The Nature Corner Feed

Another Learning Room Corner ...

Because I'm on a roll!

Learning room 1

Yesterday I set up Earlybird's "learning wall" and today I reorganized his (our) nature/world corner. The map's the only new thing here (our old one was battered to bits). Everything else is old stuff - just rearranged in a new way.

I had to scooch down the loveseat a little ...

Learning room 2

You could say it looks a bit cramped, but I call it cozy. :)

Now here's how that corner looks, close up ...

Learning room 9

A basket of field guides ...

Learning room 8

Favorite nature books (with magnifying glasses lying on top), and a new family nature journal. I find it gets too scattered, insisting on individual journals, so instead, we'll keep one family book in which we can all add observations, sketches, etc. (I just wrote: Spotted the wee bunny in the front yard after a brief rainstorm. 7/2/12 4 p.m.)

Learning room 10

A storm candle - every summer we must have a storm candle! - and our Birdsong Identiflyer (currently sans batteries but I've got some charging downstairs). Also, a favorite little book of "Summer" poems and prayers.

Learning room 11

Baskets of books on the shelf underneath, and a basket of science and nature magazines. In the narrow space between the table and wall we have oversized atlas books.

Learning room 12

And of course, the world map is here, with EB's sticky notes marking places he'd like to visit. :)

Learning room 15

The windowsill holds a small cache of clutter ... a jam jar and candle pots holding nature bits and bobs ... our clamshell nature angel and wooden St. Francis doll ...

Learning room 14

(We don't open this window as there is no screen. I forget why it's down, but I'm sure there's a reason. It remains to be seen whether or not I keep these small items out on display ... so far the cats have not bothered with them.)

Looking up ...

Learning room 17

... clearly, this basket is for me. :)

And looking down ...

Learning room 18

... clearly, this basket is for Archie.


So now I'm working on the family computer corner and mama's reading nook ... making summer changes, weeding out last year's stuff ... I'll be back soon to share more on all that!

Have a great night, everyone!

~ Thoughts on Nature Journals ~

Many homeschoolers relish the practice - or at least the idea - of keeping a nature journal. Really, it's a wonderful tool for channeling those lessons learned through formal, or informal, nature study. Personally, I love the idea of a handmade journal, filled with notes and drawings and maybe even real-live (or once-live) specimens. This is my ideal form of nature journaling - for myself as well as my boys - but so far our attempts at paper journals have pretty much fizzled. We're good for a week or two, and then those new notebooks gets put aside.

I have not given up hope, though. (I'm nothing if not hopeful!) After much contemplation, I have come to think we will do better with one big family field journal instead of aiming to keep up three or four. After all, for the most part, we experience nature all together, and those experiences are all the more fruitful because they are shared. I think (and hope) the same reasoning will apply to a journal. This is our summer goal #1, and the cornerstone of our summer project, Forest School (details soon!), so stay tuned to follow along with our progress. :)

But in the meantime, I hate to see our nature study go by without chronicling it in some way, so I turn to the wonders of virtual reality; I post our photos and nature notes here at my blog (and in turn at my Nature Corner for storage). But because my boys don't regularly tune into my blogs, I also keep a nature shelf up-to-date with their little finds and other symbols of the season (books, puppets, etc.). In this way - through the notes and photos and tiny treasures brought home - bit by bit, we capture the everyday nature that makes up our world ...

If you love the idea of nature journaling, but find it a challenge to work it into your already busy home-learning life, consider an online journal (or in other words, a blog). You don't have to go public - it can be made private, and available only to those folks with whom you share your password. If you have a digital camera, uploading pictures is so quick and easy (believe me, if I can learn to do it, anyone can). And jotting down brief observations daily or every few days, could not be easier. For a better idea of the possibilites of online nature journaling, check out my Nature Blogroll over on my righthand sidedar - there are many lovely sites there to peruse. :)

But finally, it's on to my photos for today! I have scads of them piling up, and since Spring moves fast around here, I'd like to share them before they get outdated! Thanks for listening to my thoughts on nature journaling, and thanks for checking in to see what we're up to!


The first tender shoots of what I believe to be lilly-of-the-valley.


The bleeding hearts are, at last, in full boom.


This is a red-winged blackbird at a local park.


This is an earthworm the boys found; it was huge. (A nightcrawler?)


The sky-view from where I stand as I push Earlybird on the swings. :)


Tree buds a week ago - they've since opened!


Another tree-in-the-sky shot. (I just love photographing trees.)


A busy bee at a local park. (Unidentified tree.)


Can you see the robin in the evening light?


The last bit of sunset.


Photograph by Bookworm ~ a baby dragonfly (?) resting on my hat!


A killdeer we spotted at a nearby lake.


A mourning dove pair nestled in an evergreen. (See his mate?)


I loved the way these tree buds (blossoms, leaves?) looked in the sun.


We found an owl pellet at the base of this tree, so we think this is a nest!


These will become helicopter seeds in the fall!


A lovely but unidentified flowering tree, pretty against the blue.


A johnny jump-up I'm attempting to press.


A morel mushroom we found in our yard; now it rests on our nature shelf.

As you can tell, I get as much pleasure - and education - out of nature study, as my boys do! And this is another good reason for working on one journal all together ~ none of us is an expert. Even though I wear the teacher's (and mother's) cap, we're all learning right alongside each other. As with so many things in our life, this is very much a joint venture. :)

Well, I must be off now, but if I may, let me leave you with a quote from one of my favorite nature handbooks ...

"The chief charm of nature study would be taken away if it did not lead us through the border-land of knowledge into the realm of the undiscovered. Moreover, the teacher, in confessing her ignorance and at the same time her interest in a subject, establishes between herself and her pupils a sense of companionship which relieves the strain of discipline, and gives her a new and intimate relation with her pupils which will surely prove a potent element in her success. The best teacher is always one who is the good comrade of her pupils." (Handbook of Nature Study, Anna Comstock) 

Made. My. Day.


Do you know who this is?!? :)

This cute little fella scampering across the top of our potting shed is our long lost red squirrel, Red Tail!! (Or, quite possibly, a relation.) Whatever the case may be, we have been months without a red squirrel at our feeders - ever since that fateful day last April - and I have truly missed his fun and feisty presence.

I watched him just now as he flitted about, trying to find a way to jump over to a large squirrel-friendly feeder. He was comical to watch - as they always are - leaping about, crashing through foliage, looking for the right (safest) way to the seeds. And this is why I suspect it might not be Red Tail, because that little squirrel certainly knew his way around the feeders. Of course it has been several months ... perhaps the injuries he sustained from the cat attack left him with amnesia or something? Oh, who am I kidding, it is probably just another little red squirrel from somewhere deep in the woods, but that's all right by me. I'm just thrilled to have him/her/hopefully THEM back! :)

More little nature stories to come later ... lots of neat photos to share. :)

The Loveliness of Gardens

My friend Jennifer will be hosting tomorrow's Loveliness of Gardens Fair, and naturally ILives_of_loveliness_logo_200612  hoped to take part - nature is so near and dear to my heart. But you see, I'm not really much of a gardener - not for lack of trying mind you, but perhaps for lack of time and experience? The lovely thing about gardening, though, is you get to try again every year. The warm damp soil beckons, the nursery doors open for business, and the seed catalogs sing their siren song. I buy myself a new pair of gardening gloves and dig in once again ...

My maternal grandfather was an amazing gardener and so I had the privelege of growing up knowing the joys of a home garden - the corn, rhubarb, strawberries, tomatoes, roses, dahlias and clematis ... and oh, the list could go on! One thing my grandpa taught me (one of the many) was that you could garden anywhere. My grandparents' home is on a lovely though small piece of land - certainly not country, and actually not far from a busy city.

That did not stop Grandpa - he gardened as if there were no tomorrow. And we all benefitted from his endeavor. I would like to adopt a similar spirit, and turn my own small suburban yard into a haven for flora, fauna and family alike.

Now, two things I'd like to do for Jennifer's fair - talk briefly about my gardening plans for this year and share with you all a post from last year's garden journal, Marigolds for Mama. I hope that's not cheating, but I don't have many garden photos to show just yet this year!

Do you know I have not been over to that blog in months? I made my last post on August 24th, when I talked about Late Summer Hues. According to the last line of that entry, I had hopes for posting more about the "turn of the seasons." Well, time got away from me, and I ended it there. It was fun to read back over the blog, remembering things that grew and things the children did.

The following group of pictures was posted on May 15, 2006; the post was entitled, A Peek in Mary's Garden. In a corner of our yard, nestled beside a small potting shed, beneath the bowers of the flowering cherry, we have a semi-shady flower garden. Last year we added an Our Lady of Grace birdfeeder, and I was inspired to find out more about Mary Gardens. I just love how many plant varieties are named for Our Lady, and I was even more pleased to discover we had several kinds in our yard!

Here's a little tour:


*Lilacs (Syringa vulgaris) ~ Ascension Flower*

I grew up with lilacs (they grow bountifully on my parents' property). They always bloomed magnificently right on Mother's Day when vases full of them would adorn our family brunch. We have them all over our yard too, but I must admire them on the outside nowadays, as I married a man who is severely allergic to these beautiful blooms!

According to legend, lilacs are known as the Ascension flower, and that would be of course because they bloom right around the date of this feast (which this year is May 17th).


*Our Lady's Mantle (Alchemilla mollis)*

I'm embarrassed to say I don't remember much about this plant, but I found some lovely information here.


*English Daisy (Bellis perennis) ~ Mary-Loves*

I absolutely loved these tiny pert flowers, and of course, I love that the plant's English. I will be buying some more this year.


*Spearmint (Mentha spicata) ~ Our Lady's Mint*

The spearmint grew well last year, and I will have to watch for its return, as it is a perennial. (Now where did we tuck it?) I would like to add more herbs to the garden this summer and do more with them too - perhaps learn how to dry them/preserve them and how to turn them into little gifts and things.


*Our Red Azalea ~ just pretty in its own right!*

This bush right now has just the tiniest red buds on it. It is out front by our walkway and blooms beautifully each year. I forgot just how beautifully!


*Ferns (Asplenium rutamer) ~ Our Lady's Hair*

I've never had much interest in ferns. I remember years ago Martha Stewart did a huge article on them, and still I couldn't see it. Then I discovered an expansive fern patch growing by our back fence, and realized just how lovely they are! Soft, woodsy, shady and kind of ethereal. I'm sure there must be fairies living here. :)


*Bleeding Heart (Dicentra spectabalis) ~ Mary's Heart*

My grandfather had an enormous bleeding heart growing behind his house. Ours is still pretty small, but it already has some blossoms this year. I think of this plant as old-fashioned and sweet, but I will always love it for how it reminds me of my grandpa. To me, its branches are reaching out, laden with love.

Well, now that I've shared some photos of last year's garden, if I may keep your attention a shade longer, I will list some of my garden hopes this year (I will call them hopes and not plans and I think they will have more likeliness of coming to pass):

  • First I am going to re-read some of my favorite gardening books. By far the best of the bunch are by Sharon Lovejoy, and later today, I'm going to pore over Sunflower Houses, Hollyhock Days and Roots, Shoots, Bucket and Boots - take lots of notes and imagine.
  • Next weekend we will stop at the nursery for plants. Up here in New England we are nearing our last frost dates. My grandpa always waited for Memorial Day to set out his tomatoes and other summer plants. I shall do the same. (Fortunately our local farm, and favorite plant resource, opens that holiday weekend.)
  • We will be tending to the garden plots until then. Adding some compost and airing out the soil.
  • We garden organically, so it is time to brush up on our natural remedies. Actually we've found the birds and toads that inhabit our yard help immensely with the insects. Not to mention, the atmosphere. :)

This year I envision:

  • Containers for the deck which gets full day sun.
  • Vegetables: tomatoes (plum for sauce, cherry for snacking), Kentucky Wonder beans (for Dad), and, of course, zucchini!
  • More herbs (basil for sure) and some edible flowers like nasturtiums.
  • A rose bush or two ~ a variety that will bear lots of rose hips in the fall.
  • A clematis for the lattice on the potting shed.
  • Our raspberry bed is doing wonderfully! The plants are all growing and sprouting gorgeous green foliage. Last year we enjoyed gold and red raspberries by the hand-fulls after supper each evening. This year I'd love to grow enough to make jam!
  • Our lavender bed is also doing well. It's part of a small knot garden out front. The bed needs to be pruned and cleaned up a bit. I hope to harvest lots from this patch.
  • Sunflowers (giants!) and morning glories along the front fence.
  • This fall, I hope to plant LOTS of bulbs including snowdrops, crocus and daffodils.

And ... well, I"d better stop there, because this list is getting pretty big! I guess I'd better get cracking. Well, just writing this post has got my juices flowing ... I can hardly wait to read Jenn's Fair tomorrow! I have not yet decided if I will revive my garden blog, or stick with posting here and at The Nature Corner (I know, how many blogs can one woman keep, right? Three might be pushing it!)

I wish you a joyous Sunday and a beautiful growing season ... may there be a garden in your heart all summer long!   

The Nature Study Meeting

Last week, as you all must know by now, (considering how much I've mentioned it!) I hosted a homeschool support group meeting at my house and the theme was nature study. We were a small group of 5, but it was a fruitful and fun evening. I'd like to share a few pictures of the set up with you, as well as some of my notes from the meeting.

To begin with, here is how I set up the learning room, in order to display some of my nature study resources:


I spread picture books all across the windowsills, favorite stories that inspire or supplement a particular topic (I'll set up a sidebar book list soon). On the chairs I have our nature puppet collection (at left) and all our field guides (at right). On the table I set out favorite nature study resources:


  • Here's a close up of our nature puppets, which I find to be excellent teaching tools with the younger children:


    Our favorite puppets are made by Audubon and Folkmanis. A great resource for puppets and all kinds of nature study supplies, is Acorn Naturalists.

    And here are our field guides:


    Favorites are Peterson First Guides, Golden Guides and Smithsonian Handbooks.


    Above you see the far right corner of the room and the second display table. More resources here, including our Birdsong Identiflyer, nature magazines and catalogs, and our new squirrel feeder. Here's a close-up:


    Oops, how did that phone get in there? :)

    I even set up the prayer corner for the night, with a tiny paper mache bird and a postcard showing my all-time favorite nature study subject, a little red squirrel.


    I must tell you, I had candles lit and classical music playing - it was a very peaceful and contemplative atmostphere, I think . Bill had taken the boys out for the night, and for a few minutes there, before my first guest showed up, I hardly knew what to do with myself, lol! Clean house, coffee brewing, music playing, candles lit - what now?? :)

    Here's a peek at the goodies spread out on the island (not shown are the delicious cinnamon buns brought by my friend Lisa):


    So, did we talk about nature? Well, yes we did, but we also happened to be a group of good friends and, as any mother knows - when you get together with your mommy friends (without kids), you can hardly stop talking about all manner of things!

    Once we got around to the actual meeting we talked about whether or not our children enjoyed nature study - why they do (a love of bugs) or might not (a fear of bugs). One mom brought a page from her son's nature journal - a wonderful collection of notes and sketches. This particular page was filled with comments on urban nature study, which led us to another aspect of discussion. What can we see where we live, here in the suburbs? Turns out a lot, as we compared notes on who's seen what - coyotes, foxes, fisher cats, deer, woodchucks/groundhogs, bunnies, squirrels, chipmunks, ducks, and birds of all kinds.

    We talked for quite a while about nature sketching and how for some children (and moms) it can present a real obstacle. One friend shared how her daughter gets quite frustrated when she can't draw things just right. She wondered if she should encourage her child to perservere or back off lest she turn her off sketching completely. We also spoke about the different ways children draw - some press their pencils very hard, some not enough, some prefer to trace and are happy with that. Our talk turned to art programs for a while.

    We discussed how nature study might lead a child to a certain career path - wildlife handler, nature park ranger, photographer, even a (biology) textbook illustrator.

    We talked at great length about what has happened to childhood in general over the past few generations - how we've slowly become an indoor, plugged-in society. Many of us recounted childhoods spent out-of-doors (in the summer anyway) roaming all over, knowing the trees in our neighborhood so well. Today we face many obstacles to such freedom - too much stuff, too much busy-ness, too many distractions, too many stranger dangers. We touched briefly upon the book Last Child in the Woods (which I own but have not yet read).

    We didn't get around to it at this meeting, but later I spoke with one of my friends about the possibility of starting a small nature study group. Perhaps we could get together on a regular basis (once a month or every six weeks?) to do an activity, share journals and recent nature observations with each other. This would be a great way to do some larger group activities and allow the kids to encourage each other and fuel each other's interest in the outside world. We'll see what happens - I have yet to spread the word too far.

    I'd like to say thank you to all the moms who came to my meeting - wish we could all do it again sometime soon. I'd also like to thank everyone who took the time to leave suggestions for me in my earlier post: Nature Study: What are Your Questions?. Like I said before, I do not have the answers myself, but maybe we can work on the questions together! I'm not sure if I'll start those posts here or at The Nature Corner, my other blog. So stay tuned. :)

    A Field Day Footnote!

    As is far too likely to happen, when putting together so many links for Field Day, I am apt to make a mistake here and there. (Well, I make many, but most of them I work out before I hit "publish," lol.) Broken links are one thing, but my worst fear is I will somehow forget someone's submission. It happened once before, and, it was bound to happen again.

    Well, unfortunately, it did, and I am so sorry to say, it was one of my dearest friends, Cay I forgot! Dear Cay, who, I must mention, was the FIRST one to get me her post and how did I reward her? By forgetting to plug in her link!

    Oh, fiddlesticks!

    So, one day late, but every bit as lovely and deeply appreciated, here it is. And it's a beauty, a balm for the winter-weary heart so many of us are carrying beneath those woolen and waterproof layers. Please stop by Cay's Cajun Cottage and enjoy the breathtaking loveliness of Spring in Louisiana. Cay, you give me a glimmer of hope, as we here in New England brace for one more Nor'easter this weekend ...

    And speaking of nature, and blogs, I have added a new blogroll to my righthand sidebar. Linda, from Higher Up and Further In and Earth is Crammed with Heaven, very kindly invited me to submit my Nature Corner to her new nature blogroll - and I did! If you have an online nature journal, please see Linda's post here for details on joining the blogroll!

    Now, my friends, I am heading to bed, and hoping I wake up a smidgen more organized tomorrow than I was today - or yesterday, or last week!

    Good night, and God bless. :)

    As it turns out ...

    I do have a few things to tell you this morning! ;)

    Mainly a few housekeeping notes. For instance, I have added some new things to my blog, and I wanted to mention them.

    In My Notebook (see righthand sidebar). Some of you already have this feature on your blogs, or have seen it elsewhere, but just in case you are not familiar with it ... it is basically a way for me to highlight blog posts I am going back to read again. Sort of like a clippings file. Google Reader is like Bloglines - it lets me keep track of the blogs I read, and lets me know when something new has been posted. If a post is particularly interesting to me, I can just "share" it and it shows up in my little clip box over there. Neat!

    Early Spring Nature Study (also at the right). New photo album! And this time, unlike my Winter Nature Study album, there is more than just ONE picture, lol! I aim to keep up with our nature albums better, especially since there is so much happening at this time of year. I've even added notes!

    The Nature Corner Widget (lefthand sidebar) or is it a Blidget? I forget. Whatever it's called, it's a neat way to show recent posts in another blog (most likely one of your own). It updates as soon as you publish a new post. So far The Nature Corner has been mostly just a place to deposit outdated nature notes, but as the new spring season opens, I hope to do more with it - make it a true virtual nature journal! Just now I posted a picture of this morning's crescent moon.

    Spring fever has really set in, (and not just because the Sox beat the Yanks the other night!) ... I am really itching to change my blog topper. Nothing too radically different, maybe just a different floral. I'm a bit tired of the pink and blue, I'd like something more in soft green and yellow, or maybe peach ... just thinking out loud!

    (Speaking of the Red Sox, have you seen (or heard about) this?)


    OH! And this just in ... Pirates of the Caribbean: At Worlds End opens May 25th. (Sorry I can't find a link that looks reputable.) As you can see, this news went right in my journal -->!

    Mark your calendars, me hearties, and have a great day!

    Bird News!

    Over at The Nature Corner I just posted pictures (albeit blurry ones) and details fromNest1_1   our Red-winged Blackbird sighting today. These birds are not due back until mid-March, and yet here they were under our feeders today! When we looked them up in our field guide, it said the males come a few weeks ahead of their mates ~ but I think we saw females in the flock as well ... So very strange, indeed!

    Have you noticed any strange nature where you live this winter? New England is seeing a very mild and wet winter so far. In fact, the top branches of our rhododendrons have already formed full buds!

    (Can you tell I'm testing the waters for a possible Midwinter Field Day?) :)

    Nest2Today's bird sighting was perfectly timed, as I am just starting a little nature diary for myself, modeled (somewhat, I hope) after one of my most favorite nature resources, The Nature Notes of an Edwardian Lady. (This is out-of-print, but check at your library; a used copy would be well worth the money - within reason, of course.)

    Maybe I'll call mine "The Somewhat Random Nature Notes of a Suburban Homeschooling Mama," lol! I was itching to buy a new blank journal for this endeavor, when I remembered those blank memory albums in my craft bins. And the beautiful sticker set you see below (a birthday gift from a very dear friend) sealed the deal. They are just the right touch for this "fledgling" diary and will appear all throughout it.


    I have barely even begun putting it together, and already I have my first entry, courtesy of today's encounter:


    I just made a few photocopies and jotted down some simple notes, but it was fun. I know you must be thinking, "Does this woman really need one more medium for nature journaling?!?" I love my blogs, for sure, but there's just something about paper and pens ...

    Let me know if you think you might be up for a Midwinter Field Day ... maybe sometime early next month?