Meet Cookie!

We had a special guest this week to help us learn about birds!

Meet Cookie!

Cookie is an African grey parrot who belongs to one of our Staff Naturalists, Ms. Lois. African greys (Psittacus erithacus) are medium sized, dusty-gray looking parrots with black beaks, pale yellow eyes, and a brilliant red tail. African grey parrots are most famous for their intelligence and their talking ability. Their ability to mimic human speech makes them a favorite among avian pet owners. They are fun and gentle birds who like to have their intelligence challenged with puzzle toys and foraging.

Food: Fruit, seeds, and nuts. Cookie’s favorite treats are apples!

Life expectancy: They can live for over 50 years.  Cookie is currently 6 years old.

Range: Widely distributed across African tropical forests.

Habitat: They are found mostly in forests, along clearings or edges. They can also be found in mangrove forests, Savannah woodlands, or on offshore islands that contain oil-palm trees they like to eat.

Current Status: Listed as “Vulnerable” on the IUCN Red List due mostly to loss of habitat of nesting trees and capture for illegal pet trade.


Silly bird! Cookie likes to perch on top of the whiteboards.


About to take flight!



Tiger Beetle Masks

So you may be curious about the mask the students made this week. They are tiger beetles! These voracious little eaters are actually predators who eat a wide range of garden pests like ants, caterpillars, flies, grasshoppers, and even spiders! This makes them a great addition to your garden for natural pest control.

There are over 2000 species of tiger beetles worldwide, with over 100 species living here in North America. They come in a variety of colors including grayish brown, violet, orange and black, or even the brilliant green color that we modeled our masks after. Tiger beetles are approximately 1/2 inch long, with 3 body parts and 6 spindly legs. Adult tiger beetles have long antennae, large bulging eyes, and pointed mandibles used to grab and eat their prey!

 Close up of a green tiger beetle

These fierce hunters get their names from how they stalk and attack their prey. While waiting for the unsuspecting victim to come by, they will crouch down like a tiger. As the prey gets closer, they lunge out and pounce on it! Their strong mandibles grab the prey and hold it tight while consuming it.

Green tiger beetle with insect larva prey


So, who eats these beetles you ask? Spiders, dragonflies, and vertebrates like toads and lizards will prey on them.

Do this activity at home:

Ask your student to make a garden food chain or food web that includes the tiger beetle. Start with a producer (there are tons of them in gardens!) and end with decomposer!

Ms. Patti’s 6/7 class of tiger beetles!


Mr. Justin and the 8/9 class making their masks
10/12 class showing off their metallic masks!
10/12 class showing off their metallic masks!
Showing us how the mandibles work to grab their prey!

Who eats who?

When you live in the wild it is important to know what you can and can’t eat in order for you to survive. It is equally important to know who is trying to eat you! In an ecosystem the animal that does the hunting is called a predator. The animal that is being hunted for food is called the prey. A food chain shows how all living things get their food, and how nutrients and energy are passed from organism to organism.  Food chains always start with the sun shining down. The plants will use the sunlight to create their own food.  Some animals will then eat those plants for energy, while other animals will eat animals. Once a plant or animals dies, decomposers will start to break down the dead matter, returning the nutrients back into the soil. And the food chain starts over again!

Here is an activity to make your own food chain: Take Home_Food Chain Mobile

Questions to think about:

  • Is a coyote a predator or prey? Why?
  • Is a swamp rabbit a predator or prey? Why?
  • Can an animal be both a predator and a prey? How?
  • Where do plants get their energy from?
  • What are herbivores, carnivores, and omnivores? Give an example of each.
  • Draw an example of a food chain in two different ecosystems (for example: one in a forest and one in the ocean).

This Month’s Vocabulary Words:

  • Predator – animal who hunts other animals for food
  • Prey – the animal being hunted
  • Producer – a plant that uses energy from the sun to make it’s own food
  • Consumer – an animal who obtains their energy be eating other organisms
  • Decomposer – an organism that breaks down dead or decaying matter
  • Food Chain – describes who eats who in the wild. It shows the transfer of energy from one organism to another.

We are ready for you!

Home School returns next Monday, September 11th! 

The Houston Arboretum and Nature Center is open and ready for Home Schoolers! We made it through Hurricane Harvey with minimal damage, and we hope you did, too! The semester is kicking off with Eat or Be Eaten! Come join us as we study the relationship between predator and prey!

Here are the teachers:

  • 5 year olds – Ms. Lois in classroom D
  • 6-7 year olds – Ms. Patti in classroom A
  • 8-9 year olds – Mr. Justin in classroom B
  • 10-12 year olds – Ms. Tiffany in classroom C

We do still have a few spots open in the 5, 8-9, and 10-12 classes. Please share with anyone you think might be interested. Registration for this month will close this Friday at 12pm. 

Just a couple of reminders! 

  • Classes are from 1pm-3pm.
  • Closed-toe shoes must be worn
  • Prepare for the weather – jackets or rain coats if needed
  • Bring a bottle of water
  • Mosquitos will be bad this year due to all of the rain. We suggest spraying mosquito repellent before coming to class since we will be outside for each class.
  • Be sure to check the blog throughout the week to look for take home activities and pictures from class!

    Five lined skink

Questions? Contact Patti Bonnin at or at 713-366-0376.

We look forward to seeing everyone next week!


Fall 2017 Schedule – Registration is OPEN!

Hello Home Schoolers!

I hope you have all been enjoying your summer! We have had a busy summer at the Arboretum, and can’t wait to get back to our Home School Classes! We already have a ton of registrations for the Fall semester, so I know you guys are excited to come back, too!

Here is our schedule for this semester:

September 11, 18, 25 – Eat or Be Eaten

October 9, 16, 30 – Bird Life

November 6, 13, 27 – Mammal Study

December 4, 11, 18 – Forest Rangers

We still have a few spots open! if you have not already registered, please do so now! (6/7 classes are full).

Questions about our Home School Program? Contact Patti Bonnin at or visit our website at for more information!

Science Fair 2017

This year, we closed out our Home School semester with a Science Fair. And all I can say is: 

All of the judges were blown away by the experiments, presentations, hard work, and creativity that went into each project. You all did a wonderful job. Thank you to everyone who participated this year.

Home school classes will resume in September. Keep checking this website for updates on Fall programming, registration dates, random fun facts, etc.

Have a wonderful summer!

Below are some of the pictures from the Science Fair. Look for yours! (Click on picture to enlarge it)

Ideas for Science Fair Projects

Need some ideas for the upcoming science fair? Below is a list of possible experiments you can do! You can also use your own idea.  If you want to pick your own topic, you may research age-appropriate science fair topics with your parent. Let your teacher know which experiment you want to do next week.

For the 5 and 6/7 year old classes:

  • How much water does a plant need?
  • Can you suck an egg into a bottle?
  • Can you make a rubber egg?
  • Does music have an effect on animal behavior?
  • What dissolves in water? Pick several different food items and see what dissolves!
  • Walking water! Can water move from one glass to the next, without you pouring it?
  • Which items are magnetic? Find several items to test!
  • Do plants need water? Put a carnation or celery in colored water to find out!
  • Can you blow up a balloon using baking soda?
  • Sink or Float! Which items float and which ones sink? (fruits/veggies, candy bars, etc)
  • Make a volcano, sink hole, or tornado in a bottle.
  • Does every liquid freeze?
  • How are canyons formed?
  • What is the best liquids to clean pennies?
  • Can you make invisible ink?
  • Which brand of paper towels absorb the most water?
  • Does the shape of the ice determine if it melts faster?
  • Do worms prefer light or darkness? Wet or dry homes?
  • Do plants prefer water, or another type of liquid?
  • Do all rocks sink? Try all different types of rocks including pumice and granite!
  • Do birds prefer certain colors? Put out different colored seeds and find out!
  • Are all metals magnetic?
  • Are Bounty paper towels more absorbent than regular paper towels?
  • Can you keep apples from turning brown? What is the best way?
  • What items in your house contain iron? Use a magnet to check foods, dollar bills, etc.
  • Which flavor of gum lasts longer?
  • Can aspirin help keep flowers fresher longer?

For the 8/9 and 10/12 year olds:

  • What is condensation? How is it formed?
  • Which brand of popcorn pops the most kernels?
  • Make a plant light box.
  • Can you make your own crystals?
  • Do plants move towards the light? Create a show-box maze!
  • Do different liquids have different densities? Layer your liquids!
  • How strong are eggs? Can you walk on them?
  • Can objects change states between solids, liquids, and gases? Try water or candles!
  • Can you make it rain? Make a habitat and see if you can make it rain in it.
  • Can you make a clock run on a potato?
  • What can Coke dissolve?
  • Do different shapes of a kite make it fly better?
  • Disappearing color! Can you make food dye vanish from water?
  • Do double-stuff Oreos have more crème filling than regular Oreos?
  • What food do birds like the most?
  • Which oils or foods repel ants? Try Olive oil, Cinnamon Oil, etc.
  • Does salt water have more density than regular water? Or sugar water?
  • How does yeast make bread rise? What conditions work best for yeast? (hot, cold, room temp?)
  • Can you make a battery out of produce? What works best? (potato, lemon, etc?)
  • Does temperature affect brine shrimp? What temperature water to they prefer?
  • Why do webbed feet help ducks swim better?
  • How can you keep food from rotting?
  • Why do avocados and apples turn brown? Can you prevent that from happening?
  • What are the best activities to increase your heart rate?
  • How does a rainbow form?
  • Do sugar and salt look the same under a microscope?
  • How do rollercoasters work?
  • What flavor of jellybeans do people hate the most? Like the most?
  • How does a microphone work?
  • Can you grow your own bacteria?
  • What is the best stain-remover for clothes?
  • What type of dirt holds more water? (sand, topsoil, compost, clay, etc).
  • Can double-dipping a chip spread bacteria?
  • Which brand of battery lasts longer?
  • What type of food grows mold the fastest?

Science Fair Guidelines

We are so excited to host our Home School Science Fair again this year! I know the home schoolers are excited and already thinking about which experiments they would like to do. Below are the guidelines for the Science Fair. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask your home school teacher, oremail Mrs. Patti at

Science Fair 2017 Rules and Guidelines

Basic Information:

  • The Science Fair will take place during our regular class time on May 22nd. The students have two weeks to complete their experiments, as well create their presentation boards.
  • Students will setup and present during the first half of class. Parents are invited to attend from 2:15-3 pm.
  • We sent home a safety pledge with the students this week showing them ways to stay safe when performing their experiments. Remember: Safety First!
  • We want to encourage independent work with the students. Parents should be there for guidance and assistance, but make sure the students are performing as much as the experiments themselves as possible.
  • If you are researching a topic idea, make sure it is age-appropriate. For instance, a good Google search would be something like “Science Fair Projects for 3rd graders”.
  • If you have a tablet, you may show a video of the experiment in addition to the tri-fold board. However, the student will be responsible for bringing, setting up and keeping track of the equipment themselves. Our computers will not be available to the students.


Judging will be based on a variety of things including:

  • Did you follow the scientific method? Is each section presented on the tri-fold board?
  • Thoroughness of investigation and research
  • Clarity of presentation
  • Report of Findings
  • Creativity of ideas!


Awards will be given for 1st, 2nd, and 3rd place in each age group. Awards will be presented at the end of class.


The display board should be a tri-fold board. The students will be asked to include the following information:

  • Title – really big for everyone to see!
  • The Question
  • The Hypothesis
  • The Materials Used
  • The Procedure
  • The Results – charts or graphs
  • Your Conclusion – was your hypothesis right or wrong?

Have fun with the boards! Include pictures of you performing the experiments, or pictures of the end results.

**Please Note: We will not be performing the experiments in class, only the findings. You may bring props or end result, if it is not messy or space consuming. Please do not bring any live specimens, food or chemicals to class.

We look forward to seeing everyone’s presentations! Happy Experimenting! 


A Day at the Meadow!

If you plant a flower, you will provide food for pollinators like butterflies, bees, beetles, and even some birds. If you have insects, you will attract animals that eat them like frogs, toads, and lizards. If you have frogs and lizards, you will provide food for bigger animals like opossums, snakes, and larger birds.

Insects, reptiles, amphibians, birds, AND mammals? Look how many organisms you helped! All because you planted a flower.

My point? GO PLANT FLOWERS! 🙂 Start with the seed balls we sent home today! Our seed balls were made with potting soil, clay, and water. We added a wildflower seed mix in the middle of each ball. All you have to do is plant it somewhere in a pot or a garden, then water it, and wait for the beautiful blooms to arrive!

Our wildflower seed mix contains plants that are native to our area. They include Indian blanket, purple coneflower, tropical sage, black-eyed susan, and more!

In addition to making seed balls to take home, we spent time in our meadow sweep netting for insects! Check out the pictures below. We did manage to get pictures of a few of the insects before we released them back to their habitats. Would you like to try and identify them? Check out Bug Guide or iNaturalist for references.

Some cool winged insect, gray colored. Too fast for the camera!
Ms. Tiffany identified this as a two-lined spittlebug!
A chrysalis
We found several of these caterpillars.
Walking stick literally walked right up to us!
What kind of beetle do you think this is? It was yellow, with rows of black dots on it’s back.
This guy was teeny tiny! What does he look like to you?
Black and fuzzy! We didn’t touch this one just in case it was poisonous. Remember, don’t touch an insect unless you know it is safe.
We found several of these tiny beetles!
And of course we caught spiders, too!