Next Time You See

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Sharing the Night Sky

If people sat outside and looked at the stars each night, I bet they’d live a lot differently.                                           - Bill Watterson

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You don’t have to be an astronomy expert to share the wonders of the sky with your child. Here are some ideas and resources you can use:

Finding Planets and Constellations
I have always experienced feelings of awe and wonder when looking at the night sky, but for a long time I didn’t know much about what I was looking at. I knew some were stars, some were planets, and some were closer than others. But when my friend, Jenni, started teaching me some tricks about how to identify things in the night sky, I was surprised at how easy it is…and how fascinating! She taught me how to follow the arc of the big dipper to find the star Arcturus and then “spike” straight out from there to find the star Spica. She also taught me how to find the three stars lined up to form Orion’s belt.

One great resource for identifying stars and planets is the McDonald Observatory website, http://stardate.org/nightsky. On this site, you can print a weekly stargazing guide. We print it out and hang it on the fridge. It explains in clear, simple terms what you can see in the sky that night.  And of course, there are some quite remarkable apps for searching the night sky. The one we use is Star Walk from Vito Technology, Inc. It has totally been worth the $2.99 I spent on it! https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/star-walk-5-stars-astronomy/id295430577?mt=8

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Noticing the Moon’s Patterns

Children are naturally fascinated by our beautiful moon. I remember years ago my son would reach his arms toward the full moon and say, “Ball, ball, ball.”  He was so little, and so enthralled with this glowing ball of rock.  Now that he is 6, we’ve started taking note of how the moon changes throughout the month.

This week, his Kindergarten class started a moon chart where they draw the shape of the moon each night for a month. He has already noticed subtle changes between the crescent moon we saw three nights ago and the thicker crescent we saw last night. He is also fascinated by the fact that the moon is visible during the day sometimes.

The McDonald Observatory has a great webpage dedicated to the moon phases and a moon calculator where you can enter any date, past, present, or future and find the moon phase. This activity shows children how predictable this pattern of change is with our moon. Kids always want to enter their birthdays to see what the phase was on the day they were born! http://stardate.org/nightsky/moon

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Spot the Station
Here on Earth, we often forget that there is a huge science lab orbiting our planet. The International Space Station is actually pretty easy to spot, if you know when to look up. In fact, it is the third brightest object in the sky! NASA’s Spot the Station website provides information on when and where to look for the space station. You can even sign up for NASA to send you emails or texts to notify you of sightings in your area. I just signed up yesterday and got a text this morning that the ISS will be passing over my city at 7:44 tonight. How cool is that? http://spotthestation.nasa.gov

Delight in the Wonder

It’s fun to identify stars, planets, moon phases, and the space station, but sometimes its best to just throw out a blanket, lay on your backs, and gaze upon the night sky together. No explaining, no identifying…just looking up at the stars and experiencing the sense of awe. You may want to read or listen to Adam Frank’s “How to Fall Forever Into the Night Sky” before the next time you do this. He puts this activity into marvelous perspective: http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2013/08/13/208647989/how-to-fall-forever-into-the-night-sky.

For more ideas for sharing nature with the children in your life, check out the Next Time You See Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NextTimeYouSee.

Dandipuffs and Poke-a-Nuts: Naming Things in Nature

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A friend recently posted this photo of her daughter on Facebook and described how her little girl, Kiley, coined the name “dandipuffs” for this particular stage of the dandelion life cycle. Her family thought that name made perfect sense, and now they use that term whenever they see one!

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The first time my son Jack ever saw the seedpod of a sweet gum tree, he called it a “poke-a-nut”, which seemed like a great description to me. These made-up words from Kiley and Jack got me thinking about how things are named in nature and how we might use naming activities to encourage kids to take a closer look at natural objects. Here are some quick, easy ideas:

  • Go outdoors and find a plant, seed, or insect and have your kids come up with a name for it. For example, you could ask them, “If you were the first person to ever see this, what name would you give it?” Encourage them to take time to consider the color, shape, smell, size, and texture before they decide on a name. Later, you could help them do a Google image search to find out what it is really called.
  • When planting flowers in your yard, ask your kids what they would name that flower based on its appearance. Then, compare their idea to the actual name of the plant on the garden marker that comes with it.
  • Start a collection of unusual natural objects. Display them “museum-style” somewhere at home or at school with index cards displaying the made-up names and the actual names of the objects.   
  • Tell your kids about scientist Carl Linnaeus who believed that every kind of plant and animal on Earth should have a name. When he was a little boy, he loved plants and used to drive his dad crazy asking him the names of the wildflowers he had collected. When he grew up, he came up with a system for naming and sorting living things. This was over 250 years ago, and scientists still use his system today!
  • Ask your kids how many different kinds of plants and animals they think there are in the world – hundreds, thousands, millions, billions? Explain that scientists now think that there are about 8.7 million kinds of living things (species) on EarthBut the really interesting thing is that they estimate that less than 15% of those living things have been named. So, there are still millions of plants and animals to be named. Maybe your child will have the chance to discover and name a new species someday!

Remember, the most important thing here is not to memorize the names of different species. (Although, some kids might enjoy that kind of thing and there’s nothing wrong with that.) The real purpose of these activities is to take the time to look closely at natural objects, to consider their qualities, and, above all, make memories together…because life blows by fast - just like wind on a “dandipuff” - and sharing times like these can make it slow down just a little.

I would love to hear the names your kids have come up with for natural objects and your thoughts about exploring nature together. Please share your ideas on the Next Time You See Facebook Page.

- Emily Morgan

Share the Wonders of Spring

Here are a few ideas and resources for sharing the enchantment of Spring with the children in your life:

Take a “Signs of Spring” Walk or Ride

Next time you are on a walk, bike ride, or even a car ride, make a list together of all of the signs of Spring you can see, hear, or smell: budding trees, fragrant flowers, bird songs, and so on. You just might be surprised what your kids will notice. My son and I did this on the way to school on the first day of spring. We only counted 5 signs of spring. (By the way, it was 32 degrees F that morning.) Then, we did it again this morning and we counted 14 signs of spring, which reminds me of this quote: 

The first day of spring is one thing, and the first spring day is another. The difference between them is sometimes as great as a month. Henry Van Dyke

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Fill the Feeders 

Set up several different kinds of bird feeders and with various types of feed near a window at home or at school. Notice the different types of birds that visit the feeders. Kids enjoy learning the names of birds and feel a connection to them when they begin to recognize the birds in the area. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology has free mini-posters you can download and print that show pictures and names of the birds in your area. We tape the posters right on the window where we can see our feeders. It’s fun to figure out what types of birds we are seeing and whether they are male or female. http://www.birds.cornell.edu/pfw/FreeDownloads.htm

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Get Muddy

Don’t let the mud keep you from going outside! Designate a pair of “muddy shoes” for the season. Tromp through the mud and feel it squish beneath your feet. Look closely at the ground to see if you can notice anything sprouting. Lift up some rocks and see if you can find any insects, slugs, worms, or other invertebrates crawling around. 

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In the Spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.- Margaret Atwood, from Bluebeard’s Egg 

Name a Tree

Watching a tree change throughout the seasons is a great way to connect with nature. Choose a tree in your yard, the school playground, or any place you spend time on a regular basis, and ask your kids to give it a name. We chose a maple tree in the front yard, which our son named “April” (not after the month, but after the character on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles).  In the mornings on the way to the car, one of us will say, “Let’s go check on April.” So far, we’ve noticed some things about this tree that we have never noticed before, like all of the red buds on the tree contain 5 small parts and inside of them is a small green leaf. Here’s a photo I took of “April the Maple” this morning. We’re looking forward to watching the dramatic changes our tree will go through this Spring. 

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I would love to hear your ideas about sharing Spring with your children and/or students. You can post them on the Next Time You See Facebook page: www.facebook.com/NextTimeYouSee.

Happy Spring!

Emily Morgan

Welcome to Next Time You See

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Thanks for stopping by.  I will start blogging soon.  Until I get my first blog post up, please connect with me on social media through Facebook & Twitter by using the icons at the top of the page.  I will update you on my new blog posts via social media.  Thanks.


~Emily

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