leathery leaves will stay with us through the winter, but the flowers are gone for now.

Rhododendron flowers

Some of the showy rhododendron flowers in our yard, plus a bee

Here are four facts on rhododendrons:  Continue reading »

1. Rhododendron means “rose tree” in Greek.

2. It’s an evergreen.

3. Its wood is poisonous. Animals stay away from it. So should people. I have some friends who camped a few years ago and burned rhododendron wood. The smoke made them so sick, they thought they were going to die.

4. The rhododendron leaves will tell you how cold it is outside. The more folded into themselves they are, the colder it is. No need to spend money on an outside thermometer if you have a rhododendron bush outside your window.

And there you have it, a quick nature study on rhododendrons.

Wonderful Wednesday – Funny Trees

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Yesterday was a turning point for me in my homeschooling career. A medium size one.

I have been simplifying our routines and tweaking our daily schedule and transitions ever since we started. Yesterday, I continued in the same direction by deciding we will not be doing the Junior Ranger Program this year at the Great Smoky Mountain National Park.

Also, I decided to cut out the Summer Reading Program at the Sevierville Library. We will still do the SRP at the Gatlinburg Library, but only two seminars out of four. (For the life of me, I can’t remember why I thought doing two Summer Reading Programs would be good.)

After we spent the morning at home, I took the kids to the Gatlinburg Trail in the National Park. We experienced 90 blissful minutes wading in the river, chasing butterflies, listening to the river, and enjoying the fresh air and sunshine. That’s what summer should feel like.

In that particular spot, I even have cell coverage. So if I needed help or wanted to quickly check emails, I could. We will definitely play there again.

I took pictures of some funny trees. I have passed by these trees so, so many times.

Tree with a double trunk in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

This tree makes me think of siblings separated after an argument

But it was only yesterday that I actually saw their funny shape. It’s only after we open our eyes wide, i.e. to the things that matter, that we notice certain details around us.

Elephant-looking tree in the Great Smoky Mountain National Park

Doesn’t this tree look like an elephant?

My kids chased this one butterfly that kept coming back to play with them. They called it Mashi (think Japanese spelling if you don’t know how to pronounce it) and thought it was a girl because of its color – lavender. When a second identical butterfly flew by and allowed them to chase it, they decided it was Mashi’s twin sister and called it Mangsten.

This morning, as we came out of the house, a lavender butterfly fluttered in the yard. They started yelling, “Mashi came home to be with us.” That’s the kind of stuff I want my summers to be made of. Not rushing from activity to activity.

Here’s to a beautiful, relaxed, intentional parenting kind of summer!

Wonderful Wednesday – Roses

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The Outdoor Hour Challenge last Friday was about earth worms. Hmmm… I don’t want to go there. I chose roses instead because, well, they have inundated my life in the last seven days.

Our rose bushes have exploded. Then, my husband came home with yellow roses, too.

My husband and I are celebrating our ninth anniversary tomorrow. He brought me a dozen yellow roses and a card.

Yellow roses, baby breath

Bouquet of yellow roses and baby’s breath my husband brought me for our ninth anniversary

He said we already have a garden full of pink roses. And, we do.  Continue reading »

Pink rose bush in front of home

One of the many rose bushes in our garden

He wanted to bring me something different.

Somebody once said that flowers mean a lot to a wife especially because flowers have no lasting presence or usefulness. We wives tend to be a little too concerned with practicality and usefulness. We suffer from the Martha syndrome. Not Martha Stewart. The Bible Martha.

Flowers remind us to take time and smell the roses. I could not resist the cliché. Sorry.

As homeschooling mothers, we may be tempted, for instance, to redeem the time and gather up the fragments (or moments) and turn everything into a lesson.

Like, the rose is beautiful but its thorns warn us that looks can be deceiving, not to mention dangerous. Or whatever.

It does not have to be that way.

Our children need a mom, too. Not just a teacher.

That’s why I like these nature studies. They are observations. Moments in time we share with our children looking at pretty things.

I was surprised to find out that Anna Comstock did not include roses in her Handbook of Nature Study. I wonder if she felt roses were too well-known to be studied.

Here’s what I know about roses: rose petals, besides being beautiful, are edible. So are the seed pods the flowers leave behind once they wither. These seed pods are known as rose hips.

I grew up eating rose hip jam in Romania. I have never made it. Maybe one day, when my kids get older, I can enlist their help to make this one.

Until then, we enjoy admiring roses.

Wonderful Wednesday – Irises

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The Outdoor Hour Challenge last Friday was about snakes. We will keep it in mind, should we ever run into a snake. I am not necessarily scared of or grossed out by snakes, but I would not want to seek them out either.

So, instead, I chose a subject that is closer to my heart and my house – the iris. Another name for it is, of course, fleur-de-lys (also spelled fleur-de-lis), which translates to flower of lily. The word iris means rainbow in Greek – because the flower comes in so many colors.

White and purple iris flower

Iris in my garden

We live in a home built by my husband’s grandparents. We remodeled it and its garden during our first year of marriage, before moving in.

We kept some of the plants and trees, which had been planted by my husband’s grandmother. Among them, a patch of iris plants – white and purple and perfect in every way. This is the time of the year they are in full bloom.

We enjoy these flowers for their sheer beauty, as well as for the memory of our children’s great-grandmother, although neither I nor the children ever got to meet her. To bring it all full-circle, my mom re-planted some of the irises along our driveway last year, when she came to visit.

A symbol of French royalty since Clovis, the iris can be found on coats of arms throughout France and England. Apparently, English kings wanted to show their claim to France by putting an iris onto their coat of arms.

The fleur-de-lys survives as a symbol on some coats of arms today, like those of the King of Spain, the Duke of Luxembourg and the House of Bourbon. Incidentally, Queen Anne of Romania belongs to the House of Bourbon.

White and purple irises

Irises in our garden

They say French kings received an iris instead of a scepter during their coronation ceremony. As such, it is a symbol of perfection, light and life.

Anna Comstock says the iris contains a great lesson for all of us “because nothing in it is what it seems.” The pistil looks like leaves, the leaves look like stems and the petals hide under the sepals. Somehow this arrangement creates perfect tunnels for bees to do their work.

The fleur-de-lis is the national flower of France. It is also the state flower of Tennessee, where I live. Two hours away from my home, in Greeneville, TN, they have an annual Iris Festival. In fact, it is this weekend, should you want to go.

For other Wonderful Wednesday nature study posts, click here.

Wonderful Wednesday – Cat Nature Study

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We have a cat and we study it almost every day by virtue of sharing our lives with him. The kids have learned how to feed him. They are not coordinated enough to pour water in his bowl. Or, at least, my fear of spills will not allow me to allow them that chore yet. The kids also open the door for the cat to go in and out of the house.

Large male tabby cat

Our 18-lb, 10-year-old male cat, Izzy

Our cat lost its mommy in a storm and stumbled upon somebody’s porch. That somebody knew somebody who knew my husband was a cat lover. My husband took the kitten in and called him Izzy.

One year later, I came along. I am not particularly fond of cats. In fact, I am allergic to cat dander.

My first thought when I saw Izzy was, “I need to tolerate this one.” But I did more than tolerate him. One afternoon, as I was sitting on the couch in the living room, Izzy walked over to me and got into my lap. He started purring and suckling on my pant leg. He thought I was his mommy. He left a wet spot on my pant leg and won me over.

I have written two books about him, but never edited them properly. I had children instead.

We took some magnifying glasses to Izzy’s fur for this particular cat nature study. My son noticed a dried leaf shaped as letter “P” caught in Izzy’s fur. He did not need a magnifying glass for that. With all the catkins outside, our cat is bound to pick up some.

Children observing cat with magnifying glasses

My children observing our cat, Izzy

We made two notebooking pages about Izzy. I gave my daughter a simple blank piece of paper and we glued the cat study topper from the Outdoor Hour Challenge May newsletter. For my son, I printed out the mammal notebooking page from the same blog. I filled both of them out as we talked about cats. My children are still too young to write themselves.

As I read the Handbook of Nature Study to prepare for this lesson, I was surprised to read the recommendation that we train cats not to hunt for birds. I would have thought that a naturalist would want a cat to follow its natural instincts no matter what those may be.

We have seen our cat hunt for mice. We have observed his fear the day after a black bear visited our yard. We have had to deal with putting away dead mice, moles and birds – always daddy’s job. We have had to brush his fur or put up with cat hair on our sofas. Sometimes, both.

I have sneezed many times not realizing I had just sat in our cat’s latest favorite spot.

When the vet diagnosed our cat as a diabetic last year, we could not put him to sleep. Instead, we chose to give him shots.

I do not know how I got the courage to give him his shots, but I did. The kids watched me and daddy as we administered the cat’s shots and were amazed by how passive the cat was. We were, too.

We also fed him less and let him go outside more. Exercise, a leaner diet, plus the insulin shots did the trick.

His blood sugar levels went back down and he did not act as sluggishly as before. He actually got better. The vet declared him healed.

All this to say, we love our cat and study him daily in our homeschool.

For other Wonderful Wednesday nature studies, please click here.

Wonderful Wednesday – Apple Tree Study

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Inspired by the Handbook of Nature Study blog, we observe and study nature by following their weekly challenges. For the apple tree, we went a few streets over in our neighborhood to look more closely at a crab apple tree. I go by it every morning on my walks.

Then, we went to an apple orchard. We spent about 15 minutes observing the tree, its bark, leaves, dried up flowers, baby apples, areas where large branches had been cut, and overall looks. We noticed the bored holes, which could be the work of either a beetle or a wookpecker.

We also observed the surroundings: a bee gathering pollen from the carpet of yellow flowers under the apple tree, a small “area rug” of lavender flowers, the taller trees from across the street (not apple trees), the younger apple trees in another part of the orchard, the sky. We also made note of the weather: it was sunny, hot, and windy.

On the way back home, we ran an errand at the bank. My daughter asked me to get some hot chocolate, which our bank offers to their clients for free. Next to the hot chocolate machine was a large bowl of red apples. I got them an apple instead of hot chocolate. I could not have planned this better.

In the car, we listened to Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 – my daughter’s request. It has long been a favorite of mine and I play it often. She calls it “that other music, not Handel.”

When we got home, I glued the apple tree topper from the HNS April newsletter on a blank piece of paper, made some notes and had my daughter draw the apple tree. Such a peaceful homeschooling day. Nature soothes.

Cattail Nature Study And A New Series

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Last week I came across a cattail nature study on the inspiring Handbook of Nature Study blog. It totally rekindled my desire for nature studies with my children. Now that nature seems more friendly, with rising temperatures, I feel ready to take them outside for observations of the natural world.

Boy with winter cattails

My son with a winter cattail

My husband helped me so much on this project. We live in the mountains. This is not Louisiana. I was positive we had no marsh lands and cattails in Gatlinburg. I was thinking I might have to drive one hour, to Knoxville, where they have a few lakes and ponds.

Then, as we drove back from church, my husband spotted cattails – five minutes from our house! We have been driving by that road every week and I never noticed cattails. That’s what nature study does for you. It improves your awareness of natural things.

I read the recommended pages from Handbook of Nature Study. I took a camera and not much else.

As it turned out, both my children slipped into the creek. But we had fun. I laughed it off and learned to bring a change of clothes next time, even if I think they will not follow me down there. Which, by the way, was the plan. Daddy said there might be snakes, so I was going to be the only one to go down to the creek and marsh land to collect a cattail.

Children playing by a creek

My children playing by the creek next to the cattails

We noticed the cattails were dried up and the fluff had completely exploded – winter cattails. Right in front of them, we noticed green stems and leaves – spring cattails. So we got two seasons in one visit. How cool is that?

Cattails in Gatlinburg

Spring and winter cattails along Glades Rd. in Gatlinburg, TN.

At home, I had them fill out a notebooking page by drawing. They are too young to be expected to write about the experience. I wrote a few things for them, but they enjoyed drawing the creek, the sky, and the cattails. Looking forward to our next adventure.

Cattail Notebooking Page

My son’s cattail notebooking page. He drew and I wrote.

We also found a nest of some sort in the ground. It felt pretty hard. It looks like the perfect home for a snake, don’t you think?

Snake hole around cattails

We found this on the ground around the cattails: a snake hole maybe?

This post is the first in a new series on Homeschool Ways, about our nature studies. We will call it Wonderful Wednesday because the natural world, God’s creation, is wonderful.