Monday, December 30, 2013

Snow Days

It is that time of year when soon we will have a snow day. When you've got kids home unexpectedly, what do you do with them?  Yes, you can watch movies all day but that gets old really fast. Why not try some science!?

If you have a few things tucked away in a science box, you can put out the coolest snow day ever. And what parent doesn't love a little learning disguised as fun?!

Here is what I have in my box:
coffee filters
pipe cleaners
food coloring
foam brushes
various science toys

*food coloring and foam brushes - this can be turned into snow painting by putting some of the food coloring in small containers, add water and go paint the snow.

*coffee filters - use these to make symmetrical butterflies by folding in half and putting a marker on the filter until it shows on the other side. When you open it, the filter will be colored symmetrically or the same on both sides. You can fold this up and make a body out of a pipe cleaner or clothes pin.

*coffee filters - grab a snow ball and put it in the filter inside a strainer. As the snow melts, what is in the snow will stay on the filter. You can test to see if you can find the cleanest snow in your yard.

*black construction paper - put this in the freezer for a bit and then go catch snow flakes on it. You can use magnifiers to see what they look like close up. Dollar stores are a great resource for these.

*ice cubes- ok these are in the freezer. I have a few paper cups with ice. The kids can put one in spot where it will stay ice and one where it will stay frozen.

*science toys - I have some sand that doesn't get wet, hydroscopic (water loving) bubbles (Target stocking stuffer), and crystal growing kits. I also have some growing dinosaurs.

What do you have in your science stash?

Monday, October 28, 2013

Halloween Science

Halloween is one of my very favorite holidays. I live for things that glow in the dark and all the creepy crawlies!  Yes, I am that kind of girl.

Last year I challenged you to sink and float your Halloween candy. This is especially fun when you have kids with food or ingredient allergies and can't eat it anyway. Save yourself some calories and do science with candy.

Here are three simple experiments to do with your candy. I put links on the questions so you can get all the details.

1. What candy sinks and what floats? Make your predictions and then start testing them.  Since they only were in water, you can still eat them,

2. Do the Ms or Ss on M&Ms and Skittles float off?  This is kinda creepy so it is perfect for this time of year.

3. What candy is really the sourest?  Put candy to the acid test and see what candy foams the most by dissolving in water and then adding baking soda.

Have fun!!

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Messy Fingers Starts today

Today starts Messy Fingers and we are going to explore Spiders!!

This is only the start- we will continue every Tuesday for a total of four weeks. Messy Fingers is a science program for preschoolers and their parents.  We will explore some fall science for an hour starting at 10:30am at the Millbury Public Library.

You know you want to be there....

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Glow in the Dark Jello

I have very good friends.

When I asked one of my friends in book club if she had a black light, not only was she at all surprised by the question from me, but she had a nice hand-held black light.

I was making glow in the dark jello in honor of the book we'd read for that month - it had a cover that glowed in the dark.

Now jello doesn't glow normally, but wait. This is a crazy fun activity to do but it does take some special ingredients.  Here's what you need:

Jello - pick two colors to see if one glows more. I found one color glowed more - who knew!
Tonic Water - check for quinine, you need it
A black light

I used melon and apricot flavors since I was taking this to my book club.

I mixed the jello according to directions by mixing it with the hot water first and then using the tonic water instead of the cold water.

There was a lot of foam on the jello even after letting the tonic water sit for a while.

And the jello glowed just as advertised.  But how did it taste?

The overwhelming review was thumbs up. Most of the folks on Pintrest suggested whipped cream and found that was a key addition. The jello is slightly bitter from the quinine but that makes a very refreshing treat for a hot day. The whipped cream was a lovely way to smooth it out without making it too sweet.

And one color did glow more than the other. Care to guess which one glowed more?

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Sun Paper

It isn't often that I suggest something expensive or fancy to do science with preschoolers, but this is one of the exceptions: Sun Print Paper. This is photosensitive paper allows you to keep a shadow more permanently.

Making shadows on this paper is easy but you have to be prepared.

There different companies that carry this paper and other similar papers. They are a bit pricy to it is best to be very familiar with the directions before opening the paper. Once exposed, the paper cannot be used again. 

Here's what you need:
A sunny day
Sun paper
A handful of objects
A small piece of cardboard or clip board
If it is at all windy, a piece of clear plastic like for an overhead projector

Find a flat spot and pick your objects. Plan how you want to lay them out as you can't move them once you start. 

When you have everything, put your sun paper on the cardboard upside down. Flip it right side up and place your objects. Wait for 1-5 minutes. The paper will fade to a light blue when it is finished developing. 

Turn the paper over and take it inside to finish.  Rinse the paper in water for one minute.

 Let the paper dry flat.
The paper will darken a bit as it dries. To make it completely flat, you can put the dry paper in a book for  few days. 

This paper is a blast to play with but it can be pricy if you mess it up. An alternative is to try non-fade resistant construction paper. You have to hunt for it,but dollar stores are a good bet. Place the objects on the paper but you have to leave them in place for most of a sunny afternoon. Then you can keep the shadows by putting up on a wall that is out of the sun. 

Have fun and get messy!

Friday, July 5, 2013

Sunny summer science

Summer is in full swing with hot temperatures and no school. Don't let older kids forget about science in the long days of summer. Many schools have summer reading and summer math programs for students to keep summer loss to a minimum.

But what of science, I hear you say?

Science in the summer is often relegated to a visit to a science museum or a good science fiction beach read.

Fear not. I have some great ideas to bring some science to summer play that will keep school aged kiddos excited about science and keep your preschooler engaged at the same time. How cool is that?

First let's start with some ideas from last summer. They are a good place to begin. Over the next few days, I will post more ideas to engage everyone and even some ideas to take camping.

Go Science!

Friday, June 21, 2013

Fun Friday Fact

Today is the summer solstice - that means we will have the longest day and the shortest night of the year. Solstice has Latin roots and means essentially  sun stands still.

I have already shared with you one of my very favorite summer facts: watermelons are vegetables. They are in the same family as cukes and squash.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Make your own aquarium

In Messy Fingers we made pretend aquariums. This is a good sensory activity and just cool to play with. You can easily turn this into a rainbow activity by making seven aquariums in the colors of the rainbow if you have a larger group or space to keep them.

This project uses some rather surprising, but common,  ingredients. Here is what you will need:


Hair Gel - get clear if you can get it
Craft foam
Food coloring - if your hair gel is clear
Clear packing tape

 First cut out some fish. We picked bright colors that we thought would show through the gel easily and were a bit of a contrast to each other.

Next we filled the bag with gel. This took more gel that we expected. About half a cup or so.

We added enough gel to make the bag fairly plump but no so much we couldn't close it. 

 Then we put in some blue food coloring. We only picked blue since it looked like water. You can leave yours clear or mix two primary colors.

It only took three drops to nicely color the gel. 

We put a white paper behind the gel to show the color. While it didn't take much food coloring to get a nice color, it took us longer than we thought to get it well mixed.

Nicely mixed and the bag had a really good feel. It was a lot of fun to play with the gel just like this. If you wanted to make a rainbow of bags, stop here. This might be really pretty to tape to a window as long as it didn't get too hot.

We tucked the fish in. They had to be really maneuvered to get all the way in the gel. The floated on the top without a good push.

We tucked two fish, but use your imagination. Fish and a shark.... a starfish....a shell....octopus? There are so many possibilities. 

Ta Da! Our new fish aquarium. And this is one way to have fish that your cats won't eat. You can push the fish around from the outside and move the gel with your fingertips. It is quite addicting.

With really young children, I would recommend putting clear packing tape over the top of the bag. Some of the ones we made at the library had a bit of gel on the zipper and that seemed to invite oozing. This one, made at home, was dry and didn't leak.

Have fun exploring Pets!

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ants and a Giveaway!

Today at Messy Fingers we checked out ants and made some predictions about what we thought ants would   be attracted to.   

We put two things (more or less!) on the plate that we thought ants would be attracted to and marked that with a blue "y" and things that wouldn't be yummy to ants we marked with a red "n." You can see two little black specs about 7 o'clock on the plate above. C picked apple pie filling, banana, and candy as things that an ant would like to eat. She was completely correct about the pie filling. 

This was soda and a few ants came to investigate the puddle it made on the ground beneath the plate.

Now some folks say that cucumber peels and limes are ways to repel ants. Unfortunately, we really didn't have ants visiting many of the plates despite being in close proximity to many ant hills. I saw at least three different species of ant walking between the plates but most of the plates went unvisited by ants even after three hours of exposure. 

You can see some of the things the kids thought might or might not attract ants. They were very interesting and thoughtful predictions.

This scientist below brought chips from a picnic and the blob about five o'clock is chocolate syrup. Silly ants, why aren't they all visiting!

While this experiment wasn't as successful as we'd hoped, we've done plenty of other experiments that have produced more revealing results. 

Now for some new fun.  I am offering a basket of planting tools and seeds along with some books to a randomly drawn name from the comments to THIS post. One entry for commenting on a favorite Messy Fingers topic or experiment. You can get a second entry to the Giveaway by following this blog - just mention that in a second comment.

Winner will be chosen Tuesday June 4 at 10:30 am.

Good luck!!

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Egg Update

Learning about metamorphosis, or change, is such a rite of spring that many school children have done the whole tadpole thing four or five times by the end of third grade. Tadpoles are pretty sturdy and easy to acquire so teachers are assured that things will proceed in a predictable manner. Jumping on that bandwagon, I planned to do tadpoles with the preschoolers at Messy Fingers in April. Eggs, tadpoles, frogs seemed like a nice logical way to celebrate spring science.

So I expected my eggs,  collected in our pond just like the previous six springs, to proceed in a standard sort of fashion turning into tadpoles and then getting legs... well you know the drill. But here is where science took over.

The eggs seemed be in a much smaller mass than usual so I was concerned that something bad was happening. And the mass was thicker feeling but that could have been the cold, I thought.

The eggs hatched right at Messy Fingers much to the excitement of the parents.  But the "tadpoles" didn't seem behave in the usual way. They were jumpier almost more fish like in their movements. A week later, it was very very clear what critters I had in my container.


The external gills are a clear giveaway. Now this isn't entirely unexpected for two reasons. First every spring we hear wood frogs calling and they are an obligate species for vernal pools. Now that is a lot of big words and new ideas for one sentence. Vernal pools are ponds that are generally wet only in the spring so no fish live in them. This special wetland area is home to many unusual species that are obligate species, meaning they can only breed in a vernal pool.

And second, we found a baby spotted salamander in our back yard two years ago. They don't travel far from their birthplace and are also an obligate species.

Check out this website from Maine on Vernal Pools. They have a great coloring page comparing frogs and salamander life cycles.

The babies are going to have to go back to the pond very soon. Salamanders use the chemistry of the pond to find it again when they are adults and will only lay eggs in the pond they hatched in. I've been very careful to only put water from that pond in their tank.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Pet Ideas

Not everyone can have a pet or may not have as many pets as they'd like. That is the case in our house. Our cats have decreed that fish are not pets, but dinner. Here are some fun ways to play with pets without getting one of your own!

Sorting: Sort out other groups of stuffed animals. There must be at least two members in each pile. How did you sort your animals?  

Critter Clinic: Start a veterinary office. Your child can pretend to be a veterinary and give their stuffed toys a checkup. You can use a small clipboard to keep notes on how each pet is feeling.

Puppy Chow: You can make a fun snack called puppy chow. Take 1 bag of chocolate chips, 1 cup of peanut butter, and 2 tablespoons of butter and melt it in a microwave. Pour in a box of Chex cereal, stir until it is coated well. Finally add 1 bag of powdered sugar, put in zip lock bag and shake till everything is coated well. Now you have edible puppy chow!

Make your own pet: Grab a nicely shaped rock and make a pet rock. Add paint and googly eyes. Where does your pet live?  What does it need?

Field Trip: make a trip to the pet store and look at different pets. Most everyone is familiar with cats and dogs, but what about other pets? What do they eat?  What does a lizard eat? What do birds eat?  What about fish? Where do they live.?  Which animals like to play?  How do they do that? 

Song: Sing Old MacDonald but use pets. What sounds do pets make?  Dogs and cats are easy, but what about a rabbit?  What sounds do lizards make?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Science for Dessert

My husband found a Girl Scout cookie knock off at Stop and Shop this week. He picked up a box of his favorite just to see what they were like and me, well, being me, thought "Hmm, let's turn this into science!"

So we compared the cookies. The Girl Scout Thin Mints are on the left. They were much darker and thicker. The Stop and Shop cookies were crisper.
So we each predicted which cookie we thought we would like best. Then we closed our eyes and someone else fed us a cookie. We circled our prediction (we all thought that Girl Scout cookies would be our favorite). 

The Stop and Shop cookies were very minty at first, but the minty didn't last long. The Girl Scout cookies had a minty flavor that lasted longer but wasn't as intense. 

Then we decided which cookie we liked best. We marked that with a check. So we were each right in our prediction, we all prefered Girl Scout cookies. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Animals of the week: Pets

This is Dutch, one of my two cats. Most of the time Dutch acts more like a dog then a cat. Cats usually are more self contained then Dutch is. He greets us at the door, meows when he wants in or out of a room, and will fetch. His brother, Colby is more cat-like.

Pets has been a requested theme for Messy Fingers for a while, but I've been reluctant to do this. I've been reluctant for a few reasons, but primarily because they weren't part of the Massachusetts Curriculum Frameworks. So finding a balance has been a struggle. What sorts of preschool science can we do with pets?

Tomorrow will tell if I was successful, but I have a good feeling.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

May Sign ups and the Philosophy of Messy Fingers

May Sign ups are open at the library - call them at 508 865 1181. They will tell you that it is full but if there is actually enough interest, I will run a second session on Tuesdays at 12:30 or 1pm.  We are diving into spring science with Sun/Shadows, Pets, and Buoyancy.

I was chatting with Mrs. V, the director of the Library today after MF and we got on the subject of the philosophy behind some of the "rules" in Messy Fingers. A few new folks checked us out today, but didn't sign up for next month. We came to the conclusion that the Messy Fingers's attitude can be... well overwhelming to some folks.

My philosophy about inquiry-based science - where we ask a lot of questions, test those questions, collect data, and share what we learned - is rather simple. Science is a verb. In the vocabulary of teachers, this means it is an action word.

The only way to really practice inquiry-based science is to DO IT.  So that means that I will ask parents not to cut out stuff, not to put stuff together, not to rush through the process. Is this the easy way?  No. It isn't always neat, it isn't always going to work the first time, it takes longer, and it is messy. But it is the very best way to really understand science and to live it.

So this comes out in some unexpected ways  like "No chairs for kids" because if you are sitting, you are passive and MF is so not passive. In fact, it is anti-passive. When you are sitting on the floor you are more likely to participate and be a part of the group. Mom or Dad or Grandma are more likely to be involved in the activities when they are sitting on the floor or actively engaged in our activities.

And I do ask parents to get involved. Your observations are  not the same as your childs and can enrich the discussion. Every child needs an adult to share discoveries with and to be a companion on science adventures.

So let's embrace the mess and do some science.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Happy Earth Day and...

something is happening to our frog eggs.  After spending time away this weekend, I checked on the babies. This is what I found.

Instead of little spheres in the eggs, there are little comma shapes in them.

So what does this mean?

It means that the eggs hatches and the frog babies are now embryos. They are starting to look like something, but it could be anything!
Here is a close up and can see that they do look like embryos - there is a darker backbone and a head. They are going to be living off the yoke of the egg for a while. Frog eggs spend about three weeks as embryos so we should have tadpoles soon!

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


These are some of the guests we had at the library today. They helped us learn about metamorphosis. Metamorphosis means to change and these little guys change into tadpoles and then in to frogs.

I borrowed these frog eggs from a pond behind my house. Not the big pond but a much smaller pond nearby. Every spring, or least since I've live here, we've found frog eggs in the pond. This year there were about the same number of masses as usual, but each mass was smaller. In the past, there were hundreds of eggs per mass and now, as you can see, the number is much smaller. Yep, that is an entire mass in the picture ~ about 30-40 eggs.

I will hatch these babies and keep you informed. Before they get their back legs I will return them to their home pond and hopefully listen to their mating song next spring. 

Want to get your own eggs or tadpoles? Check out this blog post on some guidelines for keeping tadpoles.

Monday, April 8, 2013

We have guests...

Yesterday I gathered some guests for tomorrow's Messy Fingers and I will give you some clues to who they might be.

I got very wet picking them up. (First time I've ever gotten really wet doing this too!)

They have lots of brothers and sisters.

Their parents sing.

Over the course of their lives they will be rather omnivorous, but as youngsters they are vegetarians.


Thursday, April 4, 2013

Bean Seeds

I planted bean seeds with preschoolers a couple of weeks ago. Four seeds I placed seam down and one seam up to see if there would be a difference in the plant.

These are my bean seeds after three days. Only one had sprouted.

This is how it looked in the window.
The beans are facing the window. My south facing windows don't actually get that much sun because the roof of my porch  shades them, so this is facing west.

Planting beans or other large seeds like this is a great opportunity to see the entire plant as it grows. The paper towel in the baggie keeps the seeds moist and the shelf of staples keeps the seeds from getting too wet. Once they have leaves, open the bag and plant or continue to water them. If you leave them in the bag to grow, you will need to feed with plant food in the water.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Bubble Question and Give Away

At the recent Messy Fingers class we compared two different bubble solutions to find the very best one. But what makes for the best bubble solution?

Bubbles are an often blogged about subject around here. Check out some other entries on bubbles here and here.

Here's the give away part. I will have a small package of science goodies for winner of a random drawing. You can get one entry for each of the following:

1. Tell me what makes for the best bubble solution and how you would test it.

2. Follow this blog (just say you are in a separate comment).

3. Like the Millbury Public Library on Facebook (just say you are in a separate comment).

Deadline is Friday, April 5, 2013 at noon.

Bubble Solution Recipe

Bubbles are one of my favorite tools in the preschool science tool box. They are commonly available and yet have an extraordinary quality about them. They are a tiny piece of joy that engage everyone of all ages for those few precious seconds they last.

Today we played with bubbles as scientists. Usually it is cold or rainy when I schedule bubbles and today didn't disappoint, it was quite chilly. One of the things we did was compare store bought to homemade bubble solution.

If you'd like to do this at your home, here is the Official, Super-fabulous, Messy Fingers Bubble Recipe:

1 gallon of water
1 bottle of ultra Dawn - blue seems to be the best
2-3 oz glycerin (CVS in the skin care section, other drug stores put it in first aid or in the pharmacy)
Gently mix the first three ingredients without making foam and wait at least overnight before use.

A gallon of bubble solution sounds like a lot, but a few really nice days or some extra friends over on a lazy summer afternoon, and it can be use up quickly.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Corny Ideas

Go on a Seed Walk – put an old pair of socks on over your shoes or put on bracelets of tape with the sticky side out. Take a walk thru a meadow or meadow-like area. What seeds attached themselves to you?

Plant a seed together. You can plant some of the Indian Corn seeds or bean seeds on damp paper towels. This is a fun way to watch a plant grow. What different parts of a plant to you observe?

Make a seed mosaic. Grab some glue and a few beans, rice, grains, and even pasta to make a picture with the seeds. What is different about the seeds? What is similar? 

Have a corny dinner. What foods can you eat that come from corn? Polenta, corn bread, Johnny cakes, corn chowder, and more can be made into a corny meal. Try Indian pudding for dessert!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013


Yesterday we explored color science with preschoolers. We learned the primary colors (red, blue, yellow), mixed them to create secondary colors, (orange, green, purple) and made some art. We used some science tools: medicine droppers, egg cartons, and bath tub color tabs. Here are some other great ways to explore rainbow science

Make a rainbow book – take seven sheets of white paper and staple the edges to make a book. You can add construction paper for a cover if you like. On the first page draw the red line for the rainbow, on the second page draw the orange arc, on the third page draw the yellow arc, etc. Now cut out pictures from magazine and paste them on the correct color page.

Eat a rainbow – you can talk about how we should eat all the colors of the rainbow each day to be healthy. What are some of the colors you all like to eat? Can you make a rainbow meal with something from each color?

Jello Rainbow – you can make a rainbow snack with layers of jello. You can get just the primary colors and mix them, but remember that you have to let each layer fully set before adding the next one.

Rainbow Streamer – cut the center out of a paper plate. Add construction paper streamers off of one side in the colors of the rainbow. You can staple or glue them on. Hold it like a tambourine or turn it into a windsock by putting a string thru the hole and hanging it up.

Color Scavenger Hunt – take crayons or small pieces of paper on your next walk. See if you can find something that matches each color. Are primary colors easier to find?

Brown Bear, Brown Bear, what do you see? By Eric Carle
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Elhert

Friday, March 15, 2013

Paper Gliders

This week in our preschool science program, we played with gliders at the library. Most of the parents first thought of paper airplanes when they read the topic but we didn't make a single plane, we made gliders.

Paper airplanes are fairly tricky to fold and most preschoolers have not developed the skills to make a nice sharp crease or to fold symmetrically. Honestly I know many older kids and some adults who can't do those things either. Yet both are really important to paper airplanes.

But gliders, now that is different story.
One of the gliders we made is called a ring-wing or annular glider. It is a super easy glider to make and a tough one to fly.

Here is a short YouTube video on how to make and fly this. It takes about a minute and a half to watch and he makes the glider and shows you how to fly it. For those of you who were at Messy Fingers, you will recognize how he makes it curved.

Give this a try with different kinds of paper and see what flies best!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Five Signs of Spring

With a gorgeous day like today, there is no question that spring is really coming. I am going to challenge everyone to find their own Five Signs of spring but here are mine - in no particular order....

1. Male Black-capped Chickadees are singing - listen for their "phe bee" song. Their "chick-a-dee-dee" is their call and both males and females call.

2. Pussy Willows are almost out. I saw fuzz stick out of a bud on the Blackstone River Bike Trail only a few days ago. Red maples are starting to look red now but I haven't seen any open flowers yet.

3. Chipmunks are out of hibernation.  These guys are one of the few true hibernators in New England and the one under my porch is out and trying to eat my bird seed. They make really great tracks in spring snow.

4.Turkey Vultures are flying. Now this isn't that new, they have been flying for a couple of weeks but it is always one of the best signs to me.

5. Ladybugs are everywhere! The ladybugs in our house are awake and all want to get out at the same time. Ladybugs that live in our houses in the winter like to cuddle but are fairly inactive in the winter. They are carnivores so they live all winter on their fat stores from the fall.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Experiments: Liquids

These are some fun ways to explore liquids. Liquids are a fun, and messy, way to explore states of matter.

What liquid is this? Try putting sugar water, plain water and white vinegar into small jars or bottles that can be capped. Can you look at the liquids and tell what they are? If you shake them, are they different? If you open them, can you tell what they are?  What senses did you use?

Compare and contrast different juice. Pour orange juice, tomato or V8 juice, and apple juice into clear glasses. What do you notice about them? How are they different. If you close your eyes, can you use your sense of touch to figure out which juice is which?

Solid versus liquid. What would happen if you put an ice cube in a container? Does it take the shape of the container or stay as a cube? What happens if you let it melt – does it take the shape of the container now?

Play with volume. Grab some containers and head to the tub. How many of the smallest containers of water does it take to fill the largest container? If you pour the water out of a container, does it have a shape? Are bubbles liquid? Do they act like water?

Solid, liquid or gas? By Sally Hewett
Solids, liquids, and gases by Carol Lindeen
Solids, liquids, and gases by John Farden
Liquids by Jim Mezzanote

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Experiment: Sense of Smell

I am going to challenge you to try a classic experiment with your sense of smell.

fingers to pinch nose
apple and potato, peeled and cut in to small, bite sized pieces

Put on the blindfold. Pinch your nose. Have someone give you, or you give your child, a piece of apple or potato without telling you which one it is. Chew it up and swallow without un-pinching your nose. What do you think it was?  Were you right?

What's happening is that you are using just your sense of taste and not your sense of smell to identify a food. It is much harder for us accurately identify foods without smelling them as we taste them. When we have a cold, food just doesn't taste as good, in part because usually our nose is stuffed up interfering with our sense of smell.

Another fun way to play with smell is to put a few drops of flavoring on a cotton ball, putting that in a bottle or jar, and seeing if you can identify the scent. Some fun smells to try this with are mint, lemon, maple, and anise.

If you try this, let me know how it worked out!

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Book Review: Skunks

Skunks by Diane Swanson is a bit advanced for preschoolers but if you read it with them, everyone will learn something new. This book has lots of big photos and nice side bars with further information that is great to add when you are reading with older children too.

I like that the information is detailed but not overwhelming.

4.5/5 stars.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Animal of the Week: Skunks

Skunks are a great animal to learn about this time of year. True to the phrase Love Stinks, skunks are out of hibernation right around now and have only one thing on their mind: love. They can be quite cranky and quick to spray so if you see one, give them a wide berth.

Skunks live in all of the lower 48 states and there are multiple varieties but they are all the classic startling black and white. This is a warning to others that they are dangerous.

The spray they are most well-known for is not harmful but it is a good deterrent to anyone who has been sprayed, or had a pet sprayed!, to back off.

Of real concern is rabies. Skunks do carry rabies and you should call your local animal control officer if you find a skunk out and about during the day acting strangely. Like all wild animals, never handle a wild skunk.

To keep skunks away from your house, make sure that all potential den sites are covered and your trash cans have sturdy well-fitting lids. Skunks love dog food so don't feed your pet outside. Skunks are omnivorousness just like we are and they love to eat grubs in the spring and early summer. When you see little dig spots all over your lawn, a skunk has probably been by.

We have a skunk in our neck of the woods most years. They have very distinct foot prints that are often easy to find in the snow. As a beekeeper, skunks can be quite troublesome. They love to eat bees at night. They will scratch on the hive and a bee will fly out. The skunk catches the bee in flight and rolls it on the ground to kill it.

photo credit: ABCnewsgo

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Book Review: Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds

Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds by Jim Arnosky is a wonderful field guide to common birds. Like all of Crinkleroot's books it really he frames well how to *be* in nature. He always talks about when to be quiet and when to be loud, when to step softly and when to run.

In this book he talks about how to make a bird count and how to use binoculars, two important skills in bird watching. He also shows some ways to attract birds to your yard.

I hesitated a long time to recommend this book for one reason, it isn't available for purchase at a reasonable price. So this is something to check out of the library and to hunt for a book sales.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fun Friday Fact

Hummingbirds are the only bird that can fly backwards.

Bird Experiments

It is really fun to see the different birds in our backyard. Just over a year ago, my daughter went the Worcester Art Museum and made a bird feeder. They gave her a little packet of seeds that she put in the feeder. Within about 10 minutes we had a Rose-breasted Grossbeak at her feeder. This was amazing! It was only the second time we'd seen the bird in our yard and we have feeders up most of the time.

What was the difference?  The Rose-breasted Grossbeak was attracted by a different kind of seed that was in the WAM mix and not in our usual mix.

We learned that different kinds of food attract different kinds of birds. My friend Melissa just learned today that American Goldfinches really like thistle seeds. What would happen if you put different kinds of seeds out at a feeder?  Would some birds like fruit and others peanut butter?

So here's your challenge... put out different  kinds of bird seed and some fruit (like a string of raisins or cranberries) and see who eats what.

Here are directions to a simple bird feeder. If you don't want to use peanut butter try shortening or beef suet.

Here is my favorite bird identification book.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Citizen Science: The Great Backyard Bird Count

It's time!  The annual Great Backyard Bird Count is this upcoming weekend Feb 15-18!  I am going to challenge each of you to participate. Here is the official website but let me hit the highlights.

Make an account at the official website and you can download posters and checklists to make your counting easier. It is just fine if you cannot identify every single bird, just do your best to be accurate in what you do record.

Pick a few times you know you can watch outside, with or without binoculars. Have your checklist and a pen handy and go watch.

When you are finished, record your tally at the official website. Ta da! You will have collected data that scientists use to track birds. Some birds erupt - or just seem to appear in certain locations from year to year, while other seem to do short migrations depending on the weather.

The last few weeks, Shea and I have heard a Northern Flicker while waiting for the bus stop. After this heavy snow storm I doubt we will hear it again for weeks. Flickers like to eat bugs and finding bugs in all this snow will be impossible. But that mysterious hawk in the backyard, I am betting we will be seeing more of him since snow makes it easier to find mice and voles. Hopefully we will get a good look at him this weekend.

Photo from Snowy Owl, Jen Howard, ON, 2012 GBBC