Friday, March 28, 2008

Pear Blossom Time with Strawberries Too

Today I found two new plants blooming with beautiful white flowers. The first is our pear tree with the delicate white and pink blossoms. (click on the photos to enlarge them)

Look at this close-up of the pear blossom, so delicate.

Then in my son's garden box, I found that the strawberries are beginning to blossom and fruit...we may be able to enjoy these if the birds do not get to them first. :)

See the little berries forming?

From the Handbook of Nature Study, page 610,
"The strawberry plant has two methods of perpetuating itself, one by the akenes which are growing on the outside of the strawberry fruits, and one by means of runners which start new plants wherever they find place to take root."

Pages 608-611 cover the strawberry plant, including 12 suggestions for observation.

I love the spring.
Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Outdoor Hour Challenge #7 Your Own Field Guide

Field Guide-Cards on a Ring

“If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he or she needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.” Rachel Carson

One nature activity that our family has worked on together is to start and maintain a personalized field guide to birds that frequent our birdfeeder and backyard. We started a few years ago and have added each new kind of bird as we come across it. The instructions are for bird cards but you could easily adapt the idea for trees, wildflowers, insects, flowerless plants, or garden flowers.

How to Make Field Guide Cards


5 x 8 index card

Bird photograph

glue stick

Optional: Blank bird information form,lamination, binder ring

supplies for card

1. We take a photo of the bird we want to add to our field guide or if we can’t take a decent photo, we find one on the internet and print it out on our color printer.

front card

2. Glue the photo on one side of the 5 x 8 card.

back card

3. We fill in the blank bird information form with information from our field guide.

4. Glue the information onto the back of the card.

cards ready to cut

5. Optional: Laminate the card.

finished cards on ring

6. Optional: We hole punch the corner of each card and attach it to a binder ring.

Here is a copy of the blank information form we use.

PDF of bird field guide blank

Please note:
I want to clarify the idea of picking a focus area. The focus area is a topic in the Handbook of Nature Study that your family is choosing to learn about in more depth. Challenge #5 suggested making a list of things you found within your focus area that you might come into contact with in your local area. I suggested that you work in a specific focus area for six to eight weeks so you could really get to know a certain aspect of nature. Each week I am suggesting that you read about one item from your list in the Handbook of Nature Study. This gives you some ideas for observations when you go outside with your children. If on your nature walk you find something else to be interested in, please feel free to go with that interest. I am not trying to limit you but to have some sort of way to direct your nature study. In my experience, as I change our family's focus, we are hyper-sensitive to finding things in that focus area to learn about because we are more aware. It narrows down our vision a little so we can really get to know our own backyards. I hope that clears up any misunderstanding.

Outdoor Hour Challenge #7
Your Own Field Guide

1. In your focus area, turn to the table of contents and pick a new subject in your section to read about before your nature walk. Make sure to read the observation suggestions to have them in mind before your time outdoors. Take your 10-15 minute walk, looking for things to add to your list of focus area items in your nature journal. Spend some of your time quietly observing and try to encourage your child to look closely at something they have seen before to recognize any changes or new aspects of the item. For example, if you are focusing on flowerless plants, see if you can find some differences between flowerless plants and garden plants. [lack of leaves, petals, or roots]

“Children should know the correct name for parts of things, such as petals, sepals, etc, to help them describe what they see. They should be encouraged to group things together by leaf shape, or leaf vein pattern, or number of flower petals, or whether they keep their leaves all year, or animals that have a backbone, or animals that eat grass or eat meat, etc. Collecting and sorting plant specimens is fun and good practice.” Charlotte Mason, volume 1, page 63

2. After your outdoor time, take time to discuss the outing with your child, helping them to find words to describe their experience. Add anything new to your list of items observed in your focus area that you are keeping in your nature journal. Make note of any additional research that needs to be done for things your child is interested in.

“The ability to group things together by type and find differences is one of the higher orders of intellect, and every opportunity to use it first-hand should be encouraged.” Charlotte Mason, volume 1, page 64

3. Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry. Remember this can be a simple drawing, a label, and a date. Challenges 2 and 3 have ideas for alternatives to drawing in the nature journal.

4. Add any items to your collection that you discovered during your nature time. If you need more information on making a collection, see Challenge #6. Or if you are choosing to start making a field guide with your children, gather the materials and make your first card.

5. Post an entry on your blog.
 OHC Blog Carnival

You can link up by clicking the carnival button or you can send them directly to me:

You can purchase all of the first ten challenges in a convenient ebook along with custom notebook pages.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Collections: Pressing Flowers: Outdoor Hour Challenge #6

marigold 1
We have had a busy week and although we have been outside everyday, we haven't really cracked the Handbook of Nature Study at all. Some weeks our nature study is like that but then we will make up for it other weeks.
The boys have been busy weeding the garden and my youngest even planted a few spinach seedlings hoping that they will make it through until the weather really warms up.

We have been busy birdwatching because our feeders are still full of birds. I think some of the birds are nesting and we will be putting out some things for them to nest with. We saw this idea for a bird nesting project and we are going to give it a try and keep you posted.

Our focus area is garden flowers so we took a trip to the Home Depot to see what we could add to the garden. Guess what they picked? Marigolds. Lots of marigolds.
We also picked up a few packets of seeds: Sunflower (Mammoth), Peas, and Green Beans (Kentucky Wonders). We are going to wait a bit before we put the seeds into the garden because we are still having a little frost each morning.
seed packets
My son decided that for his collection he would like to press garden flowers.
pressing flowers 1
We started with pansies and violets.
pressed flowers 1
They are now slipped into a sheet protector and they will go into his binder. We are still working on a way of adhering them to the paper without damaging them. I will keep you posted. (in a future challenge we will be learning how to press flowers)

So that was our week, not as exciting as some but still VERY enjoyable.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

California Quail Story with Video

Last night I was sitting at the table when I heard an unusual bird call just outside my window. It was something so distinct that I was alert right away. I called my husband over and we cracked the window and listened...he heard it too.

We were peeking out the window but couldn't see anything out there. It called again. This time I recognized the call from the other day. Chi-CA-Go, Chi-CA-Go. It is sounds so clear once you recognize it.

California Quail.

This morning I heard it again and was determined to go outside and find the bird to confirm my identification. I quietly stepped out onto the deck. Quiet. Then I decided to head down the stairs to look around the yard. Quiet. Next thing I know, a bird flies right over my head and lands on the deck railing. It was a quail! Big, beautiful, gorgeous California quail. He sat there for maybe 30 seconds and then he flew up into our tree. I decided to go inside and get my video camera to try to capture him on film.

Of course he wouldn't come out of hiding again for me but he did sing me his song. Here is a very short edited video of his call. Listen for the Chi-ca-go call and that is him among the chorus of other morning birds in my yard. You might need to turn your speakers up.

California Quail Video

So that is my very exciting new bird to our yard story. We have lived here for over 21 years and this is the first time I have seen a quail in our yard. Wahoo!

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, March 24, 2008

Ideas for Drawing In Your Nature Journal

nature journal 1
I decided to share some links to pages that I use to help us draw in our nature journal. Several are links to coloring pages but I like their black line drawings that simplify an object so we can learn to draw them on our own in our journals. Make sure to check out all the links even if they are from a state or habitat other than one where you currently live. Many times there are animals, plants, and birds that you will have in your location too. I don't necessarily print the coloring book pages out and color them. We will use them as a guide to draw our own sketches of things we see in our Green Hour or for our nature journal.

Celebrating Wildflowers from the US Forest Service
These coloring pages are in PDF format so once you bring up the page, you can print out just the page you want and there is no need to print every page out on your printer.

Feeder Birds Coloring Book from Cornell
These are not only coloring pages but could actually be used as notebooking pages for your nature journal. I print out the table of contents to keep in my notebook as a reference. This way I know what birds are included in the coloring book.

Guide to Tree Sketching
I've shared this one before but it is worth listing again.

How to Draw Flowers and Plants

Step by step to various garden flowers

There's Fun in Fungi
This is a PDF file. On page 5, there is a great illustration of a mushroom and its parts that you could use to easily draw your own mushroom.

Ducks and Geese:
3 Easy Steps to Drawing a Duck
A little more advanced but still great tips

Draw a Butterfly-Scientific Illustration

This is a fantastic page that teaches about how a scientist draws a specimen.

Various animals, birds, and reptiles:
Wildlife of New Mexico
This coloring book is worth a look. I think it is especially well done and many of the animals are found in other states as well. PDF format.

Wildlife of New Jersey
This is another really well done coloring book.

Wetlands Coloring Book
Lots of great ideas for drawing animals and scenes in this book.

I know I have one reader from Hawaii that participates in the Green Hour Challenge. This link is for her.
The Forest Jewels of Hawaii
Coloring pages of Hawaiian Birds

Hope there is something here that will help you with your endeavors to draw in your nature journal.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Pacific Treefrog

Pacific treefrog, Hyla regilla, found at the American River, California.

Bright sunny day.

He and a friend treated us to a show of their voices. They are very loud and make their song by expanding their balloon like throats. It is a fascinating thing to see.

Here's a video that I shared on my other blog that has the frogs croaking at 25 seconds and 50 seconds into the video.
Pacific treefrog Video
The video is terrible but the audio is fantastic. They really were as loud as they sound in the video.
Handbook of Nature Study, page 186
"The frog may be studied in its native situation by the pupils or it may be brought to the school and placed in an aquarium; however, to make a frog aquarium there needs to be a stick or stone projecting about the water, for the frog likes to spend part of the time entirely out of water or only partially submerged."

On pages 178 and 179 of the Handbook, Anna Comstock talks a little about a different variety of tree frog and shows a few photos.
"It is by means of these sticky, disclike toes that the animals hold themselves upon the tree trunks or other upright objects."

Here is a nature journal entry my son did last summer of another Pacific treefrog that we observed.
Pacific Tree Frog-nature journal
We are going to be able to identify this little creature now when we hear his call and we feel privileged to have had this experience.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Saturday, March 22, 2008

First Grasshopper of the Season

We spotted this critter on the ground at my dad's place a week or so ago. Isn't he beautifully camouflaged?

Here he is in the dry brown grass and he is so much easier to spot. Make to click on the photo and see his features close-up!

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Willow Tree: Spring is Coming

The Handbook of Nature Study has a whole section on willows, including a photo of a weeping willow like the one above.

We have enjoyed watching this one get its leaves the last few weeks and watch its slender branches swaying in the breeze.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, March 21, 2008

Outdoor Hour Challenge #6 Starting a Collection

“It’s a good thing to learn more about nature in order to share this knowledge with children; it’s even better if the adult and child learn about nature together. And it’s a lot more fun.” Last Child in the Woods, Richard Louv

rocks in a bowl
Easy collection of rocks in a bowl.
Now may be a great time to start a collection of items for nature study. This can be an organized collection or various items collected to display on a seasonal table.

If your nature study is going along well and you are enjoying the rhythm of your time together, don’t add anything new. The collections are something that can happen at any point in your study of nature. I would rather see you spending more time outdoors if the collections take away from your energy to keep that outdoor time up. On the other hand, if your children are already bringing items home and they want a way to display them, give the collection a try. 


1. Nature study is something that builds from week to week and this week’s assignment includes elements of the first five assignments . In your focus area, pick another item from your list to read about with your child from the Handbook of Nature Study. After reading about the item to the child, take a few minutes to read the observation suggestions to yourself. Keep these ideas in mind as you head out for your 10-15 minutes of nature time outdoors.
“Out-of-door life takes a child afield and keeps him in the open air, which not only helps him physically and occupies his mind with sane subjects, but keeps him out of mischief. It is not only during childhood that this is true, for love of nature counts much for sanity in later life.” Handbook of Nature Study, page 2

 2. After your outdoor time, take time to discuss the outing with your child, helping them to find words to describe their experience. Add anything new to your list of items observed in your focus area that you are keeping in your nature journal. Make note of any additional research that needs to be done for things your child is interested in.
“ In nature study any teacher can with honor say, “I do not know”; for perhaps the question asked is as yet unanswered by the great scientists.” page 3

3. Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry. Remember this can be a simple drawing, a label, and a date. Challenges 2 and 3 have ideas for alternatives to drawing in the nature journal.

4. Think about starting a collection to supplement your nature journal in your focus area.

Some ideas for collections: leaf rubbings, tree bark rubbings, pressed flowers, rocks, feathers, shells, seeds, insects, or photographs or drawings of subjects that are too large to collect like trees and clouds.

Some ideas for storage:

  • Egg cartons work well for things like rocks or seeds.
  • Sheet protectors work well for holding items like feathers, leaves, or photographs.
  • Specialty boxes you purchase for insects, rocks, shells, or butterflies.
  • Wicker paper plate holder to keep each season’s items on your science shelf. (See photo in blog entry.) It works well for things like small cones, leaves, twigs, moss, or seed pods.
  • Shoe boxes work well if you make little compartments with cardboard or cardstock to section off the items.
  • Tic-tac boxes for sand, small rocks, or transporting insects.

 OHC Blog Carnival 

5. Post an entry on your blog listing out what you did for your Outdoor Hour. You can link up by clicking the carnival button or you can send them directly to me: 

You can purchase all of the first ten challenges in a convenient ebook along with custom notebook pages.

Daffodils In Depth for Outdoor Hour #5

Outdoor Hour Challenge #5 Making a List

Our focus is garden flowers and we marked our table of contents for flowers we think we will study over the next few weeks. Last week we did pansies and this week we are learning about daffodils. We read the section in the Handbook of Nature Study and then headed outdoors to our garden "laboratory".

We had our 10-15 minutes outdoors today looking for daffodils or jonquils. We have several varieties blooming right now so it was perfect timing. Here are a few photos.

We read in the HNS about the parts of the daffodil so when we went outside we made sure to look closely to see each part. Here is the sheath.

daffodil sheath

Here is the seedcase when we opened it up with a knife.
cutting open the seedcase

Okay, so now we were wondering why you grow daffodils from a bulb and not from seeds. We went to the internet and found the answer.

Here is what I found on the internet: The seeds are ripe when they literally rattle in the seedpod or the pod is about to burst open on its own. They should be black then. Hybridizers grow daffodils from seed to try to produce new varieties. The problem with it is it takes a really long time to get a blooming size bulb from seed. Typical is maybe five years! Most people buy and plant bulbs because they like results (flowers) sooner than that.

Here is the bouquet I was given at the end of our study today. It is in our special daffodil vase that my middle son gave to me as a gift many years ago. I love it.
jonquils in a vase

So that was our very enjoyable Outdoor Hour challenge for this week. We learned more about a flower we have grown in our garden for decades. I love nature study and so does my son.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Monday, March 17, 2008

Shooting Stars, Miner's Lettuce, and Hound's Tongue

My husband and I took a walk today to see if we could find any more wildflowers blooming early. We were not disappointed. It was a cool morning and the trail was damp but the sun was bright as we walked down the hill. Not far past the place where we parked the car, we found several beauties waiting for us. Please make sure to click on the photos to make them larger.

Pacific Hound's Tongue flower

Here is the leaf on the Pacific hound's tongue that gives it its name. The Maidu tribe used this for stomachaches and burns.

Miner's lettuce

Unidentified flower. I think it may be a wild carrot but I'm not sure.

This pretty little leaf is poison was everywhere around the trail we were on. We didn't notice it until this time down the trail so we will have to be more watchful climbing up and off the trail from now on. :)

I am learning the value of going on a particular trail more than once to see the differences from time to time. We are getting to know this little hill and every time we hike down it we find something new and interesting.

We stood quietly listening a few times. We were rewarded with the sound of a distant woodpecker knocking on his tree trunk. We heard some California quail with their little unique sounding bird call. If you want to hear what it sounds like, here is a link:
What for California Quail if you scroll down the page a bit, on the left side, there is a button to click to hear the quail call.

It was a refreshing hour out in the air and sunshine.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Friday, March 14, 2008

Outdoor Hour Challenge #5 Keeping a List

So are you ready for challenge number 5? Here you go.

Outdoor Hour Challenge #5
Making a List
1. Have you decided on a focus area yet?
If you have a focus already, turn to the table of contents in the Handbook of Nature Study and skim down to your area of focus. Look down the list of subjects covered in your area. Highlight or underline those items listed that you think you will encounter during the next five to seven weeks. For example if your area of focus is garden flowers, skim down the list and see if you recognize any flower names that you have in your backyard or area. I actually see ten flowers that our family may come in contact with in our region. Pick one item in your focus area to study, turn to those pages, and read to your child about that subject. At the end of each section, there are observation ideas for each subject and these observation suggestions will be the parent’s reading assignment this week.(see below) As you find things in your focus area, keep a running list in the front or back of your nature journal of those items.

If you still haven’t come up with a nature study focus,
Read: “Pets as Nature Study Subjects” pg 15-16
Why not begin a study of your pet? You could try dogs, cats, goldfish, a canary, or how about a duck?
“Little attention has been given to making the child understand what would be the lives of his pets if they were in their native environment, or to relating their habits and lives as wild animals.”
This is a perfectly good alternative to an outdoor study if you are still experiencing cold winter weather.

Reading Assignment for parents: Read the observation suggestions in the Handbook of Nature Study for the item you chose to read about with your child. Keep these ideas in mind as you have your outdoor time this week. For example, if you are focusing on garden flowers and you are going to read to your child about tulips, turn to the end of the section on tulips and read Lesson 151 which includes eight suggestions for observation. Keep these ideas in mind as you head out for your nature walk.

2. During your 10-15 minute walk, use your senses to not only observe but to hear the sounds of your surroundings.

“ …the mother must not miss this opportunity of being outdoors to train the children to have seeing eyes, hearing ears and seeds of truth deposited into their minds to grow and blossom on their own in the secret chambers of their imaginations”
“No reading aloud or storytelling--in fact, there should be as little talking from her (mother) as possible, and what little there is should have a definite purpose.” Charlotte Mason volume one, page 45

3. Follow up with a discussion. Did you see anything new to add to your list of focus items? Did you complete any of the suggested observations? Do you need to do any further research to answer questions?

4. Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry.
Try to encourage a simple drawing, a label, and a date. Pull out the previous challenges and review the alternatives for younger children.

 OHC Blog Carnival
5. Post an entry on your blog sharing your experiences and then share the link with the Outdoor Hour Challenge Blog Carnival.
You can also send the link directly to my

The main idea of this challenge is to start a list of things you find within your focus area. You can use paper clips to fasten a list into the front of your nature journal. The list can be removed when you change your focus and it can be taped or glued into your nature journal on any page you choose.

bird list in nature journal
The list can be simply the names of the items or you can add the dates you observed them and the location if you want to be more thorough. Sometimes my whole nature journal entry is just a list of things that I see on a particular outing.
nature journal lists
The beauty of a nature journal is that it is yours to do with as you want to. I hope to give you a lot of ideas that you can choose from over the coming challenges.

You can purchase all of the first ten challenges in a convenient ebook along with custom notebook pages.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wild Mustard


Or at least it is in my world. Mustard is a wildflower that we see in great numbers in our area starting about this time of year. I spotted this patch of mustard growing in an abandoned orchard near my house.

The Handbook of Nature Study, page 460:
"Because of their beauty and scientific value, special need exists for the protection of our native wild flowers and shrubs. It is understandable that these uncultivated plants should attract the visitor, but in too many instances he is not satisfied to enjoy their beauty as they exist in their natural habitats. All too frequently he picks flowers in large numbers, only to discard them faded and wilted a few hours later."
(note this was written in 1911)

Look at those beautiful flowers.

"Some flowers are so abundant that they can be picked in moderation if the roots are not disturbed, if plenty of flowers are left for seed, and if the plant itself is not taken with the flower."

Another beautiful spring day.

Barb-Harmony Art Mom

Picking our Focus for Outdoor Hour Challenge #4

mom taking photos
As part of the Outdoor Hour Challenge, our family will be focusing on garden plants for the next eight weeks. This does not mean that we won't be looking at anything else interesting that comes up during our nature study but rather we will keep our minds set on learning more about the garden plants that we have in our backyard. I am sure we will also take in a field trip or two to the local nursery and to our favorite place at this time of year, the Amador Flower Farm.

We got out the Handbook of Nature Study and skimmed down the garden flower selections and my son decided that he wanted to learn about pansies since we have a pot of them on the back deck. We read the introductory information together. He really enjoyed hearing how the flowers looked like human faces so that is what we decided to observe this week.

pot of pansies
My son took this one for his nature journal.
taking photos

pansy centers
I took this one of the center of the flower using my macro setting.

For our 10-15 minutes outside we took some time to really look deeply at the pansy. He saw the face and then we looked deeper for the little man that the book talked about. Found it! We brought one flower inside for pressing and eventually to add to his nature notebook. He had taken some photos of the pansies and those will go in too. Later this week he will put it all together into a page in his notebook.

I read the pages in the Handbook of Nature Study that talk about using scientific names and about the field notebook. We have kept nature notebooks for many years and have found them to be something we enjoy reading over many times. We use spiral notebooks with heavy paper and they have held up very well over the years, even with little hands.

Pretty yellow forsythia.

We were overwhelmed with all the garden flowers already blooming in our yard once we started looking closely.

heart flowers

This is our favorite and soon it will fill in a whole flower bed on the side of the house.

Violets, mmmm. Can you smell them?

Oh, and there was a little tree climbing during our nature time.

climbing a tree

Another successful Outdoor Hour Challenge.....done in 30 minutes.