Contributor Archive

Enter the Land of Dirt and Bugs

Friday, February 5th, 2010

I don’t think there is a worm left in our yard that hasn’t been turned. My son has discovered the joys of digging in the soil, and every rock, block, and grain of sand has been flipped in his search for underground creatures. At any given time I am sure to find a container of dirt in the yard, a new ”home” for his bugs until he releases them back to the earth. I think his fingernails will always have dirt embedded underneath them, despite my attempts with a nailbrush and a firm scrubbing every night.

I used to enjoy digging and getting dirty too, back when I was called a ”tomboy,” rode an oversized bicycle around the neighborhood, and didn’t come home until the streetlights came on. I spent spring days after school outside with my mom’s trowel, digging big holes in the yard (which I know my mom appreciated!). I’d happily scrape my trowel deep enough to reach past the sandy top layer, through the moist dark layer, down to the red clay treasure until it was too hard to dig anymore.

This spring, may we all have time to dig a little deeper and get our hands messy alongside our kids. By gardening, bug hunting, and exploring in the dirt together, we not only connect with our children and to the earth, we are also reminded of the outdoor memories of our own childhood. Remember the delight of holding a leaf that was bigger than your head or the fascination of watching an earthworm or caterpillar wriggle in front of you? And of course you could just take a trowel and dig as deep a hole as possible, not with any purpose, but just because you can!

Water Play

Friday, May 15th, 2009

Water will always hold a fascination for children. Whether they are physically in it or just watching it, children find equal parts excitement and relaxation from being around water.

Here are some suggestions for summertime play that include water:

  • Sit by a fountain. We were at the park last week and my kids were so excited by the loud spurt of the fountain and the subsequent mist sprinkling down on them.
  • Purchase a water table that can be used outside. I bought an inexpensive one a few summers ago, and on hot days my kids play with it in their bathing suits. Floating toy boats occupies them for hours.
  • Take your children out on a small row boat on the lake or a speedboat in the ocean and let the water spray hit their faces! Don’t forget the lifejackets.
  • Learn to swim. Our project for this summer is to teach my youngest son how to swim. In the past, he’s been hesitant about getting his face wet so we haven’t pressed the issue, but after some recent water safety lessons, he’s looking forward to getting back into the pool.
  • Don’t have a pool at your house? Neither do we, but we do have a plastic kiddie-pool that the kids like to sit and splash in to cool off during hot summer afternoons (I’ve been known to soak my feet in there too!). Splash parks are another fun way to stay cool and children don’t need to know how to swim. Wear waterproof swim shoes to prevent slippage on wet surfaces.
  • Turn on the sprinklers for a few minutes and let the kids run around on the lawn (Bonus: You’ll water the grass at the same time!). Throw in a few sponges to toss around and play splash tag.
  • Fill watering cans and let the kids water your garden.
  • Paint with water on the sidewalk. All you need is a bucket of water and a paint brush to create temporary art on the concrete.
  • Hit the beach. The smell of the ocean, the sound and force of the waves, and the feel of wet sand underfoot is an experience like no other.
  • My kids could spend all day at an aquarium, watching the fish in the tanks, getting hands-on in the tide pools, and learning about undersea creatures.
  • Give the kids a surprise and spray them with the water hose unexpectedly while they are playing outside! Or pull out a bucket of soapy water and some sponges to give the car a wash.
  • There probably isn’t an easier way for kids to connect with water than in a bath. A few cups, maybe a sieve and a spoon, and kids will happily play and pour water. Give them a few drops of liquid soap in a cup and have them stir up their own bubbles.

ZOO POPS: Animal Shape Frozen Treat Molds

Delicious. Healthful. Economical. Fun. For mere pennies a pop, your freezer will soon be turning out some of the coolest treats in town. Pour fruit juice, milk, gelatin, or any other liquid into the four individual plastic molds, insert the cool penguin handles, and six hours later you’ve got detailed, sculpted popsicles featuring either a lion, monkey, elephant, or polar bear. Each mold will take up 4.5 x 4 x 2.5 inches of freezer space. Includes 8 tasty recipes.

The Joy of Discovery

Monday, May 11th, 2009

This past weekend my son and I visited a science center. One of the more popular exhibits with the smaller children was a fan that faced the ceiling with a clear plastic tube sitting over the top. There was space underneath the tube to place items and then see which ones the fan would carry up through the tube and subsequently out the top and back down to the ground. There was a plethora of experimental bits and pieces lying on the carpet: scraps of paper, little strings, ribbon, Styrofoam packing peanuts, tiny paper airplanes, etc.

My son was absolutely fascinated with the fan. For about ten minutes he placed items inside the tube, jumping up and down with excitement as he watched the pieces shoot up to the ceiling, some slower than others depending on the weight. Then he discovered a small plastic tray, the kind that would hold about three pieces of chocolate candy in a box. He set the tray inside the tube and the air from the fan shot it up and out quickly. He then placed little scraps of Styrofoam inside the tray, watching the tray rise a little slower out of the tube. He finally found a happy medium by adding and removing enough of the pieces in the tray so that when he put it on the fan, the air caused the tray to levitate about midway in a mystifying way in the center of the tube.

I stood back, watching his mind work as he tested his experiments and I was reminded that as parents we sometimes need to take a “hands-off” approach. It’s difficult at times to bite our tongue and let our children experience the World at their own pace and in their own way. If I’d offered suggestions or taken the pieces and shown him myself, his course of learning wouldn’t have been the same as when I’d left him to discover it on his own. It’s our nature as parents to want to jump in and attempt to “teach the lesson” instead of letting children discover and study the cause-and-effect on their own. It’s tough watching our children struggle as they learn, but it’s necessary in teaching them independence. And isn’t that what raising children is all about, to guide them toward full independence and autonomy? I reminded myself of this again yesterday as I watched my son wriggle teeny-tiny buttons through buttonholes on his shirt. I sat quietly and watched, ready to help if asked, but not offering. He didn’t ask for my help.

“I never teach my pupils; I only attempt to provide the conditions in which they can learn.” – Albert Einstein

Create a “science center” in your own home with the ideas from 365 Simple Science Experiments with Everyday Materials.

Adventurous Eater Jumps Right In

Friday, April 10th, 2009
Adventurous Eater Ian

Adventurous Eater Ian

Last night I took my son out to dinner at an All-You-Can-Eat Chinese food buffet. Generally buffets like this are wasted on me because I just don’t eat enough food to justify the price. However, my 5-year-old Ian is a bottomless pit so buffets are right up his alley! As we perused all the food choices, I piled his plate with Lo Mein noodles, sweet and sour pork spare ribs, and crab wontons. One of the food trays caught my eye and I read the label out loud, “Frog legs.” “Frog legs?” said Ian, “Frog legs! I want frog legs!” Okay, onto the plate went one frog leg. Back at our booth, the frog leg was the first thing in his mouth and he proceeded to eat every little bit and requested more.

As someone who was an extremely particular eater as a child, having a son who will happily eat frog legs is oddly interesting. When I was three years old, I told my mom, “I know I don’t like it because I’ve never had it before.” In elementary school, I would actually turn down dinner invitations to friends’ houses because I was afraid they would serve something I wouldn’t like and then I would get that dreaded label…”picky.” Oh, how I hated that word! I wanted to like everything, to be able to eat whatever crossed my lips without the gag reflex kicking in, without worrying what I was going to eat at a big event, without fear of getting labeled a picky-eater. In my early twenties, I noticed a list tacked to the refrigerator of my boyfriend’s mom. She’d been writing down notes about what foods I didn’t like so that she wouldn’t cook them when I was there for dinner. The list was at least 3 pages long. I was so embarrassed that I became determined to try new things without prejudice, even foods that I’d tried as a kid and disliked. I discovered that there were quite a few things I’d been missing out on, foods that my adult taste buds liked and my childhood taste buds had previously rejected.

Back to Mr. Frog Legs, when Ian was born I was set on having him try foods without the pressure that I’d gotten as a child. I offered him a wide variety of flavors and textures, encouraged him to try new foods, but never pushed the issue if he turned it down. If he didn’t care for something, I’d offer it to him again on another day. I think I just lucked out with a child who is more adventurous than most because it’s obvious that he didn’t inherit his gourmet taste buds from me. When he offered me a bite of his frog leg at dinner last night, I refused with a polite “no thank you!”

Crafting - Coloring Easter Eggs

Tuesday, April 7th, 2009
Decorated Easter Eggs

Decorated Easter Eggs

Last year around this time of year, I gathered all of our Easter egg supplies and took the activity outside where we could decorate without fear of spilled dye on the carpet or dripping fingers touching the furniture. I know that not everyone has the luxury of warm weather in the spring, but if you are able to get outside to decorate your eggs, it really is the best option. I have a little play table that is a good height for the kids so they can stand over the dye cups and not risk tipping the cups over like they might at a dining room table or kitchen counter.

I have my boys dress in old clothes and then let them go at it. I buy an inexpensive egg decorating kit that includes the dye pellets, a wire holder (though a tablespoon is generally easier to maneuver), and sometimes a few stickers, which I usually put into their Easter baskets. I’ve never gone for those complicated dye kits that add glitter or wrap plastic casings around the eggs. I think they take away from the creativity and imagination of making your own designs. My boys like to draw on their eggs with a crayon before dipping them to create patterns or personalize them with their names. The half-and-half egg is a popular one at our house but requires a steady hand to hold the egg only halfway into the dye before flipping it on the spoon and dipping the opposite side into another color. My eldest likes to use an old eye dropper to deposit small drips and make a swirl effect with a rainbow of colors.

Using dye is the perfect opportunity to learn about color mixing (last year we ended up with lots of purple eggs, the result of my littlest trying to make a brown egg!). My boys usually abandon their spoons and holders halfway through the proceedings and end up dipping their fingers into the dye to retrieve their eggs. I don’t mind a little mess as I think it encourages the imagination, but if you want the kids fresh and clean for Easter Sunday, the dye does stain fingers and nails so have them wear rubber gloves!

This weekend I will be setting up our egg coloring station in the front yard. I hope you will share your own family Easter egg coloring traditions with us!

Time to decorate those eggs!

Time to decorate those eggs!

A Whole Month of Celebration

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

For the past three weeks anytime anyone mentions the phrase “Christmas-time”, my son goes through the same line of questioning.

“Is it Christmas-time?”

“Yes”

“Tonight? It’s Christmas tonight?”

And then I launch into the same explanation, how Christmas-time is the “season” and the days and weeks leading up to and following the actual Christmas DAY are “Christmas-time”. I understand his confusion, he doesn’t go to school yet so the lapse of time on a calendar isn’t conveyed to him. He clocks his Christmas-time by watching the lights appear on neighboring houses, by the number of seasonal cartoon shows on television and by the sudden appearance of wrapping paper that has just been pulled out of its year-long hibernation (”What’s that for, Mom? Whatcha wrapping, Mom? Can I just take one teensy little peek, Mom?”). He doesn’t yet understand that all the festivities account for the time, culminating in one lovely day. But that it’s not just the singular day that creates the Christmas feeling. He is slowly starting to appreciate the joy and warmth of the season, of the “Christmas-time”, and not just the build up to that one singular day of gift giving and receiving. I try to keep things low-key and focused on the whole enjoyment of the season and all of the treats that come along with that, including seeing the lights and decorations on houses, singing along to Rudolph on TV, baking cookies, making ornaments and of course, wrapping up all the special gifts he’s made and chosen for everyone.