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Uncategorized

Easter Eggs

With cool wet weather, topped with scattered flurries, it’s hard to imagine that Easter is in two days!  We felted Easter Eggs this week after school.  This project turned out to be a great way for our mixed-age group to make something they were proud of and warm up their hands after playing outside in the cold muck.  Most of us benefited from some salve on our hands after an afternoon playing in the mud followed by working with soapy suds.  I also plan on making another batch of naturally dyed deviled eggs for our Easter meal.  Read last year’s blog post to learn how to make these playfully colorful and delicious eggs!

felting-set-upThis year’s egg felting required less adult help compared to last year.  Most children took two sessions to complete their egg.  On the first day, they felted a plain white ball, which generally ended up oval naturally.  On the second day, we added a layer of color.  This allowed the process to happen fairly quickly each day, making the project manageable for four- to ten-year-olders.  Our soft fuzzy colorful final products would make great easter presents for dolls and stuffed animals at home!

To felt our egg-shaped balls, we followed the same process as when felting balls to make acorns.  Get the instructions and supplies list here.  We started with a ball of undyed wool about the size of the child’s fist.

plain-felted-eggs

The second day children could choose 2-4 colors to wrap around their white egg.  Repeating the same process, they felted the colorful layer around their existing egg, covering any cracks with beautiful stripes.

wool-roving

felting-easter-eggs

chick-and-egg-factory
Last year’s chick and egg felting project (instructions here).
colorful-egg-platter
Deviled eggs dyed with elderberries, turmeric, and beets (instructions here).

Have a happy Easter!

Categories
Uncategorized

Winter & Valentine’s Crafts

heart-snowflakes2

Well, we just lost what little snow we had.  Our first week of February’s forecast is full of highs above freezing.  If we can’t play in the snow, we might as well pretend it’s cold out and do some cozy winter projects inside.  Here are some fun ideas for dark winter afternoons, evenings by the fire, and preparations for Valentine’s Day.

heart-snowflakes1

Paper snowflakes and heart doilies: Cut paper snowflakes out of white paper, and use the same technique to cut heart doilies out of red paper.  Click here to learn how to cut six-sided snowflakes.  Check out the photo at the top of this post to see our results.

heart-weaving2

Heart Sewing: These make great cards!  Use a sharp pencil, pen, or awl to poke holes in thick paper as shown below.  Cut an arm-length piece of yarn and wrap a bit of tape around one end to make it poky and stiff.  Tape the other end to the top of the back side of your paper.  Using the tape end like a needle, sew in and out to create a heart, as shown above.  Experiment with other simple patterns for children to sew.

heart-weaving1

simple-weaving

Simple Weaving: This is a great follow-up for children who enjoyed the heart sewing project above.  Use a large eyed blunt tipped needle, yarn, and a tissue box to teach a child to weave!  Wind the “warp” string around the box 6-10 times (grey yarn above).  Tape along each end to hold in place.  Thread your “weft” yarn (green yarn above) and weave your needle above, below, above, below, etc. until you’ve gone over and under all of the warp strings.  Pull yarn through, stopping before the very end slips through. Tape the yarn end to the box.  Continue going over and under, back and forth, until you’ve traveled across the box.  Children who completed these in my program turned them into headbands.

heart-radish1

Enjoy some love-ly snacks!  I like cutting snack veggies into hearts for valentines day.  This works for any long round veggie (carrots, cucumbers, radishes), though these watermelon radishes are the perfect color.  Cut a triangle out of one side, and cut the other side into a point.  Then simply cut slices from tip to end.  Instead of rounds, you’ll get hearts!

 

heart-radish2

Hope you’re having a lovely winter and have a happy Valentine’s Day

Categories
Children and Nature

Felting Acorns in November

Sometimes, it truly makes sense to re-post a blog entry from the same time last year.  There is beauty to seasonal rhythms, and activities that were perfect in November a year ago are likely just right this November too.  Felting in warm soapy water is a wonderful soothing activity for afternoons that are growing colder and darker.  November is the perfect time to search for acorn caps on the forest floor, before the snow covers them up.   Learn about our first acorn felting adventure below, and try it out!

felted-acorns-2The branches of the mighty oak still held onto their golden leaves – some of the only color left in the forest on the cold grey November afternoon.  Our mittened hands brushed away leaves coating the forest floor.  And then there were squeals.  There’s nothing quite as satisfying as a successful treasure hunt.  We filled our pockets with our favorite acorn caps.  Mission accomplished. Back inside, the water had come to a boil.  We picked out pieces of wool roving, sat down, and started felting.  The warm soapy water warmed our hands.  Conversation meandered as our balls of wool felted more and more tightly into little balls. After a night of drying, felted balls were glued into acorn caps, and our special treasures were ready to go home.  What a great fall project for our group – boys and girls from 4 to 10 years old (and the adults) all enjoyed this activity.  And the acorns turned out great!

Childrens-acorns What you need: – Wool (you can buy wool roving at a craft store, or you can ask anyone with a sheep for some raw to wash, card, and use)
– Boiling water
– Bowl
– Dish Soap
– Fork
– Acorn Caps
– Glue

1) Roll a small fluff of wool roving into a ball.  It should be about three times larger than the acorn you’d like to make.

2) Pour boiling water into a bowl.  Drop your ball into the hot water.  Use your fork to push it under, and then lift it up, draining away the hot water (this first step is best done by adult when working with young children).

Felting-balls3) Drip a drop of soap onto your wool, and roll it gently between your palms.  It won’t seem like a ball right away – keep on gently rolling.  Roll it until it cools down, and then drop back into your hot water.

4) Repeat the process, using the fork to take the hot ball out of the water, rolling between your palms and rubbing with fingers, and adding more soap if the suds go away.  The hot and cold temperatures and the friction of your hands will tighten the wool into a felted ball.

5) If your ball has unwanted cracks, add a thin layer of roving around the ball and repeat the felting process.

6) Wash in cold water, squeeze in a towel, and let dry.

7) Drip glue into the inside of your acorn cap and insert your felted ball.  Voila – your acorn is complete!

If you're felting with a group of children, I'd highly recommend our egg-carton organizer idea!
If you’re felting with a group of children, I’d highly recommend our egg-carton organizer idea!

felted-acorns-1

Categories
Children and Nature Home Gardens School Gardens

Seeds!

Seeds surround us as we transition from summer to winter.  For gardeners, this means that it’s the perfect time to save seeds to plant next year.   Try letting some of your leafy vegetables, like lettuce and cilantro, flower and make seeds for you to harvest and save.  For young nature explorers, this means it’s the perfect time to build burdock structures, make wishes on milkweed seeds, find out how far a thrown “helicopter seed” can travel, and create acorn cracking factories by the forest edge.  Children can also participate in seed saving for the next spring – equipped with an envelope, you’d be amazed by how many seeds can be found in a fall garden or meadow.  For teachers, there are opportunities to investigate life cycles, parts of a seed, and ways that seeds travel through hands-on outdoor exploration and discovery.

Seeds in the garden: sunflower and cilantro/corriander
Seeds in the garden: sunflower and cilantro/coriander
Hitchhiking and velcro seeds: burdock
Hitchhiking and velcro seeds: burdock
Flower seeds: bachelor button and calendula
Flower seeds: bachelor button and calendula
Helicopter seeds: Box Elder Tree
Helicopter seeds: box elder tree
Parachute and wishing seeds: Dandelion and milkweed
Parachute and wishing seeds: dandelion and milkweed
Categories
Children and Nature

In Appreciation of Forests

This past weekend I took some time to browse through past blog entries.  I noticed certain seasonal rituals and appreciations repeat themselves year after year.  Every fall, right about now, I renew my love of the forest and trees.

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As an adult on an elementary school calendar, September is always a month full of new beginnings, logistics to sort out, and rhythms to establish.  This is often hard work!  By October, my students have settled in and are ready for exploration further from home base, bigger projects, and the chance to enjoy the last sunny warm afternoons before winter sets in.  The forest is a perfect place for all of this.  For me, spending time in the forest is calming and rejuvenating – it reminds me of things to be grateful for, puts recent stressors in context, and stimulates my senses.

Here are some past forest-themed blog posts for you to browse.  Enjoy!

Making a discoveryChildren and Nature: The Forest ~ Why spending time outside, especially in forests, is crucial for children… “Upon entering the woods, the temperature drops noticeably.  The sounds change – whispering leaves and the occasional bird chirp blocks any outside noises from coming in.  Our foot steps are quiet on the soft needle-carpeted forest floor.  The smell of moist leaves, moss, and bark filters into our noses…”  (read more)

Mossy RoofForts and Fairy Houses ~ Discoveries and lessons learned from forest play… “We’ve discovered things that would never be possible (or allowed) in a classroom.  Different thicknesses of sticks make different sounds when banged against the trunk of a mature tree.  Pine needles make for a soft landing after tripping over a raised root.  TONS of different mushrooms and fungi grow on the forest floor after a few days of rain, and most of them are really slimy.  Pine sap is the perfect glue, but it’s better to keep it off our clothes…” (read more)

Foliage Games and Activities ~ Fun ideas for educators looking for active hands-on ways to teach students about leaves, trees, foliage, and the changing of seasons.  (read more)

Fairy-House6Zooming In: Fairy and Snail Houses ~ Fun photos and observations after several fairy and snail house building sessions with children… “Outdoor educators take note!  Fairy, gnome, and snail house building ties right into lessons on observation, habitat, ecosystems,  community, and respect for nature.  Building miniature things will lead students to observe the intricate details of pinecones, the barbs of burdocks, the veining of leaves, and much much more…” (read more) 

Welcome to the Woodlands Clubhouse ~ How the creation of a fort in the woods engaged a challenging mixed-age group of students for months after school.  (read more)

Stumps make steps and chairs for our fort

A Woodlands Playground ~ Great photos and ideas for adding natural forest elements to play spaces for children of all ages. (read more)

Ticks and Poison Ivy Season ~ Adults are increasingly fearful of the dangers of being in nature… “There are many possible dangers associated with all the activities we do every day, including playing and working outside.  I strongly believe, however, that the benefits of time spent outside far outweigh the risks…” (read more)

(reposted from October 2014)
Categories
Children and Nature School Gardens

Green Thumbs Camp: August 2015

When it comes to summer camp, pictures speak better than words.  The photos below illustrate our wonderful week in the Charlotte Central School gardens and an amazing field trip to Philo Ridge Farm right across the street from the school.  Thank you to my teaching partner Stacy Carter and our assistant Carter, Deirdre Holmes and Abby Foulk for their work in the CCS gardens and compost shed, Charlotte Recreation for administering the camp, Vera Simon-Nobes for welcoming us to Philo Ridge Farm, and all our awesome campers!

Making quick work of a big weeding chore (it helped that we had a "longest root" contest)
Making quick work of a big weeding chore (it helped that we had a “longest root” contest)
Collecting seeds for our Seed Savers envelopes
Collecting seeds for our Seed Savers envelopes
Garden journaling and herb pot painting
Garden journaling and herb pot painting
Our Rainbow Salad Bar - all grown in the school garden!!
Our Rainbow Salad Bar – all grown in the school garden!!
Digging for potatoes - our garden's buried treasure
Digging for potatoes – our garden’s buried treasure
Garden-grown, camper-harvested roasted root veggies: striped beets, rainbow carrots, and purple & white potatoes!
Garden-grown, camper-harvested roasted root veggies: striped beets, rainbow carrots, and purple & white potatoes!
A walking field trip.  Look: our school is right across the road from Philo Ridge Farm!
A walking field trip. Look: our school is right across the road from Philo Ridge Farm!
Observing Philo Ridge Farm Sheep
Observing Philo Ridge Farm Sheep
Meeting Stewart Little (the sheep)
Meeting Stewart Little (the sheep)
Collecting Philo Ridge Farm duck eggs
Collecting Philo Ridge Farm duck eggs
When at garden camp, never forget to water the campers
When at garden camp, never forget to keep the campers well watered
Journaling in the garden
Journaling in the garden
Categories
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.
"Green!"
“Green!”
"Thumbs!"
“Thumbs!”

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.

Categories
Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

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!

 

Categories
Children and Nature Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes

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

Categories
Children and Nature Musings

Winter Play: Recommended for all ages

Wonderful winter hiking: the trail up Camel's Hump
Wonderful winter hiking: the trail up Camel’s Hump

Happy Snow!  Finally, we got something to cover up our icy playground.  Yes, the ice was fun to slide around on, but we were all craving the multitude of opportunities snow offers:  forts, snow people, snow angels (or butterflies), sledding, and yes, probably some refreshing snow eating.   It’s a joy to see what a group of children come up with when presented with a yard full of fresh snow!  For more snowy play inspiration and instructions to cut a six-sided snowflake, check out this past blog post.

Adults should remember to take time to play outside in the winter too!  We went on a wonderful winter hike up Camel’s Hump last weekend – just don’t forget your microspikes.  I still remember the feeling of skating across Lake Champlain last winter.  It was very magical to glide for miles over one of my favorite lakes – one that is over 400 feet deep in the middle!  Though the lake isn’t frozen (yet!) this winter, there are always rivers, ponds, and ditches to provide skating opportunities.  We loved visiting the Dead Creek Wildlife Management Area last weekend.

Skating on Dead Creek
Skating on Dead Creek

Snow also offers the opportunity to investigate the creatures that live near our schools and homes.  Tracking is a great winter activity for children and adults.  Check out some of the animal signs we found on this walk up the Lewis Creek and through the woods.  The thrill of this outdoor detective work is infectious – who doesn’t love finding clues along a trail and solving mysteries?  To read more, check out my post about Encouraging Curiosity and Problem Solving with Animal Tracking.

And if the cold temperatures and dry winter air chap or crack your skin, try making your own salve.  It’s quite simple, is a good indoor project for sub-zero days, is a great thing to have around the house, and makes the perfect homemade winter present!