Nature Study: Cattails in Winter
Once again we’re trying to get back into the habit of nature studies. It’s been too long, and Kathryn and I have missed it. I think we’ve only done one or two with Lindsey, but now that we’ve made some schedule and homeschooling changes, I’m re-implementing nature study!
I rummaged around Barb’s blog to find one that would work for us this week, and I chose the Outdoor Challenge for Cattails in Winter. I knew we had cattails at the pond in our neighborhood, so this study would be fairly easy to accomplish — and easy is one of the main things we need right now, at least until this becomes a habit.
“As this is primarily a geography lesson, it should be given in the field if possible; otherwise the pupils must explore for themselves to discover the facts. The plant itself can be brought into the schoolroom for study.”
Anna Botsford Comstock
Lindsey was elected cattail-catcher. Since these plants grow in shallow water, it was a bit of a challenge to get hold of one, but she used a long stick to pull it towards her and then break off the top. This was harder than it sounds because the reeds (stems) of the cattails are very sturdy! (They remind me of corn-dogs.)
Though the cattail looks hard and crunchy, it’s really sort of velvety feeling under the feathery-looking bits. Once we started feeling of it, we realized that if you pull off a little hunk, it explodes into a mass of plush fuzz. It’s so soft that even though I knew I was touching it, I could not feel it!
The seeds — or fruits, as Ms. Comstock calls them in her Handbook of Nature Study — looked to me just like dandelion akenes. I’d love to know just how many seeds are on one cattail. By the time we were done, we were all completely coated with fluff; I laughed when I got back to the house and re-read this advice from Ms. Comstock:
‘When studying the seeds, it is well to be careful, or the schoolroom and the pupils will be clothed with the “down” for weeks.‘
As we were finishing up the outdoor part of our study and starting to head home, we spotted Granma taking her little dog for a walk. One of the neat things about living around the corner from my mom is that we never know when we might run into her. Lindsey and Kathryn rushed over to see her and both animatedly described our study.
We brought home one of the cattails, and the girls told Ken all about our adventure that evening. The next day, we examined it under a magnifying glass and the microscope. The girls were not as excited about that part as I thought they might be, but that’s okay.
I drew my own little picture of the lake and the cattails for my nature journal, partly because I enjoy it (despite the fact my drawings never come out as imagined in my mind), but also partly to try to get the girls more interested in doing their own nature journal pages. Again, it’s okay that they aren’t excited about every part of our study. This is a process. I know they learned much during this study, and they had plenty of enthusiasm about it when we were out in the field!