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Looking for low cost ideas to add some STEAM to your week? How about bird safaris, plant identification chalk art, and/or making a permanent record of the animals and plants in your neighborhood?

Idea 1:  Birdwatching Safari

Have you seen people putting stuffed animals in their windows or yards? Those are part of Teddy bear scavenger hunts for children. Take the idea to the next level:  walk, bike or drive through the neighborhood looking for birds.

Virtually every neighborhood has birds perching, singing, flying, swimming, and feeding. See how many birds you can spot. Write down what you see or record using voice recognition on your phone.

For more bird-related lessons and activity ideas, visit:

Extensions:  If birds aren't your thing, consider an insect safari.

Idea 2:  Sidewalk Chalk Plant Identification

On the same vein, have you seen driveways and sidewalks decorated with chalk artwork and inspirational/positive messages?  Wouldn't it be cool to take those ideas and incorporate a little science? Leave chalk notes about plants you see.

Butterflies love desert marigolds.

In England, "rogue" botanists are using chalk to identify common plants along sidewalks (Guardian article gives details). As they emphasize, when people learn the name of plants they can find out more about them, such as how they provide nectar for pollinators or are food for butterflies.

 

Note:  Make sure you have permission before applying chalk to sidewalks.

Idea 3:  Make a Nature Notebook or Journal

A nature journal is a physical record of your observations.

Below, children's science author Loree Griffin Burns shares a wonderful nature notebook that her children made when they were younger. She explains what they learned and gives suggestions for making your own.

 

Notice that they used both photographs and drawings.

Curved-bill thrasher and grackle

You can choose either or a combination. Be sure to jot down your observations and date every entry, as well.

Suggestions for starting a nature journal

Idea 4:  Start a Nature Blog

If you are more comfortable with the digital world, then keep you journal as a blog that you can share with friends and family. Some platforms -- like Blogger and WordPress.com -- can be free.

From the start of this blog in April 2008, the Bug of the Week has been a photographic record of the insects and plants I've encountered, mostly in my own neighborhood. Why might this be useful?

Firstly, it helps me remember the names of insects, especially those that I don't see often. There are more than a million species of insects, so even experts need help.

Blogs can also be a record of life cycles, for example our recent discovery of lady beetles on brittle bush and two weeks later we found lady beetle larvae.

Because I show the insects I've photographed that day or within a few days, it is also an archive of seasonality of insect appearance.  For example, this week I noticed two damselflies in the back yard.

This mainly brown one perched on the rim of an old flower pot.

Every minute or so it would launch into the air and grab a gnat. Can you see the gnat snack in its mouth?

About two feet away a bluer version perched on some radish flowers.

With a quick search, in years past I had seen damselflies in August and September.

It is fun to look back over the posts and see what was happening.

Which ideas do you find appealing? Be sure to let us know if you try one or if you have other ideas to suggest.

 

Recently, we featured a story time about the solar system for preschoolers. Today our activities are inspired by the upper-elementary/middle grade book Dr. Maggie’s Grand Tour
 of the Solar System by Dr. Maggie Aderin-Pocock 
and illustrated by Chelen Écija. Check out our sister blog, Wrapped in Foil, for a review/details.

Suggested Activity to Accompany the Book: Stargazing

When is the last time you have gone outside at night and looked up at the stars? With less pollution haze, stargazing can be a fun activity right now. Be sure to follow local safety guidelines.

Some things you can point out to youngsters:

  1. The Moon - The Moon is currently waxing, which means you will gradually see more as it heads to the full moon on May 7, 2020. It will be the last "supermoon" of the year and is called the flower moon.
  2. Planets - Venus has been bright lately as the sun sets in the west. You should also be able to spot Mars, Saturn and Jupiter.
  3. Constellations - Different constellations will be prominent depending on how clear your viewing is. Pollux and Castor show up in the west near nightfall. See various websites linked below for details.
  4. Comets- There are three comets in the skies this month; Atlas, Swan, and T2PANSTARRS. They probably won't be bright enough to see without a telescope, but keep an eye on news reports just in case.
  5. Meteor showers- Last week the Lyrid meteor shower was in the news, but the lesser known Eta Aquarid meteor shower should be at its peak right before dawn Tuesday. Unfortunately, the moonlight will probably interfere with viewing all but the brightest meteors. Other large showers include the Perseids in mid-August and the Geminids in December.
  6. Human-made items - Most of us can recognize an airplane flying at night because of the blinking lights. What you might not have seen, however, are the Starlink satellites. These look like points of light that travel quickly in a definite path across the sky ( a photo). Once you spot one, you are likely to see them again and again. According to reports, they should be less visible as they tilt over time and later launches will have built in shades that are supposed to reduce visibility. See them while you can.

For more see our Astronomy category, starting with Three Hands-On Astronomy Activities.

Websites for adults to learn more:

Ages: 8+
ISBN:  978-1-68464-034-8

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes.

See our growing list of children's books about the solar system at Science Books for Kids.

For STEM Friday we are highlighting a fantastic book for upper elementary-aged children, Amazing Amphibians: 30 Activities and Observations for Exploring Frogs, Toads, Salamanders, and More by Lisa J. Amstutz (her website).

If you've never experienced one of the Young Naturalists series books from Chicago Review Press, you are in for a real treat. These books are designed not only for children who are independent researchers interested in a topic -- in this case amphibians -- but also for educators who need information and age-appropriate activity ideas for science lessons.

Lisa Amstutz's text covers everything readers will want to know:

  • What an amphibian is
  • What animals belong to the different families
  • Amphibian anatomy
  • What amphibians eat
  • Their life cycles
  • Some of the threats to amphibians
  • And much more!

It is also filled with amazing facts. Did you know that the North American wood frog can survive being frozen solid? How about that some amphibians can absorb water from moist soil by sitting on it because they have specially absorptive skin on their bellies? Wouldn't it be nice to be able to drink that way?

The activities (30 of them!) will keep young scientists engaged for hours. They range from making fake frog eggs from water beads to making your yard more toad friendly.

Some readers may initially think less of the book when they learn the illustrations are color stock photographs, with many coming from Wikimedia Commons. The quality of stock photographs, however, is determined by the person curating them and in this case the photographs are the highest standard, well-matched to the text and to each other.

The back matter is a treasure trove filled with goodies such as a table of the different amphibian orders, lists of resources, and a teacher's guide with even more ideas for activities.

Personal Note:  I absolutely love these Chicago Review Press books and I use them all the time. The activities encourage the type of hands-on learning that develops fine motor skills so useful later in life. They also reinforce learning. Let's face it, touching a fake frog egg made out of a water bead engages more senses than simply reading about eggs on the page.

The bottom line is Amazing Amphibians is an exceptionally well organized and well written introduction to a fascinating group of animals. It is perfect for young naturalists and scientists. It is also a must-have resource for educators. Investigate a copy today!

Related Activities:

Not that a book loaded with oodles of hands-on activities needs any more, but let's celebrate Amazing Amphibians by making a tiny book about frogs, toads, and salamanders to share with younger children.

1. Download the Tiny Amphibian Book Template (PDF) - (click on image that pops up to load).

2. Print out on white paper.

3. Fold using the instructions in the video below. Make the cut along the line shown in the photo.

4. Talk about the illustrations in the tiny book and research any questions that arise. Decorate and add information to your book to make it your own.

Please let me know if you have any problems folding it.

Older children can make a handmade scientific notebook as suggested on page 3 of Amazing Amphibians.

For more frog and toad science activity suggestions, see our previous posts:

  1. Summer Sounds: Frogs and Toads
  2. Frog and Toad Science Activities, includes toad anatomy and building a toad house
  3. A Frog's Life book and activities, includes link to a citizen's science project.

Age Range: 7 - 9 years
Publisher: Chicago Review Press; First edition (January 7, 2020)
ISBN-10: 1641600721
ISBN-13: 978-1641600729

Disclosure: This book was provided by the publisher for review purposes. Also, I am an affiliate with Amazon so I can provide you with cover images and links to more information about books and products. As you probably are aware, if you click through the highlighted title link and purchase a product, I will receive a very small commission, at no extra cost to you. Any proceeds help defray the costs of hosting and maintaining this website.

Come visit the STEM Friday blog each week to find more great Science, Technology, Engineering and Math books.