Tag Archives: outdoor education

Back to School time is here … are YOU ready?

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Dealing with “Back to School” Jitters

Are you getting ready to go back to school now? You’ve assembled curriculum… Your custodians are buffing school floors and getting classrooms sparkly… Teachers are busy making desk name tags and unpacking supplies. And you can’t go to any Wal-Mart without stumbling over “Back to School” displays in full regalia.

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Your bulletin board is ready… but are YOU?

There is a lot of excitement during Back to School Season. The school supplies (ahhh… those school supplies…), new clothes, new teachers. But, for many of us, going back to school in the fall can also bring a serious case of nerves.

Maybe we don’t like the idea of swapping flip flops for dress shoes. Perhaps it’s the change in routine, from late morning starts to getting up with the birds.  There are many reasons why the start of the school year creates mixed emotions in young and old, alike.


Tips for Easing Back to a School Routine

Wherever you teach, there are some things you can do to make the transition easier for everyone:

  1. First, honor those feelings.

Sarah Leitschuh, of Sarah Leitschuh Counseling, PLLC, suggests acknowledging a child’s misgivings about going back to school, even if you don’t share them. Parent’s can involve their children in back to school preparations, such as picking out a new lunchbox. Teachers can send “welcome” postcards late in the summer. In “Children and Stressors: Beginning of the School Year,” Leitschuh gives many tips for helping everyone get off to a good start on their new year.

My friends at Bright Ideas Press  discuss emotions and schooling in “Emotional Homeschoolers: Learning to Handle Emotions.

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When kids go back to school in the fall, they may be leaving behind a lot of play ~ use fun and educational activities to ease them back to school. {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2010}

  1. Plan fun activities for the first days and weeks.

Even if you’re working with the adults in the building, remember that their heads might be elsewhere, too.  The may still be thinking of the Cape, or that daycare drop-off. Can we bring a little play in to help us make the switch from vacation to profession?

Donna Morgan recently wrote of a great way to ease groups (both young and old) into working together, by focusing on the simple soap-bubble! In “Bubbles – They Are Not Just for Kids, You Know!“, Morgan shares how she uses soap-bubble blowing as a way to focus on breathing, being present and observing and visualizing ourselves in a positive place.

What a great idea for a first staff meeting!

  1. Prepare for rough spots.

Our best defense is a good offense. Instead of reacting to rough days during back to school week, let’s prepare in advance so we have a strategy.

When we are having a tough day, it’s easy for our kids’ tough days to get under our skin. In “How to Stay Calm in the Moment,” Jessica Cowling shares her insight as a mom on how to observe during times of conflict with a child.

As a classroom teacher, I have used this strategy time and time again. By being able to step out of my feelings and ask myself, “What are the kids trying to tell me? What do they need?” I am able to derail my own emotions and realize, “They’re telling me they need to get up,” or “They’re telling me it’s just too hot to think today.”

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Staying organized is the key to keeping your back to school week running smoothly ~ and keeping your nerves intact. {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011}

  1. Stay organized.

I once worked with a woman who never left work at the end of the day without her desk cleaned and organized. Her inbox was empty. Her pencils were sharpened. Her plants were watered and her goldfish fed. The trash can was emptied and her folder for the next day was placed neatly in the center of her blotter. When she walked out the door, she was peaceful and usually humming to herself.

Here’s a routine to start right on the first day you go back to work: spend the last half-hour of your day planning for tomorrow. Mike Gardner (“The Time Doctor”) discusses this tip that is sure to give anyone (homeschooler, classroom teacher or coach) a bit more peace at the start of each school day.

  1. Take your classroom outdoors.

There really isn’t anything that you have to teach that you can’t teach,

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Just 15 minutes outside is all you need to add fun, interest and important science learning to your back to school days ~ see A Child’s Garden for ideas! {Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2011}

at least in part, out-of-doors. During Back to School month, planning outdoor breaks is great, but planning part of an real lesson outdoors makes that time do double duty, serving body, mind and spirit of the teacher, as well as the students.

In my post, “Welcome to “A Child’s Garden,” I share links to many ways you can use just 15 minutes of your day to refresh your teaching, through nature studies, experiments and guided expeditions.

Free Stuff to help you start the year!

Teachers love a little help, especially at the start of the school year. One thing I’ve found helpful in my classrooms is the use of notebooking pages to help jumpstart students’ writing. Why not try them, risk-free, with a free membership promotion? I’ve been a lifetime member of the Notebooking Treasury at NotebookingPages.com since 2010 – try the free membership and I guarantee you will become a member, too!

Notebooking Pages Free Membership

What do you do to ease students (and staff!) back to school in the fall?

Leave a comment below ~ we love to hear from you and share our ideas! If you found this article helpful, and would like to see more, subscribe to this website using the subscription gadget in the sidebar. Happy Back to School!













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The “One Small Square” Strategy: Mushrooms and Other “Fun Guys”

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[Edited and re-blogged from “A Child’s Garden,” September 2011. All photographs (c)2010-11, Kim M. Bennett/Simple Science Strategies.]

We originally completed this study last fall, but are re-submitting this for the current SSS Blog Carnival, because it made good use of the “One Small Square” Strategy, the focus strategy for Week 3 of the September Newsletter, and focused on mushrooms, the topic for Week 2!

Mushrooms love the wood chips in my flower bed (Hartford, Connecticut, 2011).

We sure have had some wild weather here in New England at the end of the Summer of 2011. We have had so much rain that the crop of mushrooms sprouting up everywhere has been very interesting and incredible.

Fall, especially the Back to School time, is always a prime time to go mushroom exploring, with the warm days, cool nights and more frequent rain.  Also be on the look-out for mushroom cousins, the slime molds and actinomycetes, that you probably mistake for their more well-known family members. Here is a mushroom study that you can do for September.


Before You Go Outside:

Tiny shelf fungi on a dead tree. (Fenton-Ruby Park and Preserve, Willington, Connecticut, 2010.)


  • Read up on mushrooms. The Handbook of Nature Study has a very thorough discussion of many of the types of fungi that you might see on an expedition, on pages 714-727. If you read a little further, you can learn about their indoor cousins, the bread molds (pp. 727-728).
  • The Handbook of Nature Study website has an Autumn Outdoor Hour Challenge on Mushrooms that has excellent links to videos, notebooking pages and other resources.
  • Gather materials you might need for a mushroom study: clipboards and pencils, hand lenses, a long plant tag or flag to mark your mushroom spot, plastic food service gloves.
  • Read One Small Square: Practice Looking Closely at the World and  Outdoor Hour Challenge #9: One Small Square for descriptions of how to carry out the observation activity. 
  • Prepare observation sheets for each child. 
  • Review routines: “How to Work With a Partner.”
  • Teach safety rules about potentially poisonous plants.


Honey mushrooms in a shady flower bed. (Hartford, Connecticut, 2010).

Observing Mushrooms and Their Cousins:

A mushroom study lends itself well to a multiple-day observation, since the fruiting body of most fungi only remains for a few days, and changes considerably with time and the weather.

Step 1: Note the location of some fungi on a nature walk.

Some places to look include wood chipped areas of a school flower garden or playground, rotting logs, tree stumps, and places where a tree once stood. At this time of year, a whole crop can pop up literally overnight, so don’t be discouraged if you don’t see any on a particular day.

Be on the lookout for the little “buttons” of some mushrooms that look like tan bumps before they sprout up the next day.

Step 2: Use the One Small Square technique to sketch what you observe.
Step 3: Mark the location with a stick or “flag” so you can find it the next day.

Step 4: Return to sketch changes for the next few days, until the mushroom collapses.

Mushrooms change very quickly from day to day, which is exciting for kids. Note the weather each time you observe (that day’s as well as the weather from previous days). These observation forms have a place to record the weather.

Each day you observe, ask the students some questions:

  • How did your mushroom change? Why do you think this happened?
  • What was the weather like the day before? How might that have affected the mushroom?
  • What type of weather do mushrooms prefer? If you don’t know, how can you find out?
  • Where are the mushrooms growing? What is the ground like there? Are there any trees around?
  • Do you see any insects around the mushroom? What are they doing?
  • Does your mushroom have a smell? (Make sure that children don’t handle the mushrooms without wearing gloves, because some poisonous mushrooms resemble harmless ones.)

Classroom Follow-up: 

Study the Anatomy of a Mushroom —

  • Enchanted Learning has a diagram of a gilled mushroom that students can label, to learn the anatomy of one type of mushroom.
  • The Mushroom Lady has a pile of activities that will get your kids really studying mushrooms in-depth.

Learn About Mushroom Relatives —

  • Here is a handy sheet of terms that you might want to study, so that you correctly distinguish between fungi, actinomycetes, slime molds and other fungus-like organisms.

Study Edible Mushrooms (and Eat Them!) —

  • Create a mushroom study station with stereoscopes and various edible mushrooms from your grocer’s produce department: shiitake, oyster, portabella, white button, straw, crimini…

Fairy Rings, Faerie Houses and Other Literacy Connections —

  • Study the folklore surrounding fairy rings and faerie houses.
  • Build a faerie house (or two or 10…) along your school nature trail or in your backyard garden.

Faeries and other woodland creatures — literacy connection!


One Small Square: Backyard. $2.43 at Barnes & Noble.

A voyage of scientific discovery is as near as your own backyard. There you’ll find a busy hub, full of creepers and crawlers, lifters and leapers, singers, buzzers, climbers, builders, and recyclers. It’s a place where children can smell, listen, look, and get a hands-on feel for life, all in one small square of land and air. Backyard is just one of the exciting, vibrantly illustrated volumes in the critically acclaimed One Small Square series of science and nature books for children. Click on the photo (right) for information on ordering this great addition to your homeschool or classroom science library. (Helpful hint: I had multiple copies for my science center).

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Taking a Sock Walk: a Strategy for Nature Study

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Take a sock walk to get a closer look at the seeds in your area. (Photo credit (c) Kim M. Bennett, 2012)

[This article is the first in a series to accompany the September Simple Science Newsletter. Click on the link for more information, and the other nature studies in the series for the month.]

Getting Kids’ Attention…

When it comes to things to observe in the environment, seeds are one of the toughest items to draw a child’s attention.

  • They are small (often very small…)…
  • They are often hidden…
  • They are brown…
  • They aren’t very flashy…

In the birding world, birders refer to the plethora of sparrows, inconspicuous warblers and other tiny brown birds as “LBJs,” or “little brown jobs.” Like our seeds, they don’t stand out, and tend to blend into the backdrop, as well as into each other.

Seeds might be the “little brown jobs” of the plant world. In short, if we struggle to get kids to notice things around them, anyway, we have to nearly bend over backwards to get them to pay attention to things like seeds. So, we develop engaging ways to get them to interact with their surroundings. Such as a “sock walk.”

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The September 2012 Simple Science Newsletter – Focus on… Observation

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The September 2012 Simple Science Newsletter – “Focus on… Observation”

Simple Science Strategies — the Newsletter

Think of it as a road map to the September blogs on the Simple Science Strategies website. Or perhaps a Table of Contents. Think of it as a planning tool for your classroom, nature studies or homeschool lessons. Or even an idea-generator.

The September Simple Science Newsletter provides the science educator with a collection of focused learning tasks, links to online resources, and background information to help you prepare to teach big ideas with the simple materials you already have in the classroom.

In the September 2012 Issue:

  • The Writing Connection: Elaborative Detail
    September Science Tasks & General Instructions
    September Coupon Specials and Links
  • For Your Science Journal: Observation Page
    September Science Centers: The Nature Corner
    The Book Nook: One Small Square
    September Skill: Observation

To download a copy of this 9-page newsletter, right-click on the link, below, and click “save target as” — save the newsletter wherever you wish on your home computer or electronic device. If you’d like to share it, please direct friends and colleagues to this page, not the actual .pdf file.

Download the September 2012 Newsletter here.

If you subscribe to the Simple Science Strategies blog, you will automatically receive email notice about the October newsletter. Simply enter your email in the “Subscribe to my feed” widget in the sidebar.

For tons of extra information on observation, order my e-Book, The Gentle Art of Observation, regularly priced $10.95, which is available for the September special price of $8.95 (price good through 9/30/2012).


Use discount code = discount5 to save $5 on your $10+ purchase at NotebookingPages.com

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“No Place Like Home” – Additional Notebooking Options for Nature Study

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For our rotting log twist on the “One Small Square” task, I developed two notebooking pages, called “No Place Like Home.” These can be used instead of, or in addition to, any of the other printables in this e-Book, as they all focus on nature study and observation.

This journal page is a simple frame and lines for any type of written observations.

For list-making (we love making lists of things in our house), I created a simple lined page to document the types of organisms observed.

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Adopt-a-Plant: Printable Resources

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This fall, we will be using the “Adopt-a-Plant” strategy for observing plant life over an extended time frame. Here are printable resources that you can download and use with any of the the Adopt-a-Plant tasks this month.

This set of journal or notebooking pages can be used in multiple ways. The frame sizes and line spacing vary. Use a different one each day to encourage more sketching, or more writing, as appropriate.

If you want to encourage data collection, choose from either of the following pages:



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What’s Under There?

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The next time you are on a nature walk, prepare to explore life under an old, rotting log. Bring along a couple of containers or bug houses, some magnifying glasses, and your notebook and pencil.Any large log will do (it should be large enough to create a really tight space underneath), but the more decomposed the log, the better.

“The Earth is the LORD’s and all that is in it, the world and those who live in it.” — Psalm 24:1

A Close-up Observation: A Tiny Forest

First, examine the surface of the log before you turn it over.What is growing on it? Are there any little critters crawling on it? What are they doing?

Look at the area around the rotted log. How does the plant life on the log differ from the plant life around it? Why do you think that is so?

You will probably see several kinds of moss growing. Use your magnifying glass to see the little brown “antennae”-looking things that stick up above the green moss. These are the spore cases of the moss. Mosses don’t have seeds, but produce spores. Their life cycle is very different from a seed-bearing plant’s life cycle.

You might also see lichens, which are drier, and are usually a whitish-green color. A lichen is an interesting organism that has some features of green plants and some of fungi. You can collect lichen — they will dry out and keep their color. If you are starting a lichen collection, make sure to write down the date, name of the place you found it, and what kind of log it was growing on (if you know).

There are some interesting kinds of lichens and mushrooms that you might see — check out the photo gallery below.

Of course, if your log is really rotting, it will also be the home for some tree seedlings. See if you can identify what kind of tree the seedling will grow up to be.

If you’ve brought your nature journal or notebooking supplies, take a moment to sketch the log before you move it.

The Handbook of Nature Study’s Outdoor Hour Challenge #42 Moss and Lichen describes some activities that you can use as a follow-up to observations of moss and lichens in the field. For notebooking pages that you can use with these, and other, plant studies, see Apologia’s Botany Notebooking pages, which include 60 pages that you can use for studies of mosses, lichens, fungi and seed-bearing plants.

Great photos of lichens and mosses can be found in Nicolette’s Notebook and Delightful Learning.

The Notebooking Treasury has thousands of notebooking pages that can be used with any subject, including nature study notebooking pages that are divided by habitat, such as “rotting log,” or “in the woods.”

Use discount code = discount5 to save $5 on your $10+ purchase at NotebookingPages.com


Observation Under a Log: Knock, Knock…

Now, get ready to move the log.NOW, we are getting ready to look at tiny things living under the log, but remember, there might be bigger critters living under there, too. Snakes, chipmunks and other creatures take advantage of the spaces under logs, as they don’t have to work to dig. Because they would rather get away than fight for their lives, give them that chance — turn the log by rolling it toward you, instead of away, so that any big something underneath can safely skitter away, and roll it slowly, so you don’t squish fingers or toes of anyone. Always make sure that your friend is not peaking under the other side of the log before you move it!

NOTE: Use your judgment when deciding to move a log. Don’t move one that is too big to move safely without hurting yourself. And don’t move anything if it will cause too much disturbance to the environment. You are going back to your home, but the log is the only home some critters have right now.


The Process of Science

The Skills of a Scientist


Okay, so you know all the scientific names of all the tropical fish in your school aquarium. You can identify bird songs from 5 miles away. You have the periodic table memorized. That’s the content of science. WNow let’s test your knowledge of the process of science.

Which of the following is not a science process skill?


Observation: Time to Rock and Roll

(the log, that is!)


Ok… Let’s get rolling!One of the first things you might see are the tunnels of one of many kinds of ants. When you disturb their home, you will see them scurrying around, carrying ant eggs and pupae to safer locations down in the ant hill. This is a great opportunity to observe the habits of ants, and how they work together for their survival.

You might also see sow beetles. Some people call them pillbugs or rolly polly beetles. They are not really a beetle.They look like miniature armadillos, and will often curl into a ball if they feel threatened. They like to eat rotting plant materials. Put a few in a bug house with a small amount of the composted log to look at later.

If you’re really lucky, and it’s the right time of the year for your area, you might see striped salamanders. These are locally plentiful, which means, if your area has them, you’ll probably find a lot of them. A little less frequently, you might see red efts, if your rotting log is close to a water supply (efts are also salamanders, which are amphibians, like frogs, so they spend part of their life in the water). If you are hiking at night (try it sometime!), you might be fortunate enough to see a spotted salamander, a large, black, prehistoric-looking creature with yellow spots. They are not plentiful, and are more sensitive to changes in the environment. We used to pay $1 to the first of our children to find a spotted salamander in the spring. The first one was usually unearthed in April or so, by turning compost or digging in the woodchip pile. They hide during the day, and come out almost exclusively at night, so be on the lookout under your log.

Another kind of ant you might see is the very interesting citronella ant. They often are confused with termites, as they are light yellow to whitish in color, and they are often seen in a line of thousands crawling along house foundations. They are not pests, though. They get their name because, if you accidentally squash one, it gives off a smell like the citronella candles you burn to keep mosquitoes away. You can usually see this kind of ant in the late summer, when they move house for the season.

The earthworm is another resident of the secret world under a rotting log. Their tunneling is very important to the energy cycle in the forest. Did you know that dirt is worm poop? That’s a fact that kids just love to hear. On another lens, I’ll tell you how to make a worm bin, and you’ll get to try an experiment that will prove that dirt is worm poop. It’s very cool, and I can’t wait to share it with you. A hint about earthworms: people like to take them home to study, but the kind of worms that you will probably find under the rotten log are particular about their home, and usually die inside (it just gets too warm for them). Be on the lookout for my lens called “Bucket of Fun” for more information about raising worms.

Don’t forget to check out the plant life under the log. You will probably see a net of whitish or yellowish threads that look sort of like roots. These are the underground body (called mycelium) of some non-green plants. Some are fungi — the mycelium is a sort of “root” for the mushroom that will grow above the surface. But others are another organism called actinomycetes. Everyone knows about these, but they don’t know it! Ever smell that wonderful smell that tells you that rain is coming? That is the smell that soil makes when actinomycetes grow after a rain storm. We think that bacteria and fungus are what make our leaves turn into soil in the compost pile, but it is really the work of those nets of white and yellow actinomycetes that you see under your log.

Check out the photo gallery, below, for pictures of some of the critters you might come across under your log. Use this journal page to write and draw about what you see. If you want to make a list of creatures you find, use this checklist.


Look for these…


Be a Good Steward


God created the whole earth for us to enjoy, but He also put us in charge of caring for it. Always make sure that you leave an area looking cleaner than it was when you got there. That means, carefully roll the log back. Replace any critters you have in your critter catchers, where you found them. Pack out any trash you created, and pick up any trash other hikers have left behind. Remember, it’s not YOUR home!


For More Information About Life in the Forest…

One Small Square: Woods

by: Donald Silver, Patricia Wynne

An excellent book if you are doing a nature study in the woods, or preparing for a woodland hike. One of a series.

Amazon Price: $4.51 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

A Field Guide to Mushrooms: North America (Peterson Field Guides)

by: Kent H. McKnight, Vera B. McKnight

There are many field guide series. I have used many of them. Peterson Guides usually group organisms by color, which bothers some people (because it’s not taxonomically correct), but helps beginners.

Amazon Price: $11.99 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

Gathering Moss: A Natural and Cultural History of Mosses

by: Robin Wall Kimmerer

Amazon Price: $11.98 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

A Salamander’s Life (Nature Upclose)

by: John Himmelman

If your nature study is part of a larger one about life cycles.

Amazon Price: $437.56 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

Lichens (Smithsonian’s Natural World Series)

by: William Purvis

Amazon Price: $10.49 (as of 08/13/2012) Buy Now

A Fascinating Look into the World of Fungus

What’s in the News Now…

Check out these articles about molds, mildews and other mushroom cousins.
Video: From Allergies to Deadly Disease, Feeling the Effects of Climate Change
In this video, doctors blame the world’s strange climate lately, on the rise of exotic diseases caused by fungi.
Paul Stamets and the Holy Grail of Mushrooms
One mushroom expert believes that a certain kind of mushroom holds the secret for the cure of many diseases.
The Strange World of Mushrooms, Above and Below
Just when you thought that you had this taxonomy thing all figured out, they go and find something that breaks the rules. Take a look at a kind of undersea coral which has part of its life cycle that looks remarkably like the above ground mushrooms it so closely resembles.
Better Living Through Mycology
A fanciful description of how the world would be a better place if we just loved fungi more.
Magical Kingdom
A quick guide to mushroom taxonomy.
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