Dada Forester Visits Nature Camp

I am a parent volunteer at the boys first ever summer camp at a local nature sanctuary. Unless you’re suffocating or helicoper-ing, parent involvement equals more success for our children. Lend your strengths to your children’s classrooms any chance you get. On the last day of camp, Big K and I team up to create a lesson plan about the forest.

Big K brings in a giant tree cookie, explaining the science of tree rings: how you can tell the age of a tree and how you can tell what years were good growing years for the tree and how bark serves as a protector for the vulnerable growing part of the tree.

Big K introduces himself as a forester and explains what that means, scientist of the forest. He reads a great children’s book given to us by a great forester friend of ours.

Forestry by Jane Drake, Anne Love and Pat Cupples, explores an important and controversial American industry, looking at everything from the methods used to cut trees to the planting of new seedlings. While reading this book, the reader travels with the logs to the mills and sees what happens inside a sawmill and a pulp and paper mill.

He takes the kids outside to his work truck and shows them his forestry tools: chain saw, tree corer, stray paint for marking trees, hard helmet, measuring tools etc.

We also read The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward and illustrated by Lisa Falkenstern, describes the amazing activities that go on in a tree from its roots to its branches, “breathing out air for all to breathe in.”

We take a walk through the conserved forests around the sanctuary where the kids pick up leaves and Big K identifies the type of tree it came from. We find oak, maple and birch leaves, witch hazel, indian cucumber, acorns and pine cones. We also find lots of mosquitoes.

Leaf Jumpers by Carole Gerber, Illustrated by Leslie Evans. “The green leaves of spring and summer make food for the tree from water, air and sunshine. The tree food made in the leaves is a kind of sugar that keeps the leaves alive and helps the tree to grow.

“I send roots down deep into the earth. I am focused and stable. I reach high to the sky. I am a beautiful tree.

What kind of tree are you? Feel yourself growing. Bend with the wind. You are supple enough to weather any storm.”

When we get back to the classroom, we practice some nature yoga: the river pose, the rock, the turtle, and the tree pose. We also make a list of “things that happen in nature.” I call out the natural phenomena kids add to the list, like clouds, cattails, water, birds, fish, etc, and we act them out with our bodies.


Kiddie Pool on Steroids

Little J’s birthday is the beginning of June.
POPS buys our family a 12 foot round INTEX pool for the summer.

Just in time for our first heat wave, Big K levels the ground, blows up the pool, fills it with water, and figures out the whole filtration and chlorination system.

We spend 2 days straight enjoying the cool water.
Compared to a “real pool,” the INTEX is relatively inexpensive, and is also filtered and chlorinated. The kiddie pools we’ve used in years past have had to be dumped out every day and are full of grass and dirt minutes after filling it. The plastic pool definitely did the job, but the INTEX is like a kiddie pool on steroids.

For my little ones, 7 and under, it’s a perfect height, 30 inches, the water doesn’t reach above anyone’s head. Since having this pool, about 2 weeks, both boys have made HUGE strides with their swimming skills.

Big K thinks that if they swim in the pool in the evening that they don’t need a bath. Not so sure about that, babe.
Little J draws a picture of himself, diving into his new pool.


Clean up, Everybody, Everywhere.

Big K goes to school with Little K and comes home inspired by the classrooms Job Chart.
This would excite him because Big K loves a clean house.
He suggested making a job chart for all of us, so we can have a clean up time at the end of the day.
Made sense to me. Even though we are happy messes, everywhere I look, there’s something for me to catch up on.
If we don’t pick up our messes, toys get stepped on, misused, broken and we can’t play with them anymore.

I know that the kids respond well to visual charts, we used one for potty training that had pictures of each potty step. Pull down pants, crawl up on toilet, point down, etc.

So I enlist the children’s help in coming up with cleaning chores that were easy to accomplish for 3-6 year olds. With my help they come up with these 6 categories:
1. Boss / Helper,
2. Dishes / Utensils,
3. Laundry / Throwing Laundry down the stairs, adding soap, emptying lint trap, transferring wet clothes to the dryer, pressing the start buttons or folding hand towels,
4. Floor / picking up toys and putting them away,
5. Couch / putting away all cushions, pillows and blankets.
6. Table / washing down the meal table and sweeping up underneath it.

The kids draw pictures that represent each category.
We write our names on clothes pins and print out a picture of each person, taping the face to the name.
We will rotate jobs, working everyday to pick up after ourselves.

Good reasons to have a job chart:

1. To learn responsibility for our things.
2. To contribute to the workings of the home.
3. Learn to work as a team and help one another.
4. Learn practical life skills.
5. To teach our children the value of a clean home.

I’ll let you know how it goes after piloting the chart for a week.


Surviving Witching Hour with a Field Trip

It is almost sunset and closing in on the witching hour. Instead of staying home to chase couch cushion carrying kids, we venture out with some adventure gear: compass, binoculars, and other exploring tools.

Our friend Roger has a beautiful piece of property fairly close to where we live. Every so often, Big K will take the day off and work in the woods with Roger. When he does this, we like to visit. It’s a great walk and search to find where they are in the forest, but we follow the sounds of the chain saws. The work all day cutting down trees that are impeding the growth and health of the stand, using the fallen wood for keeping our houses warm. They use a tractor and log trailer to remove the fallen trees from the woods.

The kids can fit themselves in the hubcaps of the tractor. They get a ride out of the woods with Roger.

We get to watch the tractor pull a stuck truck out of the open field near the road. Walk through the woods, tractor ride and vehicles in action…This was a good witching hour.

How do you survive the witching hour?


Last Year’s Valentine

I draw a heart for Little J and ask him if he can draw a heart.
He does draw his first heart as one of his first tries at representational drawing.
He does this on a huge piece of paper that wraps a low table set up for scribbling and Valentines.

He writes little pretend letters inside the heart using a pencil and flashlight.
On the huge piece of paper, we set up a drawing robot that Big K and the boys build using the idea from Teacher Tom’s blog.

We print photos of the heart with the robot scribbles and use them when making Little J’s very first classmate Valentines.

We cut out hearts using brown paper bags from the grocery store.
We write a loving message and Little J’s name in silver Sharpie.
We modge podge paper bag hearts with crayon wrapper pieces.

This project takes about a month to complete given all the little parts.
It is set up at a table during this month so we can work on whenever the mood strikes.


Cardboard Mailbox

The kids have been curious about how the mail works lately with all the holiday cards being sent out and received. Little J has also shown great passion in writing, “invitations” and “messages” on little scraps of paper. These scraps of paper are found all over the house. We went out to dinner and he was handing them out to everyone around us. With Valentine’s Day soon upon us, I thought it would be a great project to build a mailbox with the family.
I am very inspired by a cardboard post from ikatbag.

supplies: Exact o knife, packing tape, rulers and sharpie

We find a big cardboard box in the garage and cut it apart to get lots of options for large flat pieces. Choosing a long strip of cardboard, we start to draw up a really simple plan.

cutting out the bendy top

Big K is the master architect on this project. The kids and I watch and help. He cuts strips that don’t go all the way through the cardboard, allowing the cardboard to bend and look more like the top of a real big blue Post Office mail box.

reinforcing bendy top with packing tape

My job is to pretty much cover everything with packing tape, the top, the edges and the seams.

the basic shape, computer with inspiration from pinterest in background.

We get the basic shape. Big K wishes he could think and work on this on his own, so we get it “just right.” I reassure him that getting it just right wasn’t the important part of the project. It’s Sunday and we know he will be called into to inspect snow removal any minute. We just want to do something fun as a family before he has to leave, and have something fun to play with while he’s gone.

Little J traces the shape for the sides

Little J traces the shape of the sides using a marker. We cut it out with utility knife and tape it to the sides.

all put together, but for the door and mail slot

Big K cuts out a slot on the top of the mailbox, and cuts out a square door at the side. He screws a pieces of wood to the inside of the door so he can attach a handle with screws.
I take out all the envelopes I’ve been hoarding for this project, from junk mail and holidays. The kids have fun stuffing envelopes with “invitations and messages.” They insert the envelopes into the mailbox. We are starting to get ourselves ready to make and deliver our own Valentine messages.

ready to go P.O.

We have some great Valentine books to read that will compliment the mailbox well.
Little Bear’s Valentine by Else Holmelund Minarik
Valentine’s Day by Anne Rockwell
The Best Thing about Valentines by Eleanor Hudson
The Valentine Express by Nancy Elizabeth Wallace


Evening Sled and a Bon Fire

It is Friday night and we’re looking for something a little special to do,
so we stack some small branches in the bon fire pit and light it up.
The kids snow shoe and sled and snowboard around the back yard and some friends join us.
It was a perfect end to the work week.


Blast Off: Rocket Play

rockets with papa

When I was a little girl, Papa D would take me to the athletic fields down the street, and we would shoot off rockets.
Big K also fondly remembers building and launching rockets when he was a kid.
We build a rocket with the boys and shoot them off with Papa D.
They lose them in the trees, oops.

Little J and K help to count backwards and are in charge of the button to launch the rocket,
pressing it from a safe distance.
Little K says he wants to be an “airport” when he grows up:
airport = person that drives a rocket = astronaut


The kids have a blast using a stomp rocket. We take turns stomping as hard as we can to see who can get a rocket the highest…until we get all three rockets stuck in the trees.
We have to throw balls at the grabby branches to get them down,
but we even get the balls stuck up there.
We climb the trees and shake everything down like monkeys.

mega blocks rocktes

I’m seeing this rocket theme repeated on many levels.
Little J builds a structure with Mega Blocks and says it’s a launch pad.
“It shoots up bad guys into outer space. It fits a lot of bad guys.”

He can’t press the mega block ignition button and make the rocket blast off at the same time the way he would like, so he asks me for some help and I get a turn to press the button.


Tool Area

For Christmas, we set up a tool area in the place of the pretend kitchen: pretend workshop glasses, protective goggles, tool apron, lots of familiar and well loved plastic tools, and an old phone. There are a couple of gifts we put in that space for the kids to find Christmas morning: I make the boys freezer paper t-shirts with tools on them, we buy some real tools that are kid size and a couple of building kits from Lowe’s.

find a home for our new tools

We find an appropriate home for the tools, downstairs in Big K’s workshop.
We clear out a drawer in a tool case and assign it to the boys’.

putting together a bird feeder from kit

The boys are eager to start using the bird feeder kit.

using daddy's drill

Big K lets Little J use his drill to help out.

voila: bird house!

And voila, the first thing they build with their tools.
Thank you to The Chocolate Muffin Tree for bringing these awesome tools to my attention on Facebook.

Fun Stuff Fridays


Winter is for the birds

Little J’s first winter as a toddler, we had just moved into a new town, living in a new house with a new born. Big K and I worked as a team to make the house as entertaining to Little J as possible. One of Big K’s brilliant ideas was putting bird feeders right outside of the windows in the living room. When Big K came home from work, he would bundle up Little J, and they would fill the feeders together. Coming in red cheek-ed and frozen nose-ed, they would press their so similar hands to the glass and watch for the birds to come. And they did.

This winter, we build a bird feeder at the Norcross Wildlife Sanctuary and hang it in a tree right outside our bird window. And we watch for the birds to come, and they do.
We don’t know all the names of the birds that come to our feeder. I recognize Blue Jays and Cardinals and woodpeckers, but other than that, I am at a loss.

We rent a bird reference book from the library called, backyard birds of winter, carol lerner. It’s a little advanced for a 3 and 4 year old, but the boys enjoy looking at the pictures of birds and hearing their names.

Both Big K’s dad and my dad love to watch their backyard birds. For birthdays, they both have winter birthdays, we give them some of our homemade bird suet.
Here’s the recipe again if you missed it when we made and blogged about it this summer.

Bird Suet

Bacon grease from about 1 or 2 pounds of bacon, or lard.
2 cups crunchy nut butter (We used chunky sunflower butter.)
2 cups cornmeal
1 cup sunflower seeds
2 cups fruit, berry and nut birdseed (We used a “critter mix” )
1 cup oatmeal
1 cup flour

Melt bacon grease and nut butter in a large pan or pot, we used the pan the bacon was cooked in.
Add remaining ingredients, but for the flour.
Mix thoroughly. Add flour so mixture can bind together.
Pour into baking dish, press down firmly, chill until hardened.
Cut into large squares, use or freeze for later.

Little K hangs some of our homemade bird suet in our own yard, on our little dogwood, as well.
We bought the bird suet cage at Job Lot for $1.
The bird suet and cage make a great gift to bird lovers.

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Toys In The Dryer

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