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Hi! My name is Chris, and I'm writing this blog to share my passion...nature!
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As with any activity, please use your discretion and only do things that you deem are safe based on the age of your child and your location.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Fall Fun!

Here are some fun ideas for including nature into your fall activities. There are also a few activities for the days you’ll be indoors.

Climb a lookout tower to get a great view of the fall colors.

  • To find the best colors check out one of the many fall color trackers this one for Wisconsin.

  • Take a hike! Watch the leaves fall and try to catch them.

    •  See how many different kinds of leaves you can find on your walk.
    •  Make a collage of items found on the ground in nature (sticks, fallen leaves & acorns, pebbles etc).  
    •  Take a walk at night or sit outside and listen to the crickets.
    • Find a Halloween hike in your area. Check your local state park listings for these events that offer short hikes at night on lighted pathways. They’re loads of fun and often have other activities like arts & crafts, stories, bonfires with S’mores and apple cider and more.

    Go to a local farm and pick your own apples.  Taste all the different varieties.
    • Make homemade applesauce. It’s really easy and SO tasty. Try this recipe from Taste of Home.

     Do some leaf art!
    • Take a walk to collect leaves that have fallen and do a leaf rubbing. Find a great image and easy instructions here.
    • Make a leaf print t-shirt. Besides using leaves you can also use apple halves and different grasses. Find instructions here.

    Rake leaves and then jump into a big pile of them…a classic that my son loves every year. You can even make these super-scoopers to gather up a big pile of leaves to toss.

    Go to a local farm and pick your own pumpkins.

    •  Many farms also offer tractor rides, animal petting areas, corn mazes, fresh cider and caramel apples. Do a search for U-pick pumpkin farms in your area.
    • Remove and save the seeds from a pumpkin and make your own seasoned pumpkin seeds. They’re a great nutritious snack!

    Try popping different kinds of popcorn seeds! October is National Popcorn month and I’ve started to see different varieties being sold at our local farmers market. Oh the colors! There’s yellow, red, white, blue, black and more! Who knew there were so many! Each is supposed to have their own distinct flavor (we haven’t tried them all yet). Find recipes, learn all about how popcorn pops, and discover the history of popcorn here.

    Stuff a scarecrow. Use the picture below for inspiration.  Grab an old pair of jeans and a flannel shirt and stuff it with straw or leaves (newspaper works too). We set ours up on the porch with a bail of straw for a seat. For the head we use an old pillowcase, stuff it and draw a simple face on it.  You could also use a witches mask if you'd like.  An old hat makes a great addition too, as well as work gloves for the hands.  Have an old pair of mens boots laying around that are too worn to be donated?  Use those for the feet!

    I hope you enjoy spending time outdoors in the crisp, cool and colorful days that fall has to offer.

    Please feel free to leave me comments!

    Have a great idea that I didn't include?

    Suggestions for future post topics?

    Just let me know in the “comments” section, thanks!

    If you enjoyed this post, you might like the post “Find a Natural Space in Your Area!”

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Wednesday, April 28, 2010

    Grow something edible!

    Children may try something new if they have a hand in growing it.

    If you haven’t tried growing vegetables or herbs, give it a “go” by picking one edible thing that would grow well in the space you have. Growing your own food is a wonderful experience for children. It provides a chance to be out in nature together, shows them how things grow and what kind of care a plant needs to grow and produce, and gives them the personal satisfaction of eating something they’ve grown themselves. It can also get children interested in fruits and vegetables they normally don’t (or won’t) eat.


    I’ve noticed that my son is more likely to try something new if he picked it (or grew it) himself.  For example, when he was little he wouldn’t eat apples. I was surprised since it’s typically a popular fruit with kids. No matter how hard I tried at offering them, he’d taste them, but wouldn’t eat them. Then when he was 3 we started taking a yearly trip to a local apple orchard where you can pick over 15 varieties of apples. Something about that trip clicked with him and he took a bite of every variety of apple that we picked! He’s been eating apples ever since.

    This happened again with green shelling peas. We started growing them in our garden last year and getting our son involved with picking and shelling them prompted him to try them again, on his own. He’s been eating them ever since.


    We do the planning together too.  Early in spring we go through the gardening catalogs and decide what we’re going to grow. Living in Wisconsin, with a somewhat short growing season, we start much of our seeds indoors. We have a pretty small garden, but as usual I’ve got about 60 seedlings growing in little peat pots in my living room. And we’ll find a space for them, we always do. Last year we had the majority of our vegetables in our small backyard garden, but we also grew herbs in beautiful pots on our deck, and red peppers hung from our deck in those new upside-down plant holders you see in the market.

    Another space we utilized was the edging of our flower garden.   We found a wonderful mini Alpine strawberry that grows great as a border plant. It comes up early, seems to be fairly resilient, is nice to look at, and gives us berries. We have also tilled up a few sunny spots here and there in the yard where tomatoes have really flourished. Be creative in where you grow your garden…you may find you have more room than you think!

    We experiment and try planting new things in new places each year. Many vegetables can be successfully grown in containers and pots. We also saved room in our garden by making a tepee-shaped trellis for the cucumbers to climb. Behind it, you can also see the sticks leaning up against the fence, which our snap peas use for climbing.

    Of course we don’t grow every type of vegetable…we don’t have the space (or the climate) for it. But I love that we’re teaching our son where food comes from in our own small way. We also do this by shopping at local farmers markets, farms and food stands. You can also try taking your children to the grocery store with you and letting them pick out some fruits and vegetables. Try picking out a new fruit or vegetable to taste each month!

    I hope you’ll consider growing something edible this season! Drop me a note if growing food with your children got them eating something new!

    Please feel free to leave me comments!

    Have a great idea that I didn't include?

    Suggestions for future post topics?

    Just let me know in the “comments” section, thanks!

    If you enjoyed this post, you might like the post A Springtime Scavenger Hunt.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Tuesday, March 30, 2010

    Do you letterbox?

    Letterboxing is a fun activity that will get the whole family outside for an adventure. A combination of exploring, navigation and treasure hunt, letterboxing can suit all ages. It involves searching scenic places as you follow clues to a previously hidden box.

    What you’ll need:

    · Small notebook for each child.
    · Nature-themed rubber stamp for each child. Have them pick a design that has personal meaning.
    · Inkpad.

    Various web sites offer clues to letterboxes. To search by state and find clues for a letterbox in your area, try visiting the Letterboxing North America map. They also have listings for Canada, Central America and other international locations.

    Besides clues, the approximate time needed for the search and type of terrain should also be listed. Read through all the clues and make sure that they are age and skill appropriate for your family.

    Once you find a set of clues for your area, set out on your adventure. After you decipher the various clues and find the letterbox, check that the rubber stamp and notepad are inside. Then stamp your logbook with the rubber stamp that was in the hidden box. Also stamp your personal stamp into the logbook you found in the box. Seal everything up and re-hide the box where you found it.

    You may want to write a note next to the stamp in your notebook describing the area you visited that day.

    Get your feet wet:

    Try letterboxing in your own backyard by setting up a mini course.

    To do this, you'll need just a few extra supplies In addition to ones listed above. You’ll need an extra notepad and rubber stamp for the hidden letterbox, as well as a small box to hide them in. Use the smallest possible container the stamp will fit in so it’s easier to hide. Finally, enclose everything in a zipper bag to waterproof it.

    When you pick a rubber stamp that will go into the box, have it pertain to the area it will be hidden in (there are many choices of rubber stamps in craft and hobby stores such as trees, flowers, bugs etc).

    This would also make a great group or scout activity. If you have a large area available, have 3-4 different searches planned out. Try to keep groups at 3-5 kids in each.

    To set up your own course, start by locating the general place you want to hide the box and work backwards. For example, place the box under rocks or fallen logs, but take care to put it off of any walking trails so that they aren’t accidentally discovered.

    Pick somewhere especially beautiful or remote, or somewhere with interesting and unique scenic features. Keeping safety in mind (as well as the age of the participants) you could even pick somewhere a little challenging to get to.

    Put the notebook, stamp and ink pad in the box. Place everything in a plastic zipper bag and hide it.

    Next, write the clues. Look online for examples of types and styles of clues. You can create a single set of clues that you give out at the start of the game, or you can hide clues along the way.

    Clues can be straightforward or cryptic. You can also include map coordinates or compass bearings from landmarks. Think about using wordplay in your clues as well as multiple choice questions or poetry. If your group is doing a theme-based activity, base your clues around that same theme. Or, write a story and incorporate landmarks into it with various turns and paces thrown in. Clues can even be based on sights, smells, sounds & textures of nature (rippling water, smooth white bark).

    Letterboxing is fun for the whole family.   Whether it's new to you or you've gone on several of these adventures, drop us a note about your letterboxing experience!

    You can get more information on this fast-growing hobby at Letterboxing North America.

    Have a great idea that I didn't include?

    Suggestions for future post topics?

    Just let me know in the “comments” section, thanks!

    You may also enjoy the post A Springtime Scavenger Hunt.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Thursday, March 18, 2010

    A Springtime Scavenger Hunt

    Even though it’s only March, and not technically spring, we’ve had a few beautiful days that make me want to dive right into the season. Searching for signs of spring is an easy way to get out to enjoy a sunny day and get connected to nature as she awakens from her winter sleep.

    Take a look at the list below and see how many of these you can find in your backyard or neighborhood. It may be a little too early to spot some of these (depending on where you live), but even here in Wisconsin we’ve spotted quite a few.

    Things to look for:
    • Nests
    • Buds on trees
    • Bulbs or plants starting to shoot up out of the ground. (Crocuses are early risers, then daffodils and tulips.  My garlic chives are also pushing up in the garden.)
    • Something yellow
    • Flowers beginning to bloom
    • Pine Needles
    • Snow melting and draining into ditches
    • Moss
    • Feathers
    • Rocks with multiple colors
    • Ice melting on lakes, ponds and ditches.
    • Mushrooms on a tree
    • Litter that was hiding in the snow
    • Mud puddles

    What critters are doing:
    • Migrating birds returning
    • Robins first appearance
    • Animal tracks in the mud or along a streambed. Try to identify them!
    • Worms coming out of the ground
    • Squirrels eating or searching for food
    • Moths flying
    • Birds looking for food.
    • Bugs under a log

    What people are doing:
    • Kids playing outside
    • Someone walking with a stroller
    • Laundry hanging outside

    Things to listen for:
    • Birds singing
    • Early arriving frogs (like the Spring Peeper)
    • The first thunderstorm

    Remember to be a careful explorer!  Be safe and try not to disturb anything.

    Have a great idea that I didn't include?
    Suggestions for future post topics?
    Just let me know in the “comments” section, thanks!

    If you enjoyed this post, you may also like reading the post Find a Natural Space in  Your Area.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Wednesday, March 10, 2010

    Your special place in nature.

    A great way to make a connection with nature is to find a place that your child enjoys going to, and make it their special place. It can be somewhere in your backyard or a nook at a nearby park. This shouldn’t be somewhere you only go to on vacation (although that would make a great second special place).

    For your special place, find somewhere quiet. This should be somewhere you can focus on just being, instead of doing. It’s a different way of exploring. Instead of walking around, climbing hills or turning over logs, this explorer spends some time in nature being still and observing things around them.

    Try sitting against a tree and notice the all the surprises nature holds when you are still. We often find that birds and squirrels will go about their business of gathering food and eating when you are still and quiet.

    Every place in nature is unique. Look at all the nooks and crannies in your space. Notice the different smells and sounds around you. Try sitting or standing still and listening with your eyes closed. You’ll probably be able to hear and concentrate better this way. You can also try mimicking an animal’s ear by cupping your hands behind your ears.

    Remember, you don’t have to identify everything in your special place. Just observing can bring the connection to nature that you are looking for.

    If your child is old enough, try to pick a place where you feel comfortable letting them spend some time alone. You can even stay nearby but just out of sight. This will allow them to feel a close connection with the environment around them by having quiet time to think.

    Some tips for spending time in your special place:

    · Visit it as often as you can.

    · See how things change each time you visit.

    · Look for things that you missed in previous visits. Is there something new growing or blooming? Has something been moved by the wind or a critter?

    · Visit at different times of the day and at different times of the year.

    · Draw a picture of your special place.

    · Have a picnic there.

    If you have more than one child, try to separate them in the space so that they are more likely to be still for a few moments. Or you could even have a different special place for each child. The same applies if you are doing this as a group or scout activity…try to space the kids out.

    If you already have a special place tell me about it in the comments section!

    You might also enjoy the post Let’s Connect With Nature.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Thursday, March 04, 2010

    Getting a new perspective on nature. (Part 2)

    This post includes some great ideas for getting a different perspective of nature using your sense of smell, taste and touch. In case you missed Part 1 of this post, you can find it here.

    As I mentioned in part 1, these activities can be a great way to enhance observational skills and expand your child’s vocabulary! I hope you will spend some time outside and try them.


    Scents are all around! Close your eyes and take deep breaths to smell all the different smells of nature around you.

    · Smell a flower, a blade of freshly picked grass, the air, and even a rock.

    · Find something that smells good and something that smells not so good.

    · Notice the smells in nature at different times of the day, and at different times of the year.


    I usually leave taste out of my adventures, since so many things in nature aren’t safe to eat. Occasionally we’ll do something like taste of snow or look up and catch raindrops from the sky. But for the most part we explore taste by going to a local farm with a u-pick operation and pick fresh apples or strawberries. Then we can talk about the taste, and whether it’s sweet, or sour etc.

    If you happen to be a connoisseur of wild plants, nuts or berries, go for it! But be very careful and only allow the tasting of things you know are safe.


    Just a quick safety warning on this one as well…only touch plants that you are familiar with and are certain are not poison ivy, poison oak or poison sumac. They have the potential to cause itchy rashes, which are no fun!

    Also, take care not to pick anything unless it is in your yard or unless you have permission from the landowner.

    With that said, feel different things around you!

    · Look for different textures…the roughness of bark, a smooth leaf. Talk about whether they are soft, hard, flexible, smooth, bumpy wet etc. You can also compare and contrast the textures. Talk about how objects are the same and how they are different.

    · Don’t forget to turn things over. The underside of leaves and flowers can look and feel quite different than the tops.

    · Feel the sun or wind on your face.

    · My son loves going outside in the rain. If the weather is cool, we get on our rain gear or take an umbrella out with us. If it’s warm, we just wear clothes that can get wet and go for it. We jump in the puddles and try to catch raindrops.

    I hope you’ve enjoyed these ideas for finding a different perspective in nature using the 5 senses.

    Happy exploring!

    Have a great idea that I didn't include?
    Suggestions for future post topics?
    Just let me know in the “comments” section, thanks!

    You may also enjoy the post Find a Natural Space in Your Area.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Tuesday, March 02, 2010

    Getting a New Perspective on Nature. (Part 1)

    One of our favorite things to do whenever we go to a new park or nature center is to get a different view, or perspective, of the area. We’re always finding hills to hike (or run down) and towers to climb. I also try to incorporate all 5 senses, which is another great way to get a different perspective of nature.

    In part 1 of this post are ideas for getting a different perspective by watching and listening. In part 2, I’ll cover smell, taste and touch.

    These activities can be a great way to enhance observational skills and expand your child’s vocabulary!

    I hope you will spend some time outside and try them.


    · Look at something from far away, and then close up.

    · Lie on the ground and look up. Try under a tree.

    · Lie on the ground and look along the ground. Find a dry area or a place with a nice patch of grass. You can also bring along a blanket…we have one dedicated just for outdoor activities like picnics and fireworks.

    · Climb a hill and look down.

    · Look at something from the animal’s point of view. What does a blade of grass look like to an ant?

    · Sit on the grass and watch how it’s constantly moving and shifting. Watch to see if any tiny creatures jump or fly by. Imagine how big the area would look to a small bug.

    · Walk into a valley and look up.

    · Look for colors everywhere. This is especially fun in spring when the trees and flowers begin to bloom.

    · Watch a sunrise or sunset. A lake is an especially beautiful place to do this.

    · Look for shapes in nature. Try to find heart shapes in leaves, rocks or tree trunks.

    · Look for patterns on tree trunks and on plants. Look for things with spots or stripes.

    · Look at something through its reflection in a puddle or pond.

    · Talk about how the parts of a tree or plant are connected. Start by looking at the base of the tree (where it’s usually very sturdy and wide) and go to the narrower branches and then delicate leaves. Do this with flowers too.

    · Pay attention to how close or far apart things are around you. Are you in a dense forested area or grassland where the trees and grasses are close together? Or an open field where there is more space between?

    · Watch how things in nature rely on each other…like when bees pollinate a flower.

    · Talk a walk at night and talk about how different things look.

    · Pick a letter of the alphabet (maybe what your child’s name starts with) and look for things that start with that letter.

    · Take a walk on a windy day. Fall is a great time of year to do this. We once took a walk on a windy fall day and it was “snowing” leaves the whole time. It was so beautiful with all the leaves gently falling all around us. At first we just watched them and then we all started to jump around to try to catch them.

    · Walk along a riverbed to follow a twig or leaf as it floats down the river.

    · Look at how and where the shadow of a tree falls. Look in the morning and then revisit it in the afternoon and again later in the day to talk about how it has changed.

    · Talk about ways to describe the area you are in. Is it open, windy, green, dry, hot, rocky etc?


    Stand still and listen with your eyes closed. You’ll probably be able to hear better and concentrate better this way. You can also amplify sounds further by cupping your hands behind your ears to mimic an animal’s ear (which is usually larger than ours).

    · Listen and describe the sounds you hear.

    · Talk about what the sound might be...a bug, a bird or something human generated?

    · Move to another area and see if the sounds are the same or different.

    · Go outside at night and see if it sounds different.

    On Thursday I’ll post part 2, and give you some ideas on ways to incorporate smelling, tasting and touch into your nature adventures. Until then…happy exploring!!

    Have a great idea that I didn't include?
    Suggestions for future post topics?
    Just let me know in the “comments” section, thanks!

    You may also enjoy the post Find a Natural Space in Your Area.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Tuesday, February 23, 2010

    Find a natural space in your area!

    There are so many beautiful parks, forests and scenic drives that it’s hard to know where to begin.  Today’s post will give you nine web resources for finding parks and other natural spaces in your area.

    Try starting close to where you live. There is so much you can explore in your own backyard and throughout your neighborhood. There are also local parks, historic sites and walking trails. These are the types of places you are more likely to visit often for walks and bike rides with the family.

    Then, venture out a little further…into your state or a neighboring one. Our family has found what we call a “gem” that we visit each year. Below is a picture of beautiful Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in upper Michigan.

    Finally, there are those once-in-a-lifetime type trips…places that are farther away but with some planning you are lucky enough to find them and visit. For our family this was our South Dakota trip. By far one of the most beautiful and memorable trips we have ever taken. Below is a picture I took when we were in the Badlands National Park in South Dakota (see below for another image from that trip).

    Start looking for one of the many beautiful spaces that are near you!

    • Local parks. Check your county web site, or do a web search for County Parks, Nature Centers and Botanical Gardens.
      • Search with the terms “your county name” county parks
      • Search with the terms “your county name” roadside parks
    • Trails for walking, hiking or biking. Check out Trail Link, and search by state. This site is part of the Rails-to-Trails conservancy, which creates networks of trails using former rail lines.
    • Want to go somewhere you can take the family dog? Many of the state parks now allow pets into campgrounds and on trails. Just check the park web site or call to be sure.  For everyday walks and dog park fun you can also search Dog Park USA.
    • State Parks. Check out this site to find a state park in your area. You can also…
      • Search with the terms “your state” state parks.  (Often you can order a recreation guide through these sites free of charge.)
      • Search with the terms “your state” Department of Natural Resources (DNR).  The DNR site for each state varies in how they present their information, but most should have state parks, state forests, lake information and state trails (for biking and walking).
    • National Wildlife Refuges are another great resource for finding public lands and waters. These areas are set aside to conserve wildlife, plants and fish.
    • National Park Service. This site lists almost 400 National Parks, and Scenic and Historic Trails. Search by park name, location, type of activity or even by topic of interest (glaciers, wildflowers etc).
    Below is an image of North Bar Lake in Michigan (it's part of Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore). We took this picture from an overlook on Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive. It is unique in that it is attached to Lake Michigan via a small outlet (which happens to be a great place for kids to play). We could check out Lake Michigan with it’s big waves and cool water and follow the outlet between the dunes to swim in the smaller and warmer Bar Lake (which is almost hidden in the picture), all in our few hour stop.

    • National Forests. The U.S. Forest service lists National Forests and Grasslands by state.
    • Scenic Byways. These are selected roads throughout the US that are recognized and preserved for historic, natural, scenic (and other) qualities.
    The image below was taken from Peter Norbeck Scenic Byway where the trees frame Mount Rushmore. Just amazing! 

    • Want to go camping? Many of the State Parks and National Forests use Reserve America to list their campsites (private sites are listed as well). Here in Wisconsin we can also go through our state DNR site to find a park, and be automatically linked with the Reserve America system (so you may be able to as well). Search the state you want to go to, and they’ll show you a campground map, the services & amenities offered there, and often will even have pictures of the individual campsites.

    I hope you find this list useful. It probably doesn’t cover all the natural areas you may find where you live, but it’s a great start. I apologize for any followers living outside the US as the information in this post covers mostly US locations (since that’s where I am and what I’m familiar with).

    Remember...before heading out to a new-found park or lake, check their months of operation and hours.
    You should also watch for specific information regarding usage.  For example, some trails may be strictly for walking, while others are set up for hiking, biking skiing, snowshoe walking and snowmobiles. When looking for a lake, some may be better for swimming, while others are best for fishing.
        • Have a great idea that I didn't include?
        • Suggestions for future post topics?
        • Just let me know in the “comments” section.  Thanks!

    For information on how to make the most out of your time in nature, see the post Let’s Connect With Nature.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Wednesday, February 17, 2010

    Trees please!
    Ten activities that will foster an appreciation for trees in your child.

    Every fall I look forward to going to one of our local apple farms. Our son gets to see where apples come from and how they grow on the tree. We get to pick them ourselves and eat them right from the tree, and we walk through several acres of trees smelling the fresh apples (and some not so fresh that have fallen on the ground). We get to smell, taste, touch, see and hear. The next time you do an activity with your children (or scout group), try to incorporate all the senses, and see how it takes your experience to a deeper level.

    Here are some other activities that you can do to inspire gratitude for the plant that gives, every day.

    • Trees give us so many different products! Print off this list of things that we get from trees (it’s from the Idaho Forests Products Commission). Go around the house and either point out the items or ask your child to guess what items came from a tree. (Tip for scout groups…this also makes a great memory game for a group of kids. Gather 15-20 items that come from trees, put them on a baking sheet or tray and cover with a towel. Show the items to the group for 10 seconds before taking the tray away. Ask the kids to write down as many items as they can remember. See if anyone can guess what the items have in common before you mention trees.

    • Be a tree! This works inside, but for the best effect head outside on a sunny, breezy day. Find a tree to be near and pretend that you are a tree. For younger children keep it simple. Stand with your eyes closed and imagine your feet are anchored to the ground like roots. Spread your arms out and wiggle your fingers like branches. Sway back and forth when the wind hits you. For older children, use this great script from Joseph Cornell’s book Sharing the Joy of Nature, and experience the life of a tree through all four seasons.

    • Get a new perspective! Look up close to a tree and far away, feel the different textures of the leaves, the bark, and the branches. Hug a tree! Try to slow things down. Sometimes we’re so caught up in the hectic pace of our everyday lives that we either forget to slow down or have a hard time doing so. Close your eyes and listen to the leaves rustle and the branches creak. Smell the air, the bark and the leaves.

    • Animals need trees too! Ask your child what the tree provides for animals? Who uses the branches, the trunks and the leaves?

    • Try real maple syrup! In spring, head to a local nature center or camp to see how Maple trees are tapped to make maple syrup and maple sugar. Some places sponsor a breakfast where you can come and try the freshly made syrup on pancakes.

    • What does a tree see? Imagine you’re high up in a tree. What would you see?

    • Look under a fallen tree or log and see what you find!

    • Do a bark rubbing! With one sheet of paper and several colored crayons rub the bark of 2 or 3 different types of trees.

    • Make a mystery box! Explore the sense of touch by placing different objects from trees in a box. Have your child touch the items, one at a time (without removing them) and describe the textures. Have them try to guess what it is. Try using twigs, buds, maple tree “helicopter” seeds, pine needles, bark, acorns, leaves, pinecones etc.

    • Identify one or two types of trees. Find a tree identification guide at your library or purchase one. There are also a few online guides like this one from the Arbor Day Foundation.

     I hope you have a wonderful time exploring trees in your neck of the woods!

    For some ideas on what to take with you when you explore, take a look at my post Making a Discovery Backpack

    For some great winter activities, visit my post The Wonder of Winter.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Friday, February 12, 2010

    Why are our children spending less time in nature?

    When I was a kid there wasn't an endless array of kids shows to watch on TV. We had some toys, but nothing compared to what many kids have today (my son included). We did get Nintendo once we were a little older, but I don't remember spending all that much time playing it. What we did spend a lot of time doing was playing outside. There were about ten kids that lived nearby, and we romped around the neighborhood for hours every day.
    We collected caterpillars in a little red wagon, caught grasshoppers in gallon ice cream containers with holes poked in the top, and explored the small wooded lot behind our house (now a retirement community). Outside was where we wanted most to be, and it's probably where our parents wanted us to be too.

    What was once an integral and very important part of my childhood has at the very least significantly declined (if not disappeared almost all together) in the younger generations of today.

    Today, so many different things contribute to children spending more time inside. Below is a list of the factors I feel are mostly responsible. My hope is that being aware of these may help your family incorporate more time outdoors into your lives.

    • TV. It seems like there are more shows for kids than there were all shows combined when I was young. It's almost like a drug of sorts. My son is perfectly happy camping for a week with no TV, but when we're at home, he'd stare almost mindlessly at it for hours if I'd let him.

    • Over-stimulation. We are so bombarded every day with TV, computers, cell phones and the business of life, that we often don't even hear what's going on directly around us (not to mention how much of our time is filled using said gadgets). Some of my mom friends have expressed that they have a hard time relaxing enough to sit and read. I think many people have lost the ability to be still, and to be comfortable just being with ourselves. And those are gifts I want to pass along to my son! Is it possible to be content when we feel like we're missing out on something if we're not hooked up to our electronic gadgets? Try to make it a point to unhook from everything for a weekend. It's hard to make a real connection with nature if you aren't still enough to hear it, see it, touch it and smell it.

    • Less leisure time (Louv, 2008). We make a conscious effort to not over-schedule our son (and our family in general) with different activities. Mainly because he doesn't adapt well to rushing around all the time, and any fun or learning we'd hope to gain from it would be lost. Also because it takes away from any free time we'd have to be spontaneous. Many of our best adventures (and greatest nature finds) have been when we've ventured off the “plan” for the day. It makes for great memories!

    • School structure. Today there is less recess time and more national curriculum requirements, both of which contribute to less time for outdoor play and study (Louv, 2008, p. 205). There is also so much pressure for kids to learn more (and sooner) in school. I was amazed at how structured and learning-focused my sons kindergarten class was last year. It used to be about play time, socializing, and learning to get along with other children. Now they are expected to learn incredible amounts of information (letters, numbers, beginning math and reading) and are even tutored if they are behind. It just blew my mind!

    • Parents (myself included) are much more cautious today. Richard Louv states (2008, p. 117) that parent's fear of things like stranger danger, traffic and even nature itself, prevents them from allowing their children the same freedom they had when they were young. I do give my son time alone outside to play (while I watch by a window), but he still doesn't have the freedom to explore outside the yard without me, even though I did at his age. We try to make up for this by spending as much time as we can outside with him, taking walks, going on bike rides and taking mini trips to local parks. We also camp as often as we can.
    These are the factors I feel have the most impact on the amount of time children are spending outdoors. As always, I'd love to hear your thoughts. To find out more about this topic you can read Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder. Another great resource is the Children and Nature Network web site.

    Louv, Richard (2008). Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder (Rev. ed.). Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books of Chapel Hill.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Wednesday, February 03, 2010

    Making a Discovery Backpack

    Whether it's for camping, hiking, a day at the park, or some fun in the of my sons favorite things to do is gather up his nature discovery backpack and head outside. This is such a great way to get kids up-close with nature, and allow them (in safe ways) to come up with how they want to explore it.

    The contents of his discovery backpack vary depending on where we're going or what he's in the mood to do that day. But basically it contains some of the components below.
    • Child-sized backpack (preferably with a small outside pouch to hold a water bottle).
    • Pocket Magnifier
    • Binoculars
    • Compass
    • Flashlight
    • Clear plastic zipper bags for collecting things
    • Plastic container (like a small margarine tub) for holding bugs and other small creatures. Please remember to always release them back into nature!
    • Camera (My son uses our old digital camera, which he loves!)
    • Shovel (We use a small plastic one from the sandbox toys.)
    • A journal & write about, or draw pictures of, their discoveries (you can usually get small spiral bound notepads at the dollar store). Sometimes we'll print out pictures of any new creatures we've seen that day so our son can glue them into his journal and then he'll write a sentence or two about where we found it.
    • Plastic (grocery store size) bag. We always collect litter everywhere we hike. It teaches our son that litter doesn't just “go away” and he gets to contribute to helping clean up the earth.
    • Hand-held kitchen strainer for catching tadpoles and pond insects. Can work as a sifter in a sandbox or at the beach too.
    • A pocket field guide for birds, trees, insects, or anything else that interests your family.
    • Water and snacks
    We keep his backpack ready to go...packed and in the coat closet, so that he can access it any time. Make sure you add any other gadgets your children use when they play outside. Drop me a note if you find that your kids love packing something specific that I haven't included here. And happy exploring!

    To reference this post directly, use this link

    Tuesday, January 26, 2010

    The Wonder of Winter
    8 ways you can connect with nature in winter.

    If you're feeling like we are at this time of the year...a little cooped up...then this is the perfect time to head outside and do some exploring. Here are 8 activities you can do to stay connected to nature in the colder months of the year.

    Listen to the sounds of winter, and talk about how they are different from those you hear in summer.

    Experiment with different food choices at your bird feeders. Try suet and different seeds or mixes. You can also make a bird feeder out of a pine cone stuffed with peanut butter and rolled in seed (switch to vegetable shortening if there are peanut allergies!).

    Look at something from far away, and again close-up...maybe a pine tree, for example. Describe it from far away and then come close and look at the bark, the needles, and the cones. Talk about the details you may not have seen if you had only looked at it from afar.



    Blow bubbles in winter and watch them freeze!

    If you live where there's snow...make an obstacle course in the snow. Build hills, turns and paths in the snow to make a course and have the kids run it relay style. Use sleds to mark the turns or the end point. You can use colored water (a few drops of food coloring in a spray bottle with water) to spray some color onto the snow to mark the starting line, finish and turns.

    Make ice cream with snow! Steve Spangler has a recipe you can try.

    Examine a snowflake up-close! Chill a piece of black construction paper in your fridge or freezer and take it outside when it's snowing. Use it to catch snowflakes and then to look up-close at the different shapes they have (use a magnifying glass for an even closer look).

    Follow animal tracks in the snow...either right in your yard, or head off to a local park or walking path.

    I hope you have a great time exploring this winter!

    Please first!! All activities are to be done with the guidance of a parent or guardian.

    To reference this post directly, use this link.

    Wednesday, January 20, 2010

    Let's connect with nature!

    If you want to get the kids outside appreciate nature, get some fresh air, and for some plain old fun, here's where to start. 

    Get out there!  The best way to experience nature and all that it offers is to get outside.  You won't get all the great benefits of connecting with nature through any book or movie.

    Keep it simple!  You don't need to plan anything elaborate, or spend a bunch of money.  Some of our best "finds" have been from our own yard.  Last summer we found our first salamander in our yard. We had never seen one in our area before and it was really cool. We watched its behavior, looked it up on the internet to find out what kind it was, what it ate and where it spent its time (so we could release it somewhere better than in the window-well we found it in). My son even took a printout of its picture to school for show and tell. He got so much more involved in finding out more about it because we actually had found a real live one in our yard. What a great teachable moment!

    Slow down! You'll find there are hidden gems all around if you slow things down when you're outdoors. Sit quietly in one spot for at least a few minutes and look around. This could be the most important thing you ever do in nature with a child.

    Don't be intimidated with what you don't know!  You can teach a child to appreciate nature by exploring WITH's not about naming everything you come across.  No matter how many years of study I've had in the science and environmental field, there will always be things I don't know.  It's actually what I like best about nature.  There's always something interesting to learn.  If you come across something you can't identify...just say "I don't know, let's look it up together".  Or, you might want to get a field guide. We have one on birds, trees and butterflies...that way we can identify things on hikes if we want to.

    Get excited about their discoveries.  Yes, even the bugs, worms and dirt.  The more excitement you show, the more likely they are to head out and explore more.  Fostering a sense of curiosity in a child in one of the greatest gifts you can give them!

    Address any fears.  If your child, or the children you are working with, are afraid of something they're going to experience, address it before you get outside.  You could even relate a fear that you have and show them how you've tried to overcome it.  Also, try to be comfortable with any of their "finds".  Admire them, even make an effort to touch them.  (Of course that's IF they're not dangerous).

    More ideas to come! Happy exploring!

    To reference this post directly, use this link.