mystery The answer to the clues may be found at the bottom of this column.    Teachers and Parents: Enter to win an entire set of Dawn’s nature books of one title for your home or classroom. It's fun and easy!
Just read the clues below. They describe an aspect of nature—a plant, animal, mineral, habitat, or natural process.
When you're ready to make your guess about who or what I am, click ENTER NOW.
Who Am I?
spacerglass1 Clue 1:  I'm a member of the "dog family."
glass1 Clue 2:  I live throughout North America in deserts, prairies, forests, and even in towns and cities.
glass1 Clue 3:  You might hear me howling at night to communicate with my pack.
glass1 Clue 4:  Don't let me trick you—I am NOT a wolf.
Do you think you know who I am? ENTER NOW.
Entries should be submitted no later than noon on Friday.
If you guessed correctly, you’re automatically entered into the monthly drawing for a set of nature books from Dawn Publications.
A contest winner will be announced at the end of September.
Throughout the school year, clues for a new Who Am I are posted no later than Sunday night, so you can use them with your class on Monday morning.Good luck!
The answer to last week's mystery was: SEASHELLS Although Inside Outside Nature blog is changing it's focus, this weekly "Who Am I?" will remain the same! Teachers, click here to get ideas about how to use the contest with your students.  

Monthly Archives: September 2012


Mary and her dog, Yoshi

Mary Quattlebaum is October’s Guest Blogger, and all of the clues for this month’s “Who Am I?” contest came from her book Jo MacDonald had a Garden. Mary is the author of eighteen children’s books, including picture books, poetry, chapter books, and middle-grade novels. Read more about Mary at the end of this posting.

By Mary Quattlebaum:

Many children know spring as a time for digging and planting but have much less experience with the autumnal tasks of harvesting and preparing local, seasonal foods.  After all, the grocery store provides a ready supply of fruits and vegetables that are available not only year-round but from around the world.

But most kids can recognize one particular green growing thing by sight.  And this time of year, in city community gardens and on large farms alike, these small knobs on huge tangled vines are growing bigger, thicker, and brighter. Pumpkins!

So, that’s where pumpkins come from, children often shout when they spot one on the vine.  As an autumnal treat, you might help kids learn more about this tricky vegetable – which is actually a fruit.  And in the process, they’ll develop a whole new appreciation for their Halloween jack-o-lantern!


Mary’s daughter at the Pumpkin Patch

Outside: Pumpkin Patch

Visit a pumpkin patch or community garden so children can actually see the pumpkins growing on the vine. Let them gently touch and smell the large leaves and vines and knock gently on the pumpkins. Choose one particularly fine pumpkin and bring it home or to classroom.



Inside: Tasty Pumpkin Treats

 Look Inside: Show an apple and a pumpkin. Ask which is a fruit. Explain that both are fruits even though the pumpkin is usually called a vegetable.  It is the edible fruit of the plant.

Cover table with newspaper or easy-to-clean covering. Cut apple and pumpkin in half and show kids the insides and seeds. What’s different?  What’s the same?

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds: Clean out and immediately wash the pumpkin seeds, letting the children help to remove strings and pulp. Dry seeds and place in single layer on oiled cookie sheet, stirring to coat with oil. Sprinkle with salt.  Cook at 325 degrees F for 25 minutes till lightly brown. Stir and flip seeds after first 10 minutes. Let seeds cool to room temperature and serve.

Baked Pumpkin: After removing seeds and stringy pulp, bake the pumpkin halves on cookie sheet at 325 degrees F for one hour or till tender. Cool and scrape from rind.  Mash the cooked pumpkin, adding one Tablespoon butter, one teaspoon salt, a dash of cinnamon, and sugar (optional) to taste.  Let kids take turns mashing with an old-fashioned potato masher.  Warm again on stovetop or in microwave. Serve.

Children will be so proud of their yummy Great Pumpkin delights!  And studies show that kids who grow and harvest their own produce and help to prepare food are more likely to eat it.


More Seasonal Fun and Facts


National Gardening Association’s children’s section includes classroom activities and recipes.

Preschool Parfait, developed by preschool teacher Jean Raiford, provides seasonal activities and recipes great for the playful enhancement of the early learning environment in science, math, reading and social and physical skills.

For more information about Mary Quattlebaum, please visit her website at You’ll find information and activities related to her books, including Jo MacDonald Had a Garden and Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond.

In addition to Jo MacDonald Saw a Pond, and Jo MacDonald Had a Garden, Mary’s  other most recent titles include Pirate vs. Pirate and The Hungry Ghost of New Orleans. Mary’s books have been selected for Delacorte/Random House’s Marguerite de Angeli Prize for first middle-grade novel, Parenting Reading Magic Award, Bank Street Best Books, Sugarman Award, Notable Social Sciences Trade Book, and a number of state children’s choice lists. Mary is a popular school and conference presenter and teaches at the Vermont College MFA program in Writing for Children and Young Adults. She publishes frequently in children’s magazines (Cricket, Spider, Babybug, Ladybug, Highlights High Five) and occasionally writes nonfiction for Gale/Cengage, an educational publisher. Mary reviews children’s books regularly for the Washington Post, Washington Parent, and online for the National Wildlife Federation. Mary lives in Washington, DC.






Animals on the Move

I heard them before I saw them. Sandhill Cranes were traveling southward on their annual fall migration. Naturalist Aldo Leopold described the crane’s call as “a pandemonium of trumpets, rattles, croaks, and cries.” Intently listening, I scanned the sky. It was almost dark; would I see them? Yes! A flock flew directly overhead. I was transported to a prehistoric time—Sandhill Cranes made this same journey 2.5 million years ago.

Millions of birds are on the move across North America making their way to wintering grounds in warmer climates. While some birds (grouse and quail) make short migrations from higher to lower elevations, other birds make truly heroic journeys. One record-setter is the Bar-Tailed Godwit. Every autumn this small shorebird makes an eight-day journey from Alaska to New Zealand. It flies non-stop, without once breaking the journey to rest or eat. The Arctic Tern holds the record for making the longest migration of any animal—close to 50,000 miles a year (with stops), or the equivalent of 3 journeys to the moon and back over a tern’s roughly 30-year lifetime.

Scientists are still unraveling the mysteries of migration. They believe that some birds find their way by using the sun and stars. Some scientists also suggest that birds’ brains have a sort of internal compass that lets them sense the earth’s magnetic field. Studying migration offers interesting ways to incorporate science into your math, literature, and geography classes.

Inside: Going Home

Birds aren’t the only animals on the move. Whales, caribou, sea turtles, and butterflies are examples of some of the other North American animals that seasonally change their homes. Mariane Berkes’ book Going Home: The Mystery of Animal Migration introduces students to ten animals who make yearly migrations. Teachers from the National Science Teacher’s Association (NSTA) developed the following lesson to engage K-4th graders. Before class, print out several sets of bookmarks with pictures of the 10 animals featured in Going Home. (Bookmarks are available as a free download on the Dawn Publications website.)

  1. Give each group of 3–4 students a set of bookmarks.
  2. Show students the cover of Going Home and read the first page aloud. Tell them that as you read the rest of the book, you are not going to show them the pictures because you would like them to infer from the text which animal you are reading about.
  3. After reading the left-hand page for each animal, ask students to hold up the bookmark with the picture of the animal they think you are reading about. Then, read the right-hand side of the page about that animal and show them the picture.

Outside: Migration Tag

This active running game  illustrates bird migration. The object of the game is for the “birds” to safely migrate from their summer habitat to their winter habitat without getting tagged by the “hazard.” (Actual hazards birds might encounter  include storms, high-rise buildings, predators, lack of food.)

Before playing: Place one marker (such as a piece of construction paper or unfolded bandana) for every two students at each end of the playing area (at least 20 feet apart). One end represents the summer habitat and the other end the winter habitat. In between the two habitats, place a marker for every 2 students—this is the stop-over area. When standing on a marker, the bird is safe. Only two birds at a time can stop on the same marker.

How to play:

  1. All players start in the summer habitat area, no more than two children to a marker. Explain that the markers represent ideal habitat for the birds.
  2. One player stands between the summer area and the stopover area. This player represents the hazards that migrating birds face.
  3. When you call, “migrate,” the birds fly to the stopover area. The hazard, tries to tag as many flying birds as possible. The tagged players become new hazards that spread over the play area.
  4. Call migrate and the birds move from the stopover area to the winter habitat. The birds continue to move back and forth over the playing field when prompted to migrate.
  5. You can remove or add any number of markers at the summer, stopover, or winter areas – giving the students a story about habitat loss or preservation due to natural or human causes. Randomly select tagged students to return to playing birds, representing successful breeding. End the game at any point.

More Migration Fun and Facts

The BLUES Go Exteme Birding introduces children to record-setting birds all around the world, such as the Bar-headed Goose that flies the highest in its migration over the Himalayan Mountains. I really loved researching this book, and had to add an “Extra Extreme” on each page so I could include even more record-setters.

Play the “Mission Migration” online game from the National Audubon Society. In this game children help their flock migrate safely by learning how choices they make each and every day around your home, school, and neighborhood can affect the fate of these migrating birds – in both positive and negative ways.

Project Feeder Watch from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology is a citizen science project that counts birds from November through April. It’s an excellent way to involve kids in real-world scientific data collection. Great for home or school.


In the spring, Sandhill Cranes gather in the Platte River Valley in Nebraska as they make their back north. Visit the Nebraska Flyway website for lots of great crane information.


The Reason for the Seasons

The long days of summer are over, and the nights are getting longer. This first day of fall is Saturday, September 22nd. This day is called the Autumnal Equinox. The word “equinox” means “equal night.” At the time of the equinox (or within a few days depending on geographic location) day and night are equal in length. In my area of northern California, that day is September 25th.

But why do the seasons change? Many people think that the seasons change because we’re either closer or farther away from the Sun. Nope, that’s not why.

To understand why are seasons change, you need to know a couple of facts. (1) The earth revolves around the sun. A complete revolution takes one year. (2) The earth tilts on its axis. The end points of the axis are the North and South Poles.

The seasons change because sometimes the North Pole axis points away from the sun—the Northern Hemisphere get less direct sunlight and the days are shorter. It’s winter. And sometimes the North Pole axis points toward the sun—the Northern Hemisphere gets more direct sunlight and the days are longer. It’s summer. Just the opposite happens in the Southern Hemisphere.

But twice a year the sun is directly over the equator—both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres get the same amount of sun. One of these times is the Autumnal Equinox (this week) and the other is the Vernal Equinox (around March 20th)). Now is a great time to focus on activities that emphasize day and night, such as the ones listed below.

Inside: Day and Night, Night and Day

Use the book Forest Bright Forest Night by Jennifer Ward to introduce children to daytime and nighttime animals. Someone is always awake in the forest, and someone else is always asleep! As you read you actually flip the book from day to night as a hands-on way to show the same view day and night. After reading, download a pdf of the activity called Classify It! to identify the animals in the book as mammals, birds, fish, amphibians, reptiles, or insects.


Outside: Owl Eyes

Owls are fascinating nighttime birds. They have excellent sight and hearing. Before doing any observation activities outside, have your students practice seeing with “Owl Eyes.” Owls have excellent peripheral vision, which means that they can see out of the corners of their eyes very well. This ability helps them to find food. To practice Owl Eyes, take your students outside. Have them hold their arms out to their sides and wiggle their fingers. Ask them to relax their eyes and look straight ahead. Without moving your eyes, they’ll be able to see their fingers moving. Looking with relaxed eyes and using peripheral vision is called “Owl Eyes.” Have them put their hands down to notice what they can see all around them on the school yard. Have them use their Owl Eyes for two activities described on the website: Seeing Colors and Nighttime Colors.


More Seasonal Fun and Facts

Fall is harvest time, and The Seasons at Molly’s Organic Farm art activity (lesson plan designed by Trina Hunner the illustrator of Molly’s Organic Farm) connects children to foods found in each season.

Have fun dissecting owl pellets. Follow the pdf of Owl Pellet Directions from my A Teacher’s Guide to Nature’s Food Chains. It corresponds to the book Pass the Energy, Please! by Barbara Shaw McKinney.

Please keep in mind that the earth’s rotation and tilt are easiest to understand with graphic visuals or hands-on models. Check out this visual explanation from National Geographic online.