Categories
Children and Nature

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:

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Categories
Children and Nature School Gardens Uncategorized

Campers Dig Green Thumbs Camp!

first-dayEight bright-eyed campers arrived at the Charlotte Central School Garden on Monday morning ready for Green Thumbs Garden Camp.  The cool grass was still wet with dew, but the strong sunlight promised a warm summery day. Though few of the campers knew each other, we joined together for our welcoming circle, inventing garden names we would use for the rest of the week.

garden-journal-2Fast friendships and a thriving garden grew from a week that included a balanced mixture of garden work, harvesting, tasting, cooking, storytelling, art, free play, and watering (ourselves and the plants).   We were especially excited by animal visitors, including garter snakes, barn swallows, and plenty of creepy crawly compost creatures.

garden-journalBy Friday, it was impossible to know that many campers had met each other just a few days before.   When we said goodbye on our last day, many campers eagerly exchanged information so they could play with each other again soon.  Campers themselves were transformed – tentative eaters discovered new flavors and food preferences, and each of us deepened our gardening expertise.  The school garden underwent a similarly remarkable transformation.  All twelve raised beds were carefully weeded and planted, newly woven trellises stood tall for our climbing veggies, colorfully illustrated signs labeled each garden patch, painted pots were planted with climbing flowers stood in a row – ready to decorate the side of the new compost shed, and many of the plants had grown noticeably taller!

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Green Thumbs Camp was lucky to have several community members enrich our experience.  Susan Raber of Springhouse Pottery taught us how to weave willow trellises for our climbing plants.  Vera Simon-Nobes and Michael Haulenbeek of Fifth Fence Farm welcomed us to their farm for a wonderful field trip.  There, we petted sheep, carded wool, spun our own bracelets, and gently held baby chicks!  Deirdre Holmes, Abby Foulk, and CCS Administrators welcomed us to the school and ensured that we had everything we needed for a great week of camp.

Space still remains in August’s camp session!  Green Thumbs Gardening Camp will run for a second week from August 4th through 8th.   Parents of rising 1st through 5th graders are encouraged to find out more by clicking on the poster to the right or at http://www.charlottevt.org/ (click on “recreation,” then “summer camps”).  Questions can be emailed to Tai and Stacy at ccsgreenthumbs@gmail.com.  Read on for some great camper quotes and photos!

I had a good time at garden camp.  I got to learn how to plant things.  I learned a new way to water.  I also got to make awesome garden crafts.  I made new friends, which was fun.  It was great! Maddie, age 10
“I had a good time at garden camp. I got to learn how to plant things. I learned a new way to water. I also got to make awesome garden crafts. I made new friends, which was fun. It was great!”   Maddie, age 10
Garden camp was good because we played in the sprinkler.  We got to dig and weed.  I liked planting. Liam, age 5
“Garden camp was good because we played in the sprinkler. We got to dig and weed. I liked planting.”
Liam, age 5
"Camp was fun! We made different art projects. Most of them were for the garden. I like how we got to have a snack that we made from the garden. We harvested our snack! I liked learning how to plant and weed. I’m going to use the strategies I learned in my own garden. I liked that on the first day I made new friends."
“Camp was fun! We made different art projects. Most of them were for the garden. I like how we got to have a snack that we made from the garden. We harvested our snack! I liked learning how to plant and weed. I’m going to use the strategies I learned in my own garden. I liked that on the first day I made new friends.”
We made signs for the garden and we painted pots.  We read books about the garden.  I liked that.  We also did a lot of planting and made trellises.  That’s good for the garden because the plants can climb up them.  Shana, age 7
“We made signs for the garden and we painted pots. We read books about the garden. I liked that. We also did a lot of planting and made trellises. That’s good for the garden because the plants can climb up them.” Shana, age 7
I liked Garden Camp.  I invented mud balls.  We planted flowers and we had water play. Even though I go here for school I recognized some new things in the garden.  There are trellises to block off the bunnies. We built them! Henry, age 6
“I liked Garden Camp. I invented mud balls. We planted flowers and we had water play. Even though I go here for school I recognized some new things in the garden. There are trellises to block off the bunnies. We built them!” Henry, age 6
Thanks to all the community members who helped enrich camp!
Thanks to all the community members who helped enrich camp!
Categories
Children and Nature

Tick and Poison Ivy Season

Memorial-Day-BloomsWe’ve experienced several exciting firsts of the season this past week: our first all-you-can-eat asparagus dinner, our first tulips, our first cilantro, our first thunderstorm, our first creemie (what we call soft serve in Vermont), and my first tick.  I’ve also removed several ticks from our cat, who spends much of his outdoor time stalking mice and voles in the long grass.

Poison-ParsnipThere 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.  Take a moment to learn to identify any poisonous plants in your region.  If you are outside with kids, check out my Poison Plant Guide Activity for young naturalists.  Once you know to identify any irritating plant neighbors, it’s easy to avoid them and enjoy your time outside without itchy or stingy consequences.

tick-ID

If ticks are increasingly common in your area, I encourage you to read my post on Ticks and Outdoor Play.  This five minute read covers the basics of tick identification, avoidance and removal.  Ticks are now part of our outdoor environment in Vermont and Lyme Disease is well worth avoiding.  When you know what to do when you find a tick, it is easier to be carefree as you enjoy outdoor explorations and adventures.

With bright blue skies, warm sun, bird song choruses, green grass, and bright new leaves, I know I don’t want anything dampening the joy and contentment I feel in nature at this time of year.  I hope you have fun outside!

Lewis-Creek-May

 

Categories
Children and Nature Get Involved! School Gardens

Summer Planning: Sign up for Camp!

There are signs around our house that we are coming to the end of winter: garden seeds have arrived in the mail, days are getting longer, and summer camp brochures are printed and on the counter.  My summer programming schedule is almost finalized and it’s going to be a good one.  I hope my campers have fun this summer – based on our planning so far, I am going to have a blast!

My summer will start and end with a week of Green Thumbs Camp at Charlotte Central School.  I can’t wait to rekindle my school garden energy and pull favorite garden games and activities out of the archives.  I’m especially interested to be running the camp with an amazing teacher and children’s garden guru Stacy Carter.  For the month of July, I’ll continue my work to explore, discover, and grow with children at the Lake Champlain Waldorf School.  This summer I’ll be leading the 6 to 8-year-old portion of their Turtle Lane Camp.  You can always visit my site http://taidinnan.wordpress.com/ for up-to-date programming information.  Thanks for spreading the word:

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To register for Green Thumbs Camp, click here.

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Categories
Children and Nature Uncategorized

Zooming In: Fairy and Snail Houses

LEGOs, Playmobiles, doll houses – the best marketers know that kids love creating imaginary miniature worlds.  Favorite dolls or toys are given names and personalities, and detailed houses, playgrounds, and communities are assembled.  But do we really need to go to the toy store and buy the building blocks for this timeless play?

Fairy-House6When presented with the opportunity to build fairy, gnome, or snail houses outside, kids take creativity to the next level.  The great thing about outdoor spaces is that they are often filled with a diversity of available materials.  Even if the space is groomed,  blades of grass, fallen leaves, pebbles, and twigs can be found.  Because these materials are not valuable (in adults’ eyes) they can be broken and experimented with to make exactly what the young engineer has in mind.  Some other children may build first, creating explanations for each piece – a twig table or a moss bed – after the house has been assembled.  Ask for a tour to hear the often fascinating explanation of each assembled object.

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.  When building snail houses:  What do snails need in their habitat?  Food?  Shelter?  Water?  Friends?  What might eat snails?  What shelter could we build to protect them from becoming prey?  When building fairy houses: Does our team want to build a fairy community?  What buildings do we need to have a happy community?  Is there a place to grow food?  Always make sure that your students know how to collect natural materials or handle living things carefully without hurting them.

Check out some of the photos from a program I recently led at our public library below.  Kids ranging from 3 to 9 years old were happily busy for a full 45 minutes before taking a break to go on a tour.  The atmosphere was peaceful and productive – there were plenty of materials to work with, so there was no need to compete or race to the finish.  After each participant had the opportunity to share their creation with the group (of almost 20 kids in our small town), many went back to work.  What a fun way to engage kids outside!

Note the slide on the upper left!
Note the slide on the upper left!

Fairy-House2Fairy-House1

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