Boston Nature Center

It's easy to find nature in the city - Boston is green with parks, trees, and gardens. The Boston Nature Center is a gem, and worth the short drive to Mattapan. It's part of the Mass Audobon, and they have a weekly drop-in class for ages 3-6 called Early Explorers. Each week they present a different theme, and we have been so impressed with the teachers and topics. 

Looking for butterflies

Looking for butterflies

Investigating parts of a flower - a great extension of Seeds, Flowers, Spring! 

Investigating parts of a flower - a great extension of Seeds, Flowers, Spring! 

If the Early Explorers class doesn't fit into your schedule, it's worth a visit anytime to explore the play area and hike on the trails. 

The spring is a perfect time to go - let us know what you find!

A treasure found last fall!

A treasure found last fall!

Seeds, Flowers, Spring!

Last Fall my son and I stopped in the Public Garden to watch bulbs being planted.  The gardeners planting them were really kind and explained to my son what they were doing and why.  He was fascinated and ate his entire snack listening and observing.  He was even given a bulb to bring home.

As soon as we got home, my son went out to our small garden and planted the bulb.

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It was fun for him and my daughter to see what happens in the Spring where the bulb had been planted.  Now that we've seen a bulb grow my kids are taking more notice of sprouts.  On a walk around the city, there are signs of Spring everywhere!

Just outside of the city, at Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, it's a great time to visit the farm. In addition to adorable baby goats, the greenhouse is flourishing with seedlings to soon be planted. It smells fantastic!

Inspired by the garden plans at Drumlin, my daughter created her own plans for our small garden at home. 

Finally, we explored flowers and parts of a flower, after making a collage from a gardening catalog. Playful Learning has lots of great suggestions for extending this inquiry!

The MFA is hosting its annual Art in Bloom April 30th-May 2nd.  There are indoor and outdoor tours as well as a tea that can be fun for kids.


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March in New England: Time for Maple Sugaring!

In New England, the first sign of spring is often seeing those metal buckets on maple trees, for the farmers' first harvest of the year. We are so fortunate to have many opportunities to learn about maple sugaring, and the process from spire to sap to syrup, on farms throughout the area. This year, we decided to explore the process ourselves in our yard in New Hampshire. We bought a simple kit, and set out to tap a tree. I didn't realize it would be rather tricky to identify a maple tree without leaves; we have a plan to tag trees in our yard next fall, or to draw a map. Still, we looked at a few images and did our best to find a tree with the right-looking bark and branches. Then we crossed our fingers and tapped!

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We had great success! It turned out we tapped a Silver Maple tree, and each weekend for several weeks when we went up skiing, the bucket was full! It was amazing to watch how much it boiled down in our kitchen, to just a very small amount of syrup. 

 

At Drumlin Farm in Lincoln, we learned more about the history of the maple sugaring process, and investigated many tools, from long ago and today. 

At Drumlin Farm, they have a large evaporator to boil down large amounts of sap!

At Drumlin Farm, they have a large evaporator to boil down large amounts of sap!

And, a very large griddle for large amounts of pancakes!

And, a very large griddle for large amounts of pancakes!

At the Ipswich River Wildlife Sanctuary we took a tour of the sugaring process.  We  learned how to easily identify maple trees in the winter, how to tap the trees, all about the evaporation process.  We even got a taste of the final product.

Here we listened and watched the sap we collected was boiled down to syrup.

The taste of fresh syrup is amazing!

We came in to warm up and learn a few more facts.  My daughter was fascinated by the fact that 40 gallons of sap are needed to make just one gallon of syrup.  

We bought some of the syrup that was made at the sanctuary and had it on our pancakes the next morning.

Sugaring
By Jessie Haas

B is for Butterfly

Last Spring, I took my children to the Museum of Science on a rainy day.  We had three free passes to a 3-D movie and so decided to watch a documentary on monarch butterflies.  We were so amazed at the journey these little butterflies made throughout the year!  We went straight from the movie to the butterfly garden with a new appreciation for these beautiful bugs.

An outdoor butterfly garden we like to visit is at the Boston Nature Center.  Every April the BNC participates in a statewide volunteer day to spruce up much of their property and the butterfly garden is included.  After getting our hands dirty in their garden, we decided to order some of our own milkweed seeds (a plant that monarch butterflies need to survive) and plant it in our urban garden.

Another butterfly garden we found is along the Southwest Corridor near the Mass Ave T stop.  The corridor is a great place to practice bike riding and spotting lots of city butterflies.

The Butterfly Place in Westford, MA is a quick trip, and it's such fun to be in a large room surrounded by butterflies. Our favorite part was the "butterfly nursery" where you can watch them hatching!  Another day trip I have planned is to Magic Wings in Deerfield, MA.  If you happen to go or know of other places we can study these beautiful creatures, please let us know!

At home, we invested in a butterfly garden and are watching our caterpillars grow so we can experience their magical metamorphosis first-hand. We are excited to (soon) transfer them to the butterfly house, watch them form their chrysalises, and then eventually transfer them to the outdoors!

After growing our own butterflies, we thought it would be important to help them survive.  A wonderful organization we found that supports the life of butterflies is the National Wildlife Federation Butterfly Heroes. Your children can join with other families and become Butterfly Heroes to receive a free Butterfly Garden Starter Packet which includes seeds, an observation notebook as well as a poster and stickers.


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Reduce, Reuse, Recycle! Celebrating Earth Day

This year for Earth Day, we are planning to use gloves, rakes, and brooms to clean up our favorite local park. After a particularly long winter, it needs a bit of sprucing up. We are also planning to plant a few new trees in our small side yard. I wanted to incorporate art making activities into the concept of caring for our earth. We talk about recycling our trash a lot, and making our own recycled paper seemed like a simple way to learn about the process and while having fun. We even pressed flowers, fall leaves we had saved, and dried herbs into a few sheets. 

They made beautiful cards! My son was curious about how paper is made in factories, and we watched this short video to learn more. We are now cutting paper towels in half to reduce our usage! My children are a bit young for the tours at the Cambridge Recycling Center, but if you have older children it looks like a great opportunity. We have been to Extras for Creative Reuse for unique art and collage supplies, and we are looking forward to checking out The Beautiful Stuff Project as well. All of these opportunities to embrace reuse and recycling are so beneficial. How does your family celebrate Earth Day? We'd love to hear!


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Rainbow Inspiration

One evening, we spotted an amazing (double!) rainbow outside our window. My kids were fascinated with it, and had many questions about color and light.

Our view was quite spectacular!

Our view was quite spectacular!

Rather than attempt to answer all of their wonderings, that night I set up a simple exploration area on the window sill. When they woke up in the morning, they began exploring with the prism, the light from the window, primary colored paddles, and an old CD.  

I had added paper and colored pencils, and their favorite thick crayons, but my daughter noted this wasn't ideal to capture the rainbows we were seeing and creating. "What might work better?" I asked her.  "Watercolor paint!" she replied. So we tried that, using one of my favorite techniques of wetting the paper first so the colors bleed together. 

The green tray has a half-inch of water. My son is coating the paper in water and then transferring to the yellow tray to paint. 

The green tray has a half-inch of water. My son is coating the paper in water and then transferring to the yellow tray to paint. 

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That did indeed work better to mix and blend the colors of the rainbow, we all agreed. We continued to examine and ask questions about reflecting light, the color spectrum, and water. 

Recently, I read a quote from the The Wonder of Learning, currently in New York City. (I was so fortunate to be there for NAREA's Winter Conference). As the curators of the exhibit explained, when children encounter light (and natural phenomena in general), they are full of wonder and curiosity. As parents and educators, we can use their interest, and follow their lead, by providing the environment for them to experiment: 

Environments can multiply these marvelings, singling out certain phenomena and ‘amplifying’ them, making them more spectacular.
— The Wonder of Learning Exhibit

After plenty of time to explore and investigate, we checked out books from the library on rainbows, and watched this video. Are your children interested in rainbows? Have you seen any amazing rainbows in the city?


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