Archive for ‘Friends’

April 2, 2014

Little Sprouts Plant Their First Garden

by Melissa Harding


We just finished our latest four-week Little Sprouts program, My First Garden, and we had so much fun! Campers learned how plants grow from seeds to flowers and back again, as well as how to plant and take care of their very own gardens.  They even worked together on a rainbow garden mural by matching colored flowers and vegetables to the colors of the rainbow, building a beautiful garden. Campers sang songs, played games and read stories to help them understand the plant life cycle.

Week one focused on the parts of a plant. Campers learned that roots keep a plant anchored into the ground and that stems act like straws to suck up water. They also learned that plants love sunshine and use their leaves to catch it to make food. Campers and grown-ups explored the Tropical Forest, looking for different plant parts on a scavenger hunt. We found big leaves, small leaves, brightly colored flowers and lots of exposed roots! Finally, campers planted spider plants to take home.

Week two was all about seeds. Campers made drums from recycled containers and filled them with colored rice, using recycled drum sticks to play them. After they were finished with their drums, campers explored a set of seed instruments and various seeds big and small, from a coconut to a carrot seed.  During the lesson, campers learned that a seed is a baby plant waiting to grow. Each sprout got a soaked lima bean and dissected it to find the seed coat, embryo and cotyledon. After the lesson, we all pretended to be seeds going through the life cycle and turning into flowers. Campers walked through the east wing of the Conservatory, looking at plants with magnifying glasses.


Week three focused on caring for a garden. Campers used vegetables as paint brushes to make pictures in a sensory craft. They also played in our dirt bins, using small cups, shovels and rakes. During the lesson, campers learned that plants need water, soil, air and sunlight to survive. Campers read several interactive stories about gardens as well.  They explored the Gallery market, pretending to shop for food at the grocery store. Finally, they all planted swiss chard to take home and grow on their windowsills.

Week four was for the birds as campers learned about garden critters. Campers made bird feeders out of pipe cleaners and cereal to feed their avian friends in the winter. During the lesson, campers learned that the garden is full of helpful friends like birds, bugs and worms. Campers looked through our worm bins to find a worm friend to observe, using flashlights and magnifying glasses to learn more about their bodies. They also learned that worms are important to the health of both soil and plants, making garden grow. Campers explored the Conservatory looking for critters, stopping to see some of the good bugs that we use to help the plants.

If you want to read some great stories about gardening with your own Little Sprout, check out these books:
Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert
Two Old Potatoes and Me by John Coy
No Carrots for Harry by Jean Langeman
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle
Now I Know All About Seeds by Susan Kuchalla
A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Hutts Aston and Sylvia Long
Jack’s Garden by Henry Cole

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Our next Little Sprouts: Single Servings program, I Heart Veggies, is scheduled for April 24 and 25, 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 Science Education and Research staff.

March 24, 2014

The Importance of Kindness: Teaching Empathy Through Interaction with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_ Butterflies (3)

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”
– Henry James

Everyone wants to be liked.  There is an inherent human need to feel like an accepted member of a group. That is why many of us join clubs and professional organizations. We all feel our best when we think we are liked for who we are; it makes us happy. However, if the number of books on happiness research are any indication, we are all striving to be happier. This can be especially difficult for children, who are learning to navigate the social landscape as they go. Fortunately, there is new research from the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study at George Mason University that suggests the best way for children to feel liked and accepted by their peers, to feel happy, is through practicing kindness.

A sense of empathy, or the ability to put oneself into the shoes of another, is the basis for kindness; if a person is empathetic, he is able to read a situation and put the needs of others above his own. Prompting people to engage in pro-social behaviors, such as helping others, increases feelings of well-being; conversely, people who are happy are much more likely to help others. In an experiment conducted in 19 classrooms in Vancouver, 9- to 11-year olds were instructed to perform three acts of kindness per week over the course of 4 weeks. A control group of students was asked to visit three places in the same time frame. Students in both groups showed improved feelings of well-being, but students who performed acts of kindness experienced greater peer acceptance than students from the control group. In essence, those students who were kinder and more empathetic to others were more popular and well-liked.

With the high incidence of bullying in schools, as well as spikes in depression and anxiety in students, this is an idea worth considering. Peer acceptance is an important goal, as it increases a sense of well-being. Empathy is not only an essential social skill, but an academic one; research shows that successful learners are not only knowledgeable, but also empathetic. Successful students not only exceed in the classroom, but in the community. The ability to be empathetic is found naturally in all of us, but requires nurturing to be properly developed. One way to teach these skills is through engagement with nature.


Children often have a natural affinity with the natural world, especially animals.  Animals are a constant source of wonder for children, baby animals in particular; children naturally feel emotionally invested in animals. This fact is well-known in the medical community; there are a growing number of pet and equine therapy programs for children who are the victims of abuse or who have mental illness. Owning a pet, volunteering at an animal shelter or caring for a class pet are all ways that children can bond directly with animals. The bond that forms between child and animal has been shown to increase social competence and sense of well-being. As a child cares for and nurtures an animal, he or she develops a sense of empathy, which in turn promotes pro-social behaviors towards other people.

Another way to create a sense of empathy is through creating a sense of place. Whether it is a backyard or a local park, allowing children the time and freedom to explore, play in and care for a green space will create an affinity with the area. Research shows that those children with a sense of place are also more likely to turn their love of one place into a love for all of nature; this creates a sense of empathy with the natural world. Even caring for plants, for instance in the form of gardening, is beneficial. Spending time outside with trusted adults and watching them demonstrate their own care for nature helps to form a child’s sense of stewardship for the plants and animals within it.


Among those plants and animals are people, which are surely also part of nature. As children learn to treat the world around them with respect and care, so they will also treat each other. Caring for each other is an important part of any community. The more able children are to act with kindness, the more successful and happy they will become. As James Boswell once wrote, “We cannot tell the precise moment when friendship is formed. As in filling a vessel drop by drop, there is at last a drop which makes it run over. So in a series of acts of kindness there is, at last, one which makes the heart run over.”

Here are a few ways to teach empathy and kindness at home:
1. Create a secure attachment relationship between child and caregiver: This means showing empathy to your child and comforting them during times of distress. While it seems like simple parenting, about two-thirds of American children have a secure attachment to their caregiver; the one-third who do not have this security have decreased academic and social competency. Empathy comes from being empathized with.
2. Be a good example: Model the behavior that you would like them to have.
3. Help children to recognize their own feelings: Helping your child to learn what they are feeling and express it will help them to better communicate their feelings with others
4. Take care of others: Giving a child the opportunity to nurture a pet or a garden will help develop empathy.
5. Perform random acts of kindness: Performing acts of kindness as a family is a great way to build connections with the community and among yourselves.
6. Spend time in nature: Not only does time in nature boost cognitive skills, but it also allows children to develop a sense of place.

For more activities, check out the Humane Society’s The Empathy Connection.
Learn more about pro-social behavior in schools from Paul Tough, author of How Children Succeed, at This American Life.

The above photos were taken by Science Education Staff and interns.

February 21, 2014

Girl Scout Day at Phipps!

by Melissa Harding


Our second annual Girl Scout Day, Blossoming Badges at Phipps, was a great success! Over ninety Brownie Girl Scouts, parents and troop leaders met at Phipps to earn three badges: Senses, Household Elf and Bugs. With the help of our many wonderful volunteers and Matt Quenaudon, our resident insect expert, the girls learned how to be thoughtful scientists through three multidisciplinary programs.

The first program, Senses, focused on the power of observation. During this guided tour, the girls were each given a scavenger hunt and told to use their senses of sight and touch to find different plants and exhibits in the Conservatory. They also stopped at stations to utilize their remaining senses, learning about specific plants along the way. The girls used their ears to observe the sounds of the Conservatory and their noses to guess secret scents like chocolate, cinnamon, nutmeg and coffee. Finally, they tasted bitter, salty, sweet and sour plants to learn about the parts of the tongue.


The second program, Bugs, focused on the importance of insects in the ecosystem. The girls met some yellow-striped, tropical millipedes and learned how they are beneficial in the soil; after this, they each got to release one back into the Tropical Forest to do its good work. Next, the girls examined praying mantis egg cases and the eggs inside. Finally, they journeyed to the Stove Room and observed a batch of newly-hatched praying matises, holding them and examining them with magnifying glasses.

The third program, Household Elf, focused on ways that the girls can help their homes be safe, happy and healthy. They learned about the importance of saving energy and water; the girls came up with many different ways that they could help out with that in their own homes, from turning off the lights when they leave a room to saving water while they brush their teeth. To remind them of these ideas, they made light switch covers with conservation messages to take home and stick on their switch plates. Next, they learned how plants clean the air and planted a clean air plant garden of spider plants and philodendron. They also talked about the importance of putting healthy things on their bodies and made their own lip balm out of natural materials.

Overall, the girls had a really great time and so did we! Not only were they extra excited to be at Phipps, but many had never been to the Conservatory before. By encouraging them to use all of their senses to learn and experience Phipps, we hope that they take those skills out into their own communities and learn about the plants and animals that live there as well.

Check out more photos from the day in the slideshow below!

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Do you have a Brownie Girl Scout that missed our Girl Scout Day or scouts of a different age at home? Check out our school programs, seasonal Celebrate programs and Evening Ed-Ventures; keep your eyes peeled for our next Girl Scout Day!

If you would like to register for a scout program, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)441-4442 ext. 3925.

The above photos were taken by Christie Lawry.

February 11, 2014

Campers Celebrate Valentine’s Day!

by Melissa Harding


Though many people may think of Valentine’s Day as just another holiday that is meant to sell cards, it is much more than that. Valentine’s Day is the perfect time to show loved ones how much they mean; not just significant others, but also friends, family, co-workers and neighbors. It is always wonderful to remind other people that they are special! This is an especially important holiday to celebrate with children, as it teaches the importance of both having and showing gratitude and love for others. We joined in the fun last weekend as we celebrated love and friendship with 15 campers during our Celebrate! Valentine’s Day program. Campers learned the importance of showing love to both people and the environment, all while making crafts, playing games and exploring the Conservatory.

To begin, campers used recycled cards and paper, stickers, sparkles and more to make beautiful valentines for friends and family. Magazine pictures from seed catalogues, bits of mylar balloon, heart doilies, and colorful yarn added a finishing touch. This lead into a discussion about the importance of showing others that we care, including plants and animals; campers learned that not only do we love plants, but they love us back by providing us with air, food, medicine and many other things. Campers then made a valentine for a plant by planting Philodendron plugs. The heart-shaped leaves of the Philodendron will remind campers that people and plants love each other.


By then, it was time for a snack! Campers made healthy fruit dip out of yogurt and cocoa powder, using strawberry and banana pieces as dippers. To learn more about how chocolate is made, campers visited the Fern Room, focusing on the cocoa tree. They even ran into a cardinal in the Stove Room and learned a few bird calls to “talk” with their new feathered friend. One camper is pretty sure she heard the bird say “See you later” to the group!

Even if you were not able to be a part of our Celebrate!, here are some easy ideas for valentines to make with your child:
1. Bird Feeders: Make your own version of our bird feeder and others; the birds will love you! The Crafty Crow
2. Newspaper Hearts: Recycled materials are a valentine for the whole Earth! You are my fave
3. Heart Garland: Give your house some love, too! Maya * Made
4. Seed Packet Valentines: Spread seeds and help beautify someone’s home or garden. One Crafty Place
5. Coffee Filter Hearts: Fun and compostable! The Artful Parent

If you missed this program and would like to join us next month for Celebrate! Nature Beauty, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)-441-4442 ext. 3925. For a complete list of all our spring programs, please visit our website.

The above pictures were taken by Molly Steinwald.

February 10, 2014

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.

Summer is a great time to be outside. There are flowers to pick, streams to cross and critters to find. 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 our photography intern, Cory Doman.

November 11, 2013

Celebrating Healthy Minds and Bodies with Girl Scouts

by Melissa Harding


Last weekend we celebrated physical and mental health during our Fitness at Phipps program. We were joined by Junior Girl Scouts from three different troops as we learned how to take good care of ourselves through deep breathing, yoga, jump roping and healthy eating. As many children are experiencing very high levels stress at school and at home, it is important to help children understand how to take care of their bodies, minds and spirits to keep them happy and healthy. Our fitness camp is intended to do just that through the multidisciplinary lens games, crafts and cooking. We had a lot of fun and even got a little silly!

First, campers recycled old T-shirts to turn them into jump ropes. This colorful craft combine repurposing items that would otherwise be discarded with fun braiding techniques to create a useful fitness tool that gets kids outside and excited to exercise. Campers made their jump ropes into colorful braids using strips cut from a rainbow of large T-shirts. The results were both really pretty and perfect for jump roping; using T-shirts creates a rope that has enough heft to swing properly and the material is stretchy enough that campers can change the length of their rope at whim. After campers finished their jump ropes, everyone went outside into the hall to try them out. They were a big hit with the girls!


Campers then learned about the importance of fitness for mind, body and spirit. First, they tried some fun yoga poses to quiet their mind and stretch their bodies. They loved the guided meditations and the partner poses best. Next, campers made two healthy yogurt dips and even cut up their own apples with fancy apple-peelers. They learned the importance of healthy eating to keep their bodies strong; in particular, the girls tried some chia seeds in their dips and talked about how this ancient grain can add a delicious bit of fiber to snacks.

After snack, the girls walked to the Outdoor Garden to try out some jump rope games. They jumped forwards, backwards, and played some circle games with their new jump ropes. Finally, we came back to the classroom to wrap up with a Girl Scout friendship circle and some great songs!

To see more photos from camp, check out the slideshow below!

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Even if you were not able to be a part of our Celebrate!, you can still practice these stress relief techniques with your child:

1. Prevent stress by keeping your body fit and active; healthy eating and taking time to unwind with vigorous exercise are important for both adults and children. A healthy body is better able to withstand stress-induced illness.
2. Use visualization: Take a break and sit quietly for a few minutes while  imagining a peaceful scene. Five to ten minutes of picturing a soothing image like playing at the beach, walking through the woods or floating in the air can relax and distract a stressful mind.
3. Muscle relaxation: Tense and relax each muscle group while lying in bed; start at the top of the head and work down to the toes. Tense each muscle group and move onto the next until the whole body feels light and relaxed.
4. Breathing exercises: Concentrate on slowing down breathing by counting slowly to four as you breath in; do the same thing as you breathe out. Continue for several minutes until the stress starts to melt away.
5. Go outside: Being in nature for as little as five to ten minutes can reduce stress levels and create a peaceful feeling.

These techniques are useful for children and adults alike. Be a good example to your child and show them stress management in your own life; they will model your behavior and learn that stress does not have to control them. They can control their stress themselves!

If you missed this program and would like to join us December 14, 10-12 pm or 1-3 pm for Celebrate! The Holidays, please contact Sarah Bertovich at (412)-441-4442 ext. 3925. For a complete list of all our fall and winter programs, please visit our website.

The above photos were taken by Lisa Xu.

July 26, 2013

Summer Camp Recap: Dancin’ with the Plants and Fairytale Forest

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, we had two camps, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The first, Dancin’ with the Plants, is a dance and movement-based camp for campers 4-5 years of age. The second, Fairytale Forest, is a fairytale-based camp for campers the same age. Both camps are full of crafts, games, stories, songs, and lots of fun!


Dancin’ with the Plants teaches about nature through movement. Through simple breathing exercises, pantomime and dance, campers learned about plant life cycles, birds, amphibians, insects, mammals, weather and rainbows. They made bird masks, bug antennas and butterfly wings to wear as they danced. They also made bird feeders and decorated T-shirts with animal tracks. Throughout the week, campers learned about pollination, plant life cycles, weather and composting. They loved dancing with scarves and hunting for insects all week long!


Fairytale Forest is a whimsical camp that teaches basic botany in a multidisciplinary manner. This camp is so popular that we run it twice a summer! Every day, campers read a different fairytale and learn about its featured plant through games, activites and exploration. The camp featured: Cinderella and her pumpkin, Stone Soup and vegetable gardens, The Princess and the Pea (and peas!), The Little Red Hen and her wheat, and Jack and the Beanstalk and different seeds. Campers made fairy crowns, party hats to attend Cinderella’s ball and magic wands. They also searched for missing slippers in the garden and planted their very own pumpkins and beanstalks. Campers loved to hear their favorite stories read aloud and enjoyed playing in the gardens, pretending to be princes and princesses.

Check out the slideshow below for more images from our week!

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

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


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