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 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 8

Leaf Margins and Leaf Man

As I stated in a previous post, I will be sharing some leaf-themed posts as autumn approaches. The edge of a leaf is called the margin. Some leaves, mostly round or oval leaves, are even and smooth around the entire leaf edge and are referred to as entire leaves. Magnolia leaves and dogwood are familiar examples.

Other leaves are serrated or toothed. A serrated leaf has pointed teeth, like a saw, around the entire leaf edge. The serrated teeth angle up toward the tip of the leaf.

A lobed leaf has curved or rounded projections. Maple, tulip, sweetgum, and oak leaves are examples of lobed leaves.

Collect leaves and classify them according to the categories above.

As you study leaves, be sure to include the picture book, Leaf Man, by Lois Ehert. It is such a creative and engaging way to identify leaves while observing their shapes colors, sizes, venation, and margins.

Click here to view full screen.

This lovely picture book inspired me to create leaf creatures. I pressed leaves last fall by placing them between packing paper (white issue paper, paper towels. or parchment paper will work too) and placing heavy books on top of the paper. I was pleased to see the leaves held their color. It isn’t necessary to press the leaves you collect for that length of time before you work with them. Glue your creations on paper or place them behind glass in a frame. I would have either a printed image or an electronic image of an animal of choice for children to use as a reference when they create their leaf creatures.

Click here to use symmetry to learn about the margins of leaves.

Click here for more details about another fun project I did with leaves last fall.

Collect deciduous leaves that have revealed their fall colors with your children or students. Draw vases of their own design with chalk on a sidewalk. Place the leaves in the vase.

Do you want more leaf experiments? Search in the upper right corner above with key words leaf, tree, or fall.

August 30

They’re Everywhere!

I’ve posted about joro spiders before. Click here to go to that post. These arachnids are spreading all over Georgia and other neighboring states. I began seeing small spiders in early summer, but they are quickly growing to their three-inch size. Joro spiders, an invasive species originating from tropical parts of Asia, are “cousins” of the golden silk spider (banana spider) which is common in the southeastern United States.

Joro spiders are easy to identify. Their long legs and abdomens have yellow and black stripes, and a red mark is located on the underside of the female’s abdomen.

These spiders weave giant golden 3-D orb webs that can span 10 feet. The precision and design of an orb web is one of the most beautiful sights in nature!

Grateful that their bite cannot harm people or pets. After females lay their egg sacs in late summer, they will die at the first frost. Four to five hundred spiderlings will hatch next spring. Joro spiders travel via ballooning, meaning they use their silk to ride air currents. Could this explain how the Joro spider population has spread so quickly?

I’m starting to spot male spiders, smaller and less colorful than the females, in the webs.

Just added this book to my library.

Joro Spiders Don't Scare Me (Hardcover)

The construction of orb webs fascinates me, and I’ve posted about them several times. Click here to see orb webs one foggy morning and click here to see a web in a window. You can spray orb webs with a fine mist to see the details of the webs. Gently throw a leaf into the web and watch how the spider interacts with it.

The Very Busy Spider by Eric Carle is a fun story to dramatize with your young scientists. Give the actor who is the spider a ball of yarn to weave among items in your classroom or purchase a large orb web to use as the background. (Click here for an example.)

Click here to view full screen.

Students can make orb webs in a variety of ways. Create an orb web on waxed paper with glue. Let it dry and then peel it off. My students have also created webs with glue and while the glue was wet, they sprinkled glitter over them. (They look like webs glistening with water droplets.) We added a spider after the glue dried. Drawing webs is always an engaging task! Click here.

I’ve used the study of spiders to teach students to differentiate between facts and opinions in reading. Lots of people have opinions about spiders! Ideas from former students:

Spiders are invertebrates. Most spiders spin webs. Spiders have eight legs and two body parts. Most spiders have eight eyes. There are different kinds of webs.

Everyone should study spiders. Spiders are the coolest! Spiders are scary. Spiders are fun to study. Orb webs are the best kind of webs.

July 19

Pincushion Garden

I discovered pincushion gardens at the Missouri Botanical Garden. Thinking it would be fun to plant a garden like this!

Pincushion gardens were first introduced in the 1850s in England. In the 1900s, circular pincushion beds, made of succulents and cacti in intricate symmetrical designs, were planted in the Missouri Botanical Garden. Click here to learn more.

June 29


A summer night isn’t complete without fireflies!


A firefly is not a fly, but a beetle. While it is also called a lightning bug, it’s actually not a true bug either.

Like all beetles, a firefly has three body parts, six jointed legs, antennae, and compound eyes. There are also two sets of wings (one of which is hardened). A beetle’s wings meet in a straight line.

A firefly’s life cycle consists of four stages – egg, larva, pupa, and adult. Therefore, this beetle moves through complete metamorphosis. Fireflies lay their eggs in soil. An adult firefly only lives about two months.

Bioluminescence, a chemical reaction that produces light, is the attribute that attracts attention.
Not all fireflies glow, but those males that do, use their light to attract mates. The light also reminds predators that they are not tasty. Each species has their own pattern of light flashing. A firefly’s light is energy efficient because 100% of its energy goes into producing light. Even the larval stage of the firefly can glow!

Click here for full screen.

After reading Sam and the Firefly, my kindergarten students used a yellow pastel to write “good word tricks” like Gus the firefly did. Sometimes, we painted yellow words on a blue mural background. Do you see the illustrator’s errors when he drew the firefly’s body? Add the study of fireflies to a nocturnal animal unit.

Click here for full screen.

This is an entertaining and informative story that is an excellent addition to any library!

See the source image

Click here and here for fun labs about fireflies.

Simultaneous bioluminescence occurs only in Southeast Asia and the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.  Click here to learn about the synchronous firefly light show in Tennessee.

“This little light of mine, I’m gonna make it shine!”

June 27

What Do You Know About an Insect’s Body?

  What do all insects have in common?

Click here for full screen.

Design an insect but be sure it has three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen), six jointed legs attached to the thorax, and antennae. Some insects also have wings, and most insects have compound eyes. Click here to see an example of how one class created insects. There is great diversity in all these body parts. Shape, size, patterns, and colors vary. Fold the legs, wings, and antennae, so that they are 3D. Use your imagination!

To learn the parts of an insect’s body, my young scientists sang this parody to the tune of the familiar children’s song, Head, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes.

Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen (Repeat twice.)
Antennae, wings, and six jointed legs
Head, thorax, abdomen, abdomen

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June 7

Why Do These Shells Have Holes??

Why do these shells have holes in them?
Scroll below the photo to find out.

Most of these holes were made by predatory gastropods, such as snails. The snails burrow through the sand with their muscular foot until they find a bivalve. Then, they use their radula (tongue) which is covered with sharp tooth-like structures to drill a hole in the shell. Once the hole is made, they suck out the contents of the shell. When I was young, I liked to collect shells with holes, paint them, and add twine or ribbon to create necklaces.

The tiny holes in the shell on the top right were made by boring sponges. Click here for more information.

I took this photo of a snail at the touch tank at the Bailey-Matthews Shell Museum in Sanibel. It’s amazing how large a snail can be inside a shell!

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May 9


In a previous post, I shared an activity to develop observation skills while developing imagination and creativity. Click here for that post. As you walk, look for natural objects that remind you of something else in nature. I often think of living things. A great virtual activity too!

I saw this fallen tree on my walk today. I think it looks like a shark from the left or to the right, an alligator with its mouth open. What do you see?

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April 26

Lines and Scribbles

I just added this book to my library because I immediately saw a connection with nature. Some things are made from scribbles, while others are lines. You will need to think abstractly and use your imagination for this activity! Click here for the Safeshare link.

See the source image

When I went walking, I searched for scribbles and lines in the natural world. Such a great activity for observation and communication!

I saw lines:

But here, I saw scribbles:






























Take a walk with your children and identify objects that are lines and scribbles. If you enjoy this theme, check out these picture books:

Click here for the Safeshare link.

See the source image

Click here for the Safeshare link. This book could also be used during a discussion of camouflage.

See the source image

Scribbling is an important developmental skill for writing, just as crawling and babbling are stages in walking and speaking. When they scribble, children develop the small muscles in their hands, eye-hand coordination, communication skills, creativity, and imagination. Scribbles have meaning and it is the manner in which young children express their thoughts and feelings.