September 29

Continental Divides

The Continental Divide, which runs along the Rocky Mountains, separates watersheds in the contiguous 48 states of America that drain into the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans. The Great Divide stretches from Alaska to the tip of South America and runs through the states of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Colorado, and New Mexico. Click here for more information from National Geographic.

Click here to watch full screen.

Click here for an additional video about worldwide divides.

September 27

Forest Fires

Our original vacation plans were to travel from Livingston to Missoula and then onto Whitefish, Montana and Glacier National Park. However, the smoke from forest fires burning in several states prevented us from accomplishing our plans. The air quality was just too poor.

The debate on whether to extinguish forest fires, often caused by lightning strikes in Yellowstone National Park, was an interesting one. In the past, attempts were always made to put out fires in the park, but thoughts have changed on whether that is the healthiest choice for a thriving ecosystem. The National Park System permits lightning-ignited fires to burn in Yellowstone if they are not a threat to human life or property. Yellowstone’s fire season usually lasts from July through late September.

Click here to view full screen.

Lodgepole pines fill the forests of Yellowstone. The cones of these pines are tightly sealed with resin. As a result, the cones can’t open unless they’re exposed to very high temperatures, like that of a forest fire. The cones may be on the trees for years before there is enough heat to open them. Can you see the saplings in the photo below? Dead and burned trees are not removed because they provide food and shelter for animals and nutrients for the soil. These tall, straight pines were used to construct tipis by native people, hence the name lodgepole pine.

We were told by rangers that many large animals, like elk and moose, benefit from the open spaces created by the fires. By removing the forest overstory, fire also promotes habitat diversity.

There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1) 

September 26


I discovered thistles growing in the fields of Wyoming and Montana. These plants are covered with prickly leaves and stems which protect them from herbivores, but thistles are still valuable to animal life. Pollinators extract nectar from their flowers, and birds eat the seeds and use the down for nests. I’ve always thought thistles were enticing, but ranchers and farmers think of them as troublesome weeds that are difficult to remove because of their prickles and stubborn root system.

Click here to watch full screen.

Thistles are the national symbol of Scotland. They are considered noble flowers. Click here to watch full screen.

September 22


On a recent trip to Montana and Wyoming, I saw magpies for the first time. They were everywhere and since I knew very little about this species, I did some research.

Magpies are about 18 inches long and are easily recognized by their black and white plumage. Wings and longs tails are iridescent green, blue, or purple. Magpies, related to crows, are omnivores and eat a varied diet. They are thought to be intelligent animals capable of complex thinking, A group pf magpies is called a parliament. Magpies mate for life and females lay about six eggs per clutch. Click here for additional information.

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September 21

Birch Trees

I grew up in New York and loved the white (paper) birch trees. I saw them again on a recent trip to Montana. Although there are 60 species of birch trees, paper birch trees, deciduous hardwoods, are easily identified by the peeling white bark. Brainstorm why the trunk may have black markings with your children or students. These black streaks are lenticels and help gases move between the air and tree. Birch trees grow quickly but are short-lived. They often have multiple trunks and prefer moist habitats. Native people used sheets of bark to cover canoes and wigwams.

Leaves have double toothed margins and turn yellow each autumn.

The small dry fruit grow in clusters on drooping catkins that turn brown as they mature.

There are simple ways for students to create birch trees, like the ones below made by Mrs. Lilge’s PreK class. Place painter’s tape on your paper to form the outline of the birch trees. Press the edges down well. Older students may want to place some trees in the foreground and others in the background after drawing the horizon. Design trees of various widths by overlapping the tape. Remove the painter’s tape after blending paint across the paper and over the tape to create a sunset. Add the lenticels to complete the trees with a black marker or crayon. Note: Blend paint for the sunset with three colors, such as orange, yellow, and red, or blue, purple, and red.


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September 19

Why Is It Important to Spend Time Outdoors?

                                                               Wordmark animation fall

Designed by education experts and loved by all families.

I’ve previously featured Tinkergarten’s blog with my online community. I share their fundamental belief that spending time in nature is invaluable and life-changing for adults and children. The following report details research that supports this conviction.

Click here to go to the article with links to additional information.

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September 19

Do You Know the Answer?

I discovered these holes in the leaves below when I returned home from vacation. I assume an insect made them, but I don’t know of any that leave a pattern like this. Also, do you notice how the leaf has turned red around each hole, almost as if it is bleeding?

Maybe it was the very hungry caterpillar! Click here for Safeshare.

See the source image

September 14

Simple or Compound?

Let’s continue our study of leaves. (See below for previous posts.) Trees can also be identified by whether they have simple or compound leaves. The blade or lamina is the flat part of a leaf. A simple leaf has just one blade on each petiole.

A compound leaf is composed of three or more leaflets that attach to one petiole. A leaf may have an odd or even number of leaflets. If there is an odd number, one leaflet appears at the top of the stem. Another way to distinguish between a leaflet and a simple leaf is to check where the leaf/leaflet joins the stem. If there is a node, then you have a simple leaf, but if there isn’t a node, you are observing a leaflet. My science students saw a connection between compound words and compound leaves.

One leaf with leaflets

On your next nature walk, look for compound and simple leaves.

Click here for a fun activity to review all we’ve learned about leaves- venation, petioles, and margins. Place leaves where children can refer to them when they draw. Click here for another art activity to reinforce leaf concepts. They make nice cards too.

Use this video to review what we’ve learned about leaves! Click here for the Safeshare link.

I used hula hoops that I borrowed from my PE teacher to create large Venn diagrams on the floor. Use them to classify leaves by more than one attribute now that we’ve learned about petioles, venation, margins, and the difference between simple and compound leaves.  Another game for older students would be to place a collection of leaves on the table and ask your child/student to find a leaf you describe, for example a simple, serrated leaf with pinnate venation.

Previous posts about attributes of leaves:

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September 13


Let’s continue our study of trees by observing leaf veins (venation). Why do leaves have veins? Brainstorm with your students. How do they compare to veins in a human body? These leaves from plants in my garden have striking veins.

Veins transport liquids and nutrients to leaf cells and carry the products of photosynthesis back to the rest of the tree. Plant veins are also strong enough to support the leaf and help it collect sunlight.

Are veins arranged in a pattern? The central vein is called the midrib. When veins branch out in opposite directions from the midrib to the leaf margin, something like a feather, it is referred to as pinnate venation.

Palmate venation occurs when veins radiate in a fan shape from the leaf petiole. It looks similar to the palm of your hand.

There are also a few trees that have parallel venation. This is an example of parallel venation in my purple heart plant.

Another fun way to see veins is to do a wet mount slide of a leaf specimen and then observe it under a microscope. Third and fourth graders easily completed this investigation with a variety of thin leaves in my science lab. Click here to learn how to make a wet mount slide.

Veins are found in other parts of a plant too:

Click here for more photos.

Click here for an investigation from a previous science lab about leaf veins.

Where else can you find branching patterns? Rivers, lightning, and mycelium are some examples. More on those later!

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