garden

Try This at Home: Grow Your Own Carnivorous Plants

Fun homeschool project! Grow your own carnivorous plants as nature stufy

A Venus flytrap is the quintessential kid’s plant. What child (or adult) isn’t fascinated by touching that little trap and watching it snap shut? Sometimes these plants provide a child with his first attempt at taking care of a plant, and they make a great way of bringing a little bit of nature indoors. 

In the wild, those little traps are essential for helping the Venus flytrap catch
prey, usually flies or other small insects, because the prey makes up for a lack of nutrients not found in the soil where these plants live. All carnivorous plants have adapted to living in areas with poor soil by having a mechanism to trap prey. They usually grow in boggy areas or wetlands with very acidic soil that is low in nitrogen and other nutrients. 

Did you know that there are over 670 species of carnivorous plants in the world, and in the United States, they are found in every state? (Venus flytraps are native to the Carolinas.) They also live on every continent except for Antarctica. 

Believe it or not, Venus fly- traps are not the only carnivorous plant you can grow at home, and grouping them together make a beautiful and fascinating collection. You can probably find a Venus flytrap in the garden section of your local big chain hardware store, but you’ll have to visit specialty shops, order online, or inquire at your local botanical garden for most other species. If you want to make sure your Venus flytrap has been well-taken care of, you might want to buy it from one of these alternative sources as well. 

Next time you are in the market for some interesting plants, try out one of these: 

Pitcher plants are tall with leaves that look like tubes, though some of the species are hanging plants and look a little more like pouches. The beautiful colors on the top of the leaves lure insects by looking like flowers, and they also produce a sweet- smelling nectar on the rim of the “pitcher,” which slightly intoxicates the insect. As the insect travels down the tube, it’s impossible for them to climb back up because of the tiny downward pointing hairs. At the bottom of the pitcher plant is a pool of digestive enzymes and the end of the road for the unsuspecting insect. 

Sundews trap insects like flypaper. There are over 500 species of sundew in the world. Their leaves look like fingers with tiny red spikes on them. At the end of each spike is a sticky mucus, and if an insect lands on it, it gets stuck. Then the leaf will wrap itself around the insect and devour it. 

Butterworts are common in North American bogs. The common butter- wort has purple flowers with leaves that form at the base in the shape of a rosette. Like the sundew, its leaves have a sticky secretion that insects will stick to. After getting stuck, the leaves will curl up around the insect, and digestive juices will suck the flesh. As in all carnivorous plants, you can find the exoskeletons of its prey after the leaves open back up. 

Bladderworts make a great addition to garden ponds because they produce pretty, yellow flowers. There are over 200 kinds of bladderworts, and most live in the water. Their trap looks like a tiny balloon. When a small creature, such as a mosquito larvae, brushes up against the sensitive hairs on the open- ing of this balloon-like sack, it opens up, and whoosh, like a vacuum cleaner, it sucks up its prey. 

You can grow most carnivorous plants in sphagnum moss or peat moss that has no added fertilizer. Remember to never fertilize these plants. They are adapted to living in poor soil. 

 

Shelli’s tips for growing carnivorous plants

  • Water your plants with either distilled water or rainwater. Carnivorous plants are sensitive, and chemicals in tap water could kill them. 
  • If growing indoors, place them in a window with bright, indirect light. Read your instructions to see how moist you should keep the moss. you can keep them partially covered to retain the moisture, but they do need some fresh air to survive. 
  • Depending on your climate, you might be able to grow them outside. They make great container plants, and they also do well in garden ponds. 
  • Venus flytraps kept indoors only need to be fed once a month. Don’t try to feed them any other food besides insects, preferably live ones. even though it’s fun to touch the trap and make it close with your finger, be careful not to do that too much. each trap can only be open and closed about four times before it dies. 
  • For more information about carnivorous plants and how to grow them, you may enjoy looking at the International Carnivorous Plant society website
  • A trustworthy online resource for buying carnivorous plants is flytraps.com. Run by a husband and wife team since 1992, the owners can answer your questions and have detailed growing instructions on their website. 

This essay was originally published in the spring 2015 issue of home/school/life.

Unit Study Idea: Mushrooms

Resources for an elementary level unit study about mushrooms. Love that it includes living books as well as more traditional resources. #homeschool

Like strange flowers or magical dwellings, mushrooms are endlessly enchanting — and an ideal subject for nature study since you can delve as deep as you’re inspired. Even better: 2015 has been a bumper year for ’shrooms in some parts of the country, so there's never been a better time to add mushrooms to your curriculum.

Reading List

Mushroom in the Rain by Mirra Ginsburg A little ant shares his mushroom umbrella with other forest creatures during a rainstorm.

The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron Two boys use their science skills to build a spaceship that takes them to a mushroom-filled planet, where they must help the inhabitants solve an environmental crisis.

Mushrooms of the World with Pictures to Color by Jeannette Bowers Learn to recognize more than one hundred different types of mushroom with this coloring book.

Katya’s Book of Mushrooms by Katya Arnold Gorgeous illustrations make this book by a Russian mushroom enthusiast worth seeking out.

Our Living World: Fungi by Jenny E. Tesar A practical, information-rich book, this volume is a nice introduction to mycology.

World Treasury of Mushrooms in Color by Bernard Dupre Just flipping through this book makes you aware of the impressive variety of mushrooms.

Mushrooms by Sylvia Plath This simple poem paints a vivid picture of fungi life.

 

Activity Ideas

Grow a Mushroom Garden: Grow your own edible garden of mushrooms with an easy-to-set-up kit. One to try: The Back to the Roots Organic Mushroom Farm

Make a Spore Print: Mushroom spores make beautiful prints. Mature mushrooms make the best prints, but it’s not always easy — even for pros — to tell which mushrooms are at their peak, so collect plenty of specimens and hope for the best. Martha Stewart has a handy tutorial for making spore prints on her website.

Practice Your Identification Skills: Identifying mushrooms is surprisingly challenging — there are so many varieties of fungi, and sometimes you need to know whether a mushroom is fully developed or just starting out to identify it correctly. But the challenge is part of the fun, and kids will learn as much trying to make an identification as they will successfully I.D.-ing a mushroom.

Learn from the Experts: Join the North American Mycological Association, and you’ll have access to all kinds of mushroom-focused learning materials, events, and publications. A family membership is just $30.


At Home with the Editors: Shelli’s Project-based Homeschool

At Home with the Editors: How Project-Based Homeschooling Works for Shelli's Family

When Amy approached me about working on home / school / life, we both agreed that we wanted a magazine and website that would welcome all homeschoolers no matter what their style or reasons for homeschooling. We continue to strive to bring you a variety of resources that will inspire you as you consider what is best for your family. Because we know most homeschoolers enjoy sharing the resources and insights they have learned through homeschooling, we thought we would start a series on our blog about our own homeschools. If nothing else, you will get a behind-the-scenes look in the homes of the editors of home / school / life, but if something here helps you, all the better!

This is my second post about our homeschool. In my first one, I listed all the curriculum and resources I use for the more formal part of my sons’ homeschool. Monday-Thursday we spend about two hours on our “lessons,” and on Fridays, we do an art lesson. But after our formal lessons, or on a day that I dedicate to it, I make myself available for what to me is the most important part of my son’s education – his own projects. These are projects that are completely initiated and controlled by him. I consider them important because it’s through these projects (or interests) that he is learning how to learn, how to do research, how to make decisions, what to spend his time on, learning what he’s really passionate about, and he is developing his imagination and problem-solving skills.

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So what is project-based homeschooling, and how do I do it? I wrote the definition that you will find in home/school/life magazine’s Toolkit, the magazine’s guide for beginning homeschoolers (we define eleven of the most popular methods of homeschooling), so I will include that here:

Project-Based homeschooling (PBH) is inspired by the Reggio Emilia Approach, and the term was coined by Lori Pickert. It is a method in which parents become mentors to their children in order to help the child direct and manage his/her own learning. Children may undertake long-term projects and will be given the time and tools that allow them to dig deep into their interests. PBH can be used in conjunction with any curriculum or style of homeschooling, from classical to unschooling.

But it’s much more than that too, and it’s not easy to explain how I do PBH in a blog post, so instead I’ll give you a few snapshots of what my son has accomplished while I have used these techniques. Though, in many ways, I was already following his interests and creating an environment where questions, creating, and discovering were encouraged, I am thankful for the tips I’ve received by following PBH. I’m not sure I would have mentored him as well without them. So I’ll try to explain some of what I’ve learned during this process as well.

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When my eight-year-old was five, I learned to take one of his crazy ideas seriously. That is, an idea that didn’t seem educational at first and an idea that was going to be time-consuming, messy, and wasteful too. Instead of giving a quick, “that won’t work,” or “but you’ll need to do this to get to that work,” or “we don’t have time,” or “that would make too much of a mess,” I just let him do what he wanted and see for himself how it would turn out. This was his attempt to a make a Celery Lettuce Cake. (He learned for himself that it didn’t make a very palatable dish, but oh the fun he had! He took it so seriously, and I was happy with his effort.)

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When my son was interested in the Titanic, I began to understand how to let him lead a project and how letting him make mistakes was important to this process. It also taught me how a well-placed suggestion can be golden. This project even proved to me that enduring temper tantrums was worth it because in the end he had a product that was completely his own, and he was so proud of it! (Yes, I helped him make it, but he was the designer and director, telling me what to do. I only made suggestions when he was completely stumped and looked at me for help.)

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When my son wanted to make a model of the Apollo Saturn V, I learned more how to balance that “let him lead” with “help him when absolutely necessary.” But more importantly, I was able to see how important it is to show my son examples of other people working on projects, failing, and trying again. (This has helped those temper tantrums!) Watching the documentary When We Left Earth, which is about the NASA missions, was perfect for this.

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When my son was very interested in carnivorous plants, I had the opportunity to model to my son how we could seek out other experts to learn from. I also learned how some projects will peak but then stay in the background over years because my son is still interested in the plants, and he still grows them, although he doesn’t actively seek to learn more about them right now. But whenever we see them in a documentary or find a live one, we get very excited!

Some projects are short, others are long, and others meander like winding rivers, popping up here and there. I have learned to connect the dots in my son’s projects (journaling helps with this), and I’ve learned that his deep interests include nature, science, and building things….

Looking back, I also see how important it has been to create an environment where materials for creating and building were readily available to my son. It’s also been important for me to show him how to use these materials, say “yes” a lot, and not worry about the messes. We began making paper animals together when he was four, and slowly, I have seen that my son is a true builder and maker – someone who likes working with his hands.

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Because I’ve let him use a variety of mediums, I have been able to see what he has a true interest in because these are things he continues to go back to and ask for more. One of these has been working with clay—to the point where he has taken pottery classes at a nearby studio. And also building lots of structures with cardboard, including a model of the Mayflower, a big robot, and two Star Wars ships.

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Each of these building projects, such as that awesome Mayflower ship, could have been a different kind of project. We did learn about the Mayflower, read a book about it, but it wasn’t the history my son had a deep interest in. As he continued on to make airplanes, boats and other things, I see he’s a builder and a designer. Even his special interest in Star Wars, I think, is largely due to his deeper interest in the models created in making the special effects and the robots used in those movies.

So it was not surprising that as soon as he learned what robots are, he became interested in that, and now he has a robotics kit. He’s teaching himself computer programming too. (I haven’t written about that yet, but you can see the photo at the top.) I have also noticed how he has watched NOVA’s Making Things Wilder at least four times so far. It, coincidentally, combines all his deep interests. (It’s about bioengineering.) The first time he watched it, he leaned forward in his chair, and said loudly, “I want to do that!”

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My five-year-old also has interests, and I’ve been seeing him work through a few projects of his own, though they meander and they aren’t as likely to produce something solid I can show the world like his older brother’s creations. He has been interested in dinosaurs for a very long time, and we have read countless books, watched many documentaries, visited museums, and he plays with his toy dinosaurs frequently, making a sort of “dinosaur land.” (So don't worry if your child isn't into building, art, or tinkering. Projects are simply a long-term investigation into an interest, and what your child produces could take on many forms.)

I also do a lot of modeling for my younger son because it seems to be the best way to encourage him in his interests right now. For example, he loves to draw, so I started my own sketchbook habit, and whenever I pull out my sketchbook, I usually inspire him to do the same.

I have learned with both my boys that the best way to get them to do something is to just start doing it myself! Having my own interests, learning about things that I’ve always wanted to learn about, and casually sharing my own process of exploration with them, is one of the best ways to mentor without pushing an agenda on them. Even if they don't have the same interests, they are learning my behavior and investigation techniques.

I have also learned that it is okay to require certain work from them that I dictate (whether cleaning the house or doing a math lesson), but when it comes to their own projects, I should let them be in charge, and sometimes that means letting them quit before something is completed. I remind them of their work, encourage them, but if I ultimately want them to be in charge of their education, they have to take ownership. So I have learned to take away my own expectations of my children and let them blossom in their own time and through their own discoveries.

Are you interested in learning more about project-based homeschooling? I am always accessible to anyone who would like to discuss homeschooling or who has any questions. Just email me. If you want to talk on the phone, we can set up an appointment. (FYI: My advice is free! I love chatting!) Also, here are a few links for you:

  • You will want to read the book What Is Project-Based Homeschooling? by Lori Pickert, see her fabulous website, and join one of her forums. She is also very accessible through her social media, forums and even email, and she offers classes too.
  • I have written extensively about this journey with PBH on my blog, and I will continue to do so. See my page Project-based Homeschooling. There is also a very good interview with Lori on my site about beginning PBH with younger children. Click here for part 1 of that.

3 Fun Ways to Welcome Spring to Your Homeschool

3 fun ways to welcome spring to your homeschool

CREATE A WILDLIFE HABITAT IN YOUR YARD

All you need are the three essential elements for wildlife to flourish:

1. FOOD :: Natural food like berries, nectar, acorns and other nuts.  You can also provide birdseed.

2. WATER :: If you don’t have a natural water source on your property, you can provide water in dishes, a birdbath, or fountain.

3. SHELTER :: Dense shrubs, vine masses, dead trees, underbrush, wood piles, bird houses, gourds, or shelves.

If you want to get very serious about your wildlife habitat, you can follow the directions and register your habitat with the National Wildlife Federation.

Caution: If you add a feeder or water to your yard, you can also attract unwanted critters into your house. So take care to put keep your feeders away from the house.

 

GROW SEEDS IN A JAR

This is easy peasy and great for young kids.

  • Buy some dried pinto beans at the grocery store.
  • Find a clean, clear jar and put a moist paper towel at the bottom of the jar.
  • Put 2-3 beans in the jar and cover with a lid.
  • Put in a sunny windowsill and watch them grow!
  • When they are too big for the jar, you can uncover it.
  • When the threat of a frost is gone, plant in your garden.

 

MAKE YOUR OWN HUMMINGBIRD NECTAR

We have started to see a few hummingbirds in our yard, and that reminded me to put our hummingbird feeders back out. (We can actually leave our feeders out all year long in Georgia, but I like to take a break from making the nectar and cleaning the feeders in the winter months.)

It’s easy and healthier for the hummingbirds to make your own nectar. Just boil 1 part sugar to 4 parts water until the sugar dissolves. I usually do 1 cup of sugar and four cups of water, and I store the excess in my refrigerator.

Tip: Make sure your hummingbird feeder is red, especially the tip where your hummingbird will be feeding from. We have tried feeders that weren’t red, and no hummingbird went to them! There is no need to add red food coloring to the nectar.

Also, be sure to clean the feeders often in order to prevent mold or bacteria from forming inside, which could make the hummingbirds ill.