Sunday, January 25, 2015

Mom, I Don't Like Nature Anymore: 5 Tips to Stay Connected

Here he is. My self-proclaimed "nature boy"! I started doing a regular nature preschool with him when he was three. He has been my side kick as we explore the natural treasures in our area. He has spent an inordinate amount of time in our local nature center as I attend meetings, give presentations, etc. He brings me interesting items, asks questions, and tells me how things happen in the natural world. He plays in the rain, snow, lake, and grass. He builds things and creates things in nature. 

You can imagine how my heart broke just a little when he loudly proclaimed, "Mom, I don't like nature anymore!" Of course, he does have other interests, like drawing over most of our furniture (still working on that!--new discoveries weekly), reading, counting, and even Minecraft with his older brothers. But did he really mean he doesn't like nature? 

As I thought more about what that really meant, "Mom, I don't like nature anymore", I realized he was really saying, "Mom, I miss spending time outside with you." He started kindergarten this year and we don't have that dedicated nature preschool time. He is developing new interests that open his world a little more, such as reading. We've also had some really cold negative temperature days where we didn't get out as much. Add to that sickness over the holidays and then continued sickness for a few of the boys recently, we really haven't gotten out as much as we might normally. 

Monday, January 19, 2015

Nature Play! Animals in Winter

I love seeing my kids volunteer early in their lives on a "snow day"! My son grabbed a shovel and started clearing a path with me in the frigid temps! We went in to Nature Play! Animals in Winter at Woodlawn Nature Center earlier in the month. Due to the cold temps, we opted to stay inside, though would have loved to watch for tracks, deer rubbings on the trees, dreys (squirrel nests), birds, and other evidence of animals in the winter. Inside, we had lots of fun! We brought a tub of snow inside and had plenty of animals to make tracks in the snow. A bowl, water dropper and scoop were fun additions. While my youngest is in the picture, I will say that all the boys (ages 5, 8, and 10) played in the snow with the animals.

We also had some play dough to use with the animals as well. We created a winter scene little by little, adding in wooden and foam trees, snowflake pasta, and more. Cookie cutters allowed us to cut various shapes.

Oatmeal Sensory Play

My mom recently mentioned some of the activities my grandfather is doing at a rehabilitation facility after a hip replacement. Not only are they working on his hip, they are also working on his sight, sensory perception, and eating skills as a bonus. She mentioned that one activity includes mixing small items in with dried beans and then finding the items in the mix. It helps with sight, touch, and visual and tactile discrimination. I immediately thought of the sensory activities we do with young children! We do a similar activity around Halloween, mixing in Mr. Potato Head parts with beans inside of a hollowed out pumpkin (fake--I use it year after year). The children can then decorate the Pumpkin Head. They are working on those same skills, such as visual and tactile discrimination as they search through the beans to find the Mr. Potato Head parts. 

In this sensory drawer (half off at the ReStore of Elkhart County, costing $1.50 for a nice little tray) leftover from our apple studies at Nurturing Acorns, we had the fixings for apple crisp, with oatmeal, cinnamon sticks, and red, green, and clear beads and baubles. These could simulate apples, leaves, water, etc. There was even a misplaced frog, army man, and golf tee! In the past, I've also included small bits of sand paper to draw on with the cinnamon sticks. It smells great! 

As my son was playing with this I pulled out several small stainless steel little cups (Sam's Club--about $5 for 12?). These became tools for categorizing his finds, scoops for the materials, and hiding places for the frog. Small additions like this make a huge difference in how the materials might be used. I once found a bag of plastic scoops from drink containers and such for 50 cents at a garage sale--what a find! And, yes, we use them! Toddlers and preschoolers are naturally drawn to scooping, pouring, and categorizing. This "play" is learning time, building connections, and strengthening cognitive bonds. 

We left the bin accessible on the table for a few days. While it was designed for our two-year-old and his friends, I will say that I saw all the boys, ages 5, 8, and 10, scooping their hands in the mixture over the days. I wonder if we need more "sensory work" as adults. I really wanted to say sensory play as adults, but wondered if we really embrace the concept of play as adults. I'll keep thinking on it! Let me know if you have ideas! 

While we did this inside, I still consider this nature play. It uses mostly natural items, allows for inquiry and exploration, and is open-ended. I call these "invitations" or just sensory play. While some basic materials are curated for play, the child is allowed to do with it what he/she pleases. Some may see these as a "substitute" for time outside, I just see it as an addition to the great nature play we have outside. It's another trick to have up our sleeve to keep toddlers off the television. :-)

When done, I just poured the items in a plastic ziploc to use for the future, reserving our little bowls for rotation back in our dishes. After all the little boy hands in the oatmeal, it wasn't something I wanted to cook with again. However, I'm sure we'll bring this out again with different items throughout the year for more sensory play.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Snow! Bring It Inside!

It's been super chilly (negative temps!) and takes a bit more to stay warm outside. We started bringing the snow INSIDE for play. It started with my youngest playing with animals in the sink with a little water. Almost like he had his own little pond. I like the little glass pebbles as another "loose part" option. Some sticks would be great as well!

A little later, I got him a bowl of snow from outside. It was nice to put it in the sink and not worry about all the water everywhere. The animals liked the snow! I think my guy tried to see how many he could fit in the bowl, which is typical 2-year-old behavior, dumping and pouring it all out. We added an eye dropper to the mix as well.

As I watch him play, I see categorizing, sorting, estimating (will this fit in there), fine motor skills, animal recognition, inquiry building, cause/effect, and more! 

Eventually the snow melted with the addition of the water and from being inside. That's when the bowl became a mountain! 

I tell you, this has been a favorite activity ALL week long! I also shared what we were doing on social media and friends shared they were doing it as well. It's great to see good ideas spread and how we can be an example for nature play. We brought this idea into a local nature center this morning with all our kids (no school due to the weather) and all the boys (ages 10-2) were playing in our big tub of snow with our beaker, dropper, animals, and little pebbles. They had their own unique options, such as making snowballs, turning the snow into an ice chunk, hypothesizing about how long the snow would take to melt, and more. A simple play option can turn into great science inquiry and exploration. Love following their lead!

My tip: 
With the extremely cold weather sometimes, it may be difficult to spend much time outside in the snow. Try bringing the snow inside for nature play time! Use a bowl in the sink or a plastic tub on the table. Give the child spoons, droppers, salt, food coloring, plastic animals, etc. to explore.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

First Day Hike at Potato Creek State Park

A few years ago, we started the tradition of going on a First Day hike, starting at Pokagon State Park, going to a nature preserve near our house, and then going to Potato Creek State Park for 2015. It's a great way to commit to getting outside as the new year begins. While waiting for the hike to start, we explored the small nature center for a bit, looking at tracks and guessing what all the items were in the touch box.

We also took a quiz about woodpeckers, trying to match the names and descriptions with the pictures of the birds. There were a few boards set up like this where the information could be changed. We've been here a few times before. I appreciate that they change the various displays to have fresh content. 

When it was time for the hike, we gathered outside with winter nature hike BINGO cards in tow. The cardboard and paperclip helped hold the papers in place while writing. I met Robert, our guide, at Certified Interpretive Guide training earlier this year. He had us stop to talk about various items as we moved along the trail. There were about 70 people for the hike, which is great!

Down by the lake, we could hear the broken ice near the shore clinking together making music. My mom just posted a video of the ice making noise like this in her backyard as well, so it was neat to hear it for ourselves. We were told about the history, did a little winter tree ID, and found tracks nearby. At each stop, the boys looked around, trying to find the various items on our quest. Our five-year-old was working on his literacy skills as he worked at reading the words. They all had their observation powers on full blast. 


Along the hike we were introduced to various behaviors of animals in winter, such as the beaver who likes hanging out in his lodge or modified bank burrow. 

We learned about sassafras and sycamore trees. We even were able to smell the distinct sassafras smell on the twigs.

Along the hike, I met Chuck Golubski. I heard the name Chuck and had seen many pictures shared by Potato Creek. He had a camera with a  big lens, so I figured it might be the same guy. It was neat because he could share where he sees the eagles hanging out. When hiking, talk to the people around you. They'll often share what they like, what they've observed, etc. Chuck takes great pictures. Find his Birding Photography page here or his regular Photography page on Facebook here

I met a couple of other families that were out hiking as well. One family was staying in the cabins there. That sounds like it would be fun sometime! Another family home schools and looked like an outdoor family. I enjoyed learning about where they like to find nature in the area as well. They even took a second hike after this First Hike. Way to go outdoor family! 

We found several nuts along the way. My son was especially enthralled by this black walnut. 

Another young boy had quite the stick collection going on. :-) We also found poison ivy along the trail in various places. Watch for the hairs. The naturalist reiterated that we can have a reaction from the vines as well. 

One tree even had rectangular woodpecker holes throughout the tree. Pretty cool! Back at the nature center, we had hot chocolate and cute tree cookies. Robert's mom made them to share with us and even took the time to serve all of us. How sweet! She said they often went to the park as her kids were growing up. It's neat Robert can work there now. 

After the hike, we checked out the beaver and our wingspans. 

There is also a puppet theater, reading nook, and a place to explore seasonal objects. I like how they had a tray for various items with information printed about them. Here my son is exploring and irridescent turkey tail feather.

We checked out the osprey. There are several nests in the park. The migratory birds often return to the same spot each year. We noticed a large nest in a tree as we drove in and Robert told us that it was an osprey nest as well. There are various platforms around the park for nests too. We spent a fair amount of time looking out the wildlife viewing window, too. It's nice that there is a lake in the background. We have known this one as the cardinal window, as there are often lots of cardinals here. We saw up to 8 at one time today, though there were also chickadees, nuthatches, tufted titmouse, bluejays, and more. 

Outside, we stole the spot the "outdoors" family used for taking pictures earlier. The mom said they use it often! 

The park is also really nice as well. It leaves plenty of room for imaginative play! 

I'm glad it was nice enough to play outside for a while! We like having a playground available for after the hike. Combining nature and recreation work well in our family!

I took a couple of the kids that were getting cold back in the nature center. After watching the birds a little longer, the naturalist took the snake out so we were able to touch it and check it out closely. Robert helped us make observations about the snake's behavior we might not have noticed otherwise. 

As we left, I noticed all the farm tools outside. The park does a good job telling its story as it changed from farmland to a state park! Thanks for another great First Day Hike! We look forward to many more hikes this year!

Top Fourteen from 2014

2014 was a great year to get outside or spend time inside learning about our natural world! Our popular posts from 2014 include the following:

1. Inside Outside Michiana Summer Guide--This compilation of places to go and visit during the summer in Michiana is a must see for ideas and inspiration for getting outside in our local area. Check out our Winter Guide as well!

2. Nature Play: 11 Ways to Play Leaves!--Fall is a fun time to explore leaves! In this post, I compiled various ways we enjoy playing with leaves! It's fun to look over the seasons through blog posts!
3. Finding Nature at the Elkhart County Fair--The Fair is a staple in Elkhart County. Nature is everywhere! Read how we found nature at the Elkhart County Fair in this blog post.
4. Defries Garden--In this summer visit to Defries Garden, the boys and I just explored the many things to offer at the site. It's a great place to visit any time of the year!
5. Curious Kids Museum--About an hours drive from our house, this is a fun, hands-on place to visit. We went in the winter, though I'm sure it's fun any time!
6. Early Learning Center Natural Playground Open House--I love this natural playground at Granger Community Church. It's open to the public on weekends and after 5:30 pm. It's one of my happy places!

7. Going a Little Stir Crazy: Ideas for Inside Nature Study--We had a brutal winter in 2014! After many days of -35 degree weather with the wind chill factor, we found many ways to study nature inside.
8.  Natural Playscapes--This round up of natural play spaces in the Michiana (and beyond) area inspires our family to get outside. Find a kid and help them explore the outdoors through these kid friendly natural play areas.
9. Junior Ranger Program at Shenandoah National Park--We took a family vacation to Shenandoah, Virginia, this year. The Junior Ranger programs are a fun way to connect with nature while at a national park. Our state parks have similar programs for children, adults, and families.
10. Certified Interpretive Guide Training--I went to training at McCormick Creek State Park on how to be a CIG, adding more natural skills to my education background. It was fun to be around all the great naturalists from our state parks! I was able to help in a bird banding and let this bird go!
11. Twig Sculpting at Fernwood Botanical Gardens and Nature Preserve--Fernwood is a great place anytime! To work should to shoulder with a renowned twig sculptor was wonderful! The sculpture will still be up for about another year and a half. Visit it any time of the year!

12. A Spring Walk at Wellfield Botanic Gardens--We enjoy Wellfield at anytime of the year. Spring is especially beautiful!
13. Fairies at Nature Preschool--I've been involved at this nature preschool program at Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart for about 3 years. This post about fairies was popular in 2014.
14. Curious Kids Discovery Zone--Curious Kids has a Discovery Zone. With water play and rock climbing, the kids had a blast! Looking at returning soon!