Category Archives: Science at Home

A Robin in the Wreath

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According to AllAboutBirds.org, only 40% of nests successfully produce young.

Sometimes, you just have to take a breath and look at the world. Or, out your front door and onto a wreath, where a robin built a perfect nest.

For at least the last three weeks, I’ve been hosting a new family of robins.  It was pure magic to see the mother twist the last pieces of grass in place.  When she sat, I began a log.  After she laid her fourth and final egg, I began counting the days.  On day 12, the eggs hatched.

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Now we are two.

Along the way, I invited my friend, Eric, over for a look. As his father lifted him up, Eric looked at the eggs and said, “Wooooowww!” as only a four-year-old can.

Every guest or family member who visited expressed the same wonder.

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The quartet, eyes still closed.

No one rushed to Google “robin” on their phones. Instead, there were conversations about the nest, the occupants, their growth, the male and female robins. Our front porch became off limits to the usual foot traffic. Even the drop-off dry cleaning man got into the spirit, and suggested another place to hang his deliveries.

Looking like teenagers--a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

Looking like teenagers–a little gawky, very hungry, here and there a flap of the wings.

It’s learning opportunities like this one for which we parents need to keep watch. Teaching kids of all ages to respond to the natural world is extra special when a parent models that behavior. Also, learning at home never requires a workbook.  Birds’ nests are wonderful parent resources for wonder and curiosity.

Finally, I’m reminded that some of our youngest children are never afraid of wondering. To quote four-year-old Eric, “Wooooowww!

 

 

Science at Home: For the Birds!

To help students learn to read, teachers design their classrooms as literacy-rich environments. You know how to support this at home, by having books available and reading with your child.

But did you know that supporting science at home is just as easy?

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Chickadees scold in the background as a house sparrow fills up on mixed seed.

The key is to make the science accessible and a natural part of your home environment. A lot of science is about inquiry, wondering, and observation, which works beautifully if you have a bird feeder around.

My friend, Anne, was famous for her bird feeder outside the classroom window. Anne’s purpose was simply to share her love of birdwatching with children. Before she knew it, the students had made the feeder into a science center. They observed, developed hypotheses, researched, and persisted at finding their answers.

The results amazed everyone. Some students created complex spread sheets on bird behavior. Others drew birds and researched the different kinds of sparrows they saw. A few wrote stories and poems inspired by the bird’s lives. The important thing to Anne was that she’d introduced birds in a no-pressure way and let her students do the rest, even while their “regular” science lesson from a kit was underway.

Borrow Anne’s idea and see what evolves at home. Remember to just let it happen. It’s no secret that when children are given the opportunity to construct their own learning, it becomes memorable and lasting.

Summer Night Sounds

Right now, I’m sitting near an open window and listening to a nighttime chorus of katydids and crickets in huge numbers. Want to listen, too?

How many night insect sounds can you identify? Besides being relaxing music from nature, children find it incredibly interesting to learn about insects and how they create their songs.

Make learning about summer night sounds a memorable experience in your family.  Click here for plenty of insect identification info on a great site.

Pluto: A Girl, A Grandfather, and A Teacher

Eighty-five years ago, 11-year-old Venetia Burney sat at breakfast with her grandfather, who was a university librarian at Oxford.VenetiaBurney
He talked to her about the latest exciting news story, that a new planet had been discovered. A suitable name hadn’t yet been found, he pointed out.

Venetia’s teacher had taught her students that the other planets were named for Greek and Roman gods and goddesses. The teacher had taken the students outdoors on a “nature walk” to make a model of the solar system. Clumps of dirt were placed apart to show the planets’ relative distance from the sun.

PlutoWhen Venetia’s grandfather asked her what she’d name the new planet, she replied, “Pluto,” the Roman god of the mythological, dark underworld.

Impressed, he relayed this suggestion to an astronomer friend, who brought the name “Pluto” to his colleagues, who voted in favor of it.

[Listen to a 2006 interview with Venetia here.]

Venetia’s grandfather rewarded her with £5 and wrote a note to her teacher, recognizing the “capable and enlightened” instruction and the value of the “nature walk…[where she learned about the] gloom of distance.”

What does this story teach us? First, when grandparents talk with their grandchildren about current events, it matters. Conversation knits generations together and helps children learn to think.

Second, when students learn interdisciplinary topics like mythology and science, they put together their learning in wonderful ways we cannot predict.milkyway

Third, when a grandparent writes a letter of thanks to a teacher, it is not only recognition, but also a gracious act of goodwill and appreciation.

 

 

 

 

Credits:

https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html

http://mentalfloss.com/article/48673/venetia-burney-11-year-old-girl-who-named-pluto

http://facts.randomhistory.com/pluto-facts.html

http://nineplanets.org/news/an-interview-with-venetia-burney-phair/

 

Quoth the Ravens? “Watch Me Parent.”

The ravens at Wellesley College, in Wellesley MA, have returned for a second year and are caring for three nestlings. Picasso.WomanWithRaven.Watch them live on Wellesley’s  Ravencam.

Check my 2014 post about them. The ideas I shared for teachers are terrific activities for parents to use during April school vacation.

This year, I am mesmerized by the ravens’ parenting skills. Both parents share in the care and are neither helicopter nor “free range.” These highly intelligent birds balance nature and nurture. A sensible balance provides protection and food with support for getting out of the nest and into the world.

You just know that when it’s time, the raven parents will be firm about learning to fly. No going backwards. No hovering. No meeting their own needs through their children’s.   Simply getting on with the business at hand.

 

 

 

Shown: Woman with Raven, Pablo Picasso, 1904.  Source: WikiArt.

 

Columbus’s Mermaids

January doesn’t usually remind us about Christopher Columbus, but on January 9, 1493, he described seeing mermaids swim near the Dominican Republic. (See the History Channel’s “On this Day in History.”)

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

Photo courtesy of Broward.org

However, Columbus was mistaken. What he saw were not mermaids swimming, but manatees. These animals are exceptionally lovely. Large and slow-moving mammals, manatees eat plants and swim in shallow water. Their faces hold a kind sweetness. It’s easy to see why Columbus thought they were mermaids.

Teacher reflection had a whole new meaning for me after I met my first manatee.

Introduce your students to manatees.  Not everything we teach our students has to be a huge curriculum unit. Give your students access to pictures, maps, and reading about manatees. Begin conversations about them during quiet moments. A good place for information is at National Geographic, where students can listen to the repertoire of manatee sounds.

And after your students learn about manatees, ask them to think up reasons why Columbus mistook them for mermaids.

 

The Sky Has No Limits

Diligence.  Patience.  Perseverance.  Every teacher and parent wants children to develop these qualities.  Aside from urging students to complete their work, just how is it done?

Consider parent William Mitchell, a father of ten. He loved astronomy and expected his children to assist him—as part of their education—as he observed the sky at night.  He showed them how to use a telescope to sweep the sky, observe, take notes, and record measurements.  As a result, two of his children, Maria and Henry, developed interests in science.  Henry went on to a career as a hydrographer and helped found the National Geographic Society.

And Maria? She discovered a comet at age twenty-nine, became the first American Professor of Astronomy at Vassar College, and is acknowledged as the first professional woman astronomer in the United States.

Maria Mitchell thrived in a home in which parents prized learning.  It took years of diligent study of math and patient observation of the sky until she discovered Comet Mitchell.  Later in life, she wrote that she never forgot the one-on-one time with her father on the roof walk as they observed the sky together.

Children thrive when their parents share their interests, spend time with them, and teach them.  Parents don’t need to have all the answers, either; for example, when William Mitchell had taught Maria all the math that he could, he found her a more advanced teacher.

We don’t need to be experts in astronomy to learn from the sky, nor must we expect our children to make fantastic discoveries.  But observing the night sky often is a terrific, family-friendly field trip. It teaches our children that there are infinite worlds for exploration and discovery.