Nature revels in summer, dressed in leafy foliage and wild blankets of flowers. Animals search for mates, care for young, and forage for food. Birds and insects seem to celebrate as they sing. Warm breezes beckon us outside amid a colorful swirl of plants and animals making the most of sun-drenched days. Creatures are crawling under every frond and dancing over the treetops. Every habitat is buzzing with activity so it’s an ideal season to get outdoors for nature play!
SUMMER COMES TO TOWN
by Karen Madigan
Birdsong wakes the sleepy morning with cheerful hum and chatter.
Gentle rain spills from clouds with quiet pitter-patter.
Mushrooms burst, mosses pop, ferns unfurl their fronds.
Dragonflies go whirring by as turtles laze in ponds.
Our shining star, the sun, appears and warms the earth and air.
Snails and slugs and salamanders leave their gloomy lairs.
Marigolds and violets dressed in lofty gowns, have gifts to share with everyone as summer comes to town.
The sky’s canvas comes in countless shades during summer, from light blue with big puffy clouds to pastel pinks and oranges at sunset. The intense dark grays of summer storms can quickly change to a cloudy purple haze or perhaps even a rainbow. The star of the show by far is the Sun! We owe our existence to its bright light and warmth. On a sunny morning, head outside and take a walk. Collect natural items to create a sundial.
Sundials were first used to tell time as early as 1500 BCE, and possibly even earlier. These instruments can be as simple as a stick poked into the ground or as elaborate as a hand-carved sculpture. A sundial consists of a disk or dial and a gnomon (stick or pole protruding from the center). A shadow is cast when the Sun shines on the gnomon. The shadow moves as the Sun rises or sets in the sky, indicating the hour of day. The hemisphere you live in will determine how you will make your sundial.
Note: You can make a sundial anywhere the Sun casts shadows with open space outside. It’s best to start early in the morning so you have a chance to add a seashell or stone for each hour of the day.
〉 12 large seashells or stones
〉 Large stick or straight piece of driftwood
〉 Watch or timer
1. Find a clear, flat area to make your sundial.
2. Place your stick (gnomon) vertically into the ground.
3. Mark where the shadow falls with one shell or stone and make note of the time on your watch.
4. Place the remaining shells in a circle around the gnomon, like a clock.
5. Check the sundial on the hour, every hour,
6. Adjust the shells according to the shadow.
In the Northern Hemisphere, lean the gnomon to true north. If you are in the Southern Hemisphere, lean it to true south. Your smartphone likely has a compass that will show these directions.
A mandala is a geometric design consisting of repeated patterns that create a circle. In some Eastern religions, a mandala is a symbolic representation of the universe that is used for meditation. Use found treasures to make a nature mandala. Pinecones, shells, stones, sea glass, driftwood, leaves, grasses, and more can be used to create beautiful mandalas. You can do this anywhere with all sorts of natural loose parts. We will revisit this activity in the winter chapter.
As summer begins to wind down, flowers bow their heads and drop their seeds. Visit a garden in late summer to collect flowers that have wilted or are beginning to fade. Do the flowers have a scent? Children can pull the petals from the flower heads to examine the seeds inside. Sort flowers by size, color, or variety. Some flowers, such as marigolds or bee balm, can also be used to make natural dye.
〉 4–6 cups (900–1350 ml) marigold flowers (dried or fresh with stems removed)
〉 Nonreactive dye pot (such as a stainless steel pot)
〉 Half a yard of cotton, muslin, or silk fabric
1. Place the marigold flower heads in the pot and cover them with water.
2. Heat on medium-high heat until simmering for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
3. Strain the dye into a bowl to remove flowers. Return the dye to the pot.
4. Wet your fabric under warm water and squeeze out excess water.
5. Place the fabric in the dye pot and simmer for
6. Turn off the heat and let fabric sit in the dye pot for 1 hour.
7. Using tongs, remove the fabric from pot and let cool in a bowl.
8. Rinse the fabric to remove excess dye. Hang to dry.
Plant a dye garden! Calendula, coreopsis, hollyhock, bee balm, and marigolds can all be used for natural dyeing. Sow lots of seeds in spring for a mid- to late-summer harvest of flowers—and a nectar source for pollinators.
Experiment with different amounts of mordant and marigold flowers for a variety of deep golden shades. To mordant the fabric, add 2 to 3 tablespoons (28 to 42 g) alum and 1 to 2 tablespoons (14 to 28 g) cream of tartar to half a gallon (2 l) of water in a bowl. Stir to dissolve, add the fabric to the bowl, and soak for 1 hour or longer before adding the fabric to the dye pot. Try painting with your dye in your nature journal or using it in some of the other projects in this book.
Nighttime in summer is a treat for the senses! Watching fireflies blink and listening to night sounds such as crickets, tree frogs, and other nocturnal creatures is fascinating. Enjoy the summer evening with a “sit spot” experience. Head outside, find a place to sit, and bring awareness to the sights and sounds around you. Meditation, breathing, or mindfulness techniques can intensify the experience. Don’t use a flashlight! Like other animals, our eyes naturally adjust to the changing level of light as darkness falls.
〉 White or light-colored bedsheet
〉 Clothesline or rope
〉 Black light, flashlight, or any other type of light
1. Hang the sheet on a clothesline or rope tied between trees.
2. Set up a light (black light works best) to illuminate the sheet.
3. Observe and photograph the creatures that appear on the sheet.
Moths are attracted to all types of artificial light, especially to ultraviolet light. Recent studies show how certain species of moths are evolving to avoid artificial light sources. This moth evolution could decrease pollination and food sources for nocturnal animals such as bats. Eek! Unless you need outdoor lights, please turn them off.
Leave your sheet out overnight and check it the next day. Are there other creatures that were not present during your nighttime observation?
Where there are flowers, you just may find hummingbirds humming about. Visit a habitat that hosts hummingbirds, such as a garden, meadow, or backyard. Explore the habitat and look closely at blossoms, grasses, and trees that grow there. What are the hummingbirds busy doing? Use binoculars to get a close-up view—if you can keep up! What do you notice about the way the tiny birds move? What do you wonder about hummingbirds? What plants and animals share this habitat with the hummingbirds? Spend several minutes observing with a still body and quiet voice to a catch of glimpse of these beautiful little birds.
Hummingbirds need a tremendous amount of energy to fuel their bodies. You can make some energizing hummingbird nectar that mimics the nectar the birds get from real flowers. Although most hardware and gardening stores sell hummingbird feeders, you can create your own adorable feeder from a few household items.
〉 1 cup (150 g) refined white sugar
〉 4 cups (946 ml) warm water
〉 12 inches (30 cm) ribbon, twine, or yarn
〉 Canning ring
〉 Mesh produce bag (any color)
〉 1 (4-ounce [120 ml]) canning jar
1. Make the nectar by combining the sugar and water; mix until sugar dissolves and then set aside.
2. Tie ribbon onto either side of the canning ring to make a loop for hanging (as shown in photo).
3. Cut a 6-inch (15 cm) square from the mesh produce bag.
4. Place the mesh square over the mouth of the jar, then twist the ring on and trim the excess fabric. (Be careful not to cut the ribbon.)
5. Fill the jar with nectar, then hang it outside by the looped ribbon.
6. Watch for hummingbirds!
Note: It is not necessary to boil the nectar. Leftover nectar can be refrigerated for up to 3 weeks. Remember to change the nectar in your feeder every few days.
If you plant nectar sources, hummingbirds will surely visit your yard or porch. Ideal hummingbird flowers include cardinal flower (Lobelia cardinalis), bee balm (Monarda didyma), and native species of columbine, salvia, lupine, rhododendron, and lily.
When you notice hummingbirds visiting your feeder, spend some time observing them. How many are you able to notice? Track them with your eyes as they flit away from the feeder. Can you see where they go? Do they perch anywhere? Make notes about hummingbird visits in your nature journal or on your natural events calendar. You may begin to see a pattern, and if you continue to refill your jar, your speedy friends will return.
How lucky we are to observe the intricate weaving that spiders do. Spiderwebs are like priceless works of art hidden in nature. Sometimes it’s tough to see the webs while hiking a trail. Slow down on your walk and look between trees or shrubs. Gently mist webs you see with a spray bottle. This will highlight the delicate traps so you can take in their splendor and complexity. You may even spy the artist herself wrapping up a meal. Draw the webs in your nature journal using white or light-colored pastels on dark paper
A provocation is an open-ended suggestion for using materials. Providing the materials without any specific directions leaves it up to the artist to create whatever they wish.
1. Gather materials after your spiderweb walk.
2. Sit near the edge of a forest or meadow.
3. Channel your inner spider and weave away!
Spiders are part of nature’s delicate balance. Though some people are fearful of spiders, they are a food source for birds, frogs, chipmunks, turtles, and many other animals. Pesticides that kill spiders and insects can also harm the creatures that rely on them for food. Popular culture may sensationalize certain animals like spiders, sharks, snakes, or bats, which can cause alarm when children come upon them. Adults are crucial role models of positive, respectful attitudes for all living things. Help your child understand that it is okay (and natural!) to be nervous when encountering unfamiliar animals. But we can show respect for all creatures by doing them no harm and keeping our distance.
Read the following poem aloud, then try your hand at writing a poem, story, or song inspired by our arachnid friends.
by Karen Madigan
Spider, spider craft your web,
Make it out of silken thread.
Spinnerets release thread to the breeze,
The air will take it to the trees.
Send it out, reel it in.
Repeat, repeat, repeat again.
Catch your prey in sticky string,
Eat your lunch and spin again!
Whether in a garden or just a small pot of posies, butterflies and bees will visit your flowers. Did you know that you can attract these important pollinators with a few pieces of fruit on a plate? Visit a botanical garden, butterfly sanctuary, or community garden plot to get up close and personal with these beautiful creatures. Take along your nature journal and spend some time sitting among the flowers. Once you’ve had time to observe the insects fluttering about, think about traits that bees and butterflies share. How do bees move compared to butterflies? How many species of bees and butterflies can you count? What color flowers do they seem to be most attracted to? How are their wings different?
〉 White bedsheet or fabric (cotton, muslin, or silk)
〉 Pencil or light-colored marker
〉 1 cup (250 ml) water
〉 1/2 cup (125 ml) fabric medium (will allow watercolors to become permanent on fabric)
〉 Hole punch
〉 Liquid watercolors/natural dyes in various colors
1. Fold the bedsheet in half and draw a wing shape away from the folded edge.
2. Keeping sheet folded, cut along the line to make wings.
3. Fill a jar with 1 cup (250 ml) water.
4. Add 1/2 cup (125 ml) of fabric medium to the water and mix. Set aside.
5. Add liquid watercolors and/or natural dyes to jars. Add a little fresh water to each color and stir.
6. Paint the wings with watercolors as desired, symmetrically or any way you like.
7. Paint over the wings with the fabric medium/water mixture.
8. Allow the wings to air dry, then toss in the clothing dryer on high heat for 10 minutes to set.
9. Cut or punch holes at the base of the wings, slip a ribbon through, and tie the wings on.
10. Wear your wings and fly!
Many insects are pollinators. Bees, flies, beetles, and butterflies all help flowers and trees make seeds by spreading pollen from blossom to blossom. Other creatures like bats and hummingbirds help pollinate too. Help these busy critters by creating a pollinator garden with flowers such as purple coneflower, giant sunflowers, milkweed, New York ironweed, aster, bee balm, and goldenrod. Herbs such as mint, lavender, parsley, and sage are also excellent sources of nectar and pollen. Joe-Pye weed is an outstanding plant and will attract more butterflies than you can imagine! Please “bee kind” and never use poisonous weed or bug killers in your garden. Find experts in your community for advice on the best pollinator plants for your area.
Honey comes in many varieties depending on the nectar source. Orange blossom, wildflower, clover, and blueberry are a few kinds of honey flavors. Look for honey harvest festivals in your area or visit an apiary to taste the sweet honey of the bees.
by Karen Madigan
The bee loves the flower.
The flower loves the bee.
They are good friends as you can see.
“I have nectar” says the flower,
“I have pollen” says the bee,
“Thank you” says the flower,
“Buzz!” says the bee.
Note: You can use American Sign Language to act out this fingerplay.
Berries are at their prime in summer. Ripe and ready for picking, berries are useful, nutritious, and delicious! Whether you have a garden that includes them or you set out to find some growing wild in a forest or meadow, whole berries are a sweet addition to any meal or the magic ingredient in a wide variety of recipes. Go on a wander in search of edible, ripe berries. Did the birds eat all of your berries? Visit a local farm that offers berry picking and load up!
〉 1/2 cup (50 g) foraged and washed herbal plants and flowers (chamomile, mint, spicebush, sassafras, lemon balm, raspberry leaves, calendula, or elderflower)
〉 Quart-size (950 ml) jar or container with lid
〉 1/2 cup (75 g) washed mixed berries (raspberries, blackberries, strawberries, elderberries, or blueberries)
1. Place the washed herbs in the jar and fill with water.
2. Place the jar in a sunny spot and leave for at least 4 hours.
3. Add the berries and let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour (or longer).
4. Strain the tea into ice-filled glasses, add a few berries, and enjoy!
Note: You can also try additions such as lemon or orange peel, cloves, honey, agave nectar, or candied ginger.
Forage safely! Do not eat any herbs or flowers you cannot identify. Forage with permission, take only what you will use, and do not harvest rare or protected plants.
Many berries can make vibrant natural dye, including blueberries, raspberries, and cherries. Simmer 1 part fruit to 4 parts water until you reach your desired color, about 30 minutes. Once it cools, paint with the berry dye in your nature journal or experiment with dyes on pre-fixed natural fabric like muslin or silk.
During the hot summer days, it’s wonderful to find a shady place to play or just relax in nature. Some trees and shrubs offer lofty, leafy branches that droop down for a no fuss hideout. Other trees or bushes may grow closely together and naturally define a cozy space. Spend time in a hidden-away spot. Perhaps a tea party, small-worlds play, or pretend camping will be part of today’s nature play.
Note: Learn more about small-worlds play in chapter 5.
Pole beans are easy to grow and will climb high in just a few weeks! There are many varieties, such as Scarlet Runner, Purple Podded, Blue Lake, and Kentucky Wonder. Plant more than one variety if you wish.
〉 8 (6-foot [1.8-m]) bamboo poles
〉 Pole bean seeds (any variety)
〉 Organic soil
1. Choose a sunny location and prepare it for planting.
2. Poke the bamboo poles into the ground to form a semicircle.
3. Gather the tops of the poles together and secure with twine.
4. Plant three bean seeds (1 inch [2.5 cm] deep and 2 inches [5 cm] apart) around each pole.
5. Water regularly and watch your beans grow.
6. Enjoy your shelter and delicious bean harvest!
Enhance your soil with compost to increase the chances of healthy bean plants. You can add a layer of mulch around your plantings to keep moisture in and provide a cushiony place to sit under your shelter.
Experiment with other types of climbing vines, such as black-eyed Susan, squash, or mini pumpkins for your next shelter.