Monday, November 22, 2010

Toddler Activities, Fall Crafts

I didn’t think we were watching television all that much. She took to YoGabba Gabba very early and it has been a life saver while I get ready in the morning or make dinner. Lately I have been turning on the T.V. in the morning. Usually Jack’s Big Music Show is on and she sits nicely in her pink squishy chair watching tv, eating cereal and fruit while I make coffee, an “egglish muffin” (So I call ‘em) and get some clothes on. Then I dress her and we head out the door. If she wont nap then she is in my arms nurse-napping while I eat lunch and watch my shows (Food Network most of the time). With the cold weather lately and Lottie determined to nurse and wiggle in my arms for 3 hours, instead of napping, we’ve had the television on for a good part of the afternoon.

Recently while at a playgroup, I found her comfortably perched in the pillows of the couch pointing to the television “T! T!”, she says. And in the morning, “Hi mommy, hi daddy, T! T! T!.”

We Have Got To Find activities that can keep both of our attention during the day, keep us away from the TV and Keep my mind off the things I think I need to go out and purchase. We have a lot on our schedule already. Monday- playgroup, Tuesday- errands or Tot Yoga, Wednesday- Library music time, Thursday- Baby Yoga, Friday- playground or something. We’ve done critter classes, swim classes, & I’m looking into more music time. With as much as we go-go-go, I really don’t want to GO anywhere else.

So, I’m looking into toddler activities, and the kind of schedule preschools keep. I love staying at home with Lottie-- we have flexibility, I get to see her develop right before my eyes, and it’s fun (most of the time). We read a lot, play outside, color everyday and have tried a few craft projects, but we need more, much more to keep our attention.

My plan is to post the toddler activities, crafts and other semi-structured activities we try-- fun or flop. 

Painted Leaves- After purchasing finger paints and jumbo brushes we tried some painting outside. Seeing the dogwood leaves on the ground I grabbed some and tried to paint and stamp them on the paper. (It didn’t work to well). The paint was too thick and the ground was too uneven to press the leaves, it was a mess and Lottie was done with the project at the height of my experimentation and messiness.
I tried it again recently with a hard surface, a thin coat of paint and some nice pressure on the leaf. 
Voila! Pretty pressed fall goodness.

Wrapping Paper
Anytime I get the paints or crayons out we color up some old paper bags. My plan is to use these as wrapping paper for Christmas gifts. This week I forgot my reusable bags, had to get more Publix brown bags and noticed they have a large dove on one side for the holidays, so I cut the dove out and have been using the negative as a stencil. The positive may get painted and stamped like the leaves above. 

Fallen Leaves Wreath / Center Piece.
This project is a conglomeration of several activities I have come across looking for something to do with the pretty fall leaves in our neighborhood.

First we took a walk and gathered leaves. I had a big pail and Lottie had her own pail, which was promptly dumped with a “Yay!” when entered our yard, but that’s o.k. because it was mostly filled with dirt and rocks.

We painted the edges of the paper plates in fall colors. These are going to be the base for the wreath. Egg cartons make great paint trays. When doing crafts I try not to do Lottie’s project, instead I do my own craft next to her-- lead by example, but still have one beautiful little mess of her own creation. 

We like to paint outside only so our mess is limited. I read that a project should not take longer to setup than it does to complete. Well, when you have a toddler it takes a bit to get changed, tape down protection paper, get the paints, brushes and other materials set up, only to have her make a couple strokes then go running after the kitty! Think in 5-10 minute sections when planning out craft projects.

The leaves get pressed between two sheets of wax paper during nap time. Put an old rag down, wax paper, leaves, wax paper then another rag. Press with an iron. No steam. Don’t slide or press too hard until the edges are sealed. I was going to cut the leaves leaving a seamed edge but I didn’t like the opaqueness (I was expecting a laminated look). Instead I peeled the wax paper off the leaves, with the wax transferred onto the leaf. I’m not looking for product that lasts forever, but hope the wax will preserve the leaves a little longer.

Glue leaves to the plates. Put glue down then let the little ones stick the leaves any which way they please or have them point to where they want the leaves. We did pointing and placing for our googly eyed pumpkin too.

Cut the center of the plates. For a wreath punch 2 holes in the top and hang with ribbon or place pillar candles to make a festive centerpiece. Since Lottie painted the center of her plate and not edges, hers is a festive wall hanging. Grandma will love it. 

Hints: Next time I will not bother with the wax paper. The heat caused some of the prettiest leaves to turn brown and I’m not sure that it will actually preserve them for longer. Also, I would place the paper plates right side up to paint the edges, this way if you want to put a candle in the middle for center piece there is no need for cutting and the plate will catch any wax drippings.

Hey Teachers,

Why do leaves change color in the fall?
Here is an excerpt from Science Made Simple:

Plants make their food using sunlight and something called chlorophyll. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color.
Winter days are short and dry. Many plants stop making food in the fall. The chlorophyll goes away. Then we can see orange and yellow colors. These colors were in the leaves all summer, but the green covered them up.
Some leaves turn red. This color is made in the fall, from food trapped in the leaves.

Here are some Project Learning Tree activities.

What? What? You haven’t attended a 6 hour PLT workshop to receive this excellent activity workbook? Have no fear! I am a trained Project Learning Tree Facilitator and I am willing to host a workshop late spring/ early fall in the Tallahassee area if there is interest. Are you interested? Are your friends or homeschool network interested? Contact me and let me know what dates work best for you.

Why are some species called by their common name and some by their scientific name?

Take the Berania Daggerwing Butterfly for example. In my last blog, I mentioned the species Marpesia berania by scientific name and that it sleeps in groups on a leaf. To find the common name, I had to search for it.

In Wikipedia I found this:
Some common butterflies and moths in Costa Rica include:
This didn't make any sense to me-- “Why are some species called by their common name, and some their scientific name?”, I pondered out loud. Hubby says “Blog number 2?” I’ll need to do some research for this…
My theory is that it is preference, like the difference between one of your friends insisting on being called by his formal name, Fredrick, all the time while your other friend likes to be called Zap, which is a shortened version of his last name. (I don’t know people of these names, I just made that up).

I did ask a few semi-specialists what they thought. Common names vary from place to place mostly because early settlers and natives used descriptive terms, naming things by identifying physical and behavioral characteristics. They needed to name plants they used for food, medicine, building, tools and those which are poisonous. Some plants and animals have several common names and a few have the same common names as other species in different regions. Common names can get confusing sometimes and since the genus name or species name is usually unique and less likely to be similar to common names, biologist sometimes get into the habit of communicating with one part of the scientific name as it can be easier than the full scientific name. Thus, a commonly used genus or species.

HINT: I have always had problems remembering scientific names, even some common names of plant species for that matter, until someone told me that they remember species by introducing themselves, like you would to a person. Use the name several times while having a ‘conversation’ with the species or recalling its unique attributes and then you will know the species. Once it is your friend, you are more likely to remember its name. J

I found a great site from the University of Michigan called Animal Diversity Web.
They also have a kid’s site called BioKIDS.
ADW says, every recognized species on earth (at least in theory) is given a two-part scientific name. This system is called "binomial nomenclature." These names are important because they allow people throughout the world to communicate unambiguously about animal species. This works because there are sets of international rules about how to name animals. Zoologists try to avoid naming the same thing more than once, though this does sometimes happen. These naming rules mean that every scientific name is unique.
Scientific names are also designed to tell you something about the animal's relationships with other animals. The scientific name of each species is made up of a generic name (genus) and a specific name (species).  Species that share the same generic epithet are closely related to each other, more than to any other species.

As with common names, scientific names can be:
Descriptive, suggesting something about the animal.
Bear the name of people who were instrumental in discovering or describing the species
Refer to regions where the species are found.
Reflect the common names given to these animals by native peoples.

My now educated theory is that in this particular case with the Daggerwing Butterfly, Marpesia berania, there must be several common names for this particular species, or the commonly used name is also used to describe different butterflies. Therefore, to identify the correct butterfly one must use the scientific name.

Hey Teachers,

Here is a compilation of middle grade activities and discussion questions about scientific names, identification, classification and dichotomous keys.

Using a dichotomous key
From The Florida Department of Environmental Protection, Office of Environmental Education

Making a dichotomous key

Mapping Common Names.

Social Science:
Discussion Question: International rules for naming species.
Why is it important to have a universal system? Why do we use Latin systems?
These are also good questions to ask the students when studying the metric system.

A week long lesson plan. Students research several plants or animals then give multimedia presentations. I particularly like the extension questions.

Writing and Art
Design, create and name your own fish species
Scroll down to activity 5-2; a post activity to USF Fish ecology lesson 5


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Mapping Common Names

Start with this discussion question: How can common names cause confusion?

Some fish have several common names that are different thru out the world. Black Marlin is a good example. Butterfish is an example of one common name that can be used for many different species.

·        Go to Fishwise
·        Type in Black Marlin in the common names,
o       click on the scientific name Makaira indica this will give you a complete description of the fish.
·        Scroll down to common names and you will see many different common names as well as the country location of the fish.
·        Print out a list of the common names with location and give the students a world map.
·        The students should locate the country and label the commonly used name of the fish.
·        Their maps should look similar to the map at the bottom of the fish description page.

·        ***The goal of this activity is not to memorize the many common names of a particular fish and where they are used. The objectives are as follows:
o       Locate countries and label a world map
o       Explain why scientific names are important for communication about a species around the world.

This activity is basic. Please tailor it to your needs and align it with your own standards. This idea can be used with any other species of fish from Fishwise or any species plant/animal that you can obtain a variety of common names with locations. For younger children pick 5 or 6 common names located in the North America.

I would love to know how you used it in, or out of the classroom.


Monday, October 25, 2010

Where DO Butterflies Sleep?

Where DO butterflies sleep? They aren’t around at night, they must go somewhere. I am not an expert on butterflies but I have learned that butterflies do not actually ‘sleep’. Butterflies are cold blooded, so they need the sun’s warmth to keep their activity levels up. When it is dark or cloudy they become inactive, close their wings and rest. Most will find a safe place like the underside of a leaf, in a tree, or a rock crevice.

Butterflies will also warm themselves on rocks or hanging out on bushes during the day. Someone once told me that some butterflies’ wings like the Gulf Fritillary have silvery, shiny undersides that act like solar panels capturing the sun’s warmth.

Safety in numbers:
According to, most butterflies sleep alone, but there are also species that sleep in groups. Poisonous butterflies have a particular smell that protects them better when they sleep together.
One species from Costa Rica whose scientific name is Marpesia berania sleeps in groups on leaves. If one butterfly of the group is disturbed, it opens its wings and touches its neighbors. Being touched, they open their wings as well and so the whole group is informed about the danger and can escape together.


Millions of Monarchs rest together on trees as they over winter in Central Mexico. It’s a pretty cool sight. I have only seen in pictures.

We went to the Monarch Festival this Saturday at St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. In Tallahassee, the monarchs usually arrive with the first cold front. These incredible butterflies are one of the longest lived butterfly species. They can live up to nine months, plenty of time to make the fall migration to Mexico and over winter. In the spring their offspring make the journey back up north.

Since the festival is a predetermined weekend each year, instead of bushes covered in butterflies there were only a few here and there. But that didn’t stop us from learning and having fun!

We met some new friends, saw some old, cruised with the top down through the reserve (Lottie loved it!), saw butterflies get tagged, got tagged ourselves, made some crafts and of course ate some good’ol Bradley’s Sausage.

Hey, Teachers. 
Here is a compilation of elementary/secondary activities about butterflies. October is a great month to use butterflies as learning content.

Science – The life cycle of the butterfly
Glorious Butterfly elementary lesson plans

Math –  Rate of pollination per type of flower.
Simply, have the students watch a particular plant and within a set amount of time count the pollinators and perhaps keep track of the different types of pollinators. Do this for several different plants in your butterfly garden or school yard.

This pollination field activity from Florida DEP (I used to work in the  FDEP Office of Environmental Education and helped create these, so you will be seeing a lot of links to their labs) is for Middle School students but could be tweaked for elementary students.

Geography - Mapping migration patterns.
Give the children a map of the North America without the migration patterns on it and have them mark specific known resting or ‘fly through’ spots for fall migration in one color then for spring in another color. Draw the migration lines with arrows. See migration route.

Social Science - Talk about protecting Trees for Monarchs.
Engage the students with questions -- Why do the butterflies need these trees? Why do the trees need to be protected? Learn about the Mexico, La Cruz Habitat Protection Project.

Reading - There are so many wonderful, biologically correct butterfly books available. Monarch Butterfly of Aster Way (A Smithsonian's Backyard book) is one of my favorites. Ours came with a butterfly puppet.  

Writing - Journal migration patterns
There is a journal prompt at the end of the Pollination Lab from DEP. Here is another one for you; it can be tweaked to any grade level.
Monarchs travel a great distance to reach their wintering location. Think about the adventures and obstacles the butterfly overcomes during the trip.  Before you begin writing, imagine you are a monarch making the voyage. Describe the trip in journal form. Don’t forget to include the date of each entry, flight path from location to location, the food you eat, predators you elude, and friends you might meet.

Art - Who doesn’t like to make butterflies out of pipe cleaners and tissue paper?!!!
Make finger puppets out of felt, finger paint, make an anatomically correct monarch (or your favorite, mine is the Black Swallowtail) out of construction paper, or make cardboard wearable wings if you want. I know you are creative, so go crazy on this one.

Here are some printable butterfly coloring pages.

Happy butterflying!