Posts tagged ‘observation’

August 16, 2014

Home Connections: Creating Curiosity Through Observation Skills

by Melissa Harding

DSC_1465

While we are born with curiosity and wonder and our early years full of the adventure they bring, I know such inherent joys are often lost. I also know that, being deep within us, their latent glow can be fanned to flame again by awareness and an open mind.
Sigurd Olson

Observation is how people learn; it involves using the senses to gain a deeper understanding of the world and to start asking questions about it. While this is a necessary skill for all successful adults, from scientists to artists, it is important for children as well.  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. Sigurd F. Olson, renowned environmentalist and writer, believed that approaching nature with love and curiosity is the only way to truly create a lasting environmental ethic, and thus to create civically engaged citizens. “What civilization needs today,” he wrote, “is a culture of sensitivity and tolerance and an abiding love of all creatures including mankind.” It may sound simple, but it all starts with learning to effectively observe the world.

At Phipps, while we often call it “being a plant scientists” or “solving a nature mystery”, but what we really mean is using observation skills. There are many ways that we encourage the growth of these skills; often, we create “tools” that allow us to turn learning a skill into a game. We make these tools out of repurposed materials, so they are both sustainable and easy to create at home. We encourage parents to duplicate these items and use them to work on observation skills at home with their child.

Here are some of the ways that we use these tools in our programs:

View Finders
Using a view finder is a way to narrow and focus your eyes on a particular thing. Often used in teaching art or photography, looking through a view finder teaches students to look closely at a small area. View finders provide a frame and give children a defined space to observe. We make view finders out of repurposed cardboard; there couldn’t be anything simpler – just cut a 3″ square out of cardboard and then cut a 1″ square out of the middle and you have a view finder. We challenge our students to use view finders to observe and draw small squares of nature or to take “mental photographs” of what they see. Students can share their favorite “photographs” with the group and then use them to draw pictures, write stories or create art.

DSC_2011

Binoculars
Our version of binoculars is really more of a fun view finder for toddlers. The same principles are true – narrowed and focused field of vision – but the idea is simpler; using binoculars is a way to encourage small children to use their senses with awareness. Very small children are natural observers, as this is a large part of development, but using a tool like binoculars is a way to teach the idea that we use our senses with purpose to observe. Even without any real context, they are fun tools; kids feel like explorers and love pretending they are on a safari. We make our binoculars out of repurposed toilet paper tubes and yarn. To begin, punch a hole in one end of each tube; glue the two tube together side-by-side, keeping the ends with the holes facing up; cut a piece of yarn to fit over your child’s head and tie one end into each of the holes; go play.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Color Matchers
Color matchers turn observation exercises into a game; our students carry a color matcher through the Conservatory, trying to match the colors of the plants they see to those in the tool. We make our color matchers out of paint chips – simply gather the colors that you want and then punch a hole in the corner of each, attaching with a ring clip. We make version for younger and older children; for our youngest, we use chips of a single color and create a rainbow and for our oldest we create a rich palate of different nature colors for them to choose from. We also have some with brighter colors for matching with flowers instead of foliage. These are a fun companion to take on nature walks or even just into backyard.

IMG_0279

Colored worms
We use colored “worms”, pieces of yarn or string, to teach about observation and adaptations. Worms can be made out of anything; we use donated yarn in various colors, but pipe cleaners, ribbon or string would also make great worms. We scatter our worms in the outdoor flower gardens and have children find them. To make this more fun, we have the children pretend to be mother birds who need to find worms to feed their babies in a “nest” that is carried by an instructor. Our oldest children even get clothespin “beaks” to make the task harder. Some worms are harder to find than others, based on how they blend into the garden, and this teaches an easy lesson about camouflage. For our toddlers, we scatter lots of bright colored worms and just have them find as many as they can. You can make this activity difficult or easy, based on your child, and can use it in the context of a lesson or just for fun. Any way that you use them, colored worms can help children learn to look closely and improve their observation skills.

Un-natural nature trail
An un-natural nature trail is an old nature center game that works well with older children. This take some preparation time, but can really be done anywhere outside – a yard or a trail both work. Gather a number of man-made items, from big to small, and scatter them around a prescribed area. Anything will work as long as it is obviously man-made; choose smaller items to increase the difficulty of the challenge. Tell children that they will be looking for things that don’t belong and have them spend a significant amount of time observing the site to find all the objects. This can be done numerous ways; children can count as many objects as possible, pick them up as they find them, or only look for a period of time and have to remember. This is a fun activity for a large group and could be a great party game as well.

Using tools is a helpful way to increase your child’s observation skills, but they are also pretty fun to use! Playing and learning together outside with your child is a great way to connect both of you to nature and to each other. To quote Olson, “Awareness is becoming acquainted with the environments, no matter where one happens to be.” Use your own sense of wonder and curiosity and spend some time outside with your child; it will have a lasting impact on your family and you world.

To read more about the importance of observation, check out our blog post.

Learn more about how we repurpose cardboard, plastic, and glass.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman and Christie Lawry.

April 25, 2014

Night Crawlers: An Creepy Ed-Venture

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0008

Nocturnal creatures are mysterious; they live a secretive life, busily working while we are all fast asleep. Some creatures, like owls and moths, are cute enough to have a good reputation. Others, like cockroaches and slugs, are not. In fact, you could call them…creepy. Not to fear, Phipps to the rescue! During the latest Ed-Venture, Creepy Night Crawlers, campers discovered that these night-time critters aren’t creepy at all, just misunderstood. Campers learned why nocturnal creatures come out at light, why many of these critters are beneficial, and how some can even make their own light!

To start off, make their own sticky webs out of flour paste and yarn. As they learned about different nocturnal critters, they stuck them to their web. Campers learned that nocturnal creatures are awake at night because being nocturnal helps them to find food and hide from predators. Besides insects, there are many different mammals, birds and even reptiles that are awake at night! Campers observed that nocturnal animals have bodies that are adapted to being awake at night, such as an owl’s big eyes or a raccoon’s heightened sense of smell.  Then the creepy crawlers came out. Campers examined moths, roaches, fireflies, and other insect bodies to observe their adaptations.

A dead bug is not half as cool as a live one, so campers set off to catch their own. They laid traps in the Tropical Forest, burying small plastic containers in the dirt with a tiny amount of dog food in the bottom of each. Critters smell the bait and then fall into the trap, unable to get back out again. Campers left their traps to work for an hour, after which they found some worms, ants and beetles.  They also used a UV insect light to catch some bugs outdoors, finding some flies and mosquitos. They brought them back to the classroom for further observation, using magnifying glasses to see them better.

DSC_0012

While waiting for their traps to work, campers built their own nocturnal creatures out of cheese cubes, grapes, carrots and other healthy foods. Their snacks were not only nutritious, but creepy! Campers also learned about cockroaches, one of our favorites. Far from being disgusting, they are really beneficial. As nature’s garbage men, they help to keep it clean. Campers found out that roaches are one of the oldest families of insects – even older than the dinosaurs!

Finally, campers learned about bioluminescence. A wide variety of creatures create light with their bodies by using a chemical called luciferin. In the case of fireflies the luciferin combines with oxygen, which comes into their bodies through holes in their abdomens as they breathe, giving off a pale yellow or green light. These cells also have special crystals in them to reflect the light back away from the insect, making it easily seen. Fireflies can switch their lights on and off by breathing in and out. Campers observed fireflies in person  to learn more and made their own groovy lava lamps to understand how the chemical reaction works. They gave it glowing reviews!

Evening Ed-Ventures are temporarily suspended until the fall, but our summer camp registration is open! For a complete list of all our summer camp offerings, please visit our website.

The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research Staff and volunteers.

February 24, 2014

Little Sprouts: Our Tropical Adventure

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0026

When it’s cold outside, there is no better place to be than in our Tropical Forest. It feels like being on vacation – warm, humid and wonderfully fragrant. Our Little Sprouts agree; in the latest Little Sprouts: Singles, Our Tropical Adventure, campers went on an expedition deep into the heart of our Tropical Forest to learn more about rainforests. Campers learned why rainforests are so wet and hot, as well what plants and animals live there.

To begin, campers made tropical fish, covering them with tissue paper “scales” and decorated nametags shaped like cameras to use during their impending exploration. They also had time to observe colorful rainforest fruits and play with books, puzzles and sensory bins after they finished their crafts. During the lesson, campers learned that the rainforest is really rainy and that plants love it there. They learned about animals that live in the jungle by reading a fun rainforest story. Campers hopped like frogs, growled like jaguars and crowed like toucans!

After all this learning, campers were ready to explore. Using their cameras, they took “pictures” of exciting rainforest plants. They used their ears to listen for animal noises and their noses to smell fragrant flowers. Upon their return, each camper planted a tropical plant to take home. Campers planted Philodendron, a common foliage plant that lives in the understory of the rainforest. These plants also help to clean the air, which is why they are such great houseplants!

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

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

If you want to learn about the rainforest with your own Little Sprout, here are some great story suggestions:
“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly” said the Sloth by Eric Carle,
The Umbrella by Jan Brett
Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree by Jan Peck and Valerie Petrone
The Rainforest Grew All Around by Susan Mitchell and Connie McLellan

Our next Little Sprouts Singles program, My Favorite Flowers, is scheduled for March 20 and 21, 10:30 am-noon. To register, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

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

The above pictures were all taken by Science Education Staff and volunteers.

September 18, 2013

Home Connections: Creating Curiosity Through Observation Skills

by Melissa Harding

DSC_1465

While we are born with curiosity and wonder and our early years full of the adventure they bring, I know such inherent joys are often lost. I also know that, being deep within us, their latent glow can be fanned to flame again by awareness and an open mind.
Sigurd Olson

Observation is how people learn; it involves using the senses to gain a deeper understanding of the world and to start asking questions about it. While this is a necessary skill for all successful adults, from scientists to artists, it is important for children as well.  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. Sigurd F. Olson, renowned environmentalist and writer, believed that approaching nature with love and curiosity is the only way to truly create a lasting environmental ethic, and thus to create civically engaged citizens. “What civilization needs today,” he wrote, “is a culture of sensitivity and tolerance and an abiding love of all creatures including mankind.” It may sound simple, but it all starts with learning to effectively observe the world.

At Phipps, while we often call it “being a plant scientists” or “solving a nature mystery”, but what we really mean is using observation skills. There are many ways that we encourage the growth of these skills; often, we create “tools” that allow us to turn learning a skill into a game. We make these tools out of repurposed materials, so they are both sustainable and easy to create at home. We encourage parents to duplicate these items and use them to work on observation skills at home with their child.

Here are some of the ways that we use these tools in our programs:

View Finders
Using a view finder is a way to narrow and focus your eyes on a particular thing. Often used in teaching art or photography, looking through a view finder teaches students to look closely at a small area. View finders provide a frame and give children a defined space to observe. We make view finders out of repurposed cardboard; there couldn’t be anything simpler – just cut a 3″ square out of cardboard and then cut a 1″ square out of the middle and you have a view finder. We challenge our students to use view finders to observe and draw small squares of nature or to take “mental photographs” of what they see. Students can share their favorite “photographs” with the group and then use them to draw pictures, write stories or create art.

DSC_2011

Binoculars
Our version of binoculars is really more of a fun view finder for toddlers. The same principles are true – narrowed and focused field of vision – but the idea is simpler; using binoculars is a way to encourage small children to use their senses with awareness. Very small children are natural observers, as this is a large part of development, but using a tool like binoculars is a way to teach the idea that we use our senses with purpose to observe. Even without any real context, they are fun tools; kids feel like explorers and love pretending they are on a safari. We make our binoculars out of repurposed toilet paper tubes and yarn. To begin, punch a hole in one end of each tube; glue the two tube together side-by-side, keeping the ends with the holes facing up; cut a piece of yarn to fit over your child’s head and tie one end into each of the holes; go play.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Color Matchers
Color matchers turn observation exercises into a game; our students carry a color matcher through the Conservatory, trying to match the colors of the plants they see to those in the tool. We make our color matchers out of paint chips – simply gather the colors that you want and then punch a hole in the corner of each, attaching with a ring clip. We make version for younger and older children; for our youngest, we use chips of a single color and create a rainbow and for our oldest we create a rich palate of different nature colors for them to choose from. We also have some with brighter colors for matching with flowers instead of foliage. These are a fun companion to take on nature walks or even just into backyard.

IMG_0279

Colored worms
We use colored “worms”, pieces of yarn or string, to teach about observation and adaptations. Worms can be made out of anything; we use donated yarn in various colors, but pipe cleaners, ribbon or string would also make great worms. We scatter our worms in the outdoor flower gardens and have children find them. To make this more fun, we have the children pretend to be mother birds who need to find worms to feed their babies in a “nest” that is carried by an instructor. Our oldest children even get clothespin “beaks” to make the task harder. Some worms are harder to find than others, based on how they blend into the garden, and this teaches an easy lesson about camouflage. For our toddlers, we scatter lots of bright colored worms and just have them find as many as they can. You can make this activity difficult or easy, based on your child, and can use it in the context of a lesson or just for fun. Any way that you use them, colored worms can help children learn to look closely and improve their observation skills.

Un-natural nature trail
An un-natural nature trail is an old nature center game that works well with older children. This take some preparation time, but can really be done anywhere outside – a yard or a trail both work. Gather a number of man-made items, from big to small, and scatter them around a prescribed area. Anything will work as long as it is obviously man-made; choose smaller items to increase the difficulty of the challenge. Tell children that they will be looking for things that don’t belong and have them spend a significant amount of time observing the site to find all the objects. This can be done numerous ways; children can count as many objects as possible, pick them up as they find them, or only look for a period of time and have to remember. This is a fun activity for a large group and could be a great party game as well.

Using tools is a helpful way to increase your child’s observation skills, but they are also pretty fun to use! Playing and learning together outside with your child is a great way to connect both of you to nature and to each other. To quote Olson, “Awareness is becoming acquainted with the environments, no matter where one happens to be.” Use your own sense of wonder and curiosity and spend some time outside with your child; it will have a lasting impact on your family and you world.

To read more about the importance of observation, check out our blog post.

Learn more about how we repurpose cardboard, plastic, and glass.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman and Christie Lawry.

March 19, 2013

Night Crawlers: An Creepy Ed-Venture

by Melissa Harding

March_1_13_camp_69

Nocturnal creatures are mysterious; they live a secretive life, busily working while we are all fast asleep. Some creatures, like owls and moths, are cute enough to have a good reputation. Others, like cockroaches and slugs, are not. In fact, you could call them…creepy. Not to fear, Phipps to the rescue! During the latest Ed-Venture, Creepy Night Crawlers, campers discovered that these night-time critters aren’t creepy at all, just misunderstood. Campers learned why nocturnal creatures come out at light, why many of these critters are beneficial, and how some can even make their own light!

To start off, campers learned that nocturnal creatures are awake at night because being nocturnal helps them to find food and hide from predators. Besides insects, there are many different mammals, birds and even reptiles that are awake at night! Campers observed that nocturnal animals have bodies that are adapted to being awake at night, such as an owl’s big eyes or a raccoon’s heightened sense of smell.  Then the creepy crawlers came out. Campers examined moths, roaches, fireflies, and other insect bodies to observe their adaptations.

March_1_13_camp_50

A dead bug is not half as cool as a live one, so campers set off to catch their own. They laid traps in the Stove Room, buring small plastic containers in the dirt with a tiny amount of dog food in the bottom of each. Critters smell the bait and then fall into the trap, unable to get back out again. Campers left their traps to work for an hour, after which they found quite a few slugs and ants. They brought them back to the classroom for further observation, using magnifying glasses to see them better. Since they found so many slugs, they also compared the slug bodies to the bodies of our worms and then recorded all of their observations in their scientific journals.

While waiting for their traps to work, campers built their own nocturnal creatures out of cheese cubes, grapes, carrots and other healthy foods. Their snacks were not only nutritious, but creepy! Campers also learned about cockroaches, a Phipps favorite. Far from being disgusting, they are really beneficial. As nature’s garbage men, they help to keep it clean. Campers found out that roaches are one of the oldest families of insects – even older than the dinosaurs!

March_1_13_camp_80

Finally, campers learned about bioluminescence. A wide variety of creatures create light with their bodies by using a chemical called luciferin. In the case of fireflies the luciferin combines with oxygen, which comes into their bodies through holes in their abdomens as they breathe, giving off a pale yellow or green light. These cells also have special crystals in them to reflect the light back away from the insect, making it easily seen. Fireflies can switch their lights on and off by breathing in and out. Campers observed fireflies in person  to learn more and watched a groovy lava lamp demonstration to understand how the chemical reaction works. They gave it glowing reviews!

Evening Ed-Ventures are temporarily suspended until the fall, but our summer camp registration is open! For a complete list of all our summer camp offerings, please visit our website.

Check out the slide show below for more pictures!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The above pictures were taken by our wonderful volunteer, Pam Russell.

March 13, 2013

Little Sprouts: Our Tropical Adventure

by Melissa Harding

Feb_15_13_camp_42

When it’s cold outside, there is no better place to be than in our Tropical Forest. It feels like being on vacation – warm, humid and wonderfully fragrant. Our Little Sprouts agree; in the latest Little Sprouts: Singles, Our Tropical Adventure, campers went on an expedition deep into the heart of our Tropical Forest to learn more about rainforests. Campers learned why rainforests are so wet and hot, as well what plants and animals live there.

Feb_15_13_camp_7

To begin, campers made nametags shaped like sunglasses and “binoculars” to use during their impending exploration. They also splatter-painted rainforest frogs made out of recycled egg cartons. Campers put their frog bodies into a box to flick paint on them and then attached feet and eyes, creating colorful creatures to take home. They even had time to observe colorful rainforest fruits and play with books, puzzles and salt dough after they finished their crafts.

During the lesson, campers learned that the rainforest is really rainy and that plants love it there. They observed an immature banana plant, a coffee tree and a chocolate tree up close, as well as a pineapple plant; they also played a tropical fruit guessing game and had the chance to see the fruit and pods from the demonstration plants. Campers learned about animals that live in the jungle by playing a game of animal noises. They hopped like frogs, growled like jaguars and crowed like toucans!

Feb_15_13_camp_44

After all this learning, campers were ready to explore. Using their binoculars, they looked for exciting rainforest plants. They used their ears to listen for animal noises and their noses to smell fragrant flowers. Upon their return, each camper planted a tropical plant to take home. Campers planted Philodendron, a common foliage plant that lives in the understory of the rainforest. These plants also help to clean the air, which is why they are such great houseplants!

If you want to learn about the rainforest with your own Little Sprout, here are some great story suggestions:
“Slowly, Slowly, Slowly” said the Sloth by Eric Carle,
The Umbrella by Jan Brett
Way Up High in a Tall Green Tree by Jan Peck and Valerie Petrone
The Rainforest Grew All Around by Susan Mitchell and Connie McLellan

Our next Little Sprouts Singles program, We Love Veggies, is scheduled for April 18, 10:30 am-noon. This camp is currently full, but if you would like to join our waiting list, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

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

Check out the slideshow below for more pictures!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The above pictures were all taken by our wonderful volunteer, Pam Russell.

October 26, 2012

The Importance of Observation

by Melissa Harding

“Science,” writes David Haskell, “deepens our intimacy with the world. But there is a danger in an exclusively scientific way of thinking. The forest is turned into a diagram; animals become mere mechanisms; nature’s workings become clever graphs.” Science is one story, he writes, true but not complete, and the world cannot be encompassed in one story (Source). Haskell, author of the blog Ramble and the new book The Forest Unseen, was recently profiled in the New York Times Science section about the nature observation practices he used to write his book.

Following in the footsteps of many great naturalists, Haskell decided to take himself to the woods. Not to live deliberately, in the vein of David Thoreau, but to observe. His object of observation is a small circle of forest floor, a little over a yard in diameter, and all the life that happens through it. He did no experiments and had no agenda, just a notebook and a hand lens. Haskell went to the same spot every day for a year, sitting still and recording his observations in a notebook.

“Usually, if you stay here for a while, something is going to happen,” he says.

There is a lot to learn from Haskell. His attitude of being still and using his senses to take in his surroundings is a good model for learning more about the natural world. Deepening our understanding of nature is a way to gain both perspective and empathy; whether is is through watching a spider build a web or birds searching the ground for insects, there is no greater way to learn than through observation. Nature is not a paradise, nor is it scary and unknown, but rather a little bit of both. Getting to know your own bit of land, your backyard or some grass in the sidewalk, is a sure way to gain appreciation for the world around you.

This is an especially important skill for children. Instilling in your child an enthusiasm for the natural world is critical to their future attitudes towards stewardship and conservation. Studies have shown that having positive outdoor experiences with a trusted adult or caregiver – a teacher, a grandparent, a babysitter – is a strong predicter of a child’s future conservation attitudes (Source). While this is important, it is not hard. Taking a nature walk, making observations out the window, and even just watching a plant grow are simple activities that will have a big impact in your child’s life. Mentoring your child in stewardship is beneficial for you both; not only will it bring you and your child closer to each other, but also to the world outside your door.

As Haskell wrote in a recent column commemorating the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, “So our homework assignment from Carson, fifty years after Silent Spring, is to get to know a tree, to listen to a bird and to smell the beauty of soil. By giving our attention to the ecology of our homes, we’ll find Carson’s most important legacy: wonder.”

Bring a sense of wonder to your life. Go outside and be still.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

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