Become a Naturalist

Ah Summer! There is so much about this time of year that brings out poetry, curiosity and a sense that anything is possible. When the kids get restless and itchy, take a break from video games and household routines and explore the natural world. To make it a more interesting adventure, become Naturalists and record the days observations and sightings. You can do this and still be faithful to social distancing and keeping one another safe. All you need is the following, all of which will fit in a backpack:

1. A pair of binoculars for zooming in on birds or other elusive wildlife. A magnifying glass for closeups of insects and plant life.

2. A Field Guide of insects and birds of North America.  There are many excellent ones you can borrow from a local library or download onto your Kindle or iphone. You can track and input what birds you see on Cornell University’s Lab of Ornithology.   http://www.birds.cornell.edu  or by downloading the eBird app. 

3. A journal or notebook will help you record sights, sounds, names of animals and plants you discover, and details to use in writing a story or drawing a picture when you get back home.

4. A camera.

5. Comfortable shoes, water, snacks.

TallTreesLittleKids

Try an outing at different times of day. What is awake in the early morning hours may be totally different from what is active mid day or at sunset. If you’re having difficulty finding “critters”, be still and listen to the sounds of nature. This stillness often leads to amazing discoveries. It will definitely bring you peace and calm your stress. If you’re near water, turn over some rocks at the water’s edge. There are many hatching insects under them to marvel at.

And, like every good naturalist, remember to leave only footprints, and take only pictures and memories, and bring back any trash left behind by the human animal, so we can enjoy the natural world for years to come. footprints

Tour U.S. Museums Virtually With the Kids by Marilyn Ostermiller

(Second in a two-part series on how to accompany the children in your life on virtual visits to a variety of museums.)

With the advent of virtual visits to many museums across America, families can time travel throughout history without leaving home. Access is free so it won’t put a dent the budget. But, it’s important to set the stage and manage expectations for the kids before the visit begins. Preparations could begin by reading museum-related books such as these:

The Met: Lost in the Museum” is a seek-and-find adventure that takes place in The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. met photo

The story follows a young girl as she moves through the museum’s galleries of Greek and Roman art, Ancient Egypt and Modern Art searching for specific treasures. Reading age: 7-9 years. It was written by Will Mabbit and illustrated by Aaron Cushley.

Seek & Find — Art Through the Ages” written by Frederic Furon and illustrated by Fabien Laurent. Youngsters will learn of a search for a medieval illuminator at a cathedral under construction and visit Impressionists as they paint by the seaside.

art museum book

Among the museums in the United States with virtual visiting options and a focus on what interests kids:

Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York City

http://www.metmuseum.org

MetKids provides an online experience that features a time machine to uncover objects and artwork from the museum’s rooms. Virtual visitors can explore inventions, fashion and battles through videos and an interactive museum map. van gogh

For example, kids discuss famous paintings, including Washington Crossing the Delaware, with one of the museum’s curators.

Smithsonian Museum of Natural History, Washington D.C.

https://naturalhistory.si.edu/exhibits

Virtual visitors glide through the museum led by a guide from one exhibit to another. Subject range from natural history, the ocean, and human origins. An ongoing series of live webcasts for families demonstrate topics such as how the museum’s technicians remove fossils from rock, repair broken bones, and reconstruct missing pieces to create the dinosaur skeletons on display in the museum. elephant for ostermiller post

National Children’s Museum, Washington D.C.

http://www.nationalchildrensmuseum.org

This kid-friendly museum features more than 75 STEAMwork video programs, including a detailed demonstration of how to build a zip line for toys in the house. There are monthly podcasts where children interview STEAM innovators from across the country and virtual field trips that usher them into the museum for free field trips.

Monterey Bay Aquarium, Monterey, Calif.

https://www.montereybayaquarium.org/animals/live-cams

Live web cams and prerecorded videos of penguins at feeding time, are accompanied by a chat about what they eat, how they eat it and why. Other sea creatures introduced in their natural habitat include jelly fish, leopard sharks, and sea otters.

fish for ostrrmiller blog 2one of the online exhibits at the aquarium.

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Marilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalist who seeks out family-friendly activities.

Author Annette Whipple Presents: SCURRY! THE TRUTH ABOUT SPIDERS + A Chance to Win a Signed Copy.

Today it is my pleasure to feature Author Annette Whipple with the third STEM book in her Truth About series: SCURRY! THE TRUTH ABOUT SPIDERS (Reycraft Books).  Annette is here to tell you about her research and some fascinating facts about these amazing creatures. And she will be GIVING AWAY A SIGNED COPY OF THE BOOK TO ONE WINNER CHOSEN AT RANDOM FROM THOSE WHO LEAVE A COMMENT ON THIS POST. Now, here’s Annette:

Thanks so much for featuring Scurry! The Truth About Spiders on your blog! Since Scurry is the third book in the series, I finally had a few things figured out. Researching it was a ton of fun. I knew it would be a question- and-answer book and that I wouldn’t be able to include all the cool information I learned. Scurry cover

After some very basic spider research (no note-taking, just wanting to better understand spiders in general), I began brainstorming. I used the bubble method and explained how I did it for the topic of spiders and specifically for Scurry! The Truth About Spiders in this blog post about nonfiction brainstorming. https://www.annettewhipple.com/2021/07/how-to-brainstorm-nonfiction-writing.html

Spider brainstorming

After brainstorming, I categorized similar topics together and decided (loosely) what questions I wanted to include in this Q&A book. That narrowed my research quite a bit. I took notes in a spiral notebook and printed out and saved bunches and bunches of research, too. (Keep an eye out for a blog post about my research notebooks. It’s on my to-do list.)

Once I began researching, I used books focusing on spiders (even a field guide), as well as websites like https://arachnology.org/ and published papers. I consulted with an expert who had over 60 years of experience studying spiders. He answered my questions and reviewed my manuscript (with small suggestions and clarifications). I also worked with another spider expert…and met hundreds of tarantulas! I even held one! And I might have brought a spider exoskeleton home with me. Edna’s been a huge hit during author visits. (I always warn people before I remove her from her box.)

annette with spider

I knew spiders were cool, but through my research, I found out they are truly fascinating! I’ll share 3 spider-ific facts!

1. I was surprised to learn that 99.9% of spiders are not dangerous to people. Insects—very dangerous. People—very rarely! Honestly, I thought that was an exaggerated statistic. But it’s true!

2. If a spider is in danger, they can self-amputate. So if a bird grabs onto a spider’s leg, the spider can just pop off that leg—and grow a new one! Or at least it will grow a new leg if it has another molt left.

3. We use our tongue to taste, ears to hear, and nose to smell…but spiders use the hairs on their bodies to sense their world! (Most spiders have very poor vision. Jumping spiders are the exception to that.)

I love to include activities in my books, especially activities that get kids focused on STEM. A web-building challenge is included in the back of the book!

Scurry 14-15 cover

Even if you don’t love spiders, I hope you’ll give Scurry! The Truth About Spiders a try! Just request it at your local library or bookstore. Oh, one more fun fact…the hardcover editions of

The Truth About books include a full-size poster! I think that’s pretty cool and am so thankful that Reycraft Books puts so much thought into creating beautiful books for readers.

Other titles in this wonderful and informative series are: Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls, and Woof! The Truth About Dogs. Next year the series will continue with a book about frogs and another about cats!

 To be entered in the giveaway of a signed copy of SCURRY! THE TRUTH ABOUT SPIDERS, leave a comment. If you share this post on social media, let me know and I will give you a second chance to win. US residents only, please.

 About MeAnnette Whipple celebrates curiosity and inspires a sense of wonder while exciting readers about science and history. She’s the author of ten fact-filled children’s books including The Laura Ingalls Wilder Companion: A Chapter-by-Chapter Guide (Chicago Review Press), The Story of the Wright Brothers (Rockridge Press), and Whooo Knew? The Truth About Owls (Reycraft Books). The Truth About series also includes books about dogs, spiders, frogs, and cats. When Annette’s not reading or writing, you might find her baking for her family in Pennsylvania. Get to know her and explore her resources for teachers and writers at http://www.AnnetteWhipple.com.

Slimy Summer Fun!

What Kid doesn’t enjoy a fresh pile of slime to play in?  On days when it feels too hot to play out in sand or make mud pies, you can still give your kids a tactile experience by making your own SLIME.  There are plenty of recipes out there.  Here are two that will help you create colorful slime for indoor fun.  One glows in the dark and has glitter.

Happy Sliming!

The first one is borax, glue and chemical free:

http://www.redtedart.com/easy-slime-recipes/   No Borax Easy Slime Recipes - LOVE Slime? Have NO glue? NO Borax? NO Chemicals...??!! Check out these AMAZING play safe (and often "taste" safe) Slime Recipes for Kids. Explore, discover and have LOTS of sensory fun!!! The best sensory slime play activities for preschoolers and beyond. #Safeslime #noborax #slime #noglue #slimerecipeshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IcTzNAzHyY0  Glitter-glow-in-the-dark slime recipe

On Earth Day and Everyday…We Can All Do Our Part to Stop Climate Change.

A 2019 study from the Swiss Institute of Integrative Biology suggested that planting 1 trillion trees would dramatically reduce the amount of carbon in the atmosphere and significantly help stop global climate change. Mar 10, 2020

trees

A trillion trees sounds like an impossible goal. But every time you plant a tree in your yard, on school grounds, or in your neighborhood open spaces, you reduce greenhouse gas because they are natural carbon absorbers (a mature tree can absorb up to 48lbs of carbon a year).

Every time you plant a tree, you are part of the solution for reducing and stopping the effects of global warming. For more information about planting trees visit:

https://onetreeplanted.org/pages/tree-facts

https://onetreeplanted.org/blogs/stories/flatten-curve-carbon-emissions

There are other things you can do to take care of Mother Earth as well:

We can continue to recycle properly and phase out our consumption of single-use plastics (recycling just 1 lb. of plastic #1 saves 22.9 kWh of energy and 47.4 lbs. of CO2 emissions).

Support programs like www.4ocean.com whose products are made from reclaimed ocean plastics. One pound of plastic is removed from the ocean for every item purchased.

We can commit to reducing the 1/3rd of food that is wasted globally by composting, shopping smart, and meal planning.

Switch to organic produce.The good news is that organic systems that emphasize soil health help farmers and ranchers increase resilience to the impacts of climate change. … Organic systems do this by capturing and storing more carbon (CO2) in the soil (carbon sequestration). They also release fewer greenhouse gases. Apr 27, 2020

To learn more about how organically grown fruits and vegetables help the environment visit:

How Organic Agriculture Helps Mitigate Climate Change

For information on how to start a compost pile of your own visit:  https://www.goodhousekeeping.com/home/gardening/advice/a23945/start-composting/

compost-1561137922

Contact local food banks or soup kitchens to see if they will accept your food donations.

We can incorporate more plant-based meals into our diets.

Every small thing we do makes a difference when each of us pitches in. Planet Earth is our home…the only home we have. We owe it to ourselves and to all the plants and animals we depend on to be good stewards of the earth. Please pass this on and share it.

STEM/STEAM Students Can Rock Their World With Some At-Home Experiments:by Marilyn Ostermiller

Everyone feels like blowing off steam sometimes.

          No time like the present. November 8 is National STEM/STEAM day, the day designated to celebrate all things related to science, technology, engineering, art and math. The idea is to interest kids in exploring these disciplines because of growing demand for those skills. Government studies indicate the number of STEM jobs in America from 2001 to 2010 tripled the rate of growth in non-STEM jobs. https://nationaltoday.com/stem-steam-day/

Back to blowing off steam: One sure way is to make a paper mache volcano that erupts. The ingredients for this one, suitable for kindergarten through second grade, are common to most households:

  • cardboard
  • newspaper
  • paper cup
  • acrylic paint
  • liquid dishwashing detergent
  • red food coloring
  • baking soda
  • white distilled vinegar

Plan on two days to complete; one to make the volcano and a second to make it erupt.

 

Detailed instructions are available at https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/paper-mache-volcano-1253091

volcano school project

Education has its own rewards, but this scientific experiment that demonstrates how sugar crystals are formed, also results in sweet sticks of rock candy. Start with granulated sugar and water. Food coloring and flavoring are optional. Supplies include glass jars, wood skewers and clothes pins. Patience is required. Plan to put the crystals somewhere they won’t be disturbed for up to a week.

This Spruce Eats video provides step-by-step instructions.

https://www.thespruceeats.com/rock-candy-521016

Sugar crystal rock candy on skewers in bright red and purple

By the way, blowing off steam has two meanings. The original dates back to the 1800s when it referred to easing the pressure in a steam engine. These days it refers to relieving pent up feelings by loud talk or vigorous activity.

Here are some recent PB’s that celebrate STEM and STEAM topics and people:

makers 2

sophie cover - 3x4 - 100dpiMarilyn Ostermiller is a long-time journalism who spends much of her time writing for children and experimenting in the kitchen, often with mixed results.

Marilyn Ostermiller

Photo credit: Photo by Dominika Roseclay from Pexels

The Disappearing Butterfly…How You Can Help!

This post originally ran three years ago, but I find it so important I am running it again.  I will continue to run it as long as these beautiful creatures continue to decline. Pass it on.

While many insects make a lot of people say “yuck”…butterflies are in a category of their own.  There is no ick factor to these beautiful and amazing creatures.  One of the most recognized – and perhaps most popular – butterflies in North America is the MONARCH. Sadly, this beautiful insect is disappearing at an alarming rate.  In the 1990’s up to 1 BILLION monarchs migrated from the Northern US and Canada each fall to the OYAMEL FIR forests of Mexico.  Another million wintered in forested groves along the California coast.      monarch Now, scientists estimate that only 56.5 MILLION remain.  This represents a decline of nearly 80%.  Help keep monarch butterflies in our world. 90% of the milkweed they depend on is gone from roadsides and fields. Most of the decline is blamed on changing use of land; but we homeowners can change that.  You can use your property to create “monarch way stations” by planting MILKWEED and other nectar filled plants.  These plots allow monarchs to successfully produce generations and sustain them for their annual migrations. Milkweeds are the ONLY plants on which monarchs deposit their eggs and on which their larvae feed. 

monarch caterpillar

Without milkweed, there would be no monarchs.     To learn more about monarchs and way stations visit: http://www.monarchwatch.org

Milkweed is easy to grow from seed.  And, here is a link for free milkweed plants.  They require little care and will spread easily once they take hold.  They can take over a garden, so be careful where you plant them. Go to: http://www.livemonarch.com/free-milkweed-seeds.htm          

Milkweed from my garden.

Milkweed from my garden.

  Not only will you bring beauty to your own habitat, but you will be helping an endangered species. Here’s a link to a wonderful post to start a discussion about Monarchs from Terry Jennings.: http://www.kcswildfacts.com/KCs-Blog.html?entry=monarch-butterflies-amazing-travelers

2020 UPDATE:Things didn’t go as well as expected this year due to the invasive and parasitic fly that bored into the chrysalis, killing the caterpillar before it could change into a monarch. After planting more than 40 milkweeds in our garden beds, only 5 butterflies hatched successfully. We will keep on planting milkweed and hope for a better outcome next year.

 

Book Review: WHOOO KNEW? THE TRUTH ABOUT OWLS, by Annette Whipple + AN EASY OWL CRAFT

Today it is a pleasure to introduce a new non-fiction picture book by Annette Whipple about owls. At the end there will be instructions for making a simple owl craft just in time for fall decorations.

Whooo Knew? The Truth about Owls by Annette Whipple is a picture book in question-and-answer format. It answers kids’ most important questions about owls. Each page spread focuses on one question and answer. Do owls puke? Do owls sleep all day? How do owls hunt? In addition to the main text and lots of stunning photographs, each page spread includes an illustrated owl whooo shares a bit more about owl life—often with a bit of sass.

 


This is the first book in The Truth About series. Books featuring dogs and spiders will be out in the spring.

  Reycraft Books is the publisher.

  The actual hardcover book includes a poster featuring owl superpowers! It measures 31.5 x 18.5.

  It releases on September 30, but pre-orders are really important, so don’t feel you have to wait until then to share.

A book trailer is at https://youtu.be/xUFiKmceDg0.


You can learn more about Annette and her books at:  https://www.annettewhipple.com.

    Facebook Annette Whipple Books  Twitter @AnnetteWhipple
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@AnnetteWhippleBooks

Here’s my review of this unique book:”WHOOO KNEW? THE TRUTH ABOUT OWLS, by Annette Whipple is an informative and entertaining guide to the world of owls. Written in a Q & A format, facts about owls and their habits are thoughtfully described in simple but illuminating detail. Wonderful photos of various owls enhance the content, making this a perfect addition to a classroom science curriculum. A five star winner.”

And now for the owl craft:

To make this you will need

  • a clean brown paper bag, brown construction paper, or brown card stock
  • yellow and orange scraps of card stock or construction paper.
  • black Sharpie marker
  • glue
  • scissors

An 8×11″ piece of paper was used to make this owl.  Fold the paper into a square bringing one edge against the other so the edges are even forming a triangle as shown in this diagram below.

Cut away the extra paper that isn’t part of the triangle.

 

 

 

Open the triangle and fold a smaller triangle to make a nose as shown in the  diagram below. Cut away the top portion of the wing sections as shown.

Cut out TWO yellow circles using the bottle cap from a milk carton or the rim of a small glass. Glue them in the spots as shown.

Using a BLACK marker, draw the pupils of the eyes, and makes lines on the wings and tail feathers as shown.

Cut a small triangle from ORANGE or YELLOW paper and glue it to the front of the triangle that makes up the nose.

Use the scissors to cut along the black lines on the wings and tail feathers. Your owl is complete!

WHOO KNEW making owls could be so much fun?

Two New Picture Books Reviewed + A Give-Away of Each

LIBBY LOVES SCIENCE by Kimberly Derting and Shelli R Johannes, Illustrated by Joelle Murray

Libby Loves Science

A fun introduction to chemistry and some kid-friendly experiments (with adult supervision) are sure to peak the interest of kids who enjoy science. Recipes for making giant bubbles, rainbow slime, and more are shared in a colorful and informative way. Perfect addition to classroom or home-school science curriculum for the youngest kids.

GURPLE AND PREEN: A BROKEN CRAYON COSMIC ADVENTURE by Linda Sue Park, illustrated by Debbie Ridpath Ohi

Gurple and Preen: A Broken Crayon Cosmic Adventure

A whimsical cosmic adventure where an ordinary box of crayons become something extraordinary thanks to this creative author and illustrator team.  Ohi has elevated broken crayons to an art form and continues that here in this fanciful tale of creativity and learning that you can accomplish difficult things by working on them one step at a time.

A good lesson for young and old alike.

 

I am giving away a copy of each book (Libby Loves Science is signed by the author). Leave a comment about one of the books and your name will be entered. Share this post on social media and I will add you name again and draw two winners, one for each book. The winners will be announced in a later post on this blog.

Caring For Baby Birds All Summer Long.

It’s summer!
If you’ve maintained a wild bird backyard habitat throughout winter, you can continue through summer with added benefits. Providing food, water and shelter encourages birds to build a home and raise young when resources are plentiful. Fill a suet feeder with nesting supplies such as yarn threads, strands of hair, and broom bristles. Keep a part of your yard “natural” with a pile of leaves and pine needles, to offer a variety of supplies for birds to choose from. Keep your eyes out the window and take note to which birds make use of your materials.

bird in tree

Many birds will make their nest in close proximity to humans. Robins and mourning doves are known for making nests in shrubs, trees or on wooden ledges under decks. Swallows will build a nest from mud and attach it to the side of the house. Wrens love small bird houses and especially those that can safely swing in the breeze. Be on the lookout for neighborhood cats who like to lunch on unsuspecting baby birds. Snakes can also end the enjoyment of raising baby birds in your yard. I don’t recommend killing snakes as they also provide an important service in the ecosystem, but it’s never a good day, when a snake is found inside a nest box full of black-capped chickadees.     bird 1

In addition to prey, another hazard for baby birds is falling from the nest. If a baby bird found is very small and most likely dead, it has been pushed out by more aggressive siblings or from nest over load. If you find a baby bird that has feathers and can hop but cannot fly, it is most likely a fledgling, just learning to fly. Contrary to popular belief it is OK to pick up and replace the baby to its nest. Or, if it looks like the parents are attentive, leave it alone. If you cannot find the nest, place the bird in a tissue lined box in the same location in which it was found. Watch to see if the parents return to feed. Many do. If after a few hours you can’t be sure the parents are around, your best option is to take the baby to a local wildlife center. The people there will nurture the baby until it can survive on its own and usually return the bird to its original locale.           bird 2

Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge is in southern New Jersey and takes in wildlife of all varieties.
6 Sawmill Rd, Medford, NJ 08055
(856) 983-3329
http://www.cedarrun.org

Another note of caution, be careful of tree cutting in the spring and summer. Many nests have been dislocated when unsuspecting tree cutters take down a bird’s summer home.

bird nest

Taking care of our feathered friends can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience for young and old alike. Why not invite some birds into your backyard this summer?

Shiela Fuller has been a Cornell University Project Feeder Watch participant for many years and an avid birder since 1988. Currently, she enjoys writing picture books, yoga, chicken raising, wildlife photography, and is the legacy keeper for her family.