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Nature Nuggets

While we won’t be seeing you in person right now, our award-winning Environmental Education team will be sharing ways you can explore nature outside your front door.

We'll be posting new activities daily from Monday - Friday, so keep checking back for new ways to get into nature! Share your outdoor or indoor nature exploration with us on Facebook and Instagram with #GetIntoNature and #MohonkPreserve!


Whose Poop Is That? with Cathy Shiga-Gattullo
Nature Nugget  |  April 2nd

For the grown ups’ amusement, a favorite chant among environmental educators: “It starts with an S and it ends with a T. It comes out of you and it comes out of me. I know what you’re thinking, but don’t call it that. Let’s be scientific and call it scat.” 


Location: Indoors and Outdoors
Great for: Ages 6 and up, Students and Families 

Use homemade dough to sculpt scat! Fool your family! Whose poop is that? This tactile project is great for observation skills, and learning about who poops in your yard, as well as how you can tell whose poop it is! 

Find or make the dough. If you don’t have play-doh or other modeling clay, you can easily make your own (if you can spare the ingredients). This very forgiving recipe for salt-flour dough came from my mom, who was an early elementary school teacher for 28 years. It keeps well if you wrap it tightly, and is great for hours of open-ended activity when you're tired of the poop jokes.  

All measurements are approximate (as if a kid is measuring) 

  • 2 1/3 cups of flour 
  • 1 cup of salt (regular table salt works best) 
  • 2 Tablespoons of vegetable oil 
  • 2 teaspoons of cream of tartar 
  • 2 cups of water 
  • Food coloring – I used brown and black gel food coloring (fancy). Or you can continue your color theory studies by seeing how you get brown (Helpful hint: mix all the colors together a drop at a time). You can use a bit of paint mixed into the water, or even dot it with marker after the dough is done and cool (it’ll mess up your marker, though), but then it’s not necessarily non-toxic. 
  1. Empty all ingredients into a large pot. 
  2. Whisk to combine.  
  3. Heat slowly, over low heat, whisking constantly. When the mixture starts to feel like it’s sticking to the bottom, switch to a heavy wooden spoon or silicon scraper.  
  4. Continue to stir, scraping the bottom until the dough is a ball and isn’t looking wet anymore.  
  5. Cool in the pot for a while, then transfer to a bowl or cutting board to cool completely if you’re in a hurry. 
  6. Knead the dough until smooth. (Mine looks grainy because I only had kosher salt) 
    *The pot looks like a mess, but don’t worry - it’ll clean up after soaking for a bit.  
  7. Find a chart for animal scat online. This is a good one, or this one in color with bonus tracks.
  8. Grab some tools, including a ruler, a pencil or toothpicks, and utensils.  
  9. Choose some scat to replicate and sculpt away! Use the ruler to get it the right size for your animal, and the other tools for texture and shaping. Notice the shape patterns for different animal families – pellets for rodents, longer with a tapered end for canines, etc.  
  10. Now, think about where the animal likes to poop. Does it mark its territory like the canine family, right in the middle of a pathway? Does it poop where it eats, like deer in the grass? Place it there for your family to find.  

    Bonus: For real authenticity, add hair (have a pet? If your floor is like mine, just roll it around for a second!) or bits of feathers for carnivore poop, or dried grass or seeds for herbivores. 


Selected resources: 

Who Pooped in Central Park?; Gary D. Robinson and Robert Rath; Farcountry Press, 2016. 
Tracks, Scat, and Signs; Leslie Dendy; Cooper Square Publishing, 1996. 
Everyone Poops; Taro Gomi and Amanda Mayer Stinchecum; Turtleback, 2001 


Shapes in Nature with Lauren Borer  | Nature Nugget  |  April 1st

(Someday I’ll Find It) The Rainbow Connection with Cathy Shiga-Gattullo
Nature Nugget  |  March 31st

Location: Indoor or Outdoor
Great For: Ages 4 and up, Students and Families

A Scavenger Hunt-type activity, with color mixing and matching as well as sorting elements – You are hereby challenged to find (approximately) penny-sized items that match the colors in your egg carton.

  1.  Use an empty egg carton. Paint colored dots on the bottom of each cup. You can do a classic ROYGBIV sequence. Add black, white, grey, brown and maybe a different shade of green to make a dozen.

    Or mix a gradation: Mix a single color with increasing amounts of white to create “tints” of that color, with increasing amounts of grey for “tones” of that color, or with increasing amounts of black to create “shades” of that color. Bam! Color Theory 101. Ombre is very trendy.

    Helpful hint: if you have a plastic or styrofoam egg carton, paint your colors on paper, cut out small bits and glue into the cup bottoms of your egg carton.

2.  Find tiny items of each color/tint/tone/shade. You have to look really closely. And always remember: the more you look, the more you see! The colors practically emerge - this takes some patience. Accurate matching is the goal here, not speed.

3.  Find tiny items of each color/tint/tone/shade. You have to look really closely. And always remember: the more you look, the more you see! The colors practically emerge - this takes some patience. Accurate matching is the goal here, not speed.

4.  Extension idea – Try this same activity every week. Nature is changing fast this time of year! You’ll find different items for each color cup all the time. As John Burroughs said, “To see something new, walk the same path.”

5.  Bonus – There are so many different tints, tones, and shades of each color. Grass isn’t just “green.” Make up names for your colors. Start with light, medium, dark. Move up to grass, clover, fir tree. How about Baby Duck Yellow? Rainy Sky Grey?

Don’t forget to decorate the whole egg carton!

A few resources:
“The Rainbow Connection” song from The Muppet Movie
Planting a Rainbow; Lois Ehlert; Reed Business Information, Inc., 1992.
Mix It Up; Herve Tullet; Chronicle Books, 12014.

Math in Nature – Graphing with Lauren Borer  | Nature Nugget  |  March 30th

How to Make a Barometer with Kim Tischler  | Nature Nugget  |  March 27th

Math In Nature – Sorting with Lauren Borer  | Nature Nugget  |  March 26th

The Sunset Project from Cathy Shiga-Gattullo  | Nature Nugget  |  March 25th


"I remember doing this as an assignment in 5th grade – it blew my mind!"

In this activity, you’ll track the sun’s position as it moves across the sky during the seasons. You are creating an analemma that’s fun to say!), or diagram showing the position of the sun from a fixed location on Earth at the same time every day.

Location: Indoor or Backyard
Great For: Grades 4+, Ages 10-100+, Teachers and Families

  1. Figure out which way is south. Helpful hint:  if you don’t have a compass or compass app: the Shawangunk Ridge, the NYS Thruway, and the Hudson River all run roughly north-south. (They’re all “migratory highways”)
  2. Draw the southern landscape you see – you can do this from a window or outdoors. Make sure you include landmarks, like a neighbor’s garage, a big tree, or telephone poles. You can take a photograph, too, just make sure that it has enough of a horizon line. You’ll either have to print it to draw your sun location on it, or you can mark it digitally if you have a tablet and are tech savvy! Helpful Hint: Remember to leave room in the sky or you’ll have to add more paper, like I did.
  3.  At the same time every evening, right before sunset which is at a little after 7pm right now, mark the position of the sun on your landscape drawing and note the date. I’d pick about 6pm to keep everyone occupied right before dinner!
  4.  Bonus:
    1. After a few weeks of noting the location of the sun, you can start to estimate sunset.
    2. You can mark the entire path of the sun throughout the day. You might try this weekly. Mark a position at an early morning time, a noon position, and an evening time. Then you can use those 3 points to draw an arc indicating the sun’s path across the sky and how it gets higher, giving us more daylight into summer. (Yay!)

Fun fact – On the summer and winter solstices, the sun will appear to stop its journey across the sky before changing direction. Solstice comes from the Latin for “sun stands still.” In ancient times, the winter solstice was a great celebration because the sun’s path stopped moving closer and closer to the horizon and people could stop worrying that it would disappear below the horizon altogether.

A few helpful resources:

The Reasons for Seasons; Gail Gibbons; Scholastic, 1995.
The Reasons for Seasons: The Great Cosmic Megagalactic Trip Without Moving from Your Chair; Linda Allison; Little, Brown & Company, 1975

Meet A Tree with Christy Belardo |  Nature Nugget  | March 24th

Banner Photo by Christy Belardo