Category: Learning

TheNatureSchool has moved house

Stock image by healingdream from FreeDigitalPhotos*net

TheNatureSchool has a new host, NetworkSolutions, and its own domain name: . It is still running a wordpress theme.  This will be the second to last post at The next post will be a simple post to redirect anyone from here to there.

I will leave the blog up here for a period of time to allow anyone who was following me here to find me there.

Moving forward I plan to have a more structured approach. I have two primary goals for the remainder of 2010:

  1. to improve the quality of the content and
  2. to increase my readership.

I began TheNatureSchool in January, in the middle of a school year, because I knew that I needed to take action to move myself forward along the course of doing Nature and Environmental Education. After several years applying for jobs in the field, without successfully securing one, I knew that I needed to stop waiting for that ship to come in and start building my own ship. TheNatureSchool blog is the beginning of that ship. With the blog I got an idea of the frame, now I am working to make sure that frame is solid so that I can rely on its support as I continue to build the TheNatureSchool.

Next week, July 4th, begins a 4 part series that follows the phases of the moon from waxing 1st quarter to full. The series will have a variety of lessons associated with different subjects to use in school, camp or just for fun. I look forward to watching the moon with you.

Join me!


A short post…..

In a perfect world, I’d be a week or two ahead of myself with posts so that it would be easy to keep to the schedule. I, however, have not yet created a perfect world. I had started a post about the Gulf Oil Spill but at the moment it doesn’t have a point and is nothing more than a rant. If that were the purpose of this blog, there would be nothing wrong with a rant. Ranting is not why I started this thing. I may still do that post but, I hope, that I can go from a rant about the terrible thing that is into, so how can we come to care enough about what might be to actually take steps to make a difference before we create a catastrophe like the Gulf Oil Disaster. And, how can we teach young people how to do the same. I haven’t written that post yet, at least with regards to the oil in the gulf. Its time will come.

I guess, since I wasn’t really prepared, I’ll do a short inventory about the state of the garden. The cool weather flowers have just now reached a point where they are nearly fully past. This is a delight because last year they were gone in February. I need to think about what to replace them with. I am open to suggestions.

  • What hot weather plants do you like that will thrive in the hot, muggy, salty Gulf air?
  • What are your favorite summertime butterfly flowers?

And, speaking of butterflies, I have a major butterfly nursery going on under the eaves of my house. I think I counted 12 Monarch chrysali. (What is the plural of chrysalis, anyway?) One appears to be on the verge of breaking. I have taken to watching it several times a day so I don’t miss it. As of this typing, it is still not open. I will make a point of capturing, in photos, any that I do see and posting them here. It’s the next skill I need to master anyway.

This year has been a lean year for hummingbirds. Any of you other gulf coasters having a similar issue? Last year was a banner year so it was a tough act to follow but I don’t think I have seen 4 hummers, total, at my feeders for all of May. That is unusual.

The night blooming jasmine is getting set to bloom. I am hoping that will bring some of the hummingbird moths and perhaps a luna moth or two. I’ll let you know.

  • And you, what’s the state of your garden?

Migratory bird day is typically observed on the second saturday in May, that would have been yesterday. This is a convenient date for the North Americas because this is the height of the migration of birds to their breeding grounds. The event is now promoted by Environment for the Americas (link at the end of the post). According to their web site they have removed the month and date from their promotional events to focus on the year. Everyday is Bird Day, they say. This give people freedom to celebrate the birds at the time that it is most appropriate for their region allowing the event to become more international in its approach.

As I am writing this post, I am torn. There are so many issues facing migratory birds and it is tempting to focus on them. This year, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, happening at the height of the migration and the beginning of the breeding season for birds in the Gulf, is at the center of world-wide attention. Across the globe, Iraq is dealing with the drying of its wetlands putting great pressure on birds migrating north from Africa. I could make a post full of links that document pressures to bird from loss of habitat such as the Iraq article, or environmental disasters, such as the Gulf oil spill but I am not going to. At least not today. Use Google news search and you’ll find dozens.

I have decided instead to focus on what is good and positive and builds relationship rather than pity and, potentially, frustration. To celebrate “Every day is bird day” there are a number of things you can do. Let’s focus on food. As I said in an early post, a simple hopper style feeder is how I started. I was living in a second floor condo southwest of Denver. I bought a simple hopper feeder  and some inexpensive seed from one of the box pet supply stores and hung it from a hook on my entry porch. I was a hit with the house finches. One day I noticed a chickadee trying to eat from it. I went out and bought a chickadee feeder, some black oil sunflower seed, and hung another hook. I only got a few chickadees, the habitat was too barren for them, but a few of my house finches did learn how to eat like a chickadee, a source of great amusement. By the time I sold the condo I had moved up to good bird seed and a pole feeder that accommodated many feeders, all from Wild Birds Unlimited.

Now I live in the coastal bend area of south Texas and I am blessed with a beautiful mesquite in the front yard. The tree attracts a variety of birds and enables me to see birds that eat insects rather than seed. My current arrangement is several tube feeders, a hopper feeder, some hummingbird feeders and the scattering of seed on the ground for the ground feeders.

My primary guests, as of this writing are:

  • White Winged Doves ( I think I have every WWDV in the county)
  • Inca Doves
  • Mourning Doves
  • Eurasian Collared Doves (non-native)
  • English House Sparrows (non-native)
  • Pairs of nesting Northern Cardinals
  • Cowbirds
  • Golden Fronted Woodpeckers
  • Grackles: Common, Great Tailed and Boat Tailed.

These are the regulars to the diner.

This spring I have scen:

  • Dicksissel
  • Common Yellow Throat warbler
  • Summer Tanager female
  • Ruby Throated Hummingbirds
  • Black Chinned Hummingbirds
  • several Warbler species I couldn’t name
  • Wood Thrush
  • Ash Throated Flycatcher
  • Several species I couldn’t identify at all
  • Coopers Hawk

This may seem like a short list but this is what I have seen at my feeders or tree in spite of the fact that I leave for work, most days, before 7 am and miss the times when most birds are most active.

I have begun experimenting with seed and feeders to attract diversity and reduce pest species, like the White Wing Dove and Red Winged Blackbirds, that devour everything they see and keep other birds from the feeders.

Right now I am using:

  • millet sunflower blend that I am making (link for millet seed below) in the main hopper feeder and as scatter seed for ground feeders.
  • one tube feeder with safflower seed that I buy at the box pet store,
  • one with Scott’s brand colorful bird blend food (ditto on the source)
  • one with a fruit and nut mix for the cardinals and the woodpeckers. (see above)
  • a 4 door wire feeder for suet and seed block

I will let you know, as I learn, what birds favor what feeders. My current observation is that my regulars will eat at all of them if they eat at feeders at all. Migration seems a little thin this year. I am not seeing the variety that I have seen in the past.

In closing, I find birds fascinating to watch. Right now the White Winged Doves are holding a pool party in the bird baths. Make every day Bird day by setting up a feeder system to attract birds to your yard. Remember, not all birds are seed eaters. Additional birds will come to fruit and to insects. Most people start with seeds. I did and I am just now branching out. We can learn together.

What’s in your garden?


Environment for the Americas Bird Day site

Wild Birds Unlimited

Bird Seed Central

I recently read an article that was published in The Independent (linked at the end of this post). The author talks about the trend to reconnect children to nature. He also talks about the limits we place on kids connecting with nature. He calls it “the don’t touch culture”. As I read it, the author postulates that looking is all well and good but to really connect you need to touch as well. I have to admit, he has a point. I have been to dozens of “don’t touch” museums and after a time your eyes glaze over. You feel separated, a distant onlooker, from the thing you are viewing. It applies to historical sites, a friend talked about being able to touch some of the objects during a recent visit to the Anne Hathaway house in Stratford-on-Avon, it was evident from her words that touching things was a high point of the museum.

If the delight in touching inanimate objects at an historical site exists, it exists in at least equal measure for living things in nature. I spent most of my youth outside and I picked, poked and prodded everything I came across. I totally agree that kids need to engage with nature using every sense imaginable. In the closing paragraph the author extols us to: “pick the common wayside flowers, gather wild nuts, berries and mushrooms for the pot, and take home interesting bits of dead wood or fossils. We could capture caterpillars and tadpoles, build wigwams out of fallen wood, and play games with elder stems or plantain guns. The wildlife can take it. And we would become freer, happier, and in the long run, more aware of the plight of nature and ourselves in a perilous and rapidly changing world.” I agree, we would be freer and happier in the long run.

The thing is, I don’t think the wildlife can take it.

Many of them need those mushrooms, berries and nuts for food, the bits of wood for shelter and the peace to be left alone to get on with their lives. With a world population of 6.7 billion people (up from the 3.6 billion in 1970, the year I started high school), we can’t all explore hands on, taking things with us, and have anything left to love. We will have loved nature to death doing that.

Further more, in the last 40 some years the way we do things has changed greatly. Small family farms have given way to large, commercial operations that maximize productivity at the expense of diversity and the health of the local environment. The focus of modern farming is the large, single crop plot. Often these crops, hybridized for the most yield, are vulnerable to pests and disease which is is countered by heavy uses of chemicals. Habitats are ever more fractured by intensive farming, increased building and roads. Some wild life will do well in the presence of people, foxes are an example. Others will not and, when their habitats become too fractured will cease to breed because they do not have enough territory to support themselves and their off spring.

So. What is the answer to this dilemma? I believe strongly that children need unstructured, unsupervised play that encourages curiosity and hands on exploration. I believe that we live in an over crowded, over developed world that is putting ever more stress on the other creatures that share our ecosystem. I have to believe, even though I don’t yet have the whole answer, that these two things are not irreconcilable. What about you?

The Independant: Getting close to nature: It’s time to grasp the nettle


This past week I did an exploration lab with my biology students. Over the course of the year, I had observed that their observation skills were sorely lacking so I wanted to give them practice observing things.

The lab was simple enough. Since we were concluding a unit on plants, I set up six stations with various parts of plants for the students to examine, take notes on, and eventually develop a simple report. I had one primary objective and two secondary objectives. The primary objective was for students to learn how to make a detailed observation about something. The secondary objectives were for the students to look at different kinds of plant parts as a follow up to learning about the monocots and dicots. For the non-science geeks, a monocot is science speak for a plant that germinates with a single seed leaf, like corn or grass. A dicot is a plant that germinates with two seed leaves, like a bean, almost all flowers, and most trees.

I created 6 stations that related to either monocots or dicots and one station that compared the seeds of monocots to the seeds of dicots. The students went to each station made two observations, one connection and one drawing at each station. Because this was the first time I had them do this kind of thing, I did not make them describe, draw and make sense of the function of each sample. The lab lasted three days.

Day one, I gave them the general overview of the expectations and let them go to town.

Day two, I reviewed the nature of the observations that they made and helped them self critique. I got observations, about flowers for example, like it is multicolored. I pushed them to be more descriptive. What colors? Where are the colors? How are the colors arranged? And similar questions. I asked them to explore the texture, the shapes, the surface features and so on and I sent them back around the stations. Some kids sat down when they reached the station where they had begun, saying they were done. I prodded to get them back and look again. Some did.  I sent all the students home with the assignment to begin to put their data into a neat, organized, presentable form.

Day three, I did a quick review of some of their observations, which had improved. Then I talked about what I meant by “make a connection”. For example, what do you think the purpose of some structure on the plant might be. Another example is that this structure reminds me of____________. One girl observed that a juniper twig reminded her of a Christmas tree when she crushed it. I asked her to consider what that could say about junipers and Christmas trees. Finally, I gave them a format for what needed to be included in every final report of their observational data, went through a non-plant example of a simple observation might look like and told them to write up their final observations. I left the stations up so they could return to them if they wanted to refine their observations. Many did.

Tomorrow, I’ll have the chance to begin reviewing the work. But, based on my observations of the kids at work, I think it was a good beginning. I wish I had more time between now and the end of the school year because I would like to do this kind of thing again. I think it helped the students learn to look at things critically and to take more charge of their learning. I think the kids enjoyed the activity and I think, because I had not told them what to look for, it gave them the opportunity to be look at what they found interesting.

I’ll let you all know.