A sponge is an ideal surface on which to grow seeds due to its ability to hold water in its many small cavities. Soak the sponge and place it in a shallow dish of water. Sprinkle seeds over the top surface of the sponge. Try the seeds of grasses, sweet alyssum, coleus, and any other small seeds left over from planting a flower garden. The shoots of almost any plants will be an attractive display. Remember to keep water in the dish so that the sponge doesn't dry out. Also once the seeds begin to sprout, all the food in the seeds will be gone and you will need to add some liquid plant food to the water.
Jar Seed Germinator
Obtain a wide mouthed jar such as a mayonnaise, peanut butter, or wide mouthed canning jar. Soak some seeds in some water overnight, these seeds can be edible seeds like beans, lentils, peas etc. or those packaged for growing in a vegetable or plant garden, get some paper toweling or blotting paper and fit snugly around the inside of the jar. Stuff the middle of the jar with paper towels to help hold the paper toweling in place. Also saturate the paper toweling with water until no more can be held. Remove most of the excess water. Place the seeds between the paper towel and the glass about an inch or so down from the top of the toweling. Place them in different positions evenly spacing the seeds. During the next few days , the seeds will absorb the moisture from the toweling (Don't let the toweling dry completely it needs to stay damp) and the seeds will sprout, the roots will always try to grow down and the stems and the leaves upward, regardless of the position of the seed. This is called geotropism and shows that plants respond to the earth's pull of gravity. As a reminder, don't place the jar in direct sunlight.
Materials: Plastic container, Screen or piece of stocking, Rubber band, Dirt, Worms
Collect wiggly specimens in the yard or garden and observe them for a few days in a luxury "worm condominium"--even the most squeamish scout will feel safely separated from the condo's inhabitants. First you'll need a clear plastic container. Place another container, an inch or so in diameter, inside the larger container; the idea is to create a narrow enough space between the two containers that you'll be able to see the worms tunnel.
Put a piece of screen or stocking on top so you have good air flow (use a rubber band to secure it). Place fresh soil in the condo so your guests will have a supply of food (don't use potting soil--it's been zapped). Make sure that the soil is moist but not drenched--the worms will appreciate it. Watch how the worms move and tunnel, and explain how they aerate the dirt in your garden and lawn, enabling plant roots to grow.
Once your scouts has observed the worms for a few days, return them to their native habitat, where they can do our gardens a good turn.
Make Your Own Ant Farm
Take a large peanut butter jar (empty and cleaned) and place a baby food jar upside down inside it. Fill the peanut butter jar with sand. Make some holes in the top of the jar with a nail or screw. Add a little honey or jelly every few days, along with a little water. Now gather up some ants from outdoors. After you've closed the lid, be sure to stop up the holes with cotton so the ants don't get out. Now, remember to keep a cloth over the jar whenever you're not observing it. This way the ants will make really cool tunnels right near the sides, instead of hidden deep to avoid the light.
Cut a bird out of art foam, color of your choice. Paint on details and glue three pieces of pipe cleaner on for tail. Glue on eyes and pipe cleaner on back.
Use a clear scrub brush for this easy feeder. Melt some bacon grease or lard in a pan, then dip the brush into it. Sprinkle birdseed mix onto the bristles. As the fat congeals, the seeds will stick. Tie the brush to a tree in a safe spot.
Phenology is the study of periodic changes in plants and animals as they respond to weather, climate, and the seasons. Each spring we anxiously await the first returning robin in the hope of warmer weather. Or I look for the returning Goldfinch. That is a phenological event. It happens every year but the return date depends a lot on the weather. Migration and flowering are two more examples of phenological events.
One good thing about personal observations is that anything in nature is fair game. The arrival of the first robin or goldfinch in spring might be a typical entry in a phenologist's notebook. Another might be the first observation of a flashing firefly in summer. Or how about the return of those pesky dandelions The last snow or frost of Spring, or the date of the first mosquito bite of the season are entries for the budding Phrenologist.
It is a matter of selecting subjects of interest and then setting up a routine for collecting and comparing your data.
The best observations for comparison purposes are those that are made from the same location from year to year. For plant life, a specific site (such as a flower garden) is commonly used. Sometimes, the same plant is a good indicator. For birds, migration, mating rituals or nesting dates are frequently recorded. Birds using flyways migrating from the south back north is yet another observation. The last snow or frost of Spring, the date a local lake freezes in the autumn or the date of the first mosquito bite of the season are all phenological possibilities. A good thing about personal observations is that anything in nature is fair game
Buy or print blank calendar pages on your computer and have the boys fill in the dates for the month. Post the calendar in the kitchen, so it's handy to jot down "things of nature". List one or two things each day; cardinals at the bird feeder, grass turning green. Full moon in the sky, etc.
Encourage the boys to keep a phenonlogy calendar for a whole year. Then they can look back and compare nature's cycles.
The Nut Collectors
Six squirrels began to gather hickory nuts and put them into a large basket. The squirrels worked so fast that the number of nuts in the basket was doubled at the end of every minute. The basket was completely full at the end of ten minutes. How many minutes had it taken the squirrels to get the basket half full.
ANSWER--If the number of nuts in the basket doubled at the end of every minute, the basket must have been half full in nine minutes. Then, after one more minute, the half would be doubled, thus filling the other half of the basket.
Rare Bird Facts
Animal Footprint Casts
Cardboard or plastic containers
Piece of Cardboard, wood, or trowel
The boys would probably enjoy having a permanent record of critters in the area. This activity shows you how to do just that.
First, find footprints. Check your garden or flowerbeds. A walk through the park or woods will undoubtedly yield some interesting signs of life. Dig up the prints with a small shovel, maintaining enough dirt on all sides to keep it from falling apart.
Carefully place the footprint in a cardboard box or plastic container.
When you return home, mix up a batch of plaster (buy it at the hardware store and follow the directions). Pour the plaster into the footprint and let it harden. (If the soil containing the print is dry, moisten it with a spray bottle first so you'll have a smooth cast.) Even the top of the plaster with a piece of cardboard, wood, or trowel.
Once the plaster has dried, after fifteen minutes or so, brush off the dirt, turn over the cast, and you should have an excellent replica of the bottom of the animal's foot. Allow the cast to dry completely overnight and then paint it, if you like. Let your child's friends and relatives guess its origins.
Now, just what is that creature that's been prowling around the backyard?
Materials: 1 gallon glass jar, gravel, marbles, aquarium gravel, etc., purchased potting soil, 3 small bedding plants, option: small glass/china/resin figure of your choice
Place a 1/2" layer of gravel in the bottom of your jar. Add a thick layer (approx. 5") of potting soil. Remove the plants from plastic container. If in a "peat" container plant the whole thing. Place your plants into the potting soil at the same depth they were growing in the container. Gently pat the soil so there is good contact. Very gently add water to your soil so the soil is just damp. Place it in a window that gets the morning sun and watch the plants grow.