Posts tagged ‘thoreau’

February 6, 2015

Backyard Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0206

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake.

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in January, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

DSC_0200

Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry JunkieS
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is send them outside and they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

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

January 16, 2014

Backyard Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

DSC_0206

“In seed time learn, in harvest teach, in winter enjoy.” -William Blake.

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in January, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

DSC_0200

Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry Junkie
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is send them outside and they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

The above pictures were taken by Christie Lawry.

July 23, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding

Summer Reruns: Just like your 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.

mud_girl

There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.

DSC_0004

According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.

DSC_0221

Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

March 1, 2013

Home Connections: Exploring Nature in Winter

by Melissa Harding

Kids snow 2 Molly Steinwald

We need the tonic of wilderness, to wade sometimes in marshes where the bittern and meadow-hen lurk, and to hear the booming of the snipe; to smell the whispering sedge where only wilder and more solitary fowl builds her nest, and the mink crawls its belly close to the ground…we can never have enough of nature.” – Henry David Thoreau

The cold of winter can be biting and forbidding, keeping us all huddled under blankets with cups of tea in our hands. This is especially true in February, when it seems like it has been cold for ages and spring is a lifetime away. However, the cold doesn’t have to keep you in the house; winter is a great time to explore nature and have fun outside! Bare trees provide a perfect view of birds and other critters and few green plants makes them easier to identify. Whether you are going to the park, to the forest or just staying in your backyard, there are lots of great things to explore and do in the winter.

Bundle up and be prepared
Before you go out, make sure to bundle up. Little bodies can get cold quickly, so making them as comfortable as possible will keep everyone outside longer. Gloves, hats, boots and warm coats are a must on winter days. Dress yourself and your child like an onion; layers are key to staying comfortable. Avoid cotton materials if possible, as it is less able to stay as warm and dry as wool or synthetic fabrics. This is especially important for items which will most likely get wet, like socks and gloves. Finally, take some snacks along. Little bellies are likely to get hungry as they expend energy playing in the cold and a bite to eat could turn a grumpy child into a happy one.

Take a hike!
The most obvious thing to do outside is to go for a walk. Whether it is down the sidewalk or through the woods, a walk outside is always fun. There is so much to see and do while walking. Encourage your child to observe their surroundings and look for things of interest. Remember to slow down and walk at your child’s pace; he or she may find so many interesting things that you don’t get very far, but it’s about the quality of your time outside, not how far you roam. In winter, bare trees make it easier to spot birds, squirrels, chipmunks, and other animals in their branches. Colorful birds like cardinals and blue jays are easy to spot amidst the brown branches, but there are many smaller, darker birds hopping around as well. While you are scanning the trees, look for nests, weirdly shaped branches and other interesting sights. Binoculars are a great tool to bring along to help you spot them.

Turning your eyes down, there are lots of things to observe on the ground. Winter is the best time of year for tracking, as the ground is either snowy or muddy; animals of all kinds leave tracks to identify and follow. There are many tracking guides, even some for children, available to help you understand who made the tracks you see. However, it can be even more fun to guess and make up stories about the track instead. As long as you are having fun, it doesn’t matter!

An additional way to enjoy a winter hike is to go on a scavenger hunt. Depending on the age of your child, it could be easy (find something red) or hard (find a cardinal). Either make a list at home of likely sights or improvise as you go along. A game of Eye-Spy is an equally fun way to encourage observation. Take a magnifying glass with you to look at snowflakes, pine needles or anything else you find.

Kids snow Molly Steinwald

Collect Treasures
Sometimes, just looking isn’t enough – Children love to collect treasures! It may just be a rock to you, but it is an amazing find to your child. Children will collect anything; one way to encourage this is to bring a container for collecting outside with you. You can let your child pick up whatever catches his eye or direct him to a certain items such as sticks, pine cones, acorns or rocks. Make sure to monitor what sorts of items he collects; avoid delicate, rotting or otherwise undesirable items. Children should also understand that while they may want to take all of something, nature needs to keep some things for itself. At home, many of these treasures can be displayed in your child’s room or a shared space; filling recycled jars with treasures or putting them in bowls or on shelves helps to validate this sensory method of nature exploration.

Nature Art

One way to collect treasures is with a future art project in mind. Icicles on plant stems, red rose hips, and bits of evergreen have a short shelf life, but can be used to make beautiful art projects. They can be arranged in shapes outside in the snow to create winter land art or used to stamp designs on paper; the only limit is your imagination.

Here are some fun nature art ideas from around the web:
Winter land art and snow painting: The Chocolate Muffin Tree
Ice Art and Other Ice Crafts: Willow Day and Craftberry Bush
Pine Cone Birds:The Blueberry Junkie
Winter Bird Feeders: The Crafty Crow
Winter Love Jars: Marghanita Hughes

Or, try giving your child a camera or nature journal during your time outside and see what they create!

Play and Explore
Sometimes, activities and crafts are not necessary; what a child really needs is the time to play and explore. Sled riding, building snow forts, stamping in icy puddles and generally running around connect children with nature just as well as anything you may use to guide their energies. Sometimes all you need to do is give them a pocketful of crackers and send them outside; they’ll do the rest themselves.

If you are interested in more nature activity ideas, check out Nature Rock’s Winter Activity Guide.

The above pictures were taken and copyrighted by Molly Steinwald.

February 22, 2013

Creating Successful Adults: Nurturing Imagination with Nature

by Melissa Harding

mud_girl

There is a certain way that young children think, in which they use logic to create conclusions without fully understanding all the evidence before them. Recently This American Life, the WBZZ Chicago weekly radio program, investigated this phenomenon in a program called “Kid LogicDr. Paul Harris, professor of Human Development and Psychology at Harvard, has been researching child logic for years. One such experiment involves wishing; up to about age 6 or 7, many young children believe that they can wish something into being. In this study, a researcher showed children an empty box and asked them to imagine either a puppy or a monster in the box. After which, the researcher asked the children if they really believed that there was a puppy or a monster in the box; the children, of course, said no. Soon after, the researcher left the room and watched the children from outside. Those children who were told to imagine a puppy went over to the box and peeked inside; those asked to imagine a monster edged away from the box. A child’s imagination is a powerful thing.

Harris has also found that children not only imagine and act out fanciful possibilities they have never experienced, like being a knight in battle, but they also utilize their imaginations to think about real events and things they’ve never seen, like death or germs. This is necessary for children to learn about people and events they don’t directly experience, such as history or events on the other side of the world; it also allows young children to ponder the future, such as what they want to do when they grow up. Children use imagination to figure out confusing and fearful situations, making sense of a complex world.

DSC_0004

According to Harris, human beings have a “gift for fantasy, which shows itself at a very early age and then continues to make substantial contributions to our intellectual and emotional development throughout our lives”. In other words, having a good imagination is an important quality in successful adults. Imagination allow us to think about alternative scenarios and avoid making the same mistake twice. It also helps in making moral judgements and in language comprehension. When adults listen to a narrative, they create a mental image of the situation being described; brains often retains this mental image rather than specific words. These adult abilities are learned in childhood during imaginative play.

One way to engage children in imaginative development is through nature play. In 2006 a Danish study found that outdoor kindergartens were better at stimulating creativity and imagination in children than indoor schools. In this study, 58 percent of children who were in nature invented new games; just 16 percent of the indoor children did so. One theory for this is “loose parts”, the idea that if there are more loose parts present, play is more creative. Loose parts are easily manipulated items, such as sticks, rocks, flowers, and leaves; in nature, these parts are unlimited in number. Children naturally know what to do with these items; making swords, having tea parties, building fairy houses, and constructing forts are intuitive activities. Simply put, the natural world is the ideal place for children to hone their imaginations and creative abilities.

DSC_0221

Nature play can happen anywhere outside – in a backyard or in a forest, alone or with others. While it is important for children to spend time outdoors with trusted adults, it also important for them to be unsupervised (or at least feel like they are).  Letting children guide themselves and play alone without the presence of adults is often called “free play”. Free play is rich in competency-building experiences and opportunities for discovery. It also stimulates imagination and creative social play. As Thoreau once wrote, “We need a tonic of wildness”; let your child be free outdoors and you may be surprised at how his creativity flourishes.

Need more? Here are some other ways that parents can encourage imaginative development:
1. Model imagination for your children: Play pretend, build forts and be silly! Your kids will love it.
2. Encourage fantasy characters: Santa, the Easter Bunny and imaginary friends are all figures that nurture the imagination.
3. Read works of fiction and fantasy: This exposes children to new worlds, characters, places, time periods and situations to which they might not otherwise be exposed.
4. Play dress-up and pretend:
Encourage your child to act out situations that they have not experienced through play.
5. Provide open-ended toys: Much like loose parts, toys like dolls, buckets and balls allow room for creative play.
6. Get messy: Cede a little chaos for the greater good!

To learn more about Dr. Paul Harris’s research, check out this article on children and imagination or this one about autism and imagination in the Harvard School of Education magazine. Also this piece from the Wall Street Journal.

To listen to the full episode of Kid Logic, check out the This American Life’s archives.

The above photos were taken by and copyrighted to Molly Steinwald.

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