Posts tagged Nature & Environment
Please, Don't Spoil Summer Vacation

Sometimes the seasons come upon us shockingly quick. It's not just the weather and fashions. Our moods and ideas about what constitutes good living shift with the season as well. 

This is a good thing. We all need a good shake-up now and then. Besides, we are human animals - syncing with the natural world is only natural. 

But sometimes we find ourselves scrambling to accommodate the seasonal hype around us. We think we need to create an entirely new, seasonally appropriate routine for our children. 

The Summertime Blues

As I write this, summer camp registration is at full tilt. Anxiety, too. Hearts plummet at the thought that we may have missed a grand opportunity for our little ones because we were too slow to register. (Naughty parent.

And hot damn, those classes can be expensive! We find ourselves in a debate about what's the most worthy investment for our families and how much we can afford. 

Five half days of "art camp" + several hundred dollars + a preschooler who does enjoy painting but truthfully loves playgrounds more = money well spent? 

But if we don't sign them up for all this enrichment, aren't we depriving them of The Essential Summertime Experiences of Their Generation? Aren't we RUINING them? 

And besides, what else are we going to do with the kids? People have to work, you know? 

So what's a parent to do?

Over Scheduled

I know that many of you are filling up your summer bucket lists, contemplating vacations, and looking at your calendars thinking about how bored your kids will be unless you figure out how to fill the weeks ahead. 

Out of curiosity, I asked some of my friends for their favorite summertime memories. Take a look at what they said.

"Summers in the country... North Carolina at grandma's. Running down red clay roads. Eating berries off the vine and apples off the tree."

"Outside at the pool all day. At camp hiking and rock-climbing. Reading all day in the cool basement. Ice cream and frozen candy bars. Sailing." 

"Pool from the time I got up to the time I went to bed. Only stopping for adult lap swim."

"Swimming in the dark at night and eating my mom's homemade ice pops after hours of swimming in our pool. And pretending to be Whitney Houston while singing along with 'I believe the children are the future' on our record player."

Is it just me or are you noticing a theme here? I can see these children running around barefoot, fingers sticky and dark with berry juice.

I see them dive bombing into the pool from the highest diving board over and over screaming with anticipation as the dopamine floods their brains and the water cushions the fall. I see their frozen treats dripping onto hot sidewalks.

I see myself as a little girl melting play dough in the hot sun on my backyard slide. Warm thunderstorms, sitting out on the porch with my mama, swinging back and forth and cuddling.

Making up symphonies inside my head while laying under a Texas-sized ceiling fan in a house without air conditioning. That enormous geode my brother and I found in our yard and lugged up onto the porch only to shatter the thing into a million glorious crystals.

The Simple Things

If you ask your children this question twenty years from now what they cherished most about their summers, I'm hedging a bet that it will be something slow, long, lazy, and amazingly simple that you'd never think to put in your summer bucket list.

You can make this happen for them. Just try a little less hard to schedule everything, ok?

 
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Let Spring Grow a Love for Nature

The winter is long. The grass dry. The wind biting. Fingers numb. We retreat to our warm homes and look inward toward each other, and we wait.

And then... a robin is sighted. Buds on trees give us hope. The emergence of a lone daffodil seals the deal, and we feel relief in our connectedness to the warm earth once more.

Spring is returning.

Young children are naturally inspired to go outside and explore during this time of year. Reading books about Spring, celebrating Spring holidays, and engaging in the ever-popular Spring cleaning ritual are great ways to acknowledge the seasonal shift.

However, if we are to truly nurture the whole child, we must stimulate all of their senses. 

The education which a good mother or a good modern teacher gives today to the child who, for example, is running about in a flower garden is the counsel not to touch the flowers, not to tread on the grass; as if it were sufficient for the child to satisfy the physiological needs of his body by moving his legs and breathing fresh air.
— Maria Montessori, The Montessori Method

Teach the Child How to Touch

April showers bring May flowers, the better to entice eager little fingers. The phrase "Don't touch!" may accurately reflect the parental instinct to protect fragile flowers from a toddler's grasp, but it is not a phrase that fosters learning.

The next time you see your child reach for a flower in someone else's garden, teach him instead HOW to touch - gently, with one finger, on one petal.

Whisper that the flowers are fragile. Convey the reverence for nature's beauty with your own brief caress. Feel the dirt and look up in the sky. Say, "These flowers are here for everyone to enjoy. We want to leave them just like this so that they can keep drinking water from the ground and reaching for the sun."

Find Opportunities for Fewer Rules

Asking your children not to disturb garden flowers is one thing. Asking children not to touch any flowers ignores their need to explore. Children need to engage all their senses (touch, smell, taste) and talk about the little green, growing things in the ground. This means being allowed to freely explore.

If you have access to an open space where children can pluck daisy petals and examine roots, seek that experience right away and return often! And don't overthink it. Even a patch of weeds in the cracks of the sidewalk can offer a satisfying experience to a child. What matters is that you've nurtured the child's natural curiosity.

Plant a Garden 

Long gone are the days when most children were told to go outside and play unsupervised. Likewise, modern farm technology and urbanization have significantly changed how most people conceptualize their source of food.

The nature deficit has dire consequences for humanity’s future

Ask ten adults what, say, a broccoli flower looks like and how to collect the seeds to plant more broccoli, and you are likely to get nine furrowed eyebrows. This nature deficit has dire consequences for humanity's future.

When we lose touch with how our vegetables are grown and meat is raised, we begin to make lifestyle choices that are not conducive to sustaining our physical lives here on Earth. 

Get Involved

Change begins with us. Together, examine the seeds in an apple. Spit a cherry pit into the grass. Roll an avocado's curious, ball-like seed across a table. Put a potato halfway in water and see what happens. Visit a petting farm. Look for ants.

Go to a farmer's market and let your children pick out something locally grown to taste. I promise it will be different (and better) than what you can buy in a grocery store.

Because nature can feel more and more remote from our daily lives, we must create hands-on outdoor experiences for their children. As Maria Montessori said, "place the soul of the child in contact with creation." 

And remember - you don't need to go crazy creating official gardening lesson plans. Simply set aside some time for puttering and weed plucking. If you can grow a whole garden of food to eat, that's wonderful. If you don't have the time, resources, or inclination for it, grow one herb in a small pot, and help your child tend it daily.

Small changes can lead to great things. Just ask the seed.


Note: I'm teaching a new course on introducing children to botany. Learn more here. 

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Kids Deserve good Poetry: Daffodils

There is a scourge on children's literature, and it is bad poetry -- sing-songy, not-quite-rhyming lines rife with an uneven number of syllables. But it doesn't have to be this way. The world is full of great verse -- A.A. Milne, Maya Angelou, Emily Dickinson, Edward Lear... You get the idea.

Sure, reading William Blakes' "The Tyger" might require a mental stretch from your kids (and maybe you, too) but that's a good thing! Plus, great poetry is simply fun to read!

Pro Tips

Poetry (like its cousin, music) is ancient, which is probably why children have such a natural affinity for it. Still, it never hurts to have a few tricks up your sleeve. Here are four:

  • Read it Morning and Night: Try reading poetry before bedtime or while your child is eating breakfast. Those two times work really well for listening.
  • Make it Available: Keep a poetry anthology on the dresser or in with the cookbooks. Adding poetry into your daily routine will make it, well, routine!
  • Don't Overthink It: Don't feel like you must pair every poem with activities or discussions of new vocabulary words or anything "schoolish." Just read and enjoy them!
  • Repeat: When reading a poem, go through it twice in a row if the kids allow it. This is especially important with the short poems. 

The Poems

To help you started on your good poetry adventure, here are three daffodil-ly poems to chew on.

Nursery Rhyme from The Little Mother Goose

Daffy-down-dilly has come up to town

In a fine petticoat and a green gown.

 

"Daffodowndilly" by A.A. Milne

She wore her yellow sun-bonnet

She wore her greenest gown;

She turned to the south wind

And curtsied up and down.

She turned to the sunlight

And shook her yellow head,

And whispered to her neighbour: "Winter is dead."

 

"I Wandered Lonely As a Cloud" by William Wordsworth

The waves beside them danced; but they

Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:

A poet could not but be gay,

In such a jocund company:

I gazed---and gazed---but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought:

 

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils

I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o'er vales and hills,

When all at once I saw a crowd,

A host, of golden daffodils;

Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

 

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the milky way,

They stretched in never-ending line

Along the margin of a bay:

Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The Garden in a Jar: A Science Lesson

The entire natural world contains an enchantment that cannot be replicated in any storybook. There is no greater example of this than watching a new life burst out into the world from something as simple as a seed.

Observing the mysterious power contained within seeds is not the work of gardeners alone. It can be witnessed easily and simply in your own kitchen.

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What You Need

  • A wide mouth mason jar

  • A sprouting screen to fit in the lid of the jar (a pair of pantyhose and a rubber band will do)

  • A few seeds (any kind will do)

The Lesson

1. Tell A story about the seeds

Hold one of the beans or seeds hidden in the palm of your hand and tell a little story of the seed. Say:

"I have something very special to show you. The thing I have in my hand right now is alive!"

Open your palm slowly and dramatically. Allow the child to observe the seed for a moment or two and then continue. Say:

"This is a seed. It contains new life inside that can nourish us by giving us fresh oxygen to breathe and food to eat. But right now this very minute, the seed is sleeping.

When a seed sleeps, we say it is dormant. If we want it to grow, we will need to wake it up.

Would you like to wake it up so that it can nourish us?" 

If the child is engaged in the story, allow some wait time for answering questions and discussing. If the child is not engaged, simply resume with your task as though you are engaged yourself.

"I would like to wake this seed up! It will need to rest in water overnight. First, I need a jar..." 

2. Soak the seeds

Place a small handful of seeds in the jar.

  • If your seeds are tiny, like alfalfa or broccoli, a teaspoon or two is all you need.
  • If your seeds are larger, like mung beans, try a couple tablespoonfuls.
  • If your seeds are rather large, like garbanzo beans, a 1/4 to 1/2 half a cup may be more appropriate.

Don't worry about being exact. Just put some seeds in the jar and fill the jar with water. Make sure that you really fill up the jar with water (filtered is best). It may even make sense to do this part in a bowl rather than in the jar. Your seeds will soak up a lot of water... maybe even more than you think.

Place the screened lid on the jar.

3. Rinse the Water

The next morning, pour out the water and pour in fresh water - straight through the screen lid - rinsing your seeds. They have awoken and are now ready to sprout.

After the seeds are rinsed, pour all of the water out through the screen and leave the jar sideways or tilted downwards so that any remaining water will drain out and not continue to soak the seeds.

Continue rinsing and draining twice a day over the next several days, and you should see your sprouts growing.

4. Enjoy !

The sprouts are healthy, and if you've rinsed them daily and checked for mold, the risk for bacteria infection is fairly low. Nothing left out on the kitchen counter overnight is completely without risk, so do your research and settle on what you feel comfortable with.

Mung bean sprouts are crunchy and delicious fresh out of the jar. Garbanzo beans can be boiled and made into a delicious hummus or soup. However, the decision to eat what you grow on your kitchen counter is completely up to you.

I can tell you that the children will be just as thrilled to explore the sprouts with their fingers or to plant them into some dirt to continue growing if you choose not to eat them. If you do eat them, many children will be thrilled to try them. Growing your own food is a very powerful experience!

Sprouts in a Jar! Every child needs one of these in the kitchen.
A Beginner's Research Project

When we walked into the rainforest exhibit building at our local zoo, we were hit by a wave of warm, moist air. A soft fluttering of leaves drew our eyes up into the foliage, and a small, black monkey scampered into view. We stood still and watched that monkey for a very long time as it hopped from branch to branch, and when we came home, the impact of the experience was evident in the children's playful behavior. The oooh-ooohs and aaah-aaahs rang through the house.

What's a grown-up to do? Join them, of course! When the children have an experience that really impacts them, use it as the teachable moment. Here are a few tips to guide this process.

1. Choose a time when the children are relatively calm and ready to learn. A great way to get kids to calm down is to rev them up first! Trust me on this. A good romp gets the blood going and brain cells firing.

One monkey song I adore (who doesn't?) is Five Little Monkeys Jumping On The Bed. It's even better if you are actually jumping on a bed, but even if you aren't, I recommend that you join in with them and act the part of the doctor, examining their heads and shaking your finger gently at them. Another funny monkey song I love is Aba Daba Honeymoon, an oldie but goodie written 1914 and famously recorded by Debbie Reynolds in 1950. We usually use rhythm sticks to tap the beat, and during the musical interludes, we twirl and jump.

2. Model brainstorming out loud. When the kids seem exhausted from the jumping, hold up a picture of a monkey and comment to yourself out loud something like this: "This is a monkey. I like monkeys! This one has a loooooong tail. I wish I had a long tail like that! I bet it would be fun. Hey, I wonder why monkeys have tails...."

3. Write your ideas down. If your child has the patience to brainstorm a million ideas about monkeys with you while you write them down, enjoy this learning time together. If your child is not the patient sort and is ready to move on, just scribble this this one idea down on a scrap of paper or on a dry erase board.

4. Research to find the answers. Use whatever resources are available to you. The next time you are at a public library, check out a few nonfiction monkey books to read at home. Look for nature-oriented monkey clips on YouTube. Type your questions into Google. Check out the Enchanted Learning Monkey webpage for inspiration and child-friendly information. Don't worry if your children are not coming up with their own questions and answers about monkeys. Remember that you are modeling this mode of learning, and it will pay off big time. Your children will surprise you someday with their own entire research project.

5. Make a hands-on impression. Choose a hands-on activity to go with your research study. If you are learning about monkeys, you might be interested in this crayon-rubbing activity. It would work for any jungle-related theme.

Here's an example of an activity I created using some basic leafy and viney designs cut out of a cereal box.

We placed the cardboard designs on a tray and put a white piece of paper on top. Rub, rub, rub in various colors. Ta-da! Jungle! We added our monkeys into the trees. My youngest did the rubbing himself and asked me to draw the monkey. (No problem, babe, I'm modeling this, too.) My oldest finished his jungle monkey and then used the cardboard piece that looks like a palm tree to create a beach scene on his next piece of paper. That kind of spontaneous creativity is the kind of thing I love, and it only happens if you model the process on a regular basis.