Indoor and Outdoor Nature Looms

Outdoor Nature Loom wrapped around a tree
Outdoor Nature Loom

These looms are the perfect way to connect nature and art, and a lovely nature craft to celebrate Earth Day! Earth Day is a day that was created to promote awareness and appreciation for the Earth’s environment and occurs each year on the 22nd of April. It is the largest, most celebrated environmental event worldwide! Earth day was established by Gaylord Nelson in 1970 (we’ll be posting more about it on Sunday!).
indoor nature loom on wall
Indoor Nature Loom

“Our goal is not just an environment of clean air and water and scenic beauty. The objective is an environment of decency, quality and mutual respect for all other human beings and all other living creatures.”  Gaylord Nelson

Supplies gathered including kite string and sticks
Supplies

Supplies
-Sticks for loom base
-String, yarn, twine, rope, cable, fiber, anything you can use as a cord. We used kite string.
-Scissors
-Nature hunt items- flowers, twigs, grasses, bamboo, stems, leaves etc.
nature loom set-up outside
Instructions
1.) Make your loom.
I had my boys go out and hunt for sticks. Once we had a good pile of sticks, I showed them how lash them together. I had them twist and turn our kite string around and around two sticks to make them perpendicular. My children are a little younger so I explained that we would be making the letter L with the sticks.  This was much easier for my 7 year old, it was a bit frustrating for my younger son so I made one for him while he was happily playing around us while we made our L shapes.
Once we had two L shapes I told my son we were going to connect them to make a square shape. He connected the two L’s and made a square. You can make your loom any shape you prefer, any shape works!! We ended up making another one with a curved stick we found. We tied on in the middle, my son held it up while I wrapped and wrapped string around until we thought it was perfect. (see pictures)
nature loom example
Once you have your shape, tie a piece of string to one of the corners. Make sure to give yourself enough string to make plenty of loops for your loom. You will then wrap around and around the square to get your loom ready for weaving.  (A tip to keep the string from sliding is to wrap it around the stick twice before moving on to the next line. We didn’t do this and our strings were not anchored and would slide around, but still worked great!) When you are happy with how it looks tie it off onto one of the sticks to anchor.  I let my son do this independently so it is not perfectly straight or very taut but it doesn’t have to be, as long as you have a way to weave in and out it will work. I love how his turned out and he was so proud of it. I was worried it wasn’t going to be taut enough for the treasures to stay put but it all worked out.  I was there to lend a hand if he needed it. I did have to help a bit with tying them off and holding the base while he wrapped but he did great!
Your loom is ready for the next step!
nature treasures ready to weave
Nature hunt!! Go outside and play, collecting treasures as you go.  We collected bamboo, big leaves, little leaves, flowers, twigs, grasses, shells, feathers, rocks anything that caught their eyes.  While we were nature hunting we also picked up trash. It still amazes me that people litter?? I just don’t get it and I don’t think I ever will.   We make it a point to pick up trash every time we go to a park and I encourage you to do the same. It only takes a couple minutes and you leave the environment better off than when you arrived, it feels good.  Just make sure to wash those hands when you are done!
the weaving process
Once you have your items start weaving them throughout your loom.  The results are wonderful. We made a couple looms and once I was done taking pictures I hung them outside so that we can continue to weave in treasures as we find them.
outdoor nature loom
I have seen these looms a couple of times and always was a little intimidated by them but don’t be.  We made the looms one day and did our nature hunt the next day. My sons couldn’t wait to put in their treasures!
indoor nature loom
Happy Earth Day, Everyone!

Planting Seeds

Those of us in the Northern Hemisphere are heading into spring and many of us are looking forward to growing vegetables in our own summer gardens. In my state we have a Cooperative Extension Service that provides lots of information and offers activities about farming in my area. With snow still on the ground, I’m dreaming of planting my garden. Since I’m in the city, I’m planning to start small this year with a few tomato plants in big pots, and some spinach and onions in a small bed. I look forward to my tiny harvest of spaghetti sauce!

pxhere.com

We know that human activity does pollute the environment and that it can cause climate changes. Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is one way of helping to limit climate change. We also now know that driving a car is a major cause of climate change as the car emissions release carbon dioxide into our atmosphere. One way greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced is by growing one’s own food so that driving to market doesn’t happen so often. So, planting seeds is a great start to reducing the pollution of our planet!
Photo from Pixaby

Wishful thinking doesn’t make my garden grow, so first I have to buy some seeds and soil. Since my growing season is so short, I have to start my plants indoors. Many of you using the Oak Meadow science curriculum are planting seeds, recording their growth, and also exploring and reporting on different types of soils. This website from the Smithsonian National Museum of History is awesome: Dig It! The Secrets of Soil. I compost vegetable and fruit matter so I have some good soil to start with. I’ll also purchase some organic soil from a local landscape supplier to mix in. You may have studied the plant kingdom in the Oak Meadow 6th grade science curriculum and learned the difference between gymnosperms and angiosperms. I’ll be planting some angiosperms! My south facing windows will be a perfect place for starting my plants.

This student found a good spot outside to start the seeds!

If you are planting your own garden, and when you have a break from your farming, here’s a fun game to play to maintain a sustainable farm that grows healthy crops and reduces emissions! You might also enjoy reading Thor Hanson’s book The Triumph of Seeds. Visit his website to learn more about this. 
What are you planting? What are some ways that you help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in your community?

Wild Weather!

In the Spring, I have counted 136 different kinds of weather inside of 24 hours.

-Mark Twain

In the northern hemisphere, spring has arrived, but many parts of the U.S. can’t seem to shake off winter. No matter what season of the year, strange weather events occur in every corner of the globe. In Oak Meadow’s coursework, observing seasonal weather and its effect on plants and animals is a significant part of the kindergarten, first grade and second grade science lessons. In the third grade science curriculum, weather conditions are studied by tracking weather and clouds, learning about lightning and thunder, and engaging in educational activities and artistic exercises in relation to tornadoes, blizzards, and hurricanes (or typhoons). According to encyclopedia.com, the definition for extreme weather is a weather event such as snow, rain, drought, flood, or storm that is rare for the place where it occurs.
For additional information on weather, meteorologist Crystal Wicker created an informational site for children called Weather Wiz Kids. Kids Discover also created an interactive iPad app for kids, which displays the most extreme forms of weather on Earth. It includes an interactive cross-section of a hurricane, HD videos of tornadoes and lightning, and the science behind extreme climates.
In addition to the serious side of extreme weather, you might like to read the book, Thunder Cake, written by Patricia Polacco. It is a heartwarming and beautifully written story about Patricia (the author) when she was a young girl, and how she overcame the fear of storms with the help of her grandmother. You can also introduce some fun ways we use the weather through idioms and phrases, such as under the weather, weather the storm, or fair-weather friends. It might be a great time to include a spelling and vocabulary exercise on the difference between weather, whether and wether.
The wonders of weather are wonderful!
 

Citrus Bird Feeder

We have been discussing how animals adapt and change through seasons, specifically Winter.   A few words we have discussed are adaptations, camouflage, hibernation and migration.  When we were researching birds and how they survived Winter we learned that it is harder for them to find food so we decided to help them out a little bit by making some bird feeders to hang on our trees.

orange bird feeder hanging in tree
Orange Bird Feeder Project

The first two feeders we made were hanging for a full day before the birds discovered it but once we put the second set out the next day they came right to it.  We also caught a squirrel trying to steal some seeds! Which led to a great discussion on squirrels and why they must store their food for the winter. It was so exciting for the kids to see the birds eating from their creation.  We even got a picture of it.  We enjoyed this fun and simple craft but our absolute favorite part was getting to watch the birds eat our creation.  
Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree
Orange Bird Feeder hanging on tree

Materials

  • Cutting board
  • Oranges – one orange makes 2 feeders
  • Knife
  • Yarn
  • Skewer – worked best for me but a toothpick would work, anything sharp enough to penetrate the orange
  • Bird seed
  • Helpful material: a wet towel – this one gets a little sticky! 
  1. Cut orange in ½ right down the middle horizontally (so that you are cutting in the middle of the top and bottom). The halves will act as bowls for the seed.
  2. Take out the orange segments and enjoy a delicious snack. I used a knife to carve/loosen the slices and then had my eldest scoop out the insides with a spoon. This part gets a little messy.
  3. Using the skewer punch 4 holes in the peel of the orange bowl. Its best to evenly space your holes.
  4. Weave yarn through holes in orange. We pressed the yarn through the skewer, as if it were a needle and pushed the skewer through the hole.  It helped when we would twist the skewer.  Once we got the yarn through the hole we would use our fingers to pull it through.  Weaving through each hole.
  5. Pull yarn so that you can knot the two ends together.
  6. Once tied pull the two sides even so that you can evenly hang your orange bowl.
  7. Fill with bird seeds. Its best to fill outside or near where you plan to hang your feeder.  We dropped one of our feeders on the way outside and bird seed went everywhere!! Eeeeks!!!
  8. Make sure to place feeder somewhere you can observe the birds eating their treat.  It’s so exciting to catch them in the act!
orange bird feeder project close-up
Orange Bird Feeder project

Snowflakes!

As I sit here this evening with a winter storm warning in effect for my area of New England, I am once again fascinated by how these tiny snow crystals can impact whole regions of the United States.
Some of you may have read The Long Winter by Laura Ingalls Wilder. That story is about an actual winter storm that raced across the prairie lands of the United States in the winter of 1880-1881. In his book The Children’s Blizzard David Laskin gives an account of the deadly prairie blizzard of 1888 and he also gives an excellent description of the different types of snowflakes there are and what the conditions are that create them. I highly recommend it if you are interested in the science of snow!
The Native American Indians had many ways to predict the weather by observing what was happening in the natural world around them for clues. In the 1880’s the weather news was sent via telegraph across the United States from Army base to Army base. The weather often arrived before the news of its coming. Today we have the National Weather Service and technology to help us predict storms and to warn us of storms.
If you are interested in learning more about snow crystals, go to your library and find the book  Snowflake Bentley. You may also want to visit snowcrystals.com.

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

                                Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

Birding!

This time of year I start thinking about the birds in my area. The temperatures are dropping close to freezing. I see birds in great flocks swooping into the bird bath and landing on the feeder. Last week there were about 15 Common Grackles splashing and crowding into my bird bath. The winter is upon us here in New Hampshire. The birds need to eat quite a bit of food to keep up their energy for traveling south. Those that stay will need food all winter. I often look out the kitchen window in the winter to see a little black -capped chickadee at the feeder, and I wonder how it can keep warm. The tiny little feet and the skinny little legs look so vulnerable. They need high energy foods and lots of it! I know there are Oak Meadow students that enjoy watching and feeding the birds. If you do also, then you might like to join the Project FeederWatch that is a program of the Cornell University Lab of Orinthology.

Project FeederWatch is a winter-long survey of birds that visit feeders at backyards, nature centers, community areas, and other locales in North America. FeederWatchers periodically count the birds they see at their feeders from November through early April and send their counts to Project FeederWatch. FeederWatch data help scientists track broadscale movements of winter bird populations and long-term trends in bird distribution and abundance.

Project Overview, FeederWatch.org

Interesting bird facts can be found at: http://www.bio.brandeis.edu/fieldbio/Birds_Kamm_Kuss/Pages/PAGE_HOME.html

Here’s one: The Common Grackle often allows ants to crawl over its body so that they may secrete formic acid, which is thought to kill parasites, a practice called anting. Besides formic acid from ants, the Common Grackle has been observed using various other substances, such as walnut juice, mothballs, lemons, limes, and choke cherries in similar ways.

Do you watch the birds? Do you keep a list of the birds you’ve seen? Let us know!
 

Opt Outside with Oak Meadow

Oak Meadow is once again hosting our own version of REI’s #optoutside movement for Black Friday and the holiday weekend. We’ve coined it Oak Meadow Opt Outside, or #OMoptoutside on social media, because we want to see your photos of family time spent in the great outdoors!
Opt Outside started when REI decided to close their doors on one of the busiest shopping days of the year, Black Friday, and to pay their employees for the day, urging them to get outside and reconnect with family, friends, and the great outdoors.
It’s a concept we loved and have been doing too since they started a few years ago, and we invite you to join us. Yes, we’ll have our Black Friday sale running. But we’ll also be outside running, playing tag, tossing a football, hiking, and generally enjoying the last of the good weather. When you come inside for a pumpkin pie or coffee break, browse our sale. We’re keeping it open until the end of Cyber Monday, so there’s no rush. Plenty of time to get it all in–food, family, fun, the great outdoors, AND 20% off.
We’re pretty fond of the idea of embracing gratefulness by being out in nature. We hope you are too. So join us for #OMoptoutside, tag us in your photos on Instagram and Facebook, then peruse our virtual bookstore!

Floating On a Cloud

The autumn in New England is a beautiful time!
I live in the state of New Hampshire and fall is one of my favorite seasons. The sky seems to be such a crystal clear blue on sunny days, and the fall leaves glow with their wonderful colors.
On one of these beautiful autumn days I found myself observing the sky. Within the crystal blue of the sky, clouds were slowly floating overhead. I watched them for some time and was in awe of their beauty. I wished I could paint them, or even write a poem, but my mind led me to another place; the science of clouds! I’ve learned that in looking at clouds I can pretty accurately predict the weather. (I think I learned this from my father. He was a pilot and had to know where an approaching cold front might be lurking.) The clouds I was watching were white wisps of cirrus clouds sailing to the southeast. They told me that there would be a change in the weather, but probably no rain.
Long ago there was no National Weather Service in the United States. Weather information was passed from person to person, and then later telegraphed from army base to army base. Today the weather forecasts warn us of the coming weather. Pilots, farmers, sailors, teachers, all have access to warnings, forecasts, and radar maps.
In the Oak Meadow curriculum students study the clouds and learn to categorize them by where they are in the sky, and to identify them by their shape. Students learn what the clouds may predict about the coming weather. Students also have the chance to let their minds wander as mine did! Mine ended up in the science of clouds, but lots of students complete poetry, painting, or music projects about the clouds. So the next time you are observing something outside, let your mind wander! Maybe you will find a poem, a song, or a scientific fact wandering with you.
One of my favorite poems is by Percy Bysshe Shelley. He must have been observing the sky and clouds for a long time so as to complete the poem The Cloud. It begins:

I bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,

From the seas and the streams;

I bear light shade for the leaves when laid

In their noonday dreams.

From my wings are shaken the dews that waken

The sweet buds every one,

When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,

As she dances about the sun.

I wield the flail of the lashing hail,

And whiten the green plains under,

And then again I dissolve it in rain,

And laugh as I pass in thunder.

(Go to The Poetry Foundation website to read the complete poem.)
 
 

THE AUGUST ECLIPSE!!

Hello! Here in New England we have had a good summer and it isn’t over yet! There are still weeks to go in August of lazy summer days and cool nights. Here at Oak Meadow one event we are all looking forward to is the upcoming eclipse on August 21, 2017. The following is a quick blast of great information from DeeDee Hughes, our Oak Meadow colleague:
Hi Folks,
We are all a little eclipse-crazy here in Corvallis, Oregon since we are in the “zone of totality” for viewing the total solar eclipse on August 21. I did some research and found this cool interactive map that shows the path of eclipses for years to come. I found a page where you can type in a city name and see what the eclipse will look like from there–I couldn’t resist checking out where friends and family members live. It’s fun to compare different places:  
Brattleboro VT
Santa Cruz CA
Corvallis OR
Seems like everyone in the country will be seeing something cool. Oh, and this article has good info about the solar eclipse glasses and how to tell if you have safe ones. 
I was wondering why the upcoming eclipse is being called “Eclipse of the Century” when they happen all the time, so I dug deeper. A total solar eclipse is different than an annular eclipse, but both have the moon lined up exactly in between Earth and the sun. In an annular eclipse, the moon moves fully in front of the sun but because the moon is further from the Earth at that time, there will be a “ring of fire” seen around the moon, rather than having the moon block the sun entirely the way it does in a total solar eclipse. The difference between an annular and a total solar eclipse is the distance between the moon and Earth. Here’s an article with a cool “ring of fire” photo. 
That’s my two cents on cool eclipse fun! DD
I’ll also add that EARTHSKY has a very good “Eclipse Day” checklist for getting ready for viewing. Be prepared, have fun, and enjoy the “Eclipse of the Century” with family and friends!
 

Finding Nature in the City

If you live in an urban area where nature is elusive, don’t assume that there’s no nature to be found! Go for a walk with your eyes wide open and see how many signs of nature you can “collect” along the way. Take photos or make sketches so that you will have a record and can try to identify plants, insects, and anything else once you are home.

(four kids on scooters in city)
Photo Credit: Julie Tower-Pierce
(Oak Meadow)

First off, cultivate a healthy relationship with the sun. If there are few trees to offer a shade canopy, a hat is a good idea. If you are surrounded by pavement and cement, the sun’s rays can reflect uncomfortably up as you walk. If you start feeling uncomfortable in the glare or the heat, stop in shady spots along the way. If there is no shade, use an umbrella to carry some shade around with you.
Can you find bits of moss or stray plants growing in a sidewalk crack? Look up at the sides of buildings and out along fences, retaining walls, train tracks, etc.. What types of plants seem to like to grow in different places?
Did you know that weeds can have flowers, pods, or seeds? Review the life cycle of a plant and see if you can find plants at various stages of the life cycle.
(small girl holding up two green leaves)
Photo Credit: Van Kleeck Family
(Oak Meadow)

Look up! The sky and the clouds are part of nature. There are often birds in urban areas. What might attract birds to your city? Where do you think they nest? Can you spot any nests?
When it rains, what happens to the water? Go outside and trace its path from the roof to the storm drain. Where does it go from there?
Is there a river in your city? Are there any signs of nature in or around the river? Some urban rivers are polluted, but some have been cleaned up by thoughtful, committed citizens. How healthy is your city’s river, if you have one?
One of the most impressive things about finding nature in urban settings is the number of plants that seem to be growing against all odds. What is the most unlikely place that you’ve found a plant surviving or even thriving?
(adult handing monarch butterfly to child)
Photo Credit: Cindy Wallach
(Oak Meadow)

See if you discover any rooftop or community gardens. What do you see growing there? Many city dwellers use containers to plant vegetables, herbs, flowers, and even tall trees. What can you find growing in containers in your city?
Is there a park, picnic area, or playground nearby with natural features? Can you tell which plants were placed there by humans and which ones moved in on their own? What are the clues that inform your answer?
How far would you need to travel to visit a nature preserve, public garden, or national park? What would you find there that you can or cannot find at home?
(child doing bark rubbing on tree with beeswax crayon)
Photo Credit: Lynn Nash
(Oak Meadow)

In what ways do humans intentionally help to encourage nature to grow and thrive in urban areas? And how do we unintentionally support certain kinds of plants or animals? What things could you and your family do to invite nature into your home life?
While walking, did you encounter any plants or animals that you had never seen before? Look them up and get to know them! They are your neighbors, too. Next time you go outside and see them, you can identify them by name.
Find out whether there are any groups or initiatives promoting nature in your city. You might be able to meet some people who are also interested in exploring nature in an urban setting.
Nature exists all around us, sometimes against the odds or in surprising places. Even if you have no backyard and your neighborhood is more gray than green, chances are good that you can find a bit of nature to enjoy. Try it and let us know what you find!

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