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 pbonnin@houstonarboretum.org or visit our website at http://www.HoustonArboretum.org 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 pbonnin@houstonarboretum.org.

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!

iNaturalist City Challenge!

iNaturalist.org is an online community for people who love nature – like us! It is a place where you can record and share your wildlife observations, identify species of flora and fauna, talk with other naturalists, and learn about nature!

In celebration of National Citizen Science Day (April 15th) and  Earth Day (April 22nd), iNaturalist is hosting a City Nature Challenge! Cities from across the nation are competing in a four day competition to see who has the most observations, species identified, and people participating. Houston, Austin, and Dallas/Fort Worth are the 3 cities competing in Texas. And of course, The Houston Arboretum & Nature Center was excited to join in the fun!

We grabbed our iPads and hit the trails with the Home Schoolers in search of as much wildlife as we could find! The pictures are being uploaded to iNaturalist.org today to be added into the final count for Houston!

The deadline for pictures is tonight, so go outside and take some shots of nature!

Here are a few pics we took:


Swamp rabbit was hopping around the pond!
Can you see me?
Screech Owl peering at us!
This yellow crowned night heron was not bothered by the kids snapping photos!


Toad Abode!

Toad adobes are a great project for your student to make! It is a fun and easy way to provide a habitat for a toad in  your yard. Toads are beneficial creatures because they are a natural pest control for your garden. An adult toad can consume an average of 10,000 insects in one summer! That’s a lot of bugs and slugs!

Like most animals, toads prefer a certain habitat. You want to place your toad home in a shady spot where the soil is the dampest. You can put it under a bush, near a downspout, or under an air conditioner drip. You can place the adobe on a few rocks so the toad can hop inside. You can also lay it on it’s side and bury it a little in the dirt. (See pictures below).

Lay the abode on it’s side, and burying the bottom third of the pot. Make sure there is dirt inside the pot.
Place the abode on rocks.










Remember organisms also need water to survive. You can place a small, shallow saucer with water near the abode. Here are some of the awesome toad abodes decorated by our Home School kids this week!


Just a reminder! Only a few days left to register for April Home School!


Who do these tracks belong to? Come find out as we study tracks and scat in our Urban Wildlife class!

In April, we will be learning about Urban Wildlife! We will see which animals have adapted to city life. The dates are April 10th, 17th, and 24th. We still have a few spots open if you haven’t already registered!

We will be sweep netting at the Meadow in April for insects! Come join the fun!

May will be Science Fair month! Students will learn about the scientific method while performing experiments. Then, they will create a science fair project at home to showcase on the last day of class. Class dates are May 8th, 15th, and 22nd.

We still have a few spots open for both months! Don’t forget to sign up!

Biomimicry: The Kingfisher Story

Biomimicry has played a big role in the designs of transportation. Everything from boats and submarines to airplanes and helicopters have been based on the shape of various fish and birds. One of my favorite examples of transportation biomimicry is based on the sleek beak of the kingfisher.

Common kingfisher. Source: AskNature.org

In the late 1990’s, Japanese engineers designed their famous bullet train which allowed people to travel from city to city with speed reaching close to 200 mph! There was one big problem though. Whenever the train would exit the train tunnels it would create a sonic boom (a loud sound) that could be heard up to 400 meters away, waking up nearby residents and disturbing local wildlife. The sound registered well above normal environmental standards. People on the train had also noticed a change in atmospheric pressure when entering and exiting the tunnels. After studying the design of the the train, the engineers realized the shape of the train’s nose was the problem. It was round like bullet.

So we ask:

How does nature flow without turbulence?

How does it streamline to move efficiently? 

Avid bird watcher and engineer Eifi Nakatsu looked to nature for a solution. Nakatsu noticed the kingfisher had a unique beak that allowed him to dive effortlessly into water with minimal splashing. The kingfisher’s spear-shaped beak and head pierces the surface of the water and creates an opening for the bird’s body to glide in smoothly.

The kingfisher’s wedge-shaped beak allows it to enter the water with little splashing to sneak up on it’s prey. Source: AskNature.org

Nakatsu redesigned the bullet train’s nose and front end to resemble the kingfisher’s wedge-shaped beak. The train can now travel smoothly through the tunnels with lower resistance and a lot less noise. And, thanks to the streamlining of the train, it uses 15% less energy and runs 10% faster.

In class, the students took on the role of engineers looking to make the best gliders. First, we learned about different animals who glide through air and water like flying squirrels, birds, and sea turtles. Next, students created one or two designs they thought would work. After they assembled their gliders, it was time to test and tune! We measured to see how far the gliders would go, if they flew straight, and checked to see what kind of landing it had. After that, they took them back inside for modifications and tweaks, and tested them again! There were some pretty awesome designs being made!

Here is your take-home challenge:

Water transportation! Research different ocean animals to learn their body shapes and any cool adaptations they have. Collect a bunch of  materials from around your home (cardboard, foil, water bottles, tape, glue, scissors, Popsicle sticks, straws, etc) and have your student create a vessel for the water. It could be a sailboat, a large ship, or even a submarine! After their design is complete, test it out in a bathtub to see how well it moves in the water. Remember, engineers will try several designs to see what will work the best. Happy creating!