No Child Left Inside

The following article was published in the most recent edition of the Charlotte News:

NO CHILD LEFT INSIDE

By: Tai Dinnan Contributor

April 09, 2015

IMG_2515 copyNature Deficit Disorder. Leave No Child Inside. De-natured Childhood. Free Range Kids. What is your reaction to these phrases and slogans?

Experts agree: children (and adults) are spending less time outside. Screen time is on the rise, after-school and weekend time is increasingly structured, and many families lack access to outdoor spaces that feel safe and fun. For me, and the children’s programs I run, the phrases above provide a framework to justify a focus on outdoor play. These new terms, and their emphasis on the importance of getting children out into nature, are backed up with rigorous research. It turns out children need to play, adventure, relax, work and learn in natural spaces to develop into healthy, whole adults.

IMG_9870Though physical health is one of the most obvious benefits of playing outdoors, the more subtle benefits add up into a very long list: improved cognitive functioning and development, increased self esteem, more motivation, improved problem solving, encouragement of inventiveness and creativity, cooperation, increased attention spans, and psychological well-being.

Luckily, Charlotters have access to remarkable outdoor spaces. Most have large yards where children can play safely within shouting range of the house. A garden, wetland, stream, field and forest border our school. Mt. Philo State Park offers family-friendly hiking and picnicking opportunities. The shores of Lake Champlain offer endless treasure hunting, exploring and swimming opportunities. And don’t forget public and backyard gardens and farms to tend and visit!

IMG_2914Gardens, in fact, provide children with a surprising multitude of opportunities to work, learn and play in nature. School gardens draw classrooms outside for hands-on learning and community service. Vegetable gardens at home give families an opportunity to work together to grow and share nourishing food. Gardens are beautiful, lush miniature ecosystems. They can be just the right scale for children to discover the magic of life cycles, ecosystems, patterns, colors, teamwork, artistry, engineering challenges, flavors and smells. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

The school gardens at Charlotte Central School have been expanding. Nestled between the Pease Mountain trailhead and the lower parking lot, the CCS Kitchen Garden is home to raised beds, a perennial herb garden, pumpkin and potato patches, the school’s compost shed and an outdoor classroom. It is a truly lush, colorful, buzzing and delicious place to be—especially in the summer.

IMG_2499When planning summer vacation, families should remember to include plenty of free time outside. For parents who work, make sure to select summer programs that encourage free play, outdoor expeditions, opportunities to garden and plenty of running around. Consider where you get your food: visiting a local farm or signing up for a CSA can be a great way to get outside as a family and connect with the source of your food. The best part of committing to increased time outside for your children? You can join them and enjoy the benefits to your physical and emotional health as well!

Tai Dinnan lives in Charlotte and is the director of the Extended Day Programming and the Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp at Lake Champlain Waldorf School in Shelburne. She also works with Stacy Carter to run the Charlotte Green Thumbs Summer Camp—a daytime gardening camp for kids in late-June and early-August. For more information about the camp, email CCSGreenThumbs@gmail.com. Tai blogs at growingstories.wordpress.com

Learn more about each of the camps I’m running this summer:

CCS-Garden-Camp-Poster-long-2015

TLCamp_Poster

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Fun with Eggs and Natural Dyes

One welcome sign of spring at our house: the chickens have boosted their egg production.  After reading about different natural dyes to use when decorating easter eggs, I decided to try making colorful deviled eggs.  Success!  The results were both colorful and delicious.

natural-dye-experiments

I boiled the following ingredients in 1 cup water, and then added cider vinegar and salt, to make a soaking brine for my peeled hard boiled eggs.  From left to right: 1) Three slices of beet  2) 1/4 cup elderberries and 1 teaspoon baking soda  3) 1 tablespoon turmeric  4) 1/4 cup elderberries.  Next time I may experiment with mixing these primary colors to create green and orange eggs!

After letting them sit in the brine for the afternoon, I removed the eggs and used my simple and flexible deviled egg recipe to prepare our yummy and colorful snacks.  They really looked great, and tasted great, served on a bed of arugula.

colorful-egg-outsides

colorful-egg-platter

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Happy Easter! Springtime Felting

felted-chick-in-eggDespite the fresh snow on the ground, it really is starting to feel like spring around here.  Sap has been flowing steadily, the river ice has melted, and migrating birds have begun to return to Vermont.  We’ve been busy felting after school for the past several weeks.  First we felted colorful eggs.  Then we felted little chicks to go inside them!  Wet felting is a great activity for students of all ages – even the youngest children in our group can felt their own balls.  If you’re interested in felting your own spring chick and egg, click the links below.  Then check out our process and results.  Happy spring!

Felting Tutorials:
-Wet Felting Easter Eggs: One technique here and another good one in video form
-Blanket Stitch: Here’s an easy to understand video
-Wet Felting Balls With Kids: I detailed our process in my post about felting acorns.
-Wet Felting Chicks: One technique (scroll to the bottom).  I ended up just sewing two wet-felted balls together, and needle felting on the beak and eyes.

Our students wet-felted their own eggs and balls, which we then transformed into cute little chicks

Our students wet-felted their own eggs and balls, which we then transformed into cute little chicks.  Egg cartons are a great way to keep felted balls organized and keep track of whose is whose.

blanket-stitch

We wet felted around plastic eggs, slit them open, and used a blanket stitch to firm up the “cracked” edge.

We used a needle and thread to sew the two balls together to form our chick's head and body.

We used a needle and thread to sew the two balls together to form our chick’s head and body.

I needle felted on the beak and eyes, but these could be sewn on as well. I also needle felted on some additional yellow wool roving to make wings, but we didn't have time to do this with the students.

I needle felted on the beak and eyes, but these could be sewn on as well. I also needle felted on some additional yellow wool roving to make wings, but we didn’t have time to do this with the students.

Chick and Egg Assembly Line

Chick and Egg Assembly Line

A felted chick in its egg!

A felted chick in its egg!

 

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House Photo Update: The Home Stretch

Once again, I’m devoting a blog post to photos of our house progress instead of a story of delicious cooking, home gardening, or great projects to do with kids.  Soon though, we’ll move into our new home.  It will serve as the new site for my gardening, cooking, and crafting adventures!

Regarding house construction, we’re heading down the “home” stretch!  Tile and wood flooring is in, work is finishing up on trim inside and out, cabinets are being hung, countertops are in the making, and appliances are being delivered.  Efficiency Vermont will be doing their blower door test this week to determine how tight our home actually is.  Based on the quality of the workmanship of Fiddlehead Construction, we think it will prove to be very tight indeed.  During the last sunny but cold week, heat was turned off in the house because it was getting too hot!

As each room develops its own identity, it is easy to start visualizing the house filled with furniture, plants, dishes, friends…   soon!

Views of the finished exterior.  Clockwise from the west, north, southeast and southwest.

Views of the finished exterior. Clockwise from top left: view from the west, north, southeast and southwest.

Slate countertop special delivery.

Slate countertop special delivery.

Sunny basement with a functional washing machine and the soapstone sink from Debbie's Brookline basement.

Sunny basement with a functional washing machine and the soapstone sink from Debbie’s Brookline basement.

First floor bathroom.

First floor bathroom.

Kitchen cabinet progress!

Kitchen cabinet progress!

Finishing touches.

Finishing touches

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DIY Maple Sugaring

winter-maple-branch

sap-drip-sumac-spileUp here in Vermont, our temperatures have begun rising above freezing during the day and falling below 32 degrees at night.  That means it’s sugaring season!  Though specialized technology and expensive equipment have been developed to help large sugar-makers boost their production of luxurious maple syrup, it’s possible to make maple syrup in your back yard without spending much.  One thing is consistent for all scales of syrup production: it takes a lot of time!

hang-sap-bucket

It is early spring.  I’m itching to spend more time outside, am no longer excited by our local ingredients stored or preserved many months ago, and won’t start my garden for several months.  I find that tapping, collecting sap, and experimenting with this sweet ingredient in the kitchen is exactly how I’d like to spend my spare time.

sap-pour

Learn more by reading some of the posts I wrote during past sugaring seasons:

–> For more detailed instructions for how to tap a tree at home or school and boil sap down in a kitchen, check out this blog post.

–> Want to cook with sap, rather than taking hours to boil it down into syrup?  Check out this post.

–> Want to make your own tap, or spile, from a sumac branch?  It’s free and quite easy!  This post will teach you how.

–> Are you a teacher?  Here are several fun games and activities that can help students understand the science, history, and math behind maple syrup production.

2) Measure trunk circumference to determine how many taps can be drilled in the tree

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More Winter Fun

lake-iceThis winter has been a blast.  Lake Champlain froze across for the second year in a row, we’ve gotten plenty of snow without any mid-winter thaws, and sometimes sunshine even boosts temperatures into the twenties!

It’s usually not too hard for me to think of the subject of my weekly blog post – I think about the past week’s highlights: yummy meals, fun outdoor adventures, or successful projects with kids after school.   Sometimes I scan through my most recent photos.  Even though I already wrote a post this year about winter play, outdoor recreation was the clear highlight of my past week!  We hiked Camel’s Hump again, this time equipped with sleds for the ride down.  SO FUN.  The lake froze across, providing us with miles of black ice to explore.  We even enjoyed temperatures in the thirties on Mt. Philo along with crowds of happy sledders, skiers, jack-jumpers, walkers, and their dogs.  I love living in Vermont, surrounded by people who love having fun in the snow!

Enjoying a sunny warm day on Mt. Philo... soon to be our back yard!

Enjoying a sunny warm day on Mt. Philo… soon to be our back yard!

A ski up the river to the upper covered bridge.

A ski up the river to the upper covered bridge.

Enjoying the wintery river highway.

Enjoying the beautiful wintery river highway.

Hiking up and sledding down Camel's Hump and a winter bonfire.

Hiking up and sledding down Camel’s Hump and a winter bonfire.

Exploring miles of black ice off the shores of Shelburne Farms.  Western winds literally blew us home!

Exploring miles of black ice off the shores of Shelburne Farms. Western winds literally blew us home!

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House Photo Update

As new layers are added and next steps are taken on our house construction, spaces seem to grow and shrink in unpredictable ways.  Of course, they’ve been the same dimensions since the beginning.  The footprint of our poured foundation seemed teeny – would it be comfortable to live in a house that small?  When framing went up, everything seemed huge.  And then internal walls made the space shrink.  With insulation they seemed to shrink even more.

Now that painting is almost complete, we’re seeing the spaces as they will actually be!  It feels as though we are very close to the end of a long and exciting journey.  Soon flooring, cabinets, and lighting will be installed, turning our construction project into a home.  Check out some of our most recent photos below:

Baby it's cold outside!  Check out our new siding.

Baby it’s cold outside! Check out our new siding.

An ant's eye view of our kitchen-dining-living room.  New and improved with light fixtures, outlets, switches, sheetrock, and a first coat of paint!

An ant’s eye view of our kitchen-dining-living room. New and improved with light fixtures, outlets, switches, sheetrock, and a first coat of paint!

Bits and pieces...

Bits and pieces…

Sheetrock and a layer of prime really made us love the look of our upstairs spaces.  We won't be doing any more work on the second floor - it will be left unfinished until we need more living space.

Sheetrock and a layer of prime really made us love the look of our upstairs spaces. We won’t be doing any more work on the second floor – it will be left unfinished until we need more living space.

Meet our CERV.  It will be working hard to keep our air fresh and clean.

Meet our CERV. It will be working hard to keep our air fresh and clean.

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