Posted in Subjects

Nature Study: Siberian Squill (Scilla siberica)

Siberian squill

Patch of Blue (8607806085)Back in late April, when spring was just beginning to really start in our area, Mr. Chivalry brought me some little purple flowers he had found growing on a nearby lawn. The flowers were really pretty and smelled better than any other flower I had ever smelled – and I am not a person who generally likes the smell of flowers.

We did some looking around and found out that the flowers are called “Siberian Squill.” Apparently, they can be planted across one’s lawn because they bloom in very early spring before the lawn needs to be cut and can be mown with the lawn after that. I am seriously considering planting some in my lawn since we have trouble growing grass in our soil anyway.

Here is a timelapse video of Siberial Squill coming up in the spring:

Here is information on this interesting plant and how to plant and care for it:

And here’s a Siberian Squill necklace one can actually buy.  If you visit this link, you can see the flower parts close up:

Posted in Subjects

Nature Study: Spotted Leopard Slug/Tiger Slug (Limax maximus)


We found several of these giant slugs in our backyard last year while doing yardwork. They can grow up to 20 cm or 8 inches in length. The ones we found were quite big like in the picture above. Check out the face on this one.

Apparently, these slugs are not native to North America. Here is a map of their distribution showing they only very slightly inhabit Canada.

Giant Leopard slugs are considered to be somewhat of a pest:

This gastropod eats fresh and rotting plants, more specifically tubers, fruits, leaves, roots, bulb flowers, ornamental plants, and perennial herbs (Kozlowski 2012).

Kozłowski, J. 2012. The Significance of Alien and Invasive Slug Species for Plant Communities in Agrocenoses. Journal of Plant Protection Research 52:67–77. (Source)

The slug also feeds at night, so determining if it is eating your garden plants may be a challenge.

Scientists seem to be quite interested in their mating habits, which are described and pictured here. I’m considering going outside at night this year to see if I can see anything like this.

Here is an interesting study that was done on leopard/tiger slugs. The information from this helped save troops ‘ lives in World War I.

Here are some informative YouTube videos about these slugs:

Posted in Subjects

Nature Study: Tree of Heaven

Flowers of Tree-of-heaven Ailanthus altissima, Shijiazhuang, Hebei, China

Last year we wanted to identify a city-planted tree that was growing on a neighbor’s lawn.  To our shock, we discovered that the tree was an invasive plant that many want to eradicate. The tree is called the “Tree of Heaven,” although many call it the “tree of hell” because of how difficult it is to manage.

Tree of Heavens are native to China and have been introduced into North America. These trees grow quickly and spread easily, even poisoning the soil around them so other plants can’t grow. They produce tons of seeds each year, as can be seen in the photos here.  They also produce a smell like rancid peanut butter or dirty gym socks. One Canadian article states they may cause gastroenteritis.

In their favor, they do have some medicinal benefits to humans and they can also be used to feed silkworms of the moth Samia cynthia. Wikipedia states their wood can be used for cabinet work, kitchen steamers, and firewood (source), although other sources say the wood is useless and the trees actually snap very easily in strong winds.

There has been call to eradicate the tree of heaven in some places.  Botanist Dr. Trevor Dines says of its effect on local ecosystems,

“If you travel throughout Europe, particularly the south of France and Spain, you’ll see whole areas, particularly urban areas, swallowed up by the tree of heaven.”

Yet, these trees are notoriously difficult to kill off.  This video contains more information on this interesting tree and shows how much work it is to kill:

Here’s a similarly intensive but organic method of killing a tree of heaven:

So far, our neighbor’s tree seems to be sending out successful seeds around our neighborhood.  We had to pull a small tree of heaven out of our lawn last year (it was not big enough to seed yet) and another neighbor now has one growing beside his driveway.  Time will tell if that tree holds up under high winds or not.

Posted in News, Subjects

Make Way For Ducklings

10,11,12,13 OK they are all here,lets go - panoramio“10,11,12,13 OK they are all here,lets go!” by Richard Mc Neil

I couldn’t help but think of Robert McCloskey’s Make Way for Ducklings when I saw this:

This is the adorable moment a mother duck and her ducklings were escorted across the road by a police officer….

Read more and see a video here:

Posted in Subjects

Hooray for Minn of the Mississippi!

We watched this video as part of a science lesson and were pretty excited to hear that Minn of the Mississippi inspired the individual in the video:

Posted in Subjects

Nature Study: Pillbugs

Pillbug (17152476067)

Every so often, we get an invasion of some sort of bug.  Last year, it was pillbugs.  The kids had a lot of fun watching the bugs roll up into little balls as they relocated them outside of our house.  With all of the excitement, I thought I’d see if there was anything interesting on the internet related to these bugs. Here’s what we found:

From this website, we learned a bunch of interesting things, including the fact that pillbugs are not insects. They are actually crustaceans who breathe through gills:

More fascinating information can be found at these websites:

At this website, we found a nice picture to color along with more information on pillbugs and their lives:

Here is an easy activity kids can do with pillbugs called “Take a Pillbug to Lunch!:”

Here is a more advanced science lab on pillbug behavior:

Here is an art lesson on how to draw a pillbug:

There is even a pillbug hand puppet you can buy:

So, if you find yourself with a lot of pillbugs at some time, give these links a visit for some easy nature study ideas you can do with them. Happy discovering!

Posted in Subjects

Easy Charlotte Mason-Style Nature Journals

Dark-eyed Junco breast

When I first started moving toward a classical/Charlotte Mason approach to homeschooling, I read about nature study and its importance.  It sounded like a lot of fun, so I purchased the Handbook of Nature Study and tried to give it a go, nature journals included.  The only problem was that my kids balked at the idea of keeping a nature journal and I had no idea what one should look like.  We gave up on the idea of journals because the Handbook said not to force it.

Years later, my kids still don’t want to journal, but I have decided to keep a family nature journal of our adventures.  I was keeping handy notes of things we learned about like moon phases, but I wanted to improve upon the process.  Enter A Delectable Education’s podcast on nature study with all its helpful links.  Now I see that there are three main components of a Charlotte Mason-style nature journal. They are:

1. Lists 

Keep a list pertaining to whatever topic you are studying.  You could list the species, scientific name, order, number seen, and/or months or dates observed. For instance, if you are studying birds and you see a Blue Jay, you might list it as “Blue Jay, Cyanocitta cristata, Passeriformes,” and then record the number or dates seen. Here are typed samples of some of the common birds in my area to show what I mean.

The species information:

The dates seen and/or number seen (I have marked both ways so you can see how it could be done. This is not an accurate list pertaining to the birds in our area but just a list I made as an example):

Real-life handwritten examples of nature lists from the past can be seen here.

2. Notes

Make a short, simple note of each nature study class noting the date, weather, and what you saw. For example, here is an entry made by Margaret Hickling in her journal last century:

“May 11th

Today has been very warm, the trees are a mass of foliage. The flowers peeping out of the hedgerow, among which were ground ivy, celandine, and germander speedwell, looked very gay amongst the green grass. The birds were singing in the trees, and we found the nests of a hedge-sparrow, chaffinch, and thrush.”

For more examples of journal entries, you can read Margaret’s entire journal here.

3. Pictures

This is probably what a lot of homeschoolers think of when they think of nature journals: pages filled with beautiful paintings and drawings. But how is this supposed to be done?  First, you need not make a picture of everything studied every week.  An occasional picture will suffice. Second, as to medium, I don’t think there needs to be any hard and fast rules as to what medium you prefer, but I did find these videos recommended by A Delectable Education and YouTube on dry brush painting to be helpful (sorry I can’t find ADE’s link at the moment but I will update it if I do):

I don’t think one needs to sweat this.  If you prefer pastels or pencils or pencil crayons, then I don’t think it really needs to matter what you use.  The point of drawing is not to produce a masterpiece but to sharpen one’s observations of the subject you are studying. So if you hate painting, then draw.  If you hate drawing, then paint. And if you hate both, maybe try sculpting instead – even in Play Doh.  To see real-life examples of nature journal artwork, check out this journal. Page 2 has a lovely drawing of flowers, although I find the student’s handwriting hard to read.

If this still sounds intimidating and you want to see something a little less accurate, check out my first attempt ever at dry brushing a mourning dove. The brush I had was too big for details so the beak and tail got a little too long (note: I smudged out our nature journal notes around the picture to show the picture so that’s why the rest of the page looks painted):

And there you have it.  The easy Charlotte Mason nature journal method.  Give it a try and see how fun and simple it is once you start!