21

Oct

Autumn Fairy Dust

Autumn Fairy Dust Nature Activity

This Autumn Fairy Dust activity is a unique, whimsical way to play outside and learn about the autumn season that calls on phenology, imagination, and a touch of magic.

Ingredients 

  • Autumn leaves
  • Dried flowers and spices (We used cloves, cider spices, roses, clover buds, and lavender)
  • Flower seeds
  • Small empty glass jars
  • Edible glitter*

Autumn Fairy Dust Provocation

Before we got started, I set out all the materials and ingredients in bowls. We observed, handled, and smelled the items. The more brittle the leaves are, the easier they’ll be to tear and crumble. Using an empty bowl and a spoon or a stick, she tore autumn leaves, added dashes of spices and dashes of dried flowers, mixed and mashed, and sprinkled, and made up her own rhyming spells while doing so (which is a great little literary exercise!). “Alacazam, alakazoo, bibbity bobbity, stars and moon!” After she finished concocting her Autumn Fairy Dust mix, we poured it into a small recycled glass jar. She repeated this process until we ran out of jars.

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Autumn Fairy Dust Craft

Autumn Fairy Dust

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A couple of the Autumn Fairy Dust jars were saved as fall gifts for friends, but the others were gently sprinkled over bare soil in a sunny spot in our yard; a good place for the seeds in the Fairy Dust mixture to germinate. We also gave the seeds a nice, firm pat. The seed packets the kids selected to include in this provocation were butterfly snapdragons, moonflowers, and chocolate sunflower seeds and while I have no clue if these seeds will make it to next year, it’ll be a fun experiment to see if they bloom come springtime!

Autumn Nature Acitvity Autumn Fairy Dust

autumn fairy

Learning Moment: This activity is an opportunity to talk about why leaves fall from the trees during the autumn season and how leaves help fertilize the soil and give sustenance and protection to animals in the winter months. It is also a chance to discuss the natural cycle of annual wildflowers and how they release their seeds in the summer and autumn and how those seeds sleep under leaves all winter long until the warmer spring and summer months.

Book Recommendations: There’s a connection with flowers, herbs, and fairies in folklore. Read the collection of poems featuring autumn fairies in Flower Fairies of Autumn by Cicely Mary Barker (Public Library | Local Bookstore). Also, a sweet picture book about the life cycle of seeds and the seasons is highlighted in Miss Maple’s Seeds by Eliza Wheeler (Public Library | Local Bookstore), another wonderful companion title to pair with this activity.

Sing: Let’s Play Music has an Autumn Fairy Song you can learn to sing when mixing fairy dust or sprinkling it on the ground.

 

 

*I was hesitant to use regular craft glitter or sequins (ingredients requested by my daughter) because I didn’t want an animal to choke or get sick. Instead we used edible glitter purchased at a bake shop thinking this would be a safer alternative. In hindsight, we should have scrapped glitter all along because even though the edible glitter is non-toxic, it’s still glitter and does not belong in the ground. Next time we’ll stick to seeds, dried herbs, and items exclusively found outside. Maybe we’ll even mist the Autumn Fairy Dust with water for a natural sparkle.

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8

Oct

Poison Ivy Identification – Leaflets Three, Let It Be!

Leaflets Three, Let It Be It’s lurking in your yard… It’s hidden at the park… it’s dun dun DUUUUUUN… POISON IVY! This pesky plant to humans used to make me fearful and uneasy, mostly because I had absolutely no clue what it looked like, and like most fears– The unknown is scary. That is until I read Leaflets Three, Let It Be!: The Story of Poison Ivy (public library/local bookstore) by Anita Sanchez, illustrated by Robin Brickman, a fantastic picture book about the life cycle of poison ivy, how to identify it, and the many important functions this plant serves in the animal kingdom. To me, Leaflets Three, Let It Be! is like a benevolent retelling of a misunderstood villain. It’s the backstory of how poison ivy feeds a large variety of animals throughout every season and provides shelter and shade for reptiles, birds, and insects.

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The story incorporates simple identification rhymes such as: “Hairy vine – A warning sign!”, “Berries white, take flight!” and the famous “Leaflets three, let it be!”, but also offers gentle text depicting the good natured side of this vilified plant and how many animals rely on it. Author Anita Sanchez continually notes to look closely, there’s more there if you stop for a moment to observe. Like most things in nature, they can be easily overlooked unless you take time to look down at the ground, or up in a tree, or right in front of your nose to notice the wonders that live in your very own backyard.

And I can’t not mention the illustrations in this book… Just look at the texture in these pictures by Robin Brickman! The three dimensional effect in each mix-media collage of cut-paper and paint brings the book to life (sans allergic reaction!). This book is an excellent resource for a greater understanding about poison ivy, the season, and how one plant, even an unpopular plant, in our world can be essential in the animal world.

leaflets three, let it be robin brickman illustrations

Poison Ivy Identification

As the author points out in Leaflets Three, Let It Be!, once you learn how to spot poison ivy you will quickly become accustomed to identifying it wherever you go. At the end of the book is a guide about the plant, why it causes a rash when humans touch it, and how to identify it. Below are a couple images of poison ivy I’ve taken this summer, one on a walk in the neighborhood and one on a hike outside of town. The first image was labeled in the front yard of a residence, which I thought that was such a great idea! Instead of getting rid of the plant, they used it as an opportunity to educate passersby.

poison ivy identification

poison ivy

Poison ivy has many appearances, so I’m still learning about many of the varieties where I live. In this learning, I’m working on educating my own kids to be cautious as well. Now when I come across a vine, I don’t look at it in terror– I appreciate it’s place in the world while keeping a safe distance.

6

Oct

Wild Things: Adventures as Amateur Naturalists

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Mushrooms

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Over the past year, my little family has taken to leading a wilder life. For me, it was about finding solace wandering woodlands, to breathe the crisp air and find stillness in thought. It was a transformative year and one that has left me weak in many ways and stronger in others. For the kids… well…. They’re kids, which means they’re innately wild things– Inquiry and exploration is second nature. We’ve always spent a good deal of time outside, but our time there has changed. Now when we’re out for a walk we look closely, we listen, we feel, we identify, and we’ve become residences instead of visitors.

Building a nature literacy in my own learning and my children’s learning is now such an important part of our lives that I plan to write more about that journey here. This rekindling with nature has surfaced so many memories from my own childhood: Me lying on my back trying to take pictures of the sunlight streaming through the leaves of the trees with a point-and-shoot camera, my dad showing me a teeny garter snake he almost ran over in the yard, my brother and I walking by a line of rosemary bushes and watching bumblebees hover and bounce over the violet blooms… I want for my own children to have memories like this, of being free to roam and play and investigate. As I grow, this blog grows with me and I look forward to writing more about these wild adventures and newfound resources as amateur naturalists with you.

 

23

Sep

Happy Autumn Equinox

Autumn Equinox

Happy Autumnal Equinox!

Today is the first day of the fall season. This morning, the girls woke up to a couple tiny tokens and nature treasures from the autumn fairies, an equinox and solstice tradition in our house. The leaves have barely started turning (this photo is of an arrangement I made last year in late October), but it always happens fast. Autumn can be a busy time of year and I hope you’re able to find some solace, even if it’s only for a moment to enjoy the glow of an autumn evening. Maybe even catch a glimpse of that mischievous Harvest Moon.

As a reminder to slow down and take pleasure in this time of year, I wrote a to-do list for myself for these next several weeks.

MY AUTUMNAL TO-DO LIST:
Take a long walk with only the trees as companions.
Jump in a leaf pile.
Listen to records in the evening twilight.
Write a postcard to a friend.
Attend a fall festival.
Visit a pumpkin patch.
Play outside with my babies.
Be patient.
Stargaze often.

 

What’s on your autumnal to-do list?

11

Sep

Look Up! Books About Monarch Butterflies

Look Up! Books About Monarch Butterflies

At this very moment, millions and millions of monarch butterflies are migrating 20,000 miles south for the winter. Maybe you live in the northern part of the country and have already seen them, or perhaps you’re still awaiting the arrival of the impending large orange cloud overhead if you live further south (here’s how to check when they’ll be in your area). These past several days we’ve welcomed them to our city and they’re everywhere!

I knew very little about these fascinating butterflies and their magnificent migration until we moved to the area, but now it is an ongoing interest in our home – especially around the time of the year when, if you are outside for a few minutes, you’ll spot at least one flittering about. Monarch Watch, a nonprofit devoted to the conservation, education, and research of monarch butterflies was established here in Lawrence, Kansas out of the University of Kansas, so we like to make a big deal about monarchs around here.

In honor of the monarch migration this fall, I assembled a book list all about monarchs for all ages:

FOR KIDS:

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Monarch and Milkweed by Helen Frost, illustrated by Leonid Gore
Ages 3 & up
This is such a great books for a variety of ages about the relationship between the monarch butterfly and the milkweed plant.

Gotta Go! Gotta Go! by Sam Swope and Sue Riddle
Ages 3 & up
Simple text makes this book about one bug that’s “Gotta Go! Gotta Go!” a fun way to learn about the monarch migration.

Velma Gratch and the Way Cool Butterfly by Alan Madison, illustrated by Kevin Hawkes
Ages 4 & up
Poor Velma is always in the wake of two older sisters, but after a trip to the Butterfly Conservatory finds a way to make herself unforgettable.

Hurry and the Monarch by Antoine O Flatharta, illustrated by Meilo So
Ages 4 & up
Meilo So’s illustrations in this picture book are stunning. Hands-down beautiful. The storyline is sweet and an enjoyable read-aloud.

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Monarch Butterfly of Aster Way by Elizabeth Ring, illustrated by Katie Lee
Ages 4 & up
I love the Smithsonian Backyard Books series. And this specific one focuses on monarch butterflies. Perfect!

 A Monarch Butterfly’s Life by John Himmelman
Ages 4  & up
A straightforward account of a monarch butterfly’s life cycle for preschool-age children.

The Migration of a Butterfly by Tanya Kant, illustrated by Carolyn Franklin
Ages 5 & up
We first came across this one at our local library. Large text and bold, graphic illustrations about the migration of the monarch butterfly.

Monarch Butterfly by Gail Gibbons
Ages 5 & up
Gail Gibbons. Need I say more? She always does a great job crating informative text paired with her trademark illustrations. My daughter enjoys the audiobook.

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Fly, Monarch! Fly! by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace
Ages 5 & up
The Rabbit family learns about the monarch life cycle and the miracles transformations and journeys of monarch butterflies.

How to Raise Monarch Butterflies: A Step-by-Step Guide for Kids by Carol Pasternak
Ages 6 & up
For any child who has ever dreamed of a pet caterpillar. Or two. Or three…

Flight of the Butterflies by Roberta Edwards
Ages 6 & up
This beginning reader book full of illustrations and photographs follows the flight of the monarch butterflies from southern Canada to central Mexico.

National Geographic Readers: Great Migrations Butterflies by Laura F. Marsh
Ages 7 & up
Kids can’t get enough of these National Geographic books for beginning readers and there’s one that focuses solely on the monarch migration!

Butterfly Tree by Sandra Markle, illustrated by Leaslie Wu
Ages 7 & up
Jilly spots something unfamiliar in the sky, so she and her mother go investigate. What they find is spectacular.

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The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings by Avis Harley
Ages 7 & up
A terrific collection of poems all about the monarch butterfly.

Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery from Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, photographs by Ellen Harasimowicz
Ages 8 & up
Okay, so this book isn’t only about monarchs, but the monarch section is phenomenal and provides an in-depth account of the work being done by Monarch Watch.

Monarch Magic! Butterfly Activities & Nature Discoveries by Lynn Rosenblatt
Ages 8 & up
40 butterfly activities and crafts for kids to explores as well as an informational guide about monarchs.

An Extraordinary Life: The Story of a Monarch Butterfly by Laurence Prigle and Bob Marstall
Ages 9 & up
Picture book for an older reader following one butterfly’s entire life span.

 

FOR TEENS & ADULTS:

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The Enlarged and Updated Second Edition of Milkweed Monarchs and More: A Field Guide to the Invertebrate Community in the Milkweed Patch by Ba Rea, Dr. Karen Oberhauser, and Michael A. Quinn
Anything and everything you wanted to know about the life of the monarch butterflies and the plants that provide sustenance for all stages of it’s life cycle.

The Amazing Monarch: The Secret Wintering Grounds of an Endangered Butterfly by Windle Turley
Beautiful photographs that will amaze all ages.

Four Wings and a Prayer: Caught in the Mystery of the Monarch Butterfly by Sue Halpern
A memoir loaded with lots of facts about the monarch migration, Sue Halpern goes on a quest across the country in search of information about how and why behind the mysterious migration habits of the monarch butterfly.

The Butterfly’s Daughter by Mary Alice Monroe
A mesmerizing story about Luz Avila and her journey south along the same migration path of the monarch butterflies, and the women she meets along the way. This novel is classified as an adult book and is best suited for older teens and adults.

 

If you have a favorite book about the Monarchs that I missed, please leave in the comments below!

Also, if you’re interested in raising monarch butterflies or starting your own Monarch Waystation, all of that information can be found on the Monarch Watch website. Schools and nonprofits are eligible for free milkweed.

Many cities across the country organize events and festivals to welcome the migrating butterflies– Be sure to check your city’s events calendar. If you live in the Lawrence area, there’s a Monarch Watch Open House every September at Foley Hall in the west campus of University of Kansas.

Don’t forget to look up! The monarchs are soaring through!

 

 

 

 

Image source for title image is a photograph of Melio So’s illustration in Hurry and the Monarch.

10

Sep

Sunflower Art + Activities for Kids

Gritner Farm Sunflowers

sunflower activities for kids

Sunflower Activities

Where I live, summer’s final act is when thousands of suns burst into a glowing field seen from miles away.

It is a sight.

What was once a mythical sunflower field learned about only by word of mouth, now is a famous Eastern Kansas tourist destination.  Grinter Farms generously allows visitors to frequent their field and snap pictures, professional and amateur, as well as cut a sunflower or a few to take home ($1 per flower, scout’s honor). While many who visit are there to capture it’s brazen beauty in a photo op, whether it be a family portrait, selfies, professional photos, or what have you,  I thought I’d expand on a few ways to explore this experience with kids whether you to visit the Gritner Farm field or a sunflower field in your neck of the woods:

SUNFLOWER HIDE & SEEK:  The object is simple: Play! One person counts to 10 while the other participants hide in the stalks. Be mindful of the flowers, and anywhere outside of the sunflower field is out-of-bounds.

NATURE PHOTO SHOOT: Bring a kid-safe camera, something you you won’t mind getting dirty or dropped that is easy to use, or a disposable camera for you kids to go on their very own sunflower field nature shoot. They’ll have such a great time being in charge of the pictures taken, it will be an entirely different perspective, and it’s a wonderful way to prompt discovery.

I-SPY BUGS: How many different bugs can you spot while visiting the fields?  There are many bugs that love sunflowers and you’ll see them there. Count how many different species you find and/or write down what they look like and look up what they are when you return home.

SUNFLOWER ART: Bring a sketch pad and some crayons, colored pencils, or whatever art supplies you have on hand at your home and create art! Draw still life sketches of the sunflowers. Before leaving the house, share a few masterpieces by Vincent Van Gogh, Fernard Leger, Georgia O’Keefe or Gustav Klimt who were also inspired by this golden flower.

HOW TALL? Bring a tape measure to the sunflower field. Measure your child’s height and then measure the height of a sunflower. Who is taller? Measure a few different sunflowers to see if their height is the same or different.

SPIRALS ABOUND: When you look at a sunflower look very, very closely and you’ll notice how the flower head is a complex, beautiful spiral. That’s the Golden Ratio!

SILLY SUNFLOWER FACES: When the flowers are wilted and at their end, make sunflower faces in the flower head! You can pluck the florets (what will eventually turn into new sunflower seeds) out to make a design of your own creation. The end result is a hoot! A 5ft tall sunflower smiling back at you. If you’re inspired to create silly sunflower faces of your very own, please use a sunflower you plan on purchasing.

ENJOY: Take a minute to be still. Breathe. Sit back and enjoy the scenery.

Don’t have a sunflower field close by?

Many of these activities can be achieved by growing your own sunflowers at home.  All you need is a little earth, sunshine, and love. And there are so many varities to choose from! Moonwalker, Red Sun, Teddy Bear, Autumn Beauty, Moulin Rouge, and the list goes on.  If you have the space, consider growing a Sunflower House (check it out). Sunflowers are such happy flowers and easy to care for.

Thank you Grinter Farms for sharing your fields with the community. We spent many days laughing and smiling in the flowers.

Sunflower Faces

8

Sep

Tree Identification for Kids: My Leaf Book

Tree Identification for Kids 1

While walking to and from school, leaf collecting has become a daily hobby for my family. The bottom of the stroller is filled after only a few blocks with a variety of leaves found by my 5-year-old while my toddler, who reamains fastened in the stroller, eagerly points to leaves for her sister to collect. With the recent release of Monica Wellington’s latest picture book, My Leaf Book (Public Library/Local Bookstore/Amazon), the timing could not have been more perfect to further our curiosity of trees and their leaves.

My Leaf Book

My Leaf Book 1

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My Leaf Book is the story of a child on her visits to an arboretum and the leaves she preserves in a special book of her own making. Using clues such as shape, size, and color, she collects leaves throughout the autumn season, identifies the type of tree the leaf came from, and adds those findings in her leaf book along with sketches, rubbings, prints, or glueing the actual leaves directly into her book. Monica Wellington’s signature illustration style of bright colors that my girls have grown to love so much over the years is paired with actual pressed leaves, sketches, rubbings, and prints of the leaves and trees depicted in the book.

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As the fall season progresses, so do the colors of the trees as green trees fade to orange, yellow, red, and brown. If you step back from looking at a tree, the shape of the tree actually mimics the shape of the leaves it produces, and the illustrations capture this concept wonderfully. The child character in the story also notes that trees can be identified not only by their leaves, but by their shape, bark, and leaf color too. An important remark, as so much of what we see is only a glimmer of the collective whole.

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My Leaf Book is a delightful way to encourage observation, especially during this time of noticeable seasonal changes. Interesting facts about the various trees featured in My Leaf Book are located on the bottom pages, and at the back of the book is a step-by-step guide for making Leaf Rubbings and Leaf Prints. Obviously, we had to try both art activities AND make our own leaf book. Don’t you just love a book that implores inquiry and creativity? Win!

So, this happened next:

Tree Identification for Kids My Leaf Book

This is my daughter’s most recent leaf book. I’m going to provide a breakdown of how it was created, but before I do I wanted to touch upon the fact that this is an entertaining activity and there are no rules to assembling a leaf book. That’s the exciting part. Make it your own! We did use the instructions for the leaf projects in the back of My Leaf Book, but also explored and played with other ways to document leaves from our surroundings. The art techniques used to document the leaves include leaf printing, leaf rubbings, sketching, and pressing.

Tree Identification for Kids 1

Leaf Identification for Kids 1

 

<script

The first step is to go outside. Go outside and look at the ground, go outside and look up at the sky. Go for a walk around the block. Go to the park. Go to an arboretum like the main character in My Leaf Book. Next, visit the library and check out a guide to tree identification. Try to find one with lots of color photos or drawings and that is specific to your region.

Ready to make a leaf book? Get those pretty leaves ready and get out the art supplies…

List of Supplies Used:

  • Paper
  • Oil pastels
  • Paint
  • Hole punch
  • Colored Pencils
  • Scissors
  • Yarn
  • Glue stick
  • Glitter glue

These are the supplies we used, but you can easily substitute crayons for oil pastels or use whatever you have on hand.

Leaf Printing

Leaf Printing 1

Leaf printing 2

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I cut spare sheets of watercolor paper and copy paper in half and punched holes in those sheets with a hole puncher, making sure the holes were all in the same position for when it comes time to bind the leaf book together. We followed the directions on how to make leaf prints in the back of My Leaf Book. Essentially, all that is required for this process is to paint a leaf with a paintbrush (if you have a brayer, use a brayer for more precision) and then press a pieces of paper onto the leaf. Rub the paper on top of the leaf with your fingers, feeling the veins of the leaf and the outer edges, pick the paper up to reveal your leaf print! The majority of the times the leaf was stuck to the apper, so we carefully pealed it off the paper. If the leaf seemed like it had enough remaining paint, we made a lighter print. Once done, allow plenty of drying time.

Leaf Rubbings 1

Leaf Rubbings

Leaf rubbing is a beautiful and easy way to create leaf art with minimal supplies. Lay a thin sheet of paper (printing paper will do just fine for this activity) on top of the veiny, underside of the leaf.  Using the side of an oil pastel or crayon, rub the paper covering the leaf and an impression of your leaf will appear before your eyes.

Tree Identification for Kids

 

how to make a Leaf Book 1 Another method used was drawing free-hand representations of leaves. She also enjoyed tracing the shapes of the leaves as well as cutting rubbings out and pasting them onto a separate piece of paper. Whatever artistic method your child chooses or whatever you can make happen with the supplies you have on-hand will be wonderful.

To bind the book together, I cut two pieces of yarn into roughly 8 inch pieces. I found this binding idea here, but had no rubber bands so yarn was my alternative experiment. Each peice of yarn I tied into a loop and then threaded the loop through each hole of the back of the leaf book. Working from the back of the book to front, I threaded the pages through the yard loops.

 

how to make a Leaf Book

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Once the pages are threaded and the cover is threaded, wrap loose ends of the loops around a stick about the same length as the leaf book.

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Once the book was assembled, we took time looking up the leaves collected and labeled them.

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For the cover, she pasted leaves using a clue stick and covered them in glitter glue and sketched a design using her favorite metallic markers.

The finished product:

Tree Identification for Kids My Leaf Book

Take a peak inside….

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For fun, here’s a vine of Lorelei’s first leaf book made from tracing found leaves from an autumn walk last year:

<script

So many stimulating sights, smells, and sounds roll in with fall. I hope you’re able to make time to go outside and explore them. Happy leaf hunting!

 

Source of book reviewed provided by Penguin Young Readers