Friday, May 11, 2012

Backyard Science

Who needs an expensive science curriculum when you have the woods in your backyard? Not us! Well... sorta. I DO have a first grade science text that I bought so that I could make sure I am covering all of the material I am supposed to, but I only use it as a guide.  I love biology, so it is natural for me to share that love and passion with my kids. Here are the things we have learned this year from spending time in our backyard and being good observers.

1. What do squirrels like to eat? Are they good climbers? Can they hang upside down? Are they smart? The answers? Take a look...

OBVIOUSLY, this squirrel likes to eat birdseed. He climbed up the slats on our deck to get to the bird feeder and then hung himself upside down for about 20 minutes without a problem. Smart? I think it's pretty ingenious. We have watched other squirrels reach up to swing the bird feeder to get seed out, but I think that this squirrel was by far the smartest. Once I went outside, he scampered off into the woods and up a tree, where he was hard to find. That led to a conversation about animal camouflage.

2. What kind of animals live in our area? What do they look like? How do they move? What do they sound like? Take a look...

Say hello to "Hopper," the friendly little toad that Katie captured the other day. This led to conversations about why you should never kiss a frog or toad (found out later that this one secretes a chemical that can irritate mucous membranes), why you should wash your hands well after picking one up, and the difference between frogs and toads. We also have been working on animal classification, so this opened up a conversation about amphibians. I always take pictures of the animals we find, from snakes (yes, snakes) to birds to frogs to lizards. I always try to get the kids to see the animals that I find... even if it is a HUGE spider with an egg sac on his back as it runs on TOP of the grass in my backyard (ewww) or the gigantic red, furry "cowkiller" ant that we found in our front yard (ahhh!).  

3. How do plants grow? What do humans use plants for? What kind of plants grow in the woods? What happens to trees and leaves during different seasons? Take a look...

Lettuce from our garden last year.

Every year, the kids help me plant a vegetable garden. They have learned what plants need to grow and have seen the transformation from seed to plant to table. The woods offers tons of different leaves and plants for us to observe and discover. Being that this is North Carolina, the seasons actually change and the trees show it perfectly.

This is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to backyard learning. The moral of the story: use what you have to teach biology. It's been much more meaningful to my kids to learn about the world through hands-on, real life experiences than it has from textbooks. Ben can still tell me all of the different types of trees in our woods from our leaf collection and identification in the fall. Kate still reminds me to water the vegetables every day. Andrew still talks about "Crazy Squirrel" (pictured above) and how he hung on the birdfeeder and ate all of the birdseed. Kate has definitely picked up my love for biology. The boys... not as much, but that's ok. What is important is that they are meaningfully experiencing the world around them.

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