Monday, June 6, 2016

No Batteries Needed

Summer is almost upon us and, as Spring comes to a close, so does school for my kids. But that does not mean that learning has to end too. We have simply ditched the textbooks for the wonderful outdoors – well, our back yard but its all good and green!

I have been looking for some creative activities for us to do that combine nature with learning. There are many books out there on the subject but, being a fan of Asia Citro’s books, I couldn’t wait to try her new book, A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature. 

This is actually now my favorite of her three books. I just couldn't say how much I absolutely LOVED it because that would not be possible. Each page was just awesome. I love the design and layout. I love the colorful photographs and the creative activities. And I'm not embarrassed to say that I was just as excited to do the crafts and activities as my kids were. It's a real gem and wonderful source of inspiration for me when it comes to getting outdoors with my kids and as a family.

After having fun just sifting through the beautiful pages alone, we just could not decide which activity we wanted to try first but I assured each child we would get to their choice!

We started with a nature walk to find some leaves for the Nature Cutting Tray activity on page 40. I knew this activity would be a good one for my toddler.
We simply took along a pair of scissors and a small bag (plus my little one brought with him a magnifying glass to 'inspect') and started collecting a variety of leaves and flowers as we walked through trails near our home. 

We took our time and just enjoyed being together, discussing the names of the leaves we were clipping and how they appear throughout the seasons. We talked about the different uses that leaves can have (healing, homes for birds etc).  We breathed in the fresh air and laughed. It was so nice! I realized how little I actually get outside with my babies. I will definitely be doing it more for sure.
Once we had a collection of leaves, we took them back to the house and I set them out on a tray in our ‘school’ room and let my toddler start cutting at them with his ‘big boy scissors’. Such a simple activity but he absolutely LOVED this and remained occupied with it for about half an hour. I could have got the huge pile of dishes in the sink done but it was such a joy to see him pause every now and then just to study the plant he was holding. Twisting and turning it, smelling it and throwing little bits of stem and leaves everywhere giggling.
The other activity we did was called Frog Hunt on page 42 ­­­. The instructions were to go on a frog hunt using little toy frogs but since we have an abundance of real life frogs in the ponds around us, we got to hunt for real ones.
The kids managed to find a huge bullfrog at one point which provided endless amusement. They pointed out his different features (slimy skin, claw-like feet, ear drum etc) and laughed as he hopped around and finally to his way back into the pond.
It was so neat to see how he camouflaged into his environment. The search also led to finding salamanders and turtles. There’s no shortage of them this time of year.
My husband so nicely volunteered to cut up a small tree branch for the activity on page 36 entitled Nature Blocks. He used an electric saw which made nice little round disks for the kids to build towers with.
But the best part was counting the rings together to see how old the tree had been. Something I learned personally from this activity as quoted from the book:

“If a certain ring is especially thick, there was a lot of rain and sun that year and the tree was able to grow much bigger. If a ring is thin, there was a drought or other hardship that kept the tree from growing much that year.”
Asia notes in her book that not all of the activities need to be done outdoors in a natural space. You can gather the materials you need and bring them inside which will still provide that sense of connection to nature – by observing, touching, and manipulating natural objects.

Our last experiment we did (so far) was the activity Coloring Flowers on Page 74. So simple to put together with few items needed.
We collected three white flowers, cut the stems to the same length and placed each in its own glass of water – making sure to use the same amount of water in each. Next the kids added food coloring to the water. We used one color (they chose purple) and added different amounts to each glass of water, labelling as we went. We tried 1, 5 and 10 drops as Asia said she had tried with her kids.
As suggested in the wonderful ‘extensions’ section on the page; we also tried a different color flower. But looking back, I think we should have tried a darker colored flower, less similar to white. So then we left them overnight to see how the food coloring had affected the flower’s color.  The kids thought it was really neat the next day to see how the flower had moved the water from the cup up to it’s petals via the stem.

I am so thrilled with this book. It is such a great resource for parents who are looking for ways to enjoy being outdoors with their children. I highly recommend getting yourself a copy today! 

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