Homeschool Packet – August 2022

Thank you for participating in our Fall Homeschool Day at the Brenton Arboretum! We’re so glad you came, and we just know you’re going to have tons of fun today. Click here for PDF download.

This year’s fall theme is Patterns in Nature! If you look closely you can discover all kinds of patterns in nature. Even the seasons are a repeated pattern! This packet contains instructions and activities that will guide you on an exploration around our trails, trees, ponds, and streams. You may do the activities in any order, and you can do as many or as few as you please. We’d love to see photos of you enjoying your time at the Arboretum, so don’t forget to tag us on social media!

Be sure to come back and visit us often. We hope to become your go-to year-round outdoor classroom, always waiting for your next adventure! And while you don’t have to be a member to enjoy the Arboretum, you may want to consider joining to gain access to other great member benefits such as:

  • Dogs are always welcome FREE with members
  • FREE admission to over 3oo public gardens and arboreta through the American Horticultural Society’s Reciprocal Admissions Program (some restrictions apply)
  • Special invitations to members-only events
  • FREE or discounted class, workshop, and event registration fees
    Rental permission access for Arboretum venues (Pavilion & Vista Room)
  • 10% discount at Harvey’s Greenhouse in Adel, IA
  • Spring and Fall print newsletters mailed, as well as monthly e-newsletters

Before you get started on the activities, please take a moment to review our Leave No Trace policy and reminders on poison ivy, stinging nettles, and ticks & spiders.

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  Leave No Trace
Outdoor Ethics at the Brenton Arboretum

Know before you go

  • Use maps to plan where you’re going. Check them along the way so you’ll stay on course and won’t get lost.
  • Leashes aren’t required for pets, but you are required to have them under your control at all times. If you bag their waste, you must take it with you!
  • The border fence around the Arboretum is electrified. Keep a safe distance from it at all times.

Choose the right path

  • Walk on designated trails to protect trailside plants.
  • Don’t wander off by yourself.
  • Do not step on small flowers or trees. Once damaged, they may not grow back.
  • Respect private property by staying on designated trails.

Trash your trash

  • Pack it in, pack it out!
  • Put litter & trash, even crumbs and food waste, in your bag to carry home.
  • Keep water clean! Don’t put soap, food, or animal waste in lakes or streams.

Leave what you find

  • Leave plants, rocks, and other items as you find them so the next person can enjoy them. Take photos and drawings instead.
  • Treat living plants with respect. If you must pick a leaf to make a rubbing, only pick one per tree.
  • Picking and peeling at plants and trees can kill them. Don’t pick at any loose bark.

Keep wildlife wild

  • Observe animals from a distance and never approach, feed, or follow them.
  • Human food is unhealthy for all animals and feeding them starts bad habits.
  • Protect wildlife and your food by storing your meals and trash appropriately.
  • Control pets at all times, or leave them at home.

Be kind to other visitors

  • Make sure the FUN you have in the outdoors doesn’t bother anyone else.
  • Remember that other visitors are there to enjoy the outdoors.
  • Listen to nature! Avoid making loud noises or yelling. You will see more animals if you are quiet.

Remember, you’ll enjoy nature even more by caring for this special place!

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Toxicodendron radicans (Poison Ivy)

T. radicans is found in many parks and natural areas. Staff, chaperones, and students should learn how to identify this plant and know what to do to counteract the toxin. Remember the phrase:

      “Leaflets of three, leave it be.”

Poison ivy has three leaflets. It grows as a vine, shrub, or small, short plant. When growing as a vine, it may be found wrapping around a tree. Emergent leaflets are glossy with a reddish tinge when the leaves first emerge in the spring. Autumn foliage also looks reddish.

Some people have a dermal reaction to the plant, while others do not seem to be affected, but an allergy to poison ivy can develop at any time in one’s life.

To avoid dermal irritation, wear long pants and sleeves, and wash your hand with warm soapy water and launder clothing in warm water before re-wearing if you think you have come in contact with the plant.

Urtica dioica (Stinging Nettle)

U. dioica or itch weed/stinging nettle grows in many disturbed areas. It ranges from six inches to three feet tall. It has minute hairs along the stem and leaf petiole that contain a mild toxin. When the abrasive hairs are broken (by touch), the toxin often causes dermal irritation. The reaction typically subsides within 30 minutes.

Ticks and Spiders

Ticks can be vectors for harmful bacteria. All ticks should be carefully removed as soon as possible to prevent possible infection. Ixides dammini (deer tick) can transmit the spirochete bacterium that causes Lyme disease. The spirochete is transmitted to people bitten by the I. dammini. This tick is much smaller than Dermacentor variabilis (American dog tick), which can vector other harmful bacterial diseases.

Many spiders are present at the Arboretum. Most bites are toxic but cause only minor skin irritation. If irritation persists or if infection worsens, seek medical attention.

Initial symptoms of Lyme disease may be a bulls-eye rash around the bite area and joint pain and swelling. Later symptoms can include complications of the heart, nervous system, and joints. Seek medical attention if you think you may have been bitten by a tick. Follow a doctor’s instructions for tick removal.

If you are bitten by a tick or spider, capture the specimen to bring to a doctor if needed.


  1. Wear protective clothing such as long pants and closed-toe shoes.
  2. Wear light colored clothing. Ticks are easier to spot on light clothing.
  3. Check body frequently for ticks. Take care to check body axils and warm areas.
  4. Use a tick-repelling bug spray.
  5. If you are bitten, do not kill the tick before it has been removed. Follow a doctor’s instructions for tick removal. Save ticks in a jar. Monitor the bite area for a few weeks for rash development. Record when and where on your body you were bitten and tell your doctor if a rash occurs.

Bird Calls

If you listen closely, you will notice that bird calls have a repeated pattern. You can even identify bird by their calls because their calls have repeated patterns that you can learn to recognize. What are some bird calls that you already know? Maybe you know the sound of a crow? Caw-Caw!

The Brenton Arboretum is home to many different types of birds. You may even see some of the birdhouses we have on the property. Keep your eye out and see if you can identify any of the common species pictured on the Bird Bingo.

You can listen to the bird calls with these links:  

Pileated Woodpecker call:

American Robin:

Northern Flicker call:

Black-capped Chickadee call:

Mourning Dove call:

Northern Cardinal call:

Song Sparrow call:

Red-tailed Hawk call:

Backyard Bird Call Bingo

Monarch Butterflies—Wing Patterns and Migratory Patterns

It is usually easy to spot Monarch butterflies here at the Arboretum in the summer and into early fall. We have a lot of milkweed—their favorite food!

We can learn a lot about patterns by observing monarchs. Look carefully at the wings. What kinds of patterns to you see? What colors?

If you got to create your own butterfly what kinds of patterns would you use? What colors? Have fun decorating the butterfly below. See if you can use some repeated patterns, just like we see in monarch butterfly wings.

Monarch Migration

Monarchs are masters at following a pattern of flying. They go south to Mexico for the winter. They know when it is time to go, and they know how to get there. It is amazing that monarchs, by the millions, follow this pattern of migration every year.

Here is a map that shows the routes that monarchs follow south. Can you find Iowa on the map? Trace your finger from Iowa down to Mexico. Do you think you could find your way to Mexico? What if your parents or grandparents told you the way they got there winters before? Do you think you could do it then?

Meet me at the Labyrinth!

Labyrinths have existed for thousands of years. We don’t know for sure where they originated, but they have been used by different cultures around the world. For those of you that get lost easily, you can relax—it’s not like a maze. Labyrinths have only one way in, and one way out. You can’t get lost, and there is nothing for you to figure out–that is what can make following a labyrinth such a calming, meditative experience. Labyrinths have patterns too! See if you can notice the patterns of the labyrinths below. Try tracing them with your finger a few times. Try tracing quickly, then try tracing really slowly. Did you notice a difference?

Now go and find the labyrinth on the west side of the Arboretum. Try walking it quickly. Then try walking it very, very slowly. *Bonus challenge* …. Can you walk the whole labyrinth without talking at all?

Nature Mandalas

Have you ever heard of a mandala? “Mandala” is the Sanskrit word for “circle.” Mandalas are geometric designs that hold a lot of symbolism in Hindu and Buddhist cultures. Mandalas can be used as instruments of meditation. Maybe you have even seen a mandala in a coloring book? Because slowing down and focusing on the repeated patterns helps us feel calm, they have become very popular for kids and adults. Here is a mandala for you to color. Nature is often the inspiration for many mandalas, as you can see with the pattern here. Do you see the beautiful flower in the middle? What patterns do you already notice? Can you create more patterns with color?

You can even make a mandala using nature! Here are a few examples:

This one is very simple and doesn’t use too many materials.

This one is a little more complex, it uses a few more materials.

Some mandalas are very ornate and use a lot of materials.

Can you create your own mandala using material you find on the ground here at the Arboretum? What kinds of patterns can you make? Snap a picture of your mandala! We would love to see your creation 😊

We can find patterns when we look at trees. All of the leaves on a tree share a very similar shape and color. The bark on a tree is usually a repeated pattern. What other patterns can you notice about trees? What about in a group of trees or forest? Look closely at the veins of a leaf…. does anything about the shape of the veins in a leaf remind you of the shape of a tree?

Did you know that the rings on the stump of a tree can tell you how old the tree was? Ring after ring shows the years and growth of the tree.

Go to our Nature Play area and see if you can find any tree stumps. What can you tell by looking at the patterns and rings on the stump.

We hope you had a great time exploring the Brenton Arboretum today. We hope you were able to notice all kinds of patterns that can be found in nature. Maybe you even discovered more of your own! If you did, write down some of the things that you noticed. Patterns in nature are all around us 😊