Ideabox: Seeds

"Tangle" by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps.  Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

“Tangle” by Beth Galston, featuring thousands of acorn caps. Now on view at the Peabody Essex Museum.

We’re down to the last days of seed-pods before winter settles in and gets comfortable in our neighborhood, but if you’ve got a pocket full of acorns from your last nature walk, this post is for you.  Since we’re on quite a tree-kick here at the Art & Nature Center, I’m focusing on tree-seeds for this Ideabox:.  However, if you have great seed-based activities for other kinds of plants, please do share them in the comments below!

ideabox seeds

Visual Art

Seeds in homemade paper, seeds glued to burlap for a plant-able ‘mosaic,’ seeds preserved like jewels in resin (See more of Beth Galston’s works)–there are a lot of cool options for making art with seeds!  My favorite is below:

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it's in Dutch!)

Creating seed and nut sculptures (click for source, warning, it’s in Dutch!)

Science

Take a sock-walk!  Collect seeds from trees (and other plants) by putting an old fuzzy pair of socks on *over* your walking/hiking shoes.  Head to the nearest green space/meadow/park/forest preserve/backyard/hiking trail and see what you pick up from the sides of the trail.  Pair this with a seed identification book and see how many species you collected.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch.  Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Seed identification kit from Nature Watch. Also great for observational sketching! Click for source.

Plant a tree!  Fruit trees are a great option for trying some sprouting experiments, because it’s easy for kids to relate to them.  Here are a few sets of recommendations for sprouting trees from your lunchtime leftovers:
Apples
Peaches
Lemons
Cherries

Math

Combine some hands-on, soil-on botany with math by measuring, tracking, and graphing your seed-germination experiments!  What percent of seeds planted sprouted?  What is the average sprout height after two weeks’ growth?  If you give each plant pot a half-cup of water (or considerably less, depending on the size of your pot!) how much water is that in milliliters?

Literature & Dramatic Arts

There are lots of good stories out there about famous tree-planters (Wangari Maathai, Johnny Appleseed, etc.) but here are a few other ideas for talking about tree seeds through literature and dramatic interpretations:

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme!  This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum.  Click for source.

Creating planting pots with a Lorax theme! This link leads to a whole Lorax-themed party post, but a number of the ideas there could translate to the classroom/art studio/museum. Click for source.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Click for Powell's link.

Good for young readers and as a read-aloud to the littlest listeners, this book by Jerry Pallotta about seed dispersal has beautiful images to accompany the fairly simple text.  Very fun for drawing those animal/plant connections or as an intro to taking a seed-walk.  Click for Powell’s link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring.  Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler.  Click for Powell's link.

A nature fantasy about a seed guardian who shepherds her charges through the winter and safely out into the world to sprout in spring. Very sweet book by Eliza Wheeler, could be fun as a kick-off to a seed-collecting expedition. Click for Powell’s link.

seeds - up close

Beautiful photography of tree elements, including amazing seed images of sorts familiar to a New England audience in several stages of development. By Nancy Ross Hugo and Robert Llewellyn. Click for Powell’s link.

What did I miss?  Share your favorite seed activities, stories, and more in the comments below, or explore other tree-related posts.

You may also like:

Ideabox: Bark
Ideabox: Leaves
Ideabox: Twigs
Trees in the News

Ideabox: Bark

ideabox bark

It’s time for more tree-inspired fun from the Ideabox!  This week we’re looking at bark (and by extension, some logs, because it is occasionally hard to get one of these without the other).  As always, the Ideabox features suggestions on how to explore an everyday material in an interdisciplinary way.  Suggestions are always welcome!

 

Book of bark drawings by Sallie Lowenstein, featured artist in Branching Out, Trees as Art

Clothed in Bark, book of bark drawings by Sallie Lowenstein, featured artist in Branching Out, Trees as Art

Science: Close-Looking and Identification of Bark

There are still beautiful leaves on the trees to help you tell your white oak from your black oak and your sugar maple from your Norway maple, but soon enough a nature walker will need to be paying attention to bark patterns to identify winter’s sleeping trees.  Enter Michael Wojtech‘s book, Bark: A Field Guide to Trees of the Northeast.  Wojtech is a fascinating person to talk to, and very passionate about encouraging people to simply *notice* more about their environment (especially trees).  He ran a great session at our Branching Out opening day involving making tree and leaf rubbings, and also using sharpies on acetate to trace the patterns of bark from close-up photographs.  People described the experience as inspirational, meditative, relaxing, and addictive, which seems like a pretty good spectrum to me!

My favorite fact I learned from Michael’s book: tree bark patterns can change as a tree ages.  It makes sense, of course–our skin changes, why wouldn’t a tree’s?  But it makes me look at the trees I walk by every day in a whole new way.

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Literature

Pear tree journal by Tanja Sova. Click for source

Pear tree journal by Tanja Sova. Click for source

I’m not advocating we all carry trees in our pockets, but the journal above was too adorable not to include.

I’ve already linked to cool books about bark elsewhere in this post, so I won’t belabor the point.  Bark is, however, a great source for writing prompts.  Wordlists about texture, color, scars, age marks, fire damage, insect damage, human damage, intersections between human construction and tree life (growing through a fence, perhaps?)–all of those can lead to powerful and imaginative writings for your students or museum visitors.

Culinary

Are you teaching a unit on trees and passing up a chance to make edible bark?  If so, you’re missing a grand opportunity for punning and classic snacks (“ants on a log,” anyone? I always preferred my logs ant-less.  Raisins and I have a very off-again-on-again relationship.)

Here are a few tasty-looking variations on the ‘bark’ candy idea, all featuring chocolate, my favorite tree-based food:

Music

Were you the kind of kid that picked up a stick and ran it along fences or trees on your walk through the neighborhood?  Are you a percussionist at heart?  You may be looking for  The Raw Log Amadinda from Elemental Designs, like the one we have in the Art & Nature Center.  There are a lot of fun ways to make rhythm with sticks and downed logs and tree stumps, but the extra resonance and tuning provided by the folks at Elemental Designs make this particular interactive extremely popular!

The Log Amadinda installed in the Art & Nature Center, just before opening

The Log Amadinda installed in the Art & Nature Center, just before opening

Visual Arts

Cedric Pollet's paperback maple photograph

Cedric Pollet’s paperback maple photograph

Bark is a great option for art-making.  Flakes of bark picked up off the ground (never off a living tree, please!) work fantastically as collage material to give texture.  Bark rubbing or tracing (as seen in the Michael Wojtech pictures above) or drawing (as in Sallie Lowenstein‘s work also above) are classic options for the budding naturalist and the artistic sketcher. For sheer visual impact, not to mention color exploration, it’s worth checking out Cedric Pollet‘s Bark book as well.

I’ve never tried printing with bark, but I’m willing to bet that with the right kind of bark, decent paint, and patience, you could come up with some beautiful textures.

And, of course, there is birchbark etching.  This works best if you know exactly what you’re doing when collecting supplies, and if you’re collecting (or purchasing from someone who collects) responsibly so as not to hurt the tree.  Birchbark, when peeled in winter, has a dark innermost layer that peels off with the outer bark, that when scraped away, reveals the lighter bark of summer.  Artist David Moses Bridges is particularly well known around New England for his work with this material.  He uses both traditional implements, such as horseshoe crab tails, and dental tools to achieve the etching effects he wants on his baskets, plaques, and other works.

Moose on birchbark, etching by David Moses Bridges, featured artist in Branching Out

Moose on birchbark, etching by David Moses Bridges, featured artist in Branching Out

And if you’re in a photographic turn of mind, PEM’s “Trees as Art” Instagram contest is running for one more week.  Tag your photos with #TreesAsArt and enter to win a very fun prize pack from the PEM shop.  Details here.

 instagram trees challenge

Find more tree-related Ideabox fun here:
Ideabox: Twigs
Ideabox: Leaves

Or you might want to check out:
Weird and Wonderful Watercolors
Nature in the Neighborhood

Do you have an inspiring way to explore tree bark?  Share it in the comments below!

 

Ideabox: Leaves

ideabox leaves

The August blog vacation is over, September is here, and with it comes the opening day for Branching Out, Trees as Art.  So I’ve been compiling cool tree-related links and activities for you for months now, and have a set of companion activities to my earlier post, Ideabox: Twigs.

Leaves are awesome, when you stop to think about them, and this is, quite frankly, the best time of year to think about them if you are lucky enough to live in New England.  Foliage season is as exciting as flowering tree season if you’re me.

Fall Foliage by Dori, Creative Commons license.  Click image for source.

“Fall Foliage” by Dori, Creative Commons license. Click image for source.

We have a number of cool leaf-based artworks going into Branching Out, including work by Joan Backes, Steve Hollinger, and Adrianne Evans, among others, and here are some fun interdisciplinary ways of exploring leaves this fall (and beyond!).

Science: The Chemistry of Leaves

Leaf pigment chromatography is a staple in science classrooms this time of year, but in case you’ve never tried it, here’s a great breakdown of the experimental process from Scientific American, and a fun explanation of the phenomenon from Chemical of the Week.

Adrianne Evans does some very cool works with leaf pigments as well, using the leaves like photographic paper and allowing the sunlight to essentially make a print.

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Colored Leaves by Adrianne Evans, on view in Branching Out starting Sept. 27

Try this yourself with cyanotypes, always fun on a sunny fall day!  Sun print or other sun-sensitive paper is available from a variety of sources including Dick Blick, Teacher Source, Steve Spangler and others.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons.  Click for source.

Cyanotype by Anna Atkins, 1850, from SFMOMA via Creative Commons. Click for source.

Health

There are always new trends in health recommendations, but I can’t argue with the idea that walking in the forest can help with stress levels.  I traded a forest preserve for a coastline when I switched jobs from Acton to Salem, but this is still a good suggestion for oneself, one’s class, or one’s family: Go “Forest Bathing!”

Need more information on how hanging out with trees improves your health?  Check out “Take Two Hours of Pine Forest and Call Me in the Morning.”

Literature & Drama

Lois Ehlert’s Leaf Man and Red Leaf, Yellow Leaf are early childhood classics when it comes to leaves, but what about combining your ‘forest bathing’ with a reflective writing activity, as in the haiku below?

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

Haiku by Artsyville, click for source

And how about a few classic poems to go with the (many) cool children’s books that are out there about trees?

Fall, leaves, fall

By Emily Brontë

Fall, leaves, fall; die, flowers, away;
Lengthen night and shorten day;
Every leaf speaks bliss to me
Fluttering from the autumn tree.
I shall smile when wreaths of snow
Blossom where the rose should grow;
I shall sing when night’s decay
Ushers in a drearier day.

 

On First Seeing a U.S. Forest Service Aerial Photo of Where I Live

By James Galvin

All those poems I wrote
About living in the sky
Were wrong. I live on a leaf
Of   a fern of   frost growing
Up your bedroom window
In forty below.
I live on a needle of   a branch
Of   a cedar tree, hard-bitten,
Striving in six directions,
Rooted in rock, a cedar
Tree made of other trees,
Not cedar but fir,
Lodgepole, and blue spruce,
Metastasizing like
Bacteria to the fan-
Lip of a draw to draw
Water as soon as it slips
From the snowdrift’s grip
And flows downward from
Branch to root — a tree
Running in reverse.
Or I live on a thorn on a trellis —
Trained, restrained, maybe
Cut back, to hold up
Those flowers I’ve only heard of
To whatever there is and isn’t
Above.

 

Art

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

Leaf box by Steve Hollinger

If you’re not up to acid-washing your leaves like Steve Hollinger (though you can get small leaves pre-treated through Dick Blick), how about some pressing, painting, punching and patterning?

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan.  Click for source.

Leaf Type by Mei Linn Chan. Click for source.

 

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons.  Click for source.

Painting patterns on leaves with watersoluble crayons. Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique.  Click for source.

Leaf printing with splatter technique. Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning.  Click for source.

Leaf punching and patterning. Click for source.

Looking for more? Check out some previous Ideabox posts:

Ideabox: Sand
Ideabox: Altoid Tins
Ideabox: Dough

Ideabox: Twigs

It seems like Spring’s only just decided to stay, but at the museum we’re already looking towards the fall and the September opening of Branching Out, Trees as Art.  I’ve been gleefully anticipating this show for a while now, and it’s finally getting close enough to start telling you about it!

ideabox twigs

As we’ve been investigating artists who work with assorted tree materials in surprising ways, I’ve come across some fun interdisciplinary ideas for exploring trees (especially twigs) in and out of the classroom.  Here are a few of my favorites!

Science

Winter twig study – Indoor and outdoor ways to explore what trees are ‘up to’ in winter

Identifying parts of a tree (foldable) – A good way to practice scientific drawing and make an interactive vocabulary flashcard, from the Inspired Classroom blog.

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

Tree Study Foldable from The Inspired Classroom

A magnifying glass or dissecting scope will only get you so far, but check out these amazing photos of slivers of branches thin enough to distinguish the layers of cells:

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Conifer cross section by Eckhard Voelcker

Math

Twig math?  Really?  Yes, really.  Check out this astonishing set of directions on how to make Skewer Hyperboloids – and then try it with twigs of the same approximate size!

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Photo by Cindy Lawrence, see link above for source

Literature & Drama

From "Not a Stick" by Antoinette Portis

From “Not a Stick” by Antoinette Portis

Paeans to imagination are always a hit in my book, and Not a Stick is a  great option for dramatic play as well.  Round up a few helpers and one of the world’s simplest props to act out the scenes imagined in Not a Stick, then challenge your audience to do the same with some other every day material–blankets? Paper plates? Cardboard tubes?  See what other suggestions they come up with for imaginative play.

 Book buying options for Not a Stick by Antoinette Portis0
Pinterest collection for Not a Box/Not a Stick activities

Art

twig painting

Twig or branch, individual or collaborative, painting can bring out natural bark patterns, and encourage close looking at details like knots and buds

A few weeks ago during the Mass Poetry Festival, we had a guest calligrapher, Elissa Barr, who demonstrated brushwork with a variety of natural materials as well as traditional ones.  One of my favorites was using a pine twig with needles still on as a great variegated brush.

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Kid using a pine twig brush, photo from Rockabye Butterfly, click for link

Ideabox: Sand

Pinterest is a remarkable tool.  I use it to collect ideas for blog posts, artworks for possible  exhibition topics, creative and professional inspiration, and cute and geeky things that make me smile.  It also, however, has made me really think about the way I do Ideabox posts, since it is so easy to type ‘playdough’ into the search box of Pinterest and find 90 recipes for everything from scented to sparkling to glow in the dark doughs. (See my Ideabox: Dough post for some of my past favorites.)

pinterest_meSo what makes the Ideabox different from losing a few hours to pictures of smoothies and babies in Ewok costumes on Pinterest?  Why keep doing it?  I’ve decided the answer is context and connection, which is still at the heart of why I write here.

And so (because it’s summer and the beach is calling to us all) I present:

ideabox sand

A Grand View of Sand (Geography & Travel)

Sand collected from a series of travels as a slowly evolving souvenir. Found on Pinterest

Sand collected from a series of travels as a slowly evolving souvenir. Found on Pinterest

I currently live on Massachusetts’ North Shore, which has an awful lot of pebbled beaches just waiting to churn underfoot and dump you on your rear when you’re carrying 50 pounds of dive gear.

Pebbles on a Martha's Vineyard beach, photo links to source

Pebbles on a Martha’s Vineyard beach, photo links to source

But even here in Massachusetts there’s a lot of variety, such as the purplish sands of Plum Island, or the soft white dunes of Provincetown.

provincetown ma sand

Provincetown, photo from Lonely Planet (photo links to source)

Sand from Plum Island, Rowley, Massachusettes Magnification 250x

Sand from Plum Island, Rowley, Massachusettes Magnification 250x, by Dr. Gary Greenberg, photo links to source

And of course, lots of other places are known for their colored sands: black, pink, etc.  I can imagine a lot of great geography assignments featuring sand samples and postcards with writing prompts from different places, discussing the plants and animals found nearby, what makes for a good travel destination (or not!) and why, and all of it tying back to our next topic, the geology of the area involved.

A Granule of Sand (Geology & Scale)

Magnified sand is one of my favorite things to look at through a microscope or as a piece of science/art photography.  Dr. Gary Greenberg has a number of beautiful images here, and I have also seen amazing posters of magnified sand from around the world, though sadly I haven’t found any recently.  I can, however, imagine creating a set of sand cards in the classroom to look at through magnifying lenses or a good microscope.  This would be a great introduction to a study of scale, an opportunity to do magnified drawing practice, a way to further explore the process of erosion, or even a fun comparison with a similar study of snowflakes.

Maui Pieces #2 by Dr. Gary Greenberg, photo links to source

Maui Pieces #2 by Dr. Gary Greenberg, photo links to source

Aggravations of Sand (Architecture, Engineering, Etc.)

Anyone who’s tried to walk on soft, shifting sand knows how aggravating it can be–slippery as snow and with three times the abrasive power, unless you skim the surface like a sidewinder.

So beyond the uses of sandblasting in architecture, how else can you explore sand from an engineering point of view?

Design Challenges: Build a better beach wheelchair or other adaptive device.  (Sand skis? Apparently these are a thing, but it just looks like an invitation to the world’s worst rug burn to me…)

A beach wheelchair

A beach wheelchair

Explore the effects of sandy ground in an earthquake with a shake-table, tray of sand, and Lincoln Log towers.

Test the efficacy of various kinds of interventions to prevent erosion (breakwaters, jetties, dunes and beach plantings, etc.)

Aggregations of Sand (Art & More)

Second Fig by Edna St.Vincent Millay Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

Second Fig
by Edna St.Vincent Millay
Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand.

Lots of places have sand castle and sand sculpture festivals (above image from wikimedia commons), but here are a few artists I enjoy, some of whom I’ve come across in working on a proposal for a Dirt themed exhibition.

Sand circles drawn by Jim Denevan

Sand circles drawn by Jim Denevan

Sea Dreams by Leonardo Ugolini

Sea Dreams by Leonardo Ugolini

Not actually sand- colored guano bottle art found at the Halifax Maritime Museum in Nova Scotia this summer. Check back later for a 'museum highlights' post from my recent travels!

Not actually sand- colored guano bottle art found at the Halifax Maritime Museum in Nova Scotia this summer. Check back later for a ‘museum highlights’ post from my recent travels!

How else do you suggest exploring sand?  Any good stories, songs, or non-fiction to recommend?

Ideabox: Cardboard Best Friends

ideabox big boxes

There are some great stories out there about the power of imagination.  As a kid, I was particularly fond of stories like Bridge to Terabithia, and The Phantom Tollbooth, and The Neverending Story.  However, it’s a wide and wildly varying genre, so today I’m focusing on stories (and activities) to do with cardboard boxes.

crispinCrispin The Pig Who Had it All is officially a Christmas story wherein an overindulged pig is given an empty box for Christmas by Santa, but is a great story and amusingly illustrated for younger readers.

not-a-box-2-1-1000x1025

Not a Box is a in a much simpler style, with a much more indignant rabbit informing the off-page (and regrettably literal-minded likely-adult) that his/her apparent box is, in fact, not a box, but a…(you get the idea)
Not a Box printables for teachers at TeacherVision

Similarly, I ran across this beautiful video The Adventures of a Cardboard Box over on Vimeo:

And, of course, some people take their cardboard box visions to the extreme (and extremely cool):

Created by Christine at Pure Joy Events.  Click for link to source

Created by Christine at Pure Joy Events. Click for link to source

But for the rest of us looking for a little inspiration, here is ikatbag’s Guide to Working with Cardboard and 40 Cool Cardboard Projects, which is an excellent starting place for the corrugated-minded.

So tunnel in to a good idea (and then share it with me)!

So tunnel in to a good idea (and then share it with me)!

Ideabox: Dough

Just a sample of this year's family baking output, complete with awesomely geeky new Star Wars cookie cutters to complement the traditional holiday shapes.

Just a sample of this year’s family baking output, complete with awesomely geeky new Star Wars cookie cutters to complement the traditional holiday shapes.

The Christmas season is so very strongly associated with cookie dough for me that it seemed the perfect time to explore some of the very many cool options involving doughy substances in art and science.

ideabox dough

There are a number of good blogs out there that offer round-ups of fun things to do with play dough, so rather than repeat them, I will first point you to a few of my favorite existing aggregates:

12 props to use with play dough
137 cool activities and ideas for play dough
39 Ways to Use Play Dough from the Artful Parent (one of my absolute favorites)

And in true interdisciplinary fashion, here is an assortment of my play dough examples from across subject areas:

Science:

Discussing Play Dough as a Way to introduce the scientific thought process

Wired: What’s inside Play-Doh

History:

History of the Invention of Play-Doh

Literacy and Storytelling:

Printable Play Dough Mats

Art and Politics:

Award winning political play dough by Ian Williams

Award winning political play dough by Ian Williams

Artist Ian Williams’ Obama, Romney Play-Doh Creations Win Award

And finally, a few recipes for inspiration:

Playdough for the Allergy- and Eco-Sensitive

Playdough to Delight the Senses

Recipes for Interesting Smells

Recipes for Interesting Consistencies

Recipes for Interesting Visuals

Not enough?  Check out this extremely thorough play dough focused Pinterest board