Tuesday, December 29, 2015

First Day Hikes

From a First Day Hike in 2014
The New Year is often about starting things fresh, making commitments, and working on goals. Our family has started out New Year intentionally the last 3 years by taking a First Day Hike on January 1st at a local natural area. It shows our commitment to getting outside this year in different temperatures and sets the mood for a year of getting outside.

In Indiana, many of the area state parks host first day hikes. We can get to about 4 different state parks in just under or over an hour. We’ve been to several places in the past. On a particularly stormy First Day, we chose to go to a nature preserve near our house. While we missed the comradery, group experience, and guided hike with additional learning opportunities, we still were able to have good family time and renewed our commitment to getting outside that year.

Here are past First Year Hikes we have taken:

2016—Lots of options!  

10:00am Indiana Dunes—Three Dunes Challenge! 1 ½ mile hike ending with a fire and snacks. Meet at the Nature Center.

1:00pm Pokagon—Hike to Lake Lonidaw and back. Less than a mile. Enjoy marshmallows and a campfire near the toboggan run after the hike from 2-3pm. Meet at the Pokagon Inn Lonidaw Lounge.

2:00pm Chain O’Lakes—Take an old fashioned walk to school by walking 4 miles. Expect a 2 hour hike. Meet at the Stanley One Room House. Coffee and hot cocoa are available.

7:00pm Potato Creek—Start your 2016 Bird List by taking an owl walk! The 1 mile hike will take about an hour. Meet at the Nature Center auditorium.

We found the State Park options a great way to visit a nature center, meet others, and enjoy natural areas we visit once in a while. There have also always been snacks, which motivates my kids! There is a $7 entry fee per car for Indiana residents.  If a State Park is not up your alley this year, we have great local options in Elkhart County and nearby areas. Check out my winter or summer guide for places we enjoy visiting in the area.

While we have had unseasonably warm weather so far this winter, expect a dip in temperatures for the New Year. We use layers, warm boots, gloves, hats, etc. Sometimes, we even bring hand warmers.

As we enter 2016, I encourage readers to think about getting outside in the New Year. Perhaps, a First Day Hike fits in your plans. Perhaps, you have another outdoor option in mind. Let us know in the comments how you plan to commit to getting outside in 2016!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Gifts of Nature: 10 Holiday Nature Gift Ideas

Volunteer Dennis Badke, from FoxWood Raptor and Wildlife Rehabilitation presents a Great Horned Owl at Woodlawn Nature Center. It's costly to provide for animals and keep a nature center running. Donations are always appreciated. Thank you! 

It’s easy to get caught up in a buying frenzy during the holiday season; however, the holidays can intentionally be a good time to connect with nature, togetherness, and goodwill. Nature experiences can be a perfect gift that will continue to build memories long after the presents are unwrapped. Here are a variety of nature related gift ideas we enjoy:

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Backyard Woodpeckers

Winter is a great time to explore birds as the white landscape and bare trees allow us to easily see movement and color. One bird I especially like to watch is the woodpecker. April Pulley-Sayre, a local nature author, recently came out with a delightful book for children focusing on woodpeckers we find in our area and their behaviors. With detailed and realistic cut paper woodpeckers, WoodpeckerWham! is a treat for children and adults. Here are a few woodpeckers we have in our area and how they act during winter. They typically stay in the same range during the winter, changing their eating habits to find nutritious and easily available foods.

File:Downy Woodpecker01.jpg
Male downy woodpecker--note the shorter bill and red patch Source

Sunday, November 29, 2015

A Natural Holiday Roundup

Updated for 2017 Dates!

We really enjoy the holidays and there are many fun things to do in our area both inside and out. Find our experiences and tips in the first link and links to the organization in the second link with each listing.

  • We always enjoyed Holiday at the Mill. Check it out on Nov. 11.  It's usually in the early part of November. We also like the Shipshewana tree lighting ceremony. 
  • The Where's Santa? activity by Michiana Pay It Forward and Wellfield Botanic Gardens were great last year. Check it out this year on December 1st.
  • We enjoyed Bethlehem Live at Crossroads Community Church. It took a long time waiting to go outside (entertainment provided), but was still enjoyable. It is Dec. 1-3 this year. 
  • Check out Gene Stratton Porter's A Dream of Beauty. We have enjoyed other events and visits there. It is Dec. 3rd this year.  
  • We've always really enjoyed Bremen Holy Walk, though understanding how it works is very helpful. The dates are December 1st and 2nd this year. 
  • Decorate the house (inside and out!) with natural elements. Here is information from Linton's on how to do that! See their schedule of classes here
  • Pick up a a fresh tree at Eby Pines! Check out a related article I wrote in inMiddlebury magazine last year. 
  • Make natural holiday ornaments. See what we did at Pokagon State Park here
  • Try making ice sculptures for the birds. Here is our experience!
  • We really enjoyed our Christmas Holiday Scavenger Hunt! See the details here
  • Read a few nature inspired holiday books. Here are a few options
  • Give the gift of nature! Try giving memberships, coupons for experiences, classes, lessons, loose parts, outdoor gear, nature books, and more for the holidays. Find a few ways to give "naturally" on my Days of Nature Kindness post. Watch for gift suggestions and ideas, too. Here are ideas for learning about birds and animals

After the holidays, there are many options as well. You might consider the following:

Also, be sure to check out our Michiana Winter Guide, which gives many options over the winter months. It lists many places, both inside and out, to enjoy winter. Try a wildlife viewing window, nature center, sledding, toboggan slide, snowshoeing, etc. There are also many options within an hour or so to visit inside.

What do you enjoy doing to celebrate the holidays naturally?

Monday, November 2, 2015

Under the Snow: A Book Review

I am always on the lookout for good books about animals in winter, as it's a favorite topic to teach about! I found Under the Snow at our local library in Bristol. Please don't check it out in December-February, because I think I will need it! :-)

I've read several other books on the topic that have potential; however, they often fall short. This book delivered in important elements for me!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

What Do Roots Do?

The book, What Do Roots Do?, grabbed my attention as one of the books on display at Bristol Public Library. I love using the library to preview books to see if I like them.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Monsters in the Garden at Wellfield Botanic Gardens

We had a wonderful fall walk and trick or treating at Wellfield's Monster in the Garden program. They had the place decked out for the season!

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Helping the Monarch Butterfly

I have been checking milkweed plants for monarch caterpillars since mid-July to no avail, until I happened to look at the one surviving plant I'd transplanted at Woodlawn Nature Center  while doing some work out there. We found three caterpillars! Two were very tiny. My husband brought them home on the milkweed and put the top of the plant in water. They munched, munched, and munched. We transferred them to a critter cage to contain them better, but couldn't find one. I assumed we had left one behind. We brought them home so we had plenty of access to milkweed and could feed it every day. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

Loose Parts Play Quotes

Here is a collection of loose parts play and PLAY quotes I collected recently. Which resonate with you? 

“In any environment, both the degree of inventiveness and creativity, and the possibility of discovery, are directly proportional to the number and kinds of variables in it.”    
Simon Nicholson
“Children learn most readily and easily in a laboratory-type environment where they can experiment, enjoy and find out things for themselves.” 
Simon Nicholson

“A ‘loose-parts’ toy, as Nicholson defined it, is open-ended; children may use it in many ways and combine it with other loose-parts through imagination and creativity . . . Nature, which excites all the senses, remains the richest source of loose parts.” 
Richard Louv

“Nature is imperfectly perfect, filled with loose parts and possibilities, with mud and dust, nettles and sky, transcendent hands-on moments and skinned knees.” Richard Louv
“The natural connections children make to formal learning through the use of open ended and naturalistic resources should be a motivation to all adults to ensure that these are freely available to young children both indoors and outdoors.”
Eric Erickson
“Play is the highest form of research.”
Albert Einstein

“Play is our favorite way of learning.”
Dianne Ackerman

“Almost all creativity involves purposeful play.”
Abraham Maslow

“Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning.”
Fred Rogers

“A child loves his play, not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard.”
Benjamin Spock

“The playing adult steps sideward into another reality; the play child advances forward to new stages of mastery."
Erik H. Erikson

“Children learn as they play. Most importantly, in play children learn how to learn.”
O. Fred Donaldson

As astronauts and space travelers children puzzle over the future; as dinosaurs and princesses they unearth the past. As weather reporters and restaurant workers they make sense of reality; as monsters and gremlins they make sense of the unreal.

Gretchen Owocki

Which are your favorite loose parts and play quotes? I'm getting ready for a presentation and would love your feedback! Do you have other favorite PLAY or LOOSE PARTS PLAY!

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Approaching Fall Guide--Lists of 5!

The Michiana Summer Guide was popular, so I thought I'd put together a few items for fall that may be of interest. I encourage you to also check out the Natural Calendar of Events that I host on Inside Outside Michiana, as there are many neat nature activities in the area.

A few things we like doing as fall approaches . . .


1. The Pow Wow up in Dowagiac is super cool! We love the bright colors, ceremonial dances, and fry bread.

2. Heritage Day at Bonneyville Mill is always a tradition for us! See information on the September 12, 2015 celebration here.

3. Check out Owl-o-Ween at Gene Stratton Porter's house. We had lots of fun! If you don't want to make the drive, Woodlawn Nature Center will have a Creatures of the Night Festival on October 10, 2015. Also, check out El Bosque Encantado through Merry Lea.

4. Go back in time! We really enjoyed Stone Trace in early September. The prices were inexpensive and there was plenty to see and do. Take a walk in the past  Gathering at Five Medals is October 17 and 18, 2015. It's always been great as well.

5. Holiday at the Mill is a fun time to get ready for the holiday spirit! It's usually early in November.

Holiday Activities: 
Halloween Nature Fun is a great way to look at the natural side of the holiday. Hosted at Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart. Check for other seasonal activities.

Halloween Hayrides at Oxbow--I don't have a blog post about this, but we've gone several years, even before we lived up here! Be sure to get your tickets early in the day as they will sell out. There are corny jokes on the hay ride, yummy treats, and decorations as you walk through the trails.

Check out natural holiday decorating ideas from Linton's. This was a fun class! Woodlawn Nature Center is hosting a class in early October.

Fall Activities:
1. Go apple picking at Kercher's or another orchard. See our 10 Reasons to Go Apple Picking.

2. Visit a fall activity area. We have enjoyed Knollbrook Farm and Pumpkin Patch for several years.

3. Go to a nature center! Visit Kalamazoo Nature CenterFernwood in Niles, or Woodlawn Nature Center in Elkhart. All are great places to see as the seasons change. A "preferred" membership from Woodlawn Nature Center offers reciprocity to these other great places! Pair your visit with a program and a hike.

4. Go camping! I love the crisp weather of fall for a bonfire and sleeping in a tent! Woodlawn Nature Center is hosting a very reasonably priced family campout in September. Preregistration due by September 13.

5. Take a fall hike! We really enjoy Lieber Nature Preserve in Bristol. We also had a great fall walk at Wellfield Botanic Gardens. This is a perfect place to snap a few seasonal pictures, too! We stopped one evening when we had on costumes, making it even more exciting.

Try it at Home: 
1. Try using leaves as part of your art or play. See 11 Ways to Play with Leaves.

2. Build fine motor skills with Pumpkin Pounding and other pumping decorating. 

3. Go on a fall flower hunt! See our Ideas for Fall Flower Hunts.
4. Fall is a harvest time. Start collecting seeds and pods. See 20 Things to Do with Seeds, Acorns, and Pods.

5. Spend some time with trees! Check out this popular post about the nature preschool program at Woodlawn Nature Center.

You might also enjoy the Summer and Winter Guides as well! 

By the way, we absolutely LOVED the Maker Faire in Fort Wayne! In 2015, it was in August. Watch for it next year. Regional tinkerers shared their love for creating things. I could see the creativity level of my children soar!

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Shapes in Nature: Pipe Cleaners!

As our children get older and involved in more activities, I find myself waiting around town with younger kids more and more. This summer our oldest attended band camp and we waited outside the high school for an hour daily. There s a wide strip of grass with a few trees between the parking lot and the street. We often spent time playing out on the grass, exploring, and reading while we were there. One day, we had a pack of pipe cleaners (I mean chenille stems--why do we call them that now?) we picked up at a nearby garage sale and an idea I had seen to use pipe cleaner shapes for a shape hunt. I was totally impressed with how much we focused on shapes during the hour. It also really carried over into other outdoor time and conversations. This is a keeper activity for sure! 

We started with some basic shapes, like a triangle. A portion of a mushroom and the angle in a y-shaped stick fit the triangle well!

We found circles everywhere! My eight-year-old noticed the circumference of the tree was also a circle!

Mushrooms and a cut off branch also were circles!


We realized a rectangle in nature might be a twig. Upon closer inspection, the first "twig" was really a caterpillar. We had to look it up when we returned home. It was the maple span worm


The boys surprised me when they pointed out the maple leaf as a star shape--indeed! The shapes also made a good bracelet.

It was interesting to watch how my son took the shapes from "nature" to his body. He realized his face was oval and his eyes are round. They even started making shapes with their bodies!


We even found little heart shaped plants!

As we were right next to the parking lot, we started finding shapes in our human environment as well. The van had round headlights and lots of ovals in the Toyota logo. We started talking about logos and then found lots of cars with different logos, like Ford, the Honda H, GMC, and more. Even the 2-year-old was getting into it!


Next up, we had swim practice. Guess what? More waiting! This time only the 2-year-old and I needed to wait. We brought a few shapes and found triangle pennants and other shapes. Some pipe cleaners became a spider with 8 legs, just like the toy spider he had. Just as an FYI, we're always within 3 feet of a spider! It only creeps most people out. 


My son even found a triangle shape with the letter A! Of course, his spiders needed to explore a little as well! 

 I encourage you to take advantage of "wait" time. It's a great time to explore whatever nature you may find close by!