Archive for ‘Bugs’

February 24, 2015

Wonderful Worms in Winter!

by Melissa Harding


Even though it was one of the coldest days of the year so far, our Little Sprouts braved the winter weather to join us in the Tropical Forest last Friday for February’s Little Sprouts program, Wonderful Worms. During our latest Little Sprouts adventure, campers learned all about worm bodies and how these wonderful little critters help plants grow. Of course, they also sang songs, met a whole mess of worm friends, and got up close and personal with some plants in the Conservatory!

To begin, campers played with dirt and “compost” sensory bins; we created a compost bin out of shredded paper, plastic fruits and pipe cleaner worms to simulate what our real vermicomposter is like inside. Our campers really enjoyed the furry, fake worms!

After singing our welcome song together, the campers explored their mystery boxes. Inside they found real worms from our worm composter, along with some shredded paper. Campers explored the texture, temperature, shape, and size of these critters. They then used flashlights to look inside them and see the food as it passed through their digestive system. After they had seen our worm friends, campers learned how worms use their muscles to move through song by singing “The Worms in the Dirt” (hint: they go “wiggle, wiggle, wiggle”.)

Next, campers and their caregivers made their own worm art using spaghetti “worms” to make tracks in brown tempera paint. This sensory activity is not only fun, but allows campers to continue to explore touch and textures. After painting, campers ate a healthy snack of apples and bananas while Mr. Steve read “Wonderful Worms” by Linda Glaser. Finally, campers climbed through the Tropical Forest hunting for brightly colored yarn “worms” on the ground.

We had so much fun and can’t wait for our next Little Sprouts program in March!

To see more images from camp, check out the slideshow below:


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To learn how to do your own worm study at home, check out this Backyard Connections post about worms!

Our March Little Sprouts program is already full, but please join us for four-day Sprouts over the summer. If you think this program sounded like fun, check out our summer camp “We Like Dirt” for a full week of playing in the mud! Please call Sarah Bertovich to register at 412-422-4441 ext. 3925 or visit our website.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

February 9, 2015

Five Great Reasons to Come to Summer Camp at Phipps

by Melissa Harding



With all the options available for summer camps, why choose to send your child to Phipps? After all, there are hundreds of camps that are offered around the city every summer and there are so many different themes and types of programming to choose from. It can be hard to know where to put your child that will maximize both your money and their fun. We know this and want to reassure you that Phipps summer camps are a great way to do both.

Think we are a little biased?
Here are the top five reasons to come to summer camp at Phipps:


5. Make things: New friends, cool crafts and memories.

Phipps camp is a great place for kids to make things; we make costumes, artwork, bug traps, musical instruments and tons of other neat crafts. Not just stuff, but memories as well. Campers come back year after year and remind us of their favorite moments, activities and teachers. Over the years, we love to watch our students grow into confident naturalists before our eyes, and often have some sappy memories of our own.

Camp is also a great place to make friends; young or old, Phipps is an excellent place to find a kindred spirit. Many of our campers make friends during camp that last from summer to summer; parents also find camp a great place to meet like-minded caregivers that they can connect with.


4. Connect with nature: Spend time with the plants, outside and in the Conservatory.

Phipps offers a variety of unique natural environments for our visitors. Campers can be immersed in a tropical forest and then suddenly find themselves in the desert. Our glass houses allow us to transport our students all over the world, learning about and experiencing plants from different climates, while our natural landscapes provide a fun place to hunt for bugs, birds and other critters. We like to spend as much time outside as possible during summer camp, whether it is looking for treasures, gathering inspiration, reading stories, or just playing games.


3. Learn about plants and animals: From bugs to birds to bluebells, what makes them so cool?

Plants are important to our lives; they give us the air we breathe, the food we eat and even the clothes we wear. Not only do they keep us alive, but they are pretty cool, too! We have plants that eat bugs, plants that mimic animals, and even a plant that smells like road kill. That is not to mention all of the tropical treasures that grow chocolate, vanilla, coffee, spices, rubber, and citrus. We love to teach our campers the stories behind some of our favorite plants, as well as the critters that call Phipps home – hawks, song birds, frogs, turtles, fish, insects, and whole host of furry mammal friends. Every camper will spend time exploring the habitats of Phipps and learning about the flora and fauna within.


2. Gain observation skills: Look closer and ask better questions.

One of the best ways to learn about the world is through observation. Active observation sparks curiosity and a sense of wonder to ask more deeply probing questions. This is a natural way to begin to understand the scientific process, by asking observation-based questions and seeking answers through simple experimentation. One question often leads to another and soon children find themselves connected to their world with a deep sense of place. The end result is a child that approaches the world with an open mind and a curious heart. Phipps camps help children learn to be better observers, whether they are being detectives, plant scientists or artists.


1. Have fun!

More than anything else, we love to have fun! Even more than opportunities for learning, our camps are full of silly songs, dancing, jokes, stories, games, and imaginative play.  We let campers be themselves and encourage their interests and skills while still challenging them to try new things. Campers love Phipps so much that they often come back year after year! The highest compliment we get from a child is “that was fun!” and we strive to make sure that camp is always exciting and never boring.

In short, summer camp at Phipps is pretty awesome!
We are so excited about the upcoming season and hope to see you and your family there.

To sign up for summer camp, visit our website or contact Sarah at 412/441/442 ext. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

February 4, 2015

Challenge #3 of the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps: Plants and Pollinators

by Melissa Harding


Pollination is a magical process. A plant, through seemingly no will of its own and often with the help of a whole host of unwitting accomplices, is able to orchestrate the ritual by which its pollen is mixed and spread around to make reproduction possible. Not only is this complex plan catalyzed by an organism without an actual brain, but it has been doing so for millions of years. All things considered, the fact that pollination works so well is kind of a miracle. While much of the credit should go to plants, they really couldn’t do it without their pollination pals: bees, butterflies, bats, birds and a number of less famous plant friends like flies and wasps. The most recent challenge for middle and high school students in the Fairchild Challenge at Phipps honors those pairings of critters and plants and the   pivotal roles that they play in the ecosystem. Participating students were tasked with creating drawings that depict one such relationship and to explain the value that it provides in a short caption.

Not only was this challenge offered at Phipps, but it is a global challenge as well. The Global Competition is being offered by The Fairchild Challenge, in partnership with all of the Fairchild Challenge Partners. For the first time, ten international and national institutions will be invited to participate in the same challenge. Top 10 drawings from each individual institution, Phipps Conservatory being one, will share their entries and compete in this global challenge. Online voting will be open from Wednesday, April 1 through Thursday, April 30 and winning entries of the Global Challenge will be published in Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden’s magazine!


In addition, a selection of drawings will be matted, framed and displayed at the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes gallery from May through summer 2015.

In the middle school category, the winning entries are:

1st Place: Tie: Shaler Area Middle School and Shaler Area Middle School
2nd Place: Shaffer Elementary 6th Grade
3rd Place: Carson Middle School

Special Merit Awards:
Carson Middle School for flowers
The Ellis School for originality
David E. Williams Middle School

In the high school category, the winning entries are: 

1st Place: Pittsburgh Science and Technology Academy
2nd Place: Hampton High School
3rd Place: Woodland Hills High School

Special Merit Awards:
Hampton High School for an amazing bee
Gateway High School for creativity and skill
Shaler Area High School for exquisite detail
Shaler Area High School for pen and ink artistry
Shaler Area High School for composition

To see the winning entries in both the middle and high school challenges, check out the slideshow below:

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The first place winners of all middle school challenges will be invited to appear on the Saturday Light Brigade radio program. The Saturday Light Brigade can be heard every Saturday morning on WRCT 88.3 FM. It also streams live at where the interview will be archived under Neighborhood Voices. Join area middle school students on Saturday, February 21 at 10:35 a.m. Check out the broadcast here. 

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff.

January 22, 2015

Our Little Sprouts Make New Bug Friends!

by Melissa Harding


Even though our Tropical Forest is under construction, that didn’t stop our Little Sprouts from having fun last week! During the latest Little Sprouts, Our Bug Friends, campers learned that bugs are really cool and important to plants (and people, too). They sang songs, met a puppet, and got up close and personal with a whole host of live bugs.

To begin, campers played with dirt and rice sensory bins in which we hid a variety of plastic bugs. Young children love to put their hands in the interesting textures and practice their motor skills by filling containers and using funnels and sieves. They also had fun both finding and hiding the bugs in the bins. In addition to the bins, we were also visited before camp by a very special visitor: Mr. Matt! Mr. Matt is our resident bug expert and he very kindly brought millipedes, pill bugs and a baby preying mantis for our campers to explore with their grown-ups. Both campers and caregivers enjoyed watching the preying mantis run up and down their sleeves!

After singing out welcome song together, the campers explored their mystery boxes. Inside they found a variety of bug pictures, including a ladybug, moth, butterfly, caterpillar, bee, ant and grasshopper. Campers used descriptors to find specific bugs in their boxes and learned what makes each one unique. They buzzed like bees,  flapped their wings like butterflies, chewed like caterpillars, and showed their strong muscles just like ants!

Next, campers and caretakers made bug crowns out of repurposed cardboard and put them on to sing a bug song. After the song, we read Beetle Bop by Denise Fleming and took a short snack break. Finally, Miss Verna introduced the campers to Huckle Bug, her bug puppet, as well as her collection of live bugs. Huckle Bug sang a song with campers and helped them to hold and pet a cricket, a millipede, a beetle larva, a cockroach and a stick bug. Miss Verna’s bugs showed off their tricks, from dancing to rolling over, and inspired every camper to love bugs.

We had so much fun and can’t wait for our next Little Sprouts program in February!

To see more images from camp, check out the slideshow below:

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Join us for our next Little Sprouts adventure in February! We will be learning all about worms and why they are so important to plants and people in Wonderful Worms, February 20, 9:30-10:30 am and 11:00 am-noon. Please call Sarah Bertovich to register at 412-422-4441 ext. 3925 or visit our website.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.


January 20, 2015

We Are Getting SO Excited About Summer Camp!

by Melissa Harding


We’re so excited and we just can’t hide it! Summer is almost here and we have just finalized our offerings for the upcoming camp season. We are so pumped to offer a new selection of summer camps to help your child connect with nature. Highlighting ecology, conservation, healthy living and art concepts through hands-on activities, each camp offers a fun and unique Phipps experience. This year we are expanding our age groups to include older campers, as well as continuing to offer the popular programs that families love. We have a great line-up of immersive experiences designed to increase your kid’s enthusiasm for the natural world, with something to offer for every child, no matter what their interests:
Do you have a child who loves BUGS? A camper who likes to make homes for all the insect friends she finds in the yard and who knows all about dragonflies? Then check out our bug camps for campers ages 4-7: Bugs in the Burgh and A Bug’s World! Your camper will have fun hunting for bugs all over the Conservatory, inside and out, and learning what makes bugs so important.

Check out this post to learn how to trap bugs at home, just like we do at camp!

Do you have a camper who loves to dance and perform? A child who pretends to be a cat under the table or a dinosaur at bedtime? Then Dancing with the Plants, for campers ages 4-5, is just right for him. Your camper will learn about plants and animals through dance and movement exercises!

Not sure that your child will love dance-based camp? Check out these fun photos from last summer – a great choice for boys AND girls!

Phipps Science Education (3)ghghghgh
If you have a child who loves to draw, paint, sculpt, or tell stories, then our art camps are right up her alley. We are offering nature-based art camps for children ages 4-5 and 10-11: Backyard Art and EcoArtist. Your camper will use nature as her inspiration to create beautiful and unique projects.

Can’t wait to start making nature art? Prepare for spring by making seed balls at home!


Do you have an older child who loves exploring nature and learning new facts about plants and animals? A camper who pours over books about his favorite animals and wants to be park ranger or a scientist when he grows up? Check out our new camp for children ages 8-9: Nature Explorers!

Want to practice observation skills at home? Check out this post for ideas!

DSC_2906Does your child have a passion for environmentalism? Does she love to learn about different places in the world? If your 12-13 year old camper is a budding steward of the plants and animals of the planet, then Climate Defenders is the right camp for her! Campers will learn all about world biomes while experiencing them right here at Phipps, as well as how their actions can have a positive effect on the world around them.

Learn how spending time in nature helps all children to become better stewards of the Earth!


These are just a few of the camps that we are offering this summer. Check out our website to see our entire line-up, including Little Sprouts, cooking, fairytale, bug, dance, and ecology camps. Our summer camps are both educational and super fun – at Phipps, we LOVE camp!

If you would like to register your child for summer camp, contact Sarah Bertovich at  412|441-4442 ext. 3925.

We hope to see you there!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

January 5, 2015

Upcoming Little Sprouts: Our Bug Friends!

by Melissa Harding


Phipps Camp_5-17-13_51

This January, join us for the next installment of Little Sprouts, Our Bug Friends.  Phipps Little Sprouts camps for 2-3 year-olds and their adult caregiver are interactive programs for child and adult to experience together.  Each session will take place in the Tropical Forest and include songs, stories, sensory experiences, and healthy snacks. In Our Bug Friends, campers will meet a variety of bugs that help plants to grow.

Please join us on January 16, 9:30-10:30 or 11:00 a.m. to noon for Our Bug Friends.

If you would like to sign up your child for this or any other Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, please visit our website.

We hope to see you there!

The above photo was taken by Science Education and Research staff.

July 21, 2014

Help Scientists to Find Lost Ladybugs

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education 69

If there is one sight that gardeners love to see in the summer, it is a ladybug. Spotting a ladybug on a branch near the garden is always a good sign. These little red beetles are truly garden friends; instead of snacking on plants, like many other insects, ladybugs would rather eat those culprits responsible for the most damage – aphids. Aphids are soft-bodied insects that suck the juices out of tender, young plants and new growth; aphids target the sick and weak, making quick work of them as they feed in large groups. Ladybugs charge in like the cavalry and help to remove these pesky critters from the garden. Unfortunately, all is not right in the world of ladybugs. Species distribution across North America has been changing; over the past twenty years, several species of native ladybugs that used to be quite common have become very rare. This is partly because non-native ladybugs have been taking over their habitats and making it harder for them to compete for resources. Scientists are studying this phenomenon because the effect that these new populations will have on plants is unknown. They are trying to determine the impact that these changes will have on the control of plant pests both in the wild and at home.

This is where you come in; The Lost Ladybug Project, run out of Cornell University, is a citizen science program designed to help scientists gather data about ladybug distribution.  Citizen science programs, in which regular people collect data about the plants and animals in their communities, help scientists to have eyes and ears all over the country. These particular programs are not only important for data collection, but are also a great way to spend some time outside with your family and practice your observation skills.  In the case of the Lost Ladybug Project, entomologists at Cornell are really good at identifying ladybug species, but are unable to sample in enough places to find the really rare ones. They need you to be their legs, eyes and cameras! Send them in pictures of the ladybugs that you find and they can learn more about  the area where you live. Participating in this program is especially fun, since it involves catching and studying your specimens.

Here is how the Lost Ladybug Project works:
1. Go out into your backyard, local park or other natural area and look for ladybugs. Collect them in a jar.
2. Photograph each insect
3. Upload your photos to the project website, along with information on where and when you found them.

Sounds easy, right? You can choose to participate every day, or just one time; every data point is useful! The project website includes helpful hints for catching, collecting and photographing your finds.

Need convincing? Check out this wonderful video from PBS NewsHour about the Lost Ladybug Project; this work is a really effective way to engage children in science:

This is both an exciting project for your family this summer and a way to help scientists at the same time. It is also great fun for church groups, scouts or even adults. Head outside and give it a try today!

The above picture was taken by Julia Petruska.


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