Archive for ‘Summer Camp’

August 12, 2014

Home Connections: Making Refrigerator Pickles

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education_Cooking (3)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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







August 7, 2014

Home Connections: Making Kid Salsa

by Melissa Harding


At summer camp, one of our favorite topics is teaching about where our food comes from, plant to plate. We teach our campers how seeds turn into plants, how flowers are pollinated to become fruits, and how to find “hidden” plants in their favorite foods (hint: spaghetti is made of plants). These lessons naturally lend themselves to themed snacks, especially ones made of vegetables and fruits. However, as we all know, young children can often be picky eaters. No matter what our best intentions may be, sometimes all they want to eat are pretzels and chicken nuggets. Fortunately, we have kid-tested some great snacks that both meet Phipps healthy nutritional guidelines and our lesson themes. One of our most popular snacks is Kid Salsa; we tell our students that it is rainbow salsa, made from a rainbow of different colorful veggies to help them grow big and strong.

Making Kid Salsa is easy to do with kids, as it has few ingredients, and is beloved for its mild taste. There are three main ingredients in this recipe: tomatoes, sweet bell peppers and sweet onion. While these ingredients are not always individually liked by kids, they come together to create a pleasing taste that even young children can appreciate – especially if you spoon it on some whole wheat pitas. Additionally, they are easy vegetables to harvest from our Edible Garden, which is a great sensory experience that helps children connect their food to the plants that make it.


One of the ways that we turn this snack into an activity is to make it with our campers, rather than for them. While using sharp knives is not an option with early learners, there are some interesting devices that help us to turn vegetables into salsa without ever using an exposed blade. Our favorite item it a veggie chopper with its blades encased in a plastic circle; children can place it over a small piece of pre-cut onion or tomato and press a button on the top that raises and lowers the blades to chop the vegetable underneath. The children are nowhere near the blades, but have the experience of “cutting up” the salsa. As a bonus, this particular machine pulverizes the tomatoes into a pulp that is ideal for salsa and gives it a soup-y texture. A way to emulate this experience at home would be to use a food processor.

Here is how we make Kid Salsa:

6 tomatoes
2 bell pepper
1/2 sweet onion
1 pinch salt (optional)
1 small bunch cilantro (optional)

To make: Dice tomatoes, peppers and onion into  1/8″-sized pieces; use a knife, food processor or veggie chopper to turn veggies into very small pieces. Mix together in a bowl until combined. Using clean scissors, cut cilantro directly into the bowl to taste. Stir to combine. Add an optional pinch of salt to taste.

Serve with whole wheat pitas, pita chips or tortillas.

The urge to add more flavorful ingredients – garlic, hot peppers, cucumber – can be strong, but don’t give in to it. While these give a more grown-up and complex flavor to the salsa, kids will not like it. There are plenty of delicious salsas for adults; this one is just for kids. Many children express trepidation when it comes time to try the salsa; they worry it will be hot or spicy. This salsa always surprises them. Though it is basic in nature, it appeals to the simple and often picky palette of even our youngest learners.

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

The above photos were taken by Cory Doman.


August 5, 2014

Home Connections: Making Seed Balls

by Melissa Harding

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Seeds are a hot topic here at Phipps, whether in our seed-based school programs or in our casual camp lessons. We dissect them, explore them in our sensory bins, plant them and use them to craft. In short, if there is a way to turn old seeds into a craft, game or lesson, we have tried it. One of our favorite ways to explore seeds and the topic of germination is to make seed balls. A seed ball is a little ball made of compost, clay and seeds that can be planted anywhere, even in areas with poor soil. Popular with urban gardeners, these little balls can be thrown over fences, planted on the sidewalk and put in the least hospitable places, yet still grow. In a decorative bag, they also make beautiful gifts and favors for special occasions.

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Seed balls grow so well because each ball contains all the elements needed for the seeds inside to germinate; soil and compost in the ball provides nutrients and clay provides a protective coating for the seeds inside. All you need to add is rain! You can use any type of seed in your seed balls, from small carrot seeds to large marigold seeds, and shape your seed balls accordingly. This is a versatile craft that all ages will enjoy.
Here is how we make seed balls at Phipps:

3 parts clay (you can use powdered potter’s clay or pre-mixed children’s art clay from the craft store)
1 part compost or potting soil
1 part seeds
Water to mix

To make: Add water to clay and mix until it becomes a little soft and pliable. (This first part takes a strong arm.) Next, add compost and mix until mixture is a definite brown color and the compost and clay are integrated.  Finally, take a small handful of the mixture and sprinkle some seeds onto it. Mix the seeds into the clay  and form into a ball shape. Make sure the seeds are inside of the clay. Let them dry overnight or several days until the seed balls turn a lighter color.

Making seed ball is more of an art than an exact recipe. We do this activity different ways depending on the age of our students; with smaller children, we premix the compost and soil and allow them to add seeds and mold the mixture into pleasing shapes and with older children, we give them small amounts of all of the ingredients and allow them to create everything themselves.

To use: Toss anywhere that you would like your seeds to grow! It is best to toss before a rain spell or gently water with a hose to help soften the clay. Over time, the clay will break down and the seed will germinate!

Note: Please do not toss in natural areas where the seeds you plant may compete with native plants.

Check out this post on how we conduct an easy seed dissection.

Learn how to create fun seed mosaics out of seeds and homemade dough.

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

August 4, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Plant Your Plate

by Melissa Harding

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Summer Camp Recap is our easonal 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!

Plant Your Plate is a fun way to look at botany through the lens of food. Where does our food come from? How do seeds turn into cucumbers and then how do those cucumbers turn into pickles? Campers learned how to turn whole foods into salsa, pizzas, and even pickles. They sprouted radishes in a bag, made tea sandwiches and designed their dream gardens. Throughout the week, campers painted T-shirts, made chef hats and molded seed balls. They loved chopping, pickling and cooking their way through camp!

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.

July 25, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: Groovin’ in the Garden

by Melissa Harding


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!

Groovin’ in the Garden 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!

Check out the slideshow below for more images from our 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.

July 18, 2014

Summer Camp Recap: My Five Senses

by Melissa Harding

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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!

Little Sprouts: My Five Senses is based on touching, smelling, hearing, seeing and even tasting. Campers learned what their five senses are and used them to explore the natural world. They spent the week smelling herbs, feeling plants and listening for nature sounds.

Day one focused on sight. Campers learned about their sense of sight and why it is important to look closely; they learned to use binoculars and magnifying glasses to look far away and up close. Next, they went on a “worm” hunt around the Conservatory, looking for colorful yarn amongst the plants, and playing an “I Spy” game in the South Conservatory train exhibit.

Day two focused on smell. Campers used smelly Kool-Aid paint to color in pictures of fruit, matching the picture to the smell. Next, they smelled different fruits and veggies – citrus fruits, peach, pear and even a potato. They also took a walk to the Tropical Forest to hunt for smelly spices. Campers smelled cinnamon, black pepper and other fragrant plants. Back in the classroom, they planted a scented geranium to take home; campers can practice their observation skills all year long!

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Day three focused on touch. Campers decorated T-shirts with handprints, feeling the cool paint on their hands. Next, they touched a variety of natural objects, feeling things that are smooth, rough, hard and soft. The lesson focused on touching different leaves and flowers; campers took a walk around the green roof looking for different textures and trying to match leaves to their plants using their sense of touch. Campers also learned about worms and explored their new wiggly friends with their hands.

Day four focused on hearing. Campers made seed shakers from repurposed materials.  They then learned about their ears and hearing, singing songs about their senses and reading a story with silly sounds. They took a walk in the Conservatory to find different “shakers”, each one filled with different seeds, along the way. Campers listened to the sound of each shakers and tried to guess what size and shape the seeds were.

Want to talk to your Little Sprout about his five senses? Here are some of the books that we read this week at camp:
Here Are My Hands Bill Martin
My Five Senses Aliki
Listen to the Rain Bill Martin and John Archambault
Nosy Rosie Holly Keller
Meow Said the Cow Emma Dodd
Who Says That? Arnold Shapiro
Growing Colors Bruce McMillan
You Smell Mary Murphy
Can You Growl Like A Bear? John Butler

Check out the slideshow below!

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While our summer Little Sprouts camps are full, we are offering even more programs this fall! Our first, My Favorite Fruits, is offered both October 17 from 9:30-10:30 and 11-noon. Contact 412-441-4442 ext. 3925 or see the website to register!

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

The above photos were taken by Science Education Staff.

July 17, 2014

Backyard Connections: Easy Bug Traps

by Melissa Harding


There are more bugs on this planet than any other animal. That means that there are millions and millions of insects out there, outnumbering us all in multitudes. There are so many insects, in fact, that it is difficult for scientists to truly know them all. Researchers are discovering new insects all the time; if you are looking to discover an animal and name it after yourself, entomology is your best bet. Thankfully, you don’t need to be a learned entomologist to appreciate how awesome insects are. Being a bug scientist is easier than you think. At summer camp, we teach all of our campers to use observation to practice good scientific skills. While we are always able to look through our native landscapes to find insects to study, we also like to set a variety of bug traps to see what we can catch. We set both bait and pit traps over the course of the week and check them daily, hoping to find an insect friend or two.

This activity works well in the Conservatory and even better outside! Here is how we do it:

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Bait Traps
Bait traps attract insects with food. Rotten meat attracts carrion feeders, while other insects like overripe fruits, fermented foods, sugary foods, or oils (peanut butter). While not all of these are suitable for bait traps at home, knowing what you want to catch will help you decide what kind of bait to use. At Phipps, we use sugar and baked potatoes.

Sugaring is a method of painting tree trunks, rocks, etc. with sugar to mimic the natural weeping of sap from a wounded tree. This is a good method to catch nectar-drinking insects like butterflies and bees. To make sugar solution, mix two parts of sugar with one part warm water and stir until dissolved. Paint this solution on tree trunks, rocks, or other areas where you would like to attract bugs; areas that are easy to observe are best. Check after several hours to see what you’ve caught.

Baked potato traps are just what they sound like; the soft vegetation will attract decomposers like potato bugs, millipedes and ants. To cook potatoes, poke several holes in a potato and microwave on high power for 5-10 minutes until tender. Cut this potato in half and lay face down on bare soil. Choose a place that is shady and cool, not in direct sunlight. Leave the trap overnight and check the next day by lifting the potato and looking for bugs on the white underside.

059Pit traps
Pit traps are an easy way to catch ground-dwelling insects, such as ground beetles and millipedes. These little critters walk along on the ground and fall into your trap, where it is easy to catch and observe them. These traps also usually include some type of bait to entice bugs to come closer for a look.

We make our pit traps out of repurposed containers. Old pill bottles or small glass jars make great traps. Fill your trap with a small amount of mashed banana and cereal; add a small amount of dirt on top to give the insects something to hide in. Finally, smear a thin layer of petroleum jelly around the inside rim of the trap near the top. Take your trap and bury it in a moist, shady location; dig a hole deep enough that the entire container fits into the dirt and is flush with the top of the ground. Cover your trap with a large leaf to give it some cover. Let your trap sit for 24 hours and check to see what you’ve caught.


Creating a happy bug habitat
The bugs in your trap will not survive long if they are not put into a hospitable environment. While an empty bug box is best for observation, if you plan to keep your bugs for the long term they will need somewhere comfortable to stay. Creating a bug habitat is easy; all your bug needs is access to oxygen, food, moisture, and places to hide. A plastic bug box is built for this, but you can also use a shoebox or plastic container as long as you poke some small holes into the top for air. Next, add some vegetation and dirt for both places to hide and food. You can lightly spray your vegetation with water to add moisture to the environment. If you know what kind of bug you have, look up what foods they will enjoy most.

Once you have caught some critters, it’s time to observe them. This is the time to put your bug into a clear, small bug box or into a small, empty plastic container. Use all your senses to observe – look, smell, listen and, if appropriate, touch. Never taste or lick your bug friends – neither of you will enjoy the experience! Jot down your findings in a notebook; this is also a great time to draw your observations and make note of  your bug’s behaviors. When you are done observing, either let your bug back into it’s new home or let it go free.

This is a fun activity that you can do at home in your own backyard. Try out some of these fun and easy bug traps today – you may be surprised by the diversity of life that you find!

The above photos were taken by Science Education staff.





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