Author Archives: Danielle Lanson

How to Make Toilet Paper Roll Binoculars

Julia is a teacher-naturalist at Moose Hill who has been with Mass Audubon for over four and a half years and at Moose Hill specifically for the last year and a half. Julia is passionate about conservation and protecting the environment so future generations have the same resources that we have today and she loves sharing that passion with people of all ages. With a background in geology and environmental studies and research projects on fluvial features on mars as well as wetland restoration, she can easily teach on the many aspects at Moose Hill, hopefully sparking an interest or love of the environment in children and adults. She particularly loves seeing a child express excitement over something they learned.

Make your own homemade binoculars using recycled toilet paper rolls.  This project is best for children ages 3-6 with adult assistance.  Once you have finished your binoculars, take them outside to explore with and discover what you can see. 

Materials: 

  • 2 toilet paper tubes                
  • Blank white paper 
  • Yarn or ribbon 
  • Markers or colored pencils 
  • Stapler 
  • Hole punch 
  • Scissors 
  • Glue stick or tape 

Instructions: 

  • Cut the blank white paper using the scissors into 2 sheets the size of each toilet paper tube. 
  • Have your child color each sheet of paper to decorate their binoculars. 
  • Glue or tape each decorated paper around each toilet paper tube. 
  • Staple the toilet paper tubes together on each side. 
  • Hole punch 2 holes, one on the end of each toilet paper tube. You can use scissors if you don’t have a hole punch like I did. Then tie the yarn or ribbon to each hole creating a binocular holder your child can put around their neck to hold the binoculars. 

Et voila! You now have your very own pair of binoculars for your extraordinary backyard adventures. Let your imagination soar as you roam the vast perches of nature around you with your new tool and be sure to share your adventures with us on Instagram and Facebook!

Musings from a Sidewalk Explorer: Noticing the Unexpected

Ms. Patti, one of our educators who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten aged children at Moose Hill for 25 years, continues her daily walks around her neighborhood and shares what she sees and a few fun activities and resources for you.

What do you notice?  What does it make you wonder? Does it remind you of anything? These are the underlying questions that accompany me on any walk or Moose Hill program. In addition to noticing expected nature observations while on my daily walks (calling birds, blooming flowers, and budding trees), I noticed that I was looking for other non-nature observations: Will the gray and white cat be sleeping in the window? How many cars will be in the commuter lot today? Will the car with save wildlife RI plates be in its usual spot? Will I activate the dog “alarms” of particular houses? So, before the neighborhood watch was activated for a possible stalker, I switched up my route.   

What a difference a new path can provide. Along this new route, I happened upon a bumblebee hunkered down inside the flower cup of a daffodil, an unexpected surprise. I decided to really look for other unexpected sightings, and I was not disappointed.  Here’s a few of my favorites: a lawn ornament bunny missing an ear, a life-sized realistic horse statue (reminded me of my Barbie’s play horse as a kid, only this one was MUCH bigger), a tree seemingly busting out of the sidewalk, backyard chickens, a professional looking putting green (in a front yard), a chalk drawn hopscotch that went to an impressive 60, and perhaps my favorite finding of all…that my town has a racing pigeon club.  Who knew? 

Try some observation games: 

Play I Spy

Play Kim’s Game  

Stay still for a minute and count how many different sounds you notice. 

During your next Moose Hill visit, try our UnNatural Trail

So, I challenge you to take a new path and see what you notice…what unexpected things did you notice? Remember, you increase your chances of seeing something if you only look.  Be well and stay safe.

Making a Soundmap

Maddy, a TerraCorps member who started her service term this year at Moose Hill, creates programs and activities that engage adults and youth alike in exploration of the natural world.

A soundmap is a cartographic representation of our auditory awareness, essentially, a map of what we hear in a place. Naturalists use soundmaps to distinguish species’ presence, habitats, movements, and the proximity of noisy elements such as streams or roads. Before getting started with our soundmaps, there are two important vocab words to know: 1) acoustic environment and 2) soundscapes. All of the sounds one hears in a particular location is called their acoustic environment, but their perception of  those sounds is called a soundscape. In other words, a soundscape is the mental imagery, emotions, thoughts, and ideas that each person experiences while absorbing their acoustic environment.  

Now that we have an understanding of soundmaps, acoustic environments, and soundscapes it’s time to make a soundmap of your own backyard!  

To begin, take a piece of paper and pencil and find a place to sit in your yard. Sit for a minute and listen to what sounds you are hearing. Make a key for your map on the back of your paper with symbols that represent the types of sounds hear. For instance, a triangle to represent the sound of a bird, or wiggly lines to represent water 

Now mark an X in the center of your map, this represents you! For the next two minutes (have a timer or a parent with a watch to help keep track), close your eyes and listen. Whenever you hear a new noise, you can open your eyes to mark it on your map in the approximate location of where you think it came from. Note: while making your map, if you hear a sound you didn’t think to make a symbol for ahead of time – no problem! Just make up a new symbol when you hear it. 

Think you can do this for longer? For a more advanced soundmap, try sitting and listening for 5-10 minutes. If you want to get more in touch with your soundscape (your perception of the acoustic environment), try coloring the sounds you hear, or writing down the textures, feelings, or thoughts you associate with a sound. For example, I can hear a lawn mower from my backyard. The color I think of when I hear a lawnmower is red, and it makes me think of a dragon!   

Have fun and be sure to share your maps with us on Facebook and Instagram!

Musings of a Sidewalk Explorer: Weeds

Ms. Patti, one of our educators who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten aged children at Moose Hill for 25 years, continues her daily walks around her neighborhood and shares what she sees and a few fun activities and resources for you.

Given half a chance, plants will take that opportunity to grow, grow, grow…whether you want them to or not. During my daily jaunts, I have noticed a number of plants that have escaped their confines, or have just seemingly wandered in and taken up residence. 

The plant that wins the Houdini-escape-artist award is grape hyacinth. I enjoy this delicate pop of purple in spring flower beds and yet more often than not, it has found its way into the lawn. I’m not sure how this plant travels, but in more than half of the homes featuring grape hyacinth, there is a satellite plant somewhere in the lawn. Perhaps it is in cahoots with violets, which are also blooming all over the place.  

And then there are dandelions. I know it is called a weed, but a weed is just a misplaced plant and I appreciate the tenacity of dandelions. If a dandelion has taken root along a road edge or meadow, it grows tall and proud, ready to send its seeds flying in the slightest breeze. If it is in your lawn where it is mowed frequently, they grow short and bloom below the level of the lawn mower blades.  Smart, yes?  

The groundcover in my own front bed is currently experiencing failure to thrive.  Many of the vines are dying or just not looking healthy.  I have redirected the healthy vines to make it look fuller…it’s like a bad garden combover. In other yards I have seen this same plant presenting like a small shrub, and one was even growing out of a rain gutter…not exactly sure how it got up there, perhaps it wanted to be a bromeliad, either way, both were healthier than the one in my yard. 

Have some dandy fun:

10 fun activities with dandelions

The Legend of the Dandelion

Make your own watercolor paint

Do you have these escapee plants?  I say try to appreciate them and don’t let them drive you to distraction.  Let the pollinators have their snack stop and enjoy the color palette of these misunderstood plants. Be well and stay safe! 

Musings of a Sidewalk Explorer: Bird-A-Thon

Ms. Patti, one of our educators who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten aged children at Moose Hill for 25 years, continues her daily walks around her neighborhood and shares what she sees and a few fun activities and resources for you.

Even though I have worked for Mass Audubon for over 25 years, I’m not much of a birder. I appreciate birds, have taught lots of children’s programs about birds, occasionally get barred owls to answer me during evening programs for adults/families, and can identify many common species by ear; however, even as a professed morning person, getting out early to intentionally seek birds, is not really my passion.  

This year’s Bird-a-thon was re-imagined into a Bird-at-home-a-thon. I really missed spending my annual day of birding with my longtime birding crew (they are the birders, I keep the list and point out anything that flutters). Since this year the rules dictated only birding where you could walk/bike to, I embraced seeking feathered critters along my regular walking routes with the company of my husband. All the while I was remembering that you increase your chances of seeing something if you only look, so I focused on looking up. 

Along with the birds I expected we would see (mockingbirds, robins, crows, chickadees), there were several unexpected sightings: LOTS of chimney swifts (when the trails are open again, check out Moose Hill’s chimney swift nesting structure up by Billings Barn), a spotted sandpiper (this was a really cute bird with a bobbing tail as it walked), a red-tailed hawk that flew by at great speed through our yard as I was looking up at what I’m fairly sure was an eagle, a killdeer protecting her baby chicks, a great blue heron and its shadow as it passed overhead, and two warblers that we were able to correctly identify (a black throated green warbler and a northern parula). What bird sightings have you noticed? 

While the birding, nature activities, and point-earning may be done, Bird-a-thon fundraising is still going strong! We are very thankful to our generous donors who have helped us achieve 90% of our ambitious goal so far. If you haven’t had a chance and want to help push us to that 100% there is still time (20 donors at $25 would push us to the end) – click here to visit our team page and donate today!

So, while remembering to look up once in a while, also remember to look both ways before crossing the street, to look before you leap, to look folks in the eye and smile and wave (even if the smile is hidden under a mask), and most importantly, always look on the bright side of life. Be well and stay safe. 

Musings of a Sidewalk Explore: Mammals

Ms. Patti, one of our educators who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten aged children at Moose Hill for 25 years, continues her daily walks around her neighborhood and shares what she sees and a few fun activities and resources for you.

After focusing mostly on birds and flowers during my daily walks, the furry wildlife in the neighborhood caught my eye. I have seen plenty of domestic critters (barking dogs in yards and homes, disinterested cats in sunny windows, lots of dogs on walks with their humans, and a couple of wary outdoor cats); however, a recent squirrel encounter changed my focus from pets to furry wildlife, specifically squirrels and rabbits. 

I happened upon the path of one squirrel in hot pursuit another; we completely surprised each other as I rounded the corner. One squirrel dashed across the street (almost running over my foot) while the other turned on a dime and darted back into the shrubs along the edge of the sidewalk.  I was then thoroughly scolded by this squirrel…I almost thought it was going to come flying out of the shrubs to really make its point.  I’m not sure if the chase I interrupted was a territory dispute or the fact that spring is in the air; either way, there was absolutely no doubt on the feelings of this squirrel toward me. 

I had another squirrel encounter where I noticed three squirrels chasing each other in and around a tree.  Just as quickly as it started, they all stopped simultaneously and sat on three different branches. It was as if they were playing musical branches and the music stopped, only there was no music and plenty of branches. Squirrels really can be wacky, but so enjoyable. 

Apparently rabbits are not just dining in my yard…they are EVERYWHERE! The neighborhood rabbits don’t seem to notice (or care) when I walk by as they barely stop chewing and rarely hop away. Personally I have been battling the bunnies in my yard for the past few years (it’s a losing battle); however, I now know what rabbits don’t like to nibble (because that is what is thriving in my native perennial beds): foxglove beardtongue, cardinal flower, swamp milkweed, various ferns, wild indigo, and joe-pyeweed, just to name a few. Have a rabbit challenge and still want to have flowers? Check out our Native Plant Sale offerings and pre-order for your beds.  

Now I’m on the look-out for skunks, deer, opossums, raccoons, and/or coyotes, all of which I have seen/smelled/heard in the past in my yard.  Learn more about mammals in Massachusetts. 

What backyard mammals have you seen? Be well and stay safe! 

Become an Expert Observer With the Three I’s

Maddy, a TerraCorps member who started her service term this year at Moose Hill, creates programs and activities that engage adults and youth alike in exploration of the natural world.

The three I’s is an educational practice that helps us explore our natural curiosity about the world and become better observers. Is there somewhere in nature, maybe your own backyard, where you like to sit and observe your environment? This place is what some naturalists call a sit spot! By sitting still for a few minutes and opening all of your senses you can become a part of your environment – and reveal the secrets of nature! 

While sitting in your sit spot, try the three i’s activity to help engage with your environment: 

I notice, I wonder, it reminds me of… 

We call these questions the 3 I’s and use them to hone our observation skills. The 3 i’s were originally coined by John Muir Laws, an artist, educator, and naturalist, who teaches that understanding our environment doesn’t come from simply looking at it, but rather by asking questions and making connections.  

Take a minute to make a list of people who are exceptional observers – fictional or otherwise. So, who did you come up with? Maybe Sherlock Holmes, Hellen Keller, or John Muir himself? All these people have one thing in common. They learned to pay in-depth attention to what their senses tell them about the world.  

Want to become a professional observer? Here’s how to start! First, it’s important to distinguish the difference between an observation and an opinion, inference, or identification. For instance, let’s imagine you pick up a nature object off the ground. You may already know what it is, but saying it’s a leaf would be identification. You may be able to guess how it came to be on the ground, but doing so would be an inference. And you may think it’s pretty, but that would be an opinion. A true observation requires using your senses to simply state what you notice, for example, “the nature object is green,” “it smells sweet,” or “it is soft to the touch.”  

Now it’s time to try it out yourself! Note: you can do this activity alone but it’s also fun to do with a partner. 

  1. If you have a sit spot already, head out and take a seat! Otherwise, now is the perfect time to find a sit spot. Anywhere in your backyard or somewhere close by in nature will do. 
  1. Take a few minutes to get comfortable and start getting in tune with your surroundings. 
  1. Pick up an object from nature that you can safely hold. 
  1. For one minute, say out loud (to your partner if you have one) some observations that you can make about your object from nature. Start each observation with “I notice…” 
  1. Now, for another minute, ask questions about your nature object. Start each question with “I wonder…” 
  1. Last, it’s time to make some connections! Take another minute to say out loud an experience or other object that your nature object reminds you of. Start each statement with “It reminds me of…” 

What did you learn about your nature object? Did you discover something about it you didn’t notice at first glance – perhaps a smell, texture, or color? What did it remind you of, and can you make a connection or relationship between those two things? What questions do you still have about your nature object? If you have time and a naturalist guidebook, chase your curiosity and see if you can answer some of those questions by investigating further! 

Be sure to share your sit spot adventures with us on social media and tag us on Facebook or Instagram!

Musings of a Sidewalk Explorer: Gardens

Ms. Patti, one of our educators who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten aged children at Moose Hill for 25 years, continues her daily walks around her neighborhood and shares what she sees and a few fun activities and resources for you.

I so enjoy seeing flowers along my walking routes, and whether the beds are perfectly weeded and mulched, wildly cozy, or somewhere in between, I appreciate the work that goes into maintaining flower beds. I have always been a student of botany (trees, wildflowers, and other non-cultivated plants), but I now consider myself an accidental gardener. My first real dig at gardening came with coordinating Moose Hill’s first Native Plant Sale. Not being versed in actually planting/growing anything (other than a failed attempt at potted tomatoes…a squirrel got most of the them), my initial question was, “Remind me again the difference between annual and perennial.” It’s been almost 15 years since then and I now love getting my hands into the soil and dirt under my fingernails. Currently in my flower beds Mayapple is up, a few trilliums have flowers, columbine is just starting to bloom, and lots of greenery is filling in with the hope of more flowers to come. Each spring it’s truly is like seeing old friends after a long absence.  

My personal gardening philosophy is to dig a hole, put the plant in, water, and see what happens; I’m definitely in the let-it-grow-wildly-cozy camp. I try to place plants in their ideal growing conditions, but if I have an empty spot and a plant…in it goes. I have discovered that most will grow if placed even remotely close to their preferred conditions (they may not be as robust, but they will grow and thrive). As I enjoy the process of gardening, it is also important for our local pollinators (butterflies, bees, hummingbirds, and the like). So, I hope you will find time to get your hands into soil, and if you don’t have space…just appreciate the gardens in your neighborhood. 

Celebrate plants! Here’s a few ideas:  

Plant anything and watch it grow. 

Read The Lorax by Dr. Seuss. The final page will let you know how to care for seeds. 

Watch a particular tree/flower and track its growth. 

Try an underappreciated vegetable.  

Support Moose Hill’s Native Plant Sale (being held at the CSA Barn at our farm) and pre-order from our selection of native perennials.  

Join Moose Hill’s CSA for 18 weeks of fresh organic produce with options for helping harvest or not.  

Let us know about your gardening adventures! Be well and stay safe. 

Discover Your Own Backyard!

This Backyard Quiz is based off of a quiz of the same name from Owl Eyes. Owl Eyes is a children’s educational activity book by expert environmental educator Devin Franklin. The guidebook aims to “open your senses” and “discover nature’s secrets” with “mapping, tracking, and journaling activities.” 

Discover Your Own Backyard with this BACKYARD QUIZ! 

  1. Name a tree that grows in your backyard, draw a picture of it and a picture of its leaf!  (If you don’t have any trees in your yard, you can use a shrub or bush.)
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Your picture of the tree

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Your picture of the leaf 

  1. Name a kind of bird that visits your backyard. 

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  1. Draw a picture of this bird and label two things you notice that could help identify it. 
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Your Picture of the Bird 

  1. What kind of habitats can be found in your backyard? 

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  1. Draw a bird-eye view of your backyard (as if you were looking down at it from above). 
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Birds-Eye View of Your Backyard 

  1. Write the name of a creature that lives in or passes through your backyard, then write one type of sign or trace that the animal leaves behind and make a sketch of this “clue.”  

 _______________________________________ 

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Animal Trace 

  1. Write the names of two things in your backyard that are connected to each other through some type of relationship, then briefly describe this relationship. 

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  1. Extra Credit: Get Creative! 

Write a haiku or free-poem about your backyard 

OR 

Get a camera and explore your backyard like a tourist- take pictures of flowers, birds, squirrels, and insects you find! (If you have an app like iNaturalist, upload your observations and see if you can identify any of the plants and animals in your pictures)! 

Be sure to share your results with us on Facebook or Instagram!

Musings of a Sidewalk Explorer: Woodpeckers

Ms. Patti, one of our educators who has been teaching preschool and kindergarten aged children at Moose Hill for 25 years, continues her daily walks around her neighborhood and shares what she sees and a few fun activities and resources for you.

The woodpeckers in my neighborhood are announcing themselves to anyone willing to listen by pounding their heads against anything that will produce noise. Some birds have found creative places to drum, as the louder the drumming the more likely to attract a mate or maintain a territory. I actually saw one bird drumming on a chimney cap…it was loud and I can only imagine what it sounded like inside the house. Other possible drumming sites are hollow trees, gutters, transformer boxes, trash cans, siding of homes, phone poles, and tree stumps; basically anything that resonates sound. Find out more about woodpeckers in Massachusetts and what to do if one decides to drum on your house

I then wondered how woodpeckers could continually bang their heads against a hard surface and not become impaired. Turns out nature took care of that with adaptations to protect them: built-in shock absorbers, the actual structure of their skull and beak redirects pressure away from its head, and perhaps my favorite, it can wrap its tongue around its head (internally) to help cushion the blows. Find out more about how woodpeckers can drum without getting brain damage

Have some woodpecker fun: 

How many knock, knock jokes you can tell? 

How many “W” words can you work into a sentence? Here’s my best attempt: “The white woodpecker wilted while waiting for winter to wane.” 

Make a cool woodpecker that moves up and down a string like a real one working a tree. 

Fold an origami woodpecker

Send us your best attempts at woodpecker fun on Facebook or Instagram!