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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.

 

All the new birds we have been seeing in our yard lately gave us the urge to record our observations. We grabbed some paper and colored pencils, and drew all the birds that we have listed.

bird drawings

It was great fun and started an interest in developing a more formal nature journal. Although I am a scientist, I also love art and writing. Making a nature journal is a wonderful way to combine all three.

First I took a look at this book:

Drawn to Nature Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie by Clare Walker Leslie (see details below).

The book starts out with some simple and lovely ways to record the weather each day. This would be an easy and age-appropriate way for young children to get started creating a nature journal. Note: Weather observations would also tie in nicely with the upcoming book-based movie, "Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs."

Then I found this video about natural journals from my alma mater, SUNY College of Environmental Sciences and Forestry. Hey, I remember having dendrology labs in that cemetery (dendrology is the study of trees).

The Handbook of Nature Study blog is a wonderful place to explore journals and nature. I love to visit this site when I have plenty of time to look around at all there is to offer (which is not often enough, I'm afraid). This blog completes the exercises laid out in Anna B. Comstock's classic Handbook of Nature Study.  Barb calls them "outdoor challenges." Barb also has the Harmony Art Mom blog where she shows the art side of natural journals. This video is from one of her lessons.

Making a Leaf Rubbing For a Nature Journal

Edit: The link is now broken. For a shorter reference, try The Nature Journal as a Tool for Learning.

The author of that article mentions the "Grinnell System," which is a more formal method of recording observations used by scientists. Edit: The link is broken. Although I was able to find a site that discusses the Grinnell System, I am still going to look into it a bit more. Have you ever heard of it and/or used it? Do you know any references?

Science, art and writing, all rolled into one. Nature journals have it all.

Some books to look for:

Drawn to Nature Through the Journals of Clare Walker Leslie
by Clare Walker Leslie


Keeping a Nature Journal: Discover a Whole New Way of Seeing the World Around You
by Clare Walker Leslie, Charles E. Roth


Illustrating Nature: Right-Brain Art in a Left-Brain World by Irene Brady

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