Embracing Winter

Meg's son, Ian, hanging a suncatcher on the tree

Meg's son, Ian, hanging a suncatcher on the tree

This is a special guest post by Oak Meadow K-6 teacher Meg Minehan.

Meg Minehan is an Oak Meadow teacher for grades K-6. She currently homeschools her own children using the Oak Meadow curriculum. Meg co-leads a monthly forest and fields program for preschoolers in Chester, Vermont. She embraces winter by cross country skiing and sweating in her woodfired sauna. 

Although all of us at Oak Meadow extol the benefits of getting children outside, we also recognize that getting young ones outdoors in winter can be quite challenging! Here are some helpful hints to help you and your children embrace these blustery, and for some of us, downright frigid days.

Perhaps most of you are familiar with the oft-quoted saying, “There’s no such thing as bad weather…” Although my feelings about that quote can change depending on my mood, the wind speed, and the type of precipitation I am about to endure, it is important to acknowledge that wearing appropriate clothing in winter is a must. These past few weeks, you may have encountered temperatures that are too cold to be safe. Most days, however, can be safely enjoyed, if only for a short time, provided you and your children are clothed appropriately. But even after investing in or, better yet, inheriting quality outdoor clothing, how do you entice children and their caretakers to go outside?

For many children, a fresh snowstorm is usually a welcome invitation to play outdoors. There are the obvious tried-and-true activities, such as sledding, snowman making, snow fort building, snowshoeing, and skiing. Now that my children are older, ages 16, 13, and 10, these are some of their favorite activities. I no longer need to encourage them to go outdoors. In fact, usually I am calling them in, so we can get some of our Oak Meadow work done. When my children were young, however, this wasn’t always the case. Sometimes they needed a hook, something to entice them to “get out and blow the stink off ye.” (quote courtesy of my father, Ed Minehan) Here are some ideas that worked, at least some of the time, for my family.

Fisher and Turkey Tracks/Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Get Moving and Follow the Tracks: On the coldest days, the only option was to keep moving. Even getting out for a short hike or snowshoe was still worth it. To keep things interesting, we often went tracking. Because we live near the woods, this was, admittedly, pretty easy for us. But driving to a special trail adds a sense of adventure too. First, spend a little time familiarizing yourself with tracking patterns. Is the animal a straight walker, hopper, waddler, or bounder? Kids can practice walking in these styles as well. Next, examine the print of the animal’s foot. Notice the shape and size. Can you count the toes? Are their claws present? What other nearby animal signs or clues can you spot? To maximize child participation, I made each of my kids a laminated detective tracking card with pictures of the four patterns and common prints. I photocopied our cards from the Shelburne Farms Project Seasons book. There are many great tracking guides or cards available. We approached each tracking expedition like a mystery. As they got older, my children became more interested in the C.S.I. scene. They loved following the tracks and searching for evidence of last meals. Yes, sometimes the results were a little gruesome, but always exciting.

Curriculum Extensions: Keep in mind these snowy mysteries can lead to imaginative storytelling, story mapping, further research, and investigative writing projects. These activities can easily be integrated into science and language arts lessons. Talk to your Oak Meadow teacher about substituting assignments. We want you and your children to embrace winter too!

Trail Games: Simple trail games are another way to keep things interesting on a cold winter walk. One of my favorite games is Christmas Tree for a Mouse. I learned it from Rachel Carson’s Sense of Wonder. As we walked through the woods, we would look at various trees, gauge their relative sizes, and decide which animal would be perfectly suited to which tree. This can be a fun way to talk about the animals that live in your area. This game could be easily modified if Christmas trees aren’t part of your family’s traditions. Maybe you could find the tree with the best treehouse option for a mouse, a mink, or a bear. If you and your child are feeling really ambitious, you might even assist with the building process.

Photo Credit: Meg Minehan

Winter Art: Scavenger hunts and treasure walks were also a good way to build enthusiasm for a cold winter walk. After collecting simple treasures, such as pine needles, cones, and winter berries, we would put them in a mold with twine or raffia hangers, fill with water, and wait for them to freeze. We’ve used mini-bundt pans for wreaths, but silicone molds work even better. These lovely ornaments or sun catchers can be hung nearby. Quite often, however, I would encourage us to share our decorations with the birds and squirrels. Aha! Another “excuse” to get out for a walk.

Finally, on those days when everyone needs a little extra enticement, there is nothing like the promise of homemade hot chocolate and a favorite board game awaiting. Happy winter!

NOTE: Oak Meadow recently posted a great link on Facebook about following tracks: http://www.audubon.org/news/a-beginners-guide-reading-bird-tracks-snow

Snowflakes!

Snowflake Photos by Wilson Bentley

Snowflake photos by Wilson Bentley

As I sit here this evening with a winter storm warning in effect for my area of New England, I am once again fascinated by how these tiny snow crystals can impact whole regions of the United States.

Some of you may have read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That story is about an actual winter storm that raced across the prairie lands of the United States in the winter of 1880-1881. In his book The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin gives an account of the deadly prairie blizzard of 1888 and he also gives an excellent description of the different types of snowflakes there are and what the conditions are that create them. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the science of snow!

The Native American Indians had many ways to predict the weather by observing what was happening in the natural world around them for clues. In the 1880’s the weather news was sent via telegraph across the United States from Army base to Army base. The weather often arrived before the news of its coming. Today we have the National Weather Service and technology to help us predict storms and to warn us of storms.

If you are interested in learning more about snow crystals, go to your library and find the book  Snowflake Bentley. You may also want to visit snowcrystals.com.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

                                Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

Birding!

https://feederwatch.org/blog/

This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project Overview, FeederWatch.org

Interesting bird facts can be found at: http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Birds_Kamm_Kuss/Pages/PAGE_HOME.html

Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.

Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!

 

Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might … Continue reading "Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys? Huh?"

I’ve been thinking a lot about turkeys lately! If you are in the United States, you might be celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday on Thursday. It is a celebration of thanks commemorating the first harvest feast the Pilgrims had in 1621. Today families often gather to have a big feast of foods and that meal might include a roasted turkey.  So, I’ve been thinking about turkeys.

One of my first thoughts led me to wonder where the word “turkey” originated. Why are they called turkeys? An article in the Atlantic Monthly had a good explanation. You can read it here. I was pretty surprised to find that the origin of the word is debated by etymology experts.

Then I was wondering if turkeys can really fly and I started to investigate. Sure enough, they can fly! This investigation led me to thinking about the wishbone in the turkey at our family Thanksgiving celebration. It’s the “wishbone” that is the bone that connects the wings of birds allowing them to fly.

So what do Tyrannosaurus Rex, the Velociraptors, and turkeys all have in common?  I was amazed to find out that many dinosaurs, including the newly found “Mud Dragon” had wishbones. Yep! The wishbone is actually called the “furcula” and is found in birds and in DINOSAURS!

Next time you eat a turkey and find the furcula, remember that scientists have found that the wishbone dates back more than 150 million years!

HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Floating On a Cloud

From: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Cloud_sky_over_Brest.jpg

The autumn in New England is a beautiful time!

I live in the state of New Hampshire and fall is one of my favorite seasons. The sky seems to be such a crystal clear blue on sunny days, and the fall leaves glow with their wonderful colors.

On one of these beautiful autumn days I found myself observing the sky. Within the crystal blue of the sky, clouds were slowly floating overhead. I watched them for some time and was in awe of their beauty. I wished I could paint them, or even write a poem, but my mind led me to another place; the science of clouds! I’ve learned that in looking at clouds I can pretty accurately predict the weather. (I think I learned this from my father. He was a pilot and had to know where an approaching cold front might be lurking.) The clouds I was watching were white wisps of cirrus clouds sailing to the southeast. They told me that there would be a change in the weather, but probably no rain.

Long ago there was no National Weather Service in the United States. Weather information was passed from person to person, and then later telegraphed from army base to army base. Today the weather forecasts warn us of the coming weather. Pilots, farmers, sailors, teachers, all have access to warnings, forecasts, and radar maps.

In the Oak Meadow curriculum students study the clouds and learn to categorize them by where they are in the sky, and to identify them by their shape. Students learn what the clouds may predict about the coming weather. Students also have the chance to let their minds wander as mine did! Mine ended up in the science of clouds, but lots of students complete poetry, painting, or music projects about the clouds. So the next time you are observing something outside, let your mind wander! Maybe you will find a poem, a song, or a scientific fact wandering with you.

One of my favorite poems is by Percy Bysshe Shelley. He must have been observing the sky and clouds for a long time so as to complete the poem The Cloud. It begins:

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,

From the seas and the streams;

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid

In their noonday dreams.

From my wings are shaken the dews that waken

The sweet buds every one,

When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,

As she dances about the sun.

I wield the flail of the lashing hail,

And whiten the green plains under,

And then again I dissolve it in rain,

And laugh as I pass in thunder.

(Go to The Poetry Foundation website to read the complete poem.)

 

 

THE AUGUST ECLIPSE!!

Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide

Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide

Hello! Here in New England we have had a good summer and it isn’t over yet! There are still weeks to go in August of lazy summer days and cool nights. Here at Oak Meadow one event we are all looking forward to is the upcoming eclipse on August 21, 2017. The following is a quick blast of great information from DeeDee Hughes, our Oak Meadow colleague:

Hi Folks,

We are all a little eclipse-crazy here in Corvallis, Oregon since we are in the “zone of totality” for viewing the total solar eclipse on August 21. I did some research and found this cool interactive map that shows the path of eclipses for years to come. I found a page where you can type in a city name and see what the eclipse will look like from there–I couldn’t resist checking out where friends and family members live. It’s fun to compare different places:  

Brattleboro VT

Santa Cruz CA

Corvallis OR

Seems like everyone in the country will be seeing something cool. Oh, and this article has good info about the solar eclipse glasses and how to tell if you have safe ones. 

I was wondering why the upcoming eclipse is being called “Eclipse of the Century” when they happen all the time, so I dug deeper. A total solar eclipse is different than an annular eclipse, but both have the moon lined up exactly in between Earth and the sun. In an annular eclipse, the moon moves fully in front of the sun but because the moon is further from the Earth at that time, there will be a “ring of fire” seen around the moon, rather than having the moon block the sun entirely the way it does in a total solar eclipse. The difference between an annular and a total solar eclipse is the distance between the moon and Earth. Here’s an article with a cool “ring of fire” photo. 

That’s my two cents on cool eclipse fun! DD

I’ll also add that EARTHSKY has a very good “Eclipse Day” checklist for getting ready for viewing. Be prepared, have fun, and enjoy the “Eclipse of the Century” with family and friends!

 

Finding Nature in the City

Photo Credit: Julie Tower-Pierce
(Oak Meadow)

If you live in an urban area where nature is elusive, don’t assume that there’s no nature to be found! Go for a walk with your eyes wide open and see how many signs of nature you can “collect” along the way. Take photos or make sketches so that you will have a record and can try to identify plants, insects, and anything else once you are home.

(four kids on scooters in city)
Photo Credit: Julie Tower-Pierce
(Oak Meadow)

First off, cultivate a healthy relationship with the sun. If there are few trees to offer a shade canopy, a hat is a good idea. If you are surrounded by pavement and cement, the sun’s rays can reflect uncomfortably up as you walk. If you start feeling uncomfortable in the glare or the heat, stop in shady spots along the way. If there is no shade, use an umbrella to carry some shade around with you.

Can you find bits of moss or stray plants growing in a sidewalk crack? Look up at the sides of buildings and out along fences, retaining walls, train tracks, etc.. What types of plants seem to like to grow in different places?

Did you know that weeds can have flowers, pods, or seeds? Review the life cycle of a plant and see if you can find plants at various stages of the life cycle.

(small girl holding up two green leaves)
Photo Credit: Van Kleeck Family
(Oak Meadow)

Look up! The sky and the clouds are part of nature. There are often birds in urban areas. What might attract birds to your city? Where do you think they nest? Can you spot any nests?

When it rains, what happens to the water? Go outside and trace its path from the roof to the storm drain. Where does it go from there?

Is there a river in your city? Are there any signs of nature in or around the river? Some urban rivers are polluted, but some have been cleaned up by thoughtful, committed citizens. How healthy is your city’s river, if you have one?

One of the most impressive things about finding nature in urban settings is the number of plants that seem to be growing against all odds. What is the most unlikely place that you’ve found a plant surviving or even thriving?

(adult handing monarch butterfly to child)
Photo Credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow)

See if you discover any rooftop or community gardens. What do you see growing there? Many city dwellers use containers to plant vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even tall trees. What can you find growing in containers in your city?

Is there a park, picnic area, or playground nearby with natural features? Can you tell which plants were placed there by humans and which ones moved in on their own? What are the clues that inform your answer?

How far would you need to travel to visit a nature preserve, public garden, or national park? What would you find there that you can or cannot find at home?

(child doing bark rubbing on tree with beeswax crayon)
Photo Credit: Lynn Nash
(Oak Meadow)

In what ways do humans intentionally help to encourage nature to grow and thrive in urban areas? And how do we unintentionally support certain kinds of plants or animals? What things could you and your family do to invite nature into your home life?

While walking, did you encounter any plants or animals that you had never seen before? Look them up and get to know them! They are your neighbors, too. Next time you go outside and see them, you can identify them by name.

Find out whether there are any groups or initiatives promoting nature in your city. You might be able to meet some people who are also interested in exploring nature in an urban setting.

Nature exists all around us, sometimes against the odds or in surprising places. Even if you have no backyard and your neighborhood is more gray than green, chances are good that you can find a bit of nature to enjoy. Try it and let us know what you find!

Stamp Collecting!

“The word ‘philatelist’ means a person who practices philately or stamp collecting. It comes from the French word ‘philatelie’, which was derived from the Greek words ‘philos’, meaning loving, and ‘atelia’, meaning exemption from tax which also came to mean ‘postage is prepaid.’.”

American Philatelic Society

The American Philatelic Society is the largest, nonprofit organization in the world for stamp collectors.

When I was little and traveled with my family, we didn’t have computers for emailing and so we wrote lots of letters to family and friends. We also made a tradition of mailing ourselves letters to our own home! We would go to a post office in a country or town that we were visiting, and purchase a special stamp. (You can ask the post master to show you what stamps he/she has available.) Then, using the stamp, we would mail the letter home to ourselves. It was fun to see the letters and the stamps when we arrived home. I don’t have a very big collection of stamps, but the ones that I do have hold some wonderful memories for me.

This year a really cool stamp is going to be offered! A first of its kind! Some background first:

You may have read that there is going to be a total eclipse of the sun across the United States this summer. (Monday, August 21, 2017.) People from all over the world will be coming to different spots in the United States to witness this solar eclipse.

Solar Eclipse
Photo Credit: Public Domain

What does a solar eclipse have to do with a stamp? Well, the Postal Service will be offering a first-of-its-kind stamp! It changes when you touch it! The Postal Service announcement says: “The Total Eclipse of the Sun, Forever® stamp, which commemorates the August 21 eclipse, transforms into an image of the Moon from the heat of a finger.”

You can read the story of how the stamp was designed here.

If you would like to view other stamps that have commemorated eclipses, you can view them here.

So, as you travel to new places, or even stay in your hometown, take a look at the many stamps that the post office has to offer!

P. S.  Looking directly at the sun during a solar eclipse can be dangerous; here’s a way to enjoy the eclipse without hurting your eyes: http://hilaroad.com/camp/projects/eclipse_viewer/eclipse_viewer.html

 

Great idea!

Benjamin Franklin
Photo Credit: Public Domain

My father is about to turn 94 and consequently, we go all out for his birthday parties! We have a tradition of having him tell us what he was doing at the present age of each member of the family. This past year the youngest among us was a great grandson just 13 months old. It was fun to hear my father speak about what he was doing when he was 13 months old. The oldest at the party was 68 years and that too was amusing!

We decided this year to list many of the things that had been invented in the years since our father (grandfather or great grandfather) was born. Each family member brought a description of the invention to the party. Wow! He has certainly seen many, many inventions in his lifetime!

Photo Credit: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc. (Public Domain)

I think we take for granted some of the inventions he saw in his lifetime, such as the color TV or the black box flight recorder. Lithium batteries and the pocket calculator surprised all of us as just being invented in the 1970s.

Not only do I think we take these inventions for granted, but I think we also pay little attention to the people that invented them! Physicists, biologists, chemists, carpenters, farmers–you name it and you may find a profession that has an inventor. Where do these inventors come from? “From 1900 onwards, on average about 10% of Americans have been first-generation immigrants. Yet first-generation immigrants have won 33% of all American Nobel prizes in the sciences since the award began in 1900, representing thirty-five countries from six continents.” (https://m.facebook.com/notes/neil-degrasse-tyson/science-in-america/10155202535296613/)

All this talk about past inventions got me wondering what is being invented (and patented) right now! I found out about The Lemelson-MIT Program which strives to celebrate  “outstanding inventors and inspires young people to pursue creative lives and careers through invention.” It is so interesting to read about the most recent inventions that are being awarded!

Do you have something that you are working on that will one day be an invention that will benefit us all? Join an inventor’s club! Here’s a list of them by state: http://www.freeinventorshelp.com/Organizations.html#states

Good luck!

Sound Waves and Sonic Booms

Why am I playing a Pink Floyd album as I write my blog? Well, I just couldn’t resist after reading about the newly found shrimp that is named after the band! The legend goes that Pink Floyd once played their music so loudly at a concert that the sound waves killed the fish in a nearby pond.

anothershrimpinthewall-fullres by katepocklington.jpeg

The shrimp has a very large pink colored front claw that it uses to kill its prey. It uses the claw by snapping the pink claw and creating a sound so loud that it can kill small fish. So the scientists (Sammy De Grave of the Oxford University Museum of Natural History, Arthur Anker of the Universidade Federal de Goiás in Brazil and Kristin Hultgren of Seattle University) thought it would be a great honor to name the new species of shrimp “Synalpheus Pinkfloydi” after the band Pink Floyd!

A cartoon version of the Pink Floyd pistol shrimp is shown in this handout photo. (Chris Jarvis / Oxford University Museum of Natural History)

This little shrimp creates volumes of sound up to 210 decibels! If you are in the 8th grade physics course with Oak Meadow,  you study sound waves, sound pressure, and sound power and the impact they have on wildlife and humans. You will also study decibels, the speed of sound, and the way sound travels. So when I write that the sound created by the snapping of the claw can reach 210 decibels, you know THAT IS LOUD!!!

Read more about this fascinating discovery here.