Spontaneous Nature Study

I spontaneously decided to read some books to Emma and Abby that I had checked out of the library. They were both nature-themed picture books. Nothing too unusual about that. But the ideas they inspired and the energy and motivation to carry them through were nothing short of divine. I suddenly thought of going to Nelson Water Gardens and knew that we should go there. I asked the girls if they wanted to go, and they enthusiastically replied that they would love to. So we got in the van and headed toward the Water Gardens, and the thought came to me that it would be great if they had Nature Notebooks to draw pictures of the plants and fish and whatever else we would see there. So we went to the grocery store near there where I found the perfect little notebooks for them that were composition books with primary writing lines and a blank space at the top where they could draw a picture. The notebooks were discounted and the last two like that. I got them colored pencils and regular pencils, and they were as excited as if it were Christmas.

We continued on to the Water Gardens, and everything was lovely as it always is. I usually just admire the lily pads and lilies and all of the fun garden ornaments and beautiful pots that they use to make the disappearing fountains that they are known for. I started to think that maybe I could actually buy something this time. I looked around at the plants they sell and wondered if they had any Tropical Milkweed. I had just told my kids that morning that I wanted that for Mother’s Day. I found some and upon closer examination of one plant found that there were quite a few Monarch eggs on it. I asked a worker there how much it was, and he told me how much, I told him I wanted it, and he carried it to the front for me. When we were done looking and enjoying the gardens we went in to pay for my plant, and the clerk used a 40% coupon on it, so I got a great deal on my Mother’s Day present which came fully loaded with butterfly eggs!

Then we went to the park. The girls hung out by the pond for hours. I read and took pictures of crazy squirrels most of the time. The girls found a duck egg and took it home to try to hatch it.


On the way home, the moon was a beautiful shade of pink. We called it a strawberry moon. Then the girls saw a shooting star. What a glorious day in Nature that started with reading a couple of picture books!

A Great White Egret


Lots of ducklings following the mama


Lots of ducklings following this other mama


The Great White Egret and a duck behind in the picture doing the “bottoms-up” position. What are they finding to eat? I couldn’t see small fish in the water, but there was some plant life near the edges.


Abby feeds the squirrel a walnut.


Squirrels look so cute when they sit up and eat and hold the nut in their little hands.

This squirrel came right up on the table where I was sitting.


He kept creeping closer and closer to me. I started to get a little frightened by his lack of fear and his nearness.


And then this happened! Too close!!!


And then this crazy squirrel flattened  himself on the bench beside me…

Let’s go back to the cute ducklings.



Abby and Emma love the ducklings.


The duckling tells us what he thinks about the tight grip Emma is holding him with.

Now let’s go back to the Water Gardens.

Emma and Abby are working in their nature notebooks drawing Coi.


The blues of these pots are so pretty. And the little girls are beautiful.


Nature-inspired Art, Writing, and Science Learning through Nature Notebooks


Those Coi are BIG fish!





Nature Notebooks give kids a reason to write.


I sure love these little girls of mine. I’m so glad that they love to explore nature. We have lots of fun together!


This spoke to me – “Home of the Brave”. I love Americana! And I’ve been feeling brave and full of energy for the first time in a long time. For which I praise the Lord and expect more and more as the Lord heals and restores what the enemy  has stolen.


The Day We Went Mad for Monarchs


We went to Brazos Bend State Park for an event called Monarch Madness. It rained the whole time we were there, but Gary took the girls into the Nature Center, and they petted caterpillars, a baby alligator, and a snake!

I talked to some people who are as crazy as I am about caterpillars and butterflies at the first table we stopped at, so I didn’t see much else there. But I found out some interesting things that I didn’t already know. The lady I talked with was starting a butterfly garden for her town. She had very bad luck with Monarch caterpillars this year. She had 25 in a row that had OE spore which kept them from being able to eclose (which means emerge) from their chrysalises. She raised other caterpillars instead. The town had provided money for plants and flowers that caterpillars and butterflies like to eat or get nectar from. We had a nice conversation while Gary took the girls around. Then it started raining really hard. And it got really crowded under the eaves, so our conversation was cut short.

Abby saw some insect and butterfly and moth collections, so now she wants to make one of her own. So we are trying to get a box put together for that.

New ideas and inspirations and projects came from the day we went mad for Monarchs!

Summer of Metamorphosis


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Dancing caterpillar!


Lots of big caterpillars! When will they make “J’s”???

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Finally a “J”!!!!!



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This is a link to a video that someone made of the whole process of a caterpillar becoming a chrysalis. It is so cool and amazing. Really!!! You can see the caterpillar hanging in a “J”, then moving a bit, and then suddenly the skin starts to crack right behind the head, and it keeps peeling off all the way along the caterpillar’s body until all you see is the green chrysalis. The woman doing the video describes what is happening very well, and the camera records it very closely and clearly. It is very well done!

Make sure you watch it!

This is the fabulous video of the caterpillar changing to a chrysalis.



And now, finally, some chrysalises!!!

Here is a video I did on Periscope.tv in which I actually captured a caterpillar making a chryalis!!! I was so excited!!! Please watch it! I think you’ll enjoy it!


I made several videos about caterpillars, chrysalises and butterflies on Periscope.tv.

If you would like to see them my Periscope channel is at www.Periscope.tv/penneymaried.

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And finally a butterfly emerges!!!








Playing with Butterflies!!!

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198 (3)


All together we released 22 butterflies!!!

Here are their names:

1. Duchess

2. Caroline

3. Cole

4. Levi

5. Sabethany Victoria Holbrook

6. Kyle

7. Chauncey

8. Jay

9. Jubilee

10. Margaret

11. Adelaine

12. Rose

13. Atlas

14. Fiona

15. Garrett

16. Crystal

17. Choo-choo

18. Sapphire

19. Francois Simon (pronounced Simone) – Sidenote: Interesting name in light of the 2 Olympic champions named Simone, Simone Biles and Simone Manuel, from Houston this summer! We live in Houston!

20. Lily Mae

21. Romeo

22. Juliet

God named the stars.

We named the butterflies.

How much more does He know us by name!

From Caterpillars to Butterflies

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Here’s how it starts. You find some caterpillars on a Tropical Milkweed that you make sure has no pesticides on it. I found this out the hard way.

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If your milkweed has pesticides, the caterpillars will vomit green liquid and act drunk and not be able to hold onto a leaf. They keep falling off of the plant!

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The caterpillar up above is not acting drunk. He is just trying to find the best place to attach his chrysalis. He went around and around the rim of the container. He stretched up and over and all around. He never did find the place he wanted until we put him back on the milkweed plant.

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The caterpillar will make a chrysalis, and he may choose a very strange, inconvenient place to attach it.
This one didn’t mind his unusual habitat. He went ahead and attached to the smooth side of the glass Mason jar we had been keeping him in so he couldn’t wander off and make his home somewhere that we couldn’t find him.

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Crazy caterpillars might choose the inside or the outside of a glass Mason jar!

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I asked Abby to get closer to the caterpillar, and she got so close it looked like the caterpillar was going to crawl right up her nose!

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Get your adorable daughter to pose for a picture with a caterpillar on milkweed and see her cute little wave.

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You may find yourself with a small herd of caterpillars at all stages of babyhood. Here we have a big guy chomping down on every leaf and flower he can find and another one hanging in a “J” as he starts to form his chrysalis. Meanwhile there are other caterpillars all over the plant doing assorted things, like resting, growing, molting or munching leaves. Right before they form the chrysalis, they have voracious appetites and will probably strip your plant clean of all leaves. Don’t panic! Just go to your local garden center and buy a new milkweed. But be sure to ask if it has been sprayed with pesticides. Don’t forget! It’s very important.

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Your daughters just might fall in love with Monarch caterpillars.



When the caterpillar has eaten enough and reaches a length of about 2.5 – 3 inches, he will create a handy dandy chrysalis, a little house to wrap himself in so that he can undergo a transition that defies comprehension.


After two weeks, the chrysalis becomes transparent and you can begin to see the beautiful wings of a Monarch butterfly inside of it.


The process that God uses to transform the lowly caterpillar into a beautiful butterfly is a total meltdown and re-making of the cells to form a whole new creature. The cells of the caterpillar are called imaginal cells. They can change into something entirely new. They have to! The cells that used to be caterpillar parts now have to become butterfly parts. A cell that used to be part of a worm-like body becomes part of a wing or antenna or an eye or a slimmer body of a butterfly. It confounds even the most intelligent scientists. But God is able to make all things new!


And then one day, this happens!



And then your little girls may fall in love with Monarch butterflies!


And the cycle continues as you find other tiny caterpillars on your Tropical Milkweed and start all over again.

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Kelsey and butterfly


A beautiful, technically-correct, extremely informative and in-depth book about Monarch butterflies is a poetry book called “The Monarch’s Progress: Poems with Wings” by Avis Harley. I love this book!!! It is clever, witty and so well put together. You should really check it out!



You might like to read about our earlier adventures with caterpillars and butterflies in the posts under the category Caterpillar Chronicles in the sidebar.

A Sweet Teachable Moment

I was lying in bed listening to a podcast by Sally Clarkson. Emma came in and out of my room a couple of times, each time telling me something about watching a mama bird feeding her babies in a nest.


I turned off the podcast each time so I could listen to her. Finally, I turned it off and fully engaged with Emma about the mama and baby birds.


I’m so glad I did.

She told me that she watched the mama bird coming to the nest over and over again and how the baby birds kept chirping the whole time the mama was gone.  She sat outside and watched them all day yesterday (that explains her sunburn). I said something about her making good observations. She said, “Maybe I should write this down.”  “Yes,” I responded, “maybe you should.”

She quickly began searching for a piece of paper so she could write it down. I asked where her notebook was. She got excited and said, “Oh yeah,” and started looking for her notebook. She found it and then went to find a pencil. She was all excited. I gave her some ideas about how to organize her notes.

She started writing and asking how to spell different words. She wanted to write the word “babies”, so I got to teach her the rule about making a plural by changing the Y to I and adding ES.

I asked a few guiding questions to make her think more about what she had seen. I asked where the mother bird went to get the food. Emma said “north… west…” Then I asked her if she knew which direction north was. I showed her and then explained to her about the sun coming up in the east and setting in the west and pointed to those directions while explaining. She said that the mother bird went to her little friend Fama’s back yard a lot because they have lots of grubs and bugs.


Then she said she was going to put a period. I didn’t look at what she was writing. She did almost all of it on her own. I only helped her with spelling when she asked for it. She expressed one sentence as a question, so I told her to put a question mark at the end of that sentence.


I didn’t look at what she wrote until she was gone. That keeps me from being critical and discouraging while she’s working on it.


After she left I looked at what she had written. Here it is:



First day: Baby bird chirp untill mother bird brings food for her babies.


Second day: Mother has to work all day to keep her babie’s satisfied.

Where does the mother bird go to get food? West south east or north


She probably go’s to Fama’s yard for food

I loved that this was all her idea. She was extremely interested in the subject. She wanted to do it. I didn’t push her at all. I didn’t tell her what to write or how much or anything. She enjoyed it from beginning to end. She was proud of her work. She wants to add more to it as she observes more.

She also drew a picture of baby birds in a nest, but I forgot to take a picture of it.

I will talk to her about proper use of periods at another time. I will also talk to her about proper use of apostrophes later. I was very proud of her work.

I think this is the best way for a child to learn – for anybody to learn, for that matter.

That’s my learning theory in a nutshell. Let them learn about what they are interested in. Show interest in what they are learning. Make some helpful suggestions here and there with no pressure. Let the project be theirs alone so that they have complete ownership of it. Let them figure out how to organize it, but give some tips and pointers and help them as they ask for it. Act interested and make yourself really take interest in what they are excited about.

This has worked well for us many times.

I haven’t done any more than this sort of thing with any of my kids, and several of my older kids are very good writers. I have never used a writing curriculum or even a language arts curriculum. I just wait for opportunities like this one. Teachable moments that naturally lend themselves to learning new skills and concepts. And I read good books to them – lots of good books.

I just thought I would share it here so that others may get some ideas that may be helpful to them, too.

Does this help you at all? Please share similar experiences here or leave feedback if this generates ideas or helps you to take advantage of teachable moments, too.