Children and Nature Musings Uncategorized

Tracks in the Snow


A favorite children’s book in the after school program read, “Tracks in the snow, tracks in the snow.  Where did they come from, where did they go?”  Whenever I’m out on a walk in the forest and see tracks in the freshly fallen snow, these lines play cheerfully through my mind.

In this past post, I discussed how amazing tracking with children is.  Animal tracking is truly a magical tool that encourages curiosity and problem solving.

However, the benefits can extend to adults too!  Too often we forget to stop and examine the beautiful and interesting details that surround us in our everyday life.  This is especially true when trying to fit exercise and outside time into a busy day.  Mindfulness, curiosity, life-long-learning, and wonder are especially important when there is a need to counteract stressful situations in other parts of life.  Following animal tracks is a wonderfully energizing way to be present in the moment with all senses alert.

My challenge to you: Walk outside in a natural setting, deeply breathing in the fresh air, as often as you can.  If there is a dusting of snow or patches of mud, keep an eye out for animal tracks.  Take time to observe and question: What kind of animal was it?  How did it move?  Where did it come from?  Where did it go?




Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Recipes Uncategorized

Preparing for the Holidays, Naturally

The holidays can be a time of crazy consumption, extra trash, and lots of spending. OR, they can be an opportunity to celebrate nature’s wintery beauty and pour positive energy into homemade gifts made for loved ones.


Yesterday’s new snowfall set the scene for the start to my holiday preparations.  Without the garden to tend, I’ve had time to rest from major projects at home and recharge.  I cheerily began to gather ingredients for gift making.  A walk outside yielded foraged materials for decorating the house and a handful of greens (and edible flowers!) pulled from the snow-covered garden.  Back inside, with a fire crackling in the wood stove, I got to work.


Click here to read about my natural holiday decoration suggestions.

herbal-teaClick here for a great list of ideas for homemade gifts you can make in the kitchen.  Additional delicious gift ideas I’ve written about include homemade crackers, dukkah, herbal tea mixes, homemade vanilla extract, all-in-one soup mix, and homemade apple sauce.

Musings Uncategorized

Scenes from our Window


The biggest red-tailed hawk I’ve ever seen:  Gripping the bouncing branch tightly in her talons.  Preening.  Buffeted by the wind all the while.

Deer and more deer:  Healthy, sleek.  Here there and everywhere.  Big and up-close.  A dozen dots a mile away.  Lending a sense of scale to our landscape view.

Bluebird feast: Juniper and sumac berries gave a burst of color.  Past holiday spirit to the front stoop.  Magicians, our local bluebirds help them disappear.  Branches quickly denuded by resourceful winter residents.

A fox trot: Stately jog across the field.  Stopping to sniff.  Stopping to look.  Fully present in the moment.  Glowing with the back-lit aura of early morning sun.

Red Maples blush: Up close bursts of deeply red stars decorating every branch tip.  From the window, a blushing forest.  A premonition of leaves to come.

Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To Uncategorized

Decorating for the Season, Naturally

It can be easy to get caught up in the consumerism that surrounds the winter holiday season. However, it would be a pity to forget the festivities, gift giving, and decorating all together. The winter is the perfect season to celebrate the warmth and light of your home with family and friends. As we often spend more time indoors, it is also a nice time of year to bring nature inside as you decorate for the cold dark winter months.  Here are a few ideas from our holiday preparations:


Decorate with Items Gathered from Nature:
You’ll be surprised how differently you look at a field, forest, or roadside ditch if you’re on the hunt for beautiful natural materials. I noticed the twisty curl of yellowed field grass, found a flowering weed still hanging on tightly to its fuzzy white seeds (I didn’t want them to fly away inside my house), and admired the patterned swirling in the dead sunflower heads standing tall in my garden. I noticed that sumac berry clusters were bleached a lighter color on the top from the sun and rain.

I had to venture into an unmowed meadow in order to find pine bows I could reach and clip. The lower branches were all dead in the forest, where green leaves and needles must grow in the canopy to harvest energy from the sun. I immediately fell in love the with hollow curves of empty milkweed pods. You wouldn’t believe my excitement when I came across a healthy winterberry bush growing in a ditch. I reverently clipped a few of its branches, laden with beautiful bright red berries.

Bows, branches, stems, seeds, and dried flowers can be beautifully arranged in sprays, wreaths, and on flat surfaces like tables and mantlepieces.  Not only are they beautiful, they’ll make your house smell like a piney forest.


beeswax-candleLight with Beeswax Candles:
Rather than burning paraffin (a petroleum product) in your home, choose from the wonderful selection of beeswax candles.  You can often find ones made by local bee keepers or artists.  Their beautiful glow is accompanied by the sweet scent of honeycomb.

Give Hand Made or Home Grown Gifts:
Though I appreciate the sentiment, I never liked the idea of gift-free holidays.  I love the feeling that accompanies giving and receiving gifts with family and friends.  However, I do think it is important to put a value on the time and thought, rather than the money, invested in each gift you give.  Here are some ideas for gifts that you can grow or make yourself.

Wishing you happy preparations for your holiday season!



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!


Children and Nature Home Gardens School Gardens


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
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.


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)
Children and Nature School Gardens

Turtle Lane Art and Nature Camp

More camp fun: this month on the beautiful Lake Champlain Waldorf School Campus.  Awesome campers, dedicated energetic and loving counselors, blue skies, lush green fields, breezy pine-scented forests, cool sprinklers, nourishing and delicious snacks, creative art projects, and ever changing sand box creations:

Children's Garden Opening Circle
Children’s Garden Opening Circle
Sandbox Creations
Sandbox Creations
Forest Tent Nature Journaling
Forest Tent Nature Journaling
Felting Bird's Nests with enthusiastic CITs and Counselors
Felting Bird’s Nests with enthusiastic CITs and Counselors
Creative Free Play
Creative Free Play
Joyous Water Play and a Day’s Recap
Afternoons full of joy, sun, water, and friends
Afternoons full of fun, sun, water, and friends
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.