Winter Ways – Activities

FOCUS: Of the four seasons in the year, winter is the most difficult for living things.  Temperatures are often cold, days are shorter, the ground is frozen and covered with snow, and there is a dearth of food for many creatures. Each animal species has evolved a survival strategy, and plants overwinter in different ways as well. The dried seed heads of winter weeds provide a welcome source of food for many animals.

INTRODUCTION: SIGNS OF SEASONS
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about winter compared to other seasons.

Have children work in small groups, and give each team a large, poster-sized sheet of paper with a 12” circle drawn in the middle. Give each group a set of Winter Ways Seasons cards. Have children look at and discuss the pictures with each other and consider which season(s) their cards depict. Have them place the cards on the circle to show seasonal events that occur over a year. Some pictures could fall in more than one season. (If needed, consult the Seasons Cards Key.) For younger children, you may wish to and mark the four seasons on the circle and give each group a smaller selection of cards.

Materials: for each group: a set of Winter Ways Seasons cards with captions, large, poster-sized piece of paper with a 12” circle drawn in the middle; Optional: Seasons Cards Key.

UPPER GRADES CHALLENGE: Antifreeze Tests (Grades 5-6)
Objective: To investigate the effect of different dissolved substances on the freezing of water.

Many animals build up high concentrations of sugars in their cells in preparation for winter. How do dissolved substances affect the way water freezes? How could we test this? Continue reading Winter Ways – Activities

Sugar Maples – Activities

FOCUS:  The combination of warm days and cold nights in early spring reawakens maple trees and starts the sap flowing. This yearly event in the life cycle of a maple tree provides sugar makers with the sap needed to produce maple syrup. Even without leaves, sugar maples can be recognized by their bark, twigs, and buds, so we know we are tapping the right trees.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about maple sugaring.

Pass out a sugar maple twig to each child, and ask children to observe and describe their twigs.

Materials: sugar maple twigs, one for each child; magnifying lenses.

TWIG DETECTIVES
Objective: To observe patterns of similarities and differences among a variety of winter twigs, and learn the special characteristics of sugar maple twigs.

Ahead of time, cut fresh twigs from sugar maple and three or four other opposite-branching trees (e.g. ash, red maple, silver maple, Norway maple, ash-leaf maple), enough so that there is one for each child. In addition, cut a fresh twig from an alternate-branching tree (e.g. elm, beech, poplar). Continue reading Sugar Maples – Activities

Trees in Winter – Activities

FOCUS: Winter trees may look dead, but concealed in their buds are the beginnings of next year’s shoots, leaves, and flowers. Food is scarce in our winter woods, and for many animals the twigs, buds, and bark of dormant trees provide a welcome source of nutrition. Animals have no trouble recognizing which trees make the best meals, but for us identifying trees when their leaves are gone requires a close look and attention to detail, the skills of a good detective.

INTRODUCTION: TWIG QUESTIONS
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about trees in winter.

Ahead of time, cut twigs from a variety of trees including some that have alternate branching (e.g. elm, beech, oak, poplar) and some that have opposite branching (red maple, sugar maple, and ash). Make sure to cut twigs so they are long enough to show at least two years’ worth of growth. With maple and ash twigs, pick those that show opposite branching rather than just opposite bud scars, as these can be hard for children to see. Pass out a twig and a magnifying lens to each child. Ask them what they notice about the twigs. Also, what do they wonder about them? Make lists of their observations and questions on the board. Collect the twigs to use again later for Twig Dress-up and the journal activity.

Materials: variety of twigs showing at least two years of growth (one for each child), magnifying lenses.

A BRANCH THROUGH THE SEASONS
Objective: To model the yearly cycle of growth and change in a tree branch.

Divide the class into groups of six to eight children with an adult leader. Give each child a Branch through the Seasons card showing a stage of twig development on an American beech branch. Continue reading Trees in Winter – Activities

Galls Galore – Activities

FOCUS:  Odd bumps and lumps on twigs, buds, and weed stalks might be galls, swellings on plants that are homes for an insect, mite, or other organism. A gall-maker causes its particular host plant to form a bulge in which it will live and feed for a time. Galls on buds, twigs, roots, or leaves of plants provide a safe home for the gall-makers and are an essential part of their life cycles.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about galls.

Ahead of time, collect a selection of goldenrod stems with goldenrod ball galls on them. Make sure to cut the stems so they are long enough to show the gall(s) and the seed head at the top of the stalk. Pass out a goldenrod ball gall and magnifying lens to each child, and ask children to observe and describe their gall.

Materials: ball gall on a goldenrod stem of either tall goldenrod (Solidago altissima) or late goldenrod (Solidago gigantea), one for each child; magnifying lenses.

THAT’S MY GALL
Objective: To make observations and ask questions about goldenrod ball galls.

Using the goldenrod stalks from the Introduction, encourage children to look closely at their galls. You may wish to prompt their investigation with these questions: Continue reading Galls Galore – Activities

Songbird Songs – Activities

FOCUS: The singing of birds tells us that springtime has arrived. Songbirds use song to defend a territory and to attract a mate. In addition, shorter calls communicate information about danger and food. With their voices, birds can converse with each other over large distances and in dense vegetation. As we learn to recognize different bird songs and calls, we can begin to understand what they are saying to each other.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about songbird songs.

Take children outside, and ask them to close their eyes to listen to songbird songs and calls. Ask children to silently keep count on their fingers each time they hear a new bird, and to gesture to the location where they heard it.

SOUNDING THE HOUR
Objective: To model how each songbird species has a particular song and preferred time to sing.

Give each pair of children a Sounding the Hour card showing a bird and the words to its song. As a group, practice all the different songs on the cards. Continue reading Songbird Songs – Activities

Dandelions – Activities

FOCUS: Dandelion flowers serve the same function as all other flowers: to produce seeds for the next generation. Whether you consider them wildflowers or weeds, these hardy plants are here to stay, and they provide an important food source for birds, bees, and other animals. We’ll dissect simple flowers to see how seeds develop and compare these to the complex structure of dandelions. Outside, it’s easy to find examples of dandelions in all stages of development and get a first-hand view of the progression from flower bud to fluffy white seed head. You and the wind can help spread their parachute seeds far and wide.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about dandelions.

Give each small group of children a variety of flowers, including a dandelion, and ask children to talk about what they notice about the different flowers.

Materials: an assortment of flowers, including dandelions; magnifying lenses.

FLOWERY PARTS
Objective: To investigate a flower’s structure, sorting the parts and looking for patterns of similarities and differences.

Give each pair of children a simple flower, such as a Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), daffodil*, or tulip, and a magnifying lens. It is helpful if everyone has the same kind of flower. Continue reading Dandelions – Activities

Flowers to Fruit – Activities

FOCUS: Flowers come in all shapes and sizes, but they all serve the same function: to produce seeds. We’ll look at the insides of flowers to see how seeds develop and compare different kinds of flowers and their structures. To make seeds, flowers need to be pollinated. Some do this with the help of the wind and others with the help of animals, like hummingbirds, moths, beetles, and especially bees.

INTRODUCTION
Objective: To begin to explore and ask questions about flowers and fruit.

Give each small group of children a variety of flowers, and ask children to talk about what they notice about the different flowers.

Materials: an assortment of flowers, magnifying lenses

FLOWERY PARTS
Objective: To investigate a flower’s structure, sorting the parts and looking for patterns of similarities and differences.

Give each pair of children a simple flower, such as a Peruvian lily (Alstroemeria), daffodil*, or tulip, and a magnifying lens. It is helpful if everyone has the same kind of flower to begin with. Continue reading Flowers to Fruit – Activities