Frog Watch

Vernal Pool 1Several years ago we discovered vernal pools.  In fact my first ever blog post was about exploring vernal pools and the cover picture for the blog is usually of the boys sitting beside their favorite pool examining larvae.

A person might think we would get tired of studying frogs each spring, but there is a certain happiness to hearing the first spring peepers.  This year we are thrilled to join citizen scientist across the US monitoring local frog populations.

Tadpole 2014Our local zoo, Akron Zoo, is part of Frog Watch USA, a citizen scientist project.  We attended training back in February and received a CD of all the local frog calls.  Thankfully there are only 16 species of frog we need to know by call.  We started out knowing about six of the calls and were able to learn the rest within a few car rides listening to the CD.

IMG_1810Once each month we will be visiting a couple of our favorite frog locations.  After sunset we will listen to the frogs for three minutes and report our findings through the Frog Watch website.

When we started homeschooling, one of our major desires was to “learn more about animals.”  Frog Watch is a great opportunity to learn more about our amphibian friends and contribute to our community.

Vacation Learning: Glacier National Park

DSC_5622We are coming off a fabulous week.  After several months in the planning stage we finally took our trip to Glacier National Park.

IMG_1939As the time for our trip got closer and closer we had to consider alternate plans due to wildfires in the park and surrounding area.  While the fires were no longer burning in the park, the air quality was extremely poor due to nearby fires.  We decided to hope the rain in the forecast would materialize and stick to our plan.  Flying in on Saturday,  the mountains were covered in smoke and we could even see some areas smoldering.  It was a very sobering to see the enormity of the wildfires.

Lake McDonald Smoky vs. clearOur first day the air had a campfire quality to it.  Thankfully for everyone, rains moved in and the air cleared.   The above pictures show the difference in air quality between Saturday (8/29) and Tuesday (9/1).

Hidden Lake Trail BoardwalkI absolutely love visiting the mountains.  Pictures and documentaries can never give you anything close to the full experience.  The vastness of it all is so impossible to capture.

High Ropes CollageWhile we spent most of our time in the park we did take a day to do “fun touristy stuff”.  I put that in quotes because my family considers a high ropes course fun.   A long time ago I heard a psychologist say, “Shared adversity strengthens relationships.”  I decided to view the high ropes course as a chance to strengthen my relationship with my family – although I’m not sure it counts if they aren’t facing adversity.  I happen to think it is a positive thing for the kids to see me get outside of my comfort zone and do things I’m not particularly good at. The ropes course had 4 levels of difficulty and the course rules said no one under 13 on the most difficult level so the boys and I did levels 1-3.  The beginner courses were actually somewhat fun.  E did the level 3 course with his dad and they had a good time.  C and I found the level 3 course more challenging.  We would have taken the chicken exit, if one had been offered, instead we ended up feeling proud of ourselves for completing the  course.

Swiftcurrent Lake Many Glacier HotelOne day we hiked around Swiftcurrent Lake.  The Many Glacier Hotel is located along the shore and there are beautiful vistas all around the lake.   As we were hiking back the tour boat went past.   It was our first day hiking at altitude and while we faired okay for the hike we did, it was obvious the much longer hike I wanted to do wasn’t going to happen when combined with the car trip to get to the east side of the park.

DSC_5668The next day we took a chance to rest and just enjoy Lake McDonald.  Even though the winds were blowing well in excess of 20 mph most of the time the boys still enjoyed playing at the edge of the water.

Lake McDonaldWe drove around the lake to Apgar Village and it was apparent why this vantage point is such an iconic representation of Glacier Park.  It is very near the west entrance, within a few yards of a parking lot, and stunningly beautiful.

DSC_5761Once we were acclimated to the climate and understood how we needed to prepare for hikes, we decided to explore a section of the Highline Trial from Logan Pass.  When my husband mentioned the trail passed above Going to the Sun Road and a chain was provided as a handhold along the narrow passage,  I nearly refused to go.  Fortunately I knew it was probably our best chance to see a pika. Pikas are adorable little creatures that only live high in the mountains.  All summer long they gather plant materials and dry them in little hay piles.  They are lagamorphs, like rabbits and hares, and they happen to be C’s favorite animal.

IMG_2014That’s me inching my way along the Highline Trail.  See the road down below?  Thankfully that part of the trail was reasonably short.

Hidden Lake Glacier National ParkWe kept our hike along the Highline trail to a couple of hours so we could have a quick lunch in the car then hike the Hidden Lake trail on the other side of the Logan Pass.  It was a steep climb up boardwalk stairs but the views of Hidden Lake were truly gorgeous.

DSC_5798We all had a good laugh when a ground squirrel ran right up to E.  While entertaining it was a reminder that people do feed them, which is detrimental to their survival as the small creatures sometimes fail to store food for winter.

DSC_5861Another day we hiked to Avalanche Lake.  The highlight of the day was seeing a bear at the shore of the lake.

Chipmunk feeding on berriesWe also saw loads of chipmunks along the trail.

IMG_2047Our rental cabin was very comfortable and homey.  The owners live next door and their Labrador would come over and play with the boys every night.  Our last night, Jake, the rental dog, stopped their game of fetch to tree a black bear!  Quite a memory!

Bighorn sheepTips for traveling to Glacier:

I was making our reservations about nine months in advance so I wasn’t able to piece together a cohesive in park stay and opted for a cabin outside the park.  Most of the available lodging outside the park is on the west side which makes for a LONG drive to the Many Glacier and Two Medicine areas.  I wish I had been able to split our stay between the east and west sides of the park.  On the other had it was very nice to have a large cabin outside the park.

We opted for a fall trip due to scheduling, which made it easier to determine glacier versus seasonal snow, but we didn’t have views of snow capped mountains.

Good outdoor clothes that layer are a must.

Hope you enjoyed all the pictures!

(Special thanks to my husband who does almost all the photography when we are on vacation.)

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A Morning in the Sugar Bush


Even though the calendar indicated spring, ice still floated on the river.  Although a few days had been warmer this particular morning was cold and brisk.   The weather was right for maple sap to flow, below freezing at night and into the 40s or 50s during the day.IMG_1760

Our guide led us through the sugar bush, pointing out maple trees that were suitable for tapping.  Since this particular area is set up for educational purposes there were a variety of collection types – wooden buckets, metal buckets with lids, plastic bags, and tubing systems were all represented.IMG_1764

The tour focused on the history of maple sugaring from Native Americans through present day, so they also showed various methods used for concentrating the sap into syrup.  IMG_1766

E had a chance to demonstrate how children used yokes to balance the buckets of sap.  I can only imagine what hard work it would have been to collect enough sap to make syrup.  It takes roughly 40 gallons of sap to make just one gallon of syrup and I’m sure any farm children working in the sugar bushes wanted to make sure every drop was turned into either syrup or sugar. IMG_1768


The kettle over the fire has been replaced by a more modern evaporator system, but finding the exact consistency seems to remain an art.

One of the talking points I found interesting was that maple sugar was a “free trade” sort of product at one time.  The cane sugars exported from the Caribbean almost always used slave labor, therefore maple sugar was the preferred sweetener of abolitionists.

Even though we’ve been on this sort of tour before it had been a few years.  Too often we think that because we’ve done something once it isn’t worth doing again, but I frequently find the kids are processing things on a new level or at least challenging themselves to remember their past experience.

Special thanks to the Cleveland Metroparks and Rocky River Reservation for offering this tour and to NEST Homeschool group for organizing our group outing.


Real Spring

IMG_1795We were walking in the woods last week when we heard them, spring peepers and wood frogs.  It’s one of the most beautiful sounds on earth.  When the peepers and wood frogs emerge and sing their mating calls, a person can’t help but feel the hope and renewal of spring.

IMG_1803As we were walking my son said, “There should be two first days of spring.  The equinox and the day the peepers come out.”

It doesn’t look like much.  The trees are still bare.  Only the earliest plants are pushing their way up through the soil.  BUT the air is warming up.


Many of the local park services are hosting night hike visits to vernal pools.  During night hours the spring peepers can be absolutely deafening.  It’s amazing to me that a creature barely larger than my thumbnail can emit such piercing call.  For just a few days the yellow spotted salamanders come above ground to mate in the pools before heading back to their holes for another year.


We found this super cool fossil next to a creek the other day.  The shell filled with mud and sand that solidified.  It’s amazing the things we find and the deep learning that takes place when we have time to just explore.



What Went By : Elementary Science Olympiad

Today I’m focusing on resources to help you prepare for the “What Went By” event at an Elementary Science Olympiad.  If you have a child interested in animals and nature you will enjoy this list as well.
Wild Tracks! by Jim Arnosky is a fantastic resource.  It may look like a child’s picture book from the outside, but it is full of helpful information and LIFE-SIZE Prints.  Kids will learn that hoofed animals walk and run on their toes and wildcats use the same tracks over and over again, however this book stays away from scientific terms such as digitigrade and direct register.  Instead it is written in a friendly, digestible form perfect for independent learning even at younger ages.  The tracks examined are mostly common mammals of North America.

Animal Tracks and Signs by Jinny Johnson from National Geographic is another great resource.  The foreward does a nice job of explaining reasons a person may want to identify animal signs and tracks. The introduction provides a great list of scientific vocabulary terms that are useful for a young biologist and covered by the “What Went By” event.  The pictures of scat are very useful as most books don’t include color pictures of scat.  The scope of this book is very broad and contains information about animals from all over the world.

The Nature Series: Science on Tracking Expedition kit is also useful for kids interested in learning more about animal tracking.  The focus of this kit is purely tracking.  It comes with plaster of paris for making your own cast in nature or from the supplied molds.The matching cards that come with this kit are useful for memorizing different track attributes.  If you are creative you can create

National Geographic has a teacher’s guide that is pretty helpful when it comes to identifying scat.  We thought about doing the candy scat project, but decided we didn’t want to solidify those associations in our brains.

Our local natural history museum had a teacher’s resource kit that was very helpful.  You may want to check with your state conservation department or local park system to see if they have any kits available for loan.

In addition to the resources listed above, we found local nature centers did classes specifically about animal tracking with Science Olympiad preparation in mind.   These classes yielded some helpful hints we didn’t find in the books.


Perhaps the best preparation was just spending lots of time outdoors with an eye toward animal signs.

Weekly Wrap-up – Crazy Tournament Prep


I was completely delighted see this hawk hanging out on the boy’s play set.  I think it’s an immature Coopers Hawk.  It stayed on this perch for several minutes and we were able to watch it’s head rotate around.  It finally unfluffed and then caught something but we couldn’t see exactly what.


Mostly this week has been spent getting ready for our LEGO League competitions coming up this weekend.  One morning both the boys were working on missions with their respective team robots.

I will probably be sharing the LEGO Dragons project with you next week.  I think they have a truly innovative solution this year and I just hope their presentations go well in front of the judges.

Hope you are having a great week!

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Intentional Leisure


Way back in January or February my husband and I discussed plans for the year.  One of his objectives for our family was to “spend more time relaxing.”  At first glance it might seem like an odd goal, but he wanted to be intentional about making sure we planned outings as a family to go camping and mountain biking.

Too often we want to do fun things as a family, but the weekends seem to slip away and our calendars fill with other commitments.  Our goal this year was to schedule family time first – to make it one of the big rocks in our container and fill in the other stuff around it.

In March or April, I started making reservations at various places within a three hour drive of our house.  Our original goal was to go camping twice per month – the amended goal quickly became to “cottage camp” once per month and add additional single track riding close to our house.

Almost as soon as all the reservations were made, we had to start making adjustments.  Soccer ran a week longer than planned, our family reunion weekend changed, other conflicts came up.  Mostly we were able to adjust, but sometimes we chose to honor our plans and miss out on other events.

As we come to the end of the year, it’s clear our planning paid off.  We spent the night on a battleship, visited Niagara Falls in winter/early spring, and added the state of Kentucky to the boys travel list.  We created a ton of memories together.  Hopefully we will all be able to laugh about some of them given enough time.

We plan to do something similar next year, but I think we may focus less on camping and more on just taking a weekend trip together.

Admittedly it can feel a bit odd planning short weekend trips months in advance, but it helps us live life according to our priorities.   The time we have with our kids is short and it seems even shorter when we let other people schedule our time.

What about you?  Do you plan ahead or do you manage to be spontaneous and still get out of the house?


Learning and Vacation

Autumn Hues Along Cumberland River below FallsThis week was amazing!  We took a much anticipated fall break.

We stepped away from our workbooks but not from learning.   The week was full of learning about new and interesting things.

Mammoth Cave 2We learned more about geology and cave systems by visiting Mammoth Cave National Park.

Blue CorvetteThe boys particularly enjoyed a visit to the Corvette Assembly Plant in Bowling Green, KY to see sports cars being assembled and tested.  We also made a subsequent visit to the Corvette Museum.

We learned a bit about the distilling process by visiting Makers Mark Bourbon Distillery.

Cumberland Falls with RainbowThe week was also full of hiking and relaxing in Cumberland Falls, KY.

This week was part of our larger goal this year – “spend more time relaxing.”  The implementation included a goal to go camping each month during warm weather.  I’ll be sharing more about this goal in a separate post on intentional leisure.

For the moment I’m feeling quite accomplished that our bags are unpacked, laundry is almost done and there are meals available for tomorrow.  Hopefully soon I can work in a little more time to spend online.

Hope you are having a wonderful week!

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The Creek at Sunset


“Sometimes we must take a break to experience the world before we have anything to write.”



Beautiful Autumn Days


October is probably my favorite month to live in Northeast Ohio.  Sometimes I can’t get over how lucky we are to live near such gorgeous parks.  Even though much of this week was rainy, we still managed to spend a few hours hiking and biking around the woods.


This week at our house we studied how the microscope dramatically changed scientific knowledge of the world.  Did you realize the first microscopes used candlelight?  Or 175 years passed between the discovery that cork was made of cells and the confirmation that all plants were made of cells?  It wasn’t until 1858 Rudolf Virchow is credited with concluding all cells come from cells.  Of course people understood that animals give birth and plants come from seeds, but cells were thought to form more like crystals.

I enjoy studying science and history with an integrated approach.  It is amazing to think how inventions, discoveries, and innovations are shaped by the technologies, communications, and politics of their time.  When we read dates we try to think about what else was going on in the world and what daily life looked like.


We learned about so many things this week: animal cells, plant cells, gecko adhesion, trout, musk oxen, colony collapse disorder in bee hives, and white nose syndrome in North American bats.  We spent time using our microscope and programming the EV3 robot.


Of course we are following current events, especially cases of ebola.  We practice math and grammar nearly every day.  The boys are also using the Kindle’s immersion reading feature to read the first book in the Lord of the Rings series.


All this amazing learning is going on every day and still life is peaceful (at least mostly).  Our days have a flow and rhythm that suits us well.  This is what I love most about homeschool – the freedom to pursue our interests not in a sliver of “free” time, but as a natural part daily life.

Hope you are having a lovely season of learning!

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