Archive for October, 2012

October 30, 2012

Creating a Naturalist

by Melissa Harding

Do you have fond, childhood memories of being outside – perhaps going hiking on family vacation, riding bikes in the driveway with friends or fishing with a grandparent? If you are an adult with a strong environmental ethic, than you probably do; most adults who hold pro-environmental attitudes can often trace the origin of these beliefs back to childhood experiences. Studies investigating the source of adult attitudes towards the environment have found that having positive outdoor experiences with a trusted caregiver – a family member, a teacher or a parent – play the most important role in the formation of a conservation mindset (Chawla, 2009).

Not only are these outdoor memories important, but so is the aspect of mentoring that goes along with them. When adults identify critical figures in their childhood that influenced their current environmental values, they mention family members most often. They also cite that these values were conveyed indirectly rather than through direct teaching, such as through showing appreciation for nature, demonstrating acts of environmental stewardship and expressing delight in simply being outside. Some specific examples from participants include raising frogs, identifying plants and animals, fishing and berry-picking with parents and caregivers (Chawla, 2007). There is also evidence that outdoor experiences with friends, as well as teachers, are highly influential (Chawla, 2009). Overall, a child’s environmental values are formed by the child’s character, his response to the natural world and the influence of others.

For parents and other caregivers, this is another affirmation of the influence that you wield in the formation of your child’s attitudes. While this is a large responsibility, it doesn’t need to be scary. There are many different ways to give your child positive, memorable experiences that will last a lifetime. In fact, you are probably already doing it. Camping trips, bike riding in the park and pulling weeds in the garden all count.

If this is new to you, start simply; a trip to the park, putting up a bird feeder or caring for a houseplant are easy ways to share the natural world with your child. As mentioned here, going outside is a great first step; there is no need to go further than your backyard to observe nature at work. Don’t know much about plants or animals? Learning together with your child is a powerful experience to share rather than a deficit you need to overcome.

Here are some resources and ideas to help you make the most of your time outside:

Nature Rocks: Find local natural areas, get ideas for fun outdoor activities and connect to other nature lovers
Children and Nature Natural Families Network: Learn how to start a nature club for kids and connect to other parents
Richard Louv’s Resource Supplement to Last Child in the Woods: Outdoor activities, book suggestions and helpful links
Simple Kids: Simple activity ideas to help your child explore the natural world
Home Connections: Try some of our ideas to combine outdoor exploration with fun activities

This blog wants to help you get excited about shaping a new generation of conservationists. Not only will going outside together create an adult who loves the natural world, but it will also increase the already awesome bond that you share with your child.

Don’t wait; head outside today!

For further reading, here are the sources used in this post:
Chawla, L. (2009). Participation  as capacity-building for active citizenship. Les Ateliers de l’ Ethique, Spring issue.
Chawla, L. (2009). Growing up Green: Becoming an agent of care for the natural world. Journal of Developmental Processes. (4)1
Chawla, L. (2007). Childhood experiences associated with care for the natural world. Children, Youth and Environments, 17(4), 144-170.

What is you and your child’s favorite activity to do together? Share it in the comments below!

The above images were taken by Christie Lawry, Amanda Joy and Melissa Harding.

October 26, 2012

The Importance of Observation

by Melissa Harding

“Science,” writes David Haskell, “deepens our intimacy with the world. But there is a danger in an exclusively scientific way of thinking. The forest is turned into a diagram; animals become mere mechanisms; nature’s workings become clever graphs.” Science is one story, he writes, true but not complete, and the world cannot be encompassed in one story (Source). Haskell, author of the blog Ramble and the new book The Forest Unseen, was recently profiled in the New York Times Science section about the nature observation practices he used to write his book.

Following in the footsteps of many great naturalists, Haskell decided to take himself to the woods. Not to live deliberately, in the vein of David Thoreau, but to observe. His object of observation is a small circle of forest floor, a little over a yard in diameter, and all the life that happens through it. He did no experiments and had no agenda, just a notebook and a hand lens. Haskell went to the same spot every day for a year, sitting still and recording his observations in a notebook.

“Usually, if you stay here for a while, something is going to happen,” he says.

There is a lot to learn from Haskell. His attitude of being still and using his senses to take in his surroundings is a good model for learning more about the natural world. Deepening our understanding of nature is a way to gain both perspective and empathy; whether is is through watching a spider build a web or birds searching the ground for insects, there is no greater way to learn than through observation. Nature is not a paradise, nor is it scary and unknown, but rather a little bit of both. Getting to know your own bit of land, your backyard or some grass in the sidewalk, is a sure way to gain appreciation for the world around you.

This is an especially important skill for children. Instilling in your child an enthusiasm for the natural world is critical to their future attitudes towards stewardship and conservation. Studies have shown that having positive outdoor experiences with a trusted adult or caregiver – a teacher, a grandparent, a babysitter – is a strong predicter of a child’s future conservation attitudes (Source). While this is important, it is not hard. Taking a nature walk, making observations out the window, and even just watching a plant grow are simple activities that will have a big impact in your child’s life. Mentoring your child in stewardship is beneficial for you both; not only will it bring you and your child closer to each other, but also to the world outside your door.

As Haskell wrote in a recent column commemorating the anniversary of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring, “So our homework assignment from Carson, fifty years after Silent Spring, is to get to know a tree, to listen to a bird and to smell the beauty of soil. By giving our attention to the ecology of our homes, we’ll find Carson’s most important legacy: wonder.”

Bring a sense of wonder to your life. Go outside and be still.

The above photo was taken by Christie Lawry.

October 25, 2012

Conservation Psychology Institute at Phipps a Success

by Melissa Harding

This past week, conservation, science, environmental, education, psychology and other professionals with broad public engagement opportunities came from around the country to Pittsburgh for an intensive Conservation Psychology Institute, jointly run by Antioch University New England and Phipps, and based out of the Science Education classroom in Phipps’ new Center for Sustainable Landscapes.

Learning directly from an internationally recognized team of faculty (see bios)  about relevant psychological theories and strategies for increasing environmental and human well-being, participants included professionals from the World Wildlife Fund, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Duke Botanic Gardens, the Student Conservation Association, Carnegie Museum of Natural History, Penn State Broadcasting, and many more. The four-day institute consisted of two two-day sessions, each with a different focus.

The first session, Conservation Psychology in a Time of Wonder, focused on the importance of having a sense of wonder towards the natural world. Led primarily by Dr. Louise Chawla of the University of Colorado and Dr. Carol Saunders of Antioch University New England, this session focused on the power of using inspiration rather than fear to instill positive environmental attitudes in children. Molly Steinwald, Phipps’ Director of Science Education, Affiliate of the International League of Conservation Photographers and PhD candidate at Miami University, also talked about how images of wonder and natural beauty can be used to inspire an audience and aid in connecting them to nearby nature.

Participants learned about biophilic design, which uses parks, play spaces and buildings to help connect people to nature, and about the theory of “loose parts”, the idea that participatory learning experiences are more engaging when there are more objects in the environment to manipulate. Using Phipps nature play area, Discovery Garden and market play area as practical examples of how this can be accomplished, participants worked in break-out sessions to brainstorm ways to facilitate more participatory experiences both on site and off.

The second session, Conservation Psychology in a Time of Crisis, focused on the importance of communicating about issues of environmental crisis in a responsible way. Led primarily by Dr. P. Wesley Schultz of California State University, San Marcos, and Dr. Thomas Doherty, editor of EcoPsychology journal, the second session focused on theories of why people hold their environmental attitudes and how they can be changed. Molly Steinwald taught again about the power of imagery, showing that dramatic images of crisis can facilitate behavior change in audiences if properly utilized. Participants learned about inclusion theory, the theory of why and how people feel connected to or a part of nature, and how to use this as a metric to evaluate the effectiveness of education and awareness-based programs. They also had the opportunity to work with each other and benefit from the collective experience of the group to brainstorm about specific issues faced at some of the participating institutions.

The institute not only allowed conservation professionals from all parts of the field to come together and gain a better understanding of their peers, but also of how conservation psychology can be applied to all areas and professions. Whether a participant is a therapist or scientist, learning better ways to communicate complex issues regarding the environment is beneficial to everyone.

As an educator, the information I learned from this conference not only forced me to re-evaluate some of my theories on education, but reinforced my beliefs in the importance of using positive messages when teaching about crisis issues and of being an environmental “cheerleader” when working with children. I am still mulling over the sessions that I attended and look forward to applying the strategies I learned to increase the quality of our programs and our ability to accurately evaluate them.

If you are interested in learning more about the upcoming 2013 Conservation Psychology Institute in the New England area through AUNE or about faculty involved, visit either this most recent or previous institute webpages. AUNE will post additional information about the upcoming institute soon.

The above pictures were taken by Molly Steinwald, Amanda Joy and Eva Resnick-Day.

October 23, 2012

Little Sprouts Have Fun in All Seasons!

by Melissa Harding

We just finished our latest four-week Little Sprouts program, My Four Seasons, and we had so much fun! Campers learned all about the four seasons and how they affect plants and animals, from how a plant makes a seed to why animals hibernate in the winter. Campers sang songs, played games and read stories to help them understand seasonal change in nature.

Week one focused on the falling leaves and dropping temperatures of fall. Campers made leaf prints in play dough and leaf rubbings on paper using differently shaped leaves from around the Conservatory. After they were finished, campers explored tree bark, branches, buckeyes and acorns from our tree bin, as well as played with animal puppets and tree cookies. Our tree puppet came back for a repeat performance and we learned about the different shapes and colors of leaves. Finally, campers decorated collecting pouches made from recycled newspaper and used them to collect fallen leaves, seeds, acorns and more during a tour of the Outdoor Garden.

Week two was about winter and hibernation. Campers created snow scenes on dark construction paper using paint made from dissolved Epsom salts and experimented with melting “icebergs” by pouring warm water over them. Using animals puppets, campers learned why some animals hibernate and played a hibernation dancing game. Finally, campers explored through the Conservatory with magnifying glasses.

Week three focused on spring, learning about the birth of new plants and animals. Campers decorated mosaic picture frames using flowers and petals; when they were finished, they explored the soil, pots, and seeds in our spring bin as well as our animal puppets. Campers learned about the life cycle of a plant and the inside of a seed by pulling apart pre-soaked lima beans and pretending to be plants in a life cycle pantomime. Finally, we took a flower tour of the Conservatory and planted spring flowers to grow at home.

Week four was about summer and vegetable gardens. Campers painted on a big garden mural, using “popsicle” paints made from frozen Kool-Aid and played in our sand sensory bins. We learned how to plant a garden and why gardens are important; we also explored many different vegetables that grow in the garden and even sampled a few! Finally, campers took a tour of the Edible Garden and searched for different vegetables in our Gallery market.

Little Sprouts programs are a fun way to learn about nature with your child; studies show that exploring nature and the outdoors with a trusted caregiver creates positive attitudes towards nature in both the child and the adult (Louise Chawla, 2006). However, you don’t need to visit the Conservatory to get those benefits. Playing the in backyard or going to the park and observing seasonal changes is a wonderful way to increase both your and your child’s connection to natural cycles.

 If you want to read some great stories about the seasons with your own Little Sprout, check out these books:
Time to Sleep  by Denise Fleming
Fall Leaves Fall by Zoe Hall
When Winter Comes by Nancy Van Laan
The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats
The Mitten by Jan Brett
My Spring by Anne Rockwell
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

Our next Little Sprouts: Single Servings program, My Favorite Fruits, is scheduled for November 16, 10:30 am-noon. If you would like to sign up your child for a future Little Sprouts program, please contact Sarah at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

For a complete list of all our Little Sprout offerings, please visit our website. We hope to see you there!

The above pictures were taken by Christie Lawry.

October 20, 2012

Grab Our Badge!

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education blog now has a blog badge! If you would like to help spread the word about our work, please consider putting our badge on your own blog.

To put our badge on your blog, simply copy and paste the code in the box below into a text widget and put it on your sidebar.

Thanks for your support!

My Button

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October 19, 2012

Home Connections: Nature Weaving

by Melissa Harding

As the foggy mornings and frost advisories have finally confirmed, it is indeed autumn. Even if you have been hoping summer would return, there is at least one great reason to embrace the new season: autumn colors. There is no more beautiful time of the year than the oranges, yellows, reds, and browns of fall; trees are dropping jewel-toned leaves, goldenrod and blazing star cover the roadsides with yellow and purple, and milkweed is sending soft, floating seeds into the air. There are many fun ways to capitalize on this gorgeous display of nature, especially with your children. One way to get them outside and practicing their observation skills is to create a nature weaving.

Nature weavings consist of two parts: the loom and the weaving material. A loom is just something that supports the weaving materials and provides a structure to weave on. It can be made out of cardboard, sticks from the backyard, a wooden frame, or anything else you can think of. The easiest material to use is a cereal box.

How to make a cerealbox loom (Source)
You will need:  front side of a cereal box, twine or yarn, scissors, craft glue

1. Cut your cereal box just a little larger than the size of the weaving you want to make. Cut a row of slits in the top and bottom ends, making each slit one-fourth to one-half inch apart.

2. Tie a knot in your string, slip the knot into one of the slits to anchor it, then run the string to the slit on the opposite side.

3. Slip the string behind the cardboard to the next slit on the same side, bring it through, then run it across the board again. Keep going until the whole piece of cardboard is strung like a guitar.

Now that you have your loom strung, you are ready to look for materials! Materials to weave inside the loom are anything you can find outside: leaves, sticks, grasses, flowers, feathers, tree bark, pine needles, and feathers, to name a few. Nature weaving is a great activity to do with children of all ages; while the act of weaving can be difficult for young children, they can still put their findings into the loom any which way and create something beautiful. Most importantly, these materials can be found outside on a nature walk.

A nature walk during autumn can be an incredibly sensory experience, from the earthy smell of damp ground to the beautiful colors and the sounds of falling leaves. Evidence of animals gathering for the winter is everywhere and the wet ground means that you will most likely find their tracks. All of this is great to observe with magnifying glasses and, even better, a place to take your nature journals. Encourage your child to note what is different about the changing season and to use his or her senses to explore your surroundings while you gather objects.

Assembling your weaving is as easy as ‘over and under’. Your loom provides you with all of the strips going one direction; all you need to do is to weave your found objects in the other direction. Weaving moves objects alternately over and under the pre-strung strips of material. If your child has trouble with this, he or she can still put objects into the loom; just give him or her a bit of help to make sure that the materials in the weaving are secure.

Want to embellish your weaving? Try adding bits of ribbon, colored string or yarn, pipecleaners, fabric or other colored craft materials around your found items. You can also yarn or ribbon to create a loop and hang your creations on a door or window. Nothing will help you usher in the new season like a beautiful nature weaving!

For more resources about weaving with children, try these websites:
Scholastic Books (this website also has great book ideas related to weaving)
Let the Children Play (both natural and non-natural weaving activities)
Michelle Made Me (weaving paper plate suns)

Do your children enjoy making any other crafts using natural objects? Share them in the comments below.

The above images were taken by Christie Lawry and Amanda Joy.

October 18, 2012

Upcoming November Programs: Something for Everyone!

by Melissa Harding

This November, we have a full calendar of fun activities to designed to get your child excited about nature! All of our programs involve creative crafts, healthy snacks and a tour of the Conservatory, as well as the message that plants are important to our everyday lives. Learn botany through art, food and fun!

Evening Ed-Ventures: Art Party!
Ages 6-9
November 2, 6:30-9:30 p.m. 
Evening Ed-Ventures are a kid’s-night-out program for children ages 6-9, scheduled for the first Friday evening of every month. Bring your child to Phipps to learn exciting science with us and have the evening to yourself! Art Party will focus on different forms of art, from sculpture to mosaic to screenprinting, and famous Pittsburgh artists. Children will make fun projects to take home and learn about botany through art.
Costs are $20/member and $25/non-members; sign up a second child for 50% off!

Celebrate! Fitness at Phipps
Ages 8-12
November 10, 10 a.m.-noon or 1-3 p.m.

Celebrate! programs are one-day camps designed to celebrate the seasons. Our Fitness at Phipps will focus on healthy living, especially physical fitness and food choices. Campers will learn yoga and Zumba!, cook healthy snacks and learn the importance of a fit and active life; they will create jump ropes out of plastic bags and learn how recycling is a way to keep our planet fit and healthy.
Costs are $12/member and $15/non-members

Little Sprouts:  Single Servings, My Favorite Fruits
Ages 2&3 (with an adult)
November 16, 10:30 a.m. – noon
Join us for the our second Single Serving of fun and learning, My Favorite Fruits.  Little Sprouts: Single Servings is a one-day version of our popular Little Sprouts series for toddlers and caregivers. In My Favorite Fruits, campers will learn the life cycle of a plant, how fruits are formed and the importance of seeds. Join us for a morning of songs, crafts and snacks that come from fruits! We will also take a tropical fruit tour of the Conservatory, learning how and where some of our favorite fruits grow.
Costs are $12/member and $15/non-members

If you would like to sign up your child for this or any other program, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)-441-4442 ext. 3925. For a complete list of our fall programs, please visit our website.

We hope to see you there!

The above pictures were taken by Julia Petroski and Christie Lawry.


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