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?




Home Gardens Musings Uncategorized

Spring Outside


What is good news for my garden and yard is bad news for my blog.  Every spare moment in May was spent establishing our new garden, nestled in our sunny gently sloping field. Grass, along with horsetails, thistles, and milkweed, have been happy residents of this spot for years and are not giving up without a fight.  When my back needed a break from weeding row after row, I would mow, trying to keep our small yard from turning back into a field.

Admittedly, spending mornings and evenings outside in the sunshine and fresh air feels like a luxury.  I certainly never wished I were (or thought I should be) inside on my computer.  Being in the garden day after day allowed me to sink my roots into our new land, appreciating the subtle seasonal shifts in smells, tastes, bird and butterfly visitors, and distant valley views.

What is even better news for my garden is that I now have time to start posting blogs again!  All the seeds and seedlings have been planted and weeding can be handled in shorter sessions a few times a week.  Our resident bluebirds and swallows keep an eye on things and remove pesky veggie-eating bugs.  Our fence reminds neighbor deer and rabbit to find their dinner elsewhere.  We are enjoying bountiful salads topped with fresh herbs and flowers whenever we want.  This year my garden has helped me deeply soak in the pleasures of spring in Vermont.  For this I am grateful.

Yes, milkweed, you may grow outside my garden gate.  No, horsetail, you may not grow in my broccoli row.






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

Cloud Spotting with Kids

No matter where you live, you can count on clouds overhead when playing outside.  Clouds can inspire beautiful art, spark the imagination, help predict the weather, and more!  Toady at summer camp, I told the following stories as we lay on our backs, staring up at the sky.   Afterward, we shared the shapes we saw: a house, a duck, a butterfly, and a guy with fire streaming up from his head.  What a fun combination of science and sillies!


 The Cloud Family:

Poor Uncle STRATUS is always gloomy and lays down his dark cloak over the land.  With him comes rain and drizzle.

Aunt CUMULUS dresses up in puffy billowy cotton-ball dresses and loves to come out in fine weather to sunbathe in the blue sky.

The CIRRUS cousins look thin and wispy – they all come out to play before bad weather.  They run so fast across the sky that all you can see are the white streaks they leave behind.


Which cloud would you want to play with?  If you were in the cloud family, who would you be?


Children and Nature Home Gardens Musings Personal Sustainability: How-To School Gardens

Outdoor Spring Activities for Your Family

Spring is the perfect time for new beginnings, explorations, and discoveries.  It’s a great time to commit to spending more time outside on your own, or even better, as a family.  Birdwatching and gardening are two activities that are perfect for bringing family members together and deepening understanding of the natural world in your backyard.


Birdwatching can be very simple and low-budget, or it can involve a lot of expensive equipment.  My advice is to start simple!  You’ll be amazed how your walk through a familiar field or forest changes when you are focused on staying quiet and hearing or spying birds.  I wrote about birdwatching last spring.  Read about my efforts to learn more birdsongs and bring birdwatching to my after school program by clicking here.  

flower-wateringBackyard gardening is fun, rewarding, and full of learning experiences for kids and adults.  In addition to being a great place to grow food, gardens are little ecosystems teaming with opportunities to view ecological concepts like pollination, decomposition, and camouflage up close.  And in the end, you get to eat what you have grown!  Even more surprising for some parents: kids will want to eat the veggies they have grown.  There are certainly challenges and hard work involved, so check out my “Tips for Gardening with Kids” post for a successful season.

The Children and Nature Network is also a great resource for families committed to spending more time outside in nature.  Check out their website at