Old Trees, New Life- Camping Activity

When a tree falls, its life is over. But the tree can still give life to others. The dead tree becomes its own ecosystem, where plants, insects, and microorganisms thrive-from the mosses, ferns, and fungi that make the rotting tree their home to a whole host of bugs and bacteria that eat the tree and break it down into soil for new plants! Next time you see a dead log, take a close look and record your observations in your Field Journal. You just might be amazed by what you see.

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What You Do

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#1. Find a rotting log: Look for a tree that has fallen and that has wood breaking apart in pieces. It may be slightly damp.

 

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#2. Describe what the log looks like. What is growing on it? Can you see any mushrooms, ferns, mosses, or lichens? Are there baby trees or any other plants sprouting out of the wood?

 

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#3. Do you see any insects? What are they doing? Look for tiny piles of sawdust at the base of the log. This is evidence that insects have drilled into the wood, starting the decomposition process. The holes left behind create highways for fungi and bacteria to come in and break down the wood even further.

 

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#4.  Tap the log with your fingers. Is it hollow? Wet? Bone-dry? What does it smell like?

 

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#5. Put on your gloves and gently and carefully lift the log a few inches to see if you can take a peek underneath. What do you see? Are there insects underneath? What are they doing? What do they look like? When you’re done, put the log back.

 

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#6.  Use your magnifying glass to peek at the log itself. Do you see insects breaking it down? What do they look like under the magnifying glass? What about the plants growing on the tree? What do the mushrooms look like up close?

 

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#7. Draw and describe what you’ve seen in your field journal. Try to identify plants, animals, and insects by looking at your field guide or Nature Anatomy book! 

 

There is so much to learn! Head outdoors and explore! 🙂

 

 

Keeping a Field Journal

“Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.”

– Albert Einstein

 

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You’ve got your tent pitched and your fire pit set up-you’re finally at home in the wilderness. But one of the best parts of being in nature is exploring it,  and discovering the plants and animals that call your campsite home, sweet home. Keeping a field journal is a fun way to record what you see or hear while in the great outdoors. In it you can make drawings, describe in detail the plants and animals you come across, and collect leaves and flowers to press and tape right into your book. When you get home, you can gather more information at the library, local wildlife center, botanic garden, or online.

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What you need:

  • Sketchbook
  • Pencil
  • Colored pencils or markers
  • Watercolor set with brushes (optional)
  • Camera (optional)
  • Envelopes for holding any leaf, flower, feather, or other natural treasures that you may find along the trail.

You may find a pair of binoculars to come in handy. They will help you scope out wildlife from a safe distance!

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What You Do:

Get Organized

Before you begin, think about how you want to organize your journal. Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • Organize by environment. If you camp in areas that have different climates and types of plant and animal life-say the woods one weekend, the desert another- you might want to make sections in your journal for every kind of place you go!
  • Organize by topic. Have an animal section, a plant section, bug section, and rock section. Add new entries to each part according to what you see.
  • Organize by camping trip. Keep a running journal of your trips. Gather your information, make sketches, and record your thoughts by journey.
  • Keep two journals. Make one a free-forum for notes, sketches, and collages of leaves, bark, and feathers. Then keep a second, more polished book where you can categorize the random info from the other book.

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Gather the Essentials

Before each entry, write down the date, time, name of your location, and other information that will provide the what, where, and when.

  • Date. Time of year can play a big part in what you see in the wild. In the autumn, many animals migrate and others are busy gathering food for the winter. Leaves begin to turn colors and fall. This season is great for watching foragers-animals that gather their food and hide it for safe-keeping-such as squirrels and chipmunks. In the spring, many animals search for mates, graze for food, and have babies. Trees begin to bud and flowers bloom. Spring is a great time to look and listen for songbirds. Winter is sort of quiet for some animals, but you’ll see lots of activity in the summertime.
  • Time of day.  Most critters are more active at dawn and dusk (though some, like owls and snakes, are more lively at night). So if you want to spot these animals or insects, plan to get up early or stay up late. Some plants are more active at different times of day as well, like the morning glory,a flowering vine that usually blooms in the morning and closes during the day.
  • Notes on the environment.  Are you exploring a pine forest? Wading in a brook? Sitting on a rock at the oceans edge? Describe where you are and what it looks, sounds, and smells like.
  • What’s the weather?  Is it sunny, snowy, or somewhere in between?

 

Gather Information:

A field journal can document more than just animals-it can include bugs and plant life, too. Here’s a general list of questions to ask yourself.

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Animals

  • Describe the animal. What did it look like? What was its behavior? Did it make a sound? Where did you see it? Was it alone?
  • Did it leave behind any tracks? How many toes were on each foot? Are there claws? What is the shape and size of the toe pads and the heel? What kind of pattern do the tracks make as a group? Sketch the track(s) in your journal, then try to identify them.
  • Identify the animal. Is it a mammal, bird, reptile, or amphibian? When you get home, you may want to research the animal further. Leave space to write your findings. Some questions to consider: Does the male look any different from the female? What kind of home does it live in? What are its feeding habits? How does its body develop or change over its lifetime?

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Insects

  • Carefully collect an insect (for observation only) and describe it. What color is it? Does it have wings? How many legs does it have? How many antennae? Any weird behavior?
  • Identify the insect. Leave room in your journal for answers to these questions (you may need to do some research). Where does the bug live? Does the male look different from the female? Is the insect part of a colony? What is its life cycle?

 

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Plants

  • Choose a plant. Draw it, and if there are any leaves, flowers, branches, or bark  on the ground nearby, paste them in. We love pressing the plants into our journals to make them last longer.
  • Describe the plant. What kind of leaves does it have? How tall is the plant or tree? What is its overall shape? Are there any flowers? If so, what do they look and feel like? What color and texture are the bark or stems? Where does the plant live? Is the soil wet, or dry, dirt or sand? Can you tell how the seeds move around?
  • Identify the plant. Using information you gathered, do some research at home to figure out what kind of plant it is. If you like, leave room in your journal to answer the following questions: What is the life cycle? Does the plant serve as food or shelter for any animal? Does the plant lose its leaves in the fall?

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Keeping a field journal is a little like writing in a diary, except instead of writing about yourself, you write about what you observe all around you. It’s great fun, and provides a wonderful keepsake to remember your trips by! If you aren’t able to get outdoors much this summer, be sure to check out Nature Anatomy! It’s one of our favorite completed nature journals!

 

Great Games for the Car!

You’re in the backseat, on the way to the campsite, but the ride goes on and on and on. Mile after mile, the minutes drag. You twitch. You fidget. You ask, “How much longer?”, and still only five minutes pass. Well, fidget no more!! 🙂 These games will make even the longest car trips zip along. They are designed with everyone in mind. You can involve the whole car (though you might want to leave the driver alone), or  just enlist your backseat pal. With some minor tweaks, you can even play the games on your own. Keep score if you want, and eliminate players or assign penalties. Set time limits, or check the odometer to use distance-a number of miles-to signal the end of a game.

 

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The ABC Game:

Look for something that begins with he letter A. You can look at the scenery, or use signs, billboards, and even license plates. Once you get something with the letter A (such as automobile, antenna or apple tree) move on to B, and so forth-until you make your way through the alphabet. You can all play at the same time or take turns.

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Going on a Safari:

In this game, a player starts with the letter A and says: “I’m going on a safari and I’m taking an…” The player says something that starts with the letter A (let’s say apple). The next player repeats the line with the first player’s objects and then adds one beginning with B. “I’m going on a safari and I’m taking an apple and a bench.” The third player then continues with the letter C, and so on! Anyone who makes a mistake or can’t come up with the name of a new object is out. The surviving player wins! (This is one of our favorites)! 🙂

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Destination:

This game is a bit harder. Players start with the letter A and then make up sentences that have a destination, a mode of transportation, and an activity that all begin with that letter. For example: “I’m going to Alabama on an alligator to anchor a boat.” The next player has B-“I’m going to Bavaria on a bus to buy a hat”-and it goes on from there! Tons of fun! 🙂

 

Those are just a few of the fun car games you can play! We’ll add more on our next post!! 🙂

 

 

 

 

 

Road Trips and Conventions!

Traveling/convention season is one of our favorite things about the Spring and Summer. It’s a chance to see new things and meet incredible people! With that being said, it’s hard to believe that our time on the road is half way over. Last week’s show was MASSHOPE, and was held in Massachusetts. It was a fantastic conference, and we’re looking forward to going back next year! This weekend we’re in Arlington, Texas for the THSC homeschool convention. We just finished setting up, and are looking forward to another great weekend! If you’re planning on attending this year, stop by and say hello! 🙂

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Camping 101

Campcraft- “While camping you are at the mercy of natural forces, and your activities will be dominated by the times of sunrise and sunset, changes in the weather, the lie of the land, the nearest water and supply of fuel. Your comfort will depend on your skills in choosing a suitable site, erecting a shelter, building a fire and establishing a smooth routine. When you leave there should be no trace of your stay.”

There are very few perfect campsites, so when choosing a site you will probably have to compromise to some extent. Obviously your priorities will vary depending on how long you are going to stay there, and how large your camp will be, but it is a good idea to have some general principles in mind during the selection process so that you know what to look out for! 🙂

 

 

When to look for your campsiteIf your campsite is to be an overnight stop on the trail you should start to look for a suitable place at least two to three hours before it gets dark. By that time you will need to have settled in and pitched your tents and your food preparations should be well under way. Be prepared to stop short of your intended destination for that day if you find a spot that looks ideal. You may even want to backtrack a little if you do go on but the terrain ahead fails to offer further viable sites.

what to look for

Try to avoid extreme conditions of any kind. In hot countries you will find it a great advantage to have some natural shade on your campsites. In colder areas your priority is likely to be natural shelter from wind. Always try to find a site that is well drained; this usually means looking for a reasonably high site. Not only will you avoid marshy, damp ground, but you will also not find yourself in a pocket of cold air during the night. If it is windy, you will need space to pitch your tents with doors facing away from the wind.

It will be an advantage if the site has it’s own water supply but you should always check to see where the water comes from. Just because local people drink it, it does not mean that it is safe for you to drink. Unless you have a good evidence to the contrary, you should always regard water as contaminated and treat it accordingly. Don’t be tempted to camp too near a water source, such as a stream, as it may attract clouds of biting insects in the evening, and may be a place where animals come to drink.

camp layout

The layout of your camp will be dictated by the site you have chosen, the climate conditions, the size of the camp and personal preferences. There are, however, some golden rules to follow for the sake of the safety and well-being of the campers! 🙂

Positioning Tents: Try to pitch tents with their back into the prevailing wind. If possible, use either a belt of trees or bushes to form a natural windbreak. If hot weather conditions make shade important then choose a place under some trees, but remember that falling twigs and branches will be likely. Make sure your sleeping area is well away from the cooking area and toilet area, and upwind of them if there is prevailing wind. 😉

Toilets: if there are no permanent toilets on the site,construct a toilet downwind of the tents and away from sleeping and cooking areas, with natural screening or  bivvy bag or groundsheet for privacy. You can dig a hole in the ground with a trowel or knife for solid waste, covering it with soil after use and burning toilet paper.

Washing Areas: If you are going to have an area dedicated to washing clothes, keep this area away from cooking and sleeping areas. Site any clothes lines well away from where people will be walking, especially at night.

Where To Site A Fire: If you are going to have a fire, light it well away from the tents, as sparks can fly out and burn holes in the material. Also make sure it is a downwind of the tents, on a flat area well away from trees and bushes.

Kitchen: Site the food preparation area some distance from where you will be sleeping, so that if an animal is attracted by the smells of food during the night, you will not be disturbed. Also, any flies attracted to your cooking will be well away from your sleeping area. If you can, have an extra tent near the cooking area for the storage of food. Do not keep food inside a tent where anyone is sleeping.

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Lastly: Have FUN!!! There is no other activity that we have done that creates so many lasting memories! 🙂

 

 

Empowering Young People to Reach Their Full Potential

Whether you’re homeschooling your children, or are simply looking for extracurricular activities, 4-H is a wonderful option! 4-H prepares young people to be leaders in their community and around the world through hands-on experiences alongside their peers and caring adults. Children can learn about farming, wood-working, archery, photography, art, science, sewing, insect collecting, animals, cooking/canning, and so much more! The possibilities of what they can learn and accomplish are endless.

About 4-H

 4-H began over 100 years ago, and has since grown into the largest youth development program in the nation. Backed by a network of more than 6 million youth, 540,000 adult volunteers, 3,500 professionals, and more than 60 million alumni; 4-H delivers research-based programming around positive youth development. 4-H is delivered through America’s 109 land-grant universities and the Cooperative Extension Service—reaching every corner of our nation. In Indiana, 4-H can be found in all 92 counties as delivered through Purdue Extension. Community clubs, after-school programs, school enrichment, camps/workshops, and special programs are all ways youth across Indiana can be involved with the 4-H program.

Indiana 4-H Mission: 

The Indiana 4-H Youth Development mission is to provide real-life educational opportunities that develop young people who will have a positive impact in their communities and the world.

Indiana 4-H Vision: 

Indiana 4-H Youth Development strives to be the premier, community-based program empowering young people to reach their full potential.

 

Projects

Members have the opportunity to learn more about a subject matter that they choose to study through completing hands on activities. We refer to these as projects. In order to enroll in a project, members must sign up for them at the time of enrolling in 4-H. Each project has a manual that guides the youth through the learning process as well as a set of guidelines that helps them meet the project requirements. We provide adult volunteers and staff who are knowledgeable on that particular subject who will often times provide workshops to allow the youth to learn about that topic in a social environment. Each project has a beginner, intermediate, and advanced level-this allows youth to build on their knowledge each year and continue to challenge their skills. Projects are meant to be worked on over time, providing an educational opportunity for youth outside of the classroom setting. Often times, youth will exhibit and display their project at a local county fair in order to show the community what they have learned.

As you complete your projects use 4-H-620-W “My Record of 4-H Achievement” to keep detailed records of your exhibits. Click here for a Microsoft Word version of the “My Record of 4-H Achievement.”

There is no limit to the number of projects youth can sign up for, however, we suggest starting out with one or two your first year. If you know what project(s) you are looking for, simply find it listed under a specific category listed below.

Join 4-H

Want to get involved? Contact your local County Extension Office to find out what clubs meet in your area. Click here to enroll in 4HOnline as a 4-H club member!

 

 

Here are a few of our favorite 4-H activity products!

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Insect Collecting Kit

 

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Weather Forecasting

 

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Air-stream Machines
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The Woodland Homestead
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Guide to Raising Chickens
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Garden activities

 

Taking the Early Years Outdoors!

“In this time of extraordinary pressure, educational and social, perhaps a mother’s first duty to her children is to secure for them a quiet growing time, a full six years of passive receptive life, the waking part of it spent for the most part out in the fresh air” (Vol. 1, p. 43).

Even back in the day, a hundred years ago, mothers were feeling the pressure to push their preschool children towards academics and social activities. But Charlotte Mason (one of our favorite educators) advocated an opposite approach that still holds benefits for you today. One of my favorite bits of advice from hers is this: “Give your children a quiet growing time, most of it spent outdoors.”

Her object is to show that the chief function of the child-his business in the world during the first six to seven years of his life-is to find out all he can, about whatever comes under his notice, by means of his five senses; and that the goal of his parents should be to put him in the way of making acquaintance freely with Nature and natural objects.

“Intimate acquaintance with every natural object within his reach is the first and, possibly, the best part of a child’s education.” (Vol.2, p. 261)

One of the greatest things about nature study is that you don’t have to go farther than your own backyard! No matter what the size, your yard holds plenty of opportunities to study nature, physics, chemistry, art and much more! Use this list to help guide you on the amazing journey of discovering God’s world of nature!

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Leaf Study

How Do Leaves Breathe

Square Foot Garden

Flower Dissection

Seed Study

Wildflower Identification

Wildflower Study

Bark

Pinecones

Measuring Plant Growth

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Birds

Bird Nests

Attracting Birds To The Backyard

more tips on bringing birds to your backyard

American Robin

Winter Foods For Birds

Animal Tracks

Animal Tracks ID

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Squirrels

Bats

Tadpoles

Owls

Owl Pellets

How To Attract Owls

Toads

Observing Worm

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Insect Study

Butterflies

Bees

Honey Bees

Benefits Of Insects

Spiders

Spider Webs

Bug Activities

Build A Ladybug House

Tell the temperature with crickets

Ants

Pill Bugs

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Using Clouds To Predict The Weather

Storms

Weather

DIY Weather Station

Make A Weather Vane

Evaporation Experiment

Frozen Bubbles

Measuring Snow

Snowflake Science

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Learn Summer Constellations

Solar Magnification

Solar System

Human Sun Dial

Make A Solar Oven 

Solar Prints

Use the sun’s energy to heat water

Astronomy events

 

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10 Ways To Study Rocks

Dirt Experiment

Make A Compost Bin

Soil Science

Rocks and mineral testing

Sandbox Science

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Backyard Bark Beetles

Great Sunflower Project

Urban Buzz – cicada project

Great Backyard Bird Count

Squirrel Mapper

Monarch SOS

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Bugs In Our Backyard

Dark Sky Meter

Big Butterfly Count

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Native Buzz – Bees

Bumblebee Watch

American Kestrel Partnership

Butterflies And Moths Of North America

Yard Map

Project Noah

Nest Watch

Nature’s Notebook

S’COOL – Students Cloud Observations Online

Bud Burst

Fire Fly Watch

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Square Foot Nature Study

Life Under A Log

Patterns In Nature