Children and Nature Home Gardens Parenting Uncategorized

Spring Activities for Young Kids at Home

IMG_1682I think it’s safe to assume parents are spending A LOT of time home with kids.  Luckily, spring is here. I’ve looked back at my old blog posts and realized that there are quite a few about indoor and outdoor spring activities for kids.  I’ve linked to them below.  Enjoy!

One extra note: the #1 activities my toddler and I do together are housework and yard work.  Here are a few articles with more information if you’re intrigued and want to read more (one, two, three).  Toddlers LOVE to feel purposeful and they also LOVE to imitate the adults in their life.  My toddler would much rather learn how to use the intriguing brush that sits beside the toilet than do painting or a complicated craft.  It is important to remember that things might not be done exactly how you would have done them, and they might take a LONG time.  We often take turns so I can eventually accomplish the task.  This is fine by me.  I’d personally rather take a long time working towards the accomplishment of putting away silverware or cleaning the toilet than move all the toy trucks and cars to a new home for the 957th time.

If you’re playing outside with kids, take a moment to read up on ticks, tick checks, and proper tick removal

Here are some of my favorite spring time traditions:


Look and listen for signs of spring: Jot down notes on a calendar or a piece of paper that you can save.  Keeping a “Signs of Spring” list heightens my sense of awareness when spending time outdoors.  I pay more attention to the little things that are happening around me as the world wakes up from hibernation.  Sounds, smells, sights, tastes, and feelings can all point to signs of spring.  Saved lists from past years allow you to notice changes from year to year.

Learn new bird songs: Every spring I am reinspired to learn more bird songs.  First, I review bird songs of species are common around the house.  There’s a list of mnemonics here and a huge directory of songs to listen to at “All About Birds.”  Then, when I go for walks down our back dirt roads or hikes in the forest, I listen carefully.  As I walk I try to translate what I hear: “Cherrio, cheery me, cheery me,” for example. When I arrive home, I try to identify one or two of the songs I remember (that was an American Robin).  Slowly but surely I identify more and more songs in the outdoor chorus on my own.


Play in the Mud: Yes, the extra laundry is worth it.  All sorts of learning, experimentation, engineering, and play can happen in the mud. Most days we’re still wearing our winter outdoor clothes up here in Vermont.  As temperatures rise, rain pants, rain boots, and rain coats will help keep indoor clothes clean and dry.  Hosing everyone off before coming inside can help keep that mud outside.


Start Seeds: Even if you don’t have a garden, starting seeds can be a fun spring activity.  All you need is a container with a hole poked in the bottom, potting soil, seeds of your choice, and some sort of dish or bowl for your container to sit in.  Grow lights or windows with strong southern sun will make for stronger seedlings that will do better if transplanted into your garden.  Plants like peas, lettuce, spinach, and herbs can be eaten as sprouts or “micro greens,” making this project rewarding in as little as 30 days!  If you do want to garden with kids, this post is full of really great tips.


Taste the first wild greens of the season: As spring progresses, keep an eye out for wild ramps, fiddleheads, young nettles, or other edible wild plants.  Foraging is most rewarding and delicious in the spring when plants are young, tender, and mild.  They also tend to grow before anything is ready from gardens, satiating our cravings for fresh green treats after a winter of soups, stews, and casseroles.  Read more about the plants I look for here and check out this recipe for Cream of Ramp and Nettle Soup.


Force spring branches: All you need to do is clip branches and put them in a vase filled with fresh water.  Change water regularly, as you would for cut flowers.  Blooming branches, like forsythia, are great for forcing.  At indoor temperatures, your branches’ buds will open into new leaves and flowers.  My family clips the bright red branches of dogwood in March for a beautiful table arrangement at Easter.

Some more easy kids activity ideas: Playdough, tissue paper flowers, have a tea party with fresh spring herbs, and try cloud spotting.

Happy Spring!


*Please excuse funky formatting of older posts.  I recently changed the format of the blog to make it more mobile friendly.

Children and Nature Home Gardens Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Start Gardening at Home

cilantro babies

Are you at home more and wanting to go to the grocery store less?  This might be a good year to grow some of your own food at home.

When I started this blog I was the School Gardens Coordinator in the most densely populated city in New England: Somerville, MA. I’m now living (and still happily gardening), in rural Vermont.  Over the years I’ve posted many articles about how to start your own garden, whether it’s in raised beds, pots on a porch, or a large plot tilled in a field.  I’ve gathered the posts below in the hopes that they might help you get started or answer some of your questions.

*Please excuse funky formatting of older posts.  I recently changed the format of the blog to make it more mobile friendly.


Gardening with kids: If you have kids at home, this article has a lot of really helpful tips.  When I wrote it I was coordinating the weekly programming and maintaining the vegetable gardens at 8 Somerville public schools.  Gardening is an incredibly rich sensory activity that allows for movement and engaged outdoor time.  Watching seeds grow into plants and produce food is magical.  I strongly encourage you to try it with your family!

Pic 1006

Making a Raised Bed Back-Yard Garden: I wrote this series of posts when Evan and I built raised beds in the backyard in Brookline.  Raised beds can be a good idea if you want clear boundaries between play/yard space and garden space.  This can help family members understand where they can walk and where they can’t, can help lawn mowers avoid veggie plants, and can keep lawn grass from creeping back into your garden.  The “Planning” post has the most information on how to get started in your backyard space.
Bakyard Gardening: The Idea
Backyard Gardening: Planning
Backyard Gardening: The Shopping List
Backyard Gardening: Construction Day
Backyard Gardening: First Harvest
Backyard Gardening: Putting The Garden To Bed


Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.


Consider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

Seasonality Tips: In April it’s still quite cold and only certain seeds should be planted.  Check out this post to know what to plant when.

Let me know if you have any vegetable gardening questions!  Questions from friends, family, and neighbors inspired every one of these posts.  Happy Gardening!

Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

July in the Garden and Kitchen

Vermonters are basking in a string of sunny summery days after many many (many) days of rain.  The change in weather means I can finally deal with the grass and weeds that have been happily growing in our lawn and garden.  I’ve also been able to enjoy the best part of summer in VT: after-work swims in Lake Champlain.

Lake in July

Over the past several weeks I realized I’d posted blogs in previous years about many of the seasonal tasks I was busy with in the kitchen and garden.  I’ve included a recap and links below, in addition to a delicious nourishing shortcake recipe we’ve been enjoying with our freshly picked strawberries and whipped cream.  Enjoy!

Nourishing Strawberry Shortcake: This recipe involves soaking the flour in yogurt 24 hours before baking.  To learn more about how this makes flour products more nourishing and digestible, check out this article and video.  (recipe adapted from Nourishing Traditions)

Ingredients: 2 cups white flour, 1.5 cups whole wheat flour, 1 cup yogurt/buttermilk/kefir, 4 tablespoons melted butter, 1/2 teaspoon salt, 2 teaspoons baking soda, 3 tablespoons maple syrup.

  1. Mix yogurt and flour.  It will be a very stiff dough, don’t worry.  Cover and leave at room temperature for 12-24 hours.
  2. Melt butter.  Mix butter and maple syrup into dough.  In a small dish, mix baking soda and salt, breaking up any little balls of baking soda.  Sprinkle dry mixture onto dough and mix, just until ingredients are barely combined.
  3. Divide dough into apx. 12 balls and place on baking sheet.  They will spread a bit while baking.
  4. Bake at 350 for 40 minutes, or until bottoms are golden brown.
  5. Enjoy with fresh strawberries and whipped cream!


strawberriesStrawberry Season in VT: This year’s strawberry season was admittedly rain-drenched.  Luckily I was able to sneak in a few mornings of before-work picking.  We’ve been enjoying plenty of fresh berries in all our meals, and froze several gallons for the winter.  Check out this blog post to learn how to quickly freeze berries so that they stay delicious and easy to use in the future.

Other Firsts from the Garden: The last several weeks have brought the first crunchy harvests.  We’ve been enjoying kohlrabi and sugar snap peas in addition to plentiful lettuce, spinach, chard, and herbs.  And just a few days ago we picked the first handful of raspberries from our bushes.  It’s really starting to feel like July!

Crunchy first harvest

And Speaking of HerbsI’ve been enjoying going out to the field and garden each morning to gather leaves for my pregnancy tea blend (also gentle and delicious for other people): nettles, raspberry leaf, and mint.  ‘Tis the season to harvest herbs you’d like to freeze or dry.  Harvest most herbs now – they’re best when young and tender.  Check out this blog post to learn about harvesting and preserving herbs.

Tea Leaves

Garden Pests: Many flying garden pests are busy laying eggs at this time of year.  If you monitor your plants closely, squishing mating pairs of insects and any eggs they’ve laid (often on the undersides of leaves), you can prevent their population from booming in your garden.  This post has more information about pest control in the garden.

squash bugs

Granola: In the summer I find myself wanting something cool and fruity for breakfast – a big swing from my savory broth, soaked oats, and egg-based breakfasts of winter.  Unfortunately store-bought cold cereals and pasteurized milk are a pretty tough way to start the day for my digestive system.  Plus, they are often loaded with crazy ingredients and sugar and leave me craving more.  Thank goodness for my favorite nourishing homemade granola, homemade kefir or yogurt, freshly picked berries, and local raw milk!  Note to self – next year make a lot of granola early in the spring when the oven heat is appreciated in the kitchen.

Homemade Granola

Home Gardens Musings Uncategorized

Ahhhh, The Garden is Planted

Every spring as the ground thaws, my list of things to do in the garden grows longer and faster than my weeds.  I can generally be found wondering: why does it keep on raining, making garden tasks impossible?  How are those weeds growing SO fast?!  And don’t even get me started about how much grass grows when it’s drizzly and un-mowable.

Luckily I’ve gotten some amazing help weeding (thanks Mom and Dad!) and a Memorial Day Weekend of amazing warm dry weather.  Because I’m spending most free moments outside, I’ll fill you in on the garden progress with a few photos.  Happy Gardening!

Weeded Garden

This was the moment when the last wheelbarrow load of weeds was rolled down to the the compost.  Finally I felt victorious (surely temporarily) in our battle with the horsetail forest that grows vigorously in our garden plot.  I clearly didn’t want to remember my weed forest because I didn’t take any photos.  The good news was that the grass, parsnip, and dandelions we battled last year didn’t come back nearly as much.  Slowly we will succeed in turning a fertile field into a bountiful garden!

Planted Garde

Planted Garden2

And then, we got to work planting.  It’s now warm enough to plant nearly everything, especially if you keep your eye on the forecast.  What a relief to see those seedlings happily settling into their homes!

asperagus grilled

Since May is coming to a close, I shouldn’t forget to mention that we’ve been enjoying our first harvests of the year: young greens, tender asparagus shoots, and a variety of rhubarb desserts.  Evan’s determined to have as many grill days as possible this summer, and I’m certainly not going to get in his way!


Of course, good things do come from all those spring showers.  We’ve been blessed by many rainbows this spring, including this one: the most vibrant double rainbow I’ve ever seen.  We live in a truly beautiful bountiful place!

Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Let the Foraging & Gardening Begin!

April from Philo

Our landscape is greening more and more every day.  Buds swell and flower, new birds arrive daily, and early greens are emerging.

Pussy Willows

The first cold hardy seeds and seedlings are planted in our garden.  Whenever it is dry enough, I try to get into the garden to stay ahead of weeding and garden bed preparation.  It’s best to work the soil when it’s not too wet, which can be tricky at this time of year!  By having several garden beds ready to go, there’s always space when I’m ready to plant the next thing.  Seeds and seedlings I plant in April include: peas, spinach, arugula, lettuce, kale, chard, cilantro, beets, radishes, and onions.  I’ve started most of our brassicas (broccoli, cauliflower, kohlrabi, Brussels sprouts) inside – they will be the next to go out.  Carrots and parsnips are also on my list to plant in the next few weeks.


Stinging nettles and dandelion greens have emerged and are young, tender, and delicious at this time of year.  They also happen to be loaded with nutrients and are exactly what our bodies need as they awake for spring.  I love this post by Urban Moonshine about harvesting dandelions in early spring.   Dandelions’ bitter qualities are what make them health-giving but can also turn people off from foraging and eating wild plants.  Nettles, on the other hand, are quite mild and can be used instead of spinach when cooking.  Here is a post with harvesting instructions and numerous ideas for using nettles in your meals.  Check out this post if you’re interested in other yummy plants to forage in the early spring.

dandelion-familyHappy foraging, happy gardening, happy spring!

P.S. Our naturally dyed deviled eggs came out great!  This year’s notes: my green is in need of improvement, and I learned to be cautious when playing with salt, baking soda and vinegar for my blue dye…avoiding blue volcanos in the kitchen is generally a good idea 🙂

Natural Easter Eggs

Home Gardens Musings Uncategorized

First Harvests


Gardens and gardening have always been present  in my life.  First they were the things my mom worked in while I played nearby on summer vacations.  Sometimes I had to help, like when the pea rows grew together and I was the only one that could fit through the tunnel to harvest the sugary snap peas trapped in the jungle of tendrils.  Then there were the community gardens that I stared at enviously from the wrong side of the fence in college.  That’s when I first realized how much I took back-yard-garden-grown veggies for granted.  Then, as Schoolyard Gardens Coordinator, gardens became my job.   Back in Vermont, I was the happy helper in my parents extensive gardens, growing enough produce for the four of us all year round.  This summer, finally, we can begin to establish our own big garden right outside our own house.  AND, I’m really excited!

Our garden is on the southern slope of a field that used to house cows.  It’s fertile and loamy, and FULL of roots and weed seeds.  We tilled the patch last fall, built a fence, and covered the beds with blankets of hay for the winter.  Though it’s just mid April, we are already growing a really healthy crop of grass!


No, my first harvest isn’t edible.  At least for humans.  But it did make me a very proud happy gardener to “harvest” ten gallons of grass and roots this sunny afternoon.  With sunny warm days forecasted, I’m sure I’ll get a few more buckets every day this April Vacation.  Happy Gardening!


Home Gardens School Gardens Uncategorized

Seed Season

It’s time to start thinking about seed starting and garden planning!  If you live near Charlotte, VT, consider coming to this Saturday’s Seed Swap to give away your extra seeds, get a few fun new varieties, and get your gardening questions answered by local experts:



If you’re reading this from afar, here are some past blog posts that I love reviewing at this time of year.  Happy Spring!

Garden PlanningPlanning a Back-Yard Garden: This post includes information on several crucial components to planning a back-yard garden including soil testing, sunlight analysis, seed catalogue browsing, making a veggie wish list, and rough-draft garden planning.  Back yard gardening is an affordable way to access fresh veggies throughout the summer, will get you physically active outside, is rewarding, and can be a great way to bond with family members or roommates!

Seeds vs. Seedlings: Sometimes it’s best to buy vegetable seedlings from a nursery.  Sometimes it’s better to buy a packet of seeds to start yourself.  Check out this post  to decide whether to buy seeds or seedlings.  Now is the perfect time to buy seeds or attend a seed swap!  If you live in Somerville, check out Seed Sale and Seed Swap information.

ContainersConsider planning a Container Garden: If you live in an urban setting with questionable soil, rent or are planning to move, or have a nice sunny porch, you may want to consider a container garden!  Containers are a great way to try out vegetable growing on a small scale, and can help you determine if you’d like to do more the next season.  If you start gathering materials now, it can also be a very affordable option!  This Post lists all the things you should consider to grow a successful container garden.

Children and Nature School Gardens

Green Thumbs Camp, June 2015

What a week!  Our small but sweet group did a lot of garden work, found plenty of time to play, and made detailed garden journal entires, seed bombs, beautiful painted pots, and delicious snacks along the way.  Check out some images from the week:

Many hands make light work when it comes to moving a big pile of compost.
Many hands make light work when it comes to moving a big pile of compost.
A lovely visit to Philo Ridge Farm.  How lucky to have our school so close to a farm (see it across the road?).
A lovely visit to Philo Ridge Farm. How lucky to have our school so close to a farm (see the school across the road?).
After calculating how much pig food we needed and weighing it out using a scale, we're off to feed the pigs!
After calculating how much pig food we needed and weighing it out using a scale, we’re off to feed the pigs!
Examining pig slop.
Examining pig slop.
It's good to water plants, but it's especially fun to water campers.
It’s good to water plants, but it’s especially fun to water campers.

Want to learn more about gardening with children?  Check out these Tips for Gardening with Kids and this post about the importance of spending time outside.

Children and Nature

No Child Left Inside

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


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 Tai blogs at

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



Children and Nature School Gardens

2015 Summer Camps!

As snow accumulates and chilly temperatures brighten our cheeks, I’m dreaming of summer in Vermont.  This year I’ll be running two camps: Green Thumbs Summer Camp and Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp.  Check out the camp posters, visit our websites, save the dates, and help spread the word to families who live in the Charlotte/Shelburne area!

TLCamp_PosterCheck out the camp website and the camp brochure for more information.


Register through Charlotte Recreation.