Thursday, September 25, 2014

Sensational Senses!

This last week at our nature preschool group at Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart, we explored our senses to start off our fall series of weekly programs. We wanted this as a foundation piece to explore the other topics as we learn so much through our senses. A friend and I volunteer to pull these learning and exploration experiences together. It takes a lot of time, planning, and research; however, it's great to see the impact it makes on the children. My son went through the program the last 2 years. He is now in kindergarten and often asks when he can share the insect he caught with his Nature Preschool friends or if he can be a helper if he doesn't have school on the same day as Nature Preschool. He misses. I need to find/create something to help bridge that gap for 5-year-olds. Soon! :-) I'm thinking a family nature club will be just right! We started by decorating our nature journals with nature themed stamps, pictures from magazines, crayons, etc. We will record our observations in these each week and the children can then bring them home at the end of our time together.

We also had a basket out for each of the senses for free exploration. There were fresh herbs from the garden for smell; bones, furs, rawhide, and more for touch; magnifying glasses, binoculars, and more for sight; boxes of raisins for taste; and a rain stick for sound. These were just perfect to start our exploration!

Monday, September 22, 2014

Early Learning Center Natural Playground Open House

This last weekend we checked out the Early Learning Center's Natural Playground. It is based at Granger Community Church. I must say, my 5-year-old was a little hesitant in going; however, as we left, I was encouraged by my efforts to attend. Look at what he said at the end!

Fall fun day decorations were out to welcome us! There were also plenty of refreshments as well. It was nice to take a break and have a treat. 

We have been to this natural play area a few times and expect we'll go more often with increased shopping options in the area. We love it! See our adventures here.  It makes me happy to just be there. There are a couple of sculptures, such as this one with many names of Jesus and another with various animals.


There are places to climb and appropriate challenges throughout the play area. I have brought all my children here and the older boys (then 9 and 7) enjoyed it too.

The natural materials lend themselves to watch the natural cycle of regeneration. We found fungi to explore in various parts of the area.

There is also a garden area with many things to explore. We had to check out the strawberry patch and, sure enough, there were some getting ripe each day. My 5-year-old was so gentle with them as he investigated, without harming, the berries. 


There are several places to sit and gather, such as this small amphitheater and the bench to the right. Benches are scattered throughout the area. 

There was a big difference between how the 5 and 2-year-olds interacted in the space. The older son was pretty independent, feeling like he was in his element. The younger son didn't quite have the balance and confidence of negotiating the same nature risks. While he will still strike out on his own, he needed a little help going up and down things sometimes. 

The sand pit was a GREAT hit! There are storage areas nearby for all the toys and the space is covered up when not in use, keeping it clean. The boys would have stayed here all day. Toward the end of the event, we started picking up our toys and nearby families followed our lead. All the toys were picked up in just a few minutes. Many hands make light work!

There is a water feature surrounded by flowers as well. Running water is always fun and the flowers are a great backdrop for watching pollination, exploring colors, and investigating plants. 

One of my favorite areas is the dry creek bed that goes down the hill. There are several levels of challenges to cross to the other side. Bikes are stored for the preschool in the building at the top of the rocks. They are also working on a new pavilion that can house tables, additional storage, bathrooms, and the like. 


While I absolutely love this play area just on it's own, the learning center also had special activities for the fall fun. Various animals were available to pet and examine closely. Children could bob or dip for apples. I liked that there were spoon or tong options in case we didn't want faces in the water.

Children could also explore corn in the sensory bins. Scooping, pouring, and sifting are perfect for small hands. To be honest, my older kids would like it too! I loved the pumpkin construction site, with hammers and golf tees available for pounding in the pumpkins! We will borrow this idea for an activity soon! There was also face painting, but my sons haven't been too keen on that yet. 

We also went on a wagon ride. We went all over the Granger Community Church's campus, passing through the bird sanctuary, viewing the pond and ducks, and checking out the disc golf on the back of the property. It's a beautiful campus!


We had a delightful afternoon, spending about 2 hours there, happily exploring the whole time. We probably could have stayed for longer as well. I appreciate this is open to the public and am very impressed with the leadership, teachers, and curriculum of the learning center itself. If you are looking for a preschool, this is an excellent, nature-based choice in the area. See pictures from a visit I had here.

Remember my reluctant kindergarten child? After spending time outside here, he asked to go to the nature center in Elkhart and if he could visit "nature preschool" again, going so far as to ask to "help" on days when he doesn't have school. Spending some time exposed to a great natural space encouraged him to spend even more time outside! I love it! The goals for the Natural Playground follow:

  • Cultivate faith through connections with nature
  • Renew families through shared time together
  • Expand learning through intentional outdoor environments

These were all met (and then some!) through our time there! Thanks GCC and the Early Learning Center!

Sunday, September 14, 2014

10 Ideas for Fall Flower Hunts

Fall is a fun time to go on flower hunts. While we typically think of mums, there are many others flowers to explore. A flower hunt can be a simple activity exploring the blooms of the season or become a more complex flower study. Here are a few ideas to get going:

  1.   Paint swatch color walk: We lfind seasonal colors of paint swatches at a paint store. We bring them in nature to help us explore the colors of the season. My younger boys may look for brown, orange, and yellow, while my older boys find tanglewood, pumpkin patch, and egg yolk.
  2. Visit a nearby botanical garden. We recently embraced the different etiquette that is required at botanical and really enjoy our visits. We have a calendar garden that is close, with dates around the circle. This is quite the visual of our changing seasons. What flowers are in bloom?
  3. Make a scavenger hunt of native flowers in your area that shine in the fall. In our area, asters, goldenrod, ironweed, jewelweed, obedient plant, and boneset are good options. Bring a field guide to help identify some of the plants with flowers on the walk. I love how the jewelweeds “pop” when we touch them. Watch for a printable fall flower scavenger hunt on the blog in mid-September!
  4.   Revisit flowers that you looked at in the spring or summer. What do they look like in the fall? We love checking out milkweed and helping with seed dispersal! I don’t think that ever gets old! The picture on the right is of buttonbush. 
  6.  If you have a backyard or other area where you can collect flowers, take a walk and collect samples of various flowers you find in the area. Bring them home and categorize by color, shape, etc. Try dissecting a few of the flowers, too, or make a nature bouquet.  
  7. Bring one of Handbook of Nature Study’s journaling pages and a clipboard to record a few fall species while you are out on the trail.
  8.   Learn about a few wild edibles that may be in bloom or fruiting to find on your hike. Try a new recipe with the plant when you return home.
  9. Make an interactive art journey with the flowers you visit in the fall. Try using packing tape (sticky side out) as a bracelet to collect flower treasures as you walk or try natural weaving in a homemade loom while on your hike.  
  10. Visit your local garden shop! I find they have beautiful displays that are great for photo ops and have good seasonal items.
  11. Find a fall plant exchange through local garden clubs, libraries, environmental centers, and county park systems. This is a great way to hunt for flowers and add new ones to our yards!

The crisp air of fall is a great time to explore flowers.  What a great time to study parts of a plant, colors, textures, and the beauty of fall! 

This was originally published in the September 2014 Handbook of Nature Study Newsletter. Each month has great new challenges and nature study adventures. I look forward to the monthly inspiration!

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mushrooms, Anyone?

This weekend, I stopped by Better World Books in Goshen for an author talk by Stephen Russell, who wrote The Essential Guide to Cultivating Mushrooms. My sister and brother-in-law had done some cultivation in the past and were interested in what the author had to say. I decided to tag along and learn what I could learn. I have been following the Hoosier Mushroom Society online for some time, so was familiar with what they are doing. I had found an article about the event online from Flavor 574, which piqued my interest in learning more.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Taking a Stab at Throwing an Atlatl!

We love finding nature in unexpected places, so will watch for art shows, plays, and other activities at historical museums as well. When I saw an atlatl class at the Elkhart County Historical Museum, I knew we wanted to go as we've enjoyed programs and trips there in the past. There is plenty of nature nearby!