Archive for June, 2013

June 18, 2013

Love. Not Loss: A New Way to Talk About Biodiversity

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like favorite television shows go on hiatus for the summer, so does the blog. We will be running eighteen summer camps in eight weeks, so we will be a little busy! In place of original posts, Tuesdays will now feature some of the blog’s most popular posts from the last year. Fridays will feature that week’s camps, with pictures, crafts and lesson ideas for parents and educators.

Above image from the IUCN’s Love. Not Loss campaign.

Let’s talk about biodiversity. When you think about biodiversity, you may think of a diversity of species, but do you also think of all the ecosystem services that a biodiverse region provides? Clean air and water, medicine, and erosion prevention are just a few intrinsic benefits that human beings receive from a biodiverse region. Conserving biodiversity includes tackling big environmental issues; how we solve these problems will greatly impact how a region’s plants and animals adapt and survive. However, the way we talk about biodiversity, especially to children, does not always bring these ideas across very well. It can be alternately alarmist and ineffective. The reality is that if our current way of talking about biodiversity was effective, we wouldn’t be losing so much of it.

Fortunately, the IUCN may have a solution. The IUCN, the International Union for Conservation of Nature, is the world’s oldest and largest global environmental organization and acts as a neutral place for governments, NGOs, scientists and businesses to find pragmatic environmental solutions. The IUCN tackles hundreds of conservation projects every year and wields influence with its many member organizations, even having official Observer Status at the United Nations General Assembly. One of the IUCN’s committees, the Commission on Education and Communication, has recently launched a new campaign on biodiversity using positive messaging to get people engaged in the conservation message.

“Love. Not Loss” is based on the idea that inspiring awe, wonder and fascination with the power of nature is the most effective way to reach the public about the importance of biodiversity. Why is that? According to the IUCN, “Research on adults who care about biodiversity reveals the single most important factor behind taking action is an emotionally powerful childhood experience of nature, from a visit to a city farm to stroking a wild animal. When people experience a memorable natural encounter as a child, that experience can be reawakened in the adult. People who got outdoors and enjoyed nature as children are more likely to be environmentally responsible adults”. This not only speaks to the power of natural experiences in childhood, but also to our ability to recall them and the emotions that they elicited years later.

IUCN’s Love. Not Loss video “How to Tell a Love Story”; great examples of positive conservation messaging.

The three core aspects of this campaign are 1.) localizing its focus to regional species, 2.) humanizing the message and 3.) talking about the people behind conservation successes. The goal is to combine this positive messaging with a call to action. These two things together are what the IUCN are hoping will create a real shift in conservation attitudes and actions. As an educator, this approach resonates because of the pervasiveness of negative messaging in environmental education for children. Sometimes doom and gloom are the main motivators of a program, which can scare and guilt children; students who are given negative messaging retain less information and are less likely to make an attitude change than when given a positive environmental message (Source).  Another danger is that a focus on loss and extinction can often lead to apathy and inaction (Source). We should be inspiring our students towards opportunity instead of scaring them away from consequences. It is entirely possible to engage our students and inspire action, not fear.

Hand in hand with that, we should always be striving to provide the kind of outdoor and environmental education experiences that will allow our students to form a connection with the resource. Inspiring a love of nature in our young students will create a new generation of conservationists who ready to take action. Parents and families play a crucial role in this. While a field trip or visit can be amazing, continuous and positive outdoor exposure is what creates a sense of place and love of nature.

IUCN has also created a series of short, funny films to promote their campaign.

As part of their new campaign, the IUCN has put out a series of short films and images that focus on positive messages; they are hoping that educators, students, scientists and citizens will share them and pass the love on. They are also encouraging students to create their own Love stories and share them with the IUCN’s Twitter and Facebook followers. This could be a great project for a class or home school group.

Do you have any important nature memories from your childhood that shaped who you are today?
Share them with us in the comments below.

June 14, 2013

Upcoming Seasonal Programs: Sprouts, Ed-Ventures and More!

by Melissa Harding


Summer has only just begun, but we are already preparing for the fall and beyond. 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

The above photo was taken by our photography intern, Cory Doman.

June 14, 2013

Summer Camp Recap: We Like Dirt

by Melissa Harding


Summer Camp Recap is our Friday 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!

This week was the first week of 2013 summer camps! Kicking them off is Little Sprouts: We Like Dirt. 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. What is more fun than making mud pies?


Day one focused on what makes dirt. Campers decorated summer camp shirts with their very own handprints, using brown fabric paint. While not everybody liked the feeling of “mud” on their hands, they sure had fun! Next, they learned what makes up dirt, from plant roots to rocks. They made mud and painted with it to make mud paintings and went on a dirt scavenger hunt in the Conservatory.

Day two was all about the critters that call the dirt their home. Campers made mud pies out of clay, mud and flowers. Next, they got up close and personal with a spider, a cockroach, and a few friendly pill bugs. Campers dug in the dirt in the Edible Garden and found worm friends in the soil.


Day three was all about worms and compost. Campers used cooked spaghetti to make “worm tracks” with paint. During the lesson, they learned what compost is and how it is made. They each studied their very own worm, looking inside its body with a flashlight to see the dirt moving through its belly, and got to reach inside our worm composter.

Day four was all about plants. Campers printed animal tracks with sponges. They learned the parts of a plant and how each part works. They looked at roots in a root viewer and got to plant their own carrots. Campers went on a critter hunt in the Conservatory and found a few new friends living in the soil.

Overall, we had a really fun week!

If you would like to read and learn about dirt with your own Sprout, here are some book suggestions:
I’m Dirty by Kate and Jim McMullan
Harry the Dirty Dog
by Gene Zion
The Piggy in the Puddle
by Charlotte Pomerantz
Ants in Your Pants
by Sue Heap
Inch by Inch
by Leo Leonni
Wonderful Worms
by Linda Glaser
The Curious Garden
by Peter Brown

If you would like to complete your own worm study at home, check out our post on backyard worms!

Check out the slide show below for more pictures!

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The above pictures were taken by our photography intern, Cory Doman.

June 13, 2013

Follow the Fellows: Revisiting Chicago’s Green Roofs with Kelly Ksiazek

by Melissa Harding


The Botany in Action Fellowship program at Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens fosters the development of a next generation of plant-based scientists who are committed, first, to excellent research, and second, to educational outreach. Open to PhD students enrolled at US graduate institutions and conducting plant-based scientific field research, the BIA program provides Fellows with funding for use towards field research in the US or abroad and a trip to Phipps, to engage in science outreach training and opportunities to share his or her research to public audiences.

Current BIA Fellows are engaged in research in locales including Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Maryland, Illinois, India and Nepal. Their work covers topics ranging from the role of green roofs in urban biodiversity and the influence of heavy metal soil pollution on plants and pollinators to identification of plants used by healers that protect brain cells from the progression of Parkinson’s disease.

June’s featured fellow is Kelly Ksiazek. We are revisiting Kelly again this summer because of the exciting work she is doing! Kelly is a PhD student at Northwestern University and the Chicago Botanic Garden where she also earned her master’s degree in Plant Biology and Conservation. Currently, Kelly studies green roofs in Chicago. Green roofs are a unique kind of rooftop in which plants are grown; they can provide wildlife habitat, help hold stormwater, filter pollutants from the air, and decrease the heating and cooling costs of a building. Her research aims to determine which combinations of local plant species can survive on green roofs.

Read an update on Kelly’s research and life as a scientist at the Botany In Action website!

You can follow Kelly and all of the BIA as they study plants across the US and across the world at the Follow the Fellows section of our Botany In Action website.

The following Botany In Action update was written by Amanda Joy, Botany in Action Fellowship coordinator.

The above image was provided by Kelly Ksiazek.

June 11, 2013

Home Connections: Cooking with Kids in the Garden

by Melissa Harding

IMG_1615Growing your own produce is both fun and rewarding; after all, you end up with something to eat when you’re done! Mid June is an exciting time for gardeners, as lettuce, peas and strawberries are starting to be ready to harvest. Depending on when you planted your seeds or starts and how warm your area has been, you may have many more different kinds of plants ready to eat. With all of that delicious food just waiting to be picked, this is a great time to break out your pots and pans; cooking with your family is both a fun way for your child to understand where his food comes from and a time for him to learn how food goes from the ground to his plate. Cooking is the science of transformation – watching dough turn into a loaf of bread is almost as exciting as watching a chrysalis turn into a butterfly! Your child will be delighted to help you in the cooking process and have a greater appreciation of the food they eat as well.

Remember, when cooking with children, always be aware of their actions; cooking is not a dangerous activity, but it is important to be aware of safety precautions in the kitchen.

In the spirit of late spring produce, here are some fun recipes to prepare with your family:

This cold-weather green is great for kids because of its mild flavor and how easy it is to grow. This plant is truly a “Set it and forget it” kind of plant. If you haven’t planted any spinach yet, it’s not too late, simply sprinkle a packet of seeds into your garden or a suitable container. Cover with a 1/4″ of soil and water liberally, then wait. Very soon, your seeds will germinate and start to sprout; start to thin them by picking some of them to leave space for the other leaves to grow. They are ready to be picked whenever they are at a size that you prefer – “baby” spinach is really just younger leaves. Cut them off at the stems and they will grow back again and again until it gets too hot for them. If you wish to grow spinach even in the heat of summer, plant it in a moveable container or a cool area of the garden.

Creamy Spinach Pasta:
14 oz. of pasta, whatever shape your family likes
2 cups of spinach leaves, cleaned and tightly packed
2 teaspoons of butter
2 teaspoons of olive oil
3/4 cup 2% milk
3/4 grated Parmesan cheese
pinch of salt, pepper and nutmeg

1. Fill a saucepan with lightly salted water and set to boil, then add pasta and cook using the package directions for “al dente” pasta.
2. Using scissors, cut the spinach into small pieces (or rip with hands – this is a fun part for kids)
3. Heat the olive oil and butter in a big pan; add the spinach and stir until wilted
4. Lower heat. Pour the milk onto the spinach, and stir until thick. Add Parmesan and stir everything together
5. Add your salt, pepper and nutmeg to taste.
6. Pour sauce onto your cooked pasta, mixing everything together. Add more cheese to taste.

This recipe has lots fo great parts for kids – stirring, washing and ripping spinach, measuring ingredients, adding cheese  – and still makes a great dish that everyone will love. If you are feeling adventurous, add some fresh herbs from your garden!

Peas are another cool-weather plant that kids love. Peas are fun to grow and sweet enough to eat right off the plant. It can be hard to gather enough peas to cook with, as it is often more tempting to just eat them in the garden! Growing peas is easy, all you need are some seeds and some thin stakes for them to vine upon; sturdy sticks from the yard are ideal for this purpose. Plant your pea seeds in the ground or in a suitable container. Cover with a 1/4″ of soil and water liberally, then wait. Very soon, your seeds will germinate and start to sprout; thin the sprouts by picking some of them to leave space for the other plants to grow. Once your plant is about 2-3″ high, place some thin stakes near your seedlings, one stake for each plant. Twist your seedlings around the stakes as they grow; they will begin to twine their own tendrils around the stake and grow up it themselves. Blossoms will appear and soon after, peas! Harvest when they are the desired size, according to the seed packet.

Pea Bruschetta
1 1/2 cups of shelled peas
1 lemon, washed
3 tablespoons of olive oil
1/2 clove of garlic, peeled
handful of fresh mint leaves, ripped
loaf of French bread, cut into slices

1. Blanche peas in boiling water for 2-3 minutes until bright green; strain in a colander.
2. Using a microplane, zest the lemon into a food processor; cut in half and squeeze the juice into the food processor as well.
3. Add peas, olive oil, garlic, and mint into the food processor; place the lid on and blend until smooth.
4. Put bread slices in the oven under the broiler until crispy. Remove and spread with puree. Add more mint leaves to taste.

This recipe also has lots of great parts for kids – shelling peas, peeling garlic, ripping mint leaves, adding items to the food processor and pressing the button, spreading the puree – and has a taste that grown-ups will like as well.

Cooking with kids doesn’t have to be hard or intimidating. They really enjoy helping and watching the process of food transforming into a meal before their eyes. Allowing them to help you can be a little messy and it is important to keep safety in mind, but they will love it! Don’t worry if  you don’t have fresh garden produce at home; you can have the same fun with veggies from the grocery store. The important thing is to make your meal together.

Here are some more resources for cooking with kids that we use these to help plan our own programs:
Grow it, Cook It with Kids by Amanda Grant
Start Fresh by Tyler Florence
Grow It, Cook It: Simple Gardening Projects and Delicious Recipes edited by Jill Bloomfield
The Children’s Kitchen Garden by Ethel and Georgeann Brennan
The Family Kitchen Garden by Karen Liebrich
Pretend Soup by Mollie Katzen

This summer, Phipps Summer Camps include three cooking and farming camps for children ages 4-5, 6-7 and 8-9. To learn more about our cooking programs, or any summer or seasonal camp programs, check out our website.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

June 7, 2013

Weekend Nature Challenge: Looking Up

by Melissa Harding

cloudsI bring fresh showers for the thirsting flowers,
From the seas and the streams;
I bear light shade for the leaves when laid
In their noonday dreams.
From my wings are shaken the dews that waken
The sweet buds every one,
When rocked to rest on their mother’s breast,
As she dances about the sun.
I wield the flail of the lashing hail,
And whiten the green plains under,
And then again I dissolve it in rain,
And laugh as I pass in thunder…

I am the daughter of Earth and Water,
And the nursling of the Sky;
I pass through the pores of the ocean and shores;
I change, but I cannot die.
For after the rain when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams with their convex gleams
Build up the blue dome of air,
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph,
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise and unbuild it again.

– Excerpted from The Cloud by Percy Bysshe Shelley


How often do you notice the clouds? It depends how often you look up. We all spend so much time looking down – watching where we walk, looking for dropped keys, tying our shoes, gazing into our cell phones – that we forget to look up. There doesn’t seem like there should be that much to see up there except sky, but that is misleading; just as there is a whole world under the soil, there is a whole world in the sky. Not just clouds, but birds, butterflies, bats, fluttering leaves and petals, sunshine and the wonderful feeling that life just goes on forever up there. This weekend, we challenge you and your family to look up. Lie on your backs in the grass to watch the clouds pass and the birds fly. Guess aloud what shape each cloud is forming; children love clouding watching! Lie under a tree and look up for bird nests and other animals homes (or the animals themselves!). You’ll be surprised what you have been missing when you’ve been looking down.

Take the next few days to explore the world above your head and cloud watch with your child. What strange shapes did you discover? Did you see anything else of note? Tell us in the comments below.

The above picture is courtesy of NASA.

June 6, 2013

June is Great Outdoors Month: Celebrate by Going Outside!

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_parents (3)

“The United States is blessed with a wealth of natural diversity that remains at the heart of who we are as a people. From breathtaking seascapes to the limitless stretch of the Great Plains, our natural surroundings animate the American spirit, fuel discovery and innovation, and offer unparalleled opportunities for recreation and learning. During Great Outdoors Month, we celebrate the land entrusted to us by our forebears and resolve to pass it on safely to future generations.”
– President Barak Obama, 2013 Great Outdoors Month Presidential Proclamation

June is right on the cusp of the seasons – not yet steeped in the intense heat of July, yet more dependable for sunny days and picnics than May. Half spring and half summer, June is a great time to get outside. Perhaps that’s why we celebrate Great Outdoors Month now – there is no better time to go hiking, bike riding or just lay in the sun than June. Being outside is not just fun, but good for you as well. Nature has a positive, direct impact on human health; it enhances the ability to cope with and recover from stress and illness, reduces the risk of obesity, increases happiness and positive life outlook, increases the body’s natural immunity to diseases, increases creativity, and improves mental health.  This is especially true of children, who benefit greatly from time spent outside as well. In addition to the above benefits, playing outside also makes children kinder and more compassionate, more confident and more likely to become a successful adult. Not bad for a game of catch, eh?

carn plantHere are just a few easy ideas to help you spend more time outside with your family this month:

Outdoor Recreation: Ride a bike, take a hike, go fishing, hop in a kayak or canoe, take a jog, visit a local or state parkgo camping in your backyard, go rollerblading or skating, play miniature golf, play catch or basketball, start a pick-up game in your yard or local park

Good Garden Fun: plant some flowers or vegetables, weed the garden and harvest produce, hunt for worms, play in the hose, watch the bird feeder, feed the squirrels, stop and smell the flowers, cook together with produce from the garden, create garden markers

Playing on the Porch: read a book, work on a craft project like knitting, crochet or painting, eat dinner outside as a family, play cards or board games, throw a BBQ for your friends and family

Art Outside: draw with chalk and watercolors on the sidewalk, paint the sidewalk with water, blow some bubbles, create a nature mandala, build a fairy house, create a colorful yarn weaving, build a fort, make a bird feeder or a bird nest helper, make a butterfly feeder

Even the internet wants you outside! Here are some great resources from around the web:

National Wildlife Foundation: great ideas for wildlife watching, hiking and other outdoor recreation activities
Great American Backyard Campout: June 22 – join the rest of the nation and sleep in your backyard
National Get Outdoors Day: June 8 – find a participating park or other site near you!
Let’s Move!: First Lady Michelle Obama has some great ideas for spending time outside as a family
Nature Rocks!: Learn where to go in your neighborhood for outdoor fun

Spending time in nature not just is proven to make you smarter and happier, but it’s also really enjoyable. Head outside today and have some fun!

The above pictures were taken by Christie Lawry and Molly Steinwald.


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