Friday, October 29, 2010

Fall Leaves

Here in Southern New England, now is the perfect time to get outside with your kids and enjoy the blaze of color on the trees. Every time my five-year-old daughter steps outside, she finds another beautiful leaf to share. "Oooh, Mommy, look at this one!" is her most common phrase.

I remember that as I child, all I wanted to do was find a way to preserve those leaves so I could enjoy them in the dark winter months. I tried many methods, including the fairly well-known practice of ironing leaves between two pieces of waxed paper and hanging them in front of a window. This exercise was fun, but the bold colors didn't last long.

A couple of years ago I had a new idea, this time inspired my my kids' same desire to preserve their leaves. 

Leaf Placemats
Here's what you need:
  • an assortment of leaves. Gather a variety of shapes and colors.
  • white glue
  • 11 X 17 paper (We used copy paper weight but any paper will do).
  • access to a color copy center an hour or two after finishing the project
  • clear contact paper or access to a copy center that does laminating
  1. Take a nature hike with your kids. Collect leaves together. (If hiking in public a place, such as an arboretum, be aware that collecting may not be allowed). While you're walking, take advantage of the time together. Talk about which leaves you like and why.  Note the shapes of the leaves. Try to find which trees your leaves came from. 
  2. Be careful of these leaves, though. That's poison ivy!
  3. Bring your leaves home. Before rushing right into the craft, give your kids a chance to explore the leaves a bit. Maybe they'd like to sort them in some way or talk about them with you. 
  4. Glue the leaves onto the 11 X 17 paper. Kids as young as 2 can participate in this with parent support. Ask the children where they want glue and help them apply it. Then they can stick the leaves down. Encourage older kids to make a pleasing design.  Note: the leaves do not need to be securely glued in all places. They just need to last long enough to make a copy.
  5. As soon as the glue is dry, take them to the copy center and make color photocopies. (The cost varies but is around $1.00 per sheet). If you wait, the leaves will start to fade, so the results will not be as good. The quality of photocopies today is terrific. They'll look exactly like your creations.
  6. To preserve the placemats, have the copy center laminate them. This is not a cheap process, so confirm the cost before placing your order. An alternative is to mount them on sturdy paper and cover them with clear contact paper. Public libraries sometimes have laminating machines and may allow you to use them for a fee. (I laminated ours at our public library). These coverings allow you to wipe the placemats clean with a damp cloth (DO NOT submerge them in water). We made ours 3 years ago and they're still in good condition.
Here's and alternative project  inspired by my daughter:

Leaf Rubbings
  • Assortment of leaves
  • Light weight paper such as regular copy paper
  • crayons
  • tape

  1. Arrange the leaves upside down (vein side up) on a piece of paper.
  2. Carefully place another piece of paper on top. Tape it down.
  3. Using the side of a crayon, gently rub across the surface of the paper. The leaves' shapes and veins will be revealed in the rubbing. This process is magical for young children as the leaves "suddenly" appear.
  4. Experiment with different colors. Even though my daughter loves pink, it was not a satisfying color for this project. Her favorite was a deep blue that clearly revealed the veins.
  5. Ask the kids to embellish the rubbings, or not, as they feel inspired.
  6. You can then frame these pieces or laminate them as above.
Relatives love to receive these projects as gifts and they're perfect for the Thanksgiving table.

For my readers from regions where leaves don't turn or who are overseas... try a project like this using flowers and green leaves. You'll need to gently flatten the flowers enough that they can sit on the deck of a copy machine.

Have you tried projects like these? Will you try one now? What other ideas do you have for preserving our beautiful fall leaves (or flowers)?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

White Mind (continuing the conversation from "Coloring Between the Lines")

If you've read my "about" tab, you know that connecting with nature and with people of different cultures and backgrounds is important to me. Nature is all around us if we just pay attention. So is culture. Sure, I can travel overseas to experience another culture, but there are subtle cultural differences all around us. There are differences of culture from one family to the next. That's one reason I was required to live with three different families when I was a Rotary Exchange Student in high school. Living with one family would have given me a view of that family's culture. By living with three different families over the course of a year, I was able to experience the daily routines and rituals of three very different families.

Culture includes the way we portray ourselves to the world and the way the world sees us. The United States is a varied, dynamic, interesting country that benefits from the contributions of people of all races, religions, and creeds. The sheer variety of people who live here and govern via a democracy makes us unique.

Yet, in the children's books published in the US, the majority of children portrayed are white. When children of color are depicted, the stories frequently revolve around a white person and have people of color in the background. Or, the story revolves around race issues, rather than portray a child of color having every day experiences that don't revolve around race. Described another way- stories that give the readers a "slice of life".

I touched on this topic briefly last July but many others have written more eloquently than I on this issue. I encourage you to join the conversation. Or, at least read what others have to say.
Here are some places to start:

Added 10/27: Also see Nikki Grime's blog post from today.

At a minimum, I hope these blogs will make you think. Then, as a parent or teacher, examine the books you choose for your kids or students. Do they reflect the diversity of people around them? Can children of color see themselves positively portrayed within the pages of those books?  (Booksellers, please also see Mitali Perkin's post for tips on selling multicultural books).

For a list of suggested titles, you can also visit Elizabeth Bluemle’s “A World Full of Color” list at LibraryThing.

Have you recently read a great children's book with a protagonist that is not Caucasian? Do you have any titles to suggest to us? Please share your thoughts and ideas in the comments section.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Caterpillar Investigation, Part 4

In three previous posts (here, here, and here), I described our caterpillar investigation. The caterpillars seemed to suddenly appear on the parsley in our vegetable garden. We started by observing them in the garden and eventually placed two caterpillars in a "butterfly house" to hopefully watch their metamorphosis into butterflies.  We are patiently awaiting some changes. One point I neglected to mention on those previous posts is the fact that this butterfly house in exposed to the cold. It's inside our screened porch so it's protected from severe weather but the temperature is basically the same as outside. I did this because the caterpillars were outside eating our parsley. Presumably, those caterpillars are adapted to the seasons and should, therefore, be left to experience the appropriate weather.

Last Wednesday, we added a new specimen to our butterfly house- a woolly bear caterpillar. I almost crushed the fuzzy little creature while walking through our dining room. Luckily, my husband spotted it and stopped me. Of course, I picked it up and showed our kids.

My daughter was the first to suggest we place it in with the other caterpillars. I was happy to support her investigation, as long as I knew we could keep the caterpillar healthy. Unlike the first caterpillars we found, I did not know how to care for a woolly bear. Even though I've seen them for my entire life, I had never seen one eating or researched their life cycle. I did a quick Internet search to be sure of what to do to care for it. I learned they eat clover or grass and would need a stick on which to climb. The kids gathered the needed supplies and we added the woolly bear to to the butterfly house. We need to add "fresh" grass every day until it stops moving around. Then it will winter over and make a cocoon in the spring. My research revealed that this caterpillar must be allowed to experience the cold or it's life cycle will be disrupted. It will make a cocoon too early and emerge as a moth that cannot survive the cold weather. 

We now have two un-identified caterpillars that made crysalids (photo to left)  in the butterfly house. We think they will emerge as butterflies very soon. (Full disclosure... I know what they are but I haven't told my kids or my readers. Does anyone besides Gail want to suggest what kind they are?) We also have the woolly bear that will eventually spin a cocoon and emerge as a moth in the spring. We check them each day to watch for changes and now we add grass or clover as the woolly bear needs more. We also need to add some pieces of bark or maybe leaves for it to hide beneath.

So, our investigations continue. I'll keep you posted when anything changes. In the meantime, I leave you with this idea. Take baby steps in your investigations with children. Know your limitations. Resist the urge to look up information just to get answers. By observing closely, you and your children (or students) can learn things together. Do find out enough, however, so that you can properly care for any organisms you observe.

Have you embarked on an investigation with your children or students lately? What did you do? What did you learn together? If you haven't done an investigation, how might you begin? Try to make time to to begin one soon.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Cranberry Harvest

Yesterday we attended the A.D. Makepeace Cranberry Harvest Celebration in Wareham, MA.  A. D. Makepeace is the largest cranberry grower in the world. The festival offers a nice balance between fun activities and learning about the harvest (mostly through fun activities!). It was a pefect fall day to explore the cranberry bogs and learn about the cranberry harvest. For busy families, a festival like this is a great way to get outdoors together- no planning necessary- just show up!

One thing I love about this festival is that it really is all about the cranberries and what is local. And, it is affordable for families. Admission is only $2.00 per person, under 7 free. If you bring non-perishable food items for a local food pantry, admission is free. Once you're inside, there is plenty to do free of charge, including a bog tour. There are also loads of picnic tables in the main festival area, at the bog, and even in the parking lot, so families can pack a lunch (no coolers allowed, though). For those who want to spend some money, there's plenty of food to choose from, a crafter's tent, and various hay rides, moon bounces, and helicopter rides.

Yes, there are vendors, but this is not a highly commercial festival. Makepeace also hosts organizations such as Habitat for Humanity, the Lions club, and edible South Shore. These groups share news about their good work and, in some cases, raise funds for their organizations.

One of my favorites at the festival is the "bridge" set up at the harvest site. Visitors climb up and over the trucks as they're loaded.
From above, you can see the berries come off the belt  
and land in the back of a tractor trailer.

There were also jugglers, a bluegrass band, and an owl show. Then there's one of my kid' favorites...a GIANT sand pile that inspires kids and adults alike to roll, jump, skid, and slide. There's nothing like some good old fun for the kid in all of us. Best of all, we got to be outdoors.

Obviously, this harvest festival is over for the year, but the harvest continues. If you live in Massachusetts, you can probably find a bog and watch the harvest from the road. My son's school bus has been known to stop for a few minutes when they're ahead of schedule to watch the helicopters load up. We can still hear them working every day.

How about where you live? Is it harvest time now? Have you attended any good fall/harvest celebrations. Are there ones you plan to attend in the next couple of weeks?

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Confessions of a Passive Gardener

Check this out. Do you know what it is? Come on... look really closely.

What do you mean you don't know? Can't you tell that's our squash and melon patch? Where are the squashes and melons, you might ask. I know it's pretty hard to find them among the weeds. This is what happens when life gets ahead of you. For me, a summer car accident, two weeks of house guests, and then a vacation prevented me from caring for this patch the way I should have. Did anyone else have a summer like that? Do you feel guilty for neglecting your garden, not planting a garden in the first place, or not "doing" enough nature activities with your child?

Lest you think I am the perfect Gardener/Naturalist/Mom/Teacher, I thought I should share this very clear visual that illustrates I am not. No-one is, so don't put unreasonable expectations on yourself. Do your best and celebrate your accomplishments.

Did you grow even one bit of produce this summer with your children? Did you cook a new recipe together with something you grew? Did your kids learn about plant life cycles by seeing a plant go from seed to flower to fruit? Did you explore the beach, or a pond, or a forest together? Each of these is a valuable lesson for your kids. Celebrate them. Once you celebrate, you can look for ways to improve.

 Here's the funny thing... despite the abundance of weeds, our melon and squash patch produced an abundance of food. We harvested 33 butternut squash (from 3 plants), 6 delicious cantaloupe (the woodchuck ate at least 3!) and three gigantic watermelons (there are two small ones still growing). The bigger message here is that you don't have to be the perfect gardener to grow some food for your family. You also don't have to be the perfect parent or teacher to raise wonderful kids.  In this "disaster" of a patch that we basically just managed to plant and water, wonderful things grew. The same is true for kids and classrooms and flower beds. Do your best. Love them. Nurture them as best you can. Don't beat yourself up for all the activities you didn't do. Celebrate the ones you did enjoy together and then make a plan to do more in the future.

What accomplishments are you celebrating today? Celebrate them publicly by posting them here.

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Caterpillar Investigation, Part 3

When the kids and I went out to observe the caterpillars on Wednesday afternoon, two were mysteriously absent. Several theories were suggested including, "They left," and "Birds got them." I had another theory. I suspected they were ready to make their chrysalids and had left to find a good spot. I know Painted Ladies eat and eat and eat for a week to ten days or so before beginning their metamorphosis, so I suspected a similar timeline here. I also know that some caterpillars will make a chrysalis right on the host plant they eat but others will move to a nearby location.

Since I am unsure of where these particular caterpillars may choose to transform, I suggested we put a couple in our butterfly house so we could watch them more closely. I would have preferred to keep watching them right were they were, but I didn't want to miss the opportunity to see the metamorphosis. Upon hearing my suggestion, my daughter ran to tell her brother (who had gone inside for a minute). They both raced back and my daughter said, "Mama, D has a good idea! He thinks we should put some parsley inside so they can eat it." A good idea indeed! In the parsley went with two of the caterpillars. (We left the final one where it was).

On Thursday, one caterpillar had attached to a surface and stopped moving while the other did laps around the house, up and down the screen. By Friday, both caterpillars had attached themselves to the solid part of the butterfly house (as opposed to the netting)- one at the top, one at the bottom. They both seemed to have their "mouth end" and the "other end" attached, so that their bodies looked like a comma.

Then, today, came the big excitement. Both caterpillars are "gone." In their places are two chrysalids. The kids were so excited. My daughter raced to get her grandfather so he could see them.

Now we wait
And we watch.
And we watch
And we wait.
Until something wonderful and magical happens.

What do you think, readers? Will butterflies appear soon? What kind will they be? How long do you think they will remain in the chrysalids?