If you want to continue your child’s education even when schools are closed, keep reading. You can help your Junior Kindergarten student learn science by going outdoors and learning. JK kids can directly observe plants and animals outside—in their own neighborhood, in a nearby park, or in a larger open space.
Student naturalists explore plants and animals in the classroom and outside. They ask questions and gather information about:
where animals live and why,
the parts of plants and animals, and what they do, and
the needs of living things.
Think of yourself as a guide, but not an expert or a teacher. Learning can be strongest when a child is allowed to discover and focus on something outdoors that captures their own interest. You can be the best role model for science learning by demonstrating your own curiosity and following up on it by making guesses and collecting data.
Try this :
Take a short walk and ask your child to describe three (or five, or seven) plants or trees on the walk. You can ask your child to draw them, or instead, just remember them. Together with your child, make up your own name for each plant or tree, if you want. You can use your own language or English for the name. You can write the names down if you want to, but that’s not necessary. If your child likes to draw, you can ask them to draw each plant.
Examples of names: “big tree with feather branches in front of the library.”
Ask your child to use as many ways of describing each plant or tree as they can think of.
Examples: “It is taller than our home, ” “I could fit three of me in the trunk,” “the tree’s bark feels rough.”
Take the same walk on a regular schedule. It could be Mondays and Thursdays, or just once a week, or at the same time every day.
TIP: Children are comforted by a regular routine, even if they don’t say so. School routines and schedules help them stay calmer and more focused and ready to learn. You can set up your own routines for home learning, if possible, but don’t worry if you can’t. Going outdoors for this activity will still benefit your child.
Each time you take this same walk during spring, ask your child, “What is different about this plant (or tree) since we saw it before? Let your child have time to think about shape, size, smell, color, or parts of the plant, and tell you about it. You can suggest some descriptive words, but let your child take the lead.
Observing seasonal changes in the environment is a great way to build vocabulary, and to build a set of observations that will naturally lead you and your child to form questions: why and how do plants grow? what do they need to grow and live? What is a flower, and what does it do?
EXTRA: If you want, take pictures (or draw) the plant weekly. You can go back and look at them arranged in time over the next few months, and use them to start a discussion with other family members. Learning words to describe the environment and seasonal change is an important part of science learning for a child at this age, and they can benefit from telling other adults what they saw (just like a scientist communicates to others!).
Cambridge Outdoors is working to expand our existing library of resources for outdoor learning with this post and future posts. We hope these posts will address some of the needs of parents during school closures in March/April/May 2020. Come on over to our Facebook Page, and tell us what you like about it, and what kind of other posts you’d like to see here. And tell us about your outdoor explorations, too!
This post was written by Julie Croston. If you use Instagram and Twitter, check out and use our hashtag #CambMAOutdoorLearning.
Why are Monarch butterflies so special? We recently asked five questions of Martine Wong, Fresh Pond Reservation (FPR) Outreach & Volunteer Coordinator, and her Cambridge Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program (MSYEP) intern, Shewit. On August 6th and 7th, amidst some fanfare—kids and puppets—Martine, Shewit and other staff and volunteers released most of the butterflies that they had helped raise, under the auspices of the Water Department of the City of Cambridge, over the course of the summer.
1. Why is FPR raising butterflies for release?
Shewit: We raise Monarch butterflies every year to educate people about and show the life cycle of the butterflies and to teach the importance of milkweed to Cambridge residents so they might plant milkweed in their gardens. Milkweed is the only plant [Monarchs] lay their eggs on and eat when they are caterpillars. The Monarch butterfly is now in decline because of milkweed plants’ reduction by pesticides and because of using land for other purposes such as for pavement and farming.
Martine: There are several reasons we’re raising Monarch butterflies for release at Fresh Pond! We hope to teach people about the connection between shrinking butterfly populations and the importance of protecting wildlife habitat. We also want to show people that there are action steps they can take to protect them—you can plant milkweed and other native pollinator-friendly plants, and help to remove invasive plants such as Black Swallow-wort. Also, they are exquisitely beautiful and a joy to behold.
2. Once you received the larvae in the mail, up until this moment of releasing the full grown butterflies, what surprised you most about them?
Shewit: They eat a lot of milkweed leaves and they grow so fast.
3. If we want to help Monarchs live in our city as a whole, what can kids (and just anyone, for that matter) do to make it a welcoming place for them?
Shewit: To make a welcoming place for the Monarch butterfly is to plant enough milkweed plants in the garden, without pesticides. Once the butterfly lays her eggs, the caterpillar continues living upon the plant until it becomes a butterfly—there is no need to change things or worry about it. OR, If the person does not have garden they can raise them in the cage.
Martine: Monarch butterfly caterpillars exclusively eat milkweed – they truly depend on this plant for their survival. A sea of pesticide/herbicide-free milkweed plants for adults to lay eggs on and for caterpillars to eat would be a great welcome, along with planting native pollinator plants that can provide nectar for adult butterflies.
4. What did you learn from other Monarch projects in the United States?
Shewit: I learned some interesting facts, such as monarchs do not have eyelids and they can see UV lights. If the monarchs are in a cage, they need clean space and food because their waste is too much.
5. If we see a Monarch butterfly at Fresh Pond, will we know it’s one of the ones raised in captivity?
Martine: There’s no way of knowing if it’s one of ours! There are tagging programs for the purposes of learning more about their migration and biology. Perhaps we will try that out next year!
Find other resources about Monarch butterflies in general, and the Cambridge Water Department program in particular, on the Water Department’s Monarch Watch Page.
Find out more about the Mayor’s Summer Youth Employment Program, which partnered with more than 125 community organizations and city departments this year. Opportunities include many in sustainability and environmental fields, in addition to the internship offered at Fresh Pond Reservation and Alewife Reservation.
There is sometimes too much, or too little, simplification that goes on when “environmental education” takes hold. Starting with a single species, as Fresh Pond Reservation staff in Cambridge, Mass., will do on January 31st with “The Secret Life of White Oaks,” can make a path for kids, families, anyone, to start small and grow curious from there.
White oaks are the ones with rounded lobes on their leaves; and oaks, in general are trees that keep their leaves well into the winter.
What’s your single favorite or familiar species—the one that drew you in to a fascination with nature more broadly, or that you still hold in your mind’s eye, or that’s a talisman in everyday life? Flora or fauna notwithstanding, a single species is a direct line from the human to the natural world.
Owls visited our fair city last weekend and kids were there in droves to see them.
Licensed wildlife rehab maven and Massachusetts resident Patricia Bade (given the punchy name “Owl Woman” by her Penobscot elders before she could say “boo”) brought her un-releasable saw-whet owl and screech owl to Maynard Ecology Center for a family program on Sunday, February 9, 2014. The venerable Friends of Fresh Pond Reservation and the Cambridge Water Department sponsored the visit. Much hootin’ (the three- to seven-year-olds) and hollerin’ (the babes in arms) resounded through the halls of the center, housed in the basement of Neville Place, an assisted living community within spitting distance of Fresh Pond.
Compared to the snowy owl, these species are diminutive. Bade spread her arms to illustrate a snowy’s wingspan—five feet. She’d gotten up close and personal to an injured snowy owl brought to her recently, though it had expired upon arriving her doorstep. “She was magnificent,” reports Bade, who examined the owl afterward.
Snowy owls such as the one Bade examined have appeared in large numbers this year in Greater Boston.
The first consideration in an upswing sightings of any predator (such as the foxes seen in residential areas of North and West Cambridge earlier in the fall) must be the status of their prey population. There are multiple factors, however, behind the snapshot of what’s plentiful and what’s not in a “food web” (think food chains, intersecting) at any given time.
The Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology reported that by late November 2013,
the first wave of owls was making headlines (literally: see this article in the NYT and this article) in even the greatest metropolitan areas of the Northeast. Numerous visuals show the distribution of these movements, and one project has sought to take advantage of this unique opportunity to track the movements of these birds (check out Project SNOWStorm). It appears that a combination of factors may be responsible for this season’s invasion, but the jury is still out as to what is causing this influx. Are these movements the results of an overabundance of rodent prey items in portions of eastern Canada yielding a bumper crop of young Snowy Owls that are dispersing en masse?
Climate is also the elephant in the room.
The Cornell Lab continues,
Or is the movement we are seeing part of a much larger set of changes occurring in the Arctic related to rapidly changing climate?
Whether the elephant is merely in the room examining its cuticles rather than causing tremors we may not know. Science doesn’t allow for leapfrogging, but it does allow for educated guesses, labelled as such.
In her response to an adult asking why so many snowys showed up at Logan Airport this winter, Bade said the landscape there resembled their home turf—the tundra. There’s a little more to the story, however. These tundra mammal-predators, during the period December through April, apparently travel to openings in the Arctic sea-ice to feed on waterfowl, who are in turn using that type of environment because they can feed there. The 2013-2014 “irruption” of Hedwig and her crew at places like Logan, Kennedy, LaGuardia and Newark airports may represent a signal departure from that practice, perhaps by necessity rather than by choice.
Put yourself in Hedwig’s shoes, and wonder whether, like the itinerant snowy owls, increasing numbers of humans will need to seek something that “looks like home.” Wonder whether humans will need to take refuge from our coastal cities or our failed fields of plenty. Wonder whether, in the coming decades, human migration by necessity rather than by choice, will be on the upswing. Even if that possibility seems like something you can’t swallow—dystopia doesn’t, admittedly, go down well—keep those snows in the mind’s eye. That complexity, incorporating vast flocks of many species, the worldwide bird migration patterns interdependent on food webs; the operation of those food webs in cities, towns, rural areas—whether in airport, marshland, watershed, or suburb, it behooves adults to try to grasp a piece of this puzzle, and to get our children hootin’ and hollerin’ like owls and coyotes and slithering like snakes in the meantime.
It’s time for slow this-and-that. Slow Food. Slow Families. Slow Medicine, even.
Unplug. Be in the moment. Pay attention. But to what?
The “movement” to simplify has, in a way, come full circle. I like those nice two-word concepts, above. Actually, two-word concepts is about all I can stomach these days. A life of slogans has an appeal. As I’m getting older (and harder of hearing) a barrage of verbiage isn’t cutting it any more. Leave me alone, garrulous adolescents, repetitive whining little ones, and radio mavens. Even noncommercial radio is turning me off with the pitter-patter of its patter, so I’m turning it off. And online petitions? Here’s the checklist as it exists in the back bar-room of my mind. The list gets the same treatment as any sequence of paragraphs did in my 1979 journalism class—the whole piece has to stand on its own when the bottom paragraphs get lopped off:
Child #1 CHECK
Child #2 CHECK (If there is a third, fourth, and fifth, and so forth, they all get checked off, too)
Spouse (if applicable) CHECK
Making Meals CHECK
Paying Bills CHECK
Laundry NOT SO MUCH
Sleep, Hygiene, Doctor Appts, Downtime—that whole shebang SURE, BUT HIGHLY VARIABLE
Wait a minute, what was that last one? Should that even be on my list at all, even at the bottom?
See, I think, in all of this urgency to be “slow” and to return to the basics, something else basic is missing. Not something, two things.
You can’t be “Slow” if you’re trying to make ends meet.
Not slow in that aged cheese, hand-packed lunch for the kids sort of way, not if getting to work, keeping up with bills or getting work is out of reach.
You can’t be “Slow” if it’s a shortcut to the sidelines.
In Chutes and Ladders, and in Candy Land, you have NO CONTROL over your destiny. Are these the games we want our kids to learn? Because they need to learn the cardinal rule that you have NO CONTROL over whether you get socked with the “Plumpy” second-rate hard candy or end up shacking up with “King Kandy” at the Candy Castle.
I like aged cheese and hand-canning and growing my own parsley just as much as the next person (on the cheese front—maybe more, sorry to say). But as I’m bushwhacking through the vines of parenthood (think Little Shop of Horrors) and feeling sorry for myself way too often for the emotional and physical ramifications of being a “mature mother”—a phrase I never use even in my own head because it’s simply an awful euphemism, but I’ll use it now anyway because SLOW JOURNALISM at this moment means just-in-time-ranting, aka unedited and unexpurgated and the mature mother thing is an epithet—I’m unable to lop off that very last thing with my wicked cool mom-ninja-machete.
That last thing on the list is so—I don’t know, so—overwhelming as to be farcical. It’s like World Peace. Yeah, I’m going to work for world peace—by grabbing my kids who are screaming and trying to maim each other over something someone took from someone else’s room when the rule is you can’t go in someone else’s room without permission.
No, that last thing had to do with global warming, had to do with not only the messed-up politics in the country but the entire economy and actually the entire planet. Mother Earth.
Ideas and facts aren’t bad just because we acquire them via social media. As a parent and self-teaching nature club guide* I’ll take what I can get from the Internet. Here’s an example. So am I a host or a parasite in the digital food chain?
*I’ve been calling myself a “leader” of the club I started for elementary kids. but that’s because, in addition to “teacher,” it’s what the other spunworgs** seem to expect. But I think I’m ditching that. “Leader” is girlscoutspeak. (Let me tell you sometime about my research on the scouting movement in mid-20th century Botswana. But not here.) Point is, I actually don’t lead the kids; they tend to lead me.
**I hope my twelve-year-old never outgrows her capacity to speak backwards. She’s been a happy contributor to our family-specific lexicon. I bet you’ve got an FSL, too. You do know adolescents have always been a fundamental contributor to language change, throughout human history, don’t you? You may love or hate particular neologisms (I got me some humdingers I love to hate), but do not a Luddite be on slang as a whole.
Somerville Climate Action, Rep. Denise Provost and The Growing Center present a free film:
MOTHER NATURE’S CHILD
Mother Nature’s Child explores nature’s powerful role in children’s health and development through the experience of children of all ages.
The film marks a moment in time when a living generation can still recall a childhood of free play outdoors; this will not be true for most children growing up today. The effects of “nature deficit disorder” are now being noted across the country in epidemics of child obesity, attention disorders, and depression.
Discussion of how to keep city kids connected to nature will follow the film.
WHAT ART THOU, LITTLE BIRD?
Developmental Mechanisms for the Origin and Evolution of Birds
Lecture by Arkhat Abzhanov, Associate Professor of Organismic and Evolutionary Biology, Harvard University
THURSDAY, JANUARY 31, 6:00 pm
We might think robins are simply a common backyard bird, but actually they represent one of the most unusual, successful, and abundant animals (the order Aves) in Earth’s history. The new science of evolutionary developmental biology (“evo-devo”) sheds fascinating light on the evolution of birds’ highly distinct skulls with toothless beaks, and on how modern birds can generate a seemingly endless array of beak shapes.
Winter hike on Saturday, February 2nd at the Stony Brook Reservation.
BNAN staff, Jessica Mink from the Friends of Stony Brook Reservation and DCR rangers will guide you through the winter landscape. On our hunt for signs of wildlife in winter we will visit a newly planted orchard and explore a new garden site within the reservation. So much to explore and lots of opportunities for wildlife discovery throughout. We will have hot cocoa available at the end of the hike. ,