Tag Archives: nature

#writeout: Because of an Acorn

When life gives you acorns…turn it into a #writeout inspiration!

On Saturday I found myself at UC Davis meeting with an incredible group of writing project teachers from all over the state as we launched year 2 of our CWP Environmental Literacy and Justice Collaborative. In that space we imagined all the ways to support our students as they learn about the earth and its systems, grow their appreciation of the natural world and resources we share, and use writing to think, to reflect, to question, and to advocate for the world we need and want for ourselves and for our future.

My colleague Carol brought some wonderful acorns she found in her neighborhood as inspiration for a making project…and lucky me, I ended up taking the extras home with me to use in my classroom. These acorns are bigger than the ones I am familiar with…and so beautiful!

And they were perfect for the book I had already borrowed from the library to read this week–Because of an Acorn by Lola Schaefer. After reading and studying this deceptively simple text, we talked about what they noticed in the book. They were quick to notice that it included aspects of life cycles…and they loved the cutouts on the first and last pages. Serendipitously the NWP Write Out newsletter included a link to a video about acorns by a park ranger at the Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Park. My students loved learning more about acorns–and the ways that trees communicate with each other.

Then it was time to pull out our #writeout pencils and notebooks. We took time to look carefully at the acorns and sketch them in detail. Students were encouraged to use numbers and words in addition to their sketch to capture information about their acorn.

After a break for their music class and recess, we returned to our notebooks for some writing. To push students’ thinking, we used the prompts: I noticed…, I wonder…, and It reminds me of to describe the acorn we had studied and sketched. These first graders had no hesitation. They had plenty to write about and were eager to get started! To keep the words flowing, students were encouraged to use their best “kid writing” (or phonetic spelling), prioritizing ideas over correctness.

Best of all, my students are paying attention to the environment and appreciating all that it has to offer. It is my goal that this immersion in nature will lead us toward advocacy as we consider the ways all of us, as community members–young and old(er), can be a catalyst for change to make the world a better place.

A Wonder Walk

First graders are naturally filled with wonder. It doesn’t take much to get them to look closely, to pay attention to details that many others miss.

Our school has the most amazing librarian. Last week I asked her about a book–a book I know I own, but cannot find in my classroom. And she not only found me a copy of that book, but she also suggested another that was new to me…and just what I needed today when I found it in my mailbox.

#writeout is a collaboration between the National Writing Project and the National Park Service that urges all of us to get outside and find inspiration in whatever nature is around us. We started #writeout yesterday with time in the school garden. Students learned about weeds, donned child-sized gardening gloves, and dug and pulled and delighted in seeing roots break free of the dry soil.

Today we read Wonder Walkers, that book our school librarian left in my mailbox. It was perfect for setting the stage for a wonder walk, time on our school grounds looking for interesting things (think leaves, seed pods, sticks, etc.) from nature that we collected using our collection tool (shout out to Little Pine Learners). Before we headed out we talked about what items we could collect and what we should not (living bugs, picking flowers and plants)–and students were excited to get started.

They looked carefully and their collectors began to fill. Some were exuberant and filled their spaces quickly, crowding dried roots and pine droppings with sticks and crunchy leaves. Others were more selective, leaving more spaces between the items collected. A child with sharp eyes found a dandelion puff that didn’t have to be picked, truly a treasure that her classmates envied!

Before we headed back into the classroom, I gathered students close and encouraged them to hold out the collectors so they could see each other’s collections and also so I could take a few pictures.

Once back in the classroom, students used their iPads to take a photo of their collector for future use. Then we settled to read another book. An old favorite, Weeds Find a Way by Cindy Jenson-Elliott, is a wonderful mentor text for students to use as a structure or frame for their writing. I loved the gasp when students realized that this book was non-fiction, yet so accessible with beautiful illustrations. They also remembered their experience with weeds from yesterday and the conversation with the garden teacher about how weeds are not “bad,” they are just not the plants you want in a particular space.

After comments and observations about the book, we tried on using the Weeds find a way… frame with objects from our collectors. “A red leaf finds a way to swish and swoosh through the air,” was one example that got us started.

We ended the day by starting a Zine to showcase our nature items through writing and drawing. We used a single sheet of copy paper to fold a small booklet (with a single cut and no tape or staples) that will soon become tiny treasures worthy of #writeout. More about that in another post!

Photography in the Garden: SOL22 Day 14

Last week we learned about Jane Goodall and her passion for animals. Today we began learning about Ansel Adams and his passion for nature and photography. I want students to see that there are lots of ways to take action to make the world better–and following your passions is a great place to begin.

It’s surprising to me that I haven’t had students use their iPads to take photos before this point in the year. I’ve used iPads sparingly this year–I think partly in response of the intensive use of devices during COVID times. So today was the day I decided that we simply HAD to do some photography.

I started by showing my students a slide show with three photography techniques: bug’s eye view (a view from a low perspective), bird’s eye view (a view from above), and using the rule of thirds (framing the subject using grid lines to help with positioning). We did a quick practice in the classroom where I could give some immediate feedback by walking around the room.

After lunch, we came back to the classroom where I gave a few pointers about taking our iPads outside, and then we headed out into the garden to take photos using the three techniques. I limited them to 10 photos, but encouraged them to explore and experiment, deleting any that weren’t good.

There’s nothing like watching first graders take photos. They have no hesitation about laying on the ground, crawling under a plant, or taking an angle that I would never have imagined. As we walked back from the garden, we made a few stops to snap a couple of extra photos of some California golden poppies growing along the fenceline, some other wildflowers, and a lizard doing some sunbathing. And of course, I couldn’t resist a bird’s eye view shot of the class on our way back.

Back in the classroom we took a few minutes to look through the photos, identifying which technique (or combination of techniques) we had used. Tomorrow we will explore some editing…and select our best three for some caption writing.

There’s more to come on this project…stay tuned!

After the Storm: SOL22 Day 4

I woke with a jolt at 2am to the rumble of thunder, the room lighting up even under my closed eyelids. The patter of water on the roof followed, the predicted rain had arrived. Forecasts for rain are often unrealized promises in these parts as we watch the rain percentages on the weather app drain away as the appointed rainy day nears. We were lucky this time, we did get close to half an inch overnight.

Friday afternoons are blissfully usually Zoom-free, with most people being done with meetings as the week winds toward the weekend. That also means I can often squeeze in a walk on the beach if the tide conditions are right. And today was perfect. With a negative tide around 4pm, we would have plenty of beach to walk and explore. There is nothing like heading to the coast to make that separation between work and the weekend.

After a storm is a glorious time. The sea is wild with wind-whipped whitecaps and the shore is often empty as sun bathers stay away and water lovers wait out a few more hours before risking the swim. With temps in the high 50’s, the time was right for some exploration and deep breathing.

The tidepools beckoned. I stepped carefully, making sure to avoid the exposed sea anemones. And I found myself mesmerized by the ripples in the water, catching the light and dancing in the light sea breeze.

Geoff is an avid beach cleaner, always with a bag in hand to pick up any trash we encounter. Storms push the trash to shore and we came across an assortment of styrofoam pieces (from surfboards and from food containers), straws, bits of colorful plastic, and even this mostly intact plastic food/drink container. I couldn’t resist a shot with the seagull in the background before Geoff added it to his trash bag.

I love the way a walk on the beach unkinks my shoulders and smooths my brow. The white noise of the waves crashing clears my mind and helps me set my work aside and be present in the beauty of nature. I leave windblown and refreshed and this week, ready to host our San Diego Area Writing Project (SDAWP) Spring Conference tomorrow morning. Another beach walk may be in store tomorrow afternoon…

3 Haiku: NPM #5

Faced with a long drive back home, we decided to detour and find some mini adventures on our way. It makes for a long day…but was filled with small surprises that provided the perfect fodder for some Haiku.


Transitory sprites

conjuring springtime dreamscapes

also known as weeds


Wetland Walk

Basking in the sun

pulling me to look closely

turtle or a rock?



The gaggle gathers

lunch counter or wetland spa?

pause in reflection


SOLC Day 20: How Does Your Garden Grow?

I love plants. I’m drawn to their simplicity, their complexity, the subtle variations in color, the brilliant bursts of color, not to mention the smells and textures and the tenacity they exhibit.

At best, I’m a fair weather gardener. I always have the best of intentions and I love to pick out this plant and that one, sure that I’ll get it planted in the perfect place in my yard or in that beautiful ceramic pot I just have to have.

In reality, most of my plants arrive as gifts, frequently from students and their families. As they enter our home, they claim their position in the kitchen garden window (it’s one of those windows that pushes out, creating a sort of mini greenhouse). Lucky for them, my husband has a green thumb and works hard to keep all the house plants alive and well. He mists the ones that need mist, waters the ones that need water, and leaves those that need little mostly alone.

But every now and then, in a flurry of decorating and cleaning, I purge that window box exiling those that are overgrown or straggly or on their last breath to the back yard. (With the exception of the orchids–they get to stay in even if they are not looking their best!) The exiles take their place along the edge of the patio where they can take advantage of the sprinkling system, ensuring that they will be watered with regularity. (It doesn’t rain much here, so irrigation is essential!)

It’s been raining most of the month of March here (we seem to be trying to catch up on rainfall totals for the entire year), so we’ve turned the sprinkler system off for the time being. With a rain-free day today, I decided to take a break from endless Zoom meetings and worries about student remote learning (Google Classroom glitches) and wandered out into the back yard.

Who knew that dandelions can grow tall…like knee high? And that all phases of dandelion bloom can be represented at the top of a single plant? I love dandelions, so I left these to thrive…if only temporarily until my husband heads out.

Then I wandered over to the exile zone…and wow! Those exiles have banded together to become a beautiful wild garden! Lavender reaches high, waving its fragrant blossoms. Aloe, like a giant spiked serpent, peers out from beneath. Swirls of succulents show their perfect Fibonacci sequence–math and nature perfectly intertwined.

But the piece de resistance (imagine that said with the perfect French accent) is the fuschia plant that I was certain was dead. It is vibrant and healthy…and when I tried to turn the plastic pot it is growing in, it didn’t budge–the roots have reached out of the pot into the ground. Such a gorgeous harbinger of spring!

I can’t take credit for any of the beauty on display in the backyard. Luckily this wild garden mostly takes care of itself (with a little help from my husband). But I am delighting in it today as it lifts my spirits and brightens my day!

How is your garden growing?

SOLC Day 2: Garden Inspiration

I’m fortunate to teach at a school with a garden.  No, I really don’t have a green thumb–and I love the idea of gardening much more than the practice of gardening.  So, lucky for me, we have a garden teacher who directs a lunchtime club that gets things growing…and then I can take my students out to use the garden as inspiration for photography, art, and writing!

Today I started to teach my students about photography by reading them the book Antsy Ansel by Cindy Jenson-Elliott.  (I’m fortunate to know Cindy and have her as part of our local writing project too!)  My recent trip to Yosemite further inspired my teaching about Ansel Adams and appreciation for the natural beauty around us.  Below is photo of El Capitan with the sun setting and casting its glow on these impressive granite slopes.  If you look closely you can see a heron in the foreground who decided to hang out and watch the light change from its vantage in the Merced River.


I like to show students that photography can be more than just taking pretty pictures.  Photography can be a form of activism–another way of expressing your views and spreading information to others.  Adams’ photography played a role in the establishment of our National Park system, something I am grateful for!

So today after a quick lesson on a variety of composition techniques (rule of thirds, leading lines, bug’s eye view…), we headed out to the garden to take some photos.  With iPads in hand, students explored through their camera lens.  They got low, looked closely, climbed slopes, scrambled under bushes…all in search of an interesting photo.  I haven’t yet gotten a look at their images…we barely made it back into the classroom in time to head out for lunch! Tomorrow will bring next steps…and some inspiration from Dorothea Lange.

And of course, I had to take a few shots along with my students.  Here’s one of some students in action.


And another experimenting with black and white…something I will ask my students to do tomorrow to help them see the world through Ansel Adams’ lens.  This is a bright yellow flower I found blooming in the garden.


We’ll be doing some writing tomorrow as well…hopefully we’ll get far enough that I can share a slice of student results soon!

Water Blues: NPM 2019 Day 12

How do you maximize your vacation on the day you fly out? Head to beach at the crack of dawn! The beauty of Hawaii is that the morning is warm and the beach pretty empty—perfect for that last dip in the cool blues of the sea.

And then 5 hours in the air gives quiet time for composing poetry. I’m not sure I quite got to any particular point…but maybe that is what poetry is all about. I followed the words, letting them lead me.

Day 12:

Water Blues

In the crack before dawn

morning rises fresh and new

dark becoming blue that

beckons us outdoors.

Breezes whisper nature’s secrets

in our ears

telling stories of

blow holes

and green shelled turtles

that give us reason to smile

and care.

Raindrops caress our faces

smoothing out the creases

of worry

carrying them deep

into the sea.

Stepping into the not-quite-warm


where blue cools

concerns that churn

under the surface

splashing up waves

of frothy salty foam, intricate as lace.

Our eyes follow the lacy white

into a spectrum of blues:

the palest dance

along the surface

pirouetting into fine mist

keeping the air soft and moist

the darkest dive


swirling with all the waters

through the ages.

Stories rise up

taking us on travels

through time and space

that skip and play like children

delighting in the unexpected

and wondrous.

Variations of blue

like a symphony

of sound and color

sing out

painting rhythms

on worry

sculpting melody

into hope

listen with all your senses

and you’ll hear the possibilities

as the sea performs

the water blues.

Weekly Photo Challenge: Nature’s Art

There is so much beauty around when you take the time to look closely. Sometimes I find that I need to stop, kneel down, and really lean in to find what I might have missed with a quick glance.  On the beach the other day I noticed the brilliant blue of sea creatures–I had seen these before, they wash up on the shore from time to time.  As I bent down to photograph them, I noticed the ladybug and the sea grass creating a sort of found still life…an interesting piece of living art.  (I did a bit of research and found that these creatures are called velella, they are propelled only by wind and waves so can’t get themselves back in the water once they are washed on the shore.)

img_6439A look up and the moon caught my attention above the cliffs. I love the browns of the eroded hillside framed by the greens and purples of the plants growing, all against the brilliant blue sky…with just the tiny hint of the moon just above the shoulder of the cliff.img_6417

I was surprised and delighted to find these stacks of stones all lined up. Someone had taken time to find some balance in the smoothed rocks, creating stack after stack along the ledge.  High tide made the beach narrow, pushing me up toward the cliff line…where I couldn’t miss this whimsical sight.


And sometimes nature’s art is in the framing.  This seagull looks like it is “on duty,” a feathered lifeguard keeping an eye on all who are enjoying the beach!


And I don’t have to go to the beach to enjoy nature’s art.  I noticed these same purple blooms that I had seen in my neighborhood on our school campus earlier this week.  We had invited our students to take a photo to use as an element of their Mother’s Day project.  I found myself looking with an eye to light and shadow, as well as working to capture the delicate brilliance of the bloom in the foreground.


This lily-like flower also caught my eye.  The oranges and yellows seem to be highlighted by the diffuse light peeking through the shadows–yet another example of nature’s art.


And in my neighborhood yesterday afternoon, on a walk to the park with my 14 month old grandson, I spied the brilliant red of this fuzzy guy.  A closer look brought the contrasting green and yellow bloom into focus. My friend called this plant kangaroo paws–such an oddly beautiful plant.


So, take a look around…  Where do you find nature’s art?  I love that my camera reminds me to look at the usual in new and different ways–so be sure to look closely and consider light and shadow, framing, nature’s arrangement…and more.

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #naturesart for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

What is nature offering up this week?  Take a look around and share your view of nature’s art with us!

Weekly Photo Challenge: Earth

It’s Earth Day, a day established in 1970 to appreciate all the earth has to offer and to raise awareness about the need to take care of the precious resource that we call Earth.  My camera definitely helps me appreciate the earth and notice more about this wonderful planet. This week finds me at home, back at work, instead of out exploring a National Park (like I was last week at Joshua Tree).  And still, there is so much life and beauty around me.

On my way to an evening meeting on Monday, I decided to take a side trip away from the crowded freeway (still with plenty of traffic even on the side roads) to stop at Mount Soledad and appreciate the view.  Now this is hardly a mountain, but it is a high spot that overlooks the city and the bay to the south and west and La Jolla to the north and west.  Wildflowers are blooming everywhere, creating a beautiful frame even if the haze and low clouds make the view less than crisp.


The wild mustard has gotten tall this year, with vivid yellow blooms waving in the breeze.  I see this plant often along the side of the freeway (no, I don’t stop!) and other places visible from the car, but not convenient for stopping.  Before I left Mount Soledad, I noticed a patch of wild mustard and couldn’t resist leaning in for a shot.  I love the bokeh effect in the background, adding sparkle to the beautiful weed/flower.


Later in the week I took another side trip on my way to an appointment. This time I headed to a place where I would have a view of the famous Carlsbad flower fields.  The ranunculus are in bloom, creating ribbons of color that stretch for acres right above the outlet mall with the old Encinas power plant in the background.  They charge quite a price to go in close, but there is a lovely view from a sidewalk outside the property.


And when I turned the other way I noticed these brilliant tiger’s claw trees, bright against the blue of the sky.  As I moved closer, I noticed this hummingbird flitting from flower to flower–a pollinator in action!  I was lucky enough to catch a shot of this tiny bird at work with the help of my lens.


I’ve been back to the beach this week too.  The tide has not been right for long afternoon walks, but a quick stop after dinner last night offered views of seagulls as the sun reached that golden hour.  With the help of a filter, I could emphasize the colors of the sun beginning to set behind the bird in flight.


Today’s short walk drew my attention to the cliffs and the sky, and reminded me of a favorite Rachel Carson quote,

If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement and mystery if the world we live in.


I try to be that adult for kids in my class…for my own children and now for my grandchildren.  I know that I appreciate opportunities to explore the outdoors more than ever these days.  Nature is right here–right under our feet–when we take the time to look closely and appreciate each small treasure.

And sometimes within nature’s frame you see other interesting views.  I couldn’t resist these “wintering towers,” huddled together along the edge of the beach.  They begged for a black and white filter to emphasize the contrasts in light and dark…and I obliged.


So, while Earth Day is officially celebrated on April 22nd each year, in my opinion every day should be Earth Day–taking time to appreciate and take care of our planet, even in small ways.  Head out with your camera and capture Earth’s everyday specialness.  What will you notice when you pay attention to Earth?

You can post your photo alone or along with some words: commentary, a story, a poem…maybe even a song! I love to study the photographs that others’ take and think about how I can use a technique, an angle, or their inspiration to try something new in my own photography. (I love a great mentor text…or mentor photo, in this case!) I share my photography and writing on social media. You can find me on Instagram and Twitter using @kd0602. If you share your photos and writing on social media too, please let me know so I can follow and see what you are doing. To help our Weekly Photo community find each other, use the hashtag #earth for this week and include @nwpianthology in your post.

Celebrate Earth Day all this week.  Let’s create an album of Earth’s treasures and needs and help our next generation shepherd our world to health and longevity by sharing our fascination and appreciation of our planet Earth with them (and with each other).