Category: nature


By , November 11, 2011 6:07 pm

It’s fall and a perfect time to study pumpkins!

First I read the class Pumpkin Circle: The Story of a Garden by George Levenson and Shmuel Thaler, a lovely book about the life-cycle of a pumpkin.  The photos in this book are gorgeous.  We talked about the circularity of life.

Next I cut open a pumpkin at school and had the children identify the rind, the pulp, the stem, and the seeds.  We then made little Montessori “Parts of the Pumpkin” books.

I explained to the children that we would not waste our pumpkin and we would be eating the pulp and the seeds.  Several of them seemed somewhat aghast at the prospect.

I roasted the seeds in the oven at school so the children could enjoy the lovely smell and hopefully be more encouraged to try them!  Only one child out of a class of twenty-five did not wish to try one, and of all those who tried, only two did not clamor for seconds and thirds.  This was a huge hit!

I took the rest of the pumpkin home and made pumpkin bread with the pulp.  That will be going to school tomorrow and I think all will enjoy it.

In the interest of scientific research we put some of the pulp and a few seeds in a tightly sealed jar.  I labeled it with the date and placed it on the science shelf.  I asked the children to predict what, if anything, would happen to it.  A few predict it will stay exactly the same forever.  A few said it would grow mold.  I told them to inspect it every day to see for themselves.

(Next year we might try this clever version of the decaying pumpkin experiment!)

We also cut the top of a second pumpkin and filled it with dirt.  We watered it and set it in a sunny window to see if the seeds would grow.  I’ll report back on the results.

NOTE (added March 4, 2012):  This turned out wonderfully!  Please see the next post, What We’ve Been Up To for details and a photo of it now!

I dyed some pumpkin seeds red, orange, yellow, and green and set them out in bowls on a tray with some black construction paper.  They have been making pictures and designs with them.

Finally, I put this simple pumpkin color-by-number on the shelf along with a laminated completed one to use as a guide.   It has been popular.

(Oh, and we also painted pumpkins at our school’s annual Fall Festival!!)



Growing in Pre K – Post: Pumpkins




Rinse the seeds thoroughly and remove all pulp and strings.  Spread them out and let them dry on paper towels.  Put in the seeds in a bowl and add just a TEENY TINY bit of olive oil to make the seasonings stick (not too much, or they will be greasy).  Toss to coat them in oil, then add seasonings and toss again.  I use Jim Baldridge’s Secret Seasoning (yum!) but you can use anything you like, even just salt.  Some people do cinnamon and sugar, however I like mine savory and have never tried this.  Spread them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Try to spread evenly so very few overlap.  Bake in a 250 degree (Farenheit) oven (this is fairly low heat for those who do not use Farenheit).  Check them after 45 minutes, but they might take an hour to an hour and a half at this temperature to be done.  They are done when crispy seeming and crunch loudly when bitten.  NOTE: They might not brown much, but as long as they crunch, that is OK!


Ingredients :

  • 1 and 2/3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 plus 1/8 teaspoon kosher (ie. course) salt
  • 1 and 1/3 cups sugar
  • 1/3 cup canola oil
  • 1 cup plus 1 and 1/2  tablespoons canned, unsweetened pumpkin (or fresh pumpkin pulp that has been boiled, or roasted in water and removed from the skin)
  • 1 large egg

Preheat oven to 350 degrees (Farenheit, a medium setting for those who do not use Farenheit).  Grease and flour an 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan.  Sift together first 5 ingredients then stir in kosher salt.  Combine sugar, oil, and pumpkin in a large bowl.  Beat at medium speed with an electric mixer until smooth.  Add egg, beating until well-blended.  Gradually add dry ingredients, beating at low speed until blended.  Pour batter into pan.  Bake for about 1 hour and 5 minutes or until loaf is golden and a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean.  (NOTE – I start checking on it early.  It will be dry if you over-bake.)  Let cool in pan on wire rack for 15 minutes, then remove from pan.  Serve warm or at room temperature.

Watch the Perseid Meteors Tonight

By , August 14, 2010 2:53 pm

Last night I woke my two oldest children up at 2:30AM.  I led my confused and sleepy babies out onto the golf course behind our house armed with a flashlight and a blanket.  I spread out the blanket on the cool, damp grass of the fairway, we all laid on it facing northeast … and hoped that the sprinklers would not go off! Lol!

The children were astonished by what they saw – shooting stars, lots of them!  We also saw the Milky Way and several satellites marching in line across the night sky.

Our fabulous unplugged (and free!) show was the annual Perseid Meteor Shower.  The peak was the nights of August 12 and 13th, but you might still be able to see a pretty good display through the 22nd (especially if you are lucky enough to live in a low ambient light area like we do).  Just look to the northeast after midnight.

PS.  Most visible in the Northern Hemisphere, sorry!


EarthSky’s Meteor Shower Guide

Excellent Perseid Meteor Shower Expected

How-To: Photographing the Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid Photo Gallery

For another of our astronomy adventures, you might like to read: The Moon Unplugged? Not For Me!! (Part 1) and Mom Unplugged vs. Evil Sleepy Poser Mom – Lunar Dilemma Part 2.


(PHOTO:  I wish I had taken this great Perseid photo, but it is the work of Mila Zinkova.  License information can be found here.)

Clam Shell Mobile – “Beach” Unplugged Project

By , August 2, 2010 2:01 pm


As is my pattern these days, I am a day or two late in posting our project for July’s Unplugged Project theme of beach.  Oh well!

I am such a packrat that I have had these clam shells sitting around all summer.  In fact, I am embarrassed to admit that I saved them from a fabulous meal in Upstate New York back in June and brought them all the way home with me!  (I just don’t really trust Arizona seafood.) We soaked them in hot soapy water right away after eating to clean off any grease and smell.

We used a dremel tool to drill a small hole in each one.  You’ll need a good masonry drill or dremel bit for this since, as we discovered, clam shells are quite hard.

Before we began painting, we soaked them again, this time overnight in pure bleach just to get rid of the last lingering slightly clammy smell. We then rinsed them off in cold water and let them dry.

Next we painted the outside of them bright colors. (I think it would also have been a pretty project with them left as-is, but my daughter wanted them to be colorful since this was to hang in her room.)

After the paint dried, we decided to splatter them with gold paint using old toothbrushes.  Fun but a bit messy!

We left the inside natural, but you could paint that too if you want.

After they had dried completely (overnight), we strung a piece of fishing line through each one.  My daughter brought in four sticks from the yard to make the frames for hanging them.

We tied each pair of sticks together in the form of a cross using yarn and then hung one shell off each arm of one of the crosses.  We suspended the second cross below the first using yarn to create a second tier.  We again tied one shell onto each arm and hung our final one much lower from the center.


Nice Day + Old Fish Tank = Terrarium

By , May 20, 2010 3:41 pm

Are you without any ideas for organized unplugged things to to do on a nice Spring day but you aren’t feeling ambitious enough for a full blown Children’s Garden?  Do you have an old fish tank, or large glass bowl?  See if your kids want to make a terrarium!

Very few children can resist the idea of their own tiny little garden.  Even I remember making one and being totally fascinated by the magic of such a small scale.  To me it was like a little doll house garden.  If you have a fairy-lover, call it a Fairy Garden.  A dragon-lover, why not make a Baby Dragon Garden!  Be creative.

Last Sunday when we had our first gorgeous spring day, I finally told my 9 year-old that she could have the old fish tank in our garage that had been gathering dust in our garage for at least 6 months.  She has had her eye on it for some time – but for me, snow and cold are not conducive to warm, green creativity.

We finally pulled it out and I told her she was on her own.

This is what she came up with all by herself (as long as you don’t count my driving her to the nursery to get her plants while I bought mine).

I LOVE the reuse of the little fairy house from our fairy garden of 2 years ago and the path of rocks that lead to it.  There is even a pond made out of a food storage container that my daughter wants to put tadpoles in.  She put some sea shells in the pond and broken terracotta pots as homes for the future frog residents.  Some of the ferns look like trees and there is a small sprig of English Ivy for which she plans to make her own twig trellis.

Very fun and easy!

- Teaches kids not only to be creative about their landscaping ideas, but responsibility in caring for their creation.

- If you don’t have a suitable glass container, try searching yard sales and thrift stores.

Homemade Recycled Paper – “Flat” Monthly Unplugged Project

By , April 28, 2010 10:58 am

I have always wanted to try making paper so I confess, that is why I chose the theme flat for this month’s Unplugged Project (paper was already taken).  We finally did it and it was so fun!  I am also fairly proud of our efforts because we recycled not only a lot of used printer paper and newspaper, but also a picture frame which became our deckle.  It is amazing what you can do with old picture frames!

This paper was fairly brittle and could never be used for wrapping, however it would make nice note paper or scrapbooking paper.  Also, don’t expect a smooth, fine paper.  It is quite rough and well, homemade looking!  I really love the look of it.

Here’s how we did it.

Make the deckle:

You can get fancy and use wood to construct a frame for your deckle, or buy a ready-made deckle at a craft store, but we did something different.  I seem to have a love affair with alternative uses for picture frames, so I used one as the frame for our deckle.

Get an old 8″x10″ wooden picture frame (or other size, but the size of the frame will determine the size of your paper) or buy a cheap one at the dollar store.  You’ll also need some aluminum window screen.  If you don’t have an old screen at hand you can buy some cut to measure at a hardware store.  I bought one foot of screen for $1.12.  Aluminum is apparently better than nylon because it holds its shape better and is more rigid.

Cut the screen to the same size as the outside dimension of your frame.  The aluminum screen cuts quite easily with a sharp box cutter or X-Acto knife.  Staple the screen onto the back of the frame using a staple gun.  Try and make it as taught as possible.  That’s it!

Gather your materials:

We used old newspaper and some scrap printer paper.  You can also use wrapping paper, construction paper, paper bags, any kind of paper really.  There is an art to combining short and long fibers, but that was all beyond us at this point.

Also gather up some embellishments if you wish:  flower petals, leaves, yarn scraps, glitter, foil scraps.  We used construction paper punch outs that were left over after using a fancy hole punch.

You will also need a blender or food processor, some clean dish towels (or a scrap of felt) and a rolling pin.

Make the pulp:

Tear your paper up into smallish pieces about 1″ square, no need to be exact since they are going to be shredded in the blender (my 4 year-old really liked the tearing part).

Fill the blender no more than 3/4 full of water and add a handful of paper scraps.

Blend vigorously until scraps are shredded and combined with the water.  Keep adding small amounts of paper and pulsing the blender until your mixture looks like watery porridge (should be about a 4:1 ratio of water to paper).

It might take a few tries to get the consistency right.  If you find in the next step that the mixture is too watery, then pour it back in the blender and add some more paper.  If it is too thick, then pour back and add some more water.

Last, add any embellishments to your pulp but don’t blend unless you don’t want to shred them up.  Be careful you don’t add too much extra stuff because the more extras that are in your pulp, the less the fibers will stick together.  You might want to add a bit of glue or cornstarch to your mixture if you put in lots of decorative items.

Make the paper:

Pour the pulp mixture into a basin that is large enough for your deckle to lie flat on the bottom.  Tip the basin a bit and slide your deckle in under the watery pulp.

Swish it back and forth a bit to evenly distribute the fibers and lift it out of the water.  You should see a thin and even layer of pulp over the entire screen.  This is your sheet of paper!

Let the water drip through the screen until only a few drops are falling (a few minutes).

Meanwhile, prepare your towels.  I put some folded newspaper down first to help absorb the water, then I topped it off with a clean, folded dishtowel. Apparently felt works really well for this too, but we didn’t have any.

When most of the water has drained from your paper, gently tip the deckle upside down onto your towel or felt.

Gently tap the back of the screen so the paper falls off onto the towel.  It should fall in one sheet, but if not, keep tapping and it’ll probably all assemble OK on the towel.  Cover the wet paper with another clean, dry dish towel folded in half and roll over it with a rolling pin until much of the water is squeezed out.

The tricky part is getting the paper off the towel.  Carefully peel up one end until you can pull the sheet off in one piece.  I found that it was actually a bit easier to put a large plate upside down over the paper, lift the towels and the plate all together, and then flip it all right side up so the paper lands on the plate (kind of like getting rolled pie pastry from a sheet of wax paper into a pie dish!).  Gently peel off the towel and you’ll have a lovely whole sheet of paper on the plate.

Hang it with clothespins someplace to dry.


Newspaper/white scrap paper:

Newspaper/scrap paper and fancy hole punches:

White scrap paper only with grass and flower petals:

Newspaper/white scrap paper with red food coloring added to blender:

Newspaper/white scrap paper with blue food coloring and a bit of light weight kitchen foil added to blender (the foil shredded fine in the blender but I had to add a bit of cornstarch to the pulp because the paper wasn’t holding together well – next time I’ll use less foil, or use foil wrapping paper instead):

Tips & Notes:

  • You can fix holes that occur when you tip your paper off your deckle by making another small piece of paper on the deckle and placing it on top of the holes.  It will all blend in together and patch the holes when you roll it with the rolling pin.
  • If your paper doesn’t look good, just toss it back in the bin of pulp and swish to break it up.  Try again.
  • I had read that bleach could be added to make the paper white.  We tried that on one of our first simple newspaper sheets but it made no difference.  Perhaps we didn’t use enough, or didn’t let it sit enough?
  • You will find that your paper will be much lighter in color after it is dry.
  • I really like with printed paper how a random word will surface every now and then and become part of the new paper.  If you don’t like this look, then stick to plain paper, or grind your printed paper more thoroughly.
  • Would soaking the torn paper in water overnight or for a long while help improve the texture of the result?  Or pouring boiling water over it?  See Mother Earth News for more information.
  • I read that using already recycled paper for your pulp produces a sturdier result.
  • A few paper-making friends had the following ideas for me:  For color add cotton thread or string (embroidery floss apparently works well).  Just cut up and blend with the pulp.  Try a streak of ground dried chilis for interest (spices – great idea!), or sharpen some colored pencils and add the shavings.  Thanks guys!
  • There is a definite learning curve to paper-making.  Our first few tries were not as successful as later ones.  Just keep experimenting!
  • Reader Clara beat me to it with the idea of paper for this month’s Unplugged Project and posted this comment:

“Did I send this already? Papermaking! Great recycling project, and artistic and usable! You soak newspaper for a day or so, add a few drops of bleach (or not) and put into an old blender. You strain the pulp and spread a layer on a very FLAT board, place cloth or other paper on top, and weigh down, allow to dry, and while still damp, you can add flower petals, small blossoms and thin leaves to make it pretty. This was in the early 80s, so if you have any corrections, PLEASE add them! You can add thinly shredded cotton cloth before soaking, and this colors and strengthens the paper. You get a cream colored very artsy looking stock. Enjoy!”

Thanks so much Clara!  I think we’ll try your method next time. I like that no deckle is necessary.


The method we used:  Learn to Make Homemade Paper (a very thorough tutorial)

Some really good advice from an expert:  Instructables Homemade Paper

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