Saturday, April 25, 2015

Counting Wildflowers: A Book Review

I know the work of the author, Bruce McMillan, from my days teaching in the classroom. He wrote other easy math books that made an impact. In Counting Wildflowers, he delivers once again. While an older book (1986), it helps younger children explore counting, colors, and native wildflowers. The simple concept goes from one to twenty. Under a picture of a flower (labeled above), the number is listed, as well as a picture representation of the number and the number written out. While simple, it has several ways to interact with the material, such as color, words, labels, counting, flowers, petal types, etc. At the end is a list of the wildflowers, their scientific names, and where to find them. For example, 17 is Black-eyed Susan, Rudbeckia hirta: Found June through October in fields, prairies, open woods.

Some flowers included are water lilies, spiderwort, true forget me not, mullein pink, chickweed, maltese cross, day lily, bee balm, wild geranium, and more!

I love the concept of this book! To extend it, I might consider making a nature counting book similar to this, but use pictures of the flower to go on the numbered pages. Perhaps, I'd even put a scrap of paper or fabric with the same color. I also LOVE the idea of making a book like this collaboratively with my children or a group of kids with flowers they know close by. The author is from Maine and, while I know many of the flowers, there were others I still need to learn. I think it would be fun to hunt out these flowers and compile them with one of my favorite young artists to make another book like this that is personalized. Thanks for the inspiration! We could even use the book to go on a nature walk, searching for the various flowers in our book.

I found other ideas to extend the experience. This post gives math extensions. The author also said this about the book, "My college degree is in biology and so when I began work on my first math concept book, Counting Wildflowers(Lothrop), it was also a taxonomy lesson. My editor and I agreed that children would be interested in wildflowers rather than garden flowers. It was a search for wildflowers, which blossom at various times throughout the season. Every species of flower has its own biological clock. That's why I couldn't photograph dandelions-they had already blossomed and gone to seed by the time I began shooting." (Found here.)

This post may contain affiliate links.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

One Flower: Butterflies, Ticks and a Few More Icks

On One Flower: Butterflies, Ticks And a Few More Icks by Anthony Fredericks starts with a letter to the reader from a stinkbug. What an interesting way to start a book! The stinkbug introduces himself, telling us about where he lives and who his neighbors are. He encourages us to find "zoos" or communities of animals right where we live. This conversational tone is friendly and encourages the reader to explore. We need more books with this open invitation to the great outdoors. Below is a picture of wildflowers we have explored recently, thanks to this invitation. Bloodroot is gorgeous! Such personality in the leaves!

The rhymed words set the stage for where the star of the show, the goldenrod, can be found. There is lots of action, which is great with younger children. The next page introduces us to the flower in all of it's golden yellow goodness! The flower takes center stage up close and personal. Two boys wander by and wonder what could live there. I like that this models being inquisitive and asking questions while outside. We don't have to know all the answers, but the boys look and observe to find out more.

Upon closer inspection, the boys see various creatures as "They peeked and they peered and they searched and they spied." They find the stinkbug, spider, butterfly, bee, ladybug, ambush bug, (great illustration for this), and a tick. The boys are watching all the action, with a ladybug on one shoulder and a jacket on the other boy that proclaims, "I <3 bugs!" They can see the "leaves, petals, and stems" are teeming with creatures!

This is told in a cyclical style with the story adding on at each step. I'm often reading to preschoolers, so I would shorten the "cycle" but I do think books like this are fun. They actually can be a great way to act things out and reinforce the concept. Using masks or stick puppets, different children could chime in as we read that part of the story to make it more interactive. The words also invite action throughout the story.

At the end of the book, there are Field Notes, with more detailed information about the goldenrod (it does not cause hay fever! :-) and all the animals. A fantastic fact is shared about each, with great details to get to know the insect, spider, or bug better. I like that they look at more specific about the insect instead of just a spider, the field notes tell us about the Goldenrod Spider.

There is also a list of books to learn about insects, spiders, and bugs. The author also shares other books he has written (they're great!), as well as a list of organizations that may be helpful, such as the Young Entomologist's Society.

As a follow up activity, I would definitely take magnifying glasses out to visit a goldenrod plant. Additionally, I'd have us explore another nearby plant. I don't think we'd ever look at a plant quite the same, as now we know that the plants are busy with activity! We could use activity pages from the Handbook of Nature Study to record our observations in our nature journals. Additionally, I have several life cycle activities that would fit in well with the insect them. We've also done an insect and spider sort in nature preschool that would work well. While this post focuses on "animal play", insects are animals and many of these same activities would work as a play/learning extension from the book. We could even try some "loose parts play" or leaf art to complement what we learn.

I appreciate that the publishers pull together a variety of supporting activities to help extend learning from the book. Scroll down on Dawn Publishing's website to find On One Flower, with links to several activities with descriptions. Now, my only dilemma is deciding whether to use this in a program on wildflowers or insects! It fits so well with both!


Thursday, April 16, 2015

On Meadowview Street: A Book Review

I first learned of On Meadowview Street in a preschool nature program at Elkhart County Parks. I loved how one girl who chose to protect a flower could influence her whole neighborhood. That theme of there being good things in this world and actually being the good has resonated with me the last several years. What we do matters.

On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole, describes the tale of a young girl moving to a new neighborhood. Having moved probably twenty times in my forty years of life, I instantly could relate to the moving truck on the first page and the furniture on the lawn as the family moved into their new house. The girl, Caroline, soon notices a small blossom as her father is mowing. She develops a bond as she admires its beauty. Caroline decides she'll save this flower. She puts up a string fence around the flower. The father agrees, as it's less mowing for him. My husband really likes this path of least resistance too. We'll have to plant even more natives to cut down on his mowing.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Loose Parts = Imagination + Creativity

If you attended Loose Parts = Imagination + Creativity at the Indiana Early Childhood Conference in April 2015, THANK YOU! We enjoyed sharing with you! We appreciated your patience with the unexpected large crowd.

Here you will find links to the handouts and resources we used for this presentation. Chris Whitmire (Nuts and Bolts Playground and Early Learning Center) and I presented about the topic and created these materials. We hope these help you in your journey to include more loose parts in your programs.

We also started a Loose Parts Play Facebook group. We hope you will join us to explore Loose Parts Play in more depth. Watch for more articles and resources shared on Loose Parts Play soon.

Planting the Wild Garden: A book review

Planting the Wild Garden by Kathryn O. Galbraith was delightful! Wendy Anderson Halperin added to the story through her illustrations. While the book didn't focus on specific wildflowers, it showed that many animals and other natural forces help "plant" wild gardens. This is a basic look at seed dispersal. The illustrations are lovely--I like seeing all the different types of seeds inside the front and back covers. The story starts with a farmer and boy planting seeds in a  garden. Illustrations of the process of the new seed growing toward a plant that can be eaten are shown along the outside edge of the main picture.

The reader then is guided through other ways seeds are "planted", such as wind dispersion. The illustrations show the wind scattering the seeds. Sound words are included which make for a great read aloud book. Even the text is whimsically patterned like the wind on this page. Small details like this make a difference.

The goldfinch is used to illustrate how "droppings" can help in seed dispersal as well. Lots of great thistle drawings. Sound words are included once again. Little information is given on this section that briefly looks at scat (poop) as a way of seed dispersal. This keeps with the dignity of the book; however, I like using that gross factor to get children's attention.

The Scotch broom plant (invasive in the western US) is used to show how some seed pods POP! Fun illustrations show that progression. Personally, I love jewelweed locally, one of the touch me nots. This is such a fun little plant that makes me happy!

Rain is also a way that seeds are moved from one place to another. Plip-plop! Love how the gray lines show the rain in this illustration. Moving beyond the rain, a stream is shown as another dispersal technique with some making it to the banks to grow the next year.

A few animals are also part of this dispersal process, looking at a rabbit started by a fox and spreading seeds in the process. Seeds also attach on her fur, with a mention of cockleburs and creeping through Queen Anne's lace (also came from Europe). I like that they mention how they "hook" onto the fur. Raccoons also feast on blackberries and bring seeds with them. Squirrels bury acorns to store for the winter, yet often become trees if not found again. The author even looks at us as humans and how seeds catch on our socks and pants and muddy boots. We also love blowing seeds and helping with wind dispersal.

The author ends with "Seed by seed, we planted this wild meadow garden. Wind and water. Birds and animals. Plants and people. All of us. Together." A bibliography of additional resources is included at the end.

I really liked this book that looks at seed dispersal! It's great for preschoolers and could be used for elementary school as well, using it to set the stage and then talk in more depth of various seed dispersal methods.

There could be many extensions to use with this book, such as the classic activity of putting an old sock over a leg and going for a hike to collect seeds. This can then be planted to see what "grows" from the walk. One year, my son didn't want to put the sock on his leg, so we made it into a little animal puppet that scampered through the meadow. This could be another way to include imaginative play as well. Additionally, I like to collect milk weed pods (with seeds) and cattails to experience wind dispersal of seeds with preschool and young elementary school children. It's a joy to watch them with the seeds, similar to the mesmerizing effects of chasing bubbles. We've been trying to gather and plant our milkweed seeds around the perimeters of our yard, hoping for more this next year.
This Classroom Bookshelf website share various activities and extensions for use with the book. Great ideas! Additional activities can be found on the Growing with Science blog. This is a starting point to discover seed dispersal. Personally, I'd like to look at how ants disperse seeds more, which isn't included in the book. However, the book renews my interest and is a great way to share with young children. The sounds and action words help make it a good read aloud.

This post may contain affiliate links. I can find this book locally at the Bristol library.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Nurturing Acorns: Spring!

It's spring time at Nurturing Acorns, the nature preschool group at Woodlawn Nature Center. We started by making spring headbands, decorating them with stickers and using our fine motor skills. We also used spring stamps to make scenes on paper.

Our "loose parts" were in a huge suitcase from a presentation over the weekend, so the children and some adults helped us sort and categorize our items. For story time, we talked about changes in Spring, read a couple of books, like "What a Wonderful World", tried some songs, and talked about animals in Spring, such as beavers, deer, and rabbits. We talked about the animals more as we walked the museum and ate snack later. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Pasta Throw Down

My son turned six this weekend! He has really been enjoying Master Chef Jr, along with his brothers. He enjoys helping cook, garnishing things, and made a great triple decked strawberry shortcake recently. He even whipped the cream on his own! Having a cooking contest was a perfect way to celebrate his birthday! We even got him a chef's hat and jacket but he wouldn't wear them. He would have been even cuter than he already is with them on. See our tips on hosting your own Master Chef Party at the end of the post.

For the contest, we brought veggies, cooked chicken, several types of pasta, ingredients for past, sauces, seasonings, etc., as well as a few tools, such as a pasta maker. A friend (thanks, Ryann!) gave it to us after she found out our 8-year-old has been interested in making homemade pasta. I will say we have more to learn on how to use it! :-) It will be a fun journey. We've made homemade noodles a couple of times recently and the boys get really excited about and think it tastes great.

Easter Nature Walk

It's been good weather to be outside so we took an Easter Nature Walk this weekend. We used a simple printout we found here.  Thanks for the inspiration, Bless this Mess. To see other Easter activities and scavenger hunts we do, check out this recent post of 6+ ideas for a Natural Easter.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Exploring Spring at our Local Garden Store

We stopped by our local garden megacomplex, Linton's Enchanted Gardens, for a special Easter Eggstravaganza recently. We were welcomed with a Spring banner as well as fun decorations. They do a great job with seasonal decor! We've been here for past special days like this, as well as just stopping by to explore with the 2-year-old. See some of our other Easter ideas connected to nature here, including links to a past Easter Eggstravaganza.

We typically check out the fish first. There is a newish cafe near the indoor pond. I will say there is "nature" throughout the store. While the store focuses on gardening, they also have clothing, decor, jewelry, games, rocks, and so much more. There is also a large variety of prices, making it easy to find something for most budgets. I could find plenty of items to buy. At Christmas, a book club I attend had a local store gift card exchange and I purchased a gift card for Lintons'. It could be used on so many things, including food! 

After exploring inside, we went out to the patio/greenhouse areas, visiting the rabbits and Bloomer, the resident macaw. What a fun bird! For my two-year-old this is a great place to explore!

We gave high fives to the Easter bunny. They were collecting food pantry donations for a picture with the bunny, which is a neat way to help give back to the community and add another attraction. For these special days, they have additional attractions, like ducklings, chicks, and other young animals to look at that rebirth of life. I'm sure visiting it again just a week later would show the growth at least in the young birds, if not the other animals. 

There were also kids or baby goats, though my nephew seemed intrigued by the pig nearby.

There were sheep and a calf also. Made me miss our Bessie! 

Near the chicks, my youngest thought these "chicks" for sale were a perfect sensory bin. He's used to playing with things in bins like this through nature preschool at Woodlawn Nature Center. Linton's has a duckling slide set up, but they seemed a little wary to go down it. Maybe they are pros at it by now. 

Linton's also offers classes on a regular basis. I've been to one or two in the past and found them helpful for the topics. It's a nice way to learn. Here is a post from a Natural Holiday. Find their schedule of classes here

I noticed there was a shooting game you can pay for. My nephew just liked playing with the gun, though the rabbit was fun as well. 


The kids love the treehouse! It was fun walking through the outside area and getting in a little play time.

I always love seeing signs like this Certified Wildlife Habitat. While we don't have to go through the formal certification process, enhancing our properties to allow food, water, cover, and places to raise young is always helpful for our natural world. Here is information on how to do that. At our house, we're still working on the water; however, there are many lakes and ponds nearby as well. 

We grabbed some feed nearby for a quarter and fed the goats, pigs, and other animals. It's nice to have animals to see up close sometimes and to see the differences with domesticated and wild animals.

In the petting zoo, we also were able to see a donkey up close. Since this was part of our Easter celebration, we talked about the donkey and the cross on its back. 

It's neat to see the different birds near the petting zoo. We heard a turkey, saw the peacocks, and looked at many other interesting birds. Many families chose to pay a fee to take the train out to an egg hunt. My youngest was mesmerized by the train and it looked like they all had fun. We've gone to their free hunts in the past. 

The tori gate always reminds me of our time in Japan. There are whimsical structures like this throughout out the gardens. The UFO is another interesting treat. Playing with shadows is fun anywhere! My youngest and I have been playing a sort of shadow tag recently where we "tag" the other by making their shadow disappear in the shadow of the other. I guess I always win that one since my shadow is bigger!

We had to stop for another petting of the bunny! Having special moments to get close to calm animals like this is intriguing for children. My youngest was enchanted by the fairy garden miniatures. He thought all the animals should go in the barn. I'm trying to think of ways to capture that enchantment in a safe way for younger and older children to "play" with options like this in a public fairy garden. 

We're sharing this with the Outdoor Play Party. Spending time at your local garden center can be a fun way to connect with nature! We had a fun time and only spent about 50 cents on food at the petting zoo, though there are many options to spend money if desired, such as food, the egg hunt and train ride, and all the beautiful stuff they have inside. I like that there are options--it can be less expensive or a place to buy things if desired. It's great to support local businesses like this so I know I can stop by and pick up a gift, snack, or needed garden supplies.