Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Rush hour

I'm currently out of coffee, so this was not one of my better mornings, parenting-wise.

I coaxed, I nagged, then finally bullied the kids into putting away their legos and eating breakfast. I rushed them to get dressed, and then crabbed at them as I zipped, snapped, and velcroed all the assorted winter gear. Finally, we spilled out into the backyard. The kids wandered in a daze, stomping on the chunks of snow, kicking frozen leaves.

I unlocked the car doors, barking, "Come on, guys, get in the car!" and L was standing next to the patch of ground where we started a little flower garden over the summer. "In the car!" I said again.

"But Mommy, I want to show you something!!" she pleaded.

"OK, honey, I'll look at it after you get in the car." I said, buckling J into the car seat.

"No, I want to look at it with you" she said quietly.

Huffy, I walked over to where she was standing.

"Look!" She said in a stage whisper. "The little purple flowers we planted are still there!" She was utterly delighted, thrilled that the flowers were still there, despite the recent snow and frosty mornings.

For children, these little discoveries in nature are so important, and they become even more special when shared with a caring adult. In our constant rushing around, it's easy to lose touch with that, to forget to notice and share the special discoveries our children are so good at finding. Or to dismiss them in favor of other more pressing things.

But allowing children (and ourselves!) the time to make these discoveries is such a gift. Being geninely interested in sharing those discoveries is the best way to honor a child's curiosity and wonder. We honor our children's relationships with nature when we value the discoveries they make. We honor our children's abilities to make discoveries, to notice things. To be curious.

I'm so grateful to my daughter for calling me back to what's important. I'm so glad she took the time to stop and notice, despite my rushing and griping. And I'm glad I took the time to share the discovery with her.

Even if it did make us late for school.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

we're back!

It's good news that I've been so busy with work demands-there is a huge interest in the "children and nature" movement and I've had lots of interesting and inspiring conversations and lots of great work. I'm just finishing up with teaching a University class on Children and Nature, which has been wonderful but very time-consuming. The Bad news here is that-maybe you noticed the 6 month lapse?- my writing has taken a back seat. I'm hoping to change that.

Recently I attended a workshop on the Reggio Emilia approach to early childhood education, and I'm so intrigued. It's an approach that embraces art and creativity and where the interests of children drive the explorations of the class. I am thinking about how my work as a science educator can be influenced by this approach. I'm also very interested in learning more about how Reggio responds to the natural world, where it makes room for children to connect with nature.

Here at home, we've been enjoying the first snowfall of the season. Dug out the winter gear and hit the slopes for an afternoon of sledding. I'm convinced there is no better way to unleash one's "inner child" than by jumping on a sled in fresh snow.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Screaming Lemurs

When I was a small girl of about 5, I stood outside the Ostrich Yard at the local zoo and poked my finger through the chain-link fence, awed by the huge bird blinking at me. (these were the "old days" of zoos, when one could do such things) In a flash, the ostrich pecked at my finger and I screamed. I was scooped up into the safety of my dad's arms, all the while screaming.

That is one of my earliest "animal memories." Young children learn so much from their early contact with animals, and some of these interactions can have powerful effects. I love birds and always have, and while I'm not sure this particular incident, er, hatched that love, it certainly made an impression on me. I've never forgotten it. It was the sheer intensity of that experience that made an impression. In a very startling instant, that ostrich went from being something completely disconnected from me to something that was very real, and in fact was interacting directly with me. Early animal interactions can have many "hidden" effects, many positive. Perhaps most importantly, they show children that animals are independent beings, with thoughts, feelings, and reasons all their own. They aren't playthings, displays, or inanimate objects. They're real. They do things, sometimes unexpected things.

Today at the zoo, my kids were looking at a branch covered in lemurs. Now, L in particular has never liked primates much. In fact, she's expressed an actual dislike and fear of them on more than one occasion. She prefers less human-looking animals. So I was impressed with her curiosity about the lemurs. (Lemurs are primates, although less monkey-looking than other primates)

The kids and I stood watching for a few minutes while two Red-Ruffed Lemurs groomed each other on a branch. We speculated about what they might be doing, why they'd be licking each other's faces like that. We guessed what their fur would feel like. We marveled at their long, sleek tails.

Then suddenly, the lemurs both looked at us, with their huge, pinprick eyes. They opened their sharp-toothed little mouths and emitted a shriek like someone's throat was being cut. One of them lept off the branch as it screamed.

Seized with a primal terror, both kids shook and clung to me, one on each leg. They buried their faces in my legs, howling and crying. I rubbed their heads and stood there dumbfounded. (I've never heard a lemur and wow, what a strange noise they make!)

Despite the other, cuter, more "kid-friendly" animals we saw at the zoo, the one thing the kids talked about all day long, was the noise the "monkeys" made. All the way home, despite my probing questions:

"What was your favorite animal?" "What was the best part of the day?" "What do you want to see again?"----the kids were completely stuck on the darn lemurs. The scream. The way their "eyes popped out" when they screamed. Their sharp teeth.

It is very likely that this will be one of those "early animal memories" for my kids. It was powerful, surprising, and emotionally intense. They are still talking about it.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Summer Solstice

Happy Summer Solstice!
I hope you have a beautiful summer. It's been an amazing spring for us, with lots of travel to the North Woods and plenty of time outside.

I promise, PROMISE to check in again in a day or stuff cooking...

Monday, May 10, 2010


Recently, on a walk in the woods, L got mad at me and ran away. She took off down a trail. I waited about 3 minutes before doing anything, figuring she'd get just out of sight, realize how far she'd gone, and come back.

She didn't.

Slightly freaked, I set off down the trail and finally caught up with her. There were a few moments of real panic there, when I got to a fork in the trail and realized I couldn't see her. At all. When I found her, she was on the trail, but she had run past two other trails and frankly, I think I just got lucky when I took the same trail she did.

For reasons I'm still trying to sort out, I was fairly sputtering with rage by the time I caught up to her. Underneath the anger is fear, of course. But my mind is churning, and my heart is churning.

I like to think that I'm pretty easygoing when it comes to safety concerns outside. I've written about risk here and here. I've given it a great deal of thought.

And really, I'm surprised at how strong my reaction to this was. Of course, running away is a pretty big no-no. And the possibility (remote though it is) was there that she could have gotten lost, or hurt and I wouldn't have been able to find her.

But how much risk was there, really, in running off? Chances are, I would have been able to find her. Chances are, she wouldn't have gotten hurt. Then again, she's only 4. Things happen.

But here's the thing: After days of thinking about this, I don't think my problem here is that she ran away outside. It's not that fact that is pushing my buttons. I am just not OK with either of my kids just getting mad and running away. Not in a grocery store, and not in a crowded public place, and no, not even the woods.

What it comes down to is this: the fact that I got scared has little to do with the fact that we were "out in nature" when it happened. It has everything to do with the fact that she took off, far out of sight, and for a few terrifying moments, I couldn't find my daughter.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


The kids, playing in the living room and chatting about some media characters they've become vaguely familiar with as of late:

"Mommy, do you know why he's called Batman?"

"uh, why?"

"Because he loves Bats! and Spiderman is called that because he loves spiders!"

Mass Media-0

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

The answer, my friends, is blowin' in the wind...

Ahh, spring.

With apologies to my allergic friends, I can think of few things better than being outside on a breezy spring day. Just watching the leaves fluttering in the wind, listening to the sounds. And feeling the wind in one's hair.

Did you know that wind is created when warmer air and cooler air are "trading places?" (Actually, the gases in the atmosphere are "equalizing pressure") Maybe you know that spring is particularly windy because -at least in our part of the world-we have "warm fronts"--large, long stretches of warmer air replacing cooler air.

Well, anyway. The fun is in watching and experiencing the wind, no?

This week, while you're outside, try these things to help you and your kids really savor the breezes and the moving spring air:

Choose a tree that you love and then lie down under it. Let yourselves be mesmerized by watching the leaves flutter and blow.

Choose a tree that you love and then climb it. Let yourselves be mesmerized by being among the leaves as they flutter and blow.

How else can you watch the wind? Think of water, of seeds traveling on air, of sand moving. Pinwheels! Who doesn't love pinwheels?

Listen to the sounds of wind. Experiment with different things: You may choose to hang a windchime, a crisp flag, or you could even poke a stick through a paper bag and create a windsock. How many sounds can the wind make?

Can you feel the wind on your face, your hair? Close your eyes and turn into the wind. Open your arms.

What words can you use to describe wind? There are gentle winds, whispery winds, fierce winds, growling howling winds, and even, to quote my daughter, "lonely winds"

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

reason for hope

Last night I had the amazing opportunity to hear Dr. Jane Goodall speak. She is truly an inspiration.

She gave a very compelling and inspiring speech about why she has hope for our future, and how she can manage to stay hopeful in the face of overwhelming destruction of the earth's resources.

Her 4 "reasons for hope" are:
1. The Human Brain--marvelous in its capacity for creativity and innovation, she believes we WILL stop harming the earth and reverse the damage already done;
2. The Indomitable Human Spirit--that capacity we have for compassion, altruism, and love that WILL guide us to making the right choices, and inspire others to do the same;
3. The Resilience of Nature--nature's ability to be re-born after seemingly impossible odds and the ability of populations to return after reaching the brink of extinction;
4. The Determination of Young People--she has created a worldwide network of young people involved in environmental projects. If you're a teacher, you MUST check out Roots and Shoots, and get your students involved. This is an incredible movement and involves a huge number of people. What a way to let the young people in your life know they are not alone in their concern for the environment, and what better way to let them know by empowering them to work together.

Dr Jane Goodall, the woman, is incredible. She's 76 years old, she travels over 300 days every year, spreading the message of hope and working tirelessly for the environment. She started working as a field biologist at 26 years old, and has done more work for chimps than probably anyone else on the planet. She is an ambassador for animal welfare and a UN Messenger of Peace.

But the thing that struck me the most last night was her vivid description of being a little girl. She spent a summer on her uncle's farm in the countryside of England. She was thrilled to be in such close contact with animals.

She shared a memory of "disappearing" for an entire day-hoping to catch a chicken in the act of laying an egg. When Jane finally returned home, rather than get angry and scold her, her mother sat down and listened intently as Jane regaled her with an exciting tale of her thrilling discovery. Her mother was enthusiastic and loving and believed in the importance of letting Jane make discoveries and explore nature. Throughout her speech, she mentioned her mother's support and encouragement as the single most powerful, guiding force in her life. Thanks to her mom, Jane said, she had the courage to dream of living in the jungles of Africa, and later, thanks again to her mom's love and support, she accomplished this dream and is now literally changing the world.

Won't it be wonderful when all parents and all educators can be a beacon of support and encouragement for our children as they make their own connections to the natural world! Just imagine what could happen!

Thursday, April 8, 2010

a captive audience

When I told the kids we were going to the Nature Center last week, they wanted to know if it was the one "where the snake lives"--we've visited this particular nature center many, many times and there is indeed a very large fox snake living there in a huge tank. Despite the perfect weather, as soon as we got to the nature center, the kids rushed straight inside.

They stood in awe as the snake lay there. They looked at it, watched it "crawl" up the sides of the tank.

The Nature Center director saw their interest and got the snake out so the kids could touch it. They each stuck out a tiny, tentative finger and stroked the snake's back gently. Neither child said a word, they just stood there, "petting" the snake for a few minutes, until the director had to move on to more pressing tasks. They silently watched her put the snake back into it's cage and then we went outside to play. They spent the afternoon "looking for snakes" in the leaves and stick piles.

For days afterward, they made snakes out of everything: scarves, spaghetti, and even blocks. There is a poster of snakes on J's wall and the kids traced the ribbony bodies each night with their fingers before going to bed.

Those of you who remember my old blog may recall this post I did after a trip to the zoo. I've made no secret of my misgivings about captive animals, particularly those in zoos: it seems they often lead depressing, incomplete lives and I find it really sad to encounter them.Then again, contact with "real live animals" can be literally life-changing for some people. It was for me. This is an issue I've had to sort out over the years, and my perspective has changed since I had kids. Funny how that works.

Also,I've spent many years working in nature centers myself, tending to all manner of captive animals: snakes, salamanders, turtles, even the occasional bird of prey. I've seen time and time again how direct contact with a "wild" animal can ignite something in a child: a curiosity and zeal for learning. A newfound interest in that animal. A collapse of fear about that animal, or others like it. Even, of course, a sense of connection.

Many nature center and even zoo animals are "non-releasable" for a number of reasons which could include permanent injury, physiological differences from native populations, too much time in captivity, etc. so-- is a life in a small, cramped cage better than death? Is it worth it to "sacrifice" one animal (by keeping it in captivity) if it serves as an ambassador of sorts, opening the minds of children and adults alike? What effect does it have on you or your kids to see captive animals? How do you feel about it?

These are really, really difficult questions.

I've arrived at my own conclusions. What are yours?

Friday, March 19, 2010

10 ways to welcome spring

As if we need some reminding of the wonderful ways to embrace springtime!
Here are ten ways to welcome the season, in no particular order:

10. Lie in the grass. Put down a blanket if it's too soggy.
9. Just close your eyes and feel the sunshine on your skin. Count to ten. Breathe.
8. Climb a tree.
7. Listen for birdsong. (yesterday I heard my first robin of the year!)
6. Notice the buds on the tree branches. They are getting bigger!
5. Leave your jacket inside.
4. Get your rain boots on and go wading in the nearest lake, creek, or stream.
3. Pack a picnic lunch and eat outside
2. Pay attention to your sense of smell. There are so many things to smell in the springtime, as the snow melts, the ground warms, the buds grow.
1. Join us at a Nature Playgroup.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Leaving it to the parents

We're school shopping. Not in the sense of buying clothes and supplies, but we're doing that now-familiar to me ritual of spring-thinking about where the kids will be attending school next year. They're only going to be in Kindergarten and preschool, but this is what I do. I shop around.

L's current preschool is nice, beautiful, and they do a wonderful job with their outdoor area. For an urban school, it's a pretty large play space, with a few "traditional" pieces of play equipment, (swingset, monkey bars) but it's filled with natural features too: logs, shrubs to hide behind, large rocks and hills to play on. They are outside for about an hour each day. This school goes through 8th grade, and we may well keep her there.

We just haven't yet "settled" on a place for the kids to attend school. We dearly love L's school, and she will likely attend Kindergarten there next year. But, you know me, I love to explore my options, and I have just enough of an education/science background and just enough of an obsession with nature education that I'm a bit...well...picky. And I have pretty high expectations.

Here's how our process seems to go: I pick a school that I like, one that has an educational philosophy that I believe in/agree with/understand. I read book after book on that particular educational approach. I study the pros and cons. I talk to colleagues who teach, for their opinions on the approach. I look at how (or if) said school integrates nature into the curriculum, into the day. We visit the school. I pelt the teacher or principal with questions. All of which are along the lines of "Can I check out your outdoor play area?" "How long are the kids outside every day?" "How many times a day do they go out?" "What's your approach to nature education?"

Here are the responses I got last week from two schools. Both Montessori schools. Montessori, in case you didn't know, is an educational approach which emphasizes strong ties to the natural world, a deep appreciation for nature and "authentic" experiences in nature. Seems like a perfect fit?

When I asked how often the children go outside, one enrollment coordinator told me: (she actually said this!) "Children who come for a half day usually don't go outside at all. We leave that to the parents."

On to the next school. This visit occured last week, during one of our rainy, 40 degree days. Huge puddles everywhere, snow melting like crazy, a perfect day to be outside.

"How often would you say the children get outside?" I asked innocently.

"Oh they go outside pretty often." Ms. Tour Guide beamed. "Except, you know, when it's like this. Or really cold.You know, if the weather's lousy."

Who decides what constitutes "lousy" weather? I wanted to ask. Where's your weather policy written?

I'm so frustrated.

Why do schools "leave it to the parents?" Why is there so little value placed on getting kids outside-in all kinds of weather, every day? I know about barriers, I know why teachers don't do this stuff. But please, somebody, tell me, when is this going to change? Why do schools not get this?

BEING OUTSIDE IN NATURE IS IMPORTANT. It is good for brain development. It is good for physical development. It is good for the soul. Now why on earth is something with so many benefits not an integral part of every day, in every classroom around the country?

Clearly, people, we've got our work cut out for us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Making a splash

I picked up a very soggy and sad little girl at preschool last friday. She and her friend had been playing chase when she lost her footing and "took a dive" as she put it, into a very large, very deep, and very cold puddle of mud. Her teacher brought her inside and dried her off as best she could, changed her clothes, gave her some warm tea to drink. Despite the fact that L loves mud more than anyone I know (including me)-this was a pretty big bummer. She was really upset.

It reminded me of a time when I was very young, at preschool, and a girl swept her whole arm across the grimy plastic turtle pond and splashed me in the face with fetid water. I was mortified. I remember being whisked inside, the teachers reacting with horror as they helped me dry my face and hair. I remember feeling sick to my stomach every time I saw the turtle pond after that-getting splashed was just too scary and had freaked me out too much. But I didn't talk to anyone about it. Something about those teachers and the way they acted made me feel ashamed. I had gotten so dirty, the water was yucky, and I stank. From then on, I was terrified of that girl, Maude, who had splashed me.

L told me the story of her "dive" twice during the short drive home from school. Later I heard her telling J the story a third time. Apart from this, she was quiet for much of the afternoon. She hadn't been hurt during the fall, apart from a scrape on the palm of her hand. I don't think "her ego was bruised" as one particularly, er, obtuse relative has suggested. Over the course of the weekend, I have overheard her retelling this story to four other people. She's not "looking for attention" (yes, same relative)--I think she's really just taking her time to process this event.

And you know? Losing your balance and falling into a puddle is a pretty big deal when you're such a small girl. And when that puddle is cold, muddy, and deep, it's an even bigger deal. But I think my role here is not to place value on the experience (as good, bad, scary, whatever)--I think my role is just to be a space where she can re-tell, and sort out her many feelings about the event. I'm not casually passing it off as a minor thing, nor am I blowing it up to traumatic scale. I'm trying to just listen. She tells me it was scary, I ask her what she did to feel better. She tells me it was cold, I ask her how she warmed up. She shows me the muddy stains on her jacket. I nod and we talk a little more.

It was an unexpected, startling and, for her, scary thing. And she's working it out. She needs to keep talking about it, keep replaying that experience over and over through retelling, needs to keep showing us her "owie." At some point, this will no longer be necessary, but until then, I'll keep listening.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

a migration of sorts

My educational consulting and training business has been growing in leaps and bounds-if you didn't know I had a business, check out my website to learn more. (I'll still be posting to the blog often, so keep checking back. Just had to share the exciting news.)

I'd love to hear what you think. Thanks for checking it out.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

How to be a total drag

Let me just start by admitting this: I have been a total grump all day for no good reason at all. Just woke up on the wrong side of the bed, I guess, and we have run out of decent coffee. Despite our best efforts, we all have cabin fever, I'm stressed about some work stuff, and the kids are a little, shall we say, tired of each other. So it's been a rough day over here. Perfect day to be outside, running off the extra energy, breathing some fresh air, right?

After spending the entire day putting off the kids' constant requests to go outside (I was busy trying to get work and projects done around the house, and stay on top of some work-related email)-I finally relented just before dinnertime.

The kids gleefully pulled on their snowpants, boots, hats, mittens, scarves, etc, while I got the dog hooked up with her leash and "gentle leader" and pulled on my own boots.

Bringing along a huge dog who has been cooped up and is also tired of staring at the inside of the house. Not a brilliant choice, given my mood.

We trudged outside and I tried-I really did-to bump up my own mood a bit. The kids were pushing their strollers around on the sidewalk and laughing as the dog pushed her face into snowpile after snowpile. I managed a half-hearted smile, despite being totally annoyed at the dog, who is way too big and lively for my liking these days. The kids trotted along, singing, while Nina yanked me around on the icy sidewalks. I didn't fall but merely had my leg and shoulder ripped from their respective sockets when some guy with a Wheaten Terrier walked by and Nina went completely nuts.

After that graceful incident, we approached a huge snowbank. I mean huge. This is the pile of snow that's been plowed out of our neighboring parking lot all winter long. It's probably a story and a half high.

L set her stroller aside and started to size it up.

Me: "No, don't go up there right now. This isn't a snowbank climbing expedition. This is a walk. Now let's walk." (Feel free to insert your own impression of my crabby, irritated, whining voice.)

After hemming and hawing a little bit she finally gave in. We walked a little bit further.

"I know!" She yelled. "Let's just run around this parking lot for a while! That would be fun!" and so the children proceeded to ditch the strollers and run in circles in a parking lot.

I don't know what I did at this point, I probably let out an enormous sigh and rolled my eyes. (I know! What's wrong with me?!)

I grumbled and grouched for a while and then finally hit the wall when they found a shin-deep puddle of near-frozen water and started jumping into it, then sat down in it.

Most days, I would be fine with this. Might even encourage it. But today? Oh, Lordy, not today.

So where did I go wrong? I was thinking about this while making our dinner tonight (which by the way was also uninspired and underwhelming.) I talk with folks all the time about barriers to enjoying the outdoors with kids, and I think hit a pretty good number of them today. (Barriers, not people.)

I wasn't in the mood, first and foremost. But this one can go either way. Sometimes you have to get outside and start breathing the fresh air before you get in the mood. On rare occasions, even that has no effect. I did try to "suck it up" for the kids' sake, who were so hungry for the outdoors today. But I just couldn't seem to do it.

Next: waiting until the end of the day? Come on. Anyone with kids out there knows that the dinner hour is a tough one for everyone concerned. Meanwhile I was stressed about housework, and work work and what I was going to make for dinner and trying not to get pulled over by the dog. Sometimes it's just hard to let go of that stuff. None of these things felt so large or important this morning, when I was fresh, well-fed, and ready for a day of fun. Wish I had seized the moment earlier, when we were all in good moods.

Finally, I was cold. I had neglected to put on a hat, or mittens, or snowpants. I was wearing thin cotton pants and a coat. It wasn't brutal outside today, but the weather still warrants a fair bit of gear if you're going to be comfortable outside.

And here's the worst part: personally dragging my childrens' mood from elated to grumpy, in about ten minutes flat. Really, I had no idea how bossy and un-fun I can be! Sheesh.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Loose Parts

Rocks. Sticks. Leaves.

Who would have thought these items would one day acheive near-celebrity status in the toy world?

There is a growing appreciation among early childhood educators that so-called "open-ended" toys, or "loose parts" (that is, things with no designated role or purpose, objects that can easily be adapted to be any sort of plaything your child imagines) are good for the brain and good for children's play. They are said to help foster creativity, collaboration with others, and sensory awareness. They allow children opportunities to discover and master their environment (by naming things and then assigning them roles)


Child development geeks would call this "naming and mastering their environment;" L and J would call it "making a choo-choo train"

Any toy with no pre-assigned "job" is considered a "loose part"--blocks, stuff from nature, buttons, you get the idea. Things like rubber bugs, cars, and games would not be considered "open-ended" or "loose parts" because these toys were developed to have one specific role in child's play, therefore they tend to be used by children in only one way. (i.e as a bug, a car, or a game) Make sense?

I completely agree: my own children tend to assign a huge variety of roles to their rocks, pinecones, or blocks. The cars tend to always have the role of cars. The trains have never been anything but trains.

I have yet to see a bag of pinecones for sale at the huge toy store (though they are available online) but many child care settings and preschools are beginning to embrace this notion about loose parts. Teachers are replacing the molded plastic toys in their sensory tables with items from nature. Open-ended toys are brought out during free play time instead of toys with pre-determined roles.

Parents can encourage play with open-ended toys by simply making them more accessible in the home. Put the blocks and the nature objects in a prominent place, and make the "programmed" toys a bit harder to get at. When you're outside, think about what's available to you now. Snow is the ultimate "loose part" --what about icicles, snowballs, or branches?

What are your child's favorite open-ended toys? Tell me about a special way they have been used...

Monday, February 8, 2010

We interrupt your daily schedule to bring you....

This afternoon, in the midst of another days-long snowstorm, as the snow was just pouring out of the sky, we set out on our afternoon's destinations: a few errands, then dance class. As soon as we stepped outside, though, we all stopped in our tracks.

"Ooooh!" they both roared, in unison. The kids stood in the snow and leaned their heads waaay back to feel those huge snowflakes falling on their faces. I overheard L tell a tentative J "It's OK to get some on your tongue, try it." Silently, they marveled as the flakes fell. Just then, I knew the day was too good to miss. Dance class? It'll happen again next week. Groceries? I was sure we could scrounge something up for dinner. The library? Well, the books are already overdue, what's one more day?

Then we spent a lovely two hours digging snow caves, sliding on snowdrifts, rolling in the snow, eating the snow, and even shoveling a little bit of snow. It was utterly enchanting.

Are you ever able to supersede your "regularly scheduled routine" in favor of outdoor play? It can be difficult, and so many of us are frankly tired of the winter by now, it's not always easy to muster up the enthusiasm to go sledding again. But when you have some extra-special weather to deal with, like today, this monster snowstorm with huge, fat flakes? Can you let yourself -and your kids-just drop the routine and play? When you get a huge rainstorm, sheets and sheets of rain, can you just skip the chores or the usual stuff and go outside and savor it? Or on that first, exploding, gorgeous day when it finally feels like spring, can you forget about your errands and your housework and your appointments and just let the day take over?

If not now, when?

Saturday, February 6, 2010


This weekend I'm attending a conference for Lutheran Early Childhood Educators--so many of whom are interested in, committed to, and inspired by nature education. I attended a presentation all about Play--the value of it, and how we as educators and parents have a responsibility to preserve kids outdoor play.

The folks at this conference are sharing ideas and resources about how to increase kids' exposure to the outdoors-doing everything from Butterfly Rearing Projects to landscaping and everything in between.

This is so exciting to me, to see this momentum and enthusiasm in the field of early childhood education. Most of these teachers are open-minded and willing to try new things, and this is different than the climate I experienced, say, 5 years ago.

Used to be that there was a lot of convincing necessary to get educators "on board" with the need for nature and outdoor play. No more. People are starting to "get it." They are willing to try to make nature a part of their setting, their surroundings, and their schedules.

I applaud educators who believe in the benefits of nature for children. Parents too-those who continue to ensure that children (your own, others) have access to and time in the outdoors. It really does make a difference! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bug-eyed birds make me crazy.

My kids recently received a handful of those oh-so-popular toy animals: tiny things, about 3 inches high, with huge heads and enormous eyes. They look like deformed aliens. And they have accessories, like hair ribbons, hats, glasses and there is even a little sun visor that J's lizard wears.

Much to my chagrin, the kids LOVE these things. These crazy, stupid little animals have moved into our dollhouse, and they go for endless rides on J's fire trucks. They take baths with the kids, go on imaginary trips to the grocery store together.

I'm glad the kids are having fun. Thrilled that they are using them for endless creative adventures.

But, come on now, what is it with toys? Why can't animals look like animals?

Why are animals-just as they are-seemingly "not enough" for kids? Look around any toy store, you'll see few if any realistic looking animals. Look for animals native to Minnesota or the northern hemisphere, and you'll either pull your hair out in frustration, or you'll find yourself in a so-called "natural toy store" shelling out big bucks for charming, hand-carved,heirloom-quality wooden creatures.

Here's what you will find:
- The toy animals that are available are, more often than not, tied to media in one way or another, whether it's popular cartoons, or books, movies, etc.
- The animals also generally have a whole arsenal of additional "stuff" such as clothing, townhomes, amusement park rides, or vehicles. These are things which, I am sure, animals in real life do not have.
- The animals generally do not even look like animals. They are often found in very strange colors, they might have psychedelic hair, huge heads, or other distorted features that, if encountered in real-life would set off a scientific sh**storm.
- I've also noticed that their facial expressions are generally designed to make the animals look either 1) sinister: red eyes, long teeth, and the like; 2)stupid: buck teeth, crossed eyes, big butt; or 3) sexy: long eyelashes, a hint of cleavage, and racy accessories like short shorts or midriff tops.

I want my kids to have access to authentic images of animals. Is that too much to ask?

I want my children to play with animals that look like like real animals, the kind that they might see around the great state in which we live. I want them to have toys which demonstrate a respect for animals, toys that don't depict animals as stupid or evil or any of the things I mentioned above. I want them to be inspired to create adventures that aren't some confusing amalgam of human/animal experiences. I want them to hold these animal toys, look at them, and then think about actual, real animals.

I believe this will give them more connection for the natural world than will, say, a big-headed turtle who roller skates. And isn't that one of the reasons children play with toys? To make sense of the world around them?

Am I overthinking this? You tell me.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Win a few, lose a few

So, what do you do when you wake up on an absolutely splendid morning-sunshine, white snow, and temperatures so high you don't even need mittens? Well, you bundle up your kids, and head outside of course!

After wrapping and tucking my kids into layers of down and capilene and wind-proof fabric and fleece, I stuffed 'em into their car seats, then plied them with cheetos and juice to keep them happy on the road. Finally we arrived at our destination and I extracted a rather grumpy two year old from the car seat and plopped him in front of his beaming big sister, who was eagerly waiting for him in the big blue sled, in which I was happily planning to pull them around in the morning sunshine. I had gone maybe four inches when he started complaining that he was cold. (What? Cold? But it's almost 35 degrees!)

I picked him up. Screams increased, made more intense by the wide open space. I tried to put his mittens on his hands. His fingers were wadded up into balls, and he thrashed and screamed and yanked his hands away.

"I want more Cheeto's! I want to go inside! I want to go home!" He screeched. "I'm cold!"

L was still in the sled, pulling in armloads of snow, happily burying herself while she watched the drama unfold.

J cried. He screamed. I tried to put him back in the sled. He flopped out, then exploded with rage when he got snow on his bare hands. He screamed some more. I picked him up. He screamed.

"I'm cold! I want to go home! I want to go inside, can we go inside!" I urged him to try walking. He flailed around a bit, then begged me to pick him back up.

Feeling torn and guilty, I looked at L who was happy and would have stayed outside all day if I'd let her. I tried again to convince J that this was fun.

Who was I kidding? He wasn't having fun. He was cold. He wanted to go inside. I quietly resigned myself to this: It's just not worth it,this is not fun for him right now, no matter what I do/tell him/try.

What do you do when, despite your best efforts to make everyone warm, well fed and comfortable, someone just is not up for an outdoor adventure?

You go inside.

Thank goodness I have an understanding 4-year old.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Come Out and Play

Can you find my daughter in this picture?

If you're like most of us here in the Hinterlands, chances are, Cabin Fever has you in its grip. The temperature soared today! It was a whopping 25 degrees and did it feel good! The forecasts (for what they're worth) seem to agree it's going to be a lovely weekend.

Saturday at 10:30 AM, I'm hosting another playgroup, this time at a park along the Mississippi River. North Mississippi Regional Park is a wonderful place in North Minneapolis. This is a great opportunity to play and just "mess around" with your kids outside. We aren't doing a "nature hike" per se, and there will be no "guided walk"...although all these things are great in their own right.

But the intention of Saturday's gathering, as it is with all these Nature Playgroups, is to simply provide our children (and ourselves!) with a place where they can make their own choices: play where they want to play, do what they want to do, spend as much time making snow angels as their little hearts desire. Just be free to explore and play outside.

Most parents can agree: we all need some "unstructured downtime" as one friend put it. This is it, complete with laughing children, sparkling snow, and sunshine. I do hope you'll join us!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Happy New Year!

Sorry for the long absence...I've been "away" --that is, away from the computer and my home office and everything else, it seems, except family and friends and merriment. In the past two weeks we've attended or hosted more holiday-related gatherings than you can shake a stick at. It's been heavenly and I feel so restored and happy.

I hope you and yours enjoyed a peaceful, joy-filled holiday, whichever holiday you choose to celebrate. We did.

I'm excited to start the New Year by sharing a link to a fantastic website, The Motherhood Muse. I submitted an essay to the editor and it's in the very first issue of the online literary magazine she's publishing! Some of you may remember the essay from a post on this blog last summer. Do check out Motherhood Muse--it's a great website with a blog,writing contests, and a literary magazine for mothers--a place to explore your relationship with nature. Such a cool community. Special thanks to my friend and writing coach, Kate, for turning me on to the magazine!