Cultivate Wonder

Exploring Science with Children

Encouraging Fledglings

Every year I introduce birdwatching to families in our Wonderworks (STEAM) Storytime ) and encourage them to participate in the Great Backyard Bird Count. This year’s bird count is this weekend — February 12-15, 2016 — which is a long weekend for many people. My  interest stems from my family’s experience of participating in Project Feederwatch, in which you count birds in your yard over a series of months (November-April). The Great Backyard Bird Count is a great introduction to citizen science as it requires only a very brief time commitment. It takes place over four days, but you can count just once, just for 15 minutes, or every day. You can count on a visit to a park or on a wintery hike, or in your backyard. Sponsored by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology (the same folks as sponsor project Feederwatch) the Audubon Society, and Bird Studies Canada. It’s grown into a global phenomenon, as you can see from a map showing last year’s participants, who counted over 8 million individual birds.gbbc-2015This year they are encouraging experienced birdwatchers to introduce young people (fledglings) to birdwatching — to take the pledge to fledge. It’s easy to join in this worldwide phenomenon — instructions and bird guides are available online.

In storytime, I read Simon James The Birdwatchers and About Birds: A Guide for Children by Catherine Sill, illustrated by John Sill (2nd editon; Peachtree Publishers, 2013)About birds

Next the children made birdfeeders with paper towel rolls, crisco, and birdseed.

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I also introduced children to the Merlin Bird Identification app (free, iOS & Android) which helps identify birds. It is very child-friendly, requiring very little reading. The app asks for the size of bird, then gives a range for them to choose from. It ask for up to 3 colors spotted, and where the bird was seen (on the ground, at a feeder, in flight). After a few questions, the app returns a list of possible birds sighted. IMG_9196

 

For each bird, it includes bird calls as well. We identified one bird together  — I told them I had seen one on my way into work that day. I had four iPads with the apps for them to experiment with, with their grownup’s help. Some used a bird book to test out the app; others used the Great Backyard Bird Count poster to see if they could identify the bird depicted (a nuthatch!)

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The interaction between parents and children was genuine and all seemed to really enjoy the activity — one even downloaded it for their phone before leaving the program!

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Why don’t you try out Merlin & join the world in counting birds this weekend? It’s fun and easy and you’ll be contributing to science!

 

 

 

 

 

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How do penguins stay warm in winter?

It’s all about the feathers . . .

I began by showing the children a globe and asking if they knew what it was. The verbal response was “the earth!” and I supplied the word “globe.” I asked where they lived and showed them Ohio on the globe and pointed out that Ohio is in the Northern Hemisphere, or top half, of the globe. Penguins live in the south, and though we usually think of the south as warm, penguins live soooo far south that it is cold. I pointed out the southern tips of Africa and South America where some penguins (like the one in today’s story live) before showing them Antarctica at the bottom.

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Then I read the rhyming, nonfiction picture book Pierre the Penguin: A True Story by Jean Marzollo (Sleeping Bear Press, 2010). This story is full of a child appeal — a penguin who loses his feathers and so can’t swim and is shunned by other penguins, until a female biologist thinks of creating a wetsuit to help Pierre. There’s even a video of Pierre: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=293bHffb4QE.

Next it was time for our experiment. We made a circle and then passed around a cube of ice — brrr! it was cold. Then I passed a cube of ice in a dish and a sandwich size plastic bag filled with feathers. They used the feather-filled bag to pick up the piece of ice . . . and discovered it wasn’t cold! So that’s how birds keep warm in the winter . . . feathers!

We hopped around to Johnette Downing’s “Rockhopper Penguin” song from Fins and Grins, with kids choosing to swim, glide, dive, or even slide on their bellies, in addition to much hopping.

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Then we “read” Molly Idle’s Flora and the Penguin, a wordless book. Children took turns describing the action and the mood (very important in this one) of the story.

The art activity was creating penguins out of different shapes of construction paper I provided: black and white ovals, orange and black triangles. I also provided a sheet with different kinds of penguins — we talked about how small Pierre is (African penguins are 18″ tall) and compared his height to that of an Emperor Penguin (up to 48″ tall). We looked at how some penguins have a few distinctive feathers or markings — like the Rockhopper Penguin in the song. I love the variety of details that the children came up with, all starting with the same few materials:

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Pierre the Penguin is on the RIF’s STEAM Multicultural Booklist for 2012-13, which is a wonderful resource for parents, teachers, and librarians. Books on the list have activities suggested (including the ice one I did today) and great handouts for parents.

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Wild about Wombats

diaryofawombatEver since I read Jackie French’s Diary of a Wombat (Clarion, 2003), I’ve been wild about wombats. On a recent visit to the Columbus Zoo, I discovered that they are now home to a wombat, Glen, one of very few zoos outside Australia to have one, as they are very closely regulated (rightly so.) And young Glen is just as adorable as Mothball, charmingly drawn by Bruce Whatley in French’s books. Though Wildlights is one of the main reasons people visit the zoo on a cold evening in December, another great bonus is that the animals in the nocturnal house are awake. Somehow we even lucked into arriving just before feeding time. IMG_2094

As the caretaker entered Glen’s enclosure with a handful of carrots, the little wombat stopped digging and gave all his attention to him, ears swiveling alertly forward. When the person stopped, Glen trotted over eagerly (wombats are actually pretty fast runners as it turns out!) So we saw Glen dig, scratch and roll in the dust, and eat carrots . . . just like the wombat of the book. You can see Glen in this video from the zoo: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UJHX_8YvbMs

All of this wombat fascination inspired a wombat storytime. I brought in a globe and began by showing the children where Ohio was and then where Australia is. We talked about the several unique animals that are found in Australia: kangaroos, koalas, and wombats.

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In addition to Diary of a Wombat, I shared Carol Diggory Shields’ Wombat Walkabout (Dutton, 2009). with its’ whimsical illustrations by Sophie Blackall.

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In adapting this program for a slightly younger audience, I’m planning to use one of Charles Fuge’s wombat stories.

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Other books include Michael Morpugo’s Wombat Goes Walkabout (HarperCollins, 1999)

one-very-tired-wombat-by-renee-treml-soft-cover.jpgand Renee Treml’s One Very Tired Wombat (Random House, 2013).

Songs included “Here Comes a Bear” by the Wiggles, which does include a wombat in one of the verses. Other than the bear, the animals mentioned are Australian, and children can act out the motions with the song (the kangaroo hops, snake slithers, and wombat crawls).

We learned how wombats are called “nature’s bulldozers” because of their incredible capacity for digging and the large tunnels they dig (again, just like in French’s book, where the wombat digs several holes, including one right up under the human’s house!) We watched a BBC video where the reporter actually goes into a wombat’s tunnel before designing our

own wombat tunnels.

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This craft uses two paper plates and turns so that the tunnel below the ground can be revealed. Children had fun playing a hide and seek type game with the wombat.

wombatcovnRead more about the real Mothball, the inspiration for Diary of a Wombat, on Jackie French’s site: http://www.jackiefrench.com/wombat.html

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Going Batty @ the Library

You can warm up your audience (depending on their age!) with a few batty riddles:

What bat do you find at the circus?

An acro-bat!

Why did the little bat want to get a job?

He was tired of just hanging around.

 Which bat knows it’s ABC’s?

The alpha-bat!

 Little Bumblebee Bat is a just about perfect non-fiction book to introduce bats to a preschool audience. It is in question and answer format, the text is straightforward, short and informative, and appealing illustrations add to the interest.

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Bats Are Sleeping
(tune: Frere Jacques)

Bats are sleeping
Bats are sleeping
Upside down.
Upside down.
Waiting for the night to come,
Waiting for the night to come,
Then they’ll fly around.
Then they’ll fly around.

I’ve sung this several times with kids, but this is the first time that I’ve had kids act it out to the point of lying down and putting their legs in the air to pretend to sleep upside down!upsidedown

 

Song/Video: “Doing the Batty Bat” and counting bats with Count von Count from Sesame Street:

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 Bat Loves the Night by Nicola Davies is a wonderful non-fiction picture book.

Additional books you could use are Stellaluna by Janell Cannon, Bats in the Library by Brian Lies, and Bat Jamboree by Kathi Appelt.

Next we  did a night/day game activity about bats. I held up one sign that said “night” with a picture of a moon and the children  flew around like bats and when I showed the other sign that said “day” they curled up (as upside down as they could get!), wrapped their arms (wings) around themselves and pretended they were sleeping.

 We also played a sonar game so they can understand what it is like to “see” with their ears. One child is the bat and wears a  blindfold.  All the other kids are the insects (bat food).  The bat went “beep, beep” and the insects went “buzz, buzz” and if the bat caught the insects she sent them to the bat cave.

We finished with a black bat craft.batcraft

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Fabulous Frogs

Last week in Wonderworks, we learned about all things frog, including the froggy diet, the froggy life cycle, and the major differences between frogs and toads.

After stretching our bodies with our Energy song, by Nancy Stewart, we introduced our topic with some fact cards (from a power point that we created). What Are Frogs

Next, we all practiced our counting and singing skills, using our Five Speckled Frogs flannel board.

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For our nonfiction book selection, we read The Trouble with Tadpoles : a First Look at the Life Cycle of a Frog, by Sam Godwin.  This book using cartoon-like illustrations to introduce the life cycle of a frog.

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Our picture book selection was Curious George, Tadpole Trouble, adaptation by Mark London Williams, which also helped the children to understand the unique transformations that frogs undergo throughout their early lives.

After our non-fiction book, we did The Bossy Frog Song, a fun song with motions which we found on YouTube.

 

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After our books, we did a fun facts activity about the differences between frogs and toads. Before this activity, we explained the primary differences between frogs and toads.  For example, frogs have long hind leg and toads have short hind legs;  frogs are smooth and toads are bumpy; etc. For this activity, each child got her own set of craft sticks with a frog and toad.  We then stated things about either the frog or the toad, and when we were describing a frog, the children raised their frog sticks; when we were describing toads, children raised their toad sticks.

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Another fun activity that we’ve included in the past as an extension of our “frogs vs toads” lesson is to practice hopping like a toad versus leaping like a frog.  We did not have time for this activity last week, but it is definitely a fun way to help children to remember one of the key differences between frogs and toads.

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For our activities last week, we created lily pads with numbers 1-10 and letters a-z that the children could hop on around the room.  The children also got to use their artistic abilities to create their own frog face.

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Spiders are *not* Insects!

Spiders have eight legs. Insects have six.  Spiders are *not* insects. This is one of a variety of things we learned during our spider-themed Wonderworks.

We opened this storytime with a funny, yet educational, YouTube video from Sesame Street, which features actor Jim Parsons and a large spider-shaped muppet, both trying to explain the definition of “arachnid.”

Our nonfiction book selection was Spiders Are Not Insects, by Allan Fowler.  This Rookie Read-About Science book uses color photos and simple text to teach facts about spiders and to illustrate the differences between spiders and insects.  It also shows several popular varieties of spiders – large and small, poisonous and non-poisonous.  Although physically small, this book series rarely fails to keep the children interested and engaged.

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After our book, we acted out the rhyme, Little  Miss Muffet a few times, hooking our thumbs together and wiggling our eight fingers around to make our spiders. We also discussed how spiders were not insects but rather arachnids.  To help us remember the word “arachnid,” we clapped out the each of the three syllables as pronounced it.

RhymeLittle Miss Muffet

Little Miss Muffet

Sat on a tuffet

Eating her curds and whey

Along came a spider

Who sat down beside her

And frightened Miss Muffet away!

After our rhyme, we read the picture book Aaaarrgghh! Spider!, by Lydia Monks, a fun story about a spider who wants to be a family pet.

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Next, we sang Sharon, Lois, and Bram’s song, The Eensy Weensy Spider from their Great Big Hits cd.

For our activities, we made paper plate spider webs and Styrofoam egg carton spiders with eight little pipe cleaner legs.

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This one’s for the birds!

In a recent STEM storytime we explored birds you might see in your own backyard this winter. We read Simon James’ The Birdwatchers, in which a little girl goes birdwatching with her grandfather.

We found out more about birds in Carol Lerner’s Backyard Birds of Winter and from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources’ Birding in Ohio site.

Another great book for budding scientists is Citizen Scientists: Be a Part of Scientific Discovery From Your Own Backyard by Loree Griffin Burns, which has a different project for each season of the year (and includes birdwatching for winter.)

You can be a citizen scientist this weekend by participating in the Great Backyard Bird Count, February 15-18. It’s easy enough that kids can participate too — it’s free, fun, and you’ll be sharing your sightings with others around the world. Last year 17.4 million birds were counted!

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