Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Stanley Clark School: An Inspiration to Nature Education

In December, I was privileged to tour Fannin Hall, The Early Childhood Center at the Stanley Clark School in South Bend. It is a private, Reggio inspired learning atmosphere. It was a chilly day (5 degrees) when I visited. Most schools in the area have a policy of staying inside if the temperature is below 20 degrees. While I didn't see much outdoor play, I saw plenty of nature inside with very intentional views of the outside. It's obvious the students are often outside when it's not so chilly!

Are you familiar with the Reggio Emilia approach to learning? This article gives a brief introduction. Learning is visible and student led. Community and the environment are powerful teachers and learning tools--they are part of the process, not just the setting for learning. Parents, teachers, and the child work together in the learning process. I attended a couple of sessions on the Reggio approach a few years ago at the Indiana Association for the Education of Young Children's state conference. I was struck with the natural materials, community connections, and authentic learning.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Shipshewana Ice Festival

It's always a treat to visit Shipshewana! We went last month for the tree lighting ceremony. We have a few stores we like to visit like E&S (remember to bring cash!), Rise & Roll, and what was once known as the Cheese Factory. My husband and I remarked today that we'd like to return without the kids soon and just visit the shops downtown. While we enjoy being with the kids and taking them to Shipshewana, their attention span may be shorter than how we would like to explore the city.

Head Over Heels

While visiting Shipshewana's Ice Festival this weekend, we stopped by Head Over Heels on recommendation of a friend. We went on a hike at Maple Wood Nature Center last winter break with him and he had COLD feet. We talked about my warm winter boots and he quickly made it to Head Over Heels to buy a good pair of warm winter boots and Smart Wool socks! He said they have great customer service--we agreed! He told us a couple of stories where the staff really went above and beyond to make things right for the customer or helped find exactly what the customer needed.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Underground at Kalamazoo Nature Center

After our visit to Kalamazoo Valley Museum this week, we stopped by Kalamazoo Nature Center. We've been to the Nature Center numerous times and are members, so it's nice to just go for a couple of hours. I actually thought this was a great pair of activities, with the two venues about 10 minutes apart. We made lunch and ate in the van, so we were ready to rumble once we arrived.

Here are posts from previous visits:
Kalamazoo Nature Center Natural Playground
A Fall Visit
Winter Wildflower Hike
Our First Visit

Kalamazoo had more snow and ice than we have in the Michiana area right now. It was gorgeous--I wish my pictures could capture the beauty better! 

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Kalamazoo Valley Museum

It always feels magical when it's snowing outside! A few of us were even able to catch a snowflake (more likely a snow clump!) on our tongues!

Friday, December 20, 2013

Give Cold Weather Gear

Day 16: Give Cold Weather Gear

Let's face it . . . the elements can be brutal at times! It's been nice to have slightly warmer weather recently. I cleaned out my van without a coat on today! However, I will miss the lovely snow we had, though it's supposed to get chilly again.

Today, we went to my son's preschool Christmas Concert. In the lobby of the preschool, they had this "giving tree" covered with hats, gloves, and mittens. I thought it was perfect for nature kindness, as it helps others brave the elements and enjoy (or even tolerate!) the outdoors. I've heard of local ministries going to "tent towns" giving out blankets and cold weather gear to these people.

In our own family, we haven't had great gloves for the boys with this most recent snow. They've love going out to play in it, but would be back in within five minutes for a new pair of gloves. I visited 5 different stores or so and looked online before I found some that seemed like they would work. (Menard's by the way--I didn't see much for kids at Wal-mart, Target, or Sam's Club, though the supply is dwindling) When my 7-year-old son saw his new warm gloves that would be good for the snow, he had a huge smile on his face. They are harder to get on and off, yet he did it over and over again as he knows he will be able to continue working on his snow fort once we get more snow again. If a simple thing like good gloves puts a smile on his face, think of someone who truly needs the gloves and how it can impact them. So, we can be kind to nature by helping others brave the elements. In winter, this may mean donating hats, gloves, scarves, used coats, and blankets. Cold weather gear can make it more possible for others to experience nature.

Shh! There might be more waterproof mittens in their stockings!

Monday, December 16, 2013

Remove Invasive Species

Day 15: Remove Invasive Species

As I look around at the blanket of snow right now, it's hard to think about invasive species! However, they still lurk beneath the surface of the dirt or as sleeping bushes or trees in the winter. They may even look pretty or taste good during their beauty in spring and summer; however, one way to show nature kindness is to help get rid of invasive species.

The kids and I went to a program about Invasive Species at Elkhart County Parks earlier this spring--how informative!

Here is basic information from the Indiana DNR about invasive species, including fish and animals. This site looks at plants more. Indiana Native Plants and Wildflowers will always be a good bet for information on native plants.

Personally, I think starting with garlic mustard is an easy and gratifying way to start eradicating invasive species. While prolific, it's easy to pull and identify. A lot can be cleared at one time. Plus, it's tasty! My kids always ask if they can go pull that weed they can eat.

This video shows how the burning bush transformed the landscape of upstate New York. It is striking, but not quite worth it.

This brochure talks about why various people should care about invasive plants--the hunter, the hiker, boaters, anglers, cyclers, loggers, you! It also shares what people can do.

Beyond pulling invasive plants, planning for future plants can also help combat invasive species. Looking for native plants and/or replacing less desirable invasive species could be a project to start now.

Do an act of nature kindness--get in gear to combat invasive plants now! Often, local parks will host invasive species removals. It's a fun time to work together!

Sunday, December 15, 2013


Day 14: Compost

I cringe every time I see something that could give good nutrients back to the soil as it ends up in a garbage bag. I'm not sure my husband fully understands that. :-) When we lived in Germany, we had curbside pick up of our compostable "bio" waste, aka kitchen scraps. People have used these scraps in many ways, passing it along to the animals or composting it to provide rich nutrients back in the garden.

There are many ways to compost, from having a pile in the backyard (I would say the critters living under the shed often get into this!), creating a frame where the pile can be turned from time to time, or buying one of those barrels that can be turned.

I personally am very fond of vermicomposting. In this method, the worms do most of the work! We bought a special bin, called a Worm Factory 360 , to house our worms. It is stackable, with separate bins  that keep each new "batch" together. It's pretty neat to see the progression of "waste" from the newest scraps down to what is already viable compost at the bottom. We purchased our worms at Worm Woman in Kalamazoo after trying to have them shipped twice. I've heard others just used the red wigglers from the bait shop in a plastic bin with a lid. Air holes are needed. Adding fresh scraps and shredded paper on a regular basis are basically all that is needed. It did take me a little time to figure out how to avoid fruit flies with this, but I found that a thick layer of shredded paper on top pretty much takes care of it. I also don't pay much attention to the worms, feeding them once a week or so. The Worm Factory 360 sits on our kitchen floor. It doesn't smell. My husband was worried about that before we started using it. The bin came with a helpful video to understand how to set it up.

Be kind to nature--recycle the nutrients in your kitchen scraps. :-) How do you compost? 

I found this book helpful as I started learning more about vermicomposting. I had it for several years before I received my Worm Factory 360 for Mother's Day 1 1/2 years ago, reading it regularly to understand what was needed. 
Worms Eat My Garbage: How to Set Up and Maintain a Worm Composting System, 2nd Edition

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Be Kind with Snow Fights

Day 13: Be Kind with Snow Fights

We had plenty of snow in the last couple of days. Church is even cancelled for the weekend! It's kind of nice to slow down and just spend time at home. Of course, we had to throw the boys outside to play.

As you can imagine, snowball fights ensued!

Maybe a ball was even thrown into the mix!

My plea for nature kindness today is to be kind with snow! We didn't have any tears at our house today, but I'm sure we have in the past. Many of us have felt that sting of icy crystals hitting our face. Tips for being kind during a snow fight include:

1. Avoid hitting faces, especially rubbing snow all over one's face. Not that that has ever happened to me. Never.
2. Make a fort to protect yourself. You might try hiding behind a tree or other cover. 
3. Make a stash of ammunition. Allow your opponent to do the same.
4. Watch out for the little guys and gals. Their tolerance may be quite less for having snow all over them, especially in the face.
5. Avoid ruining other's creations, unless the other person is in on it and wants to destroy it. 
6. Take a few seconds to truly marvel at the wonder of snow!
7. Be a good sport.
8. Realize accidents happen.

Remember, a snowball fight is supposed to be fun. Read the body and facial cues of the other people to know when things are going to far. Try to call it quits while everyone is happy! Have fun!

Friday, December 13, 2013

Say Thank You

Day 12: Say Thank You!

I volunteer at a local nature center. When I went in today, there was an envelope full of pictures and notes from a field trip not long ago. How sweet! While I'm sure the children were "encouraged" to write these notes by their teachers, I have recently been reminded about how a simple thank you note can make a great impact.

Nature Thank You Notes can be done for many reasons:
1. Give appreciation for a program or event you attended.
2. Say thanks for information that was shared. (I know I have a few friends that follow the blog and frequently share information they know I will be interested in--I should send a thank you note!)
3. Acknowledge the work that goes on behind the scenes in keeping our natural spaces open and available.
4. Recognize the legislation at various levels (city, county, state, country, and international) that help us have green spaces and initiatives.

My challenge to you this week is to send a thank you note! I prefer a handmade, recycled card with a handwritten note; however, sending a few digital pixels of enjoying your time in nature with a short e-mail or Facebook post can also do the trick! The key is to show gratitude for nature and the people behind nature in our area!

By the way, loved these great notes from Pinewood Elementary School in Elkhart and Heritage Intermediate School in Middlebury!

Thursday, December 12, 2013


Day 11: Recycle!

An easy way to help the environment (a.k.a. nature) is to recycle. In our house, we have an old box for paper and paperboard that can be recycled and another bin (and lots of bags nearby) to collect our glass and plastics. The bins near our house recently have changed how they sort and we basically only need 2 containers plus a separate space for corrugated cardboard.

How is recycling an act of nature kindness? Recycling keeps products out of the landfill and preserves trees. It helps us be aware of our waste.

In South Bend and St. Joseph County, all residents get curbside recycling. That makes it even easier! We usually wait until we have overflowing bins and then take it to a recycling spot next to a nearby grocery store. In Elkhart County, here are a few options, though many of the local trash pick up companies will also pick it up for a fee.

There are also plenty of other ways to keep waste out of the landfill, such as having less waste, using disposable diapers, upcycling, and repurposing.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society

Day 10: Join INPAWS

Have you heard of INPAWS?

Indiana Native Plant and Wildflower Society INPAWS has a great mission statement as they seek to appreciate, preserve, conserve, utilize and study native plants to Indiana, as well as educate the public about indigenous plants.

I have been very impressed with this group and what they do! I joined their Facebook group early this year. Through interaction on this board, I have learned about plants seasonally that are native our area. I have seen amazing photography and asked questions. I have shared resources I found as well. I have access to good information about why native plants are the way to go. 

INPAWS also has regional chapters that get together on a regular basis. In the northern region, they went on several hikes this past year.

At the state level, INPAWS also has a small grants program and awards for special projects.  

I would suggest if you want to learn more about native plants and encourage the use of native plants in your area that a membership to INPAWS is a great way of paying it forward. Be kind to native plants!


Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Indiana Master Naturalists

Day 9: Indiana Master Naturalists

I have loved being involved with Indiana Master Naturalists! I started with a class last fall, meeting with others once a week for about 3 hours to learn about the natural resources in our area. We met with professionals all over Elkhart County. As part of the class, I received numerous resource books on nature pertinent to our area. The value of the books easily absorbed the cost of the class. People who help with the class area also volunteers, mainly being run by SWCD and Elkhart County Parks. We finished the class with an open note and open book quiz to test our knowledge and effectiveness of the classes. After the course, we are expected to do as many hours of volunteer work as we had in class or 30 hours to maintain an active status. It's a great way to learn and serve and help connect others to nature! I see IMN volunteers at various nature activities. I know they make an impact.

There have also been groups in St. Joseph County in 2012 and at Gene Stratton-Porter's State Historic Site in 2013. Updated schedules can be found at the state Indiana Master Naturalist page.

After the class, I've enjoyed volunteering at various nature-related activities in the area and meeting with other IMN graduates on a quarterly basis. It's fun to touch base, share stories and find others with similar interests. Often, there is a guest speaker, there are often snacks, and we spend a little time socializing as well.

I've written about Indiana Master Naturalists before today. I also really enjoyed the IMN state gathering near Prophetstown State Park this fall. In 2014, it will be held in Elkhart County--nice and close to home!

IMN Potluck

Guest Post by Monica Yoder about Indiana Master Naturalists

IMN Fall Potlucks 2012

Monday, December 9, 2013

Nature Inspired Holiday Decorations

On Saturday, I checked out Linton's Enchanted Gardens class called Nature Inspired Christmas. I heard  NATURE, checked the calendar (and added it Inside Outside Michiana's calendar of Natural Events), and signed up! They have a whole line up of free seminars. Here is the schedule for the first several months of 2014. On December 14th, 2013, they'll talk about ways to attract birds to your yard. It sounds like many people come every week, traveling a bit of a distance to attend.

Anne and Katie, designers, showed how to use nature as a focal element in home decor for the holidays. To be honest, they started with just a few elements--some garland and stockings--and I thought it looked great! However, as they layered more elements I can see why they are the designers! The principles can be used by anyone. They added vases of birch branches cut in small sections, small plants, and an owl carving. 

They had a cart of "magic" to show how they might transform a space. It was fun to smell the rosemary bush that was added to the natural spaces. My sister used one of these for their Christmas tree last year since they wouldn't be home for the holiday.

With a very simple base of tiered tables, burlap, and a pot, the designers added plants with a bow, a bird cage with bow and greenery, and then gradually added more to the mix. 

On the other side, they started with the same principle, adding lanterns, a basket of white tipped pinecones, and some small artificial pine plants.

More elements were added, like an ivy wreath, a glass container with gold pinecones, tree branch "picks", and small fake birds.

As they finished up their mantel, they brought the crowning piece, an old repurposed Schwinn bike, ridden by one of the owners in years gone past, decorated for the holidays. 

While they had a large selection of artificial elements, they also had prewired fresh green garlands for only 89 cents a foot. On this other table, they added a Santa, personalized with a plaque, pinecones, plants, and more lanterns. 

The mantle turned out nice, too!

I loved the owl carving and natural elements here!

The details really come together for these arrangements. 

I liked a few things about this Nature Inspired Christmas workshop. First, they showed us great finished products, but also showed us HOW they went through the process. A few elements emerged, such as the law of triangles, having staggered heights, layering of items, and a variety of textures. Everyday items can be repurposed for holiday decor easily. And many things can be brought inside to make a more nature focused Christmas. I also liked that they offered options. They have many beautiful items for sale, which is great, but they also talked about mixing in what we already have, using less expensive options, and finding things outside that may work well in our decorations. It was also good to bounce ideas off of other people. The designers said to feel free to bring something in and they will help you find the right decor fit! My take aways--I want more burlap! I loved the look of the little birch branches cut up in lengths. This would work nicely with other wood, too. I loved the layering. I can pull out some of my glass vases, lanterns, and other items to make a little natural focal point in our home. Many of the same principles can be used for other holiday times, just changing the theme and focus. 

After the presentation, I walked around the store. It is beautifully decorated for the holidays, with just about everything for sale! I loved the vines, greenery, and texture throughout the store. 

While this is artificial, it has that glint of an icy winter! I liked this tiered stand with lots of visual interest!

Small, clear boxes provide endless opportunities for filling! These succulents are gorgeous. I also liked the many bird feeding options. I've "meant" to make these shaped bird seed ornaments, but haven't gotten around to it. These would be quick to pick up for a thoughtful gift. 

There are many bird feeding options!

These little owls, lights, and grapevines were gorgeous. I loved that the owls were half price, too! There were several items on sale throughout the store, making it more affordable to make purchases.  

This tree was bird themed. They also have cardinal dishes! Perfect for the bird lover. 

The fish pond and waterfall were also decked out for the holidays. 

The designers mentioned the bathrooms were also decked out, so I had to take a peek! It did not disappoint!

Linton's Enchanted Garden is a fun place to wander around and find inspiration!

Santa was even in the house! They regularly have special events and specials. We've been to the Easter activities before, visiting the petting zoo, marveling over the chicks and bunnies, and finding lots of eggs! The classes are held in this greenhouse area. I was plenty toasty. 

The outside is also decorated. I thought this was simple with the vines still up, adding more texture to the decorations. 

Thanks for an inspirational natural Christmas workshop, Linton's Enchanted Gardens