Monday, January 27, 2014

Going a Little Stir Crazy: Inside Winter Fun

I know many of us are dealing with lots of snow, wind, and very cold temperatures. We haven't been out of the house very much since last Wednesday after school. It's been nice to not go anywhere, but we'd still like worthwhile activities to do with the kids. How can we still enjoy nature when the weather is pretty bad outside?

I rounded up a few activities we've done in the past to give you a few ideas. Our current project is #1.

1. Make a homemade bird guide. We can still see the birds quite active through the front windows. We've observed them plenty over the last week. With guide books and binoculars by the window, discussions on our observations, and starting our homemade bird guide, we're all honing our skills and learning to share characteristics of the birds with others.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Homemade Bird Guide

We're on about Day 5 of being stuck at home due to severe cold and drifting snow. We went outside just briefly, but for the most part have been reading Fablehaven, watching Narnia movies, cleaning the house, having learning time, looking at pictures, and playing games. Our bird feeders are right outside our front windows so they're easy to see. Even the toddler watches the birds and says "bird" when he sees our visitors. It's one of his first ten words!

I've been working on a little nature area by our front window as part of the Handbook of Nature Studies Outdoor Hour Challenge this month. It's mostly gathering a few books, supplies, loose parts, and other items that might be nice to have in a centralized place for nature study and exploration and can take many, many forms. It was fun to see the preschooler take one of the marbles and put an acorn top on it to make a little person yesterday. The toddler grabs the bucket of Schleich Animals and spreads them throughout the house! While there is a little "clean up" involved, it's been nice to have things we can easily use and draw upon as we're watching birds or making other nature connections.

The birds were active this morning, with red bellied woodpeckers, white breasted nuthatches, dark-eyed juncos, a tufted titmouse, and a downy woodpecker showing up for a treat or two. We also noticed a much larger bird than we usually see on one of the nearby trees, watching the bird feeders like a hawk. We got out the binoculars from the nature table to get a closer look, yet still weren't able to see great details. We found bird guide books at our nature area to try to see what it might have been. We weren't able to identify it, but are sure it was a smaller bird of prey based on its shape, size, and behaviors.

With the bird guides out, we started looking at other birds. "What is this, Mom?" for lots of birds that are not found anywhere near us! :-) "I love turkey vultures" which prompted us to pull out Vulture View by local author April Pulley Sayre. Love her books!


He found the pileated woodpecker in two different books. We live near wooded areas and saw a pileated woodpecker in the yard just this last week. It was exciting to see! We practiced saying woodpecker a lot today. He's in speech and needs a little help getting all the sounds and letters in the right places. He sounds much better saying woodpecker by this afternoon!

One of my son's has a bird guide from Indiana Young Birders Club on the way. While we have several, I think there is power in children having their own field guides. The four-year-old has a simple bird book (Birds of Indiana Field Guide )that is arranged by color. It is perfect for him (when we find it again!). There is even more power in creating one's own information! Last month, I visited the early childhood program at The Stanley Clark School. I was so impressed by one child who made detailed drawings of birds he had been studying and labelled them to create a book. Since we have some extra time and most likely will have fewer school days this next week due to the cold, I thought why not make our own for the birds we see near us? I started with the book, The Nature Connection , which I LOVE as a basis for family nature study. It is organized by month and examples and information to help observe and record nature findings. These pages looked at using basic shapes for drawing birds as an introduction to creating our own drawings. 

I didn't want our guide to be too big to handle or too floppy, so I folded paper (between copy paper and cardstock weight) in half and asked them to draw a detailed picture of the bird with color, label the bird with a name, and write three facts about the bird. I wanted these on the inside pages so they could be seen in one spread. 

The boys used guidebooks and a Birds Fandex to investigate the birds in closer detail. They used crayons and pencils to add details to their birds. I guided them a bit to help notice small details, such as tail feathers, the length and shape of the bill, etc., though they also shared many details on their own. With the downy woodpecker on the right, my son came back with white crayon as he noticed the white speckles/spotting on the back of the bird. 

I really like this Backyard Birds book, too. My mom picked it up for us last year. I took it to lots of ball games to read while waiting over the summer. It is true to its name, focusing on backyard birds a man in Ohio photographed. He shares his experiences and journey with getting more acquainted with his feathered friends. I love the pictures, the organization by color, and his observations of behavior. 

My mom also picked up a stack of Birds & Blooms magazines this summer for 50 cents at a yard sale and gave them to us. These were a great deal. We had the front and back of our "booklets" open, so found additional pictures and information to go with the guides we made. While we looked for pictures, we also talked about other birds we found in the magazines. 

While the older boys glued their parts in, the 4-year-old is obsessed with tape right now and had to tape everything he cut out. He was a little meticulous with how he wanted to have his work done and even started another for a bald eagle. I am not sure if he's seen one of those yet, so we'll have to make that happen soon. A friend went down for Eagle weekend at Turkey Run State Park this weekend. She saw about 60 eagles roosting! We need to try that sometime! I've heard they are often seen along the St. Joseph river, even just behind the 7-11 in Bristol. One was seen near Elkhart Environmental Center recently as well.

After the boys were done with their creations, they came for a show and tell with dad. They loved sharing their creations! 

I used my Crop-A-Dile II to punch holes in their guides and used book rings to put them together. If we have more sow days, I know what we'll be doing this week! I love that we can add more information to these, arrange them however we like, and can gradually put more entries into our guide. We will need to make a cover and maybe add some pictures of our bird feeders and the boys "birding" as we use this more. I put it in our nature area by the window. This will be a great resource! 

Monday, January 20, 2014

South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society Sanctuary and Feeder Watch

Have you ever checked out the Wildlife Sanctuary of the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society? This little section of woods, trails, and prairie amidst houses is open to members with a key and then to the public on special days throughout the year. It is over 30 acres and just outside of Mishawaka. My husband and I went for one of the bird viewings recently.

While the South Bend-Elkhart Audubon Society has regular hikes, they often congregate at the Sanctuary in January to watch birds from inside the barn next to the wood heater. There were a couple of the spotting scopes set up, extra binoculars, and many birders! 

Typically, someone records the birds observed. We mostly saw feeder birds as they bird feeders were well stocked for the outing. We even saw a towhee, which was a little exciting. 

I love the collaboration and sharing of knowledge. People consult bird books and swap stories.  A couple of people shared about the great birding trips they have been on within the United States and throughout the world. One lady is almost 80 and has seen like 1800 birds. She has visited Galapagos, Africa, and other places. The organizer of the event has traveled the US and has seen hundreds of birds, too.  

They have a neat design to keep both the squirrels (the metal cones on the posts) and the deer (elevated feeders the birds can't reach) away from the bird seed. They can raise and lower the feeders to fill them easily. 

I look forward to exploring the sanctuary in more depth in the future. 

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Dandelion Canvas

I help with a creative activities team with a local MOPS group. I really joined it because I think the leader does an excellent job of making projects and activities accessible to large groups of people--I wanted to learn what she does better! It's been fun working with her and the others on the team.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Elkhart County Christmas Bird Count 2013

Saturday morning, I headed out early to participate in the beginning to intermediate bird hike at the Elkhart Environmental Center for the annual Christmas Bird Hike. Others met at Oxbow Park with specific routes to travel and count. They drove around in pairs counting as many different birds as they could find. It was neat to see the milkweed in winter outside, too.


Saturday, January 4, 2014

Nature Inspiration Collage

Day 25: Nature Inspiration Collages

It's been a chilly few days (and getting colder next week!). The cousins were over and they did go outside for a while, but we also needed some inside activities that didn't include technology. I have stacks of magazines to repurpose and was thinking about the new year, so that we would make collages or vision boards for our nature plans for the upcoming year. 

The kids spent plenty of time going through the magazines and finding the pictures that spoke to them. I questioned some of the "connections", but maybe they were hoping to eat whoopie pies while staring at the stars! 

Pictures were carefully arranged and chosen. 

I needed to spread mine out on the pages, trying to fit in all the elements. 

My requirements were to fill up the space (still working on that!) and make a title. They also needed to write 3-5 nature or outdoors related goals on another piece of paper. We used their nature journals we started a couple of years ago. We need to use these more! 


I would say one child may end up a farmer. He wants to be more involved in our garden this year. Another one is thinking about lots of processed foods and having fun with his cousins! 


Our younger son seemed obsessed with watches and electronics. I think he didn't get through too many magazines! I can see him doing this over and over and over again based on his recent letter, envelope, and wrapping presents fixations. 

Mine did fill the space a little more, looking at nature, recreation, healthy eating, etc. I included found words and phrases as part of mine. I chose not to write down my goals, as the collage spoke for itself.

I loved reading the kids' goals! We're working on the snow fort tomorrow. :-) He's homeschooled and actually gets to take a Young Outdoorsman class this next semester at a nearby YMCA camp. I want to tag along! He also did the Junior Indiana Master Naturalist program this summer. We'll have to invite him over when we tap trees this year! 

My niece had equally interesting goals. We're looking forward to exploring the children's sensory garden at Wellfield when it opens later this year. We also like the one at Cobus Creek

It was interesting to see my son's goals. We used to have a rabbit. I didn't realize he wanted another pet. We haven't been to Utah for a couple of years. Maybe we can fit it in and visit some National Parks on the trip. We used to always go to the zoo, but haven't done it as much since we moved up here. We'll have to change that!

My oldest son's goals were very action based--building, climbing, creating, shooting. Good thing he received a bow for Christmas! 

My self professed "nature" 4-year-old boy was in a bit of a mood. He at least had some outdoor activities to work on. He received a skateboard for Christmas. When the snow dies back a bit, it will be much easier to work on it! He's usually a good tag-along for our nature activities! 

What are your goals for getting outside in 2014? Have you tried a nature inspiration collage?