Indoor and Outdoor Nature Looms

Nature loom close-up photo nature, earth day craft

Nature Loom close-up

Outdoor Nature Loom wrapped around a tree
Outdoor Nature Loom

These looms are the perfect way to connect nature and art, and a lovely nature craft to celebrate Earth Day! Earth Day is a day that was created to promote awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment and occurs each year on the 22nd of April. It is the largest, most celebrated environmental event worldwide! Earth day was established by Gaylord Nelson in 1970 (we’ll be posting more about it on Sunday!).

indoor nature loom on wall
Indoor Nature Loom

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”  Gaylord Nelson

Supplies gathered including kite string and sticks
Supplies

Supplies

-Sticks for loom base
-String, yarn, twine, rope, cable, fiber, anything you can use as a cord. We used kite string.
-Scissors
-Nature hunt items- flowers, twigs, grasses, bamboo, stems, leaves etc.

nature loom set-up outside

Instructions

1.) Make your loom.

I had my boys go out and hunt for sticks. Once we had a good pile of sticks, I showed them how lash them together. I had them twist and turn our kite string around and around two sticks to make them perpendicular. My children are a little younger so I explained that we would be making the letter L with the sticks.  This was much easier for my 7 year old, it was a bit frustrating for my younger son so I made one for him while he was happily playing around us while we made our L shapes.

Once we had two L shapes I told my son we were going to connect them to make a square shape. He connected the two L’s and made a square. You can make your loom any shape you prefer, any shape works!! We ended up making another one with a curved stick we found. We tied on in the middle, my son held it up while I wrapped and wrapped string around until we thought it was perfect. (see pictures)

nature loom example

Once you have your shape, tie a piece of string to one of the corners. Make sure to give yourself enough string to make plenty of loops for your loom. You will then wrap around and around the square to get your loom ready for weaving.  (A tip to keep the string from sliding is to wrap it around the stick twice before moving on to the next line. We didn’t do this and our strings were not anchored and would slide around, but still worked great!) When you are happy with how it looks tie it off onto one of the sticks to anchor.  I let my son do this independently so it is not perfectly straight or very taut but it doesn’t have to be, as long as you have a way to weave in and out it will work. I love how his turned out and he was so proud of it. I was worried it wasn’t going to be taut enough for the treasures to stay put but it all worked out.  I was there to lend a hand if he needed it. I did have to help a bit with tying them off and holding the base while he wrapped but he did great!

Your loom is ready for the next step!

nature treasures ready to weave

Nature hunt!! Go outside and play, collecting treasures as you go.  We collected bamboo, big leaves, little leaves, flowers, twigs, grasses, shells, feathers, rocks anything that caught their eyes.  While we were nature hunting we also picked up trash. It still amazes me that people litter?? I just don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will.   We make it a point to pick up trash every time we go to a park and I encourage you to do the same. It only takes a couple minutes and you leave the environment better off than when you arrived, it feels good.  Just make sure to wash those hands when you are done!

the weaving process

Once you have your items start weaving them throughout your loom.  The results are wonderful. We made a couple looms and once I was done taking pictures I hung them outside so that we can continue to weave in treasures as we find them.

outdoor nature loom

I have seen these looms a couple of times and always was a little intimidated by them but don’t be.  We made the looms one day and did our nature hunt the next day. My sons couldn’t wait to put in their treasures!

indoor nature loom

Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

Planting Seeds

pxhere.com

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are heading into spring and many of us are looking forward to growing vegetables in our own summer gardens. In my state we have a Cooperative Extension Service that provides lots of information and offers activities about farming in my area. With snow still on the ground, I’m dreaming of planting my garden. Since I’m in the city, I’m planning to start small this year with a few tomato plants in big pots, and some spinach and onions in a small bed. I look forward to my tiny harvest of spaghetti sauce!

pxhere.com

We know that human activity does pollute the environment and that it can cause climate changes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one way of helping to limit climate change. We also now know that driving a car is a major cause of climate change as the car emissions release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. One way greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced is by growing one’s own food so that driving to market doesn’t happen so often. So, planting seeds is a great start to reducing the pollution of our planet!

Photo from Pixaby

Wishful thinking doesn’t make my garden grow, so first I have to buy some seeds and soil. Since my growing season is so short, I have to start my plants indoors. Many of you using the Oak Meadow science curriculum are planting seeds, recording their growth, and also exploring and reporting on different types of soils. This website from the Smithsonian National Museum of History is awesome: Dig It! The Secrets of Soil. I compost vegetable and fruit matter so I have some good soil to start with. I’ll also purchase some organic soil from a local landscape supplier to mix in. You may have studied the plant kingdom in the Oak Meadow 6th grade science curriculum and learned the difference between gymnosperms and angiosperms. I’ll be planting some angiosperms! My south facing windows will be a perfect place for starting my plants.

This student found a good spot outside to start the seeds!

If you are planting your own garden, and when you have a break from your farming, here’s a fun game to play to maintain a sustainable farm that grows healthy crops and reduces emissions! You might also enjoy reading Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds. Visit his website to learn more about this. 

What are you planting? What are some ways that you help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your community?

FUN With WORDS!

Photo Credit: Morgan Wiebke

I woke UP this morning, and after getting UP, watching the sun come UP and drinking UP my cUP of tea, I began thinking UP words. UP on top of my list was the word, UP. “What’s UP with UP?” I asked myself. If you look UP the word, UP, in the dictionary, you will discover that its origins come from Old English and its first known use was before the 12th century. It can be identified as a noun, a verb, an adverb, an adjective or a preposition; and as you can tell from reading this blogpost, it can also be used as an idiomatic expression.

upwords_lrg
Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

There are so many ways to use the word, UP, in your vernacular. Here is a fun blogsite that brings us UP to date with all the ways we can use the word, UP. Now it’s your turn to come UP with your own playful word. It’s totally UP to you, but what I know is that this two-letter word has brightened UP my day! So start UP your day by smiling UP to your ears. Look UP and read UP on your favorite word of the day. Then load UP The 5th Dimension song, “UP, UP and Away“, pull UP a chair and write a poem with your UPstanding children using the UP word family – or – you might even come UP with the idea of playing a word-building board game such as “Scrabble” or “UPwords”!

Photo Credit: Ojeda Family

Words can be FUN and weird, especially in the English language! The Oak Meadow coursework offers a variety of ways to have fun with words. There are also many books to share with growing readers, such as My Fun With Words – 2 Volumes: A-K & L-Z , written by James Artel and illustrated by Geoffrey Brittingham. “The Book of Pooh – Fun with Words” is a sweet movie about words with all our favorite A. A. Milne characters. There are also enjoyable games and word exercises to strengthen your children’s reading and writing skills, such as the 10 Word Games for Kids.

So, thumbs UP for the words that keep us UP on top of the world!

 

 

 

Wild Birds Unlimited

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

“My favorite weather is bird chirping weather.” – Terri Guillemets

As folklorist, filmmaker and singer-songwriter Dillon Bustin once wrote: Oh, my friends, it’s springtime again. Buds are swelling on every limb. The peepers do call; small birds do sing, and my thoughts return to gardening.

Yes! Spring is on the march, and for many residents in the northern hemisphere, the signs are showing. Even if it still feels like winter where you live, you can watch for the signs that promise spring is on its way. Where I live, there is a fresh scent of spring wafting through the air. The trees are budding, the peepers are peeping, the songbirds are trilling, and the sighting of migration northward has begun. Our feathered friends are even demonstrating activities in preparation of constructing or reconstructing nest sites for their pending broods. The red-breasted robin is also displaying signs of insanity by knocking into windows, as it thinks its reflection is another male in the territory.

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

The other day, I was visiting a friend who lives in the heart of the country. The warmer spring winds were blowing around dusk, and I suddenly heard the courtship song of the American Woodcock. This ritualistic land and sky dance is like no other and is rarely observed. It felt like a treasured gift, and I reflected on the times I have witnessed this mating dance with my own family and how every spring we would read  the chapter on “April – Sky Dance” from Aldo Leopold’s book, A Sand County Almanac. It’s worth reading!

Oak Meadow’s Kindergarten through grade 4 science lessons include activities on studying bird behavior and observing birds in their natural habitats. The second-grade lessons even encourage the students to try their hands at constructing bird nests. If you are interested in learning more about birds through stories, I highly recommend Shelli Bond Pabis’s list of Storybooks for Young Bird Lovers.

Here is a fun fact for all you bird lovers… did you know that the world’s oldest known breeding bird is an albatross named Wisdom? She lives in the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge in Hawaii, and at age 67, she is currently raising her recently hatched young chick.

If you are an avid birdwatcher, Bill Thompson, Editor of Bird Watcher’s Digest, has listed the “Top 10 Long-awaited Signs of Spring”.

Happy Bird Watching!

Recycled Spring Bouquet

Recycled Egg Carton Flower Bouquet Craft
Recycled Egg Carton Flower Bouquet Craft

Who else is ready for Spring?!? We have some fresh blooms and it is so exciting, beautiful, and awakening! It inspired us to make a flower craft. A great Easter gift, Spring craft or even a Mother’s day card!

“Came the Spring with all its splendor, All its birds and all its blossoms, All its flowers, and leaves, and grasses.” – Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

craft supplies for recycled egg carton spring bouquet

Materials

Cardboard egg carton
Scissors
Paint – we used washable tempera paint
Background paper – we used a previous art project that was done on watercolor paper. It’s best to use a thicker paper will hold weight better
Construction paper – for stems and vase
Glue

cut up egg carton to form flowers

1. I cut the egg carton before giving them to my children because its kind of tricky and I have smaller kiddos. Great hand work for older kids, even for me!! Cut off the round part of the egg carton so you just end up with the oval/bowl portion. I cut mine off and then cleaned them up after I had them separated from the whole.

2. Paint your egg carton bowls to your hearts desire. We had fun mixing red, pink, and purple with peach and then added two yellow flowers for a pop of color. This part gets a little messy for the smaller children so we did it outside but a drop cloth would also work!

construction paper flower stems

3. Construction paper for stems and vase. You could even have them design their vase to their liking. We left ours blank because of the busy background. Another option would be to use another previous art project. I have a pile of art that I love to pull from. Of course I didn’t think of that until too late but in hindsight I would have used an old project for the vase! We may have to make another one…

background art for flower bouquet

4. Background- we used a previous project for our background. I’m always looking for ways to use previous art because I have a ton of it! This particular background was on watercolor paper and worked perfectly because you need a heavier weighted paper. I didn’t try but I’m sure a good cardstock would work as well. If you don’t have any previous projects to use this would be a fun activity in itself! Design a background for your flower vase.

finished flower bouquet art

5. Assemble with glue and let dry.

6. Enjoy your beautiful Spring bouquet!

Wild Weather!

Tulips and Snow

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

-Mark Twain

In the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived, but many parts of the U.S. can’t seem to shake off winter. No matter what season of the year, strange weather events occur in every corner of the globe. In Oak Meadow’s coursework, observing seasonal weather and its effect on plants and animals is a significant part of the kindergarten, first grade and second grade science lessons. In the third grade science curriculum, weather conditions are studied by tracking weather and clouds, learning about lightning and thunder, and engaging in educational activities and artistic exercises in relation to tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes (or typhoons). According to encyclopedia.com, the definition for extreme weather is a weather event such as snow, rain, drought, flood, or storm that is rare for the place where it occurs.

For additional information on weather, meteorologist Crystal Wicker created an informational site for children called Weather Wiz Kids. Kids Discover also created an interactive iPad app for kids, which displays the most extreme forms of weather on Earth. It includes an interactive cross-section of a hurricane, HD videos of tornadoes and lightning, and the science behind extreme climates.

In addition to the serious side of extreme weather, you might like to read the book, Thunder Cake, written by Patricia Polacco. It is a heartwarming and beautifully written story about Patricia (the author) when she was a young girl, and how she overcame the fear of storms with the help of her grandmother. You can also introduce some fun ways we use the weather through idioms and phrases, such as under the weather, weather the storm, or fair-weather friends. It might be a great time to include a spelling and vocabulary exercise on the difference between weather, whether and wether.

The wonders of weather are wonderful!

 

No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.  ~Proverb

bluebell field in England

Bluebell Field in England (photo used under Creative Commons license)

Happy March Equinox Everyone!

Humankind’s imagination is as vast as the solar system we live in! Out of our imagination comes tools for working, farming, and building. If we let our imaginations soar we become inventors. In fact, inventive thinking and problem solving is something we do everyday. We see a problem and come up with a solution. In the Oak Meadow 5th grade science curriculum, students study technology and design and work on their own inventions.  It’s so much fun to see what they imagine and bring into the world! They construct things that help with a job around the house, create toys for pets, and design many other practical and useful items. Humankind just seems to long for answers to questions!

Long ago astronomers sought answers to the many questions about the universe. When an answer wasn’t in sight, they imagined and created stories or guidelines for their lives. They imagined stories about the stars they saw in the night sky, imagined the sun went to sleep each night, and imagined the world was flat. In future years we have come to understand more about the universe through observation. In observing the rising and setting of the sun, astronomers imagined a great dome over the Earth’s sky and called it the celestial sphere. They imagined the celestial equator as being in the middle of the north and south poles and right above the Earth’s equator. 

During the March equinox, when we have twelve hours of daylight and twelve hours of darkness, “the sun crosses the celestial equator, to enter the sky’s Northern Hemisphere. No matter where you are on Earth (except the North and South Poles), you have a due east and due west point on your horizon. That point marks the intersection of your horizon with the celestial equator, the imaginary line above the true equator of the Earth. And that’s why the sun rises due east and sets due west, for all of us, at the equinox. The equinox sun is on the celestial equator. No matter where you are on Earth, the celestial equator crosses your horizon at due east or due west.”

Photo and quote reprinted from EarthSky, written by Bruce McClure in Tonight

So get outside on March 20th and find due east and due west in your environment! It’s the first day of spring!

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Photo Credit: Leslie Daniels

St. Patrick’s Day is an enchanted time – a day to begin transforming winter’s dreams into summer’s magic. – Adrienne Cook

Every year, on March 17th, people who celebrate St. Patrick’s Day don their greenest garb, search for four-leaf clovers, eat corn beef and cabbage, dance the Irish jig, march in parades, and search for the leprechaun and his pot of gold. There are many famous Irish sayings and blessings that come to mind. One of my favorites Irish blessings is: “May you always walk in sunshine. May you never want for more. May Irish angels rest their wings right beside your door.”

Whether you are Irish or not, it can be a joyful occasion for both young and old. As a child, my favorite part of this celebration was wearing a bit of green (so I wouldn’t get pinched). I also delighted in imagining how a leprechaun might appear, as well as hearing the legend of this mythical creature.

Since St. Patrick’s Day falls on a Saturday this year, there is the expectation of extra revelry. One of the oldest worldwide celebrations is a parade. The first St. Patrick’s Day parade in the United States was held in New York City in 1762, which was before the Revolutionary War and prior to its independence. If you’d like to join one in your area, here is a list for every state and throughout the world.

If you prefer to enjoy a quieter celebration, perhaps your family would like to host a gathering that includes educational games and fun-filled activities. You could have a treasure hunt to search for a “pot of gold”. Instead of playing “Pin the Tail on the Donkey”, you could have a geography lesson by pinning the country of Ireland onto a map of Europe.

Playing group games can be a lot of fun, too. Here are the rules for “Leprechaun, Leprechaun! Where’s Your Shamrock?”

  • One child is the leprechaun, who sits in the middle of the circle with eyes closed.
  • One of the children in the circle hides the shamrock behind his/her back. It’s suggested to have an adult distribute the shamrock so everyone gets a turn.
  • Circle children say: “Leprechaun, Leprechaun! Where’s your shamrock?  Somebody has it in their pocket!  Guess who?  Maybe you?  Maybe a monkey from the zoo!  Come on, Leprechaun, find your shamrock.”.
  • Leprechaun opens eyes and has 3 guesses as to who has the shamrock.
  • Child with the shamrock becomes the next leprechaun.

A St. Patrick’s Day gathering could also include a healthy green treat, such as a Mint Patty Shake that will delight the palette of all your guests. Here is a simple recipe:

Ingredients:

  • 1⁄2 cup refrigerated coconut milk
  • 1 pint mint chip ice cream
  • 2 cups packed baby kale

Instructions:

In a blender, combine coconut milk, ice cream, and kale. Cover and blend until smooth. (Makes 2 – 8 oz. servings)

While you are sipping on your green beverage, you could share some St. Patrick Day jokes and riddles:

Q: Where can leprechauns always find gold on St. Patty’s Day?
A: In the dictionary!

Q: Why are leprechauns so concerned about global warming?
A: They’re really into green living.

Here’s a few more theme-related riddles and jokes, just for the fun of it!

At the end of the festive day, you might enjoy reading some special books about St. Patrick’s Day. The site, Fireflies + Mud Pies, has an excellent source of books that will be a delight to story readers and listeners, alike.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Mud Season

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

I’ve just walked down to the path by the river and through the woods near my house, which I haven’t walked since before the winter hit. It’s sunny today, and another snow storm is coming tomorrow. This is what late winter is famous for in New England – the drastic flip-flops back and forth between warm sun, more snowfall, more sun. But I love that about New England. I love that we have no control over nature’s actions, that we must work with what we’ve got. I love how, in late winter, we can’t tell yet what the outcome will be. Everything feels in-between.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

In New England, we call this time of year mud season (right around sugaring season!). I love mud season for all it represents–an uncovering, a messy digging, mucking through confusion and uncertainty. I love uncertainty because I love writing, and writing is about mucking through questions. It’s about walking the same old familiar path until you come to a clearing you don’t recognize, even though you’ve been there before. You suddenly feel lost, though you are standing still. You wonder how you got here. You wonder if you will ever find your way back.

Maybe it’s mud season that’s made me notice my students’ questions more lately–both the questions they ask over email, and the questions they include in their essays. Often over email, they will ask me direct questions that seek one clear, direct answer. But one correct answer is not typically what I send back. When the question relates to how they should approach a writing assignment, I can’t give them one correct answer because there is not one correct answer. I am looking for their own curiosities, their own questions, their own uncertainties. As a culture, we’re so uncomfortable with uncertainty that it has filtered into the way we teach writing–we’ve come to see essays as a space for demonstrating expert knowledge, instead of a place to write through one’s questions in order to discover truth.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

When I walk in the woods in New England in late winter, I think about the essays of Thoreau, and Emerson, and Diderot, and Rousseau. Their essays straddle autobiography, educational philosophy, and reflections on nature. They are firm in their opinions and beliefs, and express them strongly, but through writing and walking, and walking through writing, and writing through walking, they often found themselves on the next page believing the opposite of what they’d said before–expressing some new opinion they never imagined they would express.

Photo courtesy of Naomi Washer.

This is what I hope my writing classes can be for students–a late winter walk in New England, through snow and mud and sun, crunching through dried leaves and brittle twigs beside a frozen, yet melting, river. That in-between space. And so, it is this landscape that I try to conjure when my students ask me questions. Instead of telling them the one right way to write their essay, I try to conjure up the landscape that will help them come to find and see it on their own. Often, I don’t hear back from students after I have sent them my response. I wonder how they’re doing. Then, a few days letter, I receive their essay in my inbox. I open it and begin reading. In the essay, I see them walking, perhaps hesitantly at first, then more steadily, as their feet press into the leaves on the ground. A paragraph begins, and I see them standing in a familiar clearing, speaking to me. After a while, I see that we are somewhere new, somewhere I haven’t been before.

It’s Sugarin’ Season!

Photo Credit: Doughty Family

Oak Meadow’s k-8 teacher, Sarah Antel, shared this wonderful article on her thoughts regarding the tapping of maple trees. I hope you enjoy reading her wit and wisdom on the subject of the “Sugarin’ Season”!

It is hard to imagine on a subzero day, but trees will soon be ‘waking up’ as their life-giving sap starts to flow from the roots, where it was stored in the shortening days of autumn, to the leaf buds awaiting to unfurl. One tree in particular in the Mid-West and North Eastern United States and Canada provides more than beautiful scenery.

The Sugar Maple, Acer saccharum, is tapped this time of year so humans can harvest its sap; the liquid will ultimately be boiled into maple syrup or maple sugar. The Sugar Maple is tapped because its sap has the highest sugar content relative to other tree species (2%-3%). North America is the primary producer of maple syrup.  The weather is ideal for this sap flow; the nights are below freezing so sap stops flowing, and the spring days are warm and often sunny, which encourages sap flow. A weather pattern such as this prevents the tree from turning sugars to starch. Once the nights are above freezing, and the days warm into the 50s, the sap will turn and is no longer ideal for making high quality maple syrup.

1-sugar shack
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

The modern maple sugaring industry has made sugaring an efficient and scientifically driven business. However, many of the tools used now still have distant roots in their ancestry. The Native Americans were the first people to make maple syrup. There are many stories of how this wonderful tradition was discovered. One story tells of how a warrior sunk his tomahawk into a tree trunk and water flowed out; his wife then boiled meat in the water and it made syrup. Another legend tells of a Native American finding a sweet icicle formed from the liquid of a broken maple branch.

Photo Credit: Michelle Menegaz

Native Americans’ methods of making syrup were rather ingenious. Some tribes collected the sap in birch bark baskets or hollowed out logs. They allowed the liquid to freeze overnight, then they removed the layer of ice as the sugar did not freeze. Several nights of freezing and removing the ice left them with a much sweeter liquid as the sugar content became higher. Another method, which may have been paired with the ice removal, involved adding hot rocks to the sap; this would cause the sap to boil and the water to evaporate. The sugar again became concentrated and the liquid thicker.

1-home sugarin' grandpa
Photo Credit: Sarah Antel

Today, no matter a person’s level of technology, the methods of making maple syrup remain essentially unchanged. If you live in a part of the world where the weather allows for maple sugaring, you can make your own syrup with just a few buckets to collect sap in. If you do not live in a maple producing region, you can still include this rich lesson in your curriculum. Sugaring has so many cross curricular connections; one can explore density, history, measurement, botany, nutrition, geography, etc. The list goes on!

Whatever you choose to do with the information, enjoy sugaring season where ever you are, and the next time you put maple syrup on your pancakes, you will know a bit more about where your food came from.