Nature Study: Week 4

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The [field notebook] should be considered the personal property of the child and should never be criticized by the teacher except as a matter of encouragement; for the spirit in which the notes are made is more important than the information they cover.”  — Anna Botsford Comstock, Handbook of Nature Study

Each week, when we do our nature study,  I wonder if this will be the week when we really don’t see much — when it’s really uninteresting.  And, each week, I leave thinking that this week’s nature study was better than the week before.  I really never dreamed that our nature study time would become our favorite time of the week.

We’ve been following the Outdoor Hour Challenges from Handbook of Nature Study.  It’s suggested that, if you’re just starting, you do at least the first five lessons, then, join in wherever the group is.  It just so happened that we were able to merge both this week.  The assignment for Lesson 4 is to choose an areas of focus.  Since the current nature study challenge series is trees and this is the perfect time of year to study trees (or, at least, my favorite, as all the leaves will be beginning to change soon), we chose trees as our focus area.

An especially cool thing about the nature center that we go to is that there is a section where most of the trees are labeled with their common name and scientific name.  Additionally, many of them are also labeled with their Cherokee name in the Cherokee alphabet and with what the tree was used for by the Cherokee.  It had been my plan to let everyone choose whichever tree they wanted in the same general area, but, after discussing it a bit, we decided to all study the same tree.

We chose our tree for a few reasons.  First and foremost, because the tree is not native to our area.  It was planted at the nature center somewhere in the neighborhood of sixty years ago.  So, we thought it would be really cool to study a tree that we can’t find anywhere else in our area.  The second reason we chose this particular tree was because it’s in the meadow that sits just before the various trails split off.  So, if we want to observe the tree for a bit, then, go off on a trail to do something else, it will be easy to do so.

So, are you dying to know what tree we chose?  It’s a dawn redwood (metasequoia glyptostroboides).  It wasn’t until I looked it up to get the link that I realized one more really cool thing about this tree — it’s a deciduous conifer!  I never knew there was such a thing.  So, it has cones, but we’ll also get to watch the leaves change color this fall!

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It was really neat to read the online description of the dawn redwood, because I noticed that, amateurs though we are, we noticed a lot of neat things about the tree that are mentioned on the website about it, such as:

Its feathery, fern-like leaves:


Its cones:


And its stringy bark that grows horizontally on bulk of the trunk, but vertically and almost swirl-like near the base:


Another thing we noticed was it’s odd, pyramid-like shape, which I never could get right on my sketch.  Before I show you my journal entry, I refer you back to the quote at the top of last week’s nature study post.  I figure that you can at least tell what most of it is supposed to be.  With the tree, I was only trying to get the shape of it sketched, since I knew trying to sketch a realistic tree would be more than my not-so-artistic, perfectionist nerves could handle…and I still got frustrated!


As you may notice in my journal entry, we also saw a blue jay, several cardinals, and a chipmunk, but I couldn’t get a picture of them.

The caretaker of the property, who is of Cherokee descent, was out mowing the grass while we were there.  He stopped to talk to us about the trees for a bit.  Later, when we sat at some picnic tables to draw, he began pointing out the chestnut hulls to us.  We had no idea what they were until he showed them to us.  He found some that still had the chestnuts in them.  There seemed to be two or three chestnuts to a hull.


Then, he cracked one of the nuts to get the meat and cut off chunks for us to taste!  They were very moist, unlike the chestnuts I’ve had from the store.  I don’t know that I was crazy about the taste, but what a cool experience.

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He also showed us the blue jay, woodpecker, and red-tailed hawk feathers (which are covered under the eagle feather law, so you won’t be seeing one of them in my possession) he’d collected:


After talking a bit, he showed us the dream-catcher that he’d made.  When I commented to Megan that the inside looked like a spider web, he told me that was what it was supposed to be.  Then, he asked if we knew the story of the dreamcatchers.  We didn’t, so he told us.  It was really cool because he told it with such knowledge and familiarity — the stories of his ancestors.

I also discovered this creepy little guy crawling across my journal:

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The best I can tell, he’s a jumping spider, in the family SalticidaeI would try to offer you a specific species, but after looking at a few dozen pages of hairy-looking, eight-eyed spiders, I got a little creeped out, so you’re officially on your own for that one.

It was a very cool day at the nature center!  I can’t wait to see if next week can top this week!

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  1. Ok, can I come hang out with you?! You know I'm Cherokee and that's one of the main reasons for homeschooling – to impart our language and culture on the children. So my guess is you're in Georgia to have a nature center with Cherokee names on the trees? So entirely cool. I lived outside Atlanta a few years ago and this is as far north as I'm going here in KY!

  2. Yes, we are in Georgia. Love it here! Of course, I have nothing to compare to, since I've always lived in Georgia. 😉

    And, hey, sure! Come hang out.

  3. I thought you had to roast chestnuts before eating them? That might improve the flavor.
    We have rain and our temperature is plummeting, No outside study for us today!


  4. Naomi,

    You don't have to roast them first. They can be eaten raw. However, the guy said that he'd collected tons and tons of them for an upcoming Native American festival, where they will be roasted. I would hazard to guess that roasting them would make them taste better.

    He and Megan collected a small bag full of chestnuts in and out of the the hulls (or burrs) for Megan to take and show her friends. I've considered attempting to roast them.

  5. You are quite the nature study family… watching your developing love for nature as the days go by.

    I happen to love redwoods of any kind and grew up under a couple of really big ones. Great tree for a tree study and far as I know, it is a first to have a family watching a redwood. 🙂

    Love your journal entries too. Keep up the excellent work.

    Barb-Harmony Art Mom

  6. Kris, I am thoroughly impressed with your journal! Now, I'm wondering how I could get my boys excited about nature study. Should I just MAKE them do it?

  7. @ Mamosa — My kids really enjoy it. Megan grumbles some when we're not going to go "hiking." I like the way the Handbook of Nature Study addresses kids not wanting to take part. Nature study time is supposed to be a privilege and kids who don't want to willingly participate don't get to go out during nature study time.

    Of course, that is for a classroom setting, so I've told Megan, when she grumbles (and it would apply to anyone else), that I can bring her regular schoolwork and, if she doesn't want to participate in our nature study, she can just do her regular work while everyone else does nature study. That usually works pretty well.

    As far as their journals go, I only posted pictures of mine this week because the kids didn't really do anything. They did some leaf rubbings and bark rubbings, but they weren't defined enough to get a decent photo. I try to just let that go. I encourage them to draw or write something in their nature journals, but I try not to make it something that they have to do. I want them to be excited about it, not look at it as just another school assignment.

    Does that help?

  8. Your journal entry is very inspiring! It would be a great way to do a focus page on the tree we picked for the annual tree study.

  9. Wow, that was a very cool day indeed! I really like your journal entry I think I will join in with my boys and do my own journal pages more often.

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