Category Archives: Nature Study

Using Stabilo Woody Crayons for Nature Journals

Nature Journal - Water Color Crayons

I have posted in the past about how much I love Stabilo Woody crayons, but even I was impressed by how well they worked when I used them to draw a tree for our nature study a couple of weeks ago. Dora and I were drawing together in our our kitchen and I was looking at some trees that line the road behind our house. It only took me about five minutes to sketch the tree above. I then went over the drawing with a watercolor brush – the crayons also function as watercolor crayons. I was really happy with the way the colors blended. It was a little hard for me, personally, to draw with them as they are so chunky, since they are designed for children, but they are easy for Dora to work with. I also like that Dora can use them to do rough sketches when we are in the field and then use water to achieve the water color look once we get home, as opposed to trying to carry a set of water color paints into the field.

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Disclosure: Some item links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. All opinions expressed, however, are 100% my own.

Labels: Arts and Crafts, Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Our November Nature Study Poem

Thanks to the inspiration of Charlotte Mason, I have been adding a lot more poetry to our homeschool. I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how receptive to poetry Dora has become. In addition to our A, B, C, poems and our weekly poems, I’ve decided to read one poem a month about nature (I will read it multiple times during the month, of course). This first year is going to be easy, as I am using poetry from Around the Year: A Picture Book, by Elsa Beskow, which has one poem for each month of the year. Though I may excerpt her poetry here, I cannot emphasize enough that these poems are meant to be read while enjoying the illustrations that accompany each poem in the book. The poem we are reading this month is, strangely enough, entitled “November”.

Grey is November,
cold as cold.
Stormy November,
wind and rain.
No snow.
No ice.
No glittering sun.
Grey is November,
except by the bright fire
with a story,
a cushion for the cat,
the dark shut outside
and the light in flames
where mysteries lie
and we dream.

This poem really doesn’t gel with my idea of November. Firstly, autumn’s colors are still lingering and the gray has not quite settled in for the season yet. Secondly, I find November to be such a month of expectancy, a month of pre-fervor, would you, for the holidays, that I don’t think it matters much what the weather is like outside (assuming that one is not in the path of the likes of Hurricane Sandy). So I cannot think of November as anything, but cheerful, but that is me… I know certain other locals whom are already bemoaning the 21 days of rain that we’ve endured this fall (I’ve been told by the aforementioned locals that it is 21 days, but have not bothered to confirm this figure myself). Such locals, who have already cast their eyes towards warmer shores, would probably feel that this poem is quite appropriate for November. I do not mean to mock these locals by the way, the gray days here used to cause me into all sorts of despair, then one day, I suddenly found myself embracing them. What about you, do you feel that November is depressingly gray or do you like it?

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Disclosure: Some item links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. All opinions expressed, however, are 100% my own.

Labels: Literature, Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

October Nature Study–Seeds and Berries

Ebright Park 3

This month, Dora and I focused on finding seeds and berries while we were out nature exploring. I thought I would share some of the finds that we made. I was not able to identify all of the plants that we found. I am also new at this, so if I made any mistakes or you know the names of any plants that I don’t know, please let me know in the comments for below. The first image, above is of wild rose hips. I do not know the name of the plant below.

Ebright Park 5

The berries below are snowberries.

Issaquah Salmon Hatchery Snowberries

These plants are thistle, I think…. 

Nature Walk October 5, 2012 - 9

These berries are beautyberries, which I just planted in my back yard. Beauty berries are an important source of food for many birds and other animals during the winter, when other food sources are scarce.

Beauty Berries

This plant is known as liatris, blazing star, or grayfeather.

Liatris - Blazing Star - Grayfeather

Update 11/3/12 – Thanks to SP, who suggested hawthorn berries, which is what these appear to be!  I believe that these “berries” are actually another species of wild rose hips, but am not sure. There were a much brighter red than any other wild rose hips that I have ever seen. You’ll also note that they are more elongated than the type in the first photo of this post, which I see much more frequently.

Ebright Park 2

This final image is from my neighbor’s tree. It is the only tree of its kind, that I know of, in my immediate area. 

Nature Walk October 5, 2012 - 15

The things that are inside these pods look like conkers to me, but I’ve also read some places that made me wonder if they were actually chestnuts (or are chestnuts and conkers the same thing?). Personally, I had never even heard of conkers until I started reading blogs and seeing all these crafts people were doing with them.

Nature Walk October 5, 2012 - 13

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Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Homeschool Mother’s Journal–Changing Our Approach to Language Arts


In my life this week… I got a ticket! When the officer approached my car, I was actually sincere when I asked, “Is there a problem officer?” as I knew I hadn’t broken any laws. Well, it ends up that our car registration expired in May! I don’t know how neither Mr. Mo nor I noticed this, it is not like us at all. I was so embarrassed, it felt like the first time I had an overdue library book (thanks to one of my children!), I’ve never let my tabs expire in my 28 years of driving. For some reason, having expired tabs seemed more criminal than speeding. Plus, I was right in front of the gymnastics school and a grocery store. Tons of people were walking by and giving me curious looks. I felt sure that they were thinking that I was horrible criminal and were gleefully waiting to watch me hauled off to jail in cuffs. I didn’t actually start the waterworks, but I was so upset, the police officer became apparently distraught himself. I still feel like I can’t wash the “driving with expired tabs” scent off of me. Plus, the ticket was for $216!!! In our homeschool this week…I started our new Charlotte Mason-ish approach to language arts with both Dora and Gohan. I call it “Charlotte Mason-ish”, because I am using Waldorf materials with Dora. I started using L M N O P and All the Letters A to Z, which is a Waldorf  alphabet book. It has one poem and illustration for each letter. Whereas Dora would have nothing to do with Montessori alphabet baskets or sandpaper letters, she begs me to read more than one poem a day from this book and spends a lot of time reflecting on the illustration and the words in the poem. Since I started reading this book to her, she has been talking about her A,B,C’s a lot and pointing out letters when she sees one that she recognizes. I cannot believe what a difference one book has made for her! 

Coating Leaves in Beeswax 2

We also continued to look at autumn leaves. We preserved some leaves by dipping them in melted beeswax. This was the first time that I had ever done this. The hardest part of the activity was keeping the wax at the right temperature. If I left the burner on too long, even on the lowest heat setting, the wax would start to boil. I was worried that this would cause the wax to burn, so I turned the burner off every time the wax started to boil. There would come a point, however, when the wax would get too cold and this would cause the wax to cake on the leaves. The finished leaves feel very smooth, not waxy at all, and look beautiful.

Coating Leaves in Beeswax 3

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… In addition to the usual drama, music and co-op classes, Dora started taking gymnastics with one of her homeschooled friends at a local gymnastics school. It’s an hour long, so Dora was exhausted by the end of class, but by the next morning, she was raring to go again. We had planned to go to our homeschool group’s park day today, but no one else was attending. We may look into joining another homeschool group that has weekly “meetings” in an old building that has a giant lawn to play on. The building is huge, with wooden floors and a stage, so there is lots of room to run around if it is too rainy to play outside. Plus they have some toys there and kids bring board games and so forth. We had tried attending the group once before and I was turned off by the long drive to get there. Also,  no one would play with Dora at the time. I want to try it again, though, as Dora is older and has much better social skills now. Plus, since we have been driving so far to attend park days recently, this drive doesn’t seem so bad anymore.

Ebright Park 1

My favorite thing this week was… The temperatures finally dropped to a normal range for this time of year. I could feel a nip in the air, a gentle reminder that winter is not far away.

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Disclosure: Some item links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. All opinions expressed, however, are 100% my own.

Labels: Language Arts, Nature Study, Waldorf, Wrapping Up Our Week
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Our Forays Into Nature Journaling

Nature Journal 1

I have recently begun keeping a nature journal with Dora. My primary reason for taking on this project is that she clearly is trying to grasp the various concepts of days of the week, months, seasons, and time of the day. Keeping any sort of journal or calendar has proven in my family’s past, to be one of the best ways to learn these concepts. Each day, I enter the name of the day of the week and remind Dora of the activities that we usually do on that day (i.e. Monday is music class day). I then enter the date. In the past, with my older children, they often had the month’s name down pat by 30th or 31st of the month, just from the daily repetition. I enter the time of our nature “observation”, which clues Dora into the hours of the day. I enter the temperature and weather conditions, which helps her learn the Fahrenheit scale (I probably should start using Celsius also) and associate the numbers with how the weather feels. This practice also teaches her the vocabulary of weather as I encourage our weather descriptions to be varied (such as “drizzling” one day, “misting” another, etc.).

Leaf Rubbings 2

I am also trying to learn and teach Dora how to be more in tune with our environment. My hope is that we can learn to truly listen to what is going on around us, to hear the many and varied bird songs and other animal calls. That we can truly see what is before us, to notice the subtle difference between the grays of overcast skies and the grays of storm clouds. That we may start to truly feel the wind on our faces, the humidity on our skin, and the rocks beneath our feet. That we begin to smell all the subtle smells that nature offers us and mankind so often masks. That we become in tune with the cyclical patterns of nature on this planet and learn to appreciate the amazing beauty that each cycle brings. So on some of our explorations, we simply exist, but on others I set a task for either myself or for both of us, something to look for, a sound to notice, a smell to find.

Leaf Pounding

My final reason for wanting to keep a nature journal is a purely selfish one. I have become determined to become a competent artist with pen and pencils. I want to finally teach myself to be able to draw what I see before me. I am not sure why I feel such a pressing need to be able to draw, but it is something that I have attempted to study in the past and the desire to learn has never faded. Painting and sculpting hold no appeal for me, I merely want to learn to draw. With this in mind, I hope for my journals to consist more and more of my drawings, but at the same time, I am trying to teach Dora a variety of ways to record her experiences. I’ve included images of three attempts on our part to record our experiences, all focused on leaves, which rein so importantly at this time of year. The first journal entry being leaf pressing, the second, leaf rubbings, and the final, not so successful attempt, being leaf pounding. I am hoping that leaf pounding will work better in the spring for tonight my arm is aching from whacking leaves so hard with a mallet and my spirits are low, for my efforts yielded only this single pitiful attempt at art, which actually looks better on the computer than in real life.

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Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

The Homeschool Mother’s Journal–We Finally Make Some Melted Crayon Art

Melted Crayons Bird

In my life this week… it looks like Mr. Mo has a new job. It is at the same large company that he has worked for the last 15 years, but it is a better position on a project that he is passionate about. He hasn’t officially been given the job as his prospective boss has been out of town, but the group has already given him loads of work to do, so we’re taking that as a positive sign that he has the job. Unfortunately, he has to finish up his current project at the same time, so he is being pulled in two directions at once. Were it me in the same situation, I’d probably implode or something, but Mr. Mo handles stress fairly well.

Bird Template

In our homeschool this week… Dora and I did the final vertebrate craft project that I forgot to do last week. This one was about birds. It was one of those melty-crayon projects that was all the rage on Pinterest last spring. I finally just got around to doing one. I cut out a bird template on black cardstock. Then I needed to temporarily affix it to our background paper somehow. I admit that this part of the project temporarily flummoxed me. How does one temporarily attach paper to paper and have a good seal, but not have the adhesive stick out beyond the template? I’m sure there are some wonderful temporary adhesives that I could have gone out and bought, but I did not feel like dealing with that, so I rolled up loops of painter’s tape to make “double-sided” painter’s tape and used that. Were I to do this again, I would get a better temporary sealant.

Bird Template With Painter's Tape for Temporary Adhesion

We then used glue tape to attach unwrapped crayons all around the bird in a rainbow pattern, of course. We opted to use any and all crayons that we don’t use anymore, including broken, soy, and beeswax crayons (beeswax crayons are really hard to melt, so I don’t recommend them). At this point I would like to point out the real reason this is not a good preschooler project, Dora unwrapped one, yes count them, one, crayon and I unwrapped the rest. Unwrapping that many crayons takes forever and leaves tons of crayon wax under your nails!

Bird Template With Crayons Before Melting

We then blow-dried the crayons with our hair dryer on the hottest setting. I know that the people on Pinterest use heat guns, but I don’t have one of those either. The hair dryer worked fine, though it may have taken longer than a heat gun would have (I wouldn’t know, having never used a heat gun and not being really sure what a heat gun is for). Unfortunately, some of the crayon seeped under our bird stencil, which is why I would use a better temporary adhesive, were I to do this again.

Bird Template With Crayons While Melting the Crayons

I am inspired by… Charlotte Mason. Not to sound like a broken record, and no, I am not abandoning Montessori, but after reading Charlotte Mason’s books this week, I took Dora on a nature walk. Dora was not really interested in much and was being a bit whinny. I followed some of Charlotte Mason’s advice and said, “What was that I just heard?” Dora looked at me like I was crazy. So I said, “I think I just heard an interesting bird sound.” Suddenly Dora started really listening to what was going on around us, for the first time in her life! She spent about 15 minutes listening to the various bird calls, none of which I could identify BTW, because I have never made any attempts to learn about nature, until just recently.

Rainy Day Leaves

Places we’re going and people we’re seeing… We did the usual drama, music and co-op classes. We also went on two nature walks. Then today Dora and I went to Remlinger Farms with some great friends (we even got to meet their Grandma, who Dora started calling “Grandma” also). We had a blast at the park and a blast seeing our friends and to top it all off, we got to take home two new pumpkins! Tomorrow, we’re supposed to go on a tour of our local fire station. Plus Secunda is home from college this weekend.

Remlinger Farms 2

Remlinger Farms 1Remlinger Farms 3I’m reading… The Casual Vacancy by J.K. Rowling (wait a minute, did you just do a double take!?!? You should have!). Yes, the book is by the J.K. Rowling of the Harry Potter fame! I’m only on chapter 6, as I just started it, but so far, it is excellent. It is a murder mystery that takes place in an English village. I wouldn’t go so far as to call the book a cozy, as there is a bit too much sex and profanity for that, but it is heading in a cozy-ish direction. It’s definitely a book for adults, not children or tweens (perhaps teens???).

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Disclosure: Some item links in this post are affiliate links. I will make a small amount of money if you click on them and make a purchase. All opinions expressed, however, are 100% my own.

Labels: Arts and Crafts, Nature Study, Things To Do Around Seattle, Wrapping Up Our Week
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Our October Seasonal Nature Shelf

Fall Nature Table

As I mentioned last week, I have been looking into including some of the Charlotte Mason approach into our homeschool. Last week, I started reading Charlotte Mason’s Original Homeschool Series, which is hosted on the Ambleside Online website. The thing that most attracts me to the Charlotte Mason approach is the emphasis on nature study and spending lots of time outdoors. I find that, as I get older, I feel a greater compulsion to spend more and more time outdoors. I don’t know if this is a natural part of aging or just an evolution of my personality, but it has helped a lot that Dora greatly enjoys the outdoors. I would probably go insane if she did not.

Of course, the Charlotte Mason approach is not the only educational approach to emphasize nature study. Living Montessori Now has an excellent post on Montessori nature trays and tables, where she also provides plenty of links to Waldorf nature and seasonal tables.

For our seasonal nature “table”, I commandeered our language arts mental insets shelf, which was not being used at all, since Dora currently refuses to work with metal insets. The shelf actually has made a perfect seasonal nature shelf for us. The top shelf houses some of our seasonally-themed books, as well as a basket full of preserved autumn leaves. The second shelf contains seasonal wooden Waldorf toys that Dora incorporates into various imaginary games that she is playing. The third shelf contains some of Dora’s nature finds. Finally, the bottom shelf contains a seasonal jigsaw puzzle, a magnifying glass, a pair of tweezers, and for right now, a bowl of acorns (a mixture of real and wooden acorns).

What about you, do you have a nature table? If so, do you consider it to be mostly influenced by Charlotte Mason, Montessori, Waldorf, or none of these educators? I’d love it if you included a link to your nature table in the comments below, as I’m still looking for more inspiration.

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Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Dora is Interested in Geocaching!

Tree Stump Throne 2
I am very excited, because Dora has finally expressed an interest in geocaching. Hopefully, her interest will last. I used to geocache a lot before she was born, but since her birth, have only found a few caches. Geocaching is a great way to get exercise, explore new places, practice geography skills, work on problem solving skills, and more, depending on the cache. This particular cache was an easy cache, which was a necessity if I was to keep Dora’s interest. It also helps that it was at a park. She played for a long time, then we hit the trails. It didn’t hurt that there is a tree stump chair/throne on the trail.
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Labels: Nature Study, Physical Education, Social Studies
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Our Growing Wildlife Population Got a Bit Too Big!

I wrote a couple of months ago that we had a chipmunk living in our backyard. I had also hung some bird feeders in our front yard and we were getting lots of wonderful birds. Then it appeared that our chipmunk gave birth (“he” was a “she” it seems). Then we acquired a rabbit, who seemed perfectly content to nibble on the clover in our yard, while ignoring our vegetables. Still, I began to wonder at what point does one say, “This is too much wildlife in our tiny yard.” Well, last week I learned what that point is. One day, I woke to find that both of my bird feeders had been knocked down and I assumed some of the annoying local teens had done the job, but was very impressed with their strength. One of the feeders had a huge footprint in it and the other had a bar bent that I couldn’t even begin to unbend. With the undestroyed pieces, I was able to cobble together one feeder, but about an hour later Tertia called to me, “Mom, you need to come see this.” Well, there were two black bears ambling up the path towards our house – a mom and a cub!

The mom looked a lot like this bear. Unfortunately, I never got a good photo of the bears. By the time I ran and got my camera, they had gone into the woods near our house. The next two times they showed up, the mother bear was running right at our house at full speed, so I was a bit too busy running in the opposite direction to get a photo. A call to our local Department of Fish, Game, and Wildlife earned me a stern lecture on the fact that one does not hang bird feeders when one lives in “bear country”. I was unaware of this fact and I was also unaware of the fact that I lived in “bear country”. I knew neighboring cities had occasional bears, but didn’t realize that qualified as living in “bear country”. Anyway, I did know that black bears are not particularly aggressive. I had thought that they relocated bears that were living too close to houses, but it ends up that they do not do that. These bears have most likely co-existed with us for some time and as long as we don’t set out tasty snacks for them, they should leave us alone.

Birdfeeder 20
I had planned to write a wonderful post about our bird feeder and all the birds we had seen, but clearly that project was cut a bit short. Here is a picture of a Stellar’s Jay, however, that I am quite proud of. I’m not proud of the quality of the photo per se, but of the fact that I was able to catch a picture of one of these guys at all. I think that Stellar’s Jays have ADHD or have inhaled a few too many Starbuck’s fumes or something, they do not stay still for more than a second!
Bunny in Our Yard 2
This is a picture of our local bunny “hiding” under the picnic table. He honestly seemed to think he was doing a good job of hiding and that no one could see him. We haven’t seen him in a couple of weeks and I think his “hiding” skills (or lack there of, I should say) might have something to do with that. I have wondered if he became bear food, though there are a lot of eagles and hawks around here also.

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Labels: Nature Study
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff

Visiting the Seattle Japanese Garden in the Spring

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 1

Dora and I went to the Seattle Japanese Garden this week, while Gohan was doing his annual standardized testing. I had thought that as part of our tree studies, we would look at the cherry trees, assuming there would be many in a Japanese garden. While, cherry blossoms abound in the Seattle area, there was nary a one to be found in the gardens… Or so I thought at first. It ends up that there are some cherry trees in the Japanese Gardens, in fact they even have their own plaque, but they do not look like the cherry tree blossoms that I am used to. The ones that we have around Seattle, which ironically do not produce cherries BTW, look like these (photo source Wikipedia):

The cherry trees that are at the Seattle Japanese Gardens, look like these:

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 4

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 5

A close-up of the plaque that Dora is “reading” in the photo above,  

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 7

The photos don’t quite make it clear, but the Mt. Fuji Cherry blossoms are about four times larger than the ones that we usually see.

Another major attraction of the Japanese Gardens is the koi pond, which really is large enough to be called a lake. Unfortunately, visitors are not allowed to feed the koi during the cooler months, but Dora spent about half an hour watching the koi anyway.

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 10

The turtles in the pond are alive and will eventually move, if you watch them long enough.

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 12

I’m not sure what the source for the stream that runs through the Japanese Garden is, but the water seemed to be flowing faster now than it has been in the fall.

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 2

This was the first time that Dora was able to navigate the stepping stones by herself and she was rather proud of herself for it. There are several places where you can either cross the by  bridge or stepping stones. Needless to say, Dora always chose the stepping stones.

Japanese Gardens in the Spring 3

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Labels: Nature Study, Things To Do Around Seattle
Posted by Maureen Sklaroff