Nature Notes from Common Ground

Week of October 13, 2020


In honor of yesterday's Indigenous People's Day, I'd like to begin this week's edition with an acknowledgement of the Quinnipiac people, on whose traditional territory Common Ground sits.

Weekly Nature Note

What's happening in nature this week?

Over the past week, we’ve been noticing the leaves changing color as our annual fall foliage display begins. But why do leaves change color this time of year?

As you may know, leaves use sunlight to produce energy (as sugar) for trees through a process called photosynthesis. The sunlight is absorbed by a chemical called chlorophyll in the leaves. Chlorophyll gives leaves their green color.

As the nights get longer and there is less sunlight for the leaves to absorb, the tree begins to sever its connection with its leaves. Chlorophyll remaining in the leaves continues to make sugar, but that sugar gets trapped in the leaves and forms anthocyanin, which produces red and purple colors.

Meanwhile, the chlorophyll in the leaves breaks down, so their green color begins to fade. Carotenoids, orange and yellow colors that are always present in the leaves, but hidden by the green chlorophyll, begin to show through. The different blends of chlorophyll, carotenoids, and anthocyanin give each leaf its unique fall coloration.

Although we might wish for the vivid colors to last, eventually all of these pigments break down, leaving behind only tannins, which give leaves their brownish color.


Nature activity of the week

Activity 1: Weather Tracking

As we get fully into fall and the weather begins to cool, it can be interesting to track the temperature (and other weather conditions) over time.

What you need: observational skills, thermometer, pencil and paper.

Optional: rain gauge, barometer, anemometer, wind vane

Choose a time of day to record your weather observations. Each day at this time, record the date, temperature, and anything you notice about the weather in a chart like this one. If you’re using additional measurement instruments, record their information as well.

Once you have a week or two worth of data (that’s the fancy science word for all the things you’ve written down), see if you can spot any patterns in the weather. Graphing your data makes it even easier to notice patterns!

The folks at the Arctic Climate Modeling Program have some great ideas for tracking and graphing weather patterns. And click here to look for pretty recording and graphing sheets.

Big picture

Activity 2: Natural Dyes

Today our very own Farmer Ellen is leading a workshop on natural dyes. Participants in the workshop will use the marigolds that grow at Common Ground to dye fabric a beautiful yellow color. Many other plants can be used to create dyes, including cabbage, onions, spinach, black beans, and more! Here’s a great activity on creating and using natural dyes.


More resources

Jon Henley of The Guardian argues that children need to get outside and engage with nature. But I'm sure you knew that already!


Hike of the Week

East Rock Park

Each week we will share a kid-friendly hike or other outdoor adventure.

This week, East Rock Park offers an easy stroll with wonderful views of the fall foliage and across New Haven!


Weekly Video

In this week's video, Beekeeper Tim tells us about the tools he uses to take care of the bees.
Bee Magic 101


About this series

Our programs for children at Common Ground are place based, hands on, and focus on community, friendship, and nature-based learning and play.

In this time of virtual learning and social distancing, we seek to support teachers and families in getting outside in safe and healthy ways. We hope this series provides content and activities to help your students or your family engage in nature-based learning, whether you are learning in person or virtually.

Some of the funding we rely on to keep Nature Notes free comes from the Robert F. Schumann Foundation and The Claire C. Bennitt Watershed Fund, established by the South Central CT Regional Water Authority.