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Make Mother Nature Part of Your Summer Learning Plan

This is a marmot!

Discover what is outside your back door!  You'll be amazed!

I love teaching all topics in biology, but one of my favorite topics to teach is my unit on classification and taxonomy.  This topic is one of my favorites because the diversity of life on Earth is simply amazing. The organisms that are alive on Earth today are the ones that “made it”.  They changed and adapted to meet the pressures that our ever-changing environment placed on them.   The organisms alive today succeeded, and the evidence of their adaptation to our current environment astounds me.  

Take some time this summer to get to know and love nature.  If you are a person who already “knows” nature, then you will be shaking your head affirmatively as your read this article.  If you never take the time to notice nature, then you are really missing out on a fantastic journey.

A picnic along the shores
of Lake Huron
My childhood was spent growing up in hot and humid Mississippi, but spending several weeks each summer in the crisp and cool northern peninsula of Michigan on Lake Huron.  My mother was a biology teacher, and she introduced me to the beauty of the natural world at a very early age.  Whether it was catching fireflies and putting them in a jar or wading through a bog looking for bladderworts and pitcher plants, we were outside, observing and learning about nature, without even realizing that “schooling” was taking place.   When my own two daughters came along and started to grow, I passed along the same nature lessons that my mother had taught me.  However, as an adult, I now realize that the lessons go much deeper than just learning about science and nature.  The time I spent and spend outside with my daughters has forged a bond between us that cannot be broken.  As we tromped through woods, dug in the mud, and snorkeled at the beach, we made incredible memories that will forever make us smile.  They are teenagers now and still love to spend time outside with their “mommy”. 

Summer is just beginning.  Make the most of it.  Get outside and experience the beauty that surrounds you.  I have put together a list of possibilities that might help you make Mother Nature part of your summer learning plan.  Try some of these with your children, or by yourself.  I guarantee that the lessons learned with be carried with you all your life!

Really big tree!!
1.  Plant seeds and watch them grow.  I always make the planting and growing of seeds part of my biology curriculum because it is amazing how many of my students have never done this.   Have a child make a small flower garden or vegetable garden, but start from seeds.  It teaches curiosity and more importantly, patience.  

2.  Go outside at night and catch fireflies. 

3.  Watch a caterpillar grow into a butterfly.  Find a caterpillar and place it in a large jar containing the same leaves as where you found the caterpillar.  (Be sure to punch holes in the lid of the jar!)  Keep the inside of the jar moist by sprinkling a few drops of water in as needed.  Keep fresh leaves in the jar.  It is wonderful to watch the spinning of the cocoon and the emerging of the butterfly or moth.
Going fishing.

4.  Take a daily nature walk.  When my children were small, I gave them a brown paper lunch sack.  It was their “nature bag”.  Anything they found along the way that was interesting to them went into their nature bag.  We live in an urban area and still found plenty of leaves, insects, seeds, and flowers.

My mother read me the story
of the Indian Paintbrush when I
was a child.  This will always be
my favorite!
5.  Get a field guide and learn to identify the organisms in it.  There are many possibilities here:  learn to identify wildflowers, birds, butterflies, or frogs.  My daughters and I love wildflowers.  We take our wildflower field guide with us wherever we go.  As we found a flower, we wrote the date and location in our field guide.  Many years later, we still see our notations and laugh about the adventures we recorded in this book.  On one particular page, my daughter recorded, “Mom fell in the pond!”

Hiking in Yellowstone
National Park... the most amazing
trip we ever made!

6.   Visit a national park.  There is a reason why these particular tracts of land were set aside.  They are amazing!
7.   Give your child a magnifying glass.  Have them make a list of the living organisms they see, and have them describe how they are adapted to the environment.  
8.   Set up several bird feeders.  Fill them with different types of food and see what comes to the feeder.  We have feeders filled with hummingbird nectar, thistle seeds, sunflower seeds, and plain bird seed.  All can be purchased from Wal Mart.  Have your child keep a log of which birds come to the feeder and what they eat.  Also, have them record the time of year the bird is seen.  It is fun to discover which are migratory when you see them at the feeder in early spring and again in late fall.
9.   Watch the bees around a flower garden.  Teach your children that bees are our friends and explain to them that the bee is doing more than just feeding on the nectar.
10. Watch a spider spin a web.  It is incredible!
11. Ant farms, ladybug houses, sea monkeys!!  As my children grew up, some type of creature was usually present at our kitchen table during meal time.  An ant farm is very interesting to watch during meal time!
12. Sit on the side of a lake or pond, and count how many turtles stick their heads above water for air.  We just did this last night, and my daughters are 18 and 15!  My oldest is off to college next year and the time I spent watching turtles with her is simply priceless.
13. Save a turtle.  Our car stops for turtles.  Help them across the road, please.
14. Children love insects.  Have your child look for insects and then identify the adaptations they possess that make them well suited for their particular environment.
15. Go on a picnic.  Drop a piece of food on the ground and see how long it takes the ants to find it.  Watch how the ants communicate with one another to send the message back to the ant hill that food is nearby.
Hiking to a waterfall
in Hawaii.
As you can see, nature plays a huge role in our lives, both in my career as a biology teacher and in my role as a mother.  Nature is packed full of examples that we can share with our children and students.  I certainly hope that my students and daughters develop the same "awe" as I have when considering how natural selection has brought us to this point in Earth's history.  Every organism in our sight is adapted to this particular environment.  All we have to do is to look carefully at our surroundings and we will see a multitude of examples of adaptation.

Our children and our students will be responsible for making decisions about our planet in just a short number of years. We have to get them excited about nature. We have to make sure they understand how their actions impact our planet. Our students are the future caretakers of this beautiful planet and there is not an "app" for that.  I hope that when they are adults we have taught them enough about science and nature that they can make informed decisions about how to take care of it.

1 comment:

  1. How have I not found your blog sooner!? So good to find someone in the science teaching field AND for high school! I'll be starting my 1st year of IB biology and either on-level or PAP bio this fall.

    This post inspires me to bring the outdoors to my classroom. I'll be following you and taking inspiration from you :)