What to do with all the flowers your little one brings home at this time of the year? I mean, yes, there's nothing lovelier than a bunch of flowers in a tiny clasped fist but beyond sniffing them and maybe shoving them in a cup of water - how can you make use of these gathered treasures? Well... what if you could use them to give back a few moments of peace to your child throughout the day? Here are 5 ways to do just that!
1. Healing Waters for Boo boos
My kids are always walking in with scrapes and booboos at this time of year and I'm convinced that most of the injury is to their sense of pride. In the book Seven Times the Sun, the author recommends keeping on hand a bowl of "healing waters" that contains fresh tap water and gathered flower petals to ease the emotional pain of the hurt.
2. Scattering Wild Flower Seeds
If you look closely at a bunch of flowers, you will see lots of tiny seeds that can be gathered and then scattered to encourage new growth perfect for picking in the future. Just the focus required to gather and scatter the seeds can bring moments of calm to the day. We planted some english garden flowers this year with the intention of gathering and spreading the seeds each year!
3. Setting the Table
Having your little one be responsible for bringing the beauty of a freshly picked bouquet to the table in the evening, is one way to bring peace to mealtime. When your child feels part of making the gathering special, you'd be amazed how open they might be to trying new things and participating in dinner conversation.
4. Making a Fairy Potion
Want to attract fairies to the yard? Do you believe in magic? Use the petals from gathered flowers to make a fairy potion sure to bring fairies to the garden at night. You can add drops of essential oils like lavendar whose perfume is sure to bring even the shyest fairy to your home. Use a small dropper to deposit the potion here and there in the garden!
5. Bathing in Fragrant Petals
Scatter a few petals in your child's bath and maybe even light a candle or two (with supervision of course). The same things that bring peace to our own lives - can be bring calm to little ones too! A lovely way to prepare for bedtime.
All these ideas offer new ways for your little observer to use flowers to create mindfulness during the day and to introduce moments of calm in what can sometimes be a very hectic time of year for so many families.
What do you use to create mindful moments in your home? Share your ideas in the comments below!
Every birdy needs some love especially during these freezing cold days of winter! Here are a few ideas to help you show the birds (and let's be honest - the squirrels are gonna eat some too) that you care.
1. Fruit garland!
Shared (This is the one we tried this year - giving our Christmas tree a second life near the bird feeder outdoors!)
2. Berries and Cheerio Heart Ornaments for Valentine's Day!
4. Apple Birdseed Feeders
5. Orange-ya Glad the Birds Visited?
6. Last but not Least! More for Mommy:
As ever, mama needs some special time to go birding on her own in the winter. Try keeping a nature journal of what you observe during a nature walk- either writing or sketching or both. This article by Claire Walker Leslie is good for inspiration!
Scenes from a New England Winter
Lately, I've been reading a wonderful little book on beauty called "The Invisible Embrace Beauty: Rediscovering the True Sources of Compassion, Serenity and Hope" and it is having an enormous impact on my daily living. So much so that I am compelled to share a little of it here with you.
So you know that phrase "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder"? Turns out, I've been reading it wrong all this time. Have you? I always presumed it was about subjectivity and how the aesthetic judgments of individuals differ from person to person but what if that's not the meaning at all? What if the "eye of the beholder" means that you need to alter your visual perceptions of the world to encounter beauty on a regular basis? This is one of the primary questions O'Donohue is asking in this book.
I have been on the look out for beauty every single day since beginning the book and it turns out it's sitting there around every single corner of my life but I have to remind myself to do it. It doesn't come to me automatically to seek out the beautiful in the world. However, I've noticed of late that this is not the case for my kids. They seem not only to bump into beauty on an astonishingly frequent basis but I'm beginning to think - beauty has a way of finding them! So here are a few images of my children finding beauty and a few quotations from the book to inspire you!
There is something in our clay nature that needs to
If our style of looking becomes beautiful,
When you regain a sense of your life as a journey of discovery,
I realize that most of these photos are of us in nature and of course it's true that beauty is so easily found there when you are on the lookout for it. However, moments of beauty are not limited to nature trails! The way your parent places a spoon beside a bowl full of soup, the well worn spine of a favourite book, the tip of your husband's tongue when he's concentrating. I am learning and finding. Every day. Where is beauty hiding in your life?
It's funny how all the talk of gardening with little ones tapers out almost completely at this time of year. It isn't until children are carving their pumpkins in late October that any of us really appreciate the value of time spent in the garden with our little ones as summer transitions into fall. Not to get too overly existential here but there is a circle of life that happens in the garden and while we are excited to teach our little ones about planting seeds and watching life form - we forget that there are also valuable lessons to be learned as life matures and the garden goes to sleep for another year. Here are 3 Life Lessons we can share with our kids during Harvest Time:
1. The Fruits of their Labour
"So. Remember all that work you did to plant, water and weed the soil for this little seed? Voila! Here are the fruits (or veggies) of your labour... literally!" What better life lesson could we share with our children than to teach them that when they tend something with love and care it comes back to them one hundred fold and in such magical ways?
2. Cycle of Life
Life is part of a cycle. We must have a balance between the energy and vibrance of spring and the rest and cozy periods of fall moving into winter slumber. Plants and animals understand this instinctively and so do our children! Watch as neighbours chop wood and don sweaters. Maybe leave one vegetable to rot in the garden to enrich the soil and as an example of how all living things make up part of this wonderful circle we call life. Visit it regularly and observe the process as it goes back into the earth with all its seeds. Check in the spring to see if it comes up again as a brand new plant!
3. Preserving and Cooking
Make a big batch of soup with your little one either with the harvest from your own garden or from a local veggie patch! Allow him to select the spices to season the soup, and to be part of all the steps from picking, chopping, simmering and maybe even pureeing! Cooking and preserving are both excellent life lessons for little ones especially little boys!
All this talk of cooking has me hankering after a smooth butternut squash soup! You? What other life lessons does gardening teach our little ones? Please share what you have learned in the garden this season with your own kids!
A friend and fellow Artsy Starter recently posted this video aptly titled "slug life" of a slug eating a blade of grass. I was spell-bound and was moments away from popping corn and settling in to watch it again when I realized ... my kids have got to see this !! That's right! I wanted nothing more than to plop my kids in front of the screen to watch this amazing natural phenomenon that they simply could not see in this way in our own backyard. I mean seriously check this out!
The Problem with Going Screen Free
You see, this whole trend toward screen free homes - while well intended - speaks to a fairly serious problem in the Western world. So dependent on technology are we and our children that we are developing damaging addictions. Going screen free is certainly one option for managing this issue but while going cold turkey works for some - for other kids it can actually have the opposite effect from what you intend. Namely, you can create a mystery and illicitness around the idea of the screen so that kids end up idolizing it in a way that they might not have had the family taken a more moderate approach. I have even seen some people cover up their screens with sheets which - far from eliminating their allure - ends up making them look like enormous birthday gifts waiting to be unwrapped. Who doesn't love a big present in the corner of the room?
What if we taught our kids something different about screens? What if we used screens as a means of teaching impulse control and boundaries by ensuring moderate and targeted access to them as valuable tools for learning in our lives? Now there's an idea...
After all, there is some very real value that the internet provides that you simply cannot get anywhere else! Take a peek at this ladybug unfolding its little wings to fly for example:
3 Awesome Ways to Use Screens with Your Kids!
So. What are we to do? How can we incorporate quality screen time into our children's lives? Well. First we have to plan for it. We need to preview quality videos and schedule time to watch them with the kids. We need to realize that there's more to watch on rainy days than Moana for the fiftieth time and on sunny days we need to bring our mobile devices with us on our nature walks so that we can complement our learning with comparative virtual explorations! Here are 3 wonderful ways to use screens this summer!
1. Time Lapse & Slow Motion Videos
3. Live Cams
How do you use screens wisely in your home? If you are looking for ideas, Artsy Startsy's R.O.A.M. program is chock full of quality digital content like this that can help you and your little one use screens wisely to explore books, nature, visual art, and music!
For years my daughter has kept a nature journal. When she returns from one of our little nature walks she often sit down with a treasure we found on the way to sketch it and examine it more closely indoors. It really is a lovely practice. I know that it gives her a deeper respect for our observations and discoveries in nature.
For a time, I kept a journal too and would sketch alongside her. However, I always thought of it as something I was doing "for" her and didn't take it terribly seriously. Then something changed. One day, I discovered that I yearned to sketch the melting snowman in our backyard. I wanted to capture the moment when winter decided to become spring at our house. My daughter was nowhere around. Nonetheless, I picked up a fine point pen and some water colour and went to it alone. And now I can't stop! I am taking great joy from keeping a nature journal and I wanted to share it with you since it has taught me a lot about learning to enrich my own life alongside that of my children. In the past I've had a tendency to reserve beautiful things like this for my kids and to leave my own appreciation of the arts and nature for "another time." I'm beginning to realize that time is now.
Do you forget to pursue your passions in favour of your child's? Here are three signs you need to focus on bringing beauty and art to your own life too:
1. You ask, "Wouldn't You Like To?"
A friend of mine loved the idea of having a cello in the house. She asked her daughter, "Wouldn't you like to play the cello?" ... She got - at best - a kind of mixed reception. In fact, the more she asked, the more she discovered that, in fact, her little musician preferred the idea of playing the piano. My friend's disappointment was visceral and the moment she realized this was the moment she got on the horn and rented an adult-sized cello - for herself! That enormous instrument sat in her home for 6 months. She learned many beautiful pieces and, in the end, decided not to pursue strings. However, she felt gratified that she had explored that avenue and hadn't simply dropped the idea because of her child's disinterest. Indeed, her daughter grew to love the cello herself simply by watching her mother pursue her own musical passion.
2. You pretend to care.
"Let's get a magnifying glass and examine that centipede closer!" Now there's a phrase I never imagined myself saying but I actually heard myself saying these very words in the garden with my children last summer. My children were excited to check out bugs for two reasons. The first was that almost all kids love bugs and the second was that they knew that I was genuinely enjoying the process myself. You see, there's the thing about little observers. They know when you're not really into it. If I was actually revolted by garden crawlies but simply put on a brave face, my kids would know it at a glance and likely the game would end there. It's so important to be aware of your limits and not to pretend to care when you really aren't feeling it. It's perfectly fine to say, "Mommy doesn't want to check that out right now but here is your magnifying glass! Have fun!" Freeing yourself up to pursue what you enjoy not only gives you space to be an individual - it gives permission to your children to do the same. Having a passion that is unique is a novelty for children who are just at the outset of developing their artistic personalities and independent explorations.
3. You spend more time researching than playing.
You've developed a pin board on Vincent Van Gogh crafts to do with your children but when it comes down to it - you've not yet actually done any of them together. Here's a moment to take pause and ask yourself, "What exactly am I waiting for?" Don't get me wrong. There is nothing the matter with taking time to plan activities for your little artists. By all means, research artistic projects to undertake together but when you find them tugging at your sleeve and wanting to do something with you - just go for it! Maybe you don't have all the materials required and maybe the circumstances aren't quite perfect but who cares? Take a moment to show your child some images of Van Gogh's work online and get your starry night on! But don't stop there! There's a reason you're pinning and researching all these good ideas - not the least of which is that you are probably very interested in the work of Van Gogh yourself. And why shouldn't you be? I say take this as an opportunity to pursue your interest. Try some of the techniques Van Gogh used himself. Take out some books on Van Gogh's art. Tour a virtual gallery of his work. Fulfilling your own love of the arts is just that easy and wonderful!
I'm not sure how long I will continue to keep a nature journal. It may just be a passing phase in my life but at least I know that I didn't give it up in favour of developing my own child's interests instead of my own. In fact, my daughter has expressed great interest in watching me sketch and write in my journal but right now she would rather collect items in her nature basket. The fact is that she knows that I love nature and want to take time to celebrate and record it joyfully. I can't think of a better way to spark her own curiosity for the natural world than this.
Whatever you think you know about teaching a nature lesson to your little one is nothing, absolutely nothing in comparison to the lesson your little observer has ready for you. I don't know if it's some sort of a spidey sense kids have for natural phenomena or what but just when I think I've found the most wonderful thing to show my children outside, they upstage me with some profound insight into the world around them. My children's observations in this regard usually sound like absurdity or infancy but it always - always! - turns out to be a brilliant moment of mindfulness about nature on their part.
This morning was one of those moments. My daughter provided me with an excellent lesson for cloud gazing during a winter melt. The unusually mild weather brought us outdoors this morning with a spring in our step and many deep, ponderous breaths. With pride, I looked up at the sky and saw nothing but puffy white clouds floating through a blue sky. "Look Al," I whispered, "Look at the clouds!" Nothing. I brought my gaze downward only to see that she was standing stock still and looking directly down at the ground in front of her. "No, c'mon! Up at the clouds! Look up! You'll never see them by looking downward!" Now I was irritated. She was missing all the beauty of the sky! "Althea, you're missing them. The clouds! Look!"
"But no mommy! I am looking at the clouds. See?" Reluctantly, I lowered my eyes only to see the most lovely reflection of the sky in a sliver of slush puddle right at our feet. Aha! It seems there is always room for humbleness with my children. Always space for learning new things. Always time to be more mindful of nature than my adult brain is accustomed to being.
So! Get out there and do the exact opposite of what you think you "should" be doing to teach your child about nature. Let him take the lead and see where it takes you. You will be amazed at what you have to learn. "Go East old man... go East..."
No matter how much we promise ourselves to have a "quiet Christmas", the holidays are always filled with insanity. There are parties to attend, extended family to see and annual visits to neighbours homes to wish a happy new year.
Oh! And don't forget the play dates, sledding, fort building and other outdoor traditions that you just don't want your child to miss. In fact, the holidays are so much about spending time with everybody that you may find yourself missing that quality one on one time you used to have all alone with your little one. You remember? That time of just hanging out arm in arm?
Don't feel blue! One on one time isn't hard to get back on track.
All this might have you feeling a bit blue. In fact, it's highly likely since today is blue Monday. Turns out that's a real thing. The third Monday of January is known as blue Monday. Why? Well, it's that first Monday after the holiday when you have finally let go of the holiday spirit and all the warm tinglyness that it brings. The tree is down but the pine needles are still finding their way into cracks and crevices all over the house.
You may also be taking stock of that new year's resolution. You know the one where you planned to spend all sorts of quality time with your little one. Chances are some things have already fallen by the wayside. That could make you feel a bit blue too.
And then there's the credit card statement that came in the mail - maybe now is not the best time to sign up for those skating lessons together either is it? Hmmm....
So - how are you going to get one on one time back on track now that the holidays are over without blowing the budget?
3 Inexpensive Ways to Get One on One Time with Your Little One
1. Take a Hike!
Nothing could be simpler. Go outside and breathe the cold air. I used to whine that it was "tooooo cooooold" but recently I've embraced the idea that "there is no bad weather just bad clothes." Have specific goals set for your walk. Look for squirrel nests, animal tracks, and even signs of melting. Gather items that you see and bring them home to display. Once home, crack out your nature journal and record your findings by drawing what you have seen. Of course, a sip a hot cocoa by the fire always helps to get things cuddly and cozy too.
2. Borrow a New Book Series from the Library
We have started one called "My Father's Dragon." This one is especially enjoyable for us because it is one my father read to me as a child (although - apparently he has no recollection of it.. sigh...). My little one has been asking me many questions lately about what things were like when I was a little girl and - short of bringing out a rotary phone for her to stare at in wonderment - I thought this would be kind of fun!
3. Make Ice Decorations
We eat a lot of yogurt in this house. The kids eat it like it's going out of style with a little fruit and cereal and I love to use it for baking coffee cakes to freeze for when friends come to call. The only one who won't touch the stuff is my hubby - which is weird cuz he grew up on a dairy farm - but anyway - all this yogurt consumption means that I have a ton of yogurt containers hanging around just waiting to serve this beautiful afternoon endeavour! Nothing could be simpler. Drop some cranberries, orange slices and greenery (you know the stuff you keep finding all over the floor) into the bottom of the container and fill with a little bit of water. Insert a piece of twine to make a little handle with which to hang your ice decoration on a tree later. Set outside to freeze. Once frozen, run yogurt container under a little warm water until the decoration slides free. Hang from a branch outdoors. Ideally, somewhere you can see them when you look out a window.
For more fun activities to create more intentional one on one time with your preschooler check out the Winter Semester!
Trimming the tree with a preschooler can be a whirlwind. By the time our tree is up and decorated, I'm usually pouring myself a stiff eggnog and wondering what the heck just happened. Everything looks Christmassy enough but I feel like a grump, hubby is covered in pine sap and the kids are either exhausted or cranky. But that was Christmas past!
Over the years, I've discovered that by slowing the tree trimming process down completely everyone seems to enjoy the experience that much more. I recommend setting aside a full two days and to use the "5 Senses Tree Trimming Method" to get every family member fully engaged in the joy of bringing a tree into the house. What is the "5 Senses Tree Trimming Method" you ask? Ah! Great question!
The 5 Senses Tree Trimming Method
The whole process begins on Friday night. We head out to select our tree either as soon as dad is home from work or right after supper. Every year, I will need to be talked out of selecting the 8 foot tree that looks so beautiful on the lot but that leaves our angel smooshed against the ceiling and gasping for breath. Normally we end up bringing home a 6 foot one that is the most fragrant pine we can find! And here is where the sense of smell comes in. This first night is all about just being with the new tree. Finding it a perfect spot, making sure it's straight in the stand and breathing in the smell of fresh green in our home. The tree takes it's time to drop it's branches and settle in and we just enjoy it for what it is: a tree in the house! This doesn't happen every day!
By this time the kids are ready to begin the decorating process and mom and dad are already exhausted. So. Here is where we crack out the hot chocolate to warm our bellies after having been outside in the cold air. Nothing like cocoa and some cozy candles on a weekend before Christmas! And now everybody starts to feel a little bit drowsy from the warm milk and it doesn't take too much convincing to get everyone into bath and bed.
"It's a Wonderful Life!" - it truly is... the kids are in bed, the lights are down low and it's Christmas. Hubby and I will pour a glass of wine, throw on a Christmas film and begin untangling the Christmas lights. In the past when the kids were racing around and champing at the bit to decorate - we would find ourselves winding strings of lights around our own necks to hang ourselves from the rafters but with this new tradition - and another glass of wine - it's somehow kind of not such a pain. Slow and steady the tree gets lit and we usually end up switching off the film to "watch" the tree instead before hitting the hay.
It's usually still dark when the kids get up the next morning - I mean it is winter and these are our kids after all - so hubby will creep downstairs before everyone comes down and light the tree to a choir of oohs, aahs and wows!
Ok! It's Saturday! Time to decorate the tree! Here's a fun game to play and one that originated in the Overall household: Iiiiiiiiiit's Guess the Ornament ! Growing up, we had the same favourite ornaments year after year so it was always fun to take turns closing our eyes and guessing which ornament a family member just placed in our hands. Remember that preschoolers may not always be able to rely on memory to identify ornaments yet so selecting ornaments with neat textures for them to guess makes the experience most fun! And here is my favourite old ornament! Can you guess which decade I grew up in? Yikes!
Once all is decorated and cozy, we will often host a small "wassail" gathering with family or neighbours. It's time to play Christmas carols, sing and generally make merry! Now the sound of giggling, running around and general childhood excitement is cause for joy and not for frustration since the entire process is complete.
The tree is trimmed!
So often I find myself rushing through my own life as though it were a race. It must come from all those years of schooling and of desk work. I just struggle to shake it. Even when I'm planning a hike with the kids outdoors I rush along like a mad woman with some unidentified goal. I've actually heard myself yelling, "Let's set a pace here folks!" or "Listen, we've been looking at this tree for too long, let's move on!" And it's not just my pace that sabotages these moments with my family, it's also my complete inability to stop making everything a 'teachable moment.' "Ah, a milkweed!" I'll holler, "Those attract the monarch. Do you know what a monarch is? Why it's a blah blah blah blah blah..." Am I alone? Do you do this? Well, if you do, I think I've figured out a cure. The single best way to quit rushing around spoiling a perfectly lovely jaunt in nature is to bring a toddler.
Recently, Vincent has wanted to get "down, dooown, dooooooown!" from his stroller when we are hiking in the woods. 'Glagh. This is gonna hold up the whole show...' was my first honest to god thought when I set his little observer's feet on the path but then I realized, that's the whole damn point isn't it? To hold up the show. To put this mom show on hold and just hang out in the woods for a bit checking stuff out. To get down on his level and see what he is seeing. To feel the texture of tree bark, to get covered in burrs and to be amazed by tall mushrooms growing along the path. Deep breath. This is the time we are given. Why not toddle around in it?
This year I'm doing something a little different with our pumpkin. First of all, I'm going to select a HUGE one and then I'm going to turn it into a house for my kids little animal and doll figures to live in. Likely it won't stay fresh enough to make it all the way to Halloween but I'll get a back up pumpkin for our regular jack-o-lantern. I anticipate it will be totally worth the extra cost for the amount of time my little ones are likely to play with this. Want to join us and build one with your Little Observer? Here's how:
1. Find a big, fat, wide pumpkin! One that rests firmly on the ground and isn't too roly poly. If you have a place that lets you go pumpkin picking so much the better. This gives you time to choose the perfect one and lets your Little Observer see the environment in which pumpkins grow.
2. Like you would a jack-o-lantern, cut a hole in the top around the stem and just enjoy the mucky gucky part of cleaning out the pumpkin gutts with your kids. This is ROAMing at it's best!
3. Cut a wide opening on one side of the pumpkin so that it becomes almost like the open side of a doll house.
4. On two other sides add windows in whatever shape you like. You can even insert little twig window panes if you wish. Add a moss carpet or other natural items to make a cozy little home for someone tiny!
5. Pull out some little animal characters or small doll figures and play play play! Calico Critters would be adorable tenants of this kind of house but any figures will do so long as they are fun! You might even consider having a little acorn family move in...
Building a thriving terrarium that lasts requires a bit of soil skill (layering rocks, sand, and earth to ensure proper drainage and aeration of the dirt). In this house, "ain't nobody got time for that" so, instead, we decided to make a temporary terrarium that we will return to its natural environment after my Little Observers have finished their exploration of this miniature world in a jar! Would you like to make a "Temporary Terrarium" with us? Get out your magnifying glasses and come along with us!
1. Find a shady spot in your yard or the woods after a few days of rain. No doubt you will find many little plants that were not there before! We found some lichen, a mushroom and moss hiding under our pine tree.
2. Place a small layer of moist soil into the base of a mason jar.
3. Carefully pull up the items you want to place in your Temporary Terrarium. Do your best to keep some of the soil surrounding the items. Gently press the items into the mason jar to rest on top of the soil.
4. Explore the contents of the terrarium with a magnifying glass. Take time to make close up drawings of what you observe in your nature journal!
5. Occasionally spray the contents with a mister and return all items gently to their original location within a couple of weeks.
And that's all folks! STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math) study at its easiest - just by getting out into nature!
Adventures come in so many shapes and sizes. Everybody and their dog seemed to be away on holiday during the summer's long weekend but we managed to truly enjoy our little yard and the quiet that settled over our neighbourhood. The streets were so silent that Althea was able to practice her peddle skills without worrying about cars and we could enjoy the yard without whipper snippers, mowers and chain saws going all over the place. Silence and space. Such simple pleasures!
In fact, one such pleasure that my Little Observer has been experiencing is just the act of watering the neighbour's garden while they are away on holiday. It is a kindness that brings us closer to our friends and that lets us explore a green space that is so close to our own but that we don't often visit. Have you offered to water your neighbour's plants while they are away or do you have a garden of your own? Here are some nature observation questions to ask your little one that will bring some STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) practice to the experience of watering!
10 Nature Observation Questions for Watering Plants:
Nature walks and scorching heat do not go hand in hand. In fact, it's been quite difficult to convince myself - let alone my Little Observers - that taking a walk is a good idea. They and I would much rather hang out in the sprinkler if truth be told but I know that we always feel more energized when we've had a good little exploration. So! We've found our solution. We take walks when the shadows are long - meaning morning or dusk.
This is not to say that it's not still quite warm at these times of day but we have the benefit of the shadows to keep us cool as we go along. Recently, we've started a new game as we walk. We call it "Shade and Sun Run!" Wanna play?
That's it! This works well on chilly spring and fall mornings too - you just have to switch up the order of your running and dawdling to take advantage of the warmth of the rays. Moreover, your Little Observer is learning all about shadows and what causes them, how the sun affects our body temperature, how light manages obstacles from different directions, and even the very basic but miraculous concept of the rising and setting of the sun.
When you get home from your Shade and Sun Run, sit down with a nice tall glass of water and pull out your nature journal. Now try tracing shadowy objects like blocks or lego onto the page! What happens when a cloud rolls by? Ah... take another nice big sip of cold water. Gotta love these lazy hazy days of summer with the kids.