Category Archives: Nature

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Solar Eclipse Viewing and Fun for Families

Since ancient times, solar eclipses, like the one due over North America on August 21, have inspired fear and wonder. Ancient people in what is now Asia and the Middle East thought that an eclipse indicated the attack of a sky or sun god, and made loud noises or created offerings to scare and appease whatever was threatening their god.

Today, that fear has been replaced by awe, the feeling of being in the presence of something larger than ones self. We often experience awe in the natural world, and during the unexplainable or communal. Perhaps the 2017 solar eclipse will involve all of the above! (Awe and its many benefits to the human spirit have been explored by The Greater Good Science Center.)

A solar eclipse occurs when the moon moves between the earth and the sun and temporarily blocks the view of the sun. The 2017 solar eclipse will be the first total solar eclipse visible in the continental U.S. in 38 years. Read more about how eclipses work.

If you’re ready to create some awe and memories of your own when the solar eclipse occurs on August 21, check out these links:

How to view the eclipse safely and what to expect, from Space.com

An animation that shows exactly what the solar eclipse will look like from your zip code, from TIME.com.

NASA’s Total Eclipse Site, which shares how to view the eclipse safely, lots of great educational and geographical information, eclipse activities, and citizen science opportunities that allow you to be a scientist for a day or longer, and help NASA study the eclipse.

How to make an old-school pinhole eclipse viewer, from Washington Post.

9 facts about the solar eclipse, from TimeandDate.com.

Jacquie at KC Edventures shares eclipse snacks, reading and citizen science activities that you can engage in, even after the eclipse.

Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten offers terrific space-themed projects for kids, so you can keep excited and learning about science.

Easy eclipse foods to make or buy, from Today.com

For adults, this list of eclipse-themed drinks (moonjito, anyone?) from Food Network will surely inspire your celestial cocktails.

However you celebrate the 2017 eclipse, remember to view the eclipse safely. I hope you’ll also make some memories, get in touch with your awe, and stay connected to science.

Photos: Time and Date, NASA, Mrs. Plemons Kindergarten

 

7 Ways to Play in the Mud on Kids to Parks Day

When my daughter was in pre-school, we used to rejoice when she came home with dirty feet. Sand between the toes? Yes! Caked-on mud? Bring it on!

Why? While we weren’t necessarily enamored with long scrubbing sessions in the bathtub (though those were fun, too), we knew that muddy feet–and fingernails and knees–meant that profound play was happening. We since learned that dirt can even be good for your health!

The 7th annual Kids to Parks Day, Saturday, May 20, is a national day of play. You can register for one of more than 1,200 events around the U.S. and join the fun, get out with your family and friends, and win prizes at the height of spring.

You can also enjoy Kids to Parks Day, or any kids-to-parks day on your own, in your local playground or park. Here are a few suggestions for creating some memorable, and maybe a little muddy, experiences.

… Before you head out, don’t forget to grab some good sports shoes that are rugged enough for play; affordable enough that you won’t be afraid to let your kids wear them outdoors; and ventilated, washable and drainable for those times when a little mud happens, or is even sought out. These are from Kids to Parks Day sponsor, Northside USA. (Keep reading for a giveaway featuring Northside USA Shoes!)

Make a Mud Pie or Garden Soup

The perfect kitchen may be outside! Find dirt or sand and a water source and pour batter-like mud into used measuring cups, pans, cupcake and pie tins, and pails. Decorate with leaves, petals and rocks. Or pour water into cups and bowls and add flower petals, food coloring or glitter inside to make potions and soups. Make a bench or a tree stump your cooktop, and “bake” away without any of the typical kitchen clean-up.

Read more from Jackie at Happy Hooligans (where these fantastic photos come from):

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Mud Kitchen Activity

Adopt a Flower and Watch it Grow

Do you often return to the same park or garden? “Adopt” a flower for the season and watch it grow over time. Bring a ruler or yardstick or measure it against your own body. Have space at home to plant a flower? Get some large seeds that little hands can tuck into the dirt, and plant easy growers like nasturtium, pea, beans, sunflowers or gourds. Growing edibles? You might want to sing this song:

Dirt Made My Lunch

Dirt made my lunch,
Dirt made my lunch.
Thank you Dirt, thanks a bunch,
For my salad, my sandwich
My milk and my munch ’cause
Dirt, you made my lunch.

Read more:

Beginner’s Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing
11 Ways to Make Gardening Extra Fun for Kids

Make and Sail a Paper Boat

This is a timeless idea that we got from our friend, Curious George, who made boats from the newspapers he should have been tossing on his paper route. Make your own paper boat and sail or race it in a creek or other body of water. Some of these boats have strings attached, so they can be launched without actually sailing away.

Play Pick Up Sticks or Pooh Sticks

The original pick-up sticks were ancient fortune-telling devices, but you can play this game anywhere, indoors or out, without even attempting to see the future. Hold your sticks in a bundle, then release them so that they land in a pile. 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 person takes a turn. When all the sticks have been removed from the pile, players total either their number of sticks – each one is worth one point. Near a creek or stream? Try your hand at Pooh Sticks, a stick-racing game inspired by Winnie the Pooh.

Build a Sandcastle or Make Sand Art

It isn’t officially spring until you get some sand between your toes at a beach park or sandbox. Pack the wettest sand you can find into mounds to make castles or carve them into other designs.

Decorate your creations with flags, or twigs, shells or other found objects.

Raise your own tadpoles

What better way to explore the cycle of life than to raise tadpoles and then release the frogs back into ponds and streams? Kids won’t soon forget this fun project. Looking for more pond activities? Try making a collecting cattails, making a water scope, or one of these other activities for a day at the pond from KCEdventures.

Photos: Rainy Day Mum, KCEdventures

Explore a Tidepool 

When the ocean recedes, the mysterious undersea world is revealed, and creatures like barnacles, crabs, periwinkles and sea stars can be seen if you walk among them gingerly. Read how and where to explore tidepools and how to preserve tidepool habitats for the enjoyment of others.

See more photos from our trip to the tidepools.

How will you play outside on Kids to Parks Day?

Register to be counted on Kids to Parks Day and you may win one of many cool prizes, including a special camping package from The North Face (4 sleeping bags, tent, and duffel bag), or one of the additional prizes from CamelBak (family hydration pack), Eastern National (Jr. Ranger package including a park pass for a whole year), and National Geographic (a set of kids’ books about nature and parks). How great is that?

Plus, every person who signs up will receive a special promo code from Northside Shoes. Keep checking the list of Kids to Parks Day events as we get closer to May 20th. There are new park events added each week!

… And, remember how I mentioned the importance of having shoes you can feel good about wearing for mud and other outdoor play? I’m giving away a pair of Northside Shoes! To enter, take the pledge to play outside on Kids to Parks Day Saturday, May 20, and then leave a comment here, telling me that you pledged and how you plan to play outside. If you have a favorite mud-play activity, I’d love to hear about that, too. The giveaway will end Friday, May 19, 11:59 p.m. PST. A random winner will be chosen. The winner must reside in the U.S.

Good luck!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman, Public Domain, Happy Hooligans, Rainy Day Mum, KCEdventures

12 Ways to Celebrate Screen Free Week

Screens! They 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.

 

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that the wonderful Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood has proclaimed May 1-7 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

Here are some more ideas for screen-free from Parents Place:

18 Ways to Unplug as a Family

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

Give Tech a Rest: It’s National Day of Unplugging

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. Those shiny 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 and our kids’ lives.

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Cell phone resting in its sleeping bag

It is perhaps a bonus, then, that Mar 3-4 (sundown-sundown) is  National Day of Unplugging. 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 National Day of Unplugging. Who knows? This might just become a habit or your own favorite family memory.

Here are 12 things to do while the power is out:

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.

Here are some more ways to unplug as a family from Parents Place:

18 Ways to Unplug as a Family

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: Parents Place, Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

DIY: Lavender Distillation and Home-Cleaning Products

This post is generously sponsored by Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area. Benjamin Franklin Plumbing Bay Area specializes in all residential plumbing work,  from installations to maintenance and repairs. They have been serving the San Francisco Bay Area for over 25 years.

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Lovely-smelling lavender has been prized around the globe for centuries, for the soothing quality of its distinct scent. The ancient Egyptians used it in cosmetics. The ancient Greeks and Romans employed it for perfume and for healing practically everything, from stomach and kidney ailments to dropsy, jaundice, migraines and insect bites. In late medieval times, doctors carried walking sticks with lavender and other herbs tucked into their tops. Queen Victoria is credited with bringing lavender into the home for scenting and cleaning, where it remains popular today. Learn more about the history of lavender.

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Luckily it’s easy to create your own gentle yet effective lavender cleaner for bathroom and kitchen counters, and other areas throughout the house. Pour distilled white vinegar into a spray bottle and add 10-40 drops of lavender essential oil (available at many markets and online sources), depending on the size of the bottle and your taste for the scent. This simple formula offers a natural way to clean and sanitize bathroom and kitchen counter tops, bathtubs and toilets.

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Why is lavender so effective for cleaning? The herb is an antifungal and an antimicrobial. While it works hard, it smells lovely. Learn about other DIY cleansers to make with lavender and other herbal cleansers you can make yourself.

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I’d long wanted to take part in a lavender distillation, the process by which lavender is separated into essential oil and hydrosol, which is the byproduct of oil creation. I was thrilled to take part in a lavender distillation led by Cheryl Fromholzer of Gathering Thyme, a woman-owned herb store and education center in San Rafael, CA.

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We began by separating lavender buds from stalks and packing them pretty tightly into the column of the traditional copper still, or alembic.

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The column was placed onto water-filled urn and sealed so no steam would escape during the distillation.

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Cheryl attached the pipes, which led to a small condenser.

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Then tubing was added from the condenser, and the columned pot was brought to a boil. When the water heated and boiled, the steam from that process caused the lavender to release its oils, which collected at the top of the alembic. The oils then traveled to the condenser, where they cooled, and out through tubing to be collected in jars.

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The lavender essential oil floats to the top and can be separated by skimming it off or by using an essencier. The remaining liquid is lavender hydrosol, which can be used much the same way as essential oil, though it is much less potent. (It takes 30 pounds of lavender to make a 15 Ml bottle of  essential oil!)

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You don’t need an alembic still to create oils and hydosols at home. Hydrosols make wonderful and calming sprays for rooms, face and body, in addition to other uses.

Best yet, lavender is easy to grow, even in a small or container garden, with decent sun, moderate water, and an alkaline soil with good drainage.

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Our distillation process took a few hours, so we enjoyed the San Geronimo Community Garden and explored the medicinal properties of the plants there, many of which would also make terrific hydrosols and oils.

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More herbal classes and resources, including a Lavender Distillation workshop on July 10, can be found at Gathering Thyme.

More lavender and herbal crafts and activities can be found in Fed Up with Frenzy: Slow Parenting in a Fast-Moving World, which contains 300+ more fun family activities.

Thank you again to sponsor Benjamin Franklin Plumbing. The views expressed are my own.

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman  (Top photo courtesy of Cheryl Fromholzer)

 

 

Welcome Summer Solstice 2016 with a Full Moon

Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year and the beginning of summer, occurs on June 20,  2016, at 22:42 Universal Time (6:42 p.m. on the U.S. east coast, 3:42 p.m. on the west.) Throughout the Northern Hemisphere, it can be marked by Midsummer festivals, especially in Scandinavia, where people celebrate with maypoles that honor nature’s bounty and bonfires that recall the heat and warmth of the sun. Still other cultures have solstice rituals that honor the sun, the feminine and the masculine.

This is also the first Summer Solstice to coincide with a full moon since June, 1967, the Summer of Love. The next full Summer Solstice moon won’t happen until 2062. (Read more about the full moon below.)

Here in the San Francisco Bay Area, my family often attends a summer solstice celebration at Muir Beach, hosted by the Muir Woods National Monument park rangers. We enjoy a bonfire, nature storytelling and campfire songs, and a ritual walk around the fire, holding stalks of sweet flowers and herbs, and then throwing them into the fire, to greet the new season and also let go of anything that no longer serves us.

View more photos of summer solstice at Muir Beach.

Full Strawberry Moon

This is the first full moon on a summer solstice since June, 1967.

People in many cultures throughout history have named the year’s full moons based on the activities that happened during them. The Farmers Almanac calls the June full moon the Strawberry Moon because, for the Algonquin Native Americans, June was synonymous with strawberries. The Cherokee called the June full moon the Green Corn Moon. The Choctaw referred to it as the Windy Moon. Celtic people referred to the June full moon as the Moon of Horses. Throughout much of more modern Europe, the June full moon was known as the Rose Moon, for that flower’s peak.

I’ve long been quite entranced with the full moon names and their variations. Of course, they reflect both the need to mark passing time and the way that time was experienced by people who were living close to the land. Lunar time-keeping pre-dated our modern calendars (and some calendars, like the Jewish and Chinese calendars, are still lunar-based.) The Farmer’s Almanac has a good list of Native American full moon names and how each came to be.

Other, even older, cultures have had moon naming traditions, too. Learn the full moon names from Chinese, Celtic, Pacific Island, Native American, Pagan, and other cultures.

Full Moon Gardening

Lots of people garden using the phases of the moon. The good news is that there isn’t one best time to plant — Each aspect of planting has an associated moon phase, based on how much moisture is pulled up through the soil by the monthly pull of the moon (much the way the moon influences the tides.)

The time just after the full moon is an especially good time for planting root crops, as the gravitational pull is high (adding more moisture to the soil) and the moonlight is decreasing, contributing energy to the roots. For this reason, the waning moon is also a good time to plant bulbs and transplants.

The Farmer’s Almanac offers a wonderful moon phase calendar for the U.S. that allows you to plug in your location and get the exact time of your local full moon.

Summer Solstice Cupcakes

These fun cupcakes offer a visual and yummy way to celebrate Summer Solstice. The recipe comes from the terrific book, Circle Round:

Just as Winter Solstice gives birth to the light, Summer Solstice, with its day that never seems to end, holds the seeds of darkness. We discover darkness in the bits of chocolate concealed inside this sunny cupcake.

1/2 C butter (one stick) softened in the summer sun
1 C sugar
2 eggs
1 t. vanilla extract
2 C flour, sifted first and then measured
pinch of salt
2 t. baking powder
1 C milk
1 C chocolate chips

Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Add vanilla. Mix together the flour, salt, and baking powder. Add half of the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and stir in. Follow with 1/2 cup milk, then the other half of the flour mixture and the rest of the milk. Stir in the chocolate chips.

Use paper liners, or grease and flour cupcake tins. Bake for 25 minutes in a preheated 375′ oven.

Makes 20 to 24 cupcakes.

Because of the sweetness of the cake and chips, these don’t need frosting, but you can certainly add it, in a solid color or a cheery sun or flower design.

This is a great explanation of how Summer Solstice works. Happy Winter Solstice to those in the Southern Hemisphere, who are marking the lengthening days. Perhaps chocolate cupcakes with white chocolate chips are in order?

Happy Solstice and Strawberry Full Moon to all!

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

Other Slow Family Posts you may enjoy:

Slow Nature: Keep a Moon Diary

Slow Down for Summer: Fun and Simple Outdoor and Seasonal Activities

 

 

6 Great Activities to Celebrate Kids to Parks Day May 21 + Giveaway

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What if you could do something simple and enjoyable that improved every aspect of your and your family’s health and well-being and didn’t cost a dime? You can! That something is visiting a local, state or national park, forest, seashore or other public land.

That’s why National Park Trust has designated Saturday, May 21, as the 6th annual Kids to Parks Day. By setting aside one Saturday in mid-spring, NPT hopes to raise awareness of the ease and benefits of visiting a park and foster a connection with our public lands that will lead to lifelong enjoyment and stewardship.

Take the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 21. Everyone who registers will be entered to win a cool prize, such as a Baby Bjorn Carrier One Oudoors Baby Carrier, to take your little one on your next park adventure, a national park prize pack from Eastern National, a framed photo from fantastic outdoor photographer Frank Lee Ruggles, National Geographic kids books, and many more.

What do you do when you get to the park? That part is easy! You can join one of the 500 Kids to Parks Day events all over the U.S. You can create your own park adventure using NPT’s Boredom Busters. Or you can enjoy one of these 6 Great Activities for the 6th Kids to Parks Day.

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Play Pick-Up Sticks with Real Twigs

It’s called Spillikans in Canada, Plockepinn in Sweden, Mikado throughout Europe, and Kau Cim in China, where the sticks were used as a fortune-telling device. Although you could buy a canister of pick-up sticks at a toy or variety store, why not collect your own, at the park, for free? As a bonus, you’ll have fun hunting for good sticks, as well as playing with them. Here are directions for Pick-Up Sticks.

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Whistle with a Blade of Grass

Parks are the perfect place to let time move a little more slowly than usual. Try your hand at some outdoor activities from a slower time that need only the equipment on hand and a little practice. Even, and perhaps especially, a modern child will enjoy the chance to whistle with a blade of grass, make a daisy chain, or skip a stone in a body of water.

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Have a Scavenger Hunt or Make a Nature Bracelet

Whether you’re looking for wildflowers with five petals, red birds, or heart-shaped rocks, scavenger hunts get people of all ages exploring and observing in nature.

Nature bracelets also prove that simple is often best outdoors. Making them is a fun and easy way to get kids to look around them and observe small items. Like scavenger hunts, the hunt for nature bracelet items turns an outing into an adventure.

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Make a Paper or Cork Boat and Sail it in a Creek

My family first got the idea to make a paper boat from our beloved book, H.A. Rey’s Curious George Rides a Bike, in which sweet and loveable George secures a paper route, which leads him to make and sail a whole flotilla of folded-newspaper boats. Wondering if a newspaper boat could really float, we got out some old newspaper, folded it into boats using the directions in Curious George, and took our boats down to a local creek, where they indeed sailed along once released, on a gently flowing spring stream. You can make your own boat, using any kind of paper. Sail it or race it with others!

Got corks on hand? Make and enjoy a cork raft or cork sailboat.

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Blow Bubbles

Bubble blowing may be one of life’s perfect activities. Yes, they provide endless possibilities and inexpensive fun, but bubbles–each a thin skin of liquid surrounding a gas–sneakily illustrate a little science, too. Read about bubble science here. Perhaps best of all, bubbles can be made using ingredients you probably have around the house. Take a bucket of mix to a park or lawn and enjoy one of life’s simple pleasures. Here’s a recipe for giant homemade bubbles and some fun bubble activities.

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Play Classic Outdoor Games

When’s the last time you got a group together in a park for some old-fashioned playground or lawn games? Kids to Parks Day is a great time to revive your favorites or learn something new. Games such as Red Light, Green Light, Duck Duck Goose, Mother/Father May I, Capture the Flag, Kick the Can, and the ever-popular Tag, in all its variations have been entertaining people around the world for decades. Here are the rules to these and other classic outdoor games. Try one in a park!

Register for Kids to Parks Day & Enter the National Geographic Books Giveaway.

In addition to taking the Kids to Parks Day pledge to bring a child to a park on May 21, you can enter my giveaway to receive a National Geographic Kids Books Prize Pack consisting of 2 books, Secrets of the National Parks, Centennial Edition and Buddy Bison’s Yellowstone Adventure, starring NPT’s own loveable mascot.

To enter, take the the Kids to Parks Day pledge and then leave a comment on this post, letting me know you took the pledge and sharing your favorite park activity by Saturday, May 21, Midnight, PDT. The giveaway winner will be chosen by random name generator and notified by email. The giveaway winner must respond within 48 hours of receiving the email to receive the prize.

 Still looking for more park activities? Download National Park Trust’s Park Activity Guide. Have fun this spring in a park!

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, Public Domain (grass), Pass the Cereal (nature bracelet), Virginia State Parks (classic games)

Other Slow Family posts you might like:

National Day of Service at our National Park
Ken Burns’ The National Parks on PBS
Camping Trip: California’s El Dorado National Forest
A Neighborhood Walk Turns into a Hike to Muir Woods

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to Celebrate Arbor Day Every Day

Spring! These flowering trees were in complete and colorful bloom during my recent visit to Olympia, Washington. I was very taken with their bright and cheerful colors and the way the trees set off the mid-century ranch homes and the colorful board-and-batten homes in suburban southwest Olympia, where my daughter lives while attending The Evergreen State College.

The visit coincided with Earth Day (and Olympia’s Procession of the Species parade, to honor our planet and its inhabitants), as well as the 44th annual Arbor Day, which celebrates and promotes caring for our vital trees.

Want to learn about trees all year round? Check out this Tree Toolkit from the National Environmental Education Foundation, for terrific lessons and resources.

How many trees can you identify, just from their flowers? Take this fun tree quiz from Mother Nature Network.

Want to spend more time with your local trees? Get out to a park today or during National Park Trust‘s Kids to Parks Day May 21. You’ll find lots of resources on their site for fun park and tree activities, as well as events you can join on Kids to Parks Day.

Happy Arbor Day and Spring!

Photos: Susan Sachs Lipman

Other Slow Family posts you might enjoy:
Celebrate Tu B’Shevat, the New Year of the Trees
Happy Earth Day: Beginner’s Guide to Getting Your Garden Growing
Welcome Spring: Photos and Haiku
Celebration of Fall: Photos

 

 

 

Join the Great Backyard Bird Count

Looking for a great winter or family nature activity? Join the Audubon Society and Cornell Lab of Ornithology‘s Great Backyard Bird Count Friday-Monday, February 12-15, 2016, anywhere in the world. 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 147,265 bird watchers from more than 100 countries documented 5,090 species–or nearly half the possible bird species in the world! 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

Celebrate the Chinese Lunar New Year and other Midwinter Holidays with Kids

Around the world, people who live in the Northern Hemisphere celebrate the mid-point between the Winter Solstice and the Spring Equinox. In countries that use lunar calendars to determine festival days (many of which are in Asia and the Middle East), this signals the beginning of the new year and the first stirrings of spring.

There are lots of ways to honor and celebrate various midwinter traditions that are delightful, educational and bring families together.

800px-Chinese_new_year_dragon_2014

The Chinese Lunar New Year begins on February 8th this year, and marks the beginning of the Chinese year 4714. The Chinese Lunar New Year traditionally begins at the first new moon after January 21st. Each year is said to be represented by one of 12 animals in the Chinese Zodiac. This coming year is the Year of the Monkey.

San Francisco is host to the largest Chinese New Year Parade outside Asia and one of the few illuminated nighttime parades in the world. The parade, Feb. 20th this year, dates back to 1860 and features more than 100 groups, including extravagant lion dancers and a 200-foot-long Golden Dragon. San Francisco’s Chinatown offers numerous other free events and activities throughout the two-week New Years celebration, such as lion dance exhibits, and craft activities like making lucky red envelopes, at city libraries.

In New York City, the New York City Chinese New Year Parade and Festival takes place Feb. 14th this year, and winds through the streets of Little Italy and Chinatown. There’s also a Firecracker Ceremony and Cultural Festival on Feb. 10th, with drumming, dancing, and more than 600,000 firecrackers, the noise of which is said to ring out the evil spirits of the old year and ease what many viewed as a vulnerable transition between years. Read more about the tradition of greeting the new year with noise and how to make your own noisemakers.

In Chicago? Attend the Chicago Chinatown Lunar New Year Parade in their vibrant Chinatown and experience marching bands, floats, lion dancers and a dragon dance, on Feb. 14th.

Here are some great photos of Chinese New Year celebrations around the world.

There are many crafts you can make at home to celebrate the Chinese  New Year. Try making a paper dragon, Chinese noisemakers, or Monkey paper cutouts, or baking your own fortune cookies. (If you’re in San Francisco, be sure to visit the Golden Gate Fortune Cookie Factory, to see how the pros bake and fold the famous cookies.)

Here are more Chinese New Year crafts and recipes.

cherrytree1

The Jewish holiday Tu B’Shevat, which occurs in mid-winter in the Northern Hemisphere (sundown, January 24th, this year) is known as the New Year of the Trees and, in some circles, the Jewish Earth Day. Its date coincides with the earliest blooming trees in Israel and it is celebrated by planting trees and plants and by eating tree fruits and nuts. For our family, celebrating Tu B’Shevat represents a way to honor the turning of the year, welcome the promise of spring and new life, and recommit to caring for the nature around us.

Looking for a meaningful way to celebrate Tu B’Shevat? Consider planting a tree or seeds, or choosing a natural area to steward by weeding or picking up trash. Take a nature walk and observe what you see, or make a homemade bird feeder, so you can help the birds at a point in winter when much of their food supply has diminished.

Here are lots more traditions, blessings and activities to celebrate the New Year of the Trees.

Groundhog

In the U.S., Groundhog Day, February 2nd, is a well-known midwinter holiday, in which it is said that a groundhog rises from his underground burrow to predict a long or short winter, based on whether or not he produces a shadow. The holiday has its roots in 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 Celtic-Gaelic St. Brigid’s Day, a time of festivals, feasting and parades, which is still celebrated widely in Ireland, is another precursor to Groundhog Day. As is Imbolc, which means “in the belly”, and is associated with the onset of lactation of ewes, which would give birth in the spring.)

Pennsylvania’s German settlers believed that if the weather was fair on Candlemas Day (causing the groundhog to see his shadow), then the second half of winter would be stormy and cold, producing “six more weeks of winter.” This site explains the science of Groundhog Day and the fact that cloudy weather is actually milder than clear, cold weather. Groundhog Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1886 and featured a groundhog named “Punxsutawney Phil”, the same name of the groundhog that makes predictions today.

To celebrate Groundhog Day, try making hand shadow puppets, having a friend trace your shadow, or enjoying one of these shadow-themed activities or weather experiments.

Here is a lot more science, lore, activities and fun for Groundhog Day.

1024px-Setsubun_2006_Kobe

Japanese people celebrate Setsubun (Feb. 3rd this year), traditionally the beginning of spring, with a bean-throwing ceremony called Mame-maki. Beans are thrown indoors and then outside, as people shout, Oni wa soto! Fuku wa uchi!” (“Out with the devil! In with fortune!”), to drive away the evil spirits, a tradition that is a carry-over from mame-maki’s origins as a New Year’s ritual. Sometimes fathers dress up as the oni (devil). It’s considered good luck to eat the number of beans as your age.

You may want to do some Setsubun crafts.

Enjoy your celebration of midwinter. Hopefully it won’t feel like too long a wait until spring.

Photos: Wikimedia (Chinese New Year Parade in Melbourne, Setsubun celebration in Kobe), Susan Sachs Lipman, Creative Commons (Groundhog)

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