Nature Study and Journaling

I am not an expert at nature study and journaling, but I have always found it intriguing. The problem was that I didn’t really know how to start and keep going. So this past year we made up a plan and tried to stick to it, and at the end of the year we had a nice start on a nature journal.

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I have put what we did into a fun little schedule for the year below. If you try it out, come back and let me know how you like it in the comments.

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Get to Know Canada – Nature Study

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May Nature Walk

After a long winter it is fun to go on a walk to find all the things that are growing again. Of course, this time of year there are also lots of little pesky insects to deal with as well, but going out in the morning while it is still cool helps out a bit.

Here are some of the things we found on our nature walk.

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Marsh marigold growing in a drainage ditch.

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Gigantic dandelions growing on the side of the road.

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Wild blueberry blossoms and moss growing on a rock.

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Fiddleheads unfolding.

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More fiddleheads.

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Lots of green at the river.

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Wild lily of the valley getting ready to bloom.

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Wild hydrangea.

Nature Walk:

Take a walk in a park or wooded area and see what you can find blooming. Make a sketch of what you see in your journal.

Ferns

Ferns can be found in every part of the world. It is fun to go out and look for them in the springtime as they pop out of the ground and begin to unroll.

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Books:

I could not find many children’s books about ferns, but here are two. One is about how ferns and other ancient plants became the fuel that we use today (it can be fun to also look at fossils of ferns that have been found), and the other is about spore-producing plants like ferns.

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You can borrow this older book: Ferns, Plants without flowers.

This is another fantastic book: Fern Finder

Research:

Find the answers to these questions and any others that you may have, and include them in your nature journal.

  1. Since ferns do not have flowers, how do they reproduce?
  2. Where can you find the “fruit dots” on a fern?

Nature Journal:

Draw a fern in your nature journal and label its parts (rootstock, fiddlehead, frond, blade, pinnae, pinnules, sori, sporangia).

Go for a nature walk and pick a frond from every fern that you find. Press them and add them to your journal and identify them if you can.

Here are few more ideas: Fern Study

Count the dandelions

This time of year it seems pretty obvious that there will never be a shortage of dandelions. They seem to be everywhere and I do enjoy their sunny faces and I know the bees do too.

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Find a place where dandelions grow and look at them carefully. What do their leaves look like? What do the flower buds look like? Look at the flower carefully – notice the curly stigmas, and the notches on the ends of the petals. If they have turned into white fuzz balls, pull off one of the little seeds and look at it closely – what does the seed look like? What does the “parachute” look like?

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Draw all that you find in your nature journal. You may want to press a few flower petals and a little parachute and stick them in your journal too.

Read this little story about a dandelion from the book Little Wanderers by M. Morley: Dandelions.

Things to do with dandelions:

  • Eat them – pick the leaves before they flower and make a salad.
  • Pick a flower and write a message in your journal with dandelion juice.
  • Make a dandelion flower crown.
  • Pick a dandelion puffball and make a wish before blowing the parachutes away.
  • Paint with a dandelion flower.
  • or try your hand at some more complicated concoctions

 

Spring Peepers

We are still waiting for these little guys to start singing around here, but it is always a good sign that spring is well on its way. During the winter they hibernate under logs or loose bark and are usually found near swamps or ponds.

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Here are a couple books to take a look at:

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You can borrow this book from archive.org – Tree Frogs

Research:

Find the answers to these questions or any others you may have and write them in your nature journal.

  1. How do tree frogs make the noise that they do?
  2. What do they eat?

Draw a tree frog in your journal and a diagram of their lifecycle.

Spring Clean Up

This time of year, when the snow is finally gone but the ground cover is still brown and dead, it is so disappointing to see all the garbage littering the sides of the road and the ditches. However, it is also the perfect time to clean it up.

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This was from only a short walk down our road and back up, and we need to go down the other way tomorrow. Most of what we found was plastic: bags, yogurt cups, packaging, cups, straws. And then there were the Tim Horton cups, chip and candy packaging, and a few other things we will just label disgusting.

Of course, throwing it all into a plastic bag and sending it off to the local dump doesn’t really get rid of the problem, it just relocates it. So we have decided to figure out how we, as a family, can stop contributing to the problem of garbage.

Nature Walk:

Get yourself a trash bag, some gloves and take a walk in your neighbourhood. Pick up any trash you come across and take note of what you find.

Nature Journal:

Draw the various items you found in your clean up walk and brainstorm ways you can avoid these items. Here are some of our ideas:

Plastic shopping bags: Make a cloth bag that you can fold up and keep in the car or purse to use for odd purchases. Use reusuable bags for grocery shopping.

Straws: Do I really need a straw? Just drink right from the cup. If a straw is really necessary, then find some biodegradeable paper straws to keep on hand.

Plastic food bags for lunch boxes: Make some cloth sandwich wrappers. Use reusable containers or bento boxes.

Plastic cups: Find a good quality reusable water bottle. Make our own smoothies or iced cappucinos instead of buying them in plastic cups – cheaper that way too!

Paper coffee cups: Use our own travel mug at Tim Horton’s or ask for a china cup if  dining in.

Snack packaging: Stop buying individually packaged snacks. Make our own granola bars. Use yogurt from a big tub that can be recycled, and reusable smaller containers.

Other plastics: Find out what plastics can be recycled, be sure to recycle them, and don’t buy the ones that can’t be.

First Day of Spring Scavenger Hunt

To be honest, we didn’t do our spring scavenger hunt on the first day of spring. We had a bit of winter weather move in and so we waited a little bit. In Nova Scotia, there are not really a whole lot of signs that spring is here. The sun is definitely warmer when it is out, but the grass is still brown and dead, the tree buds are still pretty firmly closed, and although there are bulbs poking up in the garden, we have snow on the ground.

We went out with a list of things to find:

  • buds opening
  • melting
  • plants coming up
  • insects
  • blue sky
  • something green
  • something colourful

Here’s what we found:

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Buds still closed up pretty tight.

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Melting

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Plants coming up

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Believe it or not we found an insect – a snow flea

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Nice green moss and if you look closely you can see the sporophytes.

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We did find some old rosehips and berries, but this lichen was colourful and more interesting.

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Gorgeous blue sky!

So there you have the first day (or so) of spring in Nova Scotia.

Happy Spring everyone!

Nature Walk:

Take a walk outside where you live and find some signs of spring. Make a page in your journal for the first day of spring, and draw some of the things you found. Take a bag with you on your walk, and see if you can collect a few small pieces of moss to bring home with you. Use this to make a little moss garden for your nature table.

woodpoolpageAdd a poem to your nature journal. We dabbed some acrylic paint in the colours of the forest this time of year onto a page and scraped it around using an old credit card.

Print out this poem – The Wood Pool, cut it out and paste it on top.

Moss

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Moss is a little plant that often seems overlooked even though it grows almost everywhere. It does not have the showy flowers or great stature of other plants, in fact it is quite different.

Moss is non-vascular, meaning it does not have the means of carrying water and nutrients from one part of the plant to another. Instead moss absorbs water and nutrients from the air through its leaves and stems. It can absorb 20 times it’s weight in water. This is why moss made such great diaper material for the first nations people, and why it was used as bandages when regular bandages were not available in WWI, and it has the added bonus of being anti-bacterial.

Moss also lacks true roots and instead has root-like filaments that attach it to the surface it is growing on, but do not actually conduct water.

Research:

Find the answers to these questions and any others that you may have:

  1. Since moss does not produce flowers like most plants, how does it reproduce?
  2. Is a cushion of moss one plant or separate plants?

Here is a video that looks at the moss life-cycle under a microscope:

Books:

It was difficult to find picture books on this topic. I looked at several on American forests and most of them barely mentioned moss. But you may enjoy looking through this website which has heaps of wonderful information, paintings, and a little book on moss you can buy if you like: The World of Mosses.

Nature Journal:

Try to draw the moss life-cycle and note any interesting facts you have learned about moss.

Making Maple Syrup

This is the time of year when the sap starts moving in the trees again: nights when the temperature drops below freezing followed by days when the temperature rises above freezing. Many maple syrup farms today use tubing to collect their sap rather than the traditional tap and bucket.

My sister taps a few trees on her property in Ontario and here are some photos from her little operation.

Sugar Maple

A sugar maple. Other maple trees can be tapped, but the sugar maple takes a little longer to open it’s buds which means a longer run of sap.

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Approximately 40 litres of sap need to be collected in order to make 1 litre of maple syrup.

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It may take up to 12 or so hours to boil the sap down to the right sugar concentration (about 66%). If it gets boiled too long, it will turn into maple sugar.

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Perfect for pancakes!

Outing:

If you live in sugar maple country, visit a sugar farm and see how it’s done. Draw the process in your nature journal and make sure you make some pancakes and maple syrup!

To learn more about the Maple Tree, take a look at this post I wrote earlier: The Maple Tree.

Looking for Buds

Today was a beautiful day. It felt like spring, but it seems way too early. However, it was a great day for a walk in the woods to look for buds. We had some wet snow a couple days ago that melted quickly in most places, but in the shadows of the forest there were still patches of ice and icy snow.

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Most of the buds we found are still closed up tightly, but we did notice that the red squirrels have been chewing on the branches of our maple tree, and icicles were forming in those places, indicating that the sap is definitely rising.

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Nature Walk:

Get out for a walk to find buds in your neighbourhood. Cut a few twigs to bring home and put in a jar of water. Draw some of the buds in your journal, and identify and label them if you can. Watch the twigs in the jar. When they start to come out in leaf, add to your journal page.

Poem:

FebpoempageWe also made a page for our February poem – Silver by Walter de la Mare.

We painted a page with black tempura paint and then put some silver paint on a paper towel and used a lid off a milk jug to print a silver moon on the paper. Then we used an old toothbrush to spatter some silver paint across the painting and a star stamp for some snowflakes.