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!