Archive for ‘Friends’

February 23, 2015

Creating a Rich Environment: The Role of the Adult in Children’s Play

by Melissa Harding


“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Do you remember the games that you used to play as a child? Pretending to be princesses, cowboys, explorers with your friends; turning a pile of blocks into a city or using a stick as a sword; making up ridiculous rules for pretend games. Many of us have fond memories of playing with friends and family, as well as alone – it doesn’t take much effort to think back to those fun times we all had as children. There is a reason for that; playing is one of the most important developmental tasks of early childhood. It turns out that all the time you spent pretending to be a monster is key to who you are today. Long, uninterrupted blocks of time spent playing – by yourself and with your peers – are what allowed you to develop into a successful adult and are what will help your children do the same.

Play is a purposeful experience for children and very gratifying, something that they love to do and find endlessly absorbing. Children employ themselves very seriously in the act of play. At the same time, play is a bit of a paradox; it is both serious and silly, real and pretend, apparently purposeless yet absolutely essential. So what is play? One of the commonly accepted definitions of play is something that is: intrinsically motivated, controlled by the players, about process rather than product, non literal, free of any externally imposed rules, and  actively engages the players. To ask a child, it means the absence of adults and the presence of peer or friends.


There are many forms of play that develop at different rates in different children. Most very young children start off with sensory or exploratory play – touching, mouthing, feeding themselves – and add other forms of play as they develop. In fact, playing itself helps children to build upon their skills and develop into new kinds of play. Learning is integrated in play and largely unseen to most adults. Play has an intrinsic value because this learning is child-directed and takes place without direct teaching. It develops the foundation of intellectual, social, physical, and emotional skills necessary for success. Building with blocks can lay the foundation for mathematical and scientific thinking; rough-housing develops social and emotional self-regulation; pretend play creates communication and conversation skills. As they develop skills in play, children begin to have greater creativity and flexibility in thinking. Play has even been cited as having  a positive influence on literacy. Learning and development go hand-in-hand with play, each an inseparable dimension of the other. Clearly, play is powerful stuff.

IMG_0371Children are quite happy to play on their own and to play with anything handy. However, there is a great deal that parents can do to support play:

1. Create a culture of play: Play needs time and space; give your child ample time to play on their own and with friends. A long, uninterrupted period of 45-60 minutes is the recommended minimum amount of time to support free-play.
2. Provide a variety of materials for play: “Loose parts” encourage children to manipulate the environment around them. These can be things found in nature, such as sticks and acorns, or build materials like blocks and clay. A mix of both kinds is best. Other useful items are dress-up clothes, art supplies, construction toys and balls for motor play.
3. Create a playful environment: Adults can help to set the stage, creating and maintaining an environment conducive to play. This can be something like providing a great location (going to the park, building a tree house or a fort) or as simple as great materials.
4. Allow some calculated risk-taking: Some risks (i.e. climbing trees or walking on logs) are appropriate and some are not; this is for you to judge as a parent. However, challenge and risk-taking is important to the developing confidence and gross-motor skills. Consider allowing your child to take some calculated risks.
5. Be OK with a mess: Play can be messy, muddy and a little rough. Accept the mess; your kids will love it.
6. Take an interest: Attentive adults can help redirect play when children get frustrated and result in longer, more complex episodes of play. Be a responsive watcher on occasion and become a co-player and role model, not a director.

There is also an emerging body of evidence that supports the power of outdoor play. Nature play is sensory, diverse and challenging. It provides the ideal setting and materials for any game and it’s a great place to make a mess. Full of loose parts, nature is full of elements that can be combined, adapted and manipulated. The rough, uneven surfaces are great for developing physical strength and building confidence. It is also a rich source for fantasy play. If nothing else, let your child play outside. With or without an adult presence, though preferably a little bit of both, outdoor play is a wonderful activity for children.

“Supporting children’s play is more active than simply saying you believe it is important. When children’s play culture is taken seriously, the conditions which make it flourish are carefully created. Children’s play culture does not just happen naturally. Play needs time and space. It needs mental and material simulation to be offered in abundance. Creating a rich play environment means creating good learning environments for children.”  – Marjatta Kalliala, author of Play Culture in a Changing World.

Winter is actually a great time to be outside. There are snowballs to throw, snowmen to create and icicles to collect. Outside is an endless playground – head outside today and help your child create memories to last a lifetime!

To learn more about the power of play and delve deeper into the supporting research, check out Dr. Par Jane Hewes’ excellent article Let the Children Play: Nature’s Answer to Early Learning.

Also, 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 Cory Doman.

February 9, 2015

Five Great Reasons to Come to Summer Camp at Phipps

by Melissa Harding



With all the options available for summer camps, why choose to send your child to Phipps? After all, there are hundreds of camps that are offered around the city every summer and there are so many different themes and types of programming to choose from. It can be hard to know where to put your child that will maximize both your money and their fun. We know this and want to reassure you that Phipps summer camps are a great way to do both.

Think we are a little biased?
Here are the top five reasons to come to summer camp at Phipps:


5. Make things: New friends, cool crafts and memories.

Phipps camp is a great place for kids to make things; we make costumes, artwork, bug traps, musical instruments and tons of other neat crafts. Not just stuff, but memories as well. Campers come back year after year and remind us of their favorite moments, activities and teachers. Over the years, we love to watch our students grow into confident naturalists before our eyes, and often have some sappy memories of our own.

Camp is also a great place to make friends; young or old, Phipps is an excellent place to find a kindred spirit. Many of our campers make friends during camp that last from summer to summer; parents also find camp a great place to meet like-minded caregivers that they can connect with.


4. Connect with nature: Spend time with the plants, outside and in the Conservatory.

Phipps offers a variety of unique natural environments for our visitors. Campers can be immersed in a tropical forest and then suddenly find themselves in the desert. Our glass houses allow us to transport our students all over the world, learning about and experiencing plants from different climates, while our natural landscapes provide a fun place to hunt for bugs, birds and other critters. We like to spend as much time outside as possible during summer camp, whether it is looking for treasures, gathering inspiration, reading stories, or just playing games.


3. Learn about plants and animals: From bugs to birds to bluebells, what makes them so cool?

Plants are important to our lives; they give us the air we breathe, the food we eat and even the clothes we wear. Not only do they keep us alive, but they are pretty cool, too! We have plants that eat bugs, plants that mimic animals, and even a plant that smells like road kill. That is not to mention all of the tropical treasures that grow chocolate, vanilla, coffee, spices, rubber, and citrus. We love to teach our campers the stories behind some of our favorite plants, as well as the critters that call Phipps home – hawks, song birds, frogs, turtles, fish, insects, and whole host of furry mammal friends. Every camper will spend time exploring the habitats of Phipps and learning about the flora and fauna within.


2. Gain observation skills: Look closer and ask better questions.

One of the best ways to learn about the world is through observation. 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. Phipps camps help children learn to be better observers, whether they are being detectives, plant scientists or artists.


1. Have fun!

More than anything else, we love to have fun! Even more than opportunities for learning, our camps are full of silly songs, dancing, jokes, stories, games, and imaginative play.  We let campers be themselves and encourage their interests and skills while still challenging them to try new things. Campers love Phipps so much that they often come back year after year! The highest compliment we get from a child is “that was fun!” and we strive to make sure that camp is always exciting and never boring.

In short, summer camp at Phipps is pretty awesome!
We are so excited about the upcoming season and hope to see you and your family there.

To sign up for summer camp, visit our website or contact Sarah at 412/441/442 ext. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

January 20, 2015

We Are Getting SO Excited About Summer Camp!

by Melissa Harding


We’re so excited and we just can’t hide it! Summer is almost here and we have just finalized our offerings for the upcoming camp season. We are so pumped to offer a new selection of summer camps to help your child connect with nature. Highlighting ecology, conservation, healthy living and art concepts through hands-on activities, each camp offers a fun and unique Phipps experience. This year we are expanding our age groups to include older campers, as well as continuing to offer the popular programs that families love. We have a great line-up of immersive experiences designed to increase your kid’s enthusiasm for the natural world, with something to offer for every child, no matter what their interests:
Do you have a child who loves BUGS? A camper who likes to make homes for all the insect friends she finds in the yard and who knows all about dragonflies? Then check out our bug camps for campers ages 4-7: Bugs in the Burgh and A Bug’s World! Your camper will have fun hunting for bugs all over the Conservatory, inside and out, and learning what makes bugs so important.

Check out this post to learn how to trap bugs at home, just like we do at camp!

Do you have a camper who loves to dance and perform? A child who pretends to be a cat under the table or a dinosaur at bedtime? Then Dancing with the Plants, for campers ages 4-5, is just right for him. Your camper will learn about plants and animals through dance and movement exercises!

Not sure that your child will love dance-based camp? Check out these fun photos from last summer – a great choice for boys AND girls!

Phipps Science Education (3)ghghghgh
If you have a child who loves to draw, paint, sculpt, or tell stories, then our art camps are right up her alley. We are offering nature-based art camps for children ages 4-5 and 10-11: Backyard Art and EcoArtist. Your camper will use nature as her inspiration to create beautiful and unique projects.

Can’t wait to start making nature art? Prepare for spring by making seed balls at home!


Do you have an older child who loves exploring nature and learning new facts about plants and animals? A camper who pours over books about his favorite animals and wants to be park ranger or a scientist when he grows up? Check out our new camp for children ages 8-9: Nature Explorers!

Want to practice observation skills at home? Check out this post for ideas!

DSC_2906Does your child have a passion for environmentalism? Does she love to learn about different places in the world? If your 12-13 year old camper is a budding steward of the plants and animals of the planet, then Climate Defenders is the right camp for her! Campers will learn all about world biomes while experiencing them right here at Phipps, as well as how their actions can have a positive effect on the world around them.

Learn how spending time in nature helps all children to become better stewards of the Earth!


These are just a few of the camps that we are offering this summer. Check out our website to see our entire line-up, including Little Sprouts, cooking, fairytale, bug, dance, and ecology camps. Our summer camps are both educational and super fun – at Phipps, we LOVE camp!

If you would like to register your child for summer camp, contact Sarah Bertovich at  412|441-4442 ext. 3925.

We hope to see you there!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff and volunteers.

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!

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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!


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

The above photos were taken Science Education and Research staff.

June 11, 2014

June is Great Outdoors Month: Celebrate by Going Outside!

by Melissa Harding


“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?

Here 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 picture was taken by Corey Doman.

June 6, 2014

From the Ground Up: Visit From the Nigerians and a Community Feast!

by Melissa Harding

Community Feast 036

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 is partnering with the Gidan Makama Museums in Kano, Nigeria to provide an immersive experience for 15 local high school students in each city. Participating students will learn about nutrition, cooking and cultural food traditions by following local food from farm to table and will be communicating with students at their partner institutions. This project will last from September to June, resulting in the creation of a community cookbook that will be designed and created by participating students. Students will also meet 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 is excited to learn more about what food means in their lives.

May was a busy month for our Global Chefs! The Nigerian students from Gidan Makama Museum came to visit for the last week of the month, culminating in a community feast for everyone who has been involved with the program over the course of the year.

The Nigerians arrived late Sunday night after spending almost a full 24 hours traveling. We are so grateful that they were willing to make such a long  journey! We met that at the airport and took them to their hotel in Oakland near Phipps. The next day, the Nigerian students and the Global chefs met and walked to lunch at the Chinese buffet restaurant near the hotel. The Nigerians loved the variety of food and everyone had a great time meeting each other for the first time.

On Tuesday, the Nigerians had a full tour of Phipps. They not only were able to spend time among the flowers in our beautiful glass houses, but they were also able to learn about our sustainable building initiatives and walk through the Center for Sustainable Landscapes. Since our landscape is so different from Nigeria’s, the students also went to Frick Park, a local city park to take a walk and experience a deciduous forest. Unfortunately, it rained a little too hard and the students got caught in a thunderstorm! However, they were still able to have an immersive experience in our forested areas.

Nigerian Field Trip 831

On Wednesday, the Nigerians took tours of Giant Eagle and of Whole Foods, two local grocery stores. Both stores provided kind staff who took the students around their stores. At Whole Foods, the Nigerians were provided with lunch and a nutrition tour of the store. In the evening, both the Nigerians and the Global Chefs enjoyed an outdoor picnic at the Phipps Garden Center near Mellon Park. They ate a fun meal on the lawn and then played outdoor games with Phipps staff anf volunteers.

On Thursday, the Nigerian students took a tour of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. They saw dinosaur bones for the first time and marveled at the sheer size of them. They also loved visiting the Polar World exhibit, the Hall of Gems and the Hall of Architecture. They ate lunch at a nearby restaurant specializing in Afghan food, which they really liked. After their time in the museum, the Nigerian students said that they really wanted to do some “American shopping”; in particular, they wanted to visit a Target store. The students had a great time looking at clothes and other items before dinner. That evening, they got together again with the Global Chefs for a guided boat ride on the Gateway Clipper down the Allegheny River. For many students, this was their first time on a boat. Students learned about the history of Pittsburgh and its bridges from the tour guide while snapping pictures and enjoying the ride.


On Friday, the Nigerians went to the Children’s Museum, which is the home of the other Pittsburgh Museum Connects grant winners. Kimberly Bracken, the coordinator of that program, has been working on a cultural exchange from with students from a museum in Ecuador. Kim met our students and showed them around the gardens at the museum. The Nigerians also had fun screen printing and making art in the museum’s exhibits.

Saturday was feast day! Early in the morning, the Global Chefs came to Phipps to harvest greens and other salad fixings from the Edible Garden. They harvested the seeds that they planted several months ago at one of their workshops; for many of the students, this full circle was exciting to be a part of. The Nigerians arrived after and both groups spent some time having good discussions about their respective food cultures. The Nigerians shared their reflections on their home program and their time spent in America. One thing that both groups mentioned that their favorite part of the program was the time spent planting and harvesting in the garden. The two groups also exchanged gifts; the Nigerians brought lovely leather handmade bags and wallets for the Phipps students and staff and we gave the Nigerians personalized garden trowels to commemorate their visit to our gardens. Before the feast, both groups worked together to create a big, beautiful salad with dressing and took it up to the Special Events Hall where the feast was happening. Friends and helpers from the past year, as well as family members and Phipps staff, all sat down with the students to celebrate their achievements over the past year. It was a wonderful time for everyone!

After the feast, the Nigerians and the Global Chefs all went to see a movie and spend some last time together before the Nigerians left on Sunday. Everyone agrees it was a wonderful visit. We are so happy that we were able to share this great cultural learning experience with students from both museums!

To see more photos from the Nigerian’s visit, check out the slideshow below!


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The above photos were taken by Phipps staff and volunteers.



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