Archive for December, 2013

December 27, 2013

Weekend Nature Challenge: Play in the Snow

by Melissa Harding

Kids snow Molly Steinwaldhghghg

Outside, the flakes swirl down out of the darkness,
turning blackest night to palest grey.
Listen, and you can hear the quiet,
as if every sound had been wrapped up and put away

In the morning, you’ll find the snow has kept a diary
of things that happened when you were asleep.
The animals and birds who ran about the garden
have left a snowy record of their feet.

Snow has covered up the dirt and clutter;
it’s made the world look new and neat and clean.
You forgot the other seasons and their colors;
for now, white seems more beautiful than green.

Snow Song by Nicola Davies

Much of North America has been gifted with quite a bit of snow recently – too much snow, in some places! While it may not be fun to shovel, it sure is fun to play in. Snowball fights, building snowmen, and sled riding are just a few of the fun activities that you can do as a family in the snow. As it turns out, many children are out of school for the winter holidays and there is quite a bit of time to fill before they go back to class. Playing outside in the snow is a great way to get everyone outside and doing something fun together. Not feeling a frolic in the snow? There is still a ton of nature to observe during the winter. In fact, freshly fallen snow is the perfect medium for tracking backyard critters. Look for tracks of squirrel, rabbits, birds and pets; follow them and try to guess what the animal was up to. Add a magnifying glass and field guide to create the perfect naturalist afternoon activity. Head out to your local park or just stay in your backyard – there is evidence of animal life everywhere!

This weekend, we challenge you and your family to spend some time outside in the snow. Bundle up and throw some snowballs, look at some track,s and make some snow angels together. You might have so much fun that you decide to do it every day!

Take the next few days to explore the snowy areas of your neighborhood. Did you find any cool critters or other things of note? Tell us in the comments below.

The above photo was taken by Molly Steinwald.

December 25, 2013

Happy Holidays from All of Us!

by Melissa Harding


A Holiday wish from all of us:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings.
Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees.
The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy,
while cares drop off like autumn leaves.
– John Muir

Happy Holidays from Phipps Science Education and Research Department!

The above photo was taken by Jeff Harding.

December 24, 2013

We Were Featured on the Crafty Crow!

by Melissa Harding


In some very exciting news, the Phipps Science Education and Research blog has recently been featured on the Crafty Crow, a children’s craft collective that specializes in “crafts found on weblogs of creative people who either have, or work with, kids.” This awesome website not only features great crafts, but has an “emphasis on projects inspired by nature, crafts that make use of recyclable materials and open-ended art meant to bring families closer together through the creative experience.” We believe in using the same principals for creating sustainable projects in our programs and furthering the mission of Phipps to advance sustainability and promote human and environmental well-being. Featured from our blog is our post on creating jump ropes out of repurposed T-shirts. We were sure happy to make them and even happier to be chosen for this fun, holiday feature!

We are also excited to be putting this cool new button on our sidebar!
Featured on The Crafty Crow!

Check out this wonderful site and be sure to take another look at our Home Connections posts for more ideas about indoor, nature-based activities for kids and families!

To visit the Crafty Crow, check out their website. Click HERE to visit our feature.

To find more cool activities for both inside and out, check out our Home Connections and Backyard Connections posts.

The above photo was taken by Hanna Mosca.

December 24, 2013

Connecting to Nature Through Poetry: Emily Dickinson

by Melissa Harding


Connecting to Nature Through Poetry is a segment of the blog featuring poets who inspire their readers to establish strong connections to nature and community. An appreciation of poetry and art is connected to achievement in science and success in adult life; however, there is no need to be an expert on poetry to enjoy it. Poetry is for everyone.  As Plato once said, “Poetry is nearer to vital truth than history”.  

Does Emily Dickinson remind you of a sad, old-timey spinster sitting in her parlor absently stroking her cats? Or perhaps she puts you in mind of a particularly boring English teacher you once had in high school, the one who was also prone to talking to her own twelve cats. It may be surprising then to learn that Emily Dickinson is nothing like those images, but rather was a sharp-witted, science-minded woman who bristled sharply at the constraints of mid-nineteenth century gender roles. Emily was a well-educated woman during a time when education for women was little more than a token. She rebelled against expectations, asserting her independence through her writing, and her words are as far from stuffy as can be. Emily Dickinson was a bold, sassy cat and her poetry is a reflection of this.

While she may be best known for writing about love and nature, she also wrote a great deal about the dichotomy between science and faith, the failings of modern society and her disdain for the role of women in marriage. Emily used her love of botany and her observations of the natural world to talk frankly about larger issues. She wrote about love, death, time, and eternity in the guise of poems about flowers and springtime. While her excellent descriptions of nature draw you in, the meaty content of her poems keeps you there reading more.

My cocoon tightens, colors tease,
I’m feeling for the air;
A dim capacity of wings
Degrades the dress I wear.

A power of butterfly must be
The aptitude to fly,
Meadows of majesty concedes
And easy sweeps of sky.

So I must baffle at the hint
And cipher at the sign,
And make much blunder, if at last
I take the clew divine.

Don’t hold Emily’s posthumous success against her, especially the fact that many of her works have ended up on greeting cards. There is a reason why they are so popular. Many of her most famous works are beautiful, filled with descriptions that personify nature and make it easy to connect to. It is easy to imagine the colors of dusk as being swept there by a housewife in the sky or leaves as rustling female confidants.  Emily wrote these words to ease her own sense of isolation and make controversial statements in a world that was often disappointing to her. She also wrote them to connect with her close friends and family and to celebrate her love of the natural world. Her poems about hope and love strike a chord in the human heart and remain powerful, no matter how often they end up on the sides of coffee mugs.

I’ll tell you how the sun rose, –
A ribbon at a time.
The steeples swam in amethyst,
The news like squirrels ran.

The hills untied their bonnets,
The bobolinks begun.
Then I said softly to myself,
“That must have been the sun!”

But how he set, I know not.
There seemed a purple stile.
Which little yellow boys and girls
Were climbing all the while

Till when they reached the other side,
A dominie in gray
Put gently up the evening bars,
And led the flock away.

Read a full biography of Emily Dickinson and find selected poems here.

To read about using poetry to connect children to nature, check out our blog post.

Why is poetry important to science education? Find out here.

The above photo was taken by Julia Petruska.

December 23, 2013

Participate in a Study of Personal Relationships to Nature

by Melissa Harding

Participate in a new study of personal relationships to nature, in collaboration with University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health!phipps relationship nature study science education

From the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health researchers:

We are exploring the relationship of childhood experiences with plants and adult beliefs and behaviors towards plants and nature. For that reason, we are asking that you complete a brief (approximately 15 minute) questionnaire. You will be asked about your experiences with plants as a child, and your current level of interactions with plants, views about plants, and reasons for interacting with plants.

Each participant will be eligible to enter into a sweepstakes to win a free year membership to Phipps Conservatory.

There are no foreseeable risks associated with this project, nor are there any direct benefits to you. This is an entirely anonymous questionnaire, and so your responses will not be identifiable in any way. All responses are confidential and results will be kept under lock and key. Your participation is voluntary.

This study is being conducted by Dr. Jessica Burke from the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. She can be reached at 412-624-3610 if you have any questions.

Participate in the study here.

The above picture was taken by Julia Petruska.

December 23, 2013

A Night in the Tropics: Phipps Campers Explore the Rainforest

by Melissa Harding


Last Friday night, six young botanists braved the unknown and dared to tread into the heart of the jungle. These modern-day Darwins went into the rainforest with the same spirit of discovery as the early explorers;  Juan Ponce de Leon, Lewis and Clark, Joesph Banks, and many others took great risks for the sake of science, hoping to learn more about the world. Of course, our young explorers were not braving the dark jungles of South America, merely the seasonally lit rooms of the Conservatory. However, the spirit of adventure was the same!  In this most recent Evening Ed-Venture, A Night in the Tropics, campers took to the Conservatory to learn how to be botanists in the field.

To be proper scientists, campers made themselves rainforest journals to record all their new discoveries. They used pictures of rainforest birds and mammals to give them extra pizazz. Our scientists were so eager to go that we forwent any briefings and just took the journals into the jungle! As botanists in the field, campers learned how to use their powers of observation to “discover” some new plants in the Conservatory. At least, they discovered plants that were new to them. Armed with their journals, pencils, magnifying glasses and rulers, each camper chose several different plants and created field entries about each of them. Campers recorded information about the color, size, shape, and smell of their plants, creating their own field guide entries. After the expedition was over, campers came back to the classroom to share their findings with their fellow explorers. As the real Darwin said, “Doing what little one can to increase the general stock of knowledge is as respectable an object of life, as one can in any likelihood pursue.” These campers were certainly respectable; they had tons of observations to share!


By then, it was time for a snack. After all, exploring the jungle can get tiring. Campers made healthy fruit kabobs out of papaya, pineapple and banana pieces. Unfortunately, papaya was not a popular choice and we recycled the remainder of it by feeding it to our worm bin (possibly the most exciting part of the night!)  After a fortifying snack, we all went back up to the Fruit and Spice room to create “Plantbook” pages on the trees there. Campers drew their plants, found their “friends” and gave them imaginary thoughts and hobbies. Campers loved inventing imaginary status updates for their plants; one memorable update was “I wish I was taller!” Finally, campers went back down to the classroom and made terrariums to take home a bit of the rainforest with them; they chose Reullia and Tradescantia, understory plants known for their air cleaning properties, to place into jars filled with gravel and soil. They watered them and sealed them up; if the lid remains on, the water inside the terrarium will recycle over and over again and it will never need to be watered. Campers were then ready to take them home and observe how their rainforests grow over time, continuing their scientific careers.

To see more images from the night, check out the slideshow below!

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If program sounds fun, check out our next Evening Ed-Venture on February 14, Conservation Investigation; in this exciting program, campers will hone their detective skills and solve a mystery to learn about the importance of conservation. To register, contact Sarah Bertovich at 412/441-4442 etx. 3925.

The above pictures were taken by Hanna Mosca.

December 17, 2013

Campers Celebrate the Holidays!

by Melissa Harding


The holidays can be a time of stress for many people, but it can also be a time of stress for the planet as well. Wrapping paper, cards and presents are very resource-intensive, as are the many ways in which these items travel around the world. Fortunately, the winter holidays do not have to be so hard on the Earth; there are many ways to repurpose and conserve while still having plenty of holiday cheer. At last weekend’s Celebrate! The Holidays program, campers learned new ways to turn old objects into fun presents that everyone can enjoy!


To begin, campers turned ordinary plastic containers into beautiful and reusable gift wrap! Using colorful tissue paper, campers decorated clear take-out containers to look like stained glass. Campers also attached ribbon and other festive touches to make them extra special. Additionally, each box was attached to a poem:

With my friend I wish to share
A special treat because I care.
Keep this box I made with pride
And put a treat of yours inside.
Then pass it on to another friend
In hopes the sharing will never end

After making boxes, campers learned that they can give the Earth a gift this holiday season by reducing their waste. They talked about easy and fun solutions, such as making wrapping paper, using recycled cards and making presents instead of buying them. After the lesson, campers made holiday cards out of recycled materials, including old greeting cards. Finally, they made a delicious winter snack of hot, cinnamon apples and yogurt. The campers had a great time and so did we!

Check out more images from camp in the slideshow below!

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If you missed this program and would like to join us Febraury 8, 10-12 pm or 1-3 pm for Celebrate! Valentine’s Day, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)-441-4442 ext. 3925. For a complete list of all our winter and spring programs, please visit our website.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.


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