Category Archives: Nature

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Look Up! It’s The Perseid Meteor Shower

You might see a lot or you might not see many, but if you stay in the house, you won’t see any. — EarthSky Magazine

 

The annual Perseid meteor shower is coming our way. Anyone who lives in the Northern Hemisphere may be in for a good old-fashioned sky show, just by looking up.

The Perseids are debris from a wandering comet that appears as shooting stars each August. (Records of this light show go back to 36 A.D., though the Swift-Tuttle Comet was discovered much later.) They often provide one of the best shows of the year, if the skies are clear and the moon is not full. Because the Perseids follow the full moon by only two days this year, the show may be less spectacular than usual.  :(

The peak of of the show will be Tuesday, August 12 around 3 am local time. Sometimes meteors can be seen up to a week before and after a shower’s peak. Astronomers are predicting as many as 70 meteors an hour for those who are able to see the Perseids. (That said, we always see fewer meteors than these predicted numbers, so don’t be disappointed. One fantastic shooting star blazing through the sky can produce lifelong memories and awe.)

You won’t need any special equipment to see the Perseids. The naked eye is actually best. Just be sure to give your eyes some time to adjust to the dark. And hope for a good show! Here are more tips for viewing the Perseids.

The San Francisco Chronicle offers more information about the Perseids, along with some good viewing tips and a sky map.

If you like, you can even be a citizen scientist and help NASA count meteors! Download a free app for iphones and androids and join the meteor count. (Here are more citizen science projects you might be interested in.)

Some of my family’s most relaxed and memorable moments have occurred while gazing at the stars together. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos. It’s natural to share those feelings with those around us, as we use the stars to try to look back through distance and time.

My family remembers one especially wonderful August, when we went to the top of our nearest mountain to see the Perseid meteor shower. Lying in the grass in the dark, we could hear choruses of “oohs” and “aahs” coming from all around the mountain,

Top 10 Ways to Learn in Your Own Backyard

Many parents worry about summer slide, the learning loss that can occur while school is out for the summer. Great news: There is a hotbed of learning right in your own backyard. Science, math, art, history, and early literacy can come alive through the kinds of rich, hands-on, project-based experiences that make learning meaningful, all while you’re having fun exploring outdoors.

(Read on for info about Galileo Camp and Natural Nester DIY Camp.)

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Grow a Habitat Garden and Experience Citizen Science

Small creatures like birds and butterflies are always fun to watch. There are lots of ways to encourage them to visit your garden and linger a while, many of which provide fun and fascinating projects while benefiting your local habitat, your garden and the greater ecosystem of the Earth. You don’t need a large yard to have a habitat garden. Apartment balconies, window ledges, school gardens, and decks can all host local habitat.

Backyard creatures essentially need four things: Food, water, shelter and places to lay eggs and care for their young. Learn more and find resources about habitat gardening. Welcoming wildlife needn’t be complicated. One very easy way to start is by making a bird feeder.

Want to take it a step farther? The Great Sunflower Project is just one of many opportunities for kids to experience citizen science close to home. Citizen scientists are ordinary people of all ages who help scientists and organizations track the count and behaviors of birds, butterflies, bees and others. After all, researchers can’t be everywhere, and many of us have habitats in our backyards and neighborhoods that can help them gain important information about nature. If you have 15 minutes, you can count bees, which are vital for the Earth’s ecosystem, for The Great Sunflower Project. Other projects available year-round allow you to track birds, bats, butterflies, fireflies, wildflowers, meteors and snow, learning about each in the process. See a list of citizen science projects.

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Have Some Gardening Fun

Pizza Garden

You can grow just about everything needed for a pizza right in your own yard and then harvest and eat all the items baked in a pizza. All you’ll need to add is the dough and cheese! Pizza gardens teach design, planning, growing, harvesting, cooking and nutrition. Determine the shape of your pizza garden and decide what you’d like to grown and how you want to divide the space. Round pizza gardens, for instance, can be divided into four, six, or eight spokes, to resemble pizza slices. Mark off areas with string or rocks. Make sure to give plants like tomatoes plenty of room. In addition to tomatoes, try zucchini, eggplant, peppers, spinach, basil, oregano, onions, or garlic. Or grow flowers – red flowers to represent tomato sauce, yellow flowers to represent cheese, pink flowers for pepperoni, and some green leafy plants for spinach or peppers.

Seed Race

Why not make gardening into a game, and create a science experiment at the same time, with a seed race? Choose two or more types of seeds.
Plant them at the same time, in the same conditions, near each other in the ground or in similar containers, indoors or out. (Or plant the same seeds and vary one or more conditions as an experiment.) Water and watch which one emerges first and grows fastest. Stake them with a store-bought or homemade yardstick to measure their progress.

Growing Initials

Give your kids something they can claim as their own, and engage them in early literacy  at the same time by planting seeds in the shape of a child’s initials. Lay string in the shapes of the letters you like and dig a shallow furrow beside it. Plant your seeds – leafy greens work well for this project because they come up quickly and fill out nicely. These include lettuce, chives, radishes, cress, and various grasses. Most greens have fine seeds, which can be planted in a close, continuous line and thinned as needed.

Saving Seeds

What better way for kids to learn about the process of seeds becoming plants than to collect, save, plant and grow their own seeds? Seed saving is fascinating, rewarding, frugal and fun!

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Make a Wind Chime or Music Tree

Kids love to make music and noise. What better place for that than outdoors? Hang old or recycled pots, pans, tin cans, lids, muffin tins, silverware, measuring cups and other items from tree branches. Group lighter items close together to create wind chimes, or place them farther apart to let kids make music with wooden spoons to experiment with different sounds or learn about the effects of wind.

Have Fun with Water

Outdoor time calls for water play, which allows even the youngest children to learn about the properties of water, as it allows things to float, sink, fill, empty, change textures and temperatures, and move at various speeds. Young children will enjoy a mud play area and lots of old cups and kitchen items for filling, scooping and dumping. Others may enjoy filling cups with water and making “magic potions” with food coloring, glitter and small found objects. Or fill a tub of water and make a fine sea-worthy vessel to play with.

Cork Rafts and Sailboats

You’ll need:
Corks
School or craft glue
Flat toothpicks
Construction or other paper
Ruler
Markers, crayons, or colored pencils
Scissors

Raft: Arrange corks in a square or rectangle, with long sides touching each other. Glue the sides of the corks together. Draw a small rectangle (approximately 1 x 4”) on the paper with the ruler and cut it out. Fold the paper in half, so that you have two rectangles approximately 1 x 2”. Draw your country’s flag, or flags from your imagination, on each outer side of the paper. Glue the toothpick into the inner fold on the back side between the two flags, and let the glue dry. Glue the two halves of the paper together to secure the flag. Affix the toothpick flags into one cork or several corks and set the raft in water.

Sailboat: Glue corks together, following the instructions for the raft, or simply use a single cork. Draw a triangular sail shape on the paper (approximately 1” long on the side that will be glued to the toothpick. Decorate your sail, if desired. Glue the sail to the toothpick on its 1” side and let the glue dry. Affix the toothpick sail into the cork or cork base and set sail!

Elementary and older children will enjoy making a paper boat and sailing it in a nearby body of water, alone or in a race with others.

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Create Garden Art

Artists and craftspeople have long been inspired by the garden. Just getting outside with art and craft materials can open a world of wonder and observation. Gardens, in all their color, variety and changing light, offer great subjects, as well as a place to clear the artist’s head. In addition, they often provide a place where one can get messier than inside a house. Bring tempera or finger paints and paper outside, for plein air painting, paint a flower pot that you can plant in, or make a pretty beaded spider web.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. While providing endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, bubbles also illustrate properties of science. Each one is a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas. The water molecules on their surfaces bond tightly together, because each is made up of two sticky hydrogen atoms and one oxygen one – H2O. More bubble science is explained here. Bubbles can be made using ingredients you have around the house. When the weather’s nice, I often make a bucket of bubble solution and leave it outside with wands and other fun equipment so my daughter and friends can make bubbles whenever they like. It’s always fun and magical to create bubbles and watch them trail in the breeze. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Web of Life

This is a powerful group game that teaches older children about the interconnectedness of living things. We encountered it on a school field trip to a vibrant marsh and have never forgotten it.

You’ll need:
A ball of string, yarn, or twine

Players form a circle. The leader asks them to name a plant or animal that lives in the area. When someone names a plant or animal, he or she is handed the end of the ball of string. When someone names another plant or animal, the string is unraveled and handed to that person. The game continues this way until everyone is holding the same piece of string. It can be very dramatic for everyone to realize that they are webbed together. Choose one of the players to illustrate what happens when there is change, such as when a tree burns down or an animal is eaten. Have that person pull his or her piece of string to see its effect on all the others.

Slow Tip: If people get stuck on what to say next, go backward or forward in the food and shelter chain. The bird eats a frog, the frog eats an ant, the ant crawls under a tree, the tree provides oxygen for the deer, and so on.

Cook with the Sun

Box ovens employ one of the oldest energy sources of all, solar power. But while people have dried food in the sun for centuries, it was French-Swiss scientist Horace de Saussure who harnessed it for cooking. He used glass to trap heat and create convection while his 1700s peers were still burning mirrors. Anything that can be cooked in a regular oven can be cooked in a box oven, though it’s best to stick with recipes that don’t require raw meat or eggs, until you’re proficient.

You’ll need:
Large sturdy cardboard box, with four sides and a bottom (no top or lids), such as a 10-ream paper box
Heavy-duty aluminum foil
Duct tape
Cookie sheet or large cake pan
4 tin cans, filled with water to weight them
Charcoal briquettes and fire starter
Disposable foil tray or pie tins
Small stone
Recipe and cooking items
Bucket of water for fire safety

Choose a hot day with full sun. Completely line the box inside and out with foil, shiny side out. Tape only on the outside of the box (to avoid fumes getting in the food.) Choose a flat surface away from flammable objects. Line it with foil. Use the tin cans as “feet” to hold the cookie sheet or cake pan, which serves as the oven tray. Fill the foil tray or pie tins with briquettes, approx. one for every 40 degrees of desired oven temperature, and start. Place the item to be cooked on the oven tray (ideas follow). Slide the briquettes under the oven tray when ready (white). Place the box oven down over the items, using a small rock on the least windy side to lift part of the box off the ground for ventilation.

Follow the directions for your recipe. Cupcakes, biscuits, English muffin pizzas, and other items that don’t require long cooking times all work well in box ovens. Try one of our favorites:

Box Oven Pineapple Upside Down Cake

You’ll need:
2 boxes yellow cake mix, prepared
1 ounce butter or margarine
1 8-ounce can of pineapples
½ cup brown sugar
Dutch oven or large cake pan
Second pan or cookie sheet

Place butter or margarine in the Dutch oven or pan and melt it in the box oven. Stir brown sugar and pineapples into the melted butter. Pour prepared cake mix over the pineapple mixture. Bake for 25 minutes or more, until the cake is golden brown. Remove from the box oven and invert onto a second pan or cookie sheet.

Slow Tip: Want to try some super easy sun cooking? Make sun tea by filling a container with water, adding tea bags, and letting the container steep in the sun.

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Enjoy the Night Sky

Backyard fun needn’t only happen during the daytime. Nighttime offers lots of opportunities to explore constellations of stars; meteor showers, like August’s Perseids; or phases of the moon. You can’t help but be infused with a sense of wonder, awe, history and mystery while contemplating the cosmos, as countless people, back to the ancient Babylonians, Egyptians, Greeks and others have done before us.

Get to Know the Constellations

With 88 constellations and numerous other stars, the night sky can seem a bit overwhelming. Begin to get to know it by locating a few key constellations and orienting to those. After all, the constellations were themselves created to help the ancients better understand the night sky.

The Big Dipper, which is part of a larger constellation, is a great starting point, as it has an identifiable shape and is usually visible over much of the Northern Hemisphere. It appears like a ladle (bowl) and handle. Seeking the North Star, or Polaris? Extend an imaginary line up from the top corner of the ladle that is furthest from the handle. Polaris is in turn on the handle of the Little Dipper, which appears upside down and facing the opposite direction from the Big Dipper. Continue on from the North Star, away from the Big Dipper, for about the same distance and you will reach Casseopeia (the mythical Queen of Ethiopia), another famous constellation. In the Northern Hemisphere, Cassiopeia is shaped like an “M” in the Summer and a “W” in the Winter.

Consult a star map and continue to find relationships to these constellations.

Slow Snippet: What makes stars twinkle? What we see as twinkling is really the light from the star bending as it moves through layers of the Earth’s atmosphere. That trip takes billions of years, so that what we see is a snapshot of a time in the cosmos that is long past.

Keep a Moon Diary

Taking note of the moon’s phases and rhythms, as it moves through its cycle, is a great way to feel the rhythms of our lives and of nature. Observing the moon and keeping a moon diary can help younger children understand how long a month is.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger hunts are a great way to get everyone exploring and observing in nature.

You’ll need:
Pencils and paper

Create a list in advance or have players contribute to one list of 10-20 things they might find in the backyard or park. A list might include an oak tree, a pond, a red bird, a dandelion, a wildflower, a nest, a feather, an acorn or a hollow log. You or the hunters could also list more subjective items, such as something rough, something orange, something unexpected, or a heart-shaped rock. Teams or players go off to seek the items on the list and cross each off when they see it. One point is awarded for each item found. The person or team with the most points wins.

Make a Nature Bracelet

This is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items in their own backyards.

You’ll need:
1″ or wider Masking Tape, enough to go around each child’s wrist

Tear off a piece of masking tape, slightly larger than the child’s wrist. Place it around the wrist with the sticky side out. Go for a walk or hunt and look for small items in nature that can be stuck to the masking tape, such as leaves, twigs, seeds, acorns and pods. (Generally things that have already fallen on the ground are safe to pick. If in doubt, leave something.) Fill the bracelet by sticking the items onto it and wear it proudly.

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These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Want to take it further? Create your own backyard DIY summer camp with eight weeks of ideas from A Natural Nester and many others.

San Francisco Bay Area parents, want to find a camp that inspires summer learning and fun? Check out Galileo Camps, with over 40 Bay Area locations. Use code: 2014INNOVATION for $30 off.

This post is part of the School’s Out Top 10 Summer Learning series. Be sure to read all the other great Top 10 lists!

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Thanks to our sponsor, Galileo Learning.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Kids Growing Strong (pizza garden), Public Domain (night sky), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet)

Pollinator Week: Have Fun Attracting and Helping Bees, Birds and Butterflies

June 16-22 is National Pollinator Week. It’s a week to celebrate and educate about pollinating animals, such as bees, birds, butterflies, bats, beetles and others, which are extremely vital to our ecosystem. Pollinators support much of our wildlife, lands and watersheds. Nearly 80% 0f the 1,400 crop plants grown around the world that produce all of our food and plant-based industrial products require pollination by animals.

There are so many simple ways to welcome pollinators into our home gardens and other outdoor spaces. In addition to helping the earth’s ecosystem and food supply, you’ll also experience the fascination and wonder that comes from observing the animals you attract. Here are a few ways to get more involved:

Find or add an event through Pollinator Partnership, a wonderful resource about pollinators year-round.

Garden for wildlife with tons of tips and guides from the National Wildlife Federation, which offers a Certified Backyard Habitat Program.

Check out NWF gardeners’ favorite plants for attracting pollinators.

Find more information about gardening for wildlife from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Join the Great Sunflower Project and many other citizen science projects that allow you to help researchers right from your own backyard or a local park.

Spring at the Bird Cafe and bird feeder activity.

Make a quick and easy bird feeder to attract and observe birds.

Enjoy beautiful nature during Pollinator Week and throughout the year!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain

12 Fun Family Activities for Screen-Free Week

When I speak to families about slowing down and enjoying family time, one of the things that comes up over and over is screen time. Screens dominate many of our lives, often to a greater degree than we wish. While many of us parents can attest to the addictive nature of technology, we struggle with ways to reduce it in our children’s lives.

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It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed May 5-11 to be Screen-Free Week. Sometimes this kind of added incentive is all we need to inspire us to action. More than once, parents have told me that their children’s favorite memories include episodes of family game nights by fire- or candlelight during power outages. You can create your own “power outage” by participating in Screen-Free Week. And, even if you don’t go completely screen-free, you might want to pledge an hour or so a day or night to have some good screen-free fun. Who knows? That fun might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 ways to celebrate Screen Free Week:

Make a Paper Boat and sail it in a creek, pond or bathtub.

Make a Bird Feeder. Our local birds have gone nuts for ours and we plan to make more.

Make easy Wreaths, Crowns and Baskets to celebrate May Day and spring.

Enjoy Loom and Finger Weaving. You can do this anywhere!

Keep a Moon Diary as a way of observing the night sky.

Slow your pace and have a Cloud Race.

Get a jump on summer by making S’Mores. Camp under the stars if it’s warm enough.

Start a Backyard Garden.

Bake your own Soft Pretzels. These are really easy and fun.

Play a different fun board game every night. We like Boggle, Sorry, Taboo, Pictionary, Scrabble, Mancala, Masterpiece, Monopoly and Hi-Ho Cherry O.

Discover The Joy of Quiet.

And, if you’re really missing your screen? Make your own Shoebox TV!

You’ll need:

Shoebox or a square-shaped box and lid
Cardboard tubes, from paper towels, foil or plastic wrap, or wooden dowels
4-10 pieces of printer paper (8 ½ x 11”)
Drawing materials
Scissors, craft knife and tape

Cut a large opening for the TV screen into the bottom of the box, leaving an even border of 1” or more all around.

Holding the box horizontally, cut two holes on the top, each about 2” the side and 2” back from the cut-out section. Your dowels or cardboard tubes should fit into the holes.

Cut two bottom holes that line up with the top ones.

Cut the cardboard tubes, if necessary, so that about ½ “ sticks out on the bottom and 1-2” on top.

Decide on a story you want to tell that primarily uses pictures.

Place the paper horizontally (cutting, if necessary, to fit the tube length) and draw one picture on each page, adding words, if desired. Leave at least 1” on each paper edge and at least 2” on the left edge of the first picture and the right edge of the last picture.

Lay the pictures out, left to right, in the order they will appear. Turn them over and, keeping the order, run a piece of tape down each back seam where two pictures come together.

Tape each end of the paper story scroll around a tube or dowel and roll on the back sides of the scroll, so that the paper image is at the front of the tubes and the paper is tight and sized to the box.

Place the tubes into the holes and place the lid on the back. Decorate the front of the TV, if desired.

Gently turn the tubes to make the pictures move.

Slow Tip: You can also use images from magazines or comic-books to create your story.

You can make multiple story scrolls and change them through the back of the box. In doing so, you’ll join nearly every ancient civilization in telling stories using scrolls, starting with the Egyptians, who created them on papyrus.

The Shoebox TV craft is adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more ways to enjoy screen-free family fun.

You might enjoy these related posts from Slow Family Online:

Eight Fun Things to Do While It’s Still Summer

Six Fun Family Activities to Enjoy This Weekend

Hooray for Low-Tech Toys

Graphic: Campaign for Commercial-Free Childhood, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

It’s Time for Summer Backyard Family Fun

Summer is near, and with it usually comes longer days, less scheduled time and more time outdoors. Whether you have a backyard, front lawn, porch, driveway or deck, summer can offer the kind of simple outdoor family fun that you probably remember from your own childhood. Here are a few ways to welcome wildlife, play classic games, and enjoy the kinds of outdoor activities that get people together and create summer memories.

Note: This post is part of the Second Annual Backyard Barbecue Blog Hop.  I am so excited to be joining with my blogger friends to create a collection of fabulous ideas for family fun this summer. Be sure to visit all of our co-hosts (links below) to see their amazing posts and be sure to share yours at the end!

Feed the Butterflies and Birds

It’s so much fun to attract birds and butterflies to our yards and homes, while actually helping out local wildlife by feeding them. Plant butterfly-friendly plants this summer, or make this easy bird feeder, which will have you backyard bird-watching in no time. Experiment with different kinds of seeds to see which birds each attracts. Or ask for advice at a plant nursery or pet store.

You’ll need:

Cardboard
Heart or other template, optional
2-3 ‘ ribbon or string
½ cup vegetable shortening, peanut or other nut butter, suet or lard (plus, cornmeal or oatmeal, optional)
2 ½ cup mixture of birdseed (chopped nuts, dried fruit, optional)
Small mixing bowl
Plate, shallow dish or pie tin
Scissors
Spoon or butter knife

Cut a heart or other shape out of cardboard, using a template or free-hand.

Poke a hole toward the top and run the string through it. (If using a ribbon, you might want to string it after the mixture has dried a little, using a hole to poke through the hole, as needed.

In mixing bowl, combine peanut butter or other spread with meal, if using.

Spread that mixture over the both sides of the heart with the knife or spoon.

Pour the birdseed and feed ingredients onto the plate.

Place the heart into the seeds.

Hang your feeder from a tree branch or window eave that offers some shelter from wind and weather if possible, as well as a view of visiting birds.

Slow Tip: You can also use a toilet-paper tube, and either string it up or place it right onto a branch.

Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

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You’ll need: Approximately 41 twigs.

Hold the twigs in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. Players take turns trying to remove one stick at a time, without disturbing any other sticks. When a stick from the pile is disturbed, the next player takes a turn. Some players use a designated stick to remove other sticks. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total their numbers of sticks to determine the winner.

Make a Beaded Spider Web

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This is an enchanting project that mirrors the intricate work of busy spiders, and provides a whimsical and colorful garden object when finished.

You’ll need:

3 bamboo skewers per web
Scissors or wire cutters
Ruler
Thin wire
Beads of your choosing. Make sure the beads and wire are a compatible size.

Clip the pointed tips from the skewers.

Put the skewers in a bundle.

Cut a 12” piece of wire and wrap half of it tightly around the center of the bundle.

Spread the skewers out until they all point outward like an asterisk, crossing in the middle.

Continue to wrap the wire to secure the new shape.

Cut a piece of wire approx. 18”.

Wrap one end of the wire around one of the skewers twice, about an inch form the center.

String beads along the length of the wire, and then wrap the wire twice around the next skewer. Continue until you are back to the first skewer. Wrap the wire to secure it.

Cut the next pieces of wire 24”, 30” and 36”, and string and bead them around the skewers, as above.

Place or hang your spider web in your garden.

Slow Tip: Beads can be strung tightly along the lengths of wire, or room can be left for the wire to show through.

Slow Tip: Try beading flowers, leaves, butterflies, ladybugs, or other garden features.

Gather a Group for Classic Lawn Games

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These fun, easy games require little or no equipment and have been creating memories for generations.

Duck, Duck, Goose

South Asians know it as Kho Kho, Ghanaians as Antoakyire. German children play a version called Plumpsack, which involves dropping a handkerchief at one player’s spot. Young children play this timeless game around the world.

Players sit in a circle, facing each other. Choose a player to be It. It walks around the outside of the circle, tapping each person on the head and saying, for each tap, “duck”, “duck”, “duck”. Finally, It taps a person on the head and says, “goose” and begins to run around the outside of the circle. The person who is tapped as a goose gets up and chases It around the circle. If the goose is able to tap It before he or she sits down in the goose’s spot, then that person is It again. If the goose does not tag It, then the goose becomes the new “it”.

Red Light, Green Light

Another game played around the world, Red Light, Green Light has many charming variations. In the Czech Republic, it’s called, Cukr, káva, limonáda, čaj, rum, bum! (“Sugar, coffee, lemonade, tea, rum, boom!”)

One player is chosen to be the stoplight. That person turns his or her back to the group, which forms a line approximately 30–90′ away (depending on the ages of players). The stoplight calls out, “Green light!” and the players advance toward the player who is the stoplight as quickly as they can. When the stoplight wishes, he or she calls out, “Red light!” while turning around to see the runners. The runners must stop immediately. Any player caught moving after a call of “red light” has to go back to the starting line. “Green lights” and “red lights” are repeated until the first player reaches and tags the stoplight and is declared the winner. If all the players are out before they reach the stoplight, then the stoplight wins that round. The winner becomes the new stoplight.

Blob Tag

There are so many fun tag games, you needn’t limit yourself to basic tag. Try this fun variation:

Once a player is tagged by the person who is It, the two join arms and become a blob, which chases players together to try to tag them. Other players who are tagged also join arms and become part of the blob. Some play a version in which, when the blob reaches four people, two split off to become a new blob. The last person standing alone becomes the new “it.”

Blow Giant Bubbles

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Whimsical bubbles are a great addition to a summer backyard. They provide hours of entertainment at very little expense. In fact, there’s no need to spend money on commercial bubble mixes at all. A large batch can be left in a bucket or tub for days, or even a week or two, without losing its ability to form bubbles. Bubble mixes are best made at least ½ hour before you need them, so they can settle.

You’ll need:

6 cups (or parts) water
2 cups (or parts) Dawn dishwashing detergent
3/4 cup Karo or other light corn syrup
Measuring container
Large tub, bucket or pan (large enough for the wands to fit inside)

Use Dawn brand dishwashing detergent, if you can find it, for large, firm bubbles. Joy is second-best.

If you’re using the same container to measure both the water and the detergent, measure the water first to prevent detergent foaming in the container.

If your water is very hard, you may want to use distilled water.

Stir the solution gently. It should be smooth, not sudsy or foamy.

Here are some fun ideas for bubble play and experimentation.

Camp in Your Backyard

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Camping out in sleeping bags is fun any time of year— in a backyard, on a porch or balcony, even on the living-room floor. Wherever you roll out the sleeping bags, enjoy some traditional camp activities:

Sing traditional or silly campfire songs like Go Bananas, She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain, Boom Chicka Boom, and Rose Rose.

Make shadow puppets by shining a flashlight onto a tent or house wall. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes like these:

Rabbit— Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm
over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk— Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing
away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter
them like wings.

Make s’mores, banana boats, hobo popcorn and other classic camp treats.

 

These activities are adapted from Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, VA State Parks

 

Be sure to visit all of our Backyard Barbecue Blog Hop co-hosts to see their amazing posts and be sure to share yours at the end!

Co-hosts

All Done Monkey
The Squishable Baby
Creative World of Varya
Discovering The World Through My Son’s Eyes
Twin Falls Mommy
In The Playroom
Slow Family
Adventures of Adam
Adventure in a Box
Planet Smarty Pants

Now it’s your turn!


Backyard Barbecue Blog Hop 2014

Get Ready for Summer with At-Home and Innovative Camps

For many summers, my family divided the season into summer camps, vacation travel, and down-time at home, during what we called Camp MommyAnna. It seemed important to enjoy some of summer’s long days with adventures in our local nature and area and no set schedule. So I’m very excited to participate in The At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum, which offers tons of ideas to help you create your own at-home summer camp experience.

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The At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum, from A Natural Nester, contains creative and easy-to-follow ways to keep kids engaged throughout the summer and to make the most of family time together.

The Curriculum includes 8 weeks of kid-friendly lessons, outdoor activities, indoor projects, crafts, recipes, field trip ideas, children’s book suggestions, and more in a full-color PDF you can read on your computer screen or tablet, or print out. The program is designed to be flexible and fit with your family’s schedule and surroundings, so you can incorporate the ideas any time it works for you.

Fun weekly themes to help kids discover and enjoy the natural world include:

An Edible Garden ~ The Night Sky ~ At the Beach 
 A Spot in the Shade ~ Ponds & Frogs
Rain, Rain ~ Wildflowers & Bees ~ Sun Fun

While designed primarily for children ages 5-11, the ideas are fun and adaptable for all ages.

These are the talented and inspirational camp counselors:

Sarah of Imagine Childhood ~ Kara of Simple Kids
Valarie of Jump Into a Book ~ Heather of Shivaya Naturals
Cerys of Nature and Play ~ Linda of Natural Suburbia
Leah of Skill It ~ Amy of Mama Scout
Erin of Exhale. Return to Center and More!

I can’t wait for summer!

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At-Home Summer Nature Camp eCurriculum

Looking for a great San Francisco Bay Area camp?

Of course, summer camps offer terrific experiences for kids that they don’t get elsewhere, and they provide important summer coverage for working parents. Bay Area parents will want to check out Camp Galileo, which combines art, science and outdoor activities around weekly themes. They have programs for kids ages pre-K to 8th grade, in more than 40 locations. The camp philosophy encourages fun and learning through experimentation, discovery and innovation. Each camp is a week long, which allows for flexibility. Extended care is offered, too. Campers through 5th grade are grouped by age and participate in one of four themed camps: Adventures Down Under, Art & Engineering along Route 66, The Incredible Human Body, or Leonardo’s Apprentice: Inventions & Art of the Renaissance. Older kids choose “Summer Quests” that specialize in high technology, building, culinary arts or digital and fine arts. Camp Galileo is partnered with the de Young Museum, the Tech Museum of Innovation, Chabot Space and Science Camp and Klutz. Camp parents speak extremely highly of their children’s experiences. Visit the Camp Galileo site to learn more.

Use the code 2014INNOVATION to receive $30 off (limit one per camper, Camp Galileo and Galileo Summer Quest) Expires: May 31, 2014. Enter the code at sign up by clicking on the purple “sign up” button on the right-hand side of the page.

Sign up for the Galileo newsletter and be entered to win a free week of camp. You can sign up by scrolling to the bottom of the page and entering your email information and zip code.

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Other Slow Family posts you may like: How to Choose a Great Summer Camp

This post is sponsored by Camp Galileo and A Natural Nester. The views expressed are my own.

A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to the Muir Woods, Thanks to New Book

We didn’t initially intend to hike five miles from our house to Muir Woods National Monument and back, but the first day of spring arrived quite beautifully and, inspired by the new book, We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors, by Stacy Tornio and Ken Keffer (illustrated by Denise Holmes), my daughter and I set off on a pretty and hilly local trail. We loved the idea of welcoming the season with a hike, as well as the notion of leaving right from our house and walking to the trail head. We thought we’d walk one way, and had arranged for a pick-up at the end of the walk.

Keffer and Tornio are the authors of  The Kids’ Outdoor Adventure Book, reviewed here last year, and their new book, which delightfully arrived in time for spring, expands nicely on their theme of providing easy ideas that families and others can use to create their own nature adventures. The book serves as a journal, as well, with questions that prompt readers to think, write and draw about their nature time.

Our first-choice activity from the book? “Hike on a trail near your home and write about what you discover.” We added some photos as well.

Anna and me, setting off on our adventure.

Pride of Madeira plants were sighted while climbing our first hill out of our neighborhood.

A kind and creative homeowner shows the way to the Dipsea Trail, a trail that winds seven miles from a canyon in our town of Mill Valley, CA, to the sea at Stinson Beach. We will take the Dipsea partway.

We entered Mt. Tamalpais State Park.

Anna is at the precipice, eyeing the trail below.

We descended into canyons of ferns, redwoods and bay trees.

We spotted a spectacular Douglas Iris.

And a Beach Morning Glory.

We made it to the Muir Woods, about 2.5 miles from the start, feeling pretty accomplished.

Muir Woods has lovely creeks running through it that are home to spawning salmon.

Muir Woods is also home to thousands of old-growth coast redwoods, the tallest living things in the world. This redwood feel on Winter Solstice, 2012. A sign nearby told us that it was an elder that had had a good life and deserved respect.

Tired, but also reenergized from being in the beautiful woods, we traced our steps back toward home.

The hikers, five hours and a great adventure later.

Prompted by the book, and this hike, we immediately planned our next one! A few days later, we took the Dipsea Trail in the opposite direction than we had the first time and went into our town for a shorter (but stair-filled) loop walk. Later, we plan to keep going on the Dipsea Trail, past the Muir Woods to the ocean (and take someone up on that ride home).

Some other adventures we are eager to try from We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors this spring and summer include:

Design your yard and garden to be butterfly friendly.

Experiment with starting seeds.

Reuse an object as a garden container.

Find inspiration from nature, and then create a piece of art.

Swim with your family or friends at a local lake, river or pond.

Discover the night sky through stargazing.

Can’t wait!

Would you like to win your own copy of We Love Nature! A Keepsake Journal for Families Who Love to Explore the Outdoors and a pair of KEEN shoes? Enter the Destination Nature giveaway today.

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

Join Project Feeder Watch and Other Fun Citizen Science Activities
How to Save Nasturtium and Other Seeds
Have a Cloud Race
Keep a Moon Diary
Nature Activities to Celebrate Spring

Win $5,000 for your School Garden from Dole and Captain Planet Foundation

School gardens provide such a unique learning environment for kids. I’ve seen gardens used to teach science, math, history, social studies, art, language, and other subjects, in addition to teaching kids the mastery and joy of caring for living things, and the methods to grow and harvest their own food and other items. Often school gardens are the only places in which kids will gather these crucial experiences and even get outside during their school and home days.

So I was thrilled to learn that DOLE Fruit Bowls® and Captain Planet Foundation are teaming up to host the “DOLE Fruit Bowls & Captain Planet Foundation’s Learning Garden Challenge.” The contest will recognize K-8 schools that have established school gardens that provide occasions for learning and environmental stewardship, and an understanding of the role that fresh fruits and vegetables play in a healthy lifestyle.

If your school has a learning garden, you could win $5000 plus a bunch of other prizes from Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation — It’s easy! Enter here. The deadline to enter is March 12, 2014 at 11:59PM ET.

 

This post is sponsored by Dole and the Captain Planet Foundation. The opinions expressed are my own.

Images: Dole, Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

It’s National Pollinator Week: Have fun attracting and helping bees, butterflies and birds
Make a Quick and Easy Valentine Bird Feeder
Happy Earth Day: Beginner’s guide to getting your garden growing
Earth Day and Every Day: 11 ways to make gardening extra fun for kids
The Rise and Fall of New York City’s School Gardens

 

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

I am very excited about the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s upcoming Great Backyard Bird Count. It takes place Friday-Monday, February 14-17, all over North America. It’s a great family activity. Anyone can participate, even if you only have 15 minutes and are completely new to birding.

Here’s how it works: You can pick a spot to go watch birds (a backyard, a park, a trail, a marsh, or anywhere you think birds might be) or you can join an organized event. You can download a very thorough check list of birds that are likely to be seen in your area. You record the birds that you see and then go home and either send in your checklist or enter the names and numbers in online.

There are lots more tips about counting and recording birds, tricky identifications, binoculars, and much more on BirdSource’s Great Backyard Bird Count page. The site also features recordings of bird sounds and more activities for kids.

The All About Birds site has beautiful photos and information that can help you identify birds. These are the top birds that were reported during the count last year.

So, why count birds in the first place, and why now? The Cornell Ornithology Lab, the Audubon Society and others use the information from the annual February count to track the health of various bird species over time and, in some cases, take steps to protect them. Mid-February has proven a good time to count, as it occurs just before the major Spring migrations. If you find you like counting, you can actually help year-round on various projects.

Last year more than 17,400,00 individual birds were reported by more than 104,000 people. This year you could be part of the Great Backyard Bird Count.

Read about and see pictures of the 2010 Great Backyard Bird Count.

Make a valentine feeder for the birds.

Get ideas for other great citizen science projects like Project Feeder Watch.


Photos: Painted Bunting and Green Honeycreeper by Doug Janson, Flame Colored Tanager by Jerry Oldenettel, Blue Jay: Creative Commons, Northern Spotted Owl by Susan Sachs Lipman

Have Some Shadowy Fun on Groundhog Day

Just in! Punxsutawney Phil saw his shadow. He predicted an six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day.

Groundhog Day, February 2, has basically everything going for it that I love in a holiday — It marks a point in a season; it’s full of folklore and wisdom, superstition, ceremony, civic charm, science, mystery, agrarian history, and weather — and it was featured in perhaps my all-time favorite movie of the same name, which itself is a study in acceptance and inner calm while being outright hilarious in nearly every frame.

Altogether now: It’s Groundhog Day!

In an early morning ceremony, groundhog Punxsutawney Phil will rise from his heated burrow at Gobbler’s Knob, PA, as he has for 126 years, and signal to his handlers whether or not he sees his shadow. No shadow means an early end to winter. And if the groundhog does see his shadow? Six more long weeks of the season. Over the years that the ceremony has taken place, Phil has seen his shadow 100 times and not seen it only 17. (Records don’t exist for every year.) In 2008, the crowd heartily booed the prospect of “six more weeks of winter”, as I suspect they would do this year, as well, should Phil call for even more chilly weather.

Some have stated that Phil’s “handlers” make the prediction for him. What do we think of that?

History and science of Groundhog Day

According to this excellent Groundhog Day site, German settlers arrived in the 1700s in the area of Pennsylvania, northeast of Pittsburgh, which had been previously settled by the Delaware Native Americans. The Germans celebrated Candlemas Day, originally a Medieval Catholic holiday to mark the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox in the Northern Hemisphere. The holiday also has roots in Celtic-Gaelic and Pagan cultures, where it is celebrated as St. Brigid’s Day and Imbolc, and is a time of festivals, feasting, parades, and weather prediction, as well as candles and even bonfires to mark the sun’s return.

According to Wikipedia, the origin of the word “Imbolc” is “in the belly”, and among agrarian people, Imbolc was associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would soon give birth to lambs in the spring.

The German settlers of Pennsylvania put candles in their windows and believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day, then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold. While this has always seemed counter-intuitive to me, this site explains the science of Groundhog Day and that cloudy weather is actually more mild than clear and cold. It makes sense, then, that the shadow would portend six more weeks of winter. (A lifelong mystery is solved.)

The English and Scottish had wonderful sayings to mark this occasion:

The serpent will come from the hole
On the brown Day of Bride,
Though there should be three feet of snow
On the flat surface of the ground.

– Scottish saying
(Note the serpent instead of the groundhog.)

If Candlemas be fair and bright,
Winter has another flight.
If Candlemas brings clouds and rain,
Winter will not come again.

– English saying

Punxsutawney’s first Groundhog Day celebration was in 1886, and though other towns, particularly in the eastern U.S., have Groundhog Day ceremonies — Staten Island Chuck, anyone? — none is nearly as famous as Punxsutawney’s. Some of this may lie with the groundhog’s official name, “Punxsutawney Phil, Seer of Seers, Sage of Sages, Prognosticator of Prognosticators, and Weather Prophet Extraordinary”. Still more popularity, and tourists, have come as a result of the movie Groundhog Day. The first official Groundhog Day prediction in Punxsutawney? No shadow – early Spring.

This site has more information about the groundhog itself and about the filming of the movie.

If you are a Groundhog Day movie obsessive like me, you will enjoy this site that breaks down exactly how long Bill Murray’s character, Phil the Weatherman, experiences Groundhog Day in Gobbler’s Knob.

Groundhog activities and crafts

It’s fun to play with shadows, in honor of Punxsutawney Phil and his. Try making hand shadow puppets, something people have been doing since 2,000 years ago in China, where it was performed by oil-lamp light. Have someone project a flashlight onto a wall or other surface. Hold your hands between the light and the wall in various shapes to create shadow puppets. Here are some classic ones to try:

Rabbit—Make a fist with one hand. Place the other palm over it and make a peace sign (for ears) with two fingers.

Hawk—Link your thumbs together, with your hands facing away from you. Stretch out your fingers and hands and flutter them like wings.

Spider—With palms facing up, cross your hands at the wrist. Press your thumbs together to form the spider’s head. Wiggle your fingers in a climbing motion.

Wolf or dog—Place your palms together, fingers facing outward. Put your thumbs up to form ears. Let your pinkie drop to form a mouth. Bend your index fingers to create a forehead.

Camel—Lift one arm. Hold your hand in a loosely curved position. Hold the pinkie and ring finger together. Hold the other two fingers together, thumb pressed in. Curve both sets of fingers and hold them wide apart to form a mouth. Your arm, from the elbow up, will be the camel’s neck.

There are also a lot of very appealing shadow and groundhog crafts for Groundhog Day, like the one below from Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten and a great round-up of others from Motherhood on a Dime.

Shadow or no, here’s wishing you a happy remainder of the winter, a ceremony or two, a dash of lore and wonder, and a fruitful spring.

Images: Aaron Silvers, Punxsutawney Groundhog Club, Mrs. Ricca’s Kindergarten, Creative Commons

Shadow puppets adapted from FED UP WITH FRENZY: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ fun family activities.

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