Outdoor Hour Challenge #5


As you know, we’ve decided to focus on “the sky” for our next 6-8 weeks of nature study. Although this was initially an overwhelming prospect for me, I’ve gained a little perspective over the last few days and think I’ve come up with a list of areas to work from that will satisfy quite nicely. I’m well aware that this is nature study, as opposed to a science class, so I’m not trying to make it too bookish or analytical or anything. Yet, knowing Liam, that’s exactly what he’ll want. So I’m arming myself with information regarding the following points, collecting library books, and waiting for him (as I know he will) to ask the questions. Some have already been asked, but I didn’t at the time have a complete answer. And I may do a bit of leading, but no pushing.

    1. Day and Night — Liam already understands the basics of this, but we can certainly flesh it out a little more.
    2. Seasons, Solstices, and Equinoxes — understanding how our trip around the sun effects the amount of daylight we get and determines the seasons.
    3. Compass Directions — specifically, how to determine your direction by the sun.
    4. Colors of the Sky — why the sky is blue during the day, but orange/red in the morning and evening.
    5. Moon and Moonlight — that it doesn’t give off its own light, but reflects the sun’s. Also perhaps an understanding of the different phases. This will require a few late nights, but since we homeschool, it’s not like he’s got to be up at 7AM, right?!
    6. Constellations/Other Planets — I’m sure eventually the clouds will move on and we’ll get some clear night skies. We’ll let Liam have some fun spotting what he can in the night sky and seeing if he can identify Venus and a few of the constellations.

Today we read What Makes Day and Night, a children’s science book that we’ve read in the past. Liam experimented at being the earth, standing with his arms stretched out to the sides. When his left hand was facing the sun (me), it was sunrise. As he continued to turn toward the sun, morning grew into midday, when he was facing directly toward me. When his right hand was pointed toward the sun, evening. And with his back to me, midnight. A simple, but effective “experiment”. He wondered why we use words like “sunrise” and “sunset” when the sun isn’t moving around us, but us around the earth. So we spoke just a little bit about how people haven’t always known that the earth revolved around the sun, and that they thought the earth was the center of rotation. Liam was just boggled that anyone could not know such a basic fact! Funny how what once was heresy is now such a commonly known fact that a five year old knows it.

Outdoor Hour Challenge #4



Challenge 4 encouraged us to choose a focus for our nature study. Trees, or flowers, or mammals, or birds, or insects…. you get the idea. The idea is to find one area to focus on for 6-8 weeks and foster real familiarity with that topic. I had a few suggestions to offer Liam, but he had his own idea. He wants to study the sky. I asked a few questions to flesh that out a little. What about the sky? Clouds, rain, weather? Of course not, that would be far too easy for Mom to accommodate. He wants to study the sun and moon and starts, real sky stuff.

I’m kind of at a loss here. We have binoculars, a big backyard, and quite a good telescope to boot. However, we live at 50°28’0″N. The sun won’t officially set until 9:23 tonight. We may narrow it down to focusing on the sun and its effects (light, heat, rainbows, etc) and when clear weather does finally come to Belgium, have a couple special “star party” type events. Barb, any suggestions?

Outdoor Hour Challenge #3



Yesterday we were all geared up for another nature walk. This challenge’s assignment was to find something that piqued Liam’s interest, observe it, and hopefully follow that up with a drawing in his nature notebook. The walk started out well, and he showed some interest in a number of different birds we saw on the walk. Then a different Mother Nature made herself alarmingly known, and his need to find a nearby bathroom superseded any and all interest in magpies and other flying creatures.

This morning, however, when we were waving goodbye to Jesse, we noted all the snails in the hedge in front of the house. There were dozens! Liam really enjoyed finding all the different creatures, following their trails across the top of the hedge, watching them stretch and shrink and hide in their shells. We tried getting a few pictures, but Liam’s camera wasn’t up to the close-in work and mine was with Jesse. No matter. He was full of questions and curiosity.

Working from memory and some pictures from the internet, Liam drew a snail in his nature notebook, and narrated a few observations/questions he had. His narration:

  • This morning we found snails in the front yard hedge.
  • Snails can eat leaves. What other stuff?
  • A snail leaves a trail of slime, but I don’t know why.
  • The shell is its house (maison). He goes in his shell when there is danger or when he wants a rest.
  • Tomorrow morning we’re going to “borrow” a couple snails from the hedge and make them a temporary home so we can watch them more closely. The Handbook of Nature Study has some tips for this, as well as some interesting tidbits about snails that I’ll dole out while the interest continues. Speaking of the book, thus far I’ve been working from a free downloaded copy. But I find myself referring to this so often that I’ve given in and bought a copy!

    The nature study is working out really well for us thus far. It’s given our homeschool a bit more focus — as much as I love to learn from books, Liam’s definitely more of a “get out and do it and experience it” kind of person. He’s never been at all interested in reading books about animals or birds (the exceptions being spiders and dinosaurs!), but now he’s seeking out the bugs and critters in the garden, and taking a real interest in the natural world around him. Being a boy’s boy, he’s far more interested in the animal life than in trees and flowers, but I see him observing more of the world around him, and interests peeking out that were never there before.

    Just today I bought a couple extra composition books, so I can start my own nature journal as well. I know squat about types of trees and flowers and bugs, and my drawing ability is akin to that of an eight year old — maybe — but I’m enjoying learning something new and having this experience with my son.

    Outdoor Hour Challenge #2

    Today the kids and I took a walk along the canal to complete #2 of the Outdoor Hour challenges. This time the focus was using words to describe what we see, hear, and feel. It was supposed to be a quiet walk, in which we could really concentrate on our observations. Unfortunately, I had not taken into account the highway we’d have to walk under right in the middle of the canal-side walk, nor the mile or so of non-stop traffic on the Route de Mons we’d have on our return trip. Still, I think Liam did quite well considering my rather poor choice of route.

    The assignment:

    1. One word to describe something you heard: tweeting.
    2. Two words to describe something you saw: fluffy dandelions.
    3. Three words to describe something you felt: cool summery breeze.

    Also, I prompted him to note the position of the sun relative to his body during the walk. When we started out it was shining warmly on his right cheek. We turned onto the canal and he quite excitedly said now the sun was right in his face. As we made the turn to walk up past the Grand Large, he observed that the sun was on his left cheek. Finally, walking home, the sun was behind him. This is a bit of a build up to understanding directions, of course.

    When we got home, we started a nature notebook for Liam. He’s quite enticed by the idea of keeping his own notebook of what he sees on our walks. He’s already wondering what he’ll see tomorrow that will be worth of dictating to me!

    (what, a nature study without pictures? yeah, I took the camera, then forgot about it and never pulled it out. next time)

    Outdoor Hour Challenge #1


    I was thrilled this past weekend to stumble across the Handbook of Nature Study blog’s Outdoor Hour Challenge. Nature Study is something I’ve really wanted to incorporate into our homeschool, but I’ve been a little lost as far as how to get started. I grew up out in the country, but I was not the most outdoors-y kind of kid. I can recognize a maple tree and that’s about it. So this will be an educational excursion not only for Liam, but for me as well.

    Monday we ventured to a nearby park, Le Parc du Joncquoy. Formerly on this site was a large chateau and its gardens.
    The chateau was demolished in 1992, but care was taken to save as much of the arboretum as possible. Over ninety different types of trees can be found on this roughly ten acre site.

    Liam found a number of trees with broad, flat leaves and beautiful “cones of flowers” (his words) that he wanted to identify. The tree looked familiar to me, but, like I said, I’m not exactly a child of Mother Nature. Yet. So we picked a leaf, committed the flower look and shape to memory, and went home to do some research online. Easy, right?

    Ummm, no. Turns out we didn’t get a leaf, but a leaflet. This particular tree has compound leaves. Using the OPLIN site because it had the virtue of being first in my google search for “what kind of tree is this?”, I found that I hadn’t quite done all my homework. Note to self: return next day and check out the bark and the compound leaf structure.

    Tuesday we returned, armed with a tad more knowledge and a camera for photographic evidence. We investigated the bark, found that the young leaves had five leaflets, but the most mature had up to seven. Found on the ground next to a couple mature trees what looked suspiciously like chestnuts. Ahhhh, now the light begins to dawn. When we lived in Harmegnies there was a huge Horse Chestnut tree in the village “grand place.” I don’t recall it flowering, but I’m sure I just wasn’t being observant at the time. The clincher, though, was finding a sign on one of the trees further up the path with both the French and Latin names for the tree: Marronnier, or Aesculus.

    Forgive the less than perfect pictures. Our camera is on the way, and should hopefully arrive sometime this week. To the left, of course, is our now-identified mystery tree, the Horse Chestnut. To the right, our still unknown mystery flower. It’s all over in the undergrowth beneath the large trees. Any ideas? I’ve never seen this before and I’m stumped.

    Liam and I made leaf rubbings using sidewalk chalk. The first entry in his Nature Notebook. He was quite pleased with the experience and has asked that the nature walk be the first thing we do for “school” every day!