August 22, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: We Like Dirt!

by Melissa Harding

10-Dirt Day 4 024

Summer Camp Recap is our seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

We Like Dirt is our last camp for the summer. A fitting end, since it is one of our favorites! This week, campers learned what dirt is, where is comes from and who lives in it. They spent the week exploring the ecosystem under the ground, playing games, singing songs and crafting with mud. Campers created mud pies, dug for bugs, and even decorated T-shirts with “muddy” animal footprints. They loved making friends with worms and learning all about how they turn plants into soil.

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

August 18, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Art Outside

by Melissa Harding

23-Day 5 034

Summer Camp Recap is our seasonal segment featuring our summer camp programs. This is the place for camp parents to find pictures of their campers in action and see all the fun things we did all week. It’s also a great place for educators to pick up craft, story and lesson ideas for their own early childhood programs!

Art Outside turns traditional art camps on their heads by focusing on the plants and materials that make the art, rather than the art itself. Campers learned why using recycled materials in art projects is important, how the plants they pick for their projects grow and why storytelling is a great way to share what you learn. Throughout the week, campers made potato puppets, nature weavings and tie-dyed T-shirts. They created art journals and used them to sketch plants in the Conservatory and complete observation and drawing exercises.  Campers loved putting on puppet shows and gathering flowers in the gardens.

Check out the slide show below for more images from the week!


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

For more pictures from Summer Camp, check out our Facebook page!

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

August 16, 2014

Home Connections: Creating Curiosity Through Observation Skills

by Melissa Harding


While we are born with curiosity and wonder and our early years full of the adventure they bring, I know such inherent joys are often lost. I also know that, being deep within us, their latent glow can be fanned to flame again by awareness and an open mind.
- Sigurd Olson

Observation is how people learn; it involves using the senses to gain a deeper understanding of the world and to start asking questions about it. While this is a necessary skill for all successful adults, from scientists to artists, it is important for children as well.  Active observation sparks curiosity and a sense of wonder to ask more deeply probing questions. This is a natural way to begin to understand the scientific process, by asking observation-based questions and seeking answers through simple experimentation. One question often leads to another and soon children find themselves connected to their world with a deep sense of place. The end result is a child that approaches the world with an open mind and a curious heart. Sigurd F. Olson, renowned environmentalist and writer, believed that approaching nature with love and curiosity is the only way to truly create a lasting environmental ethic, and thus to create civically engaged citizens. “What civilization needs today,” he wrote, “is a culture of sensitivity and tolerance and an abiding love of all creatures including mankind.” It may sound simple, but it all starts with learning to effectively observe the world.

At Phipps, while we often call it “being a plant scientists” or “solving a nature mystery”, but what we really mean is using observation skills. There are many ways that we encourage the growth of these skills; often, we create “tools” that allow us to turn learning a skill into a game. We make these tools out of repurposed materials, so they are both sustainable and easy to create at home. We encourage parents to duplicate these items and use them to work on observation skills at home with their child.

Here are some of the ways that we use these tools in our programs:

View Finders
Using a view finder is a way to narrow and focus your eyes on a particular thing. Often used in teaching art or photography, looking through a view finder teaches students to look closely at a small area. View finders provide a frame and give children a defined space to observe. We make view finders out of repurposed cardboard; there couldn’t be anything simpler – just cut a 3″ square out of cardboard and then cut a 1″ square out of the middle and you have a view finder. We challenge our students to use view finders to observe and draw small squares of nature or to take “mental photographs” of what they see. Students can share their favorite “photographs” with the group and then use them to draw pictures, write stories or create art.


Our version of binoculars is really more of a fun view finder for toddlers. The same principles are true – narrowed and focused field of vision – but the idea is simpler; using binoculars is a way to encourage small children to use their senses with awareness. Very small children are natural observers, as this is a large part of development, but using a tool like binoculars is a way to teach the idea that we use our senses with purpose to observe. Even without any real context, they are fun tools; kids feel like explorers and love pretending they are on a safari. We make our binoculars out of repurposed toilet paper tubes and yarn. To begin, punch a hole in one end of each tube; glue the two tube together side-by-side, keeping the ends with the holes facing up; cut a piece of yarn to fit over your child’s head and tie one end into each of the holes; go play.


Color Matchers
Color matchers turn observation exercises into a game; our students carry a color matcher through the Conservatory, trying to match the colors of the plants they see to those in the tool. We make our color matchers out of paint chips – simply gather the colors that you want and then punch a hole in the corner of each, attaching with a ring clip. We make version for younger and older children; for our youngest, we use chips of a single color and create a rainbow and for our oldest we create a rich palate of different nature colors for them to choose from. We also have some with brighter colors for matching with flowers instead of foliage. These are a fun companion to take on nature walks or even just into backyard.


Colored worms
We use colored “worms”, pieces of yarn or string, to teach about observation and adaptations. Worms can be made out of anything; we use donated yarn in various colors, but pipe cleaners, ribbon or string would also make great worms. We scatter our worms in the outdoor flower gardens and have children find them. To make this more fun, we have the children pretend to be mother birds who need to find worms to feed their babies in a “nest” that is carried by an instructor. Our oldest children even get clothespin “beaks” to make the task harder. Some worms are harder to find than others, based on how they blend into the garden, and this teaches an easy lesson about camouflage. For our toddlers, we scatter lots of bright colored worms and just have them find as many as they can. You can make this activity difficult or easy, based on your child, and can use it in the context of a lesson or just for fun. Any way that you use them, colored worms can help children learn to look closely and improve their observation skills.

Un-natural nature trail
An un-natural nature trail is an old nature center game that works well with older children. This take some preparation time, but can really be done anywhere outside – a yard or a trail both work. Gather a number of man-made items, from big to small, and scatter them around a prescribed area. Anything will work as long as it is obviously man-made; choose smaller items to increase the difficulty of the challenge. Tell children that they will be looking for things that don’t belong and have them spend a significant amount of time observing the site to find all the objects. This can be done numerous ways; children can count as many objects as possible, pick them up as they find them, or only look for a period of time and have to remember. This is a fun activity for a large group and could be a great party game as well.

Using tools is a helpful way to increase your child’s observation skills, but they are also pretty fun to use! Playing and learning together outside with your child is a great way to connect both of you to nature and to each other. To quote Olson, “Awareness is becoming acquainted with the environments, no matter where one happens to be.” Use your own sense of wonder and curiosity and spend some time outside with your child; it will have a lasting impact on your family and you world.

To read more about the importance of observation, check out our blog post.

Learn more about how we repurpose cardboard, plastic, and glass.

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman and Christie Lawry.

August 15, 2014

From the Ground Up: Final Project Video

by Melissa Harding

Community Feast 028

As part of the Museums Connect program, made possible by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and administered by the American Alliance of Museums, Phipps partnered with the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria to provide an immersive experience for 15 local high school students in each city. Participating students learned about nutrition, cooking and cultural food traditions by following local food from farm to table and communicated with students at their partner institutions. This project lasted September to June 2014, resulting in the creation of a community cookbook that was designed and created by participating students. Students also met each month for a Saturday workshop involving activities designed to get them thinking critically about their food system and food culture. Calling themselves the Global Chefs, this group of students learned more about what food means in their lives.

Our final video summarizing the From the Ground Up program is finally here! This short movie shows the love of learning and the spirit of collaboration that infused this project. We are so proud of the work that our students have done throughout the entire program and grateful for the opportunity to have such a wonderful cultural exchange.

To read about the entire project, check out our From the Ground Up posts.

The above video was a collaboration project of Phipps staff, interns and volunteers.

August 15, 2014

Check Out Our Upcoming Fall Programs!

by Melissa Harding


Summer is almost over and it’s time to sign up for fall camps!
Our new rack card is hot off the presses and we wanted to share our upcoming programs with you.
Click on the image to enlarge it.

Rack Card Fall 2014

The above photo was taken by Cory Doman.


August 12, 2014

Home Connections: Making Refrigerator Pickles

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_Cooking (3)

Cucumbers are everywhere this time of year. They are growing wildly on trellises or stretching wildly all over the ground. We love using cucumbers in snacks at camp because they are mild tasting, yet still have a satisfying crunch that our students like. We slice up and serve them with dip, turn them into cucumber tea sandwiches and, most fun of all, turn them into Kid Pickles. Much like many of our other camp snacks, Kid Pickles are a milder, more child-friendly take on what can be a rather adult taste. While some kids don’t care for conventional pickles, often because they are too vinegary or garlicky, they like Kid Pickles, which are mild and slightly sweet.

Making Kid Pickles is a great activity for children; it requires harvesting, measuring, slicing and pouring, all of which help students build skills. Pouring is a fine motor skill, whereas measuring and counting help with math. Cooking in general is a wonderful activity to get kids learning and practicing hard things; in particular, pouring is an especially difficult skill for young children to master. Making pickles also allows children time to wander through the Edible Garden and gives them the experience of harvesting produce right off the plant. Also, much like Kid Salsa, this recipe is more of an art than a science. The recipe below if more of a starting point than an ending; experiment to find out what taste you and your family prefer.

Here is how we make Kid Pickles in camp:
*You will need 1 lidded quart-size jar to make this recipe

1 English cucumber, sliced thinly
2 tsp salt
4 TB white vinegar
1 tsp organic sugar
2/3 cup water
1 sprig dill (fresh – too taste)

1. Thinly slice cucumber into 1/8″ rounds
2. Pack cucumber slices into the jar
3. Add salt, sugar, water and vinegar to jar; add lid and swirl to combine. Don’t worry if there is not enough liquid to cover the cucumbers; they will wilt over time and add more liquid to the jar.
4. Open jar to add sprig of dill; close and shake again.
5. Place jar in refrigerator. Every time you open the fridge, invert the jar to shake.
6. Pickles will be ready in as little as 3-4 hours, but will last up to 3 weeks in the refrigerator.
Just as the urge to doctor up Kid Salsa is strong, so it will be with these pickles. However, adding pickling salt, garlic cloves or other herbs will only result in a mixture that will potentially be too strong for your child. While not every child is drawn to mild flavors, it is a safe place to start when introducing young children to new foods. Serve these pickles with sandwiches, cheese or alone for a fun treat. Your child will love to help you make this easy, nutritious snack!

To learn more about cooking with young children, check out this post. 

To learn about how we make Kid Salsa, check out this post.

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff and interns.







August 9, 2014

It’s a Bird, It’s a Plane…It’s a Child in Costume: Dramatic Play for Early Learners

by Melissa Harding


Over the years, Phipps has been visited by many important dignitaries; besides the President of the United States, we have also been honored by visits from Batman, Spiderman and a variety of princesses. Of course, those last few have come to us in the form of children in costume. As any parent can attest, children love to dress up, especially for summer camp. Both boys and girls enjoy wearing costumes, no matter how make-shift, and taking on the persona of that person or animal. While it may seem like just a phase that young children go through, it is actually rather critical; whether pretending to be superheroes, royalty, animals, or anything else that strikes their fancy, dressing up is a core part of play for early learners. Costume play is a form of imaginative play, acting out the stories and emotions of others; this kind of play is important to both cognitive and social development. Research has found that imaginative play can increase language skills, as well as a child’s ability to express both positive and negative emotions. It can also increase their empathy for others and help them to better self-regulate their own emotions and behaviors. (Self-regulation, a form of executive function, has been addressed before in this space). When children use toys and costumes to engage in dramatic scenes, they learn communication and problem-solving skills as well.

Clearly, dramatic play and dress-up are important parts of both childhood and child development. In fact, dramatic play makes up the majority of all types of play for children ages 3-7. This type of play is open-ended. While watching TV and playing video games are alluring, if passive, activities that children enjoy, toys and even ordinary objects provide a more active, creative experience. Other examples of dramatic play besides costume play are puppetry, role-playing and fantasy-play. This can involve re-enacting a scene from either their real lives or a story they’ve heard. It can also take on fantasy elements as children start to make up their own stories. This is how children learn to make sense of the world around them and how it relates to their lives. Much like reading fiction helps children explore new people and situations, so does dramatic play.

Phipps Science Education 074

While many children naturally play pretend with anything around them, others may need more encouragement to use their imaginations during play. Creating an environment that supports imaginative play is a good way to help those children learn to develop creatively.

Ways to promote imaginative and dramatic play for your child;
1. Set-up a role-play corner in your home or classroom: A play kitchen, post-office, classroom, grocery store or other location can help children feel like they have a “stage” to play on. This stage will encourage your child to act out more dramatic scenes. It can also help children to learn desired behaviors and skills; for example, stocking your corner with placemats, play dishes and silverware can help your child learn to set the table. If you don’t room for a permanent play space, allow your child to set up temporary play spaces, such as creating blanket caves and pillow forts that can easily be put away at bed time.
2. Provide materials for play: Even if you don’t have room for a corner to be devoted to a larger dramatic play set, you can still create small collections of items that your child can use to play: pots, spoons and an apron; envelopes, old greeting cards and stickers (or “stamps”); a small chalkboard, chalk and books; a toy cash register and clean, empty food containers. Try to provide items that children can pretend to read or can write on, as this promotes literacy. While younger children rely on realistic materials, older children will start to substitute, such as using a piece of rope for a fire hose or a stick for a sword. This material substitution shows that the child is learning abstract thinking and use of symbols.
3. Read more stories: Parents who read or tell stories at bed-time are more likely to foster imaginative play.
4. Make costumes together: Making costumes with your child is a fun way to promote learning about specific animals, plants and people.  However, don’t feel like they need to be works of art and built to last a lifetime. We create simple animal and insect costumes for our students to help them better dramatize the actions of our lesson topics without ever touching fabric or a needle. Simple wings can be made from poster board and yarn, or antennae from cardboard and pipe cleaners. You don’t need to know how to sew to create fun costumes that your child will love!
5. Provide lots of play time: Give your child uninterrupted time to play pretend. It can take children some time to stage their pretend play, especially when several children are playing together.
6. Let children control the play: While your child may want to play pretend with you, it is important that you let them control the play and take your cues from them. Remember, when adults are telling children how to play, it’s not really play.

The good news is that children will find a way to play pretend in just about situation. The best way to support this important developmental activity is just to let them do it.

To learn more about the benefits of imaginative play, check out this great article by Early Childhood News.

Read this post to learn about the importance of play to child development.

Check out The Importance of Play and get practical ideas for creating play-positive environments over at The Imagination Tree.

The above photos were taken by Science Education and Research staff and interns.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 169 other followers

%d bloggers like this: