Ahhh autumn. It’s the time of the year when the world is ablaze in rich colors of crimsons, golds, bronze, and brown. The trees in our neck of the wood turned late this year starting in October and continuing well into the end of November. After posting this picture of Lorelei wearing a leaf crown there were a few folks curious who wanted to make some of their own and I had promised to put together a little tutorial. Well, that time has come for ALL THE LEAF CROWNS!
Originally, I learned how to make these in Linnea’s Almanac, a book about seasonal observations. The setting is in England, but a great deal of the references are applicable throughout the northern hemisphere. This activity is a modification of the one outlined in the book. Next time you’re outside on a fall day, grab a basket or fill your pockets with leaves of every shade for this simple activity to transform the season’s bounty into a coronet for autumn royalty.
HOW TO MAKE LEAF CROWNS
Step 1: Collect freshly fallen leaves. Dry leaves will crumble, but fresh leaves will be more malleable and will be the easiest to work with for this activity. I find that maple leaf varieties (sweet gum and gingko leaves) work the best. You’ll need 15-20 leaves depending on the size of the crown wearer’s head. You might need a pair of scissors too, so grab a pair if you have some handy.
Step 2: To start, gently fold the leaf in half along the leaf’s midrib. The with your fingernail or a pair of scissors (optional) make a small slit that goes through both sides of the leaf, above the midrib.
Step 3: Taking another folded leaf, insert the stem into the slit you just mad and pull it through. This leaf should be folded around the leaf with the slit.
Step 4: Continue the above process. Fold a leaf, make a slip, pull another folded leaf’s stem through that slit. At times I did use scissors to make a slit in the leaves because they were too thick for me to puncture with my finger.
This is what the back of the crown should look like. Don’t worry about the stems. If they’re super long, you can trim them once you’ve finished.
Step: 5: Eventually, you’ll have a lovely chain of leaves. Measure your chain around the crown wearer’s head to fit to size.
Step 6: Once you’re at a length you prefer, make two small slits in the first leaf of the chain. Slide the stems of the last few leaves of the crown chain through this slit.
You’re autumnal crown for falltime fae is complete! Trim stems of leaves if needed, but don’t cut them too short. Keep them at least an inch long so that the crown holds together.
“The wind blows yellow sideways, then up, then down. Everywhere fills with yellow. A symphony of yellow.”
The leaves have finally started turning and it is aglow in gold here in Kansas. We’ve been reading Lauren Stringer’s new autumnal picture book Yellow Time (public library) on repeat, because like the characters in the story, we’ve been waiting and waiting for this magical time when the world seems to be a vibrant yellow– Now it’s finally here!
Yellow Time begins with neighborhood children gathering outside to admire the autumn weather. All of a sudden a wind rips through the trees, announcing the moment they’ve all been waiting for– Yellow time! They play, frolic, dance, gather leaves, and make leaf crowns, but like all good things it must come to an end. The children appreciate and admire the spell while it lasts and once it’s over, find a way to preserve a bit of this beloved time of year.
Melodic text and vibrant illustrations that almost appear to be moving in the vivid contrast between the the dark bark and bright yellow leaves, the children, and the crows. This is a book that will make you want to run and play outside, enjoying all the wonder and opportunity the autumn season holds.
Yellow Time Color Hunt
Reading Yellow Time prompted our own seasonal color investigation with a autumn color scavenger hunt. This is a simple activity highlighted on two fantastic blogs, Book Nerd Mommy and 3 Green Acorns, which I adapted for this picture book. Here’s how this simple exploration in autumn color theory works…
– Yellow interior paint color swatches (the ones pictured came from our local hardware store)
– Clothes pins
– Found nature items in various shades of yellow
Alrighty. So, this is a fairly straight forward activity. Take a walk outside during a fall day when the leaves have already started to change, taking notice of the various shades of yellow. Gather a few yellow nature items in a spectrum of light and dark shades. Once you return home, sort and color match the found nature treasures with the yellow paint swatches. We adhered our nature findings with clothes pins onto the paint color swatches, because the wind kept blowing the leaves away.
The yellow color seen in fallen leaves is actually a chemical breakdown of chlorophyll, the scientific name for what gives leaves their green color. When the days grow shorter and colder in autumn, photosynthesis stops and the green parts of leaves (chlorophll) breaks down leaving the yellow colors we see before the leaves breaks from the branch entirely. This yellow color is called xanthophyll. We see remnants of other colors too depending on the type of tree– Orange is carotene, the reds and purples are anthocyanin, and brown is tannin. Eventually, all leaves turn brown.
Sorting these shades of yellow is one way to see the range of xanthophyll exhibited in a variety of plants and autumn leaves. An autumn yellow color hunt is an easy peasy way to delve into the science of the season and a bit of color theory too!
Happy Yellow Time!
For more autumn reads, check out these 6 new picture books that celebrate the fall as well as this massive booklist organized by theme of favorite fall reads for kids.
*Copy of book reviewed was provided by the good folks at Simon & Schuster
Fall is here. The leaves have started turning and animals are preparing for the upcoming winter season. Plants are at the end of their life cycle, scattering seeds whether it be by wind, water, or hitching a ride on an animal. It’s fun experience to see how seeds are scattered (sowed is the technical term) by taking a sock walk. This nature prompt came from A Kid’s Fall Ecojournal (public library) by Toni Albert, illustrated by Margaret Brandt, a fantastic resource for nature activities for children. Here’s how we tested out this activity in late September along with our current seed sock growing results.
MATERIALS FOR SOCK WALK ACTIVITY
– Books about seeds (reading suggestions below)
– Old socks that fit over shoes
– Sterile potting soil
– A shallow dish or pan
Step 1: First, we read a few books about seeds before going on your sock walk. This helped provide context to the day’s adventure. Here’s a booklist of a few we enjoyed reading if you’d like to start this way as well:
Flip, Float, Fly: Seeds on the Move by Joann Early Macken, illustrated by Pam Paparone
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston, illustrated by Sylvia Long
Miss Maples’ Seeds by Eliza Wheeler
Seeds by Ken Robbins
Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Wendy Anderson Halperin
Step 2: Find some socks that will fit over shoes and pants. The girls used several of their daddy’s old socks that had lost their mate over time. Then, take a trip to a favorite walking path whether it be a dry grassy field, prairie, or meadow. Pull the socks on over your shoes and hike them up as high as they will go and then get walking! It’s a pretty silly experience walking around with socks over your shoes, so be prepared for giggles.
Step 3: It won’t take long until you see lots of little seeds sticking to your socks. Once you’ve finished your walk, take the socks off and admire all your newfound seed friends that decided to hitch a ride on your fluffy feet.
Step 4: When you arrive at home, using a shallow pan or dish, sprinkle sterile potting soil into the container evenly about 3/4 of the way full. Lay your sock on top of the dirt. This would be another good time to look at the seeds up close. Are they all the same or is there a variety of different shapes, colors, and sizes? Once the examination is finished, sprinkle more potting soil over the sock until it is covered. Don’t use too much dirt. One layer is more than enough. Water your seed sock, set it in a sunny window, watch and wait.
Step 5: Continue to water your seed sock whenever it is dry and you might notice sprouts coming out of the dirt where the sock was buried. Those are seeds from the walk that have germinated!
Optional: Place the other sock from your sock walk in another dish as described in step 4 and stick it into the refrigerator for a couple weeks. Most seeds “sleep” during the wintertime and time in the refrigerator would be like a little mini-winter for the seeds. After two weeks are up, take the pan out and set it next to the other seed sock. Keep them both watered and compare how the two grow.
My 6-year-old had such a good time with this project and continues to take care of her seed sock. Who knows what will sprout up over the next several weeks? We can’t wait to find out!
We’re going to try something a little different for this month of Wild Things. Instead of recapping my families nature explorations throughout the past month, for this post I’m highlighting natural events to look forward to in the coming month. Feel free to share a natural occurrence that’s happening in your neck of the woods. I’m located in the midwest (Lawrence, Kansas to be specific!) and will do my best to make a general seasonal list for North America, BUT if you share a natural event occurring over the next several weeks from your region, not only will other readers from your area be informed, but readers who are from an entirely different environment can learn a bit about a place they aren’t familiar with.
WILD THINGS SEPTEMBER 2016
WILD SUNFLOWERS are native to North America and are currently living in their glory days for the year. We live 20 minutes from a stunning cultivated sunflower field that we’ve been enjoying as much as we can the days these beauties are in bloom. Look closely and you’ll see a beautiful double spiral pattern in the flower’s florets– That’s a natural mathematical phenomenon called the Fibonacci sequence. Check out this video from Scientific American that explains a bit about the math behind these enchanting flowers.
THE APPLE HARVEST is in full swing in many places across the country and will be the for many months to come. Visit a local apple orchard or the farmer’s market for a local variety. Take a lazy Sunday to make some homemade applesauce.
SUMAC IS RIPENING and a variety birds can be seen enjoying its seeds, but did you know this plant is an edible for you too? Whip up a pitcher of sumac-ade! It’s quite refreshing and easy to make!
THE AUTUMN EQUINOX — September 22nd is the official first day of autumn. This is one of the two days in a year we experience an equal amount of daylight and nighttime hours. After this day the days will be increasingly darker until the Winter Solstice in December. This month notice the drastic difference in daylight from the beginning to the end of the month. The days are growing shorter, up to three minutes less of sunlight a day as the earth tilts further away from the sun.
BUGS, BUGS, AND MORE BUGS! Insects are everywhere lately! Dragonflies, cicadas, katydids, grasshoppers, mosquitos (ugh), ticks (double ugh), and butterflies. So many bugs are laying eggs, mating, and living it up while the days are warm. Speaking of butterflies, the Monarch butterfly migration is currently underway. Keep up with Monarch Watch too see if theses amazing creatures will be visiting you sometime soon.
FALL COLORS will start revealing their hues in the plant life around us. Deciduous trees will start changing colors at the end of the month– Check out this map to see when they’ll turn in your region.
FEATHERS ABOUND – Many birds have molted or will molt around this time, losing their colorful feathers. This is also around the time they start their southern migration.
What do you enjoy most about this month where you’re from? For me, its the way the land turns gold with sunflowers. I could stare up at those friendly faces for days.
On Instagram? Keep up with our September adventures as amateur naturalists on Instagram.
As quickly as it came, summer is already on the decrescendo. The heat broke the last week of July, the days are shorter, and the wild sunflowers are reaching up to the Kansas blue sky ready to burst. I missed a wild things post in June, so I combined June and July’s nature adventures together. The end of our summer was spent away from our Lawrence home in southern California for my mom’s wedding. It was a busy trip, but we were able to escape for some leisure time on the beach and in the desert. I’ve been on a Mary Oliver binge for several months now. Somedays I write a line of hers down and keep it in my pocket. This one I’ve been keeping by close to me a lot lately: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”
JUNE AND JULY GRATITUDES
First light on the prairie
Catalpa trees in full bloom
Fields of firefly twinkling
The fragrant smell of desert evenings
Sea salt smiles
Swooping bats at twilight
The last hurrah of summer nights
Images from top to bottom:
1. “Listening for baby animals”
2. Five little, hungry beaks
3. Sea of bees
4. Early morning strawberry picking
6. Prairie rose
7. Sketching May’s full moon
8. Spooky beautiful pre-storm sky
9. Fairy umbrellas
10. Turtle watching
11. Fairy soup
12. Wild strawberry foraging
Strawberries came early as expected this year. I took the girls to a local farm to pick a bucket early in the month and we had a feast right on the farm just before 9am. It felt a bit strange eating strawberries so early in the year, but they tasted just as ripe as June strawberries nonetheless.
May brought a few surprises. A couple weeks ago I found wild strawberries for the first time walking through a prairie. I laughed when I first spotted them. Could it be? Little ruby gems of delightfully sweet goodness at my foot? There were patches and patches of them hidden by fast growing tall grass and wildflowers that are already to my knees.
Another surprise came in the form of an army of unexpected guests when, one afternoon, my older and I were visited by a swarm of honey bees. We stared at them, mesmerized by their number as hundreds of them formed a cluster in our backyard tree overhead. I called a beekeeper who promptly arrived and we watched as he hypnotized them into a cardboard box that was then strapped to his truck. Then they were off to the honey farm. I’ll never forget the way they hummed and buzzed wildly, filling up the blue sky overhead. He called later that night to say he weighed the bees and they were just over 5lbs, a good size swarm. He also said that they were an extraordinary bright yellow and asked if he could name them after my daughter.
The last surprise wasn’t really a surprise– I knew it was coming. It was the morning I looked up at the house finch nest and it was quiet, it was empty. The nest had been a home to a pair of adult house finches and their clutch of five for several weeks. They’ve been our beloved house guests and we’ve enjoyed watching the faintest blue eggs hatch into hatchlings and grow into fledglings. A couple days before, I watched one of the fledglings jump from its nest and fly with ease. His father praised him, and encouraged his siblings to do the same in a nearby tree. I read that House finches may use abandoned nests of other birds, so maybe my Lord and Lady Carmine will return for their next clutch as they will parent several this season.
In last month’s Wild Things post, I started listing gratitudes from the past month and I’ve decided to continue this habit into this month and the ones following.
The swarm of honey bees that visited us one afternoon
Foraging wild strawberries for the first time
The smell of a prairie rose
Running my fingers along the tips of tall grass in an open field
Spring thunderstorms (and sump pumps)
The ever-evolving Kansas skyscape
The bittersweet feeling of finding a nest once filled with life, empty. Life goes on.
Building fairy houses using natural materials found outside is an imaginative way for children to engage in the world outside their doorstep. You don’t have to go to the store or spend a penny for this ephemeral nature project– Fairy houses can be made in your yard, local park, on a beach, or in the snow using whatever natural items are available during the present season. My 5-year-old has been making her own fairy houses for a couple of years now and it has been fun watching her construction skills and creativity develop with each house she makes, not to mention the stories told about the fairies who live there. Here’s a short rundown of this one part art, one part nature activity for kids with an element of magical pretend play.
Materials to build a fairy house can be anything you find outside such as sticks, leaves, seashells, driftwood, grass, stones, seeds, feathers, bark, snake skin, pinecones, etc. Try your best not to disturb anything that is living.
Oftentimes a fairy house evolves. It rains and part of the structure falls over and has to be repaired or reimagined. A toad decides to use it as a home. Branches and stones and leaves can be added to expand and modify the home. Ephemeral means “transitory” or “short-lived” and like most things in nature, it’s an organic process that’s always changing. If not maintained, the fairy house will deteriorate back to the earth from which they came.
When fairy houses are constructed close to our yard, they’re often embellished with sidewalk chalk, glass floral stones, or odds and ends we find in the dirt. We try to keep it as natural as possible. We don’t leave anything outside that animals could harm themselves with or choke on. We’re also sure to pick up any pieces that were not found outside and remove them from the site after a fairy house deteriorates.
The fun part is imagining the fairy or fairies who take up residence in the home. What is his/her name? What magic powers do they have? Can they talk to animals? Are they the reason the roses bloomed early? We pretend to spot them around their new residence, make them fairy soup (water, flower petals, grass, seeds), or leave gifts of little berries or pebbles at their doorstep.
The picture book Fairy Houses by Tracy Kane (public library) is a terrific prompt for this magical, nature-based activity. The back of the book provides the reader with ideas for ways to incorporate materials from each season into your construction. Invite friends to build a fairy village together or build a house during a walk outside. This is an activity my oldest often likes to do alone when she is in need of quiet time absent of activity.
Building fairy houses provides children with a hands-on sensory experience with flora and fauna. It encourages awareness of the seasons through foraged loose parts and adds an aspect of wonder to their outdoor play.
Images from top to bottom:
1. Tadepole hunt
2. Big ol’ tadpole
3. Old path/New path
4. False rue anemone
5. Spring beauty
6. yer majesty, Queen Trout lily
7. Wildflower sketches
8. First snail sighting
9. More tadpoles
10. April Showers
11. Wandering in the woods
12. Garden friend
13. House finch nest
Spring came early this year. Water spots are filled with tadpoles. The wildflowers in the woods have come and gone. The prairies are pregnant with new wild blooms waiting to burst.
A pair of House finches have taken residence on our porch. The other morning I checked on their nest and found this– Five perfect palest, pale blue eggs. I’m not sure why at first I was surprised by this. Birds lay eggs. That’s what birds do in nests they build. But it seems personal, sacred almost. I named the parents Lord and Lady Carmine (I’m embarrassed to say I’m going through a historical romance novel phase.) We have a basket stocked with nest materials for the birds that sits on the porch near bird seed, and I see our Lady Carmine made use of many of those items to make her nest- Dried plants and roots, broom pieces, hair, and jewelry box fluff. I wonder how many other nests near our home have materials from our basket? The best part of hosting our porch guests is listening to Lord Carmine sing to Lady Carmine each morning while she warms her clutch. They’ll be hatchings any day now. So much anticipation comes with this season. I felt the same feeling when I peered into our garden bed today and found the smallest sprout pushing past the damp soil. Once again, I know this is what happens when a seed has water and sunlight, yet it continues to be exciting and extraordinary.
Feeling the dirt between my toes
Lady Carmine’s nest
Lord Carmine’s song
Yesterdays as amateur naturalists. For new adventures follow along on Instagram. What are you looking forward to in May? For me, it’s the first bite into a sun-warmed strawberry straight from the farmer’s field.
Lion, lamb, lion, lamb, lion, lamb… March ticked tocked back and forth between winter and spring. This year spring came prematurely with blooms and animals surfacing early, but not without cold bursts and even a surprise snow on Easter morning- A fluffy snow that melted by afternoon. We’ve been spending quite a bit of time at our favorite wetlands spot. At the beginning of the month, there were only a few geese and recently emerged frogs, but now the habitat is in full celebration of the warmer weather. A springtime frog choir, tadpoles, frogs, a big ol’ water snake, skittish ducks and geese, a belted kingfisher, turtles sunning themselves on a log, and water striders skimming the water surfaces. Looking forward to see what surprises April has in store! What are your plans outdoors for the month ahead?
1. Spring Equinox
2. Hello little lady
3. “Hey, I know! Let’s go in this enchanted forest!”
4. Cottonwood leaf smiles
5. Forced spring branches
6. Springtime blues
7. Poking and stirring and stomping and splashing
9. Tree hopping
10. Front porch friends
11. Easter snow
12. Big ol’ water snake
13. Wetland walkin’
14. Littlest choir member
15. Looking down, looking up
Our adventures in nature for February ended in sunshine. Ahhh sunshine! The days have been windy and warm and cold and up and down and back around true to transitional Kansas weather. One day the pond is frozen and the next day it has thawed completely. It will probably freeze again this week. Among the brown all around are little specks of lavender or gold– Crocuses! Spring is near. It’s almost here.
1. February sunrise
2. “Speak softly and carry a big stick”
3. Valentine’s Day nature box
4. winter bones
5. pond shadows
6. Shadow selfie
7. more shadow play
8. spot of color among winter pallor
9. Afternoon skies over Kaw Valley
10. signs of spring
11. Skipping on sunshine