Friday, October 30, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Habitat


Welcome to The Nature Explorers Club. I am a mom who loves nature and loves to share it with others. Using my experience as an Outdoor Education Instructor and the basic guidelines of the book "
Nature For the Very Young", I will be venturing out to explore the great outdoors every week with my kids. Every week I will share what we did, and every week you are welcome to join us. I will post the topic of the week, then two weeks later I will share what we did and give you a chance to share as well. So get your boots ready, because we're going exploring!

**I just published the post and all my pictures disappeared, is almost midnight so I will return again tomorrow and try to fix the pictures - Jen

This week's topic.....

This weeks topic is very simple, yet complicated at the same time. Most children already have a sense of the differences between habitats, they just have never labeled them with the word "habitat". A habitat is quite simply the place where a plant or animal lives. What makes the habitat so special is that it provides things that are needed for the animals and plants to survive like food, water and shelter.
As you begin to talk to your children about habitats it may be easier to use your own home as your first example. Talk about your home and why you live there. It keeps you dry when it rains, it has a refrigerator and running water. You can ask them if they could live in a pond, and maybe why that may not be a good idea. It is ok to interchange the word "home" and "habitat" until your children have a good grasp of what you mean.
After discussing their own "habitat" you can go outdoors and explore other habitats like a forest, pond, swamp, or field. Wherever you go, make sure to first let them explore and see what they can find. Encourage them to look under and around things, to touch with caution (poison ivy is not your friend), but above all to be gentle with nature.

Take some time to sit and use your other senses. What does this particular habitat smell like. Close you eyes, do you hear anything? While you are sitting there, do you feel anything? Is is hot, cold, is there a breeze?
Discuss the different animals that live in the habitat, and why they live there. There are several animals that can live in more than one habitat. An example is snakes. You can find them in a field, the forest, a swamp and on the edge of a pond. Don't forget to mention some of the smallest of creatures including ants, worms, caterpillars and flies. These can be found almost anywhere.

Try to explore more than one habitat so that you children can experience the differences and similarities between different habitats. Have the children collect one thing from each habitat to bring home that most reminds them of what they saw. This can become a very special time where everyone can share why they chose what they chose.

This weeks topic is more about the experience gained than the information retained. Don't be worried if there is lots of exploring and few questions. Children learn so much by looking and touching. If they ask questions, by all means answer, but overall this should be a time of gathering new experiences.
Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young"

*Draw pictures of the different habitats. For the younger ones, have them tell you what they saw as you draw, or have them draw their own version, how ever sqribbly it is.

*Cut pictures out from magazines, or print some from the internet and using the pictures you drew, place them in the appropriate habitat

*Take the time to explore one of the habitats at night. It is amazing how different things are by the moonlight.

*Play a game of charades, where you name a habitat and everyone takes turns acting out an animal found in that habitat while everyone else tries to guess what it is.

*Read book s from the "One Small Square " series of books.

*Make scavenger hunt lists for your local habitats.

*Play "Habitat Bingo" - this is my own version of bingo using different habitats. I attempted all night to attach the files, but was not successful. If you click here, it should take you to a place where you can access the files. If this doesn't work, just e-mail me and I will give them to you. It uses full color images of different animals and plants that can be found in five different habitats, field, forest, swamp, pond and ocean.
To play: each person gets one game board. Place the cut out game tiles in a pile or in a bag. Take one out one at a time. If the plant or animal is found on your game board, cover it up. (you can use anything like beans or pennies to do this) The first person to get five in a row wins.

*Compare two habitats and what was the same and what was different between them.

*Have them create their own animal and make a habitat for it. You can use crayons and paper, magazines and glue or you go 3-dimensional and use clay or things from your recycle bin.

Pick and choose which activities best fit with your home. Don't be afraid to try something different if it interests you. Remeber to come back in two weeks and share what you did. See you then!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Week Update


This past two weeks we focused on the topic of Squirrels. We had a lot of fun, especially since most of the time we were visiting my family in Connecticut. There is something special about the New England woods.

Isn't it pretty! Here is what we did as we learned about squirrels...

We put out peanuts for the squirrels. Sadly our peanuts disappeared without us ever seeing the squirrels. We are going to continue to try in our own front yard.

We went on a squirrel hunt in the woods.

Elijah wanted to focuss more on looking for leaves.

After our exploring we had a snack of juice and peanuts. This was a great fine motor skill for Esther. She really focussed on opening every single peanut.
Back home, we painted some trees and added some squirrels

Esther dressed like a squirrel and I had hid peanuts around her room that she got to go and collect. She really enjoyed this.

We counted our peanuts

The we ate them. Since we were home, we were able to use this really cool nut cracker I had picked up this summer at a yard sale.

That was what we did. If you and your children also participated this week in the Nature Explorers Club, please feel free to link below. As always you are welcome to link up, even if you didn't focus on squirrels.

The next topic will be posted by the end of the day tomorrow, see you then!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nature Explorers Club - Squirrels


Calling all Nature Explorers.....we're back!! It has been too long since my children and I have been into the great outdoors and done some good exploring. I thank all of you who have been patiently waiting for me to return, and again I apologize for being away for so long, but it was needed. During my break, I did some thinking, and thanks to many of your suggestions I am going to make a slight change in the schedule. Following this post, I will wait 2 weeks before writing my update where you will be able to link up with your own posts if you would like. This will give both you and me more time to really enjoy the topics with our children and not feel rushed. At the same time I will post the information for the next topic.

If you are new to the Nature Explorers Club, then read this .

This weeks topic:


Yep, those little furry creatures frantically scurrying everywhere in preparation for winter, or in the southern states, just having lots of squirrel fun. Kids and adults alike seems to be fascinated with squirrels. It could be the effortless way they bound from tree branch to tree branch, or just how intriguing they look as they chew through an acorn. Either way, I like squirrels.

The squirrel is part of the mammal family. A mammal is any animal that feeds its young milk. Many mammals also have hair/fur and have live babies (they do not lay eggs). You may want to discuss other examples of mammals that your child is familiar with. Around the world, there are 365 different species of squirrel. Using a field guide or the internet see what types of squirrels you may have in your area. Where we live in Michigan, there are 4 species of squirrel.

The main characteristics of a squirrel are that they have four legs and a tail, although their front paws have the ability to hold objects like acorns so you may want to say they have two legs and two arms. They also have two ears, fur and whiskers on their nose. Their tail is a very important part of their body. It helps them to keep balance while climbing in trees and jumping from branches. They use it to communicate with others. They wrap it around their bodies to keep them warm and raise it above their head like an umbrella when it rains or snows. They can swim in water and will use their tail like a rudder to direct themselves. And if they happen to fall, they puff their tail up, using it like a parachute to help slow their fall. All together it makes me want a tail too!

The squirrel is considered an omnivore (eating both plants and animals). While their diet mostly consists of berries, seeds and nuts, they will also eat beetles, salamanders, bird eggs and nestlings. As winter approaches in the northern states you can see squirrels frantically collecting and hiding food. This is their "cache" or secret storage of food. The reason they do this is because they do not fully hibernate in the winter. They slow down significantly and only leave their nests when needed, but do not go into hibernation (deep sleep). They return to their cache through out the winter and mostly utilize it in the spring when they are active but the food sources are scarce. (I only say northern, because that is where my experience is, I'm not sure if squirrels act the same in the southern states)

One other misconception about squirrels is that there are black squirrels. There is no such thing as a black squirrel. If you see a black squirrel, it is another type of squirrel in a melanistic phase. This simply means that there is an abundance of pigmentation (black coloration) in their fur. Pigment is what creates freckles on our skin.

If you can, go on a squirrel hunt. Bring pictures of the different species from your area and see how many of them you can find. If you have a good viewing spot, sit for a while and watch the squirrels in their activity. Watch the different ways they move. They leap, hop, walk, climb, stand on two legs, stretch and many times can seemingly defy gravity.

If you are unable to venture outdoors, check out Youtube. They have several videos of squirrels doing many different things. You can try here and here.

Please note that all activities that are italicized are directly from the book, "Nature For the Very Young"

*Pretend to be a squirrel. Hop, gallop, leap or even try walking on a straight line. (pretend its a branch) Add more depth to this activity by dressing as squirrels. Wrap a scarf around your waist, leaving a "tail" and add construction paper ears to a hat.

*Make acorn beanbags using brown felt and beans or rice as stuffing. You can play toss with them, or squirrel hide and seek. One person is the squirrel and hides the acorn, while the others try to find it. This can be done indoors or out.

*Do an experiment to find out what squirrels will eat. Lay out different foods like nuts, fruit vegetables, etc. in a place where you can observe. See which foods are eaten first.

*Make your own identification cards by looking up pictures of the squirrels from your area and printing them out with interesting facts about them. You can take these when you go out to look for squirrels.

*Do a peanut hunt. This is just like an Easter egg hunt, except you use peanuts in the shell or any other kind of nut in the shell. This is just like the squirrels looking for their food in the winter.

*Make a hand and finger squirrel tree. Here is a great post explaining how to paint a tree with your hand. You can then add in squirrels by using 2 fingerprints as the body and head and several more as a tail. Use a pen or marker to add the finishing touches of eyes nose and mouth.

* Write a poem or story about squirrels. It doesn't have to be long, or rhyme, just let your child describe something they saw.

* This last activity is straight from the book, but too complicated to share, so I thought I would do a quick video. It's not a perfect video, but it gets the point across.

I hope there is something here that you and your children will enjoy. If you have any other ideas, please feel free to share. Two weeks from now I will post an update with pictures of what me and my children did and you will have a chance to link up with that post if you would like to share how you and you kids explored nature.

Remember whether its squirrels or some other topic, it doesn't matter, as long as you are exploring and enjoying nature. See you in two weeks!

I'm Back!, again...

It seems this is not the first time I have used this title for a blog post. It's interesting how we seem to go through different seasons of life in such a short period of time. Things have changed dramatically here in our home. My sister-in-law has moved in with us and we've been busy changing our living room into a bedroom. She is a blessing to have in our home. The kids love her and I get the added benefit of having more alone time since she is willing to watch the kids for me.

Our house is turning into one large family and I love it. (Little know fact, my husband and I share the house with my father who lives downstairs) Since things seem to be settling down a bit, I feel free enough to come back to the blogging world again. Oh how I have missed you all!! For you Nature Explorers out there, I apologise for the long break, but I have my next post started and should be posting by the end of the night (as long as the kids nap that is (: ) The topic is Squirrels!!

I have also been doing lots of new thigns with Tot School and look forward to sharing them with you all as well.