Would you Be’leaf’ it?

The past 3 weeks we have been learning all about leaves. We took a course at the Outdoor Discovery Center in Holland, Michigan with 2 naturalists to learn more about leaf and tree identification.

The first week we focused on flowers (aster family).

We started a journal y identifying parts of a flower and then headed out to the trails to collect finger size specimens. We found things like golden rod, New England Aster, Queen Ane’s Lace and much, much more! Back in the classroom, we taped the flower samples and added detailed information about their family and locations next to them to catalog everything we found. We also were given a guide booklet of the families of flowers and trees to keep, much to our delight! The next week was… Trees!

This was an interesting day. We learned about leaf types and took our knowledge along with an identification list on a tree scavenger hunt. We learned about the parts of a leaf like the midrib and the veins, alternating and opposite leaf patterns, lobes, teeth and what a whole leaf shape looked like. As a group we paired up to see if we could name the trees on the preserve. That is tricky business!!

The 3rd week, we focused on seeds and dispersal. Once we were out on the trail, we learned about milkweed, witch-hazel, dogweed. Once dogwood dries up, the seeds are projected out of their casing, shooting up to 5 feet in distance! If you are in a really quiet room, you can hear a very distinct popping sound when they erupt! Seeds can disperse via flight (think dandelions), water (think coconuts), poop (think berries) and attachment (think burrs). Often it is one of these methods of transport that aids in non-native plants becoming invasive like, Autumn Olive (aww, poor Olive).

We learned a lot! A funny thing about our particular group – they were obsessed with milkweed seeds and were throwing fistfuls of them everywhere to watch them fly. At least the Monarchs next year will appreciate their enthusiasm! Time for me to ‘leaf’ now. :0)




Air or Water?

Which is greater? Air Pressure or Water Pressure?

We did this experiment to find out… first we submerged two glasses with water and then we put them edge to edge as we pulled them out of the sink. Next we carefully put the tower of glasses on a tray and gently inched the top glass just slightly to the side so we could see the water but it wasn’t gushing out. If you look a little closer, you can see that there’s just a tiny slit between the glasses which would make you think that water would be pouring out, but no! It proves that the air pressure keeps the water inside the glasses making it the greater force. If you take a straw a blow into the crack, air will push its way into the glass displacing the water. Air then fills the glass, and forces the water out! If you are doing this project just beware – the glasses can get kinda tippy!!

A fun way to show that air and water pressure are not equal.


We decided it could see it better if it was blue! so we did the experiment again just for laughs!
here you can see the offset we placed on the upper glass. Water should have dripped out but air pressure saved the day! Pretty cool!






Air, Water & Friction!

A couple of weeks back we went on a beach adventure to learn about the evidence air, water and friction in nature, such as the title says!

Driftwood is is one such natural phenomenon that all 3 can be seen. The air moves the water, (along with other forces) which moves the water which pushes the wood. The sand moves up and down and over time – a long time – it abraids the wood, wearing it down. Same as beach glass and, well, stones throughout the rock cycle – which we also love to find. All these things are changed, worn down over time by air, water and friction.

After collecting our favorite pieces of wood, we came back from the beach and started our project. We used twine, a few hooks in the wall, a drill, some white and blue paint, driftwood (there’s a song about that you know!), a big branch and a warm fuzzy blanket to sit on!

We drilled small holes in the tops of the pieces of wood but only the tops. Then we painted the ends white and blue and hung them from the larger branch attached to the ceiling. Now it hangs happily in our learning space, reminding us about the power of the forces of nature!




Soapy Gems!

In our continuing exploration of rocks, minerals and gems, we headed to the kitchen lab to make some of our own spectacular sudsiness!

There are examples of making these in many places online, including kits and already made soap gems for sale. We liked this post by Alana the best. A beginner mistake resulted in having to do this project twice… We had extra paraffin in our melting container that was mixed into the glycerin and turned it white. I’ve included images of that at the end of the post just so you could see them, but we weren’t happy enough with them not to try it again.

To begin, we collected these ingredients: glycerin, soap coloring, scents (optional), stir sticks, a large rubber mold used for soap making, a couple of rubber ice-cube trays and a knife (WATCH OUT CHILDREN!). First, we melted down 3 batches of glycerin on the stove. We colored each them separately: peach, purple and green. We then poured them in the ice-cube trays to make individual colors we would combine later in the process. After letting them set in the freezer for about 15-20 minutes, take a knife and cut them into small shavings than arrange them in the soap mold. Finally, melt 1 more batch of clear glycerin, pour it over the top of pieces you just arranged in the mold, freeze it again and then cut to your heart’s desire. We went for a classic crystal but you can make anything you want!

Overall it was a lot of fun and we learned a LOT! Like, never put wax in soap, too much colorant makes the crystals murky and not fresh looking and making soap is FUN (oh! and very easy to clean up!!)!


This was the loaf that had the paraffin wax mixed in with the glycerin… eek!




These were the crystals that had paraffin in them. Too chunky and white!

Borax, the Mineral…

A couple of days ago we made our own homemade crystals out of pipe cleaners, boiling water, a jar, food coloring, a stick of some sort, a length of string and BORAX. You may know this mineral from the brand 20 Mule Team Borax right? Well actually, this is a mineral found in nature, most famously in the Boron mine, California. When Borax crystals first come out of the ground they are translucent but when dehydrated, the deteriorate into a fine, white powder.

Now, we found this super cool DIY online about making these fun crystals. You can check it out here. We tried it and there were some… incidents, so here are a few tips if you want to make some fancy-pancy Borax gems!!!

Tip #1: Try to make as few holes as possible when you’re intertwining your pipe cleaners because as you can see there are fairly large holes in ours even after the crystals grow, much to our dismay!

Tip #2: If you are going to use a mason jar like we did, make sure the rim is big enough to fit the gem through, even after its done growing so just leave a little elbow room! We used the narrow mouthed jar on one of ours and the crystal was forever stuck inside.

Tip #3. Use a TON of food coloring because even after about 30 drops, when we rinsed the crystals it got a LOT lighter so just go crazy with it!!!!!!

The process was super fun. We looked at the final gems under the microscope (check it out at the end of the photos posted) and we thought it was cool how the colorant was gathered around the base of the crystals. It’s a fast and simple project – give it a try for yourself and let us know how it turns out!



Candy Crystals!

At the end of last week, we went to the annual Tulip City Gem and Mineral Show in Holland, Michigan. During the week we reviewed the rock cycle (check out our fun experiment we posted last year on this here), types of rocks and also crystals.

We then headed to the kitchen to make our very own.,, This is the recipe we used. It was for beach glass candy, but we didn’t round the edges on ours. Super fun and oh! VERY delicious!!! We flavored ours with vanilla in the pink and peppermint in the blue. Very refreshing!



Monarch Watch!

Lucky us! Today we joined a local horticulturist, Hannah Nendick-Mason to participate in the University of Kansas’s citizen science program, Project Monarch Watch. You might remember an earlier post where we shared our experience on raising monarchs in our home. If not, check it out here. This made it extra exciting to experience the next level of the monarch journey.

We were quite surprised to see how many Monarchs were at the site where we met! It took some patience and many, many tries before we got the hang of the best way to catch them in the butterfly nets. Once caught, careful handling was in order, a sticker applied to their hind wing and data was collected and recorded. Then, with a good luck wish and blink, they were back on their way, fueling up for their epic flight ahead.

Special thanks to Hannah for having us “tag” along with her on this super fun adventure!