Posts Tagged ‘nature’

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!

Get Your Photo on the National Geographic Magazine Cover!

Wednesday, June 17th, 2009

Press Release:

NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC PUBLISHES SPECIAL COLLECTOR’S EDITION
FEATURING READERS’ PHOTOGRAPHS

Starting June 15, Readers Can Order Customized Version Online
With Their Own Cover Photo

Looking for a unique Father’s Day gift? One that fulfills the fantasy of having a favorite photograph featured on the cover of National Geographic magazine?

This month, National Geographic is publishing a special collector’s edition, National Geographic Your Shot, featuring 101 of the best readers’ photographs submitted to National Geographic magazine over the past three years.

Starting Monday, June 15, readers can create and order a unique, customized cover of this special issue, using a photograph of their choice, by going to ngm.com/your-shot-special. The customized version makes a perfect gift to memorialize a special family snapshot. The custom cover option for National Geographic Your Shot will be available to order, online only, for $19.99 plus shipping. The issue goes on newsstands with a standard cover on Tuesday, June 30, for $10.99.

National Geographic Your Shot includes spectacular images from photography enthusiasts around the world as well as profiles of three of the photographers whose work is included. It is organized into categories that encompass the most popular types of submissions: Ode to Joy; Human Moments; Odd Couples; and Natural Wonders. The 144-page issue, with a trim size of 7″x7″, is supported with advertising from HP, Fuji and Energizer.

Your Shot was originally developed as a Web-based way for National Geographic magazine to reach out to the legions of talented photography fans who dream of getting a photograph published in the magazine. More than 155,000 images have been submitted to National Geographic by readers since the Your Shot feature debuted in March 2006. Each weekday, a photo editor sorts through submissions and chooses a “daily dozen” of the top photographs, which are posted in an online gallery. Online visitors can vote for their favorites, and the top-voted photograph for each month is published in National Geographic magazine, along with the photo editor’s top pick. For more information on how to submit a Your Shot image to National Geographic magazine, go to ngm.com/yourshot.

Click on the photos below to purchase National Geographic books from Chinaberry.

Connecting with Each Other

Thursday, May 28th, 2009

Our family had the most wonderful Sunday afternoon together recently. We headed out in the late afternoon and brought some dinner to one of our favorite parks. We spread out a blanket and some chairs and feasted on some great food. Afterward, we continued one of my favorite family traditions: playing croquet. We started this years ago when the kids were younger, and often we set aside time on a special day  to go to the park and play croquet together.

Instead of worrying about catching the latest show on TV, we focused on each other and, of course, trying to hit a little ball through wire arches, which often results in a lot of laughter. This confirms one of my suspicions: Getting out of the house is one of the best ways to connect with my kids. Gone are the distractions of phones, TV, and computer, enticing us to while away too much time. Instead, we can focus on each other. Being somewhere else just seems to free us up to connect with each other better.

One family we know takes their kids to the beach in the late afternoon every Tuesday night during the summer. They do this without fail, walking on the beach, eating a relaxed meal, jumping in the water, connecting with each other. My friend says that this is her favorite activity, because it is low-key, relaxed, and something they can all do together.

Now if going to the beach or the park won’t work for you because of either time or distance, maybe a walk around the neighborhood would be a better fit for your family. The other night we went for a walk after dinner and ended up finding a wonderful area with lots of purple flowers blooming right under our noses. Had we not ventured down this particular street, we would have missed the beautiful colors and, most importantly, the beauty of our conversations. And what were we missing at home? Absolutely nothing.

Today’s children are losing touch with the natural world. Rarely do they feel free to wander in woods, climb trees, or build forts and tree houses anymore. There are too many safety issues, rules and regulations, and the urban destruction of green and growing places. Children are meeting nature ”virtually” on the Internet and television instead of running outside and encountering the world sensually for themselves. One fourth-grader told the author, ”I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are.”

When children (and adults) are separated from nature, their health and well-being suffer. So do their souls. Louv offers studies that reveal how much playing in nature can stimulate creativity, imagination, vitality, and joy in our children. Schools that allow outdoor play in natural places find increased learning skills and greater concentration in their students. Parents of attention-deficit children often find time in nature to be as healing and as helpful as any drug. And yet our children are spending most of their time indoors, and when they do venture outside, it is only in controlled settings like team sports — not the same as letting children explore and experience nature for themselves. Louv has written a book that is both a blessing and a challenge. Please, please, read this book, and give it to every parent and teacher you know. It feels profoundly important — essential — for the health and well-being of our children and for the survival of the planet we call home.

Review by Lucinda Herring

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.

Thinning Out the Garden and Our Lives

Thursday, March 19th, 2009


Spring finds me out in my garden every chance I get. Nothing is as nourishing to me as working the warm soil, seeing new growth on trees, and stumbling across new shoots of plants that looked all but dead in the torrid days of August. Few other things are as much of a delight as receiving my order of seeds from my favorite seed catalog, sketching the vegetable garden layout, and then preparing the soil. My son, Evan (a.k.a. Mr. Dirt), loves to help me. He’s the self-appointed organizer of the earthworms, and as we move along digging in the soil, he picks up every one, says something admiring to it, then places it exactly where he thinks life will be good to it. The cats drop by to visit us, mourning doves touch down a safe distance away to check us out, and if I hear our phone ringing, too bad. When I’m in the garden, I’m immersed in another world.

When it comes time to plant the seeds, the dirt is so fine and smooth that all we need do is run our fingers through it, making a shallow line. Evan’s the expert at distributing the seeds, and does so one by one, no matter how tiny they are. (Last year, he admonished me for shaking the seeds directly from their package into the soil, explaining that each seed needs to be touched by the person planting it. “That makes sense,” I think to myself.) So the seeds go in, the rows are reasonably straight, I note in my gardening journal exactly what went where, and finally we lightly mist the soil, wishing the seeds a healthy life. Few times during a year do I feel as alive, as accomplished, as good as I do when I’ve planted my garden with care. Then, about two weeks later, the sprouts appear, and soon it’s time to thin the seedlings according to package directions.

Now, as anyone who gardens knows, “thinning” means plucking out sometimes three quarters of the baby plants so that the ones left will have enough room to grow. It’s my least favorite part of gardening. In fact, most of the time I can’t bring myself to do it. I can’t simply discard what turns out to be most of the seedlings-healthy seedlings-that have sprouted, at my beckoning, in the soil I’ve so carefully prepared. Nope. I can’t do it. I won’t do it. “Somehow, they’ll all manage to survive,” I tell myself. But, of course, what always happens is that as the plants grow, they eventually crowd each other out. Not having the space or nutrients they need, all of them become less pest- and disease-resistant. Gnarly and mottled, they die an early death, and even though I know from experience that this will happen, I still can’t bring myself to thin the rows of seedlings.

Yesterday afternoon, as I scrutinized the dense new strips of one-inch tall sprouts, I was struck by the similarity between those crowded rows and a pitfall of modern family life. In an effort to expose our children to the right things, we expose them to too much, in hopes that a few of their encounters will “take.” But what really happens is that life gets too crowded and nothing really flourishes. It just seems to be made up of a bunch of experiences, all of which turn out to be shallow, because there is no time in between them. There is no time to daydream; no time to be with one experience (or toy or whatever) before the next experience is plopped in front of them; no time to dig deeply enough into anything and realize that it could grow to be a passion if it were well-tended. It is so easy to lose focus of the fact that just as seedlings simply need good soil, the right environment, and room to grow, children have equally simple needs: love, respect, and space to be themselves. Life can get so cluttered, and then it’s hard to thin it out- just like my rows of seedlings.

Early this morning, before it was light, I heard the unmistakable sounds of one of our neighborhood skunks rooting through the garden. I sneaked out our bedroom door and sat for a long time on the steps in the warm night air, straining to see him (her?) in the darkness. I didn’t want to scare him away, for I knew he was up to something very important, indeed. In dawn’s first light, he finally left, and I made my way over to the garden, knowing what I would find. Sure enough, he’d been feasting on grubs and things, and in doing so, had uprooted most of my seedlings. Granted, the job wasn’t quite as orderly as I’d have done it (had I ever done it), but my rows were now thinned, and each plant would have enough space, soil, sun, and fresh air in which to thrive. I chuckled, and wondered if some giant skunk would ever lumber into my life and thin it out!

The Joy of Plants

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

I looked up at my calendar yesterday to discover that it’s Plant a Flower Day on March 12. What a great idea to have a day devoted to plants! Just think of all the joy plants bring us, and they sure make our yards, decks, patios and offices look beautiful. Not to mention the benefits of having plants indoors to freshen up our air, literally.

If you want to encourage your kids’ interest in plants, try something easy like succulents. These plants thrive with little water, come in a myriad of colors and styles, and are extremely forgiving with little hands. In fact, if an eager tug results in a broken piece, just put that piece in the dirt and more times than not, it will thrive.

In fact, one of my fondest gardening memories with my boys was when they had a friend over and they all “decorated” a mound of dirt in a rusty old wheelbarrow with broken-off pieces of these wondrous plants. I was not sure how long their creation would last, especially since I was quite a newbie gardener back then. Years later, that wheelbarrow is spilling over with a beautiful assortment of succulents that at times is almost breathtaking. Just looking at that wheelbarrow brings back the excitement of that afternoon.

So enjoy some of nature’s finest plants with your kids now and you’ll be making some beautiful memories — as well as some pretty cool plants!

Wild and Wintry - Searching for Animals During Wintertime

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

The following excerpt is taken from I Love Dirt by Jennifer Ward.

Cold winters are certainly a bit quieter than the summertime, regarding what’s out and about. It’s a less active time for many species that adapt to cold temperatures by seeking shelter or migrating to warmer climates. However, it’s not a completely vacant time in nature. Many animals remain active throughout the winter, even in the coldest temperatures. You need only look and see.

Have your children search for animals that are present in the wintertime, such as cardinals, owls, deer, squirrels, blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees, titmice, bunnies, foxes, and so on. Even though you may not see an animal, chances are you’ll see evidence that it has been around. The lack of foliage on trees makes spying a bit easier, however, and animals leave tracks and trails though the snow. Chances are you’ll have great luck finding wintry wildlife.

Look for evidence with your children, be it in your backyard, at a park, or throughout your neighborhood:

  • Food caches, such as seeds and nuts. Look but don’t touch. Animals hid these food stores specifically to help them survive the winter, when less food is available.
  • Chew marks. Many animals will nibble and eat bark from trees, since leaves are sparse. If you’re near a natural water source, beavers are probably burrowed in their dens, but chances are you can find evidence of their existence from chewed branches and logs.
  • Tunnels and burrows in the snow.
  • Sounds. Can you hear birdcalls? Squirrel chatter? A coyote’s howl?

Keep a journal of your discoveries, and use a sketchbook to render what you see.

This is for the Birds: A Midwinter Tree

Friday, December 26th, 2008

Making a feast tree for the birds and small woodland animals that live by our home has always been one of my children’s most treasured holiday activities. They love the whole process—making the food, decorating the tree and then watching through the kitchen window as the little animals eat their treats. We usually make our tree for the birds out of our own Christmas tree after we have dismantled it, but most any tree will do. We drag it outside to a sheltered spot in the backyard where we can unobtrusively observe the animals’ doings and then decorate it with all kinds of yummy bird and squirrel treats. This is a fun activity that preschoolers manage with ease. In case you are interested in trying this out for yourself, here are a few ideas on how to decorate your tree.

  • Strings of Popcorn—All you need to make this welcome delicacy is plenty of freshly popped corn (omit the butter and salt) and a needle and thread for each person. Knot the thread and then carefully push the needle through the popcorn. Some young children have trouble making these, as the popcorn needs to be threaded with a light touch or it tends to crumble. You’ll have to judge your child’s dexterity level. Some enjoy this activity greatly; others find making popcorn strands tedious. Our family has found that if we appoint one person to read aloud and have the rest of the family stringing, our popcorn strings grow much longer with much less effort. We have tried stringing cranberries but the animals in our area, anyway, don’t seem to care for them.
  • Peanut Butter Pinecones—This treat is always the first to be eaten by the birds at our house. They’re simple to make and a big hit with the preschool crowd. Be forewarned, these can be a bit messy to make but are always worth the effort. You’ll need pinecones (most any kind will do, the more open the better), string, peanut butter, birdseed and sunflower seeds. To begin, knot a string loop on the cone so it is easy to hang the finished product on the tree. Next, mix the seeds together and pour them into a shallow pan (a pie pan or a small roasting pan will both work well). Slather pinecones with peanut butter, using a knife or your fingers to gently push the peanut butter into the cracks. I tend to assign this task to the oldest child, if she is willing, since it is the messiest and small children have trouble getting enough peanut butter on the cone. If there are no older children available, an adult might want to do this. And last, roll the cone in the seeds, trying to get as many seeds as possible onto the peanut butter. (Many two-year-olds are fabulous at this messy task!) It should look like one big blob of seeds when you are done.
  • Fruit Strands—Slice apples and oranges in rounds and string like the popcorn.
  • Suet Balls—For this nutritious tidbit, ask the butcher for suet. You will need to have a few empty paper egg cartons on hand, as well as some birdseed and a bit of yarn or string. To begin, melt the suet over low heat (be very careful with the hot fat and young children). Add in an equal amount of birdseed and stir. Gently stir the suet-birdseed mixture as you pour it into the egg holes in the egg carton. Make a loop of yarn or string and place it into the melted suet mixture. (This is a great job for three- or four-year-olds.) When the suet cools, the yarn will become the handle with which you hang the suet on the tree. Some people like to add some peanut butter to this mixture for extra nutrition. Allow the suet to harden and then gently peel away the egg carton to hang the suet balls on the tree.
  • Once you have gathered enough goodies to decorate your tree, make it an event. (For inspiration read Night Tree by Eve Bunting. After you decorate your tree, don’t forget the ground-feeding birds. Leave a few peanut butter pinecones and some extra birdseed on the ground for them to nibble, too.