Early Learning Feed

• Cranberries Week •

Good Monday afternoon, my friends! I hope your week's off to a good start. :)

So, according to my "seasonal themes" outline, this is cranberry week! And "cranberries" tie in nicely with the holiday - they were, after all, served at the very first Thanksgiving! But it will also be a very busy week, as we prepare for dinner on Thursday, so I'm not expecting we'll do all of these things. Hopefully, though, we'll fit in a few of them (#s 1, 2 and 10 seem quite likely).

Here are a few ways to include cranberries in this week's learning and living ...


1. As we make up our weekly marketing list we'll be sure to list cranberries. Now, this list is different from the one I write in my shopping notebook. This list is just for EB and me. When Earlybird and I have our marketing days, we work on a grocery list together. And as we do, we focus on spelling, printing, reading and pronunciation. We'll go to the market and look for cranberries ... we might even practice asking the produce manager for assistance. (A great way for EB to practice social skills.)

2. We'll buy extra bags to freeze because cranberries are only available at this time of year. (Great discussion prompts: What are seasonal foods? What are local foods?)

3. (And with some of those frozen cranberries, we'll make cranberry soap later this winter!)

4. At home, we'll wash our berries and set a few aside to observe. We'll sketch a cranberry for our nature journal - one whole, and one cut in half so we can see the very interesting insides. (Another discussion prompt: How does a cranberry grow? Here's a nice resource.)

5. We'll freeze a tray full of ice cubes with cranberries inside - they'll look lovely in our Thanksiving beverages, including ... A "Pilgrim Punch" just for the kids! We'll mix cranberry juice with ginger ale, scoops of lime sherbet and "berried" ice cubes. (I'll add a splash of apple juice if it's too tart.) It will look lovely in my grandmother's cranberry glass punch bowl.

6. We'll read some good books - like Cranberries: Fruit of the Bogs and Clarence the Cranberry Who Couldn't Bounce. We'll also watch a wonderful episode of Reading Rainbow called "Giving Thanks" in which Lavar visits a Massachusetts cranberry farm.

(Note: That vimeo site is wonderful for watching all those old Reading Rainbow episodes, which sadly are no longer shown. They're like virtual field trips ...)

7. And speaking of field trips, next year I'll plan one to a local bog. The last time we visited one - a gorgeous organic bog on Cape Cod - I was pregnant with Earlybird!

8. We'll make a string of cranberries and popcorn - and put them out on the big spruce tree outside the learning room windows. A small way to say thanks to the animals that visit our yard. They bring us so much entertainment and education! (The stringing is also excellent fine motor practice!)

9. We'll bake wonderful cranberry breads to pass out to community friends on Wednesday. (Our children's librarian, the post office ladies, the farmstand family, and the supermarket-bank ladies who are always so nice to EB when I'm checking out.)

10. On Wednesday afternoon, I'll make my special homemade cranberry relish for Thanksgiving dinner. It's made with berries, orange and spices and the kitchen will smell so good! And while it cooks, we'll try a cranberry fresh, and a cranberry dried - it's National Eat a Cranberry Day, after all. :)

 11. We'll make another graph chart by taking a "cranberry sauce" poll. (The poll will go up tomorrow morning - and we'd love to hear your response!)


So there are some of my cranberry ideas ... I'd love to hear yours if you have some to share! And please check in later for my "cranberry poll." I bet you can guess what we're asking!

Have a wonderful day, everyone ... blessings to you and your loved ones!


For Tree Week: An Arbor Day Centerpiece

Our Tree Week is keeping us very busy these days! Yesterday Earlybird and I made a "tree plant" in honor of Arbor Day. We thought it would make a nice centerpiece for our Learning Room table. :)

We worked out on the deck, since this project was a little messy.


EB filled a terra cotta pot with potting mix. We could have used stones, birdseed, marbles, seashells, etc., but since our branches are still blooming, we decided to use soil.


Next we "planted" our tree branches:


We chose pussy willow branches, since we're particularly fond of a small willow that grows beside the river behind our house. I actually purchased these branches at a the market just before Easter, but any smallish twigs or branches would do. You'll probably find plenty in your backyard at this time of year. A nice activity would be a walk to collect fallen branches to use in your pot. (Very young children might like the concept of "saving" these scattered branches and giving them new life.)

Next we cut out small colorful tags for our tree:


And on each tag we wrote something that trees give us ...


The pot now sits in the middle of our learning room ...


And tomorrow, on Arbor Day, it will be adorned with many tiny tags (tree blessings!), pretty bits of yarn and a few other simple decorations.


Other activities this week include:

A "Trees of our Backyard Meet-and-Greet."

Arranging tree photos in nature journal.

Making bark rubbings.

Reading favorite tree books.

Researching who lives in a tree.

Making a "Trees of America" map.

Writing tree poems.


The weather is so very springy this morning ... soft sunshine mixed with clouds, a steady breeze, mild air, the promise of rain later today. At the moment EB and I are on the couch, watching the wind move through the woods. We can't decide if the trees are dancing or waving, but in any case, they're lovely to watch.


Have a great Thursday, my friends!

A (Mostly) Quiet Sunrise with Earlybird

One of our "spring learning" activities this week was to spend a quiet morning outside, watching the woods and waiting for the sun to rise. We did this on Tuesday morning, and it was just magical ...


We crept out to the deck just before six (the sun was set to rise at 6:09).

Earlybird brought his binoculars so he wouldn't miss a thing ...


As we waited, we saw (and heard) ducks flying overhead, a lone crow passing over as well as a flock of squeaky blackbirds.

There was a single chickadee serenading us from the maple tree - we tried to answer him in kind, but he fell silent once we did.

We could hear morning traffic passing by on a neighboring street, and the coffeemaker beeped at 6:07.

The woods crackled in anticipation as a stiff wind (and a few squirrels) moved through ... 

 And then suddenly, there was a faint light ...


EB spotted it first!


A vivid orange glow at 6:09 - like a burst of flame in the trees:



We gathered our blankets and headed back inside - a little hungry, a bit chilled, but quite refreshed and invigorated. It was such a nice way to start the day ...


Hope your day unfolds just as nicely. Have a good one, my friends!


Eggs & Nests ~ A Spring Learning Week


Pictured above is an assembly of things we'll be using in our spring learning this week. All of these activities are meant for Earlybird - but the older boys will most likely pitch in here and there. :)

Also, I should note - I'm certainly not this organized every week! But I love how much smoother things go when I am. To plan out the week, I worked off an "idea" list I had on the subject, and after looking at our calendar (and the forecast) I assigned certain activities to certain days ...

So here are the details:

Our Theme this Week: Eggs & Nests


Monday is the day we clean bedrooms. So today we'll make up our own spring "nests" - with cool cotton sheets and blankets. (What makes a nice nest for humans?) We'll talk about animal homes ~ who lives in nests besides birds? And what are other words for animal homes? (Dens, burrows, hives, dams, etc.)

We'll have an "Egg in a Nest" for breakfast.

We'll make a paper egg diorama.

On our way home from the library, we'll stop at the market ~ for eggs (observing all the different kinds), rhubarb, a small carton of cream, beets and purple grape juice (for dyes), and some fresh chicken.

We'll read A Nest Full of Eggs.




As the day is forecast to be warm and clear, we'll watch the sunrise this morning. We'll wait for it outside on the deck - it rises right behind our woods. We'll try to be as quiet as possible - to listen for birdsong and for the sake of our neighbors - and we'll wonder at its glory.

We'll then head inside to make quiche for breakfast.

We'll take a nature walk - to find small leaves and/or ferns for egg craft. We'll look for nests in the trees (pretty soon the leaves will be out and we won't be able to see them!)

We'll dye eggs with natural dyes using beets, red cabbage, yellow onions, spinach, tumeric and purple grape juice.

We'll read An Egg is Quiet.




Today we'll prepare a dozen or so egg shells for seeding.

We'll make scrambled eggs for breakfast.

We'll plant spring seeds in eggs shells; each seedling "nest" will get a little sign, and will be set in a sunny window.

We'll set up a small Easter craft basket for Mama.

We'll play with our egg magnet set.

We'll read Eggs.




Today we'll prepare nesting material for the birds: bits of shredded newspaper, hair (from hairbrushes) and easy-to-spot yarn. We'll place the materials out in the yard, near the feeders.

We'll hard-boil eggs - and compare an egg pre- and post- cooking.

We'll make observations of an egg, inside and out (raw and cooked). We'll draw and label diagrams. 

We'll work on sparkly, sequined Easter eggs. (This will mostly be my craft, with EB observing/helping as he can.)

We'll read The Egg.




This morning we'll visit the chickens (and rooster) at our local farm.

We'll make egg salad for lunch.

We'll make an egg-shell mosaic, oval-shaped frame.

We'll bake date breads for Sunday.

We'll read the lovely Petook.



So those are the plans for Earlybird's spring learning this week! We may or may not get everything done, but I find it's always helpful to go forth with a list.

Well, I hope you all have a nice Monday ... it's supposed to get to 80 degrees here in our part of New England! I can hardly believe it. We will have all our windows open, letting that fresh spring air inside - and we might even get a fan going before the day is at its end!

Thanks so much for stopping by ... I will see you all again very soon.


Happy (Quiet, Lazy) Sunday

What a gorgeous day! Pretty darn cold, but bright and blustery too. Bill just took the boys off to run errands - a brave man he is, I hear Toys R Us is on the docket - so here I am just tinkering around the house. Just uploaded (downloaded?) some photos from the camera and thought they'd be fun to share ...


Our front door all gussied up for the upcoming season ...


Some new spring books for Earlybird (purchased with "pin" money from Nana), the new edition of my favorite nature study catalog (tucked under Crackerjack's Book Group selection for April) ... and in the foreground, you see the wooden letters I picked up for the learning room windows next month. (Can you unscramble them and guess the "theme?" :))


From Friday's nature/faith lesson ~ EB hard at work planting seeds. Two days later, there's already a small sprout!


And this last photo was taken by Bookworm. He has developed quite an eye for nature photography lately. Since spring has sprung, he's been outside in the yard, down the bike path, all around - looking for things to photograph. This picture here shows the clusters of red leaf buds on the top of our maple tree. Set against the dark bark and vivid sky you can almost feel that March wind!

Ok, one more from Bookworm before I go ...


The Downy Woodpecker - a frequent guest at our feeders. These birds are quiet friendly once they get used to you. This guy (and he is a guy - note the red patch on the back of his head) really enjoys our window suet feeder. And lately he's been making such a racket - an incessant, high-pitched chirping we can hear even when he's deep in the woods. I'm assuming at this time of year it's his mating call. So ... best of luck, little fella!

Well, I'm off for now ... I think I might take advantage of the quiet house and catch a little shut eye while I can. I'm not usually a napper, but we were up much later than usual last night, having attended a lovely dinner with a group of our college friends. (I think I've mentioned it a time or two before, but Bill and I met in college. That in itself was a blessing of course, but we truly made the most wonderful friends all those years ago.) And it may have been years since we'd been together - but as happens with very dear friends, time and distance are no matter once we all get chatting - catching up with life now and reminiscing over life then ...

Great friends ~ good times!

So have a nice Sunday evening, everyone ... I'll see you again here very soon.


Just another ordinary week ...

Well, Good Monday Morning, my friends. :)

I thought I'd share some notes from my weekly planning page with you today. We've got a busy week ahead: appointments to keep, activities to attend, and a brand new liturgical season to kick off. At home, EB and I will be focusing on a few simple themes - and without even really meaning to, I've made this an "M" week:


Earlybird will be in charge of getting the mail this week.

We'll observe the many different kinds of things that come in the mail.

We'll say hello to our mail carrier.

We'll read about a mail carrier's job.

We'll prepare things to mail.

(Practice printing. What's our address?)

What do we need in order to mail things?

We'll pay a visit the post office.

(Mail stuff. Buy stamps)

We'll start making St. Patrick's Day cards.


We'll be "Catching Sweetness" on our Maple Tree board. 

We'll look up the "sugar maple" in field guides.

I'll buy varying grades of syrup for the boys to sample/compare.

I'll bake a Simple Maple Cream Cake.

We'll read books about maple sugaring.

EB and I will make a colorful "maple leaf" sand craft.

We'll visit trees being tapped at a local park.

And we'll all have LOTS of maple syrup on our Fat Tuesday pancakes!


On Tuesday (aka Fat or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras) the boys will make masks. Yes, even the older ones - they're good about joining in with EB when I ask. :)

A Mass, A Matinee and Making Sacrifices

We'll receive ashes Wednesday morning and catch a movie in the afternoon. We'll start our Lenten journey and talk about ways to make a sacrifice - giving something up and/or giving of ourselves.

Melting, Measuring & Mud

We're expecting milder temperatures this week, as well as a little rain and a lot of sun, so I predict we'll see lots of melting and maybe even some mud. 

We'll stick a plastic ruler into the snow in our yard and watch more numbers appear.

We'll look for mud on our nature walks - a sure sign of spring!

Mario's Meatballs

Thursday (March 10th) is MARIO day. My boys are big Mario fans, so they'll play Mario Kart (after school work is done of course) and I'll make "Mario's Meatball Subs" for supper. :)


Just another ordinary week, with much to do - much to accomplish and appreciate. Aren't we blessed to have this time together?

Dear friends, we had some very sad news recently. Back in December I mentioned a friend of Bookworm's who'd been stricken suddenly with a brain tumor. Tragically - unbelievably - this wonderful boy passed away last week. Please, if you would, remember Anthony in your prayers?


So it may be just another week, but it's extraordinary in every way that matters.

Every new week is a gift, every day we have with our children a blessing. We must remember to cherish it all, every moment ...


Thank you as always, for stopping by. I wish you all a lovely day ~ and I hope to see you again very soon.

Body Parts, Bird Names and Sun Sparklies

Just a few things going on in the learning room today!

So, Earlybird's physical is coming up next week and I've been preparing him with brief conversations about "what happens when we go see the doctor." This has sparked lots of "body talk" ... and revealed some misunderstandings about what parts of the body were what! (Oh, those tricky joints! Elbows and shoulders, and ankles and knees ... they're so easy to mix up!)

So we moved the nature puppets to the lower cubby in this corner table, and pulled out some of our human body resources:


And I made up a whole bunch of sight cards listing body parts:


It was the funniest thing going through the cards, from top to bottom with Earlybird. We ran through them a couple of times and each time we got to "stomach" he just fell into hysterics. (Of course I hammed it up a bit, to keep his attention.)

Earlier in the morning I had put up some bird name cards ...


These are the species EB can identify so far (the ones that most routinely visit our feeders).

I mostly wanted to share this particular picture because EB was very excited to spot a rainbow on the window frame (just to the left of the blue jay card). We found the source to be the prism hung in the front window, and so I jiggled it a bit to see what it would do. Suddenly the whole room was filled with sparkling bits of color and light!

"Just like magic!" he said. 

I thought it looked a bit like a disco ball, lol - but I knew what he meant. Sometimes science seems just like that. So mysterious and magical ... but it's so very interesting when we find out why things happen as they do. Why does light filtering through some kinds of glass make a rainbow? And what is a prism anyway?

I also happened to find our "long lost" basket of flash cards today. Somebody (and I'm not naming any names) stashed it downstairs in the basement, behind a whole bunch of holiday decorations. I gave it a quick glance through - finding Crackerjack's missing math facts cards as well as the Countries of the World cards AND the President's Rummy card game which will be fun to play on Monday. (Monday being President's Day and all.)

Another bit of "excitement" in our day ... just after lunch we heard (and felt) an enormous, house-shaking CRASH. Honestly, I thought something huge (like a tree limb or a bear) had come through the roof - but looking out back we spied the gutter - all along the back of the house - hanging off the roof's edge! The ice dam had finally come loose, but it tore the gutter clear off its hinges as it went!

It's the temperatures today causing all the melting - it's 54 as I write up this post! It will be interesting (and maybe a little scary) to see what these mild days do to all the snowcover we have ...

So stay tuned!

Well, thanks as always for stopping by today ... I hope your day's been a good one!

Have a good night, my friends ~ I'll see you all again sometime soon. 


Happy Epiphany!


"We saw his star at its rising and have come to do him homage." (Matthew 2:2)

It's such a dark and damp day here  ... we had hoped to squeeze in some sledding this morning, but not only is the weather - for lack of a better word - yucky, but the boys seem to be coming down with a cold ...

On a brighter note, we're celebrating Epiphany today, the day when the Magi arrived at the manger, bearing gifts for the Baby Jesus. In our little reenactment, the Christmas star appeared over our nativity scene (a cut-out made from sparkling scrapbook paper, tied to a ceiling beam) ...


... and it led the three wise men all the way across the learning room to the creche. I had meant to have the wise men show up with golden (chocolate) coins but I forgot to pick some up when I ran my weekly errands. Oh well, maybe next year!

We also kicked off our January Bulletin Board today ...


It was so hard to take down the Advent Tree Board because it was so festive looking and we just had such a good time with it. I knew I had to do something fun to make the transition from holiday to everyday a little easier.

So working around our January learning theme (winter stars), I wrapped a few lengths of foil-star garland along the perimeter of the board. Then I tacked up a sheet of white wrapping paper and brightly colored foam star shapes, spelling out our January message.

Finally, I tacked five tiny white sacks onto the board, one for each Sunday of the month:


Inside each sack is a note with something nice to do or think about on that Sunday, or for the week ahead. (The snowflake shape is a leftover from the banner project we worked on last week.)

So here's what we found in this Sunday's bag:


My note, some frankincense (incense), and a piece of blessed chalk brought home from church this morning.

After lunch we burned the incense (near an open window so it wasn't too overpowering) and I got up on a chair to write the Epiphany blessing above our front doorway. I'm still making notes and plans for our winter star study this month, but I will be sharing the ideas here with you all just as soon as I can ...

In the meantime, I can't believe we're "back to business" next week! It will be hard to get back into the work-a-day frame of mind after so much time on "vacation." Ah well, all good things must come to an end ... and if we're lucky, there's something else to look forward to just around the corner!

I hope you all had a lovely weekend ~ see you again very soon. :)

The Spices of the Season

This morning's Advent note read: 

"Today we'll explore the spices of the season!" 

Our exploration actually began yesterday afternoon, as Earlybird and I made a rich, dense cookie dough - fragrant with several kinds of holiday spices. We worked together in our warm kitchen as the daylight grew weak, and the tree lights began to glow ... 

Once the dough was nice and stiff, I rolled it into a log shape and wrapped it in plastic wrap. It sat in the fridge overnight, and this morning - just before lunchtime - I preheated the oven and we took the cold, hard dough out of its wrapping.


You can just see all those spices!

I based my recipe on the one found here, but I only had cake flour on hand so I finagled the measurements, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best! I really like the high amount of brown sugar in these - the rustic sweetness balances the spiciness out nicely. (By the way, dough like this is great for keeping in the fridge ~ just slice and bake what you need, and save the rest for later.)

And here's how our first batch of spice cookies came out ...


I just mixed a little cream with confectioner's sugar for the icing ~ thick enough to look like snow drifts ~ and the snowflake candies (in honor of our first snowfall this week!) are EB-friendly. The cookies were wonderful ~ a bit crisp around the edges, but chewy inside, and ohhh ... the flavor! 

So we continued our spice fun later in the day ...


(I don't normally keep my spices on the windowsill, natch - but I tucked them in close to the tree for Earlybird to find this morning.) 

I set up a space on the counter and we smelled and touched and tested the various kinds of sweet spices I had on hand. We grated the whole nutmeg and cinnamon stick, and compared it with the ground variety. We split a vanilla bean, scraped out its seeds, and nestled all of it into a tub of sugar. (Note: though in the picture below it looks like EB is reaching for the large knife I promise you, he's not! I had used it on the vanilla bean and took this picture before I cleaned it and stored it away.) 


When we were done, we made up a little spice sampler for the nature shelf.


So this was a very fun day ~ and now I sit here on the family room couch with Bill who's eating the two cookies I saved just for him. He's declared them to be a success. ;) And the best part is - we still have a giant log of dough to use up in the fridge!

Well, I hope your week's going well so far ~ see you again in a day or two ... :)

Busy with my Boys

I apologize again for being just too busy to blog recently! I may not have had time to sit down and write, but I did take photos as often as I could. I thought I might share some of them with you this fine Tuesday morning. :)

This is Earlybird's "Thankful Board." It's been a more meaningful project for him than the acorns we hung on our Seeds of Gratitude Tree.


He's still learning (and remembering) the holidays themselves and I find that concentrating on symbols are helpful. So of course I chose a giant sparkly turkey for this board! We added a card (and sometimes a photo) every few days or so, talking about what we are thankful for, and what thankful means - a tough concept to explain when you think of it! 

And here are some pictures from a neat little craft we did last week - I found it in the November issue of Family Fun: Nutty Boats


For obvious reasons we did this activity outside on the deck ...


Crackerjack was intrigued enough to join us ...


A skill we work on constantly with EB is patience and reigning in impulsive tendencies. Something as simple as pouring a cup of water into a bowl can be a real challenge for him 


For example, yesterday we made pumpkin breads together. He stayed by my side while I worked on the recipe, helped fetch ingredients (and put them away) and I allowed him to dump/pour the ingredients into the mixing bowl. (Sure, I snuck a little math in there *wink*.) He was a little quick sometimes but he's really come a long way from those impulses that tell him to act fast and make a mess!



A day or so later, Crackerjack had a science assignment to work on - he needed to dig up a sample of backyard dirt and examine what all was in it. Then he drew and labeled his results in his science notebook. EB had fun with this too.


But Earlybird had a real grand old time doing some "Thanksgiving Painting" last week!


I called it "Thanksgiving Painting" because we used autumnal colors. Due to EB's sensitivities, we have to be careful about the kind of art materials he uses. No Crayola for this boy ... I ordered a Clementine All Natural Paint a few months ago. (Note: I've found them available at Amazon. And I plan to order some more supplies for EB's birthday  next month.)


It was so nice to be able to indulge EB's love of finger painting. He even let me paint his palms so we could make the traditional Thanksgiving handprint turkey:


(Of course he immediately asked to clean his hands once we made the print, lol.)

We also used a brush.



The colors he painted with are so in tune with the season ...


Also, while Bookworm volunteered at the library yesterday, the younger two and I ran a quick errand at the grocery store ...


(Lol, EB was transfixed by the wide carrot selection.)

A full-blown shopping trip is not feasible with EB (I do those on Saturdays sans children), but we do take him for short visits to practice good public manners. Plus, the food store is just such fun! So much to see and to talk about. :) 

Back at home we marveled over the setting sun and how it filled our house with golden light and striking shadows.


This is our November Nature Shelf ~ the focus this month is squirrels, as you can see.

Now, as I reach the end of my post, I realize I didn't include Bookworm in any of these photos! He had a busy week too - the highlight being Saturday, when he took part in "SPLASH" weekend at MIT. He had a great time and can't wait for "SPARK" in the spring.

 So that's a bit of catch-up from me - a little look at what we've been up to! And now here we are only two days away from Thanksgiving ... We're hosting dinner this year for our family, so there's much to do these next few days - to cook, clean and create! I hope you're enjoying your November too ~ and I hope to be back again before the holiday ~ but until then, have a happy Turkey week and see you again soon. :)

Spring at the Orchard


"When spring comes, our apple tree wakes up. Pink buds and white blossoms show that it is ready to make apples again ... 


"Bees come to visit, flying from blossom to blossom. They visit every apple tree for miles around. Every day the bees gather sweet nectar and dusty pollen. Every night they go home to make honey and feed their babies. Wherever the bees go, they take some pollen and leave some pollen behind. And soon the blossoms begin to turn into the tiniest apples, all soft and downy. In the warm sun, the apples grow bigger and bigger ... 


"Our apple tree is hard at work."

(Excerpt from Our Apple Tree by Gorel Kristina Naslund ... a charming and beautifully illustrated children's book ~  a whimsical, informative story about the life of an apple tree, the partnerships in nature, as well as the changing seasons.)


Happy Tuesday, everyone! :)

A Beautiful Bargain


I don't know if this will be available nationwide, but I had to tell you about January's Child , a  lovely, lyrical book I found yesterday at my local Staples store for only $3. The illustrations are so sweet and the prose is soothing. A wonderful book for little ones, or a special gift for a new baby. Every month's child is assigned its own animal and admirable qualities, for instance:

January's child is vibrant as wind, whispering dreams as the new year begins.

You whirl like the breeze through leaves of a tree. 

You are lively and hopeful and eager and free.

And then a positive affirmation to remember:

I inspire. I listen. I breathe. I unfold. I receive. I believe. I adore. I am bold.

Though he's a bit older than the intended audience, I'm reading this with Earlybird as another way of reinforcing the months of the year. The bright colors and baby animals really appeal to him, and he especially likes it when I read his own December birthday message ...

I am honest. I promise. I reveal. I learn.

I endure. I lead. I follow. I yearn.

Wonderful words and so very true ... :)

Our Winter Nature Station

It can be hard to get out in nature when the bitter weather and nagging flu season conspire to keep you inside. We rely on our birdfeeder windows quite a bit at this time of year, but this week we decided to set up a "nature station" on our deck. The station will feature different items as seasons and interests change, but for now we've set up a birdbath and some ice crafts.


 Below is the heated birdbath:


And here we have the "ice mobiles" we made (pre-freezing):


I got this idea from an activity described in Nature's Playground (a fabulous book btw!) ...


We took random bits of nature easily found in our yard (and a few things from our fridge) and set them in aluminum cake pans. We used sliced clementines, cranberries, evergreen branches and cones, dried leaves and cracked corn. Then we filled the pans with water and left them out on our table to freeze.

(Note - By the time we got to the last pan I realized that taping the materials to the bottom of the pan would keep things from floating around too much in the water. I did this with the leaves but it would have worked well for the pinecones, branches and citrus slices too).

The end result was to be a collection of pretty ice mobiles to hang in the trees (I could just see them glinting in the winter sun). They'd be lovely to look at *and* provide tasty for the birds and squirrels who frequent our yard.

But we had a few setbacks. First we had a snowstorm ...


And then we had a week of near-40 degree weather! The mobiles have not yet frozen solidly enough to hang in the trees! Ah well ... such is the fickle nature of Nature. :) This activity has really drawn the boys' attention to the rising and falling temperatures this week though ...  

Not that I'm complaining of course, but it looks like we are in for more "mild" weather over the next several days and then possibly some storminess next week. If and when we do get these mobiles ready to hang, you all will be the first to know!

Hope you all had a good week - ours was nice and pretty quiet. Earlybird is still fighting that cough but I think he is at last getting past it. (Last night was the first in over a week he didn't wake from coughing.) Here's to a happy and healthy weekend ... see you all again sometime soon! :)

Hello February!

I made a few changes in the learning room (and surrounding areas) to reflect the new month upon us ...


First we have Earlybird's bulletin board. I added some red doily hearts to the snowflake border as well as all new February-inspired sight word cards:


Here's an impromptu February book display under the windows. The holiday books were all hidden in the Winter book basket so I decided to put them in the spotlight - or the sunlight I guess you could say. :)


And we turned the page on the homeschool calendar:


This is the boys' calendar to maintain. We're much busier than all those blank spaces suggest lol - we have yet to fill in this month's grid. ;)

By the way, all the boys are feeling better (must have been a 24-hour kind of thing) and the really big news in the Sun-and-Candle household today: Crackerjack got his braces on this morning! He looks so cute!

Hope your February is off to a great start ...

Winter Learning with Earlybird

Happy Friday, Folks!

So first of all, my support group meeting last night went great! It was a small group but we talked A LOT about blogging ~ my blog, other blogs, how and why one blogs, etc. I will write up the minutes from our conversation and get them posted over the weekend. Many thanks to the kind ladies who ventured out on a cold January night to listen to me blab on (and on) about blogging and all kinds of other random off-topic stuff. :)

I must say, all that talk last night really got me excited to blog again! I hope to overhaul the design of my blog as well - for one thing, these sidebars are ridiculously outdated ... and for another, I'm getting tired of these colors ... have to see what I can do about all that!

But for today I thought I'd share a few things I'm doing with Earlybird this week. The first pictures show our "Carnation Experiment." If you're a homeschooler, I'm sure this activity is familiar to you ... we set it up with my mum the other day (EB calls these Nana's flowers):


I bought a bundle of white carnations at the supermarket - goodness do they smell nice - and we placed a stem in a small clear glass filled with water and food coloring. I kept one flower aside in plain water for comparison.

And here is how the flowers looked the next day!


Aren't they pretty? Magic flowers! (This would be a neat Valentines, Easter or Mother's Day activity with the kids - you could even look up what different colored flowers mean.)

 The boys all enjoyed the experiment (and Bookworm had some interesting insight on color absorption from a lab he did at BU last fall) but this was really all for Earlybird. And let me tell you, he was thrilled. We have started a small science notebook for his observations - mostly photographs, simple words and a few drawings, too.

Here's a peek at our Winter Word Bulletin Board:


(Btw, I did not make those snowflakes! They came pre-cut in a package.)

And at the nature table we have a page from a favorite book on display:


This is the loveliest book - Our Apple Tree by Gorel Katrina Naslund. It's a sweet tale of the seasons in the life of an apple tree, as told by the two little elves who call it home. Lots of gorgeous, finely detailed illustrations inside. Next month we'll visit our local orchard to find an apple tree to "adopt" this year. It will be fun to see how it changes through the seasons.

Well, that's all for me today - off to get the kids started on breakfast and lessons. I hope you all have a fabulous Friday and I'll see you all again very soon. :)

 Thanks for stopping by!

For St. George's Day ...

"In the circle of the year, the Day of St. George and the Feast of St. Michael and All Angels (September 29th) stand opposite one another. In many ways we can see how George's reputation as a courageous knight and champion of the oppressed, steadfast in truth, holds up an earthly mirror to the warrior Archangel who fought the great dragon in heaven (Revelations 12)." (All Year Round)


To do today ~ make up a pot of (decaffeinated) English Breakfast tea (George is the patron saint of England). Toast up some crumpets, and read our favorite St. George story. 

I'll add a few dragon books to the April book basket, too:


Kenny and the Dragon


Herb the Vegetarian Dragon


Eric Carle's Dragons, Dragons


Dragonology: The Complete Book of Dragons

I plan to pick up some Michaelmas daisy (or purple aster) seeds today to start in potting cups. Hopefully they'll see full bloom in our late September (Michaelmas) garden.

We'll line up our dragon toys (we have a considerable amount, lol) and I'll set up our castles and cave toys in the play areas.


Dinner tonight will be roast chicken, new potatoes and asparagus, buttered popovers and for dessert ~ cupcakes with white frosting and little red candy roses on top. :)


"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten." ~ G.K. Chesterton

However you spend it, I hope your day is a happy one!

*v* ~A Late Winter Nature Study ~ Owls~ *v*


Before I launch into my owl notes, I first wanted to address a more general nature study question. I was recently asked how I go about choosing our nature study subjects - specifically, if am I following a timetable listed in a book or a type of science curriculum. Although I do have countless nature-related resources in my posession, I don't follow any one text to a "T." What I do, generally speaking, is to follow the seasons, because it's so easy to learn when you're excited about the natural year.

I also plan studies around our Homeschool Nature Club schedule, which is one of our favorite monthly activities. So, for instance, in March our group will be visiting a maple farm and we'll learn all about maple sugaring. (So I can't help but think: trees and their gifts, local farms, evaporation, leaf buds ...) In April we'll be spending a night watching for salamanders (amphibians, night noises, the spring woods, vernal pools). In May we're going to learn about New England geology (rock collecting, dirt samples, erosion, stone walls) and in June we'll visit flower gardens (seeds, flower parts, gardening, pollination). 

As you can see, this schedule gives me a whole bunch of great themes around which to plan our ongoing nature study!

Since our current study focus is owls (see our owl pellet post here), I've made lots of notes on owl-related learning activities. I'd like to share them with you all today. (Activities mentioned in blue font are the ones geared toward my littlest learner, Earlybird.)


*v*First of all, as with anything we do, there are always books - lots and lots of books! Some we own, but many more we borrow from the library. I am already hunting down maple-related resources for next month. I display them in our learning room, and a select few will be featured along the top of the nature shelf. Please see my sidebar book list at left for owl titles.

*v*Earlybird enjoys playing with puppets and it just so happens we have two owl puppets in our basket - a big hand puppet and a small finger puppet. I'll make up a few simple stories for "the owls" to "tell," possibly in conjunction with a few other critters. For example, the mouse puppet could make a narrow escape, and the crow puppet could abandon its nest to the mother owl. I try to take actual facts and weave them into the stories.

*v*Another thing I like to do with Earlybird is act out the animal itself. What does the owl say? Can you hoot like an owl? Can we pretend to be owls, flying silently through the night sky?  

*v*Along the same lines, we might make up "an owl nest" using blankets and pillows. Since owls nest in tree cavities, I will probably clear out the cupboard beneath the china closet and let EB pretend to be an owl in his nest. I might even encourage him to go "hunt" for prey - small puppets hidden around the house (you could use pictures if you don't have puppets) - to bring back to his "nest."

*v*We could listen to and learn an owl poem. A famous one, of course, is "The Owl and The Pussycat." (We have the Jan Brett version somewhere around here ...)

*v*A short simple handmade book about owls can be assembled - with construction paper pages, possibly stored inside a sturdy binder. The pages will hold pictures (colored, drawn or printed out) and owl terms: eyes, ears, feathers, claws, beak, hoot, nest.

*v*We've long subscribed to a wonderful nature magazine, My Big Backyard, and we have serveral years' worth of back issues on our bookshelf. The inside back cover always has a colorful fact page about something "in season." The January 2006 page is all about the Great Horned Owl. I will color-copy the page and hang it as a focal point on our nature board.

*v*The boys can color realistic owl illustrations such as the ones found in the Dover coloring books: A Walk in the Woods and Birds of Prey. I brought home simpler line drawings for EB to color from the owl pellet class last week.

*v*Speaking of owl pellets - you could order a kit online and do an owl pellet dissection at home. We placed the baggies of bones the boys brought home from their class on top of the nature shelf for now.

*v*We will use our Birdsong Identiflyer to listen to various owl calls. The Raptor card features several owls, including the Barred Owl who paid us a visit the other night. If you don't have an Identiflyer, you can find owl calls readily online. Once the weather warms a bit, and we can open our windows in the evenings, we'll start listening for night sounds in the woods - like spring peepers and possibly, owls.

*v*On a mild day we will take a walk in our woods to look for potential owl nests. Clues would be large cavities and owl pellets on the ground near the base of a tree.

*v*I'm going to pick up a package of feathers at the craft store and make an owl mask with EB. This would have been fun to do today as it is Mardi Gras! I've also bookmarked a couple of cute owl crafts at The Crafty Crow:
*v*The boys can read about owls in folklore and mythology. There is also lots of amazing information here. I'll also ask the older boys to write a short report about an owl species of their choice. For reference, they can use the books we have on hand and/or the information we find online.

*v*I've asked Bill to make a log-sided owl house with the boys. The plans can be found in The Curious Naturalist. We'll set it up at the edge of the woods out back.

*v*For a family movie night, we'll watch Hoot, which is about burrowing owls in the Florida everglades. (It was also a great book!) Two other videos I have on request at the library:
*v*Just for fun, one afternoon I'll put together a little Owl Tea with woodland themed treats such as the Owl Pellet cookies I found in Small Wonders:

Mix together 2 cups white flour and 2 cups chopped pecans. Set aside. Cream 1 cup butter. Add 1/2 cup sugar. Mix in 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1 tablespoon water. Gradually add flour/nut mixture to batter. With lightly floured hands, shape dough into small "owl pellet" shapes. Bake at 325 F. for 25-30 minutes. If you like, while still warm, roll cookies in sugar (white or confectioner's). 

*v*On order from Acorn Naturalists, and due to arrive any day is this owl food web poster. I'll put it up in the learning room.

And goodness me, but I think that's all I can think of - for now! Lots of ideas here - not all will get done of course - but we'll have fun in whatever we do. And in a few weeks we'll know a lot more about owls than we do now!
I'm always on the lookout for more ideas, though ~ so if you have any owl study suggestions - you know I'm all ears! :)

Thanks for stopping by today ~ Have a great evening, my friends!

Friday Nature Spot ~ Our Little Winter Wren

"The Carolina Wren's loud and varied repertoire and shy nature mean that it is more often heard than seen. The best opportunity for viewing this energetic and cheerful wren is when it sits on a conspicuous perch while unleashing its impressive song. Pairs may perform lively duets at any time of day and in any season. The duet often begins with introductory chatter by the female, followed by innumerable, ringing variations of tea-kettle-tea-kettle-tea-kettle from her mate." (Birds of New England)

We are blessed to have a pair of Carolina Wrens in our little backyard habitat. I think they might be nesting in our neighbor's front bushes - but they love to visit our feeders. They are particularly fond of the suet and seed-cakes. Their song has become stronger these past few weeks. I've heard them all winter long, but I like to imagine they're getting ready for spring.
(By the way, you can hear their pretty song at this neat website here. And sorry about the slight glare to this photo - it was taken through our learning room window.)

Earlybird and I have enjoyed spotting the wren (and/or his mate) every day at our feeders. He's easy to spot, but shy for the camera. When we hear his song we know to start watching the windows. Next week I'll be picking up a copy of Luba and the Wren to read with EB, and we'll make up a wren page for his Nature Book.

I hope you all have a wonderful weekend. I'll be back again sometime soon!

Squirrel Nutkin ~ A Wintertime Nature Study


But Nutkin was excessively impertinent in his manners. He bobbed up and down like a little red cherry, singing ~ "Riddle me, riddle me, rot-tot-tote!"

It was an exciting day in the Riverwood yesterday ~ we were visited by not one, not two - but THREE little red squirrels! I took lots of pictures of the cute and crazy little things -though I couldn't get them all in one shot. While one was eating happily at the top of the cage-feeder, the other two were fighting like crazy, chasing each other all around the rhododendron bushes, lol!

Grasping a seed in his tiny paws.

Diving back down for more ...

The perfect perch for a squirrel of this size.

And the tray feeder fits even better!

The red squirrels now visit our feeders at least twice a day (not always three at one time, but often, two) and they are such a delight to observe! They are fast and furious little creatures! The boys and I keep our eyes on the windows as we work through the day and if one of us spies a "Red Tail" (as we've named them) we sound the "alarm." Pencils are put down and books are dropped - we dash to the windows to observe. 

Squirrels, red or gray, are a perfect winter-nature study subject; they're active and highly visible at this time of year. Red squirrels are not as common in America as they are in England, but if you are at all familiar with the Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, then you know a little about them. They are much smaller than a gray squirrel, with coppery-brown fur and a fiery personality. They move fast and make a lot of noise when agitated (chuck-chuck-chuck-chuuuuck!). Really, they're a riot to watch. If you live near a conifer woodland you most likely have red squirrels living nearby; they are just harder to spot than the plentiful grays.

The following suggestions are geared towards younger children, but more advanced activities could be added for including older kids in the study. Most homeschoolers I know are teaching multi-ages at once - for me, I am tailoring this study to my kindergartener (Earlybird) and 4th grader (Crackerjack). My 8th grader (Bookworm) will tag along just for fun. :)

~Notes for a Squirrel Nutkin Nature Study~

 Read The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, first and foremost.

Look for squirrel tracks in the snow. This book shows the difference between a gray squirrel's tracks and a red's. (It's mostly the size.)

Learn about red squirrels online.
Find lots of information at Wikipedia.
Here's a neat kids' page by the Kluane Red Squirrel Project.

Make up an observation chart to keep track of squirrel visits and behaviors. (If I can figure out how to do it, I will link you the chart I made up for the boys - tracking red or gray, time of day, and behavior.)

On a blank map of the world, color in the areas that are inhabited by red squirrels. If you are reading The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin, locate The Lake District in England.

Older children could research the plight of the red squirrel in the UK.

Read about how Squirrel Nutkin came to be in the pages of The Ultimate Peter Rabbit: A Visual Guide to the World of Beatrix Potter.

Write a little nature story in a letter to a friend. (You could have the children draw pictures and then write in the storylines they dictate.)

See how many squirrel names (like Nutkin, Twinkleberry, etc.) you can come up with.

Make little twig or bark boats to sail across a lake. (Or pond, stream or a good size puddle, even.)

It would be fun to make little sacks with which the children could go "gathering nuts." (These could be simple drawstring bags made of cotton or felt.) Use acorns (real or wooden) to count and sort. Hide them around the house and have the children go on a nut hunt.

Red Squirrels are very fond of spruce cones. See if you can identify - and differentiate - pine trees from spruce trees in your yard, neighborhood or nearby park. Use a good tree field guide to do this, or ask a ranger to help you.

Host a "Squirrel Nutkin" tea for your friends (or family members). Serve treats reminiscent of those mentioned throughout the Potter stories. Ask each guest to name which Potter story is their favorite, and why.

A few great books featuring red squirrels:

(This is a chapter book, a great family read-aloud. I did a Book Group lesson on this last year.)

Read the wonderful tale of "Furry," Anna Comstock's pet red squirrel. You can find it, along with a very informative chapter on red squirrels, in her Handbook of Nature.

If your children are into puppet play, Audubon makes wonderful nature puppets including a red squirrel and owl. They're not technically puppets, but can be used in dramatic play or storytelling. When you squeeze their bellies they "chuck" and "screech" accordingly.

We happen to have the tip of of red squirrel tail on our nature table! (It's not as gruesome as it sounds - read the full story here.)

Nutkin antagonized Old Brown owl with riddles. Check books of riddles out of the library to enjoy together.

The current issue of National Geographic Kids (February) has a wonderful article about Heinz, a baby red squirrel who was rescued after a storm.

I happen to love this dear little poem by Marchette Chute called "Politeness." It would be easy for a young child to memorize.

I met a squirrel the other day
And spoke to him in a friendly way.
I couldn't pat him on the head
But I gave him several nuts instead.
He took them from me one by one
And waved his tail when he was done.
And he was happy, I could tell.
We both behaved extremely well.


If you have a neat squirrel story, picture or activity to share, please let me know. I'd love to compile them and share them here at my blog! And of course, I'll be sharing our own Nutkin adventures as this little study unfolds. :)

In the meantime, have a wonderful day. It's just starting to snow here - we're in for several inches by day's end.
A good day to keep our eyes on the feeders!
See you all again soon!

Notes for Late Winter Learning


I've been working on my notes for next month and I thought I'd share them here with you all. Sorry if they seem kind of disjointed - sometimes that's just the way my brain works!

*Season: Late Winter*
*Month: February*

On the 1st of the month, we'll read Brigid's Cloak: An Ancient Irish Story and I'll serve shepherd(ess) pie for supper. I found a deep blue, star-laden fabric at the craft store - I'll wrap that around Earlybird as we read. :)
I'll refresh the nature corner to reflect the new month at hand - heart-shaped rocks, pretty amethysts, tealights and tiny pairs of lovebirds will take their place on the shelf. 
I'll add some red and white heart-shaped doilies to the learning room windows.
Early on the morning of the 2nd, we'll await Punxsutawny Phil's prediction. We'll read our favorite Groundhog Day book (yep, we have a favorite!) - How Groundhog's Garden Grew. Whether the outcome is more winter or an early spring, this book fits either mood. It really encourages an appreciation for each turn of the year.
 The 2nd also brings Candlemas, so we will roll beeswax candles in the morning and dine by candlelight in the evening. We'll also recite the old saying ~
If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter will take another flight.
But if Candlemas be clouds and rain, 
Winter's gone and won't come again.
We'll start watching for the earliest blooms - snowdrops. Bill planted the tiny bulbs in the northwest corner of the garden last fall. They probably won't show up till March (until the snow has melted somewhat) but it will be fun to start looking.
Earlybird and I will read The Story of the Snow Children and learn about "Snowdrop Fairies" in Flower Fairies of Winter.

Deep sleeps the Winter,
Cold, wet and grey;
Surely all the world is dead;
Spring is far away.
Wait! the world shall waken;
It is not dead, for lo,
The Fair Maids of February
Stand in the snow!

I'm planning to make a tiny snowdrop fairy for the nature shelf - sort of following the directions in All Year Round. (I say "sort of" because I'm going to use a wooden peg base instead of making a soft stuffed doll.)
Over the weekend of the 7th-8th, we'll take part in the annual Mass. Audubon project, Focus on the Feeders. We've done this for the past several years now.
Midnight-moon On the night of the 9th, we'll look for the Full Snow Moon. The next morning we'll look up how many inches of snow our town has had so far this winter - and whether we're above or below average. (My guess is above!)
On a clear, mild day we'll go for a late winter nature walk. I'll have the older boys look for animal tracks in the snow, while Earlybird and I gather a basket-full of winter weeds. Back at home I'll make a "winter weed" bouquet for the nature shelf. 
On the 12th, we'll attend an Abraham Lincoln Celebration with our homeschool group. I'll set up a book display in the learning room filled with books on our 16th president. (We're studying the Civil War this winter, so this activity is quite timely.) For dessert that night, I will serve a jelly roll - a "Lincoln Log," if you will. :)
We'll start listening for the earliest spring birdsong on Valentines Day when, legend has it, the birds choose their mates. We'll make some Valentine "treats" to hang in the trees outside our windows.
Around the second week of February, according the the Audubon Society, is when skunks begin to mate. (Just in time for Valentines those clever critters.) We'll watch our favorite Valentine special, A Kiss for Little Bear, which includes the story of a wedding between two skunks.
Starting early in the month we'll start preparing homemade Valentines for friends and family. (This means a trip to the craft store this weekend to purchase any necessary supplies.) 
We'll hang a poster of presidents on Presidents' Day. And decorate frosted cupcakes with little American flags.
Our nature study focus this month will revolve around the Beatrix Potter story, The Tale of Squirrel Nutkin. We'll observe and learn about red squirrels and owls.
Our homeschool Nature Study Club will be dissecting owl pellets this month. We'll also walk into the woods to observe an owl's nest.
Earlybird and I will begin his very own Book of Trees. (Simply a handmade, child-friendly field guide.) We'll be reading The Happiness Tree and focusing on evergreens this month. (Next month: maple trees.)
Later in the month we'll start tracking the daytime and nighttime temperatures. When the days get over 40 and the nights fall below freezing, it means the sap will start running. (Next month's nature study focus.)
One day late in the month, we'll visit the nursery to purchase seeds for our spring garden. We'll start some seeds at home in a sunny window or two.
On the 24th, Shrove Tuesday, we'll make masks for Mardi Gras and eat pancakes and bacon for supper. We'll decide what we're giving up for Lent this year, as the next morning brings Ash Wednesday.
Earlybird is learning how to use the library. Meaning, he's learning how to behave when we're there, how to politely ask for help, how to treat books, etc. We will turn a plain canvas bag into a "library tote" for him, embellishing it with rubber stamps and fabric paint, etc.
As always, I must stress ... these are my notes - my hopes, and ideas - they do not always ALL come to pass. As you can tell, though, I do enjoy finding ways to weave the natural year into our home learning lifestyle. I find a wealth of inspiration in every turn of the year; I hope maybe you can find a little inspiration during your visit here!
Have a wonderful evening, my friends. I'm off now to feed my troops supper. :)