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 – Veggie Garden Update

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I have a small garden where I play “Farmer.” It’s only 4’x8′ and I don’t expect to feed my family from it. But if we can get some veggies every year while the children experience the cycle of sowing, weeding, watering and harvesting, I am happy.

This year, we already learned some lessons from it. Now, I’m back with an update.  Continue reading »

It has been raining almost every day for the past three weeks. I have not had to water my garden. Yeah!

I did have to clean up after our cat, who had been using our garden patch as a litter box. Yuck!

My husband came up with a solution: plastic fencing that can be wrapped around the four poles of the garden bed. I knew those poles would come in handy one day…

So here’s my veggie garden in full swing, with the new fencing around it.

Veggie Garden - Summer

My small garden is producing a lot this year.

 

Our one and only blackberry bush

Blackberry bush - almost ripe

We picked about 15 blackberries today and, from the looks of it, we will have more

 

Our one and only grape vine

Green grapes on the vine

This would be the first year we would enjoy grapes from our backyard

 

One of our blueberry bushes

Green Blueberries

We always get lots and lots of blueberries

 

A baby cucumber

Tiny cucumber

I showed this baby cucumber to my son. He touched it, got hurt and blurted, “It’s prickly!” all before I could warn him.

 

Tiny tomatoes

Green tomatoes on the plant

It looks like we will get some tomatoes this year.

 

Tiny peppers

Tiny green peppers on the plant

We love green peppers and grow them every year. They are so sweet compared to grocery store peppers.

 

These pictures are quite the metaphor for children. Growing, developing, not yet fully matured, but perfect in every way. And cute.


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 – Planting a Veggie Garden

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Every spring, I buy some vegetable plants and start another garden in my 4’x8′ enclosed patch in the backyard. The whole thing started when my son was one. I felt inspired to teach him where foods come from. He is six years old now.

I have learned a thing or two every year from working in the garden. About gardening and, also, about my own character. Lately, about homeschooling, too.

This year, I have already gleaned two lessons:

1. Don’t (trans)plant too early. We planted our veggie garden in mid-April. A week later, hail and snow killed it, even though we covered it with a sheet. When it’s cold, it’s cold.  Continue reading »

Plus, the rule of thumb is, plant outside after Mother’s Day (second Sunday in May). But we got in a rush…

Children are like plants. You take children out of the warmth of their home and they freeze up in the cold of school buildings.

Pepper plant shriveled up in my first garden this year, after hail and snow damage

Pepper plant shriveled up in my first garden this year, after hail and snow damage

If you don’t wait until they have had all the mothering needed, well, you will suffer some consequences. Wait for Mother’s Day – the symbol of nurturing.

I have had several parents tell me how their warm and bubbly five-year-old child went to kindergarten and became a cold, withdrawn person as the weeks went on.

Everybody is asking, “What about socialization?” from us homeschoolers. I think we should ask these same people the same question about their children, who meander the jungle of social interactions all alone, for seven hours a day, five days a week. No wonder children are exhausted by the time they come home. No wonder so many of them become peer-dependent. No wonder the family unit has become a joke in most cultures these days.

2. Don’t water inappropriately (while the sun is still shining). The day we re-planted the garden, at the end of May, I watered. It was around 5pm. I thought it would be late enough in the day. It was not. The sun was still shining and it was 77F. A lot of the leaves got burned by the sun, due to the magnifying effect of water on the leaves.

In my rush to get the project done and checked off my list, I forgot to take into consideration the conditions I was working with.

How do I apply this to homeschooling? Well, in our zeal to make our children Ivy League-ready, we might teach them too much, too soon. Absolutely we must quench their thirst for knowledge. Sure, we must challenge them. But too much knowledge, too many demands, too early will lead to burnout.

Vegetable garden in a small enclosed area

My second garden this year.

I have trimmed the burnt leaves. Many of the plants seem to be doing fine, but some will be lost or not produce as much. The same goes for children who get burned out with too many worksheets.

In case you are wondering, I planted tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, squash, and watermelon.

Here’s hoping that my garden will survive and thrive.


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.