Saturday, December 31, 2016

Robot Tinkering Kit

My boys and I had fun pulling together Loose Parts Robot Tinkering Kits for a swap at The Seasonal Classroom earlier in 2016. Each person made 3-5 Loose Parts kits (with some regulations) and another kit of the host. We each shipped them to a central spot where they were divvied out (listening to our preferences) and received different sets back.

To make our kit, we recycled some pieces from a friend (eyeballs!), went to our local ReStore shop for odds and ends, and then rounded out our kit with some wooden pieces and discarded CDs. We decided to paint the popsicle sticks, wooden block, and CDs a turquoise color to help pull the colors together a bit. At ReStore, one of our local recycle type stores, we looked for bags of hardware and other items that had many items for an inexpensive amount. We also looked for different textures and shapes. We also used the pay by the pound section that had all kinds of nuts, bolts, and other options.
As we finished our kits, we put in some corks (from my great friend!), computer keys, wooden discs, bottle caps, a laminated robot printout, and a storage box. 

Honestly, we actually separated some colorful wires from my husband as another add in and added more "stuff" from my great friend. She saw what we were doing and donated more things. She's on a mission to keep things out of the landfill!

While it was fun to pull it together, we also had fun playing with the kits! Here were some creations, adding a few other items such as a tree cookie, and a pie plate. 


I think the kits ended up to be a great mix of items and gave us opportunities for plenty of play! We also added in play dough, giving even more options! I liked the play dough gave us something to "stick" our items in as we made sculptures. It became temporary glue while we created. 

We also liked all the textures the various items created--this was fun to explore! 

Tips for creating your own Loose Parts Kit:
  1. Think outside of the "box". What items might go together well? Are there different combinations
  2. Consider your sources of items. Where can you find inexpensive items? Do you have a local recycle shop? Friends that are decluttering? What do you have on hand that you can recycle as well? Are there basics you might include?
  3. Decide on a theme. Choosing the robot tinkering theme really helped us think of items specific for this rather than just loose parts in general. Obviously we love loose parts and enjoyed a more specific challenge. 
  4. Consider safety. We made this for ages 5-10. There are smaller parts (fine for this age), but didn't want too many sharp points. There are a few, but they have a unique structure around them. 
  5. Add on specialty items. What might round out the kit? While some thought it necessary, the robot mat became a great spot to start--I saw lots of creativity there! The wires (not pictured) were a whimsical touch that cost us nothing but a little time. The addition of the play dough, tree cookie, and other items really were nice touches. These are things we use for other projects that we could borrow while we were creating our robot tinkering sculptures. 
  6. Containerize it. Having a container to put it all in is great! We can grab and go. The items are protected. Everything stays together! 
  7. Add a book! If gifting something like this, consider adding a book on robots and/or loose parts/tinkering to go with the kit. Here is a popular list of Loose Parts Inspired Books that I compiled. Listed below are some robot titles to pair with it as well. 
  8. Play with the kit! I think part of the fun in sharing kits like this is the time we get to spend together making memories and trying new things. Most children want our time. Taking some time out to create and explore alongside a child is priceless! 

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Saturday, December 24, 2016

Board Games with a Nature Twist

While we love getting outside, we also enjoy playing games together! We have found a few nature related board games we enjoy!

1. Bingo! Wildlife Bingo is a classic game that can be played by just about any age. These games are pretty basic, with paper counters, 6 bingo cards and cards for all the animals. The animal cards have information on the back. I even learned a few things when I read these, such as mink being excellent swimmers. My kids started making connections between different animals with the deer family and also with members of the rodent family. I find the number of bingo cards limiting, as I'd most likely want to use this in a larger group, however, it works fine for my family. It is made of thin cardboard. It also includes animals from all of North America, rather than just our region. There are numerous other nature bingo topics, like birds, insects, nature, wildflowers, and freshwater fish. These could be made with your own pictures as well to make them more customized.

2. Professor Noggin series! The Professor Noggin series of games includes simple games that test your knowledge. There are two levels of play (can be different for each person playing), making it good for adults (or older kids) and kids to play together. Once again, not region specific, but we've learned about animals while playing the game. It would be another good one to make your own clues. It also has many topics--Freshwater Life, Reptiles and Amphibians, Birds, Insects, etc. I like the portability of these, too.

3. Sneaky Snacky Squirrel! We have really liked this game. The box is shaped like a tree with plastic acorns inside with a set of tweezers shaped like a squirrel. While it doesn't directly teach about squirrels, it reinforces color and counting with younger children. I found all of my boys would play it together (aged 2-10 when we first got it). See my full review here.  While it doesn't talk about squirrels, I find we have plenty of conversations about squirrels while playing. I gifted it this year and bought an extra to have for upcoming birthday parties for my 4-year-old.

4. Animal Tracks! This game can be played as Bingo, matching, or guess the tracks. The game is fine, but includes animals from farms and all over, rather than a specific place. Can you tell I like learning about animals in our region as a solid foundation for our kids? Sometimes, I will separate the cards into sets that make more sense of them to be together.

5. Hide & Seek! A friend brought this over for Christmas this week. It's really similar to playing hide and seek in the yard! I liked that there was a stream, four-leaf clovers, and other details we might find outside. My friend's family had made/played this game for years and then her son got them interested in producing it for market. We had fun playing it--we should follow it up with a real game of hide and seek! It was fun trying to stay away from each other.

6. Wildcraft! An Herbal Adventure Game. We purchased this as an early Christmas game. It was simple to play, though took just playing the game to understand how to use all the cards. The artwork is great! The cards reinforced various plants we might find in the wild (though many transported by colonists) and how they might help various ailments. The game is cooperative in nature, which was kind of nice. I like competition, too, but enjoy working together, too. You can download a story to read as you go on the adventure. We're looking forward to playing this more! It does not go into depth about the plants, so I might put a field guide on the table while we are playing. We noticed the distinctions between the plants. This is a fun way to start thinking about plants more.

7. Nature Fluxx! We played this with my brother and sister-in-law. They always find good games. I would say older kids or adults would want to play this more. The premise of the game is pretty simple, but due to the changing nature of the game, it is always a challenge and fun to play. There are other games in the Fluxx line, though we appreciated the natural spin on this on.

8. Settlers of Catan I feel like I need to include this as it deals with humans' interactions with resources. It reminds me subtly that our resources are finite and how much we depend on them to build and expand. We need to be responsible stewards. There is no clear nature connection beyond that; however, we enjoy the strategy of playing this game.

9. GoFind It! This is a neat card based seek and find game for outside on the trail. It is handy to have in a trail bag to bring out when kids need a pick me up. Match different characteristic cards to find unique items in any spot in nature!

What nature inspired games have you enjoyed? Want to play? Just let us know! We'd love to have you over if you are local.

I have been able to find some of these at yard sales or thrift stores, making them less expensive. I watched the Wildcraft game for a couple of years before taking the plunge to buy it. I waited until I found a good sale. It's also fun to get together with other families or couples with each bringing a nature game to play! Locally, Better World Books in Goshen also has many games on display as demo games, as well as a game night. This can be a great place to try out a new game.

This post may contain affiliate links. Check out some of the other games below:

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Summer at Wellfield

We always enjoy visiting Wellfield Botanical Garden. During a recent summer we had a wonderful visit. The plants were abuzz with pollinators! 

They had a kids' activity to explore WORMS when we visited! We explored a compost bin. We used worms to paint with mud. 


We explored composting and what happens to leaf litter and animal poop. We could look at the leaf litter up close!

We explored different types of soil components, like clay, sand, etc. We also used tools like these magnifiers to explore what is there. The composter and magnifier are tools we have in our house, as well. 

We went on a scavenger hunt around the water as well. We explored so much! 

We explored plants, such as milkweed and redbuds. If you haven't smelled milkweed, you should! 

We even found an oak apple gall! 

It was fun to see all the vertical gardens as well!

These will fill in soon! 

There are spectacular detail and views throughout the gardens!

Nature Preschool Invitations

Late last spring, I went to the Northern Illinois Nature Preschool Associations's Summit. I loved how they had hands on activities set up for us to explore. I find this is crucial to trying things out with children on our own terms as we have had first hand experience with it already. There was a slight drizzle outside, but many options to explore!  Spaces were set up to try various activities. The signs shared why we might try these and what we can expect to learn or experience through the activity.

We love painting with rubber worms mud, too! Such a tactile experience! This is colored mud. We found worms like this at the Dollar Tree around Halloween one year. Other paintbrushes and such are also available, but using hands sounds great to me! 

These loose parts options were set out as well. I love the frames (we have many!), tools (like the magnifying glasses), sorting baskets, and STUFF (mostly natural!).

Tubes and acorns, tree blocks, branches, pinecones, and more! Loose parts books as well! 

The tent invited us to explore as well. It's a great way of creating a semi-private hiding space outside while still being able to supervise children.

I think this was the activity most inspiring to me--having real tools (with adults right there) available to make your own tree cookie necklaces. Clamps were used to hold the logs in place, the saw was used with an adult right there, a hand drill was used for holes.

I was in love with this hand drill! I had to get one for my birthday. I did find that the drill bit got really hot while in use. This tool is a great way to look at cause and effect, build wood working skills, and have a sense of independence. 

These mirrored invitations had corks on the edges for safety, as well as tape on the back to reinforce in case of breakage. Some make them out of acrylic mirrors as well. Baskets of natural items are nearby to explore. 

We could also explore reflection with those silver pouches snacks come in. They had a whole roll of the material that we could cut some off of. 

Kaleidoscopes could be made out of the reflective material or old CDs!

There were a variety of great books to examine as well!

I presented a session on loose parts play, with options to explore as well. I love the artwork of Take 'Em Outside as a springboard for creativity. 

Others made mandalas or created habitats. 

We also looked at reflective invitations.

Rachel Larimore was the keynote speaker--excellent! There were several great sessions, including time to collaborate as well. So great to see many people committed to providing and allowing for nature play and exploration with younger children. Some vendors included Hitchcock Design group. They create beautiful outdoor play spaces, including the one at Morton Arboretum. Tuffo Muddy Buddies were also available to see up close, making it easier to get outside on rainy days. 

I love Kodo Kids and their materials for sale. It's always nice to see their materials up close. 

We also toured the Children's Garden at the Arboretum. It was excellent!