Friday, July 17, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 4 - Investigators!

Scientific observation: Being nearly toothless does not disqualify one from
being a competent investigator!

My six year old twin grandsons refer to themselves as "investigators." I suspect they don't realize I know they've pinpointed the place I stash early purchases of Christmas and birthday gifts! They check it frequently, and I hear murmurs of approval behind that closed bedroom door. Someday I may pull a little prank on them, but for right now, I consider that skill genetic in nature. The boys' mommy was unmatched as an "investigator," and in my time, so was I!

What better place to harness that abundance of "investigative talents" than grandma camp? We're surrounded by wooded nature here, and curious minds want to know who lives out there and what they do all day and night. My campers were an eager audience for discovering some answers!

I don't have a background in science, so I stalk Pinterest for ideas. And book stores. I found a few favorites there (mentioned below), just brimming with creative and very usable ideas. One of them held the first project we completed - a small mammal tracking device!

Something I need to emphasize now is that we never capture or disturb any living creature as it goes about its daily business! We step back and respectfully observe the magic of life in the same way we'd appreciate being undisturbed by visiting interplanetary beings. Please just stop by, say "hi!" and continue on your way! Thank you very much! :) 

Our tracking device is a cardboard tube, 3" wide and 8" long. Inside, a white strip floor is anchored by small squares of waxed paper. Non-toxic water based paint mixed with cooking oil is dabbed onto each square. A generous glob of peanut butter, placed right smack in the middle of the tube's "roof" is the treat we hope will lure a small critter. He or she will leave behind delicate little footprints as evidence if we're lucky!

And then we hike into the woods, seeking places to nestle our tracking tubes. We search for sheltered spots, speculating that our "customers" might appreciate snack-time privacy! We look around a bit, too. What kind of critters are supported by this habitat? Chipmunks hop about in abundance here, so that's my own guess. But the kids think mice, squirrels, or even a raccoon may be tempted, and I concur with them. We make visual notes of where we've left our devices, departing until tomorrow's bright and early return!

And here we are - at the moment of Bree's delighted discovery! Some little whippersnapper has slurped up her peanut butter treat, right down - and into! - the cardboard! The little scamp kicked that tracking paper right out of the way, politely leaving it behind, unused, for us to try again later!

"Look, grandma! GONE! Everything!"

Sae led us to his hiding spot next. A hungry visitor has also kicked the paper strip out of the way! But this time we observe a telltale smudge! Somebody's furry little body left evidence by way of a streak across the paper floor - ending right at the center of the tube where the treat laid in wait! We were now in possession of scientific evidence, agreeing that:

a) something small (under 3"), cute* and furry was here
b) peanut butter was gobbled by the visitor

* Brielle "just knew" the critter was a "cute one," and insisted that fact be entered into the record. It probably had small, soft ears and a tiny pink nose. That, too!

And now......Nick's turn!

He had left his tube the farthest into the woods. Before departing, we observed that a mushroom covered log alongside the path marked the spot where he'd turn right and take five kid-sized paces to recover it.....

But it was gone!
Even with assistance from Canine Special Forces Search and Rescue!

What might have happened here? Possibilities were posed! An animal larger than 3", that's for sure! - one who chose to take its discovery back home for leisurely disemboweling! A raccoon? An owl? Deer? BIG FOOT?

Nick's face says it all. Sadly, some scientific mysteries are not meant to be solved in our lifetime!

See Grandma Camping Part 5 right here!

Resources for a delightful nature-based Grandma Camp experience:
Each book can be found at your library or here, on pages 11 and 13 of my Amazon gift shop.

Great Things to do Outside - published by DK - My favorite! 365 beautifully photographed ideas that include the small mammal tracker, a toad home, spiderweb catcher, butterfly bar and so many, many more! Plenty of ideas for next year too!

The Boy's Book of Adventure - published by Barron's - Great outdoor activities, including one we used - a lighted white sheet screen that attracted all kinds of interesting insects to observe close up after dark!

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots - by Sharon Lovejoy (a delightful grandmother!) - Here's where we found instructions for "moth broth" to paint on trees at kid eye level; after dark we returned to observe the feast!  Even for someone like me who has no suitable space to share unique gardening experiences with grandkids, this book is a treasure, right along with Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars. 

Backyard Explorer Leaf Collecting Album and Leaf and Tree Guide by Rona Beame - published by Workman - Now, this set I love, but it posed a dilemma for me! Weeks before Grandma Camp, I told Bree we'd be learning from this guide. "But, grandma!" she protested, "I already know about leaves!" I guess the trick is to get there before those pre-school teachers do! But that's okay - the younger kids will love the one-on-one exploring experience with me. We'll find, match, and collect from easy-to-find examples. No weirdo specimens from outer space among them to get you frustrated like in some other books!

Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations, a Field Guide for Young Stargazers - by C.E. Thompson - My plan was to study a few constellations with the kids during that antsy waiting period at dusk, just before our night hikes. This book is a beauty. Simply presented and appealing to kids this age (4-6+). Our problem was that heavy cloud cover all week long prevented us from seeing anything other than the North Star - and grandma taught us how to find that one "ages ago!"

A Child's Introduction to The Night Sky - by Michael Driscoll - This one's far more detailed, with sections on the planets, the moon, asteroids, makes me want to invest in a telescope for next year! There's a sturdy "star finder" included too - a compass-like device to line up with the North Star so you really know what you're looking at! Saving this one for next year; it's suitable for kids of any age, myself included!


  1. Hello J, sounds like the grands had a fun time and great ideas for tracking the wildlife. Between all the books and Pinterest I am sure you will never run out of fun ideas. I had to laugh at the boys investigating the hiding place for the Christmas presents. Sounds like my sister and I when we were young. Have a happy day and weekend ahead!

  2. I absolutely love this idea! And even better was hearing the excitement in their voices telling me all about it! We will have to do this again! We love our "gah"!!! Xoxoxo

  3. This was a cute idea...I am quite certain that the fairies or wee folk took the last one as an offering :)

  4. Your grandkids look like they are having so much fun. The boys remind me of my son at that age, always so adventurous!

  5. Thinking - you have your grandkids thinking. I love it. :-) We don't see a lot of tracks in the summer but in the winter when there is white on the ground we see all kinds of tracks and also some, how should I say this - waste material left behind that can be investigated as well (as in take a photo and google). Now, you need one of those motion activated cameras to see what's taking the bait. What fun they'd have seeing what really lurks in those woods of yours. :-)

  6. They all look like they are having such fun! They do love their Gah and what kid wouldn't? You come up with such fun stuff that also teaches and makes them think. I love Judy's idea of getting a camera!

  7. PS Amara was here this morning and I had your website up -- she loves your jellybean backgroud!

  8. Well what fun - investigating is such a great project, even when things don't turn out like we think, at least we can learn something. The kiddos look like they are having the best time - as usual. You have such great ideas.

  9. I have fond memories of going to my grandmothers house and love the investigating and finding new things. Thank you for sharing with the Clever Chicks Blog Hop! I hope you’ll join us again next week!

    Kathy Shea Mormino
    The Chicken Chick

  10. Love this: "Sadly, some scientific mysteries are not meant to be solved in our lifetime!" So true and a grand lesson learned.

    This is so great, Joyce. You rock Grandma Camp like no other. Fabulous photos.

  11. Such a fun adventure! I love how each child's story unfolded differently. Really gave them something to think about. What a fun grandma you are! Thanks for sharing with SYC.

  12. Very cool ideas! And count me in as another who loves the great resources at Pinterest! Thank you for a fun Grand Social visit.