Saturday, May 19, 2007

Tips & Tricks

So we have now officially begun our "Plants" study. Wednesday we started with some outside play time, opened up papaya fruits to discover the seeds at lunchtime, and Steve came home early from work to take the kids down to a bamboo patch and gather poles for our vine-covered tent. I told him that I thought 5 foot poles (what Sharon Lovejoy recommends in her book) would be too short and that I wanted the tent to fit all three children standing up. So he brought me 20 foot pieces, thinking I could cut them to the size I wanted. I missed that memo and erected it "as is" so now it is taller than our second-story master bedroom windows! Should be a marvelous tent, though!!!

For my part, I went out that evening to buy night-blooming plants with absolutely NO luck so I came home with a bunch of pure white flowers which I thought would lend a nice effect around the tent in the evenings. We'll also be planting our tomato plants there, simply because of the fact that I can't keep two parts of the yard weed-free at a time. I have tomato spirals but I may just plant them near the tent posts so they can climb and twine at their leisure.

Thursday was the tent-erecting day. Now, for some tips & tricks. First, don't quadruple the length of the tent poles and then think you can raise it up by yourself (especially when the directions for the 5 foot poles say to use more than one person). Second, learn how to tie knots BEFORE erecting the tent. I had to grab all the poles when my first knot fell apart and try to direct them to fall away from the children. I managed a controlled fall and no one got hurt but it freaked them out a bit and I hurt my arm in the process. Third, when soaking your morning glory and moonflower seeds overnight in water to soften their outer layer, do it in a plastic storage container or something else with a lid, so your cats don't slyly get up on the counter and drink up all the water. Fourth, it helps a lot if your tent is being erected on flat ground. It is much harder to get it stable if it is leaning to one side. We waited a while before tying our ropes (for the vines to climb on) in case the whole thing was going to fall over. So far, so good though. I'll take photos when I can and add them here. And, fifth, if you are going to need specific plants for a garden, don't just head out to Wal-Mart the night before thinking you are going to find them. Either research a nursery which has them in advance, or just start them from seed.

Friday Steve and the children planted the seeds at the base of each pole. I did nothing. Hurrah! It's nice to have him more involved, and this is a good hands-on manly project. :-)

Saturday was our field trip day and I chose to take the children to Eastern Woodland Indian Village Day at Jefferson Patterson Park. (This section of the park stems from, I think, the archaelogical sites present there. At least, I know they excavate Native American artifacts and do research on them -- I'm just not sure if the village is being erected on an exact historical location). We saw wigwams and longhouses under construction, where you can clearly see that they are built of saplings bent into the desired shape and tied together with thin strips of bark. Then we saw a completed wigwam with a bark roof (completely covering the top and sides except for the smoke hole directly above the central fire pit) and a fire inside. Then we went to the workhouse and the children helped to make sleeping mats of cattail grasses tied together with twine. The teacher showed Natalie the cattail "flower" (the hot dog looking thing at the top) and I learned that it is made up of all the seeds! If you run your fingernail down it, the whole thing comes apart and each little seed will fly away. Just like a dandelion. She worked assiduously on this task for about 20 minutes and eliminated the entire flower. He was pretty surprised that she stuck to it. Leah, our climber, ran around leaping off of log benches and Rebecca, our budding geologist, discovered pieces of charcoal in the (cooled) fire pits and promptly went to work drawing on whatever she could find. So our plant related learning was 1) people can build houses out of wood, 2) people can use tree bark to make their roofs, 3) thin pieces of bark can be used as rope, 4) cattails and other grasses can be used to make sleeping mats, 5) cattails have seeds too -- what they look like, where they are located, and how they travel, and 6) when you burn wood sometimes you get charcoal and you can draw with it.

In case you're wondering, yes, removing the bark does kill the tree. They have to do it, though, because if you use found bark on the ground it is not in long enough and wide enough pieces. The living history folks visit construction sites where trees are already being cut down and get permission to remove bark first, so that trees are not killed needlessly. They can also use bark off of freshly fallen trees in the park. You can only remove it during a certain season, though: spring through early summer (basically when the bark is growing). Otherwise, it sticks and does not come off.

The children were photographed and interviewed by reporters from both local papers (the Calvert Independent and the Calvert Recorder) since we were one of the only families there. So maybe we'll get our picture in the paper! This afternoon we are going to the Strawberry Festival held by our church. I guess this week you can say our Plants theme was focused on "What do we get from plants?" in terms of fruits and vegetables, as well as uses for leaves, bark, and wood. Next week we can watch our seedling vines sprout, hopefully, and enjoy seeing them grow. We have planted and grown so many different kinds of seeds in the past few years that I'm not sure we need to spend a tremendous amount of time on this. In fact, we went to a Nature program a while ago where you grow a White Pine Tree from seed... amazing! and one of our seeds actually sprouted last week. It looks like a tiny 1 1/2 inch tall green whisk sticking up out of the ground. Adorable.

Anyway, I'm thinking we'll keep the theme light, since it is really just review for Natalie and Leah, and hands-on exploration without explanation for Rebecca. The theme work which Gini Newcomb suggests for this unit, in case you are interested, is the following:

  • Plant & Animal Classification

  • Parts of a Plant

  • Earthworm Ranch

  • Parts of a Worm

  • Parts of a Seed

  • Seed Sorting

  • Seed Matching and Labeling

  • Diagram of the Garden

  • Garden Tool Cards

  • Planting Seeds

  • Garden Signs

  • Seed Packet Matching

  • Root View Farm

  • Above Ground & Below Ground Vegetables

  • Plant Life Cycle Cards

  • Plant a Sunflower House

  • Matching Fruit and Seeds

  • Fruit & Vegetable Classification

  • Flower Seed Packet Matching

  • Match Fruit and Tree

  • Leaf Field Book

  • Tree and Leaf Matching Cards

  • Leaf Press

  • Parts of a Leaf

  • Tree Labeling

  • Count Tree Rings

  • Needles & Leaves

  • Seasons of a Tree

Obviously, this is a lot more academic than a Waldorf kindergarten would do this theme (she's Montessori). Out of all this, we might do the vermicomposting. I've always wanted a worm bin. It might be nice to go the Paint 'n' Pottery place and make some garden signs too.

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