Wednesday, May 1, 2013

101 things to do outside with children #32...hope to get lucky

This week we've seen it all. Ducks perched on the roof of an urban home. A robin, singing in a snow-covered tree (yes, it's winter again in Minnesota). A squirrel perched on our window box, eating some sunflower seeds. A fat rabbit sitting in the grass.  All of these sights have made my own children gasp with delight.

The other day J and I took a (much-needed) break from building Lego starfighters in his room and I glanced out the window to see a huge rabbit munching on the grass. As we watched, our noses pressed to the window, J whispered to me, "She's eating a lot of grass. She must like it here!" and "Aren't we lucky that rabbit came to our yard?"  He was utterly captivated.  As far as he was concerned, it was an honor to have our yard chosen by this rabbit. When the rabbit finally decided it was time to move on, J was at the window, and considered himself quite lucky to get to see the rabbit hopping away. "She's moving! Mommy, she's moving! Look at those legs go! I saw her white tail!" Indeed, how lucky we were.

I love the way children so naturally slow down, notice the really special things. To an adult, seeing a rabbit in the yard is no big deal. Something that might inspire a smile, but not much more. Certainly not the focused atttention and rapt curiosity that J gave over.  What a joy to be a part of his excitement, his delight and his intense awareness of this "other creature" that came and paid us a visit.  He was so open to watching her, really watching her... noticing the little details in what she was doing, how she was moving, and every little element of her "rabbit-ness" -It might sound silly, but being shown a rabbit through the eyes of my son, I really felt like I saw a rabbit for the first time.

Throughout the day, he checked out the window, looking for "Bunny-bun" as he called her. When we went outside to the yard, he showed me the exact route the rabbit had taken to exit the yard, the exact corner around which she hopped to get to another yard. He even demonstrated the way the rabbit moved as she hopped. (Which, I might add, showed a clear understanding of how rabbits move, and how their bodies differ from ours)

"Do you think we'll ever see her again?" He asked quietly at the end of the day. He'd been thinking about this rabbit all day long. It really made an impression on him.

"Maybe" I replied. "Maybe she'll be back."

"I hope so." he said, "I hope so. We're so lucky she came here today."

Yes. We are so lucky.

Virtual book tour update: please visit Lets Explore for the latest stop on the blog tour. What a wonderful resource for parents and caregivers-anyone who values play in all its forms. Thanks for stopping!

Monday, April 29, 2013

101 things to do outdoors with children #31...go up, and then kick back

It's not summertime yet, but oh, the livin' is easy. 

I'm told time and time again that letting children climb trees is one of the most difficult, stress-inducing, anxiety-producing things that parents or caregivers can be asked to do. I will begrudgingly admit that at times it can be very difficult to watch, worried that a child will fall and get hurt. It can be especially nerve-wracking if a child scrambles up a tree, higher than you the adult can reach, should the need arise. Yes, I understand that there are hard objects on the ground, onto which a child could fall. There are sharp-edged branches that can poke and scratch. Yes. I get it. 

But I always caution parents and caregivers-please, please step back and let the children climb. Climbing trees teaches children about risk and consequence.It teaches them what they can and can not trust their own bodies to do. If there is a scratch or a bump or a fall (and let's hope it's minor!) - most of the time, these events serve to teach children about their own physical limitations, and that they can recover from scary, sometimes painful accidents. Climbing requires them to really pay attention to their bodies in space: how they move, how much space they take up, how to get from one place to another. It teaches them to navigate and balance. To coordinate movements, to plan their next move. It challenges their confidence and their abilities. It tests their strength. It tests their courage ("wonder if I could get up to that branch there?") It gives them a new vantage point (really!) from which to see their world. 

And, it's just plain fun!  

Please check back tomorrow and see another nature play tip and be sure to visit the next few stops on the virtual book tour:

Tomorrow the "Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth" book will be highlighted on The Sellabit Mum, a charming and funny parenting blog from a mother right here in Minnesota. On May 1, you will want to check out Conscientious Confusion. a blog about green living and parenting.  I'm so grateful for the support.  

Sunday, April 28, 2013

101 things to do outdoors with children #30...nurture connections

"Welcome Ants!" -so reads the note scrawled in chalk on our neighborhood sidewalk.

This afternoon I had the pleasure of watching a herd of several children create "protection zones" around a few anthills that have sprung up in the cracks in the sidewalk. The children were so excited to see the activity of ants that they created stick barriers and barricades around the anthills to protect them from any wayward walkers or bikers.

I believe in nurturing and supporting children's connections to animals whenever possible. To me, most of the time, that means getting out of the way.  I didn't interfere with what they were doing, didn't tell them how or what or why to do anything, and certainly didn't pooh-pooh the idea. How tempting it can be for adults to direct what children are doing, to mock or dismiss simple acts such as these, or to try to make it "educational" by teaching them something about insects.  None of that was necessary. These kids were responding to a shared excitement and enthusiasm about ants, a shared joy that spring is finally here, and a shared desire to care for other living things. I didn't need to do anything to "help them"

 Instead, I just watched.  And what I saw!

The kids, ranging in age from 3 to 9, squashed grapes and carefully laid them near the anthills.
They covered the anthills with leaves to "protect them"
They held out flat pieces of mulch or leaves, let the ants crawl onto them, and gently placed the ants within the barricaded areas around the anthills.
They even got out a wheelbarrow -a wheelbarrow!- and used it to transport ants from one end of the sidewalk to another.

Children really do rise to the occasion when given the chance to respond to other living things with care and concern. They seem to have a universal love for animals, and an excitement about interacting with animals in whatever form that takes. Nurturing connections between children and animals can take many forms, anything from just asking a child questions to learn more about what he thinks of certain animals, to providing them with the tools necessary to care for an animal (such as a brush, leash, or water dish in need of filling). Certainly, it can even mean sharing in their joy and excitement when they welcome a new colony of ants to the neighborhood.

101 things to do with kids: #29 .....Celebrate National Screen-Free Week!

Most children are as tempted by the screen as we adults are. But check out this initiative started years ago by  the Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood  (actually it began as "TV Turn-off week" but oh how times have changed)

What a lovely idea. In this age of virtual everything, it's nice to know there is a growing effort to take  a break from the screen and get out there and do "real" stuff (as my children so aptly refer to screen-free activities)

I hope you'll subscribe to this page or check back daily. I'll be posting a daily suggestion for screen-free fun.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

101 things to do outdoors with children #28...just welcome what comes.

In case you haven't heard, we are STILL pretty much buried in snow here in Minnesota. It's been a brutal winter, with snowstorm after snowstorm pummeling us.

Ok, yes, it's pretty. But come on.

Most winters, by the end of February, many of us here in the Northland are pretty stir crazy. Of course, we do know how to have fun in the snow, what with the skiing, snowshoeing, ice fishing, snow-fort-building, winter camping, snowman making, hot chocolate drinking, ice skating, etc, etc.  But come February, we're all a little weary, tired of long undies and puffy down coats, ready for sun, ready for some evidence that spring is, in fact, coming. We've given up trying to find matching pairs of mittens and instead just throw on whatever we can find. (My own son sometimes just wears socks on his hands when we go out these days, so difficult is it to find a matching set of mittens.)

And now, here we are, with May just one week away, and yesterday we had yet another snowstorm, which dropped 3 more inches of heavy, wet snow onto us.

Most adults in these parts are so winter-fatigued we don't know whether to laugh or cry. We grin and bear it, trying to make the best of what has become a rather tired old joke. Neighbors have put up their Christmas lights again, as if to spite Mother Nature. There are snowmen dotting the city yards (albeit dirty, faceless, pathetic-looking ones.) We make half-hearted attempts at shoveling the sidewalks, creating sloppy paths just wide enough for a peg-legged pogo-stick-riding person to navigate. We're tired of this, people. Damn tired of it.

This morning, we were getting ready for the walk to L's school, while I was cursing under my breath at the snow, the kids hopped into their winter gear and dashed out to play-and play they did....all the way to school.

The moment they got out there into that white freshly fallen snow, it was all brand new to them. How refreshing! Why fight it? The snow is here, let's enjoy! They seemed to think.

My 7 year old danced and hopped all the way to school.

J tried to make a snowball that was "three blocks big" )by attempting to roll the same snowball all the way to school. (Eventually it got too heavy to move, but hey-it was fun trying!)

I know I've posted about this before. But it really does bear repeating. Our attitude matters. And just as our children's perceptions of weather and nature are influenced by what we say and how we react, so can our perceptions be shaped by our children's actions and attitudes.

As adults, we can choose to gripe and be annoyed, or we can choose to do what the children do: just approach it all with a smile and an expectation of fun. So I took a deep breath, scooped up a handful of snow, and nailed L in the back with a snowball the size of a grapefruit. We played tag and chase and fell into the snow, giggling.  How nice to just welcome what is, instead of wishing for something else.

Please take a moment to visit today's stop on the virtual book tour, Nature for Kids.   Tomorrow, the Greener Earth book will be featured at Diary of a Stay at Home Mom.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

101 things to do outdoors with children-go on a virtual book tour~

OK, so this doesn't actually count as one of my 101 things...but I wanted to briefly interrupt the list of 101 things to let you all know about a most exciting development.....
The "Greener Earth" virtual book tour!

In celebration of Earth Day, I'll be featuring several earth-friendly, natural parenting and outdoor-oriented websites here, and in turn, they're featuring my "Early Childhood Activities for a Greener Earth" book.

I'm so excited to have this support for the book, and I do hope you'll visit their sites and check them out! I'll be continuing to add to our "101 things" list as we go, so come back often!!

Thanks for your support.

Here's the schedule for the Virtual Book Tour:

April 25: Ms. Mindbody
April 30: Sellabit Mom 
May 8: Mama Sweat 
May 9: Slow Family Online
May 13: CafeMom (week long Q and A)

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

101 things to do outside with children #27....feed birds up close

The inspiration for this suggestion comes from a lovely book I was given by my friends over at Destination Nature.

They recently published a book called "The Kids' Outdoor Adventure Book" which is filled with ideas and activities for kids to do on their own, with friends, or with family members. There are suggestions for kids of all ages, but I'd say most run toward the interests and abilities of older elementary-aged kids. I was invited to participate in their virtual book tour, and I'm happy to help spread the word. It's a really fun book.

Why I love this suggestion, to feed birds up close, is that being the "outdoorsy type" I'm always so focused on getting out the door! Whatever we can do, we can do it outside, right? Well, yes...but...this suggestion to put up bird feeders and then watch as the birds (and squirrels) come to enjoy seeds? -a great reminder of how we can bring nature "in" without leaving home.

We have a lovely pine tree right outside our sunroom/office window, and we just purchased a great big feeder. I haven't had birdfeeders up in years, believe it or not, so I'm really excited to get this one set up and watch as the birds come. I have a selection of field guides that are easy to use, and a set of binoculars at the ready. Tomorrow we'll head out with a bag of safflower, fill it up, and wait. I know it might take several days to a few weeks for the birds to get the idea, but we're pretty patient, and the anticipation is half the fun, and our shared delight in seeing the first visitors will be worth the wait!

I'm not a "hard core" birder-although for a while I sure was (I still remember vividly the day I added my first -and only-Northern Beardless Tyrannulet  to my life list!) --if my children ask or show an interest in identifying the birds, I'll certainly reach for the field guides and help them learn to identify the birds. But at this point, what I'm hoping to inspire is curiosity, delight, and amazement. I want to follow my childrens' lead. What do they find interesting about birds? What do they notice about the way different birds eat, fly, interact with each other? We might make some observational drawings, snap a few digital photos, or just watch quietly.

Back my days of working as a park naturalist, I was in charge of stocking, cleaning, and maintaining many bird feeders near the nature center. I loved seeing children and their parents or caregivers sitting, eyes locked on the feeders, watching the birds eat. It's relaxing and exciting to watch birds at a feeder. I remember how the children would gasp when a pileated woodpecker would hang on the feeder, or a frantic cloud of chickadees would sweep in. And the hummingbirds!  Seeing a hummingbird at a feeder is still a thrill for me.

Bird feeders! How did I forget about this?

Monday, April 8, 2013

101 things to do outside with children #26 go treasure hunting

Ahh, finally the snow is melting. Winter seems to finally be on its way out. This is the perfect time of year to go treasure hunting. There are all sorts of goodies to be found on the ground. Little odds and ends that have fallen down through the snow and settled into the cold, damp ground. Finally they're emerging, and for treasure-hunters, it's as exciting as the green grass, the buds on the trees, and flower shoots coming up from the earth.

Of course, any trip into the woods will yield some special finds: maybe a feather here, an interesting twig there. Perhaps a special rock or pinecone.  If you live near water, you already know the myriad treasures to be found on a beach-especially after a storm. Gray, smooth driftwood, rocks and pebbles polished to a sheen, and tiny fragments of sea glass or agates. And the shells!  There are treasures even in our "urban wild lands" --the muddy puddles, soggy lawns and boulevards, and wet, grassy parks are filled with little finds that are delightful and special.

On a short jaunt through the neighborhood today, we had our eyes peeled. We found all sorts of delightful little things: bits of colored ribbon, tiny scraps of yarn, colorful, shiny sequins and even a small plastic bat. We found about half-dozen beads and some bright blue pieces of plastic in interesting shapes and sizes. There were treasures everywhere, and we filled our pockets little by little as we were out adventuring.

When we returned home, the children immediately staked out a "fairy tree" and proceeded to arrange these offerings around the ground surrounding the tree, in its branches, and among the rocks that encircled its trunk. Their most treasured object, a glimmering pink glass heart, got the place of honor in the tree-up amid the branches.

It will be a joy to see this fairy tree evolve. The children had loads of creative ideas for what sorts of things they'd like to add to the fairy tree. The only rule?  "It has to be something we found in nature"  Luckily my children are pretty loose with their definition of nature, so we can include any and all bits and bobs we find on the ground in our urban wandering! (mud and grass definitely count as nature!)

Stay tuned....I'm embarking on a virtual book tour in just a couple of weeks....many blogs will highlight my "Greener Earth" book, provide a review, or do an activity from the book. I'll post a schedule shortly!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

101 things to do with children something daring

The deck off the back of our house was covered in fresh, fluffy snow. As we finished our dinner, J was eyeing the deck out the window. He had that look in his eye, and I knew he was cooking something up. 

In a flash, he jumped off his chair, ripped open the door, and dashed out into the snow. Barefoot. 

Within seconds, L was peeling her socks off and dashing out the door after him. 

The kids were dancing around in the snow in their bare feet, squealing with delight and shrieking from the cold. 

In seconds, they dashed back inside and climbed up onto the couch, where I wrapped their cold, pink feet in their favorite blankies, and we laughed, marveling at their bravery. How daring they were! How exciting to run outside barefoot! In the winter! "I bet no one has ever done that before!" said L, satisfied with herself.

They were so impressed with themselves for being brave enough to do that-and it gave them a bit of smug satisfaction to know that they'd done something that even their mom was not willing to do.  I admit, I've never once had the desire to know what it feels like to run in the snow barefoot. Not something I'd actually try, but if my children want to give it a whirl, well, why not? They were proud,  they had just taken a huge risk and challenged themselves physically. How exciting!

As parents, educators-all of us who work with children, we're constantly weighing  the risk-to-benefit ratio. When it comes to nature play, there are constantly risks. But the benefits are huge Yes, someone could have gotten cold. in fact, they both did, which is why they came inside immediately. But the freedom to try something new is what's important. More so, in my opinion, than the need to stay warm and non-frostbitten. In this case, the risk was really small: a bit of mild discomfort, maybe, but nothing more.   

Assessing risk is automatic, healthy, and necessary,  but the tendency of many adults is to steer children away from activities that present any risk at all. 

Do I encourage my children to go outdoors barefoot in the winter? No, I do not. Would I permit them to do this on a regular basis, or allow them to stand around in the snow with no shoes on for a long time? Of course not. (and I challenge you to find any child that would actually want to run through the snow barefoot on a regular basis...)   But what's the harm in trying something once? Try to challenge yourself: allow children to take risks and test their freedom.

If the risk is negligible, or rather,  manageable, and the benefits outweigh the risks, why not go for it? It's exciting, and creates a memory they will have forever. 

Sunday, March 17, 2013

101 things to do outside...#24...let yourself be annoyed (just this once)

"Come on."  I said to J last week, on the way to his sister's school a few blocks away.  We were shuffling down the sidewalk. It was covered in about an inch of ice.  Scratch that "we"- I was shuffling along, trying to stay upright despite my hyperactive 60 pound dog, who was dashing and leaping and jerking and trying to chase squirrels, all while slipping and losing her balance on the ice. She looked like Bambi, legs splayed out in all directions. In the distance, the school bell rang. We were late-again.

J was climbing a snowbank. Backwards. With his eyes closed.

On most days I would love the backwards-eyes closed-snowbank-climbing antics. Many days, I'd even join in. Most days I allow extra time on the walk to school for this sort of dawdling. But on this particular day? It just made me crabby.  Well, OK, I'll admit it: I was crabby to begin with.  Anyone who's here in Minnesota can relate. It's been a long, long, loooooong winter here in the Northland. I'm tired of coats. Tired of ice. Tired of snow, slush, cold. I miss the sunshine. It was cold and gray. The sky has been gray for so long....

And we were running late! I just wanted to get to the school, retrieve L, and get home so we could warm up. (yes, I know, I should have been dressed for the weather.)

I was not amused by J's revelry. His delight and insistence on playing seemed to do nothing more than to slow us down.

"Do you really have to stop at every single snowbank?" I wondered, gritting my teeth. He smiled, then slid down an icy patch, shrieking with delight.  "Let's go, we're late! Come on!" I griped. Then the dog jerked my arm out of its socket when a smaller dog went trotting by across the street. I fell onto my hip, dropped the dog leash, and had to scramble across the icy sidewalk to catch her as she dashed off after the neighbor's dog.

Finally, I had the leash, and J was by my side, having promised to "stop fooling around" at my insistence. (Oh God, did I really say that to him?) We scrambled up the icy hill to school, retrieved L, and the kids immediately threw themselves into the nearest snowbank, while the dog proceeded to go bananas over a nearby squirrel.

I had time on the walk home to collect my thoughts, while the kids played, jumped, climbed and slid. At every single snowbank. And how did I spend that time? I spent it questioning, judging and berating myself for being annoyed and impatient with J earlier. After a few solid minutes of wondering why I couldn't just go with the flow, revel in his slow pace, enjoy the spontaneous opportunities for nature play, it hit me.

Sometimes, it's just annoying to stop at every single snowbank.

Once I admitted that to myself, I felt a whole lot better. When you're running late, and you need to be somewhere, or -darn it-even if you just don't want to stop so often, it's annoying. And sometimes, parents, teachers, we all need to just be OK with feeling annoyed. But here's the thing: I didn't let that annoyed feeling make me stop the kids from playing, and I forced myself to stop rushing them. We weren't late for anything. We had time. I stood there quietly, indulging their play, because I know it has such value and importance.

But I decided there is value also to letting go of the expectation that I'm going to be perfect--indulging in nature play whenever and wherever, and always with a smile on my face. It's OK not to love every second of kids' nature play--sometimes it's not convenient or comfortable.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

101 things...#23...notice the little details

Is it because children are so close to the ground that they are excellent at noticing tiny details? I don't know but I am constantly amazed and delighted by the things they point out.

Just last week L noticed a heart-shaped melty patch in the ice.

Finally, spring is coming, and what a lovely little hint of that to discover this:

I never would have picked that out of the slushy, icy sidewalk. My goal was simply to get to where we were going.

Adults are constantly on the move and children can help us slow down and notice the little things all around us. Can you follow a child's lead and let them show you the special and beautiful little details that would otherwise go unnoticed?

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

101 things to do outside with children #22...a little perspective, please!

-I mean a child's perspective, not yours. 

A friend recently shared this amazing photo of a snow castle on Facebook:

 I saw the photo after we'd come in from a day of playing in the snow, sledding, and piling up a ton of snow in the yard for a gigantic snow fort of our own.

Here it is:


 After seeing the amazing snow castle, I suddenly felt that our snow fort was, well, somehow lacking. I mean, it was nothing more than a glorified heap, really. It didn't even have a door. How could it possibly compare to something so beautiful, so amazing? I looked out the window, fighting the urge to go back outside and fancy up our snow fort. Maybe carve out some cool windows, maybe hollow it out a bit so we could chill inside it for a while. At the very least, I thought, I should put up a flag.

Then, thank goodness, my friend reminded me that to my children, our snow heap is just as good, if not better, than that fancy shmancy snow heap.It's all a matter of perspective.

To children, the work and fun and sense of adventure that happens when you create something together is HUGE. Bigger, more important than anything else. More important than fancy decorations, more important than size. After all, the three of us spent time together piling up the snow, working hard to get it "just right" and then climbed it and slid down it on our bums, over and over. All afternoon. We laughed together, played together, and when we finished building it, we sat by a fire and warmed our toes together. I'm betting the folks who built the castle of snow didn't even touch their completed work.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

101 things together

Nature can "level the playing field" in ways that nothing else can. In nature, children are faced with challenges large and small and often instinctively work together to help each other face those challenges. Last week we were climbing mountains of snow and ice, and J needed some help getting up to the top of a huge snowbank. His sister, who had already reached to top, quickly removed her scarf and threw him a line to hold while he scaled the icy slope. She held fast to the scarf and cheered as he climbed, then eventually reached the summit of the great Ice Mountain. It was lovely to see them working together, not in competition with each other for anything. This got me to thinking about where in life there are opportunities or reasons for children to give this kind of support to each other. Physical challenges indoors? In most homes and schools, there aren't many. As children age, and they are involved in more adult-directed activities, the challenges we present to them are pretty controlled, and mostly meant to be overcome alone. But bring the children outdoors and there are all sorts of physical challenges to be faced. In most cases, children know they can't do it alone. They seem to automatically reach out to one another, to ask for help or to be a source of help. It doesn't matter who's bigger, smaller, faster, more competent, etc. Children are able to easily tune into their own strengths and limitations, and to help each other or ask for help they need. This ice mountain offered a fine example of teamwork, but I've seen children help each other cross streams, climb trees, dig holes, make forts, pile get the idea. Nature experiences like this are important because they give our children opportunities to help one another, opportunities for collaboration, teamwork and cooperation.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

101 things ready for anything!

Our plan the other day was derailed by this little surprise L discovered while we were walking under some trees. A frozen squirrel! Right there on the ground!! Now, I do recognize that this sort of thing, happening upon a frozen dead animal, might make some squeamish people, well...squeam. But for those of you who can set the heebie jeebies aside, finding a dead animal can really be a treat. (yes, you read that right.)We got to take a nice, close-up look at the squirrel. The kids each held it, curious about how heavy it was and its "actual size" (in J's words). L and J wondered matter-of-factly about how it died, so we spent a long time looking around the area for clues, and how it happened to be right there in the grassy parkway by the side of the road. Some ideas the children had: it was attacked by a dog or an owl and died. (they dismissed this idea, due to no blood and the fact that the squirrel was perfectly intact) Maybe it got hit by a car and crawled to the grass before dying. Maybe it fell out of a tree. Maybe it froze to death and fell out of the tree. They expressed sadness and some concern, but their curiosity overtook their other emotions. Whatever the case, finding this dead squirrel ignited a really long conversation and a fun bit of "secret agent" work as we looked for clues around the area and speculated as to the cause of the squirrel's demise. It also afforded the children an opportunity to have a close-up look at an animal they are very familiar with, but never see at close range. And it also helped to demistify the idea of death. Since I wasn't freaked out and didn't try to hide the dead squirrel from them, they were free to approach it and look at it and ask their questions without shame, judgment, or fear. At no point did they seem afraid or even upset by the squirrel. Rather, they were fascinated and excited about the opportunity to examine it. I wanted them to feel free to make observations and ask any questions they had. What a rare opportunity it afforded us. I am grateful that we found it and humbled by their respect and tenderness toward the squirrel.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

101 things...#19 Carry a big stick!

Although a surprising number of people are uncomfortable with the idea of children carrying and playing with sticks, I encourage it. After all, the stick was a recent inductee into the toy hall of fame! Children can learn a lot by playing with sticks. They get to experiment with objects that are heavy, oddly shaped, and perhaps even longer than they are! They can poke and drag sticks, making interesting patterns in the snow, sand, or leaves. Sticks are tools with which children can manipulate their environment. The endlessly variable sizes, shapes, textures and weights of sticks mean that there will always be challenges and plenty of "stuff to do" with sticks. Sticks make great building materials, props for dramatic play, tools, and even musical instruments. Sticks offer physical challenges and give children opportunities to test their own physical abilities. Think of the sense of accomplishment brought by carrying something that is twice as long as your own body! If you're uneasy with the idea of sticks, set some simple rules to keep everyone safe. Teachers have told me that some of the rules they've used to keep stick play safe include: no sticks longer than your arm, no touching other people with the sticks,or no hitting anything with the sticks. Think about what rules might make your classroom community safe, or keep your children from annoying their siblings! Whatever your outcome, I do encourage you to stop yourself from reflexively saying "put that down!" when you see someone pick up a stick. Remember the value that natural objects like sticks can have.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

101 things to do #18...Don't try so hard!

While there is great value in trying something new, exposing children to new ways to enjoy their time outside, remember that they are really good at finding their own fun! Often, educators and parents tell me that they are somewhat stuck when it comes to finding things to do outside. (Thus, I started this blog!) Sometimes children don't need activities or plans. Just letting them mess around outside is often enough. They'll find their own fun! Some children will have an easier time with the lack of structure. Others may be a bit "lost" if you don't offer them a plan. I believe this is because children have become so used to being told what to do, how to do it, where to do it, with whom and when. Adults manage so much of their time. My hope with this blog is to provide you with enough open-ended activities and ideas that you can play around with free, relatively unstructured time outdoors and see what happens. Despite my many creative attempts to provide my children with fun new activities and ways to enjoy winter (and let's face it, in Minnesota we need variety! These winters are long!) -the best fun happens when we're outside "doing nothing"
--here is J, engaging in what he has recently decided is his "favorite outdoor winter activity" -yes, he's sliding on a patch of ice in a city parking lot. Although we had bitterly cold temperatures all week, yesterday we spent a good 20 minutes in the sun, sliding around in his shoes on a patch of ice, which was conveniently located on a slope in a parking lot, making for some pretty impressive "speed sliding" I have to say, it never would have occurred to me to try this. In fact, I hadn't even really noticed what a perfect "sliding ramp" it was, until J showed me. I love it when nature fun arises spontaneously and completely of the children's own doing.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

101 things to do...#17 be flexible

Recently J arrived at school for his much-anticipated field trip to a local nature center. It's all the kids have been talking about for a couple of weeks. They were excited for the hike, some time with kick sleds, and a special snack in the nature center. Here in Minnesota,January is typically pretty dry and cold. But recently, the temperature was up to 38 degrees in the early morning, with a cold, steady drizzle coming from the gray sky. I walked J in to school and was greeted by several smiling, excited kindergartners. The adults I bumped into, however, were less than enthusiastic. "Today's the big field trip, eh? Oh, too bad!" said one teacher to J as we walked into school. "What a bummer to have this kind of weather on the field trip day!" cried one of the parent chaperones, tightening the belt on her winter coat. "I just can't believe this weather! How awful! And on the day when we have to be outside all morning! Awww." --this from his teacher. I looked around at the children's faces. I could almost hear the excitement being sucked from the room, gone into a black hole somewhere in the ether. These children had been anticipating the trip to the nature center for weeks. I felt sad knowing that all the adults involved in the field trip were visibly disappointed and not censoring their thoughts at all in consideration of the children. People, please. You can't count on the weather being perfect. And when you complain about the weather being too hot/too cold/too global warmingish/too rainy/not sunny/ ruins the mood for everyone, especially young children. They pick up and reflect the moods of the adults around them (the adults they are learning from, I might add!) - they start to feel crummy too. Sure, we'd all like 70 degrees and sunny. But this is Minnesota. It's January. Consider the attitude you present when it comes to weather, or other circumstances outside you can't control. Whether it's weather, bugs, or any conditions outside your control, If you complain and whine, you can bet the children will too. If you demonstrate flexibility, an ability to tolerate variations in circumstances, or show that you can handle disappointment, it will go a long way toward helping the children around you learn to do the same.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

101 things to do...#16: Try something new!

...or maybe something you just haven't done in a while. for us, it was snowshoeing. In years past we've tried this, although my own children have been less than enthusiastic about the awkward feeling of snowshoes, the "different" way to walk, or the newness of the experience. Weather hasn't always been on our side, either. Last winter was unseasonably mild and we had little snow to speak of. But, I've persisted in offering the experience and figured eventually they'd warm up to the idea. A friend recently invited us to meet up at a local nature center where we could rent snowshoes for very little money. The snow was great, the sun was shining, and the kids were much more willing to try snowshoeing knowing they'd have friends at their side. They strapped on the snowshoes and bounded off across frozen wetlands, through snowy forests, and even tried some snowshoe tree-climbing (not something I'd recommend!) It was lovely. Who knows what the trick was this time? Maybe the fact that we had friends in tow, maybe the kids are just *that much older* or maybe it was something else entirely. Whatever it was, I'm glad we gave it another try. It's so easy to try something once, and then to "write it off" if it doesn't go well the first (or second, or third) time. But good things are worth waiting for, and persistence pays off. When it comes to outdoor actvities, it's worth it to give something another chance.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

101 Things to do with children outside....#15 Take a good look!

The other day we were outside enjoying a glorious snowfall-you know the kind: big fluffy white snowflakes, gently rolling through the air, tumbling down to the snowy ground. As we stood at the edge of our yard, taking it all in, L suddenly dropped to her belly on the ground. She lay there quietly for a few seconds. Then she gasped... "Mom! You've got to see this! When you look at a snowflake up close, it actually looks like a snowflake!" Her awe was contagious. I lay down and so did J, and we proceeded to see snowflakes as if we'd never seen them before. It's true, though it's so obvious it sounds silly: snowflakes really do look like snowflakes: multi-armed crystals of intricate lace. For a few quiet minutes, my children and I lay there on our bellies, looking, looking. We settled into the snow, and just enjoyed the beauty of seeing snowflakes.