Monday, October 17, 2011

101 things to do outside with children #9: rest

Today is a milestone day for me! My forthcoming book (Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth) has been sent on to the publisher for typesetting. I am so thrilled!

And, so very, very tired.

My suggestion for the day is fitting, then. Rest! Here in Minnesota we've been blessed with some lovely, crisp fall days with plenty of sunshine. I like to spread a blanket out on the ground under a tree and just enjoy lying down together. Of course, lying down and being still is hard for some children (especially my son!) so I like to have a book or some sliced apples for us to enjoy together. Of course, there are many ways to tempt them to come and be still. When J was playing in the leaves and I was lying on a blanket, I invited him to bury me in leaves and then to lie down with me. It worked! We lay under the leaves, listening to them crackle, for a good 3 minutes before he was up and off again.

Young children are often loathe to be still for long periods of time, but doing this practice frequently invites them to enjoy stillness, and they can eventually "work up" to longer periods of quiet reflection.

We get so busy and so focused on "doing" all the time. It's lovely to carve out some time to just rest and be together.

Monday, September 26, 2011

101 things to do outside with children #8: go barefoot

Here in Minnesota, we are savoring these last remaining sunny days of fall. Soon enough we'll be dressing in layers and our feet won't see the sun again until April. But there's still time to enjoy nature barefoot-granted, we have to wait until the sun's been out a while so our toes don't turn blue, but still. Whatever the weather is in your area, take off your shoes! Running around barefoot is something that comes naturally to most children, and is a great way to connect with nature. But, as adults, we tend to forget the simple pleasure of being barefoot.

Everything feels different when you're barefoot! Walking on a warm sidewalk, padding barefoot through the grassy lawn, and snuggling your toes into a sandy beach-all sublime experiences, to be sure. Such a great way to get in tune with the many different textures and terrains of nature. Just take off your shoes and notice how things feel. Does the grass tickle? Is the ground cold or warm? Being barefoot is so good for balance and coordination, too. There are about 20 muscles in each foot, so give them a chance to work. Shoes are necessary for many things, and in many places, but any child will tell you that tree-climbing and rock-wandering are activities best done barefooted.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

101 things to do outside with children #7: Listen for nature

Airplanes tearing through the sky overhead. Buses lurching to a stop, then starting again. Cars racing past. People shouting and talking. Dogs barking. Car doors slamming. Garbage trucks roaring down the street. Sirens wailing.

This is what my children and I noticed in just a few short minutes of walking through the neighborhood. last week. Granted, we live in an urban area and these kinds of noises are par for the course on any given day. Early in the morning, as we're walking to school, so much noise feels like an assault on my senses. It gives me an appetite for nature sounds.

Where you live, what kind of noises do you hear on a regular basis? How many of them are nature-based? Here in Minneapolis, it's sometimes hard to "tune out" the city sounds, and tune in the nature sounds.

The other day, when we really tried, we could hear some nature sounds, buried in among the city noises:

an angry squirrel chuck-chucking in a nearby tree,
a goldfinch twittering as it bounced through the sky,
a crow, clearing its throat,
and of course, lots of wind (we're ushering in a cold front, after all!)

Admittedly, this was really difficult! Of course, all things get easier with practice, right? We're practicing finding nature sounds now, in the mornings, when we're all still tired and especially need some gentler noises to help us greet the day.

Where you live, how hard to you have to try to find the nature sounds in the cacophony of everyday life? Can you do it?

Saturday, September 10, 2011

101 things to do with children outside #6, celebrate something!

This seems like a good weekend to consider how much we have to celebrate.

Children are such great teachers for us! They celebrate everything. Life is still a party, and nature is a great playing ground.

When in nature, I'm moved toward gratitude. We enjoy so many freedoms, and we have access to so many wonderful natural areas and special places in this country. Despite the political turmoil,the nightmare economy, and the environmental crises that face us, really, there is so much to celebrate. Nature can soothe the spirit and heal many emotional wounds indeed.

I encourage you to grab your family and find something to celebrate this weekend. Our city has an annual festival celebrating one of my great loves in nature: monarchs. But you don't need a festival to celebrate. (Of course, they sure do help!)

Celebrate colors, the changing seasons, a beautiful flower, a sunset. We are so lucky to live on this amazing planet at this amazing time. What can you celebrate this weekend?

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

101 Things to do outside with children #5: Notice something new.

It's already jacket weather here in Minnesota,at least in the mornings, and that means the beginning of a whole new season for nature play.

School has started for both of my little ones, but we're still finding plenty of time to get outside. During the transition from summer to fall, or any season's change, it's a great time to heighten your awareness of what's happening outside! Of course, here in Minnesota we notice the temperature's change first, but there are so many other things going on. The leaves have just barely begun to change, as pointed out by my very astute 4 year old, J. Just look at this tree:

He called it a "half and half" tree. he pointed this out to me on our walk home through the neighborhood. We'd gone out in search of migrating monarch butterflies (and oh, we found so many!) but I was so caught up in finding butterflies I forgot to notice some other pretty amazing things. How lucky for me that he pointed it out. I would have walked right past.

Maybe in your part of the world, the seasons aren't yet changing. Or maybe they're farther along than they are here. Go outside and let your child show you what they see. Share in the discovery together.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

101 Things to do outside with children: #4, Make Noise!


"Inside voices, please!"

"Not so loud!"

Have you considered how often children hear messages like this? There are few places these days where children can really test the limits of their own voices. How often are they given the freedom to yell, scream, sing out loud, roar? Even in outdoor spaces, it seems, there is a limit to how loud children can be. It's sad but true: we have a pretty low threshold for tolerating children's noise.

As the parent of one child who absolutely loves the strength of his own voice and the other loud sounds he can make, I am all too aware of just how often a quiet voice is expected, if not required.

I encourage you to take your favorite herd of children outside and find a nice, wide open space and be loud. You can encourage noise, or just let it happen. Many children, as a result of constantly being told to hush, find it difficult or awkward to be really loud when given the chance. So try singing, or start a game of chase where you're all animals, making crazy animal noises.

Not only is it kind of fun to make a lot of noise, it relieves tension and anxiety too! And once your children realize they are free to make noise, it's a delight to share that with them. Tonight my daughter surprised herself singing a song in a monster's voice. We need to let children experiment with their voices: loud, soft, crazy, monstery, animal-y, whatever. They deserve this freedom!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

101 things to do outside with children #3: Tune in

No matter where you go these days, it seems, people are always chattering on their phones or texting or facebooking, or whatever. In the grocery store, in traffic, even (gasp!) in public restrooms. I don't know what it's like in other countries, as I haven't done much international travel lately, but in America, people are constantly "connected" to their phones, computers, work, and whatever else.

We are pulled in so many directions. It's easy to be distracted. So many of us are busy multi-tasking, juggling jobs, families, hobbies, and everything else. It's difficult to give anything your full attention.

I myself am guilty of this. Until recently, my "old school" cell phone was capable only of making and receiving calls. It was fine for my needs. But when the phone finally died, and I went in to replace it, I was "upgraded" to a "smart phone" that could take pictures, surf the web, receive email, and who knows what else.

"Cool," I thought, doubting I'd ever use any of the bells and whistles. But sure enough, now that I've owned the phone for several months I am as guilty as anyone of being distracted by the blinking red light on my phone that indicates I've got email waiting to be read. It's so easy to quickly push a button and peek. I haven't counted the number of times in a day that I check, but I'd bet it's more than I'd want to admit! But what message does this send my children? What messages are we as a society sending our children when we are constantly distracted and frequently interrupting our interactions with them in favor of our phones? Can't we tune in to our children instead?

When I'm with my children, I want to be fully present to them. When we're outside, I try to be available to follow their lead, to tune in to their messages, rather than the ones on my BlackBerry. I want to let them lead me to the things they're interested in. This is difficult and yet so worthwhile. I want my children to know that their interests are important, valuable and real. I want them to know that I care about the things they care about. I want them to show me what they love, what they are curious about, where they want to be. This is the information that really matters. These messages are more important than email, facebook, or any of the other technological distractions we have at our disposal.

I'm thinking we need a "National Day of Rest" where all cell phones, ipads, and handheld gadgets automatically shut down so we can reconnect with what really matters: our children.

If we can't free ourselves for a whole day, how about 15 minutes? Try following your children out the door, and then following their cues completely. Just do it for 15 minutes. Let them decide where to go, what flowers to check out, or which rocks to collect. Let the children choose the path or decide on a picnic site. If they want to catch fireflies, catch fireflies. If they want to putter around on the sidewalk, poking at anthills with a stick, so be it. Follow their lead. Turn off your phone, put away your ipad. Be fully present--even if it's just for 15 minutes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

101 things to do...#2: Look UP!

When was the last time you lay on the ground and looked up? There are so many wonderful things to see. It's one thing to tilt one's head back and look up, it's another thing entirely to actually lie down on your back, breathe deeply, and take it all in. The experience is worth savoring. Trust me.

L reminded me of the value of this vantage point recently by stopping suddenly during playtime outside and dropping to the ground on her back, under the swaying leaves of a maple tree:

"Oh, Mommy, you just have to come and lie down with me. It looks like the trees are laughing."

We tend to spend an awful lot of time on our feet. Second to that comes sitting down. But think of it-we're always looking at stuff that's in front of us, usually at eye-level. It is good to change that vantage point from time to time. Check things out from a different perspective.

It really doesn't matter where you do this: your front yard or the wilderness. Just do it. Lie down, all the way down. Take a deep breath. Feel your body being completely supported by the earth beneath you. And notice what you see: Are there clouds? Leaves overhead? What color is the sky? Do this on a hill, in a valley, near a lake, near a stream. Try it in a desert-try it wherever you are, at whatever time of day it happens to be. Just try it. Give yourself a few minutes to really relax and enjoy. Worried about bugs, or the tickling grass? Whatever-throw down a blanket and lie down on that. Do what you need to be comfortable.

Children need and deserve opportunities to quietly savor the natural world, to really "take it in" in as many ways as they can. In early childhood especially, they are developing an aesthetic awareness--that ability to quietly reflect and consider beauty. Provide them with plenty of opportunities to find beauty, in as many ways as you can. What better way to do this than to lie down quietly together and share the beauty of nature?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

101 things to do outside with kids!

The first day of summer was yesterday-and it inspired me to try something new with this blog. I got the idea from my friend Tiffany, who did something similar on her awesome blog, Art Food AND Motherhood. She is a fabulous, creative wonder and has been my dear friend for years. On her blog she lists 365 creative and artistic activities to do with and for children.

I'm hereby officially committing to post on this blog, 101 things to do outside with kids.

Since summer is such an "easy" time for most people to get outdoors, lots of these ideas won't come as a huge challenge to many of you, but for some of you they might. Either way, hopefully there will be some ideas and inspiration here for you to get outside with your own children (or others) and try something new.

Remember, you don't have to be doing something "productive" outside for the time to matter. In fact, for the most part, the "less" you are doing, the better the experience. But I hope to offer a few suggestions and examples of fun outdoor things to try, many of which will be free or cost very little in terms of either money, supplies, or time. I want to make it easy and fun for you. I'd love to hear your suggestions and ideas, too. What are your favorite ways to spend time outside with children?

So, without further ado, I present, #1: Wait for a rainstorm.

During breakfast this morning, as the sky rather suddenly filled with clouds, my ever-observant 3 year old said, "Looks like it's going to rain soon!"

Like most young children, mine are both fascinated by and a bit afraid of thunderstorms. All that noise, wind, and lightning can be a bit much, especially at night. Just the other night both my children woke up screaming after a particularly loud clap of thunder that threatened to crack the windows. But a rainstorm during the day, ah, now that's a different story altogether. They love the huge raindrops, and we have enjoyed many rainwalks and puddle dances together during summers past. But most of our daytime storm-savoring has happened outside during the rainstorms, rather than experiencing the energy and excitement of a storm to come.

This morning, since we had both the luxury of time, and the good fortune of knowing the storm was coming, I thought it would be fun to head outside and just experience the feeling of the storm growing closer. It's such an exciting time, when a thunderstorm in approaching, with all the wind, and the clouds, and the change in temperature. I wanted them to experience this anticipation first-hand. We headed out, but only after L and J had donned their "protective suits" (blankies!) wrapped snugly over their shoulders.

I brought out a little mint tea and we sipped, and noticed the way the leaves on all the different trees behave in the wind. Some leaves really shake and "act frantic" (L's words) and others wave only slightly, despite the strong wind. We watched the clouds fill the sky, and grow darker and darker. We felt the wind in our hair and watched it billow and pull on the kids' blankets when they held them up in the air. We listened to the windchimes going wild. We watched the grass in the neighbor's yard ripple like waves on the water as the warm wind blew across it.

We sipped our tea and we waited. The wind kept getting stronger, the temperature dropped quickly, giving all of us goosebumps, and finally, the rain came!

I'd love to hear your ideas for sharing nature with children.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

All wet

Some delightful neighborhood children were at our house playing yesterday afternoon, and since the weather was hot, I sent the children outside, where they belong. As I said, it was hot. And my kids aren't fools--they know how to cool off! In no time at all, L and J had turned on the hose and were positively rejoicing in the spray of water. They took turns making rainbows with the water spray, playing "limbo" under the stream from the hose nozzle, and spraying each other like crazy.

The neighborhood girls tentatively joined in and a game of "who can get the wettest" soon followed. Of course, within minutes all children were soaked through and through. Completely wrung-out, fell-into-a-lake wet. There was much smiling and laughter coming from the backyard. Until the neighbor kids' mom arrived.

Suffice it to say, she was not happy. Her children were drenched, and despite my offer to send them home in dry clothes, she promptly shooed them out of my back yard and they marched off down the street. No terse words were exchanged, but the sound of her voice and the look on her face when she arrived said plenty. Then, when her own daughter sprayed her, I had to stifle a giggle myself.


Now, granted, I probably should have called to check with her before letting the kids play with the hose. (Should I have?) But in my opinion, a little spontaneous water play is a perfectly harmless thing-one of the great childhood joys. Remember those days, when summer was hot, and you were hot, and you just had to cool off, so you got in the pool, or the pond, or ran through a neighbor's sprinkler, clothes and all? Planning ahead, changing into swimsuits, these things all have their time and place, but really, when it comes right down to it, half the fun is the feeling of "getting away with something" and getting wet in your clothes, isn't it? These kids were having a great time, and feeling a little mischevious, which makes it all that much better.

When was the last time YOU got your clothes wet? It's something we adults avoid at all costs-think of the pains we take to stay dry: umbrellas, raincoats, dashing from car to house or parking lot to grocery store, newspaper over our heads to protect us from the rain. What's the harm in water?

Why not take a lesson from our children and savor the feeling of spontaneity?

Saturday, May 21, 2011

At last, a return to blogging!

I'm finally back! It took a random comment from a reader who stumbled upon this blog from a link in the Children and Nature Network. I'm finally back to the blog. It's been an exciting year, to say the least. The family and I relocated (temporarily) to a Chicago suburb, and I've been frantically unpacking, learning the lay of the land, and working on my first manuscript!

My book is "Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth" and it's due out in March 2012. I've been working hard and am so thrilled to have this opportunity.

I'm also thrilled to finally have a little time left for returning to this blog, something I've loved, but that has fallen by the wayside in recent months.

Other exciting news is on the way! Thanks for checking back!