5 Easy Steps to a Great Nature Walk

To us, a nature walk is taking a walk anywhere and noticing the natural things around us. It can be to the park, around the block, at a nature center, or around the backyard. Nature walks are so important to a child’s development. It is a total sensory experience! Here are 5 easy steps to get you started on a proper nature walk and keep your kids engaged.

1. Pick the Place: Seems simple enough right? Pick a place that has enough natural space to allow your kids to explore many different elements. Trees, grass, clovers, flowers, dirt, water, rocks, anything can be explored if you make it fun! We like to walk around our neighborhood, down to the park where there is a lake, or to our local greenway.

 

2. Bags or Baskets: Kids love to pick up special rocks or gather beautiful leaves. This is a great way to get them looking deeper if they know they can bring it along. I love to let our kids grab a small bag or basket. It keeps them from bringing huge items home but encourages them to really get down and explore. It also keeps the fun going when we get home! We dump everything that had been collected out and make all kinds of crafts, compare and contrast items, or simply “ooo” and “aaah” over the things we had found.

 

3. Guide/identification books: We have several pocket guides my kids love. Probably because they are small. We have one for wild flowers, another for identifying animal paw prints. We usually look at these in the car on the way and may or may  not bring them along on our walk. These books help bring nature to life! They make it exciting and encourages kids to engage, find, and seek out these things along the walk. 

 

4. Accessories: We like to bring everybody’s favorite accessory. These are usually a special walking stick or hiking pole, my daughters bear backpack, a pair of binoculars, some jars with holes in them for catching and observing bugs or other tiny critters we find. All of these items just go to further encourage them to really become explorers! Even if they are just pretending this is a great way to get them excited and make it a special experience. (we got these awesome jars from the Dollar Tree!)

 

5. Lead the way: As the facilitator of these little ones learning it is up to you to make it fun, engaging, and exciting to walk through nature. If you are trudging along not enjoying yourself nobody else will either. We love to walk so, so, soooooo slowly, I never hurry them along. They love to look at every twig, leave and flower, and that’s ok. Make sure you go at a time when you are not in a hurry so you can take your time observing. Nature is also one of the only places kids are able to take appropriate risks. It is so important kids are allowed to do this. To take risks and assess their limitations, and make mistakes is as much a part of growing up as learning their ABCs. As long as you are comfortable with the things they are climbing on and the heights they ascend. Use common sense here.

I also encourage a scavenger hunt. This is a great way to get the kids using their senses and asking questions. They are simple ones like, find something green, something fuzzy, something hard, a special rock, etc. Get down with your kids and look too! It seems that they are just as excited when I find a rock I want to take home as when they do. 

 

The most important thing to remember is the reason you want to go out on a nature walk in the first place. Whether it be to learn something new, engage in nature, or just get some fresh air. Keep it light and enjoyable. Make sure to let them touch, feel, jump, climb, and most of all get dirty! Let them be little, and their childhood be magical. You are the one who is able to make these amazing memories with your children. Your kids are sure to have a great time and ask to do it again, and again.

 

Finding Joy in Parenthood

Let’s be honest, some seasons of parenthood are difficult. Very, very difficult. Some seasons come with challenging stages, loneliness, fatigue, anger, and dare I say, regret. We have all felt these things. I feel like this is not something we talk about all the time. In a world of perfect Instagram photos and lots ways for your kid to be an overachiever sometimes we buy into the lie that our lives with our precious children should be perfect.

I have bought into this lie lately. I have bought into this lie that my kids need to eat healthy, organic, homemade food at every meal. (Guess what, sometimes I walk into the living room in the morning and my toddler is eating Doritos in her underwear)

I have bought into the lie that my house should be immaculately arranged at every moment so that I may capture that perfect picture to share with the world. (Guess what, my house is RARELY picked up)

I have bought into the lie that my children should not cry, scream or pitch insane meltdowns because if I teach them how to manage their emotions they will always behave. (Ha, ha, we know this is not true. Even adults have meltdowns from time to time)

But the biggest lie I have bought into lately is that happiness comes from an outward source. That if I could just get these books to better teach my kids we will be happier. If I could just keep my house in order we will be happier. If I could just buy these wooden, eco-friendly, locally sourced toys we will all be happier. The list goes on and on.

And the thing that I have forgotten lately is that happiness is not outwardly sourced. Happiness or I will say, JOY, comes from within. It is a conscious choice to be joyful amid the chaos of life. This used to come very easily to me before I became a parent. Maybe because my actions only affected myself. Now that I have all these tiny humans to raise I feel the weight of the responsibility and I want to do a good job. I want to raise accomplished, well adjusted, joyful humans. The best way to do this? To lead by example! No matter what is going on in your lives, if you will do your best to show how to be joyful in the midst of any circumstance you children will learn from your example. Now, I don’t want to confuse this issue. I’m not talking about walking around with a fake happy smile on your face all the time. Of course, you need to show your children its ok to be sad, angry, or frustrated. But the real joy comes from being able to feel those emotions, not get stuck there, and come back to a joyful spirit.

For me, I believe this real joy can only come from a true relationship with our Creator. In any situation, there is scripture to encourage us and bring us back to that place of joy that comes from the Lord. I have bought into the lies society shouts at us. Mostly that our happiness comes from what we have or how people perceive us. I’m going back to the joy I find in my Savior, my Creator, and my Redeemer.

 

Here are a few scriptures that help me stay grounded when I feel like I’m about to lose my mind!

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. John 13:34

And as for you, brothers and sisters, never tire of doing what is good. 2 Thessalonians 3:13

I sought the Lord, and he answered me; he delivered me from all of my fears. Psalm 34:4

And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Colossians 3:15

Though the mountains be shaken and the hills be removed, yet my unfailing love for you will not be shaken nor my covenant of peace be removed,” says the Lord, who has compassion on you. Isaiah 54:10

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. Romans 12:2

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Philippians 4:8

I hope that you are encouraged today, no matter where you’re at in your journey of faith and/or parenthood. I am always eager to hear from you all. I am happy to listen and help any way I can. 

 

 

 

 

Flower Dough

ontinuing our flower theme for this month, today we collected some more flowers in the front yard. I just want bear to mow the grass when there are so many treasures popping up right now. We collected some weeds, lilacs, tree bark, and clovers (the usual). We also found some interesting rocks. We gathered them all in a beautiful bowl and played with these elements outside. The girls decided to play “trick or treat” and took turns coming up to the stoop and collecting “candy”, which was these flowers we just gathered. So much fun! 

When the kids tired of pretend play we went inside for a lunch break. After some much-needed nourishment, they couldn’t wait to get back to the flowers we had brought inside. I gave them the divided bowl and let them separate all the flowers, bark and clovers, which they did pretty well. (Bonus: A great sorting activity! This bowl from Goodwill has been amazing and used over and over again!) Then we made some home-made play dough and added a little lavender to make it smell nice and the girls chose to make it pink. When the dough had cooled we went at it! Making “cookies,” the girls said, which was fitting for this activity. 

This activity was practically free! Since we collected found objects from the yard and we made the playdough with flour, water, salt and cream of tartar all of which we had on hand it easily one of my favorite activities. Can you tell by now? I love activities that are cheap/free and easy to set up and clean up. This fits the bill! I really enjoyed watching the girls press the flowers into their dough. Some girls gently picked up a flower, plucked the petals, and methodically placed it into the dough. Other girls grabbed handfuls of items and jammed it into their dough and kneaded it over and over again smooshing and smashing with great gross motor skills. 

Our finished products turned out pretty nice. The kids were so proud of their work and enjoyed showing them off. They could be dried out and kept but I don’t think the flowers would keep very well. I am trying to find a way to make these into keepsakes. If you have any idea, let me know! For the time being though, we put them in baggies and take them out for a few days until they are ready to be thrown away. This provides a great discussion too about how things get old and decay over time. We also talked about how the flowers wilt without water and eventually die as well. All of these activities are not only good for keeping your little ones busy but they provide so many other wonderful benefits. This activity, in particular, gave us a great connection to nature as we were outside observing as we hunted for our prize flowers. It was a sensory experience for the little ones to touch, feel, smell and search for everything we collected. Great physical play with gross and fine motor skills alike. Following directions, as we separated the elements we were using also. 

I’m not saying all of this to toot my own horn. I’m trying to encourage you that you don’t need some big, thought out project for your preschoolers to do in order to hit so many important developmental skills. Building these skills should be fun and easy. You can do it! Just get outside and have fun in nature. How do you keep your kids engaged in sensory activities?

 

Rock Exploration

My kids are the type that goes outside and finds a “beautiful treasure” which is usually a rock. A piece of granite or gravel is something special to them and they insist that we take it home. We are outside a lot so in turn, I have a lot of “special” rocks. I didn’t know what to do with all of these. We would paint the big ones and lose the tiny ones but there were a few that were really unique that we kept. 

Today I decided to put them in a basket along with some gems and minerals we collected from various gem mining excursions. We separated out the polished rocks we had been given and the gravel stones. Then the excitement happened when I busted out our Rock and Mineral guide along with A Rock is Lively. These materials along with the gloomy afternoon made for a wonderful time of rock exploration. 

I was amazed at how long the girls looked at the books, compared the rocks with the pictures, and matched the colors. They had a great time! We learned all about how different rocks and minerals are formed. And we spoke of the amazing creations God has made for our enjoyment. 

After the girls were done with the books they decided to take the rocks and put them in their purses to use for their treasures and jewels again in a nice round of princess play. It’s always nice to see how fluid their play becomes if you just allow them. I got to overhear them using the correct names of some of the stones we had just learned about.

Play really is the work of childhood. I’m learning a balance of being a facilitator of learning instead of a teacher. This really fits our family well and I’m getting more and more comfortable in my role as I see my children enjoy the learning by allowing their interests to lead them in many different directions. It’s hard for me to stop when they are done. Like today, I wanted to read more about rocks, dig deeper, but they were tapped out and wanted to play princess. I’m learning to take their ques and go with the flow. It’s becoming a wonderful ride with the kids at the helm. 

Spring Play Idea: Flower Soup

Spring is almost here! Flowers are blooming and we are finally getting outside after a long, dark winter. What better way to welcome spring than with a wonderful “flower soup” free play?

Pick Anything Natural: We went out into the yard and picked all the flowers we could find. Most of them were weeds so who cares! It was a wonderful scene to see them plucking all the pedals apart and examining what they could use as “ingredients” for their creations. Not just the pedals but also the stems, leaves, stamen, and maybe some dirt that was left on there as well. This is also when we can talk about plant anatomy.

Bowls and Spoons: We put the beautiful items they collected in these lovely bowls along with some water. I gave them other bowls and various spoons. I find that kids love to play with what they see the adults in their lives using. I like to gather items from our kitchen as opposed to things in the pretend play kitchen. It makes them feel more grown up that I trust them with items our family kitchen. 

Be Involved: I loved watching and “tasting” all the soups. After making our first batches my kids were so excited to find more things to mix into their soup, but they could not find any more flowers. As the facilitator of their adventures, I guided them to other items in the yard. We found ordinary grass as well as some wild onion grass, clovers, pine cones, and acorns. I had no idea what was in my front yard until we looked so carefully. If I didn’t get up and help them look then the “flower soup” playing might have been over. It’s so important to guide and lead the children in digging deeper than they would have on their own. Their concentration needs to be stretched and encouraged. We ended up playing, searching, and creating for over 2 hours! That’s a long time with one activity for 1-3-year-olds. 

It turned into quite an exciting afternoon. My seven year old even came to join the fun. One of the best parts is that there is no cost and so little clean up with this activity! Hooray!!! These are my favorite activities. The ones where you have to scavenge and search for your playthings. And, I believe, it’s one of the most beneficial for the children to see how to be resourceful and creative with their play. They are followers so I encourage you today to be a good example of getting out there in your front yard and finding new exciting ways to play with what you have and utilize their wonderful imaginations!

 

Dried Bean Box

By now I’m sure you’ve heard of the dried bean box for your kids to play. This is by far one of my favorite rainy day activities. It’s great for various age groups and easy to clean up. I do have a few tips on how to do it right. This activity can quickly turn disaterous as you can imagine with thousands of beans all over the house! Here are some tips to keep it containted and fun!

Blanket: I like to lay out a large blanket to put the bean box on. This makes for easy cleanup. Make sure your kids know to keep it on the blanket. They can dump it out all they want. They must know that they cannot throw the beans around. It seems like fun but this is a great way to practice listening and self control.

 

Bowls and spoons: Some of the kids like to play pretend cooking with the beans. We like to use plastic, wood, or metal bowls and spoons. They all make different sounds when the beans are poured into them. This can be a great discussion and exploration time as your kiddos bang their spoons and pour the beans over various materials.

Magnet play: We recently bought a magnet set which I had been eyeing for a long time. We found paper clips and other materials around the house. Threw them in the bean box and then fished them out with our magnets. This was so fun and the kids began searching for other magnetic items to fish out of the box. This kept them busy for most of the afternoon.

 

Small creatures: Yet another way to keep the bean box interesting is to put miniature dinosaurs, sea creatures, or tiny cars. Anything that is small can be a whole new tiny world experience in the bean box. My kids like to use their sea creatures and hide them under the beans and “surprise” the other animals when they come up out of the “water”.

Sorting and Patterns: We have just started working on sorting and patterns with Peanut. She is mildly interested but really enjoys sorting all the different types and color of beans. Then we use them to make patterns and she likes to pretend they are different ingredients for her various cooking concoctions. Sometimes with the older kids we will get out some playdough and make patterns.

Sensory Play: Of course the obvious aspect is that this is a sensory activity. My littlest Sprout like to climb in the box and feel around with her fingers and toes. It is a great sensory activity and even at a young age (12 months +) she can begin to follow instructions of not eating the beans and having self control not to kick them all over the place.

In short, bean boxes are great, but you do have to be attentive and organized. You cannot leave the kids alone with the beans or they will surely dump them all out and make a mess for you to clean up. Also, you are the facilitator and if they see you playing with the beans in a certain way they are sure to follow your lead! Get in there and play with your kids! It’s so much fun and I’m sure you’ll all enjoy it. At the end there is little clean up. Just pick some of the items you put in, fold the blanket, dump the beans back in the box and voila! You’re done!

How do you play with your bean box? I’d love to hear even more creative ideas! 

Contact Paper Flower Craft

Approaching Spring is such an exciting time! Everybody is so ready for some warm weather and the flowers bursting forth. However, here in NC, Spring weather is unpredictable. We had wonderful warm days last week where we played outside and observed all these new changes around us and in our yard. Lots of new buds on the trees and colorful flowers filled the yard. We collected some of these flowers to save for a later crafts.

Then, the weather turned cold again. We began to see snow flurries! And we were all so dissappointed to not be able to go outside without bundling up yet again. 

As we were sitting by the window I remembered the flowers we had collected and decided to make the most of this time inside. We grabbed some contact paper and went to work. 

All we had to do was stick the contact paper to our large window in the living room. Contact paper is only sticky on one side so we taped it (sticky side out) to the window. I grabbed the flowers and began disecting all the bits and pieces we could. Finally the kids got to work making their own wonderful artwork!

 

 This was another simple, spur of the moment craft that kept these guys busy for about an hour. And again, little cost, little clean up! Win-win! Also, at the end, we grabbed another piece of contact paper and stuck it to our creations (sticky side down) to seal them. You can border them with washi tape and they make a great keepsake, suncatcher, or light table manipulative!

 Please feel free to share your spring crafting ideas!

Why Minimalism works for Kids (and Parents too)

Let me start out by saying I wasn’t always into the idea of minimalism. In fact, quite the opposite was true. We had 3 kids and I often would babysit for extra income so we had many children in and out of our home. I bought into the idea that I needed tons of toys to entertain this loud, energetic brood of kiddos. What ended up happening, as you may have experienced, is they dumped all of my carefully organized toys out onto the floor, sift threw them a little, and play with nothing! They just move onto the next thing until all the toys are out in an incredible chaotic mess where you can’t even see the floor! And do they play? No! Instead my kids would just come over to me and whine that they don’t know what to do, we are bored, or they begin fighting over the toys they are not really playing with. Go figure! I was constantly dealing with bickering, aimless wondering around, and very little creative, productive free play that I was so hoping the investment of toys would offer.

Finally, I had enough! I started reading articles, like this one, on minimalism for kids and decided it couldn’t hurt. Very, very…VERY slowly I started picking threw the endless amounts of toys. Here is the criteria I gave myself of things I would want to keep.

1. Things they actually played with EVERY SINGLE DAY.
In our experience these are things like dolls, My Little Pony figures, hot wheels. (limiting the amount. You don’t need 50 hot wheels but 5 will do.)

2. Toys that offer open ended play
I love toys that can open up my kids imagination and get their creative juices flowing. Toys like building blocks can not only be tall towers but also roads, doll beds, barnyard fences, cakes and many more possibilities. Another one of our favorites is play silks. We have 2 and I’d love to get more. My kids turn these into capes for super heroes, baby doll blankets, rivers, hot lava you have to jump over, and parachutes.

3. Toys that offer a connection to nature
Some of our favorites in this category is some of our small animal figurines. My kids love these and play with them all the time. I like them because they are small and don’t take up much space. We also have a lovely “tree” house style doll house. All kinds of creatures and fairies can live here.

4. Heirloom toys
These are toys that my husband or myself played with when we were children and want to pass along to our kids and maybe even one day our grand-kids. There is no specific criteria here. It is purely nostalgic and personal to each person. Also, I will also add here that when purchasing new toys (because I buy a lot of used) I always tend to keep this romantic idea of heirloom toys in the back of my mind. Will this toy hold up well to the abuse my kids dish out and be so loved that my grandchilren will play with it too?

5. Toys that have educational value
This is self explanatory for the most part, although I will add that I do not like toys that only serve one function. By this I mean, games or puzzles that have lots of pieces and if you misplace one the entire game is not going to work. Best to avoid those. 

The end result of all of this is more engaged and creative playtime for my kiddos. They feel less overwhelmed by the amount of stuff out and can think more clearly. They can allow their imaginations to run free in a clean, open space. For me, I have a lot less to keep up with and clean up which means more productive and meaningful time with my children. At the end of the day, isn’t that what most parents want? I’ll be adding a post soon on what our playroom looks like and the specific toys mentioned here, be sure to stop back by and check it out. Hopefully it will provide some inspiration. Keep in mind that I do watch other children other than my own on a daily basis. If it were just my 3 kids I would probably have half of the amount of toys but because of the different ages, stages, and personalities I still have more than I would like. Let me also add here that we love doing a good toy rotation every month. I’ll be sure to add a post on that as well. 
Let me know if you have any questions or I would love to hear your take on how you choose, organize and rotate toys. I’m always looking for new outlooks and advice so feel free to drop me an email anytime!

A day in the life…

As Stay-at-Home-Moms, we all have our own styles of running our days. Some of us are morning people, some of us are night owls, most of us would love to sleep all day. I’m going to share with you how our typical days run in our household. I have a very, and I mean, very loose schedule. I find it puts less pressure on all of us and allows our day to just flow. Right now Noah, our 8-year-old, is currently enrolled in public school. We will be pulling him out next year and homeschooling! Please feel free to follow our journey here. Our 3-year-old and 1 year old stay home with me along with 4-6 other friends all under 4 years old.

 

7:00-7:45 – This is when we all roll out of bed, eat breakfast, and rush my son and husband off to school and work.

8:00-9:30 – The children I keep during the day slowly start trickling into our home. Everybody comes at a different time, which is fine with me. During this time the children are free to do whatever they like. It’s free-play time! Self-entertaining is so important. I usually spend this time picking up and preparing the house for the day (i.e. doing leftover dishes, preparing crafts, starting laundry).

10:00 – At this time we all come together for an activity which is also, you guessed it, child-led. It might be dress-up, fort building, play-dough, whatever the kids agree to do I will follow their lead. This might also mean multiple activities going on at once as there are different ages and interests.

10:30-11:00 – The babies go down for a morning nap. This is the time I try to encourage the kids to do an activity that we would not otherwise be able to do with young teething babies around. Some of our favorites are the bean box, painting, jewelry making and other fine motor activities or board games. In the summer we try to get outside during this time also. 

12:00 – LuncLunchtimel the kids get to the tiny table ready themselves with their napkins and whatever silverware is needed. I get out lunch, they get to eat, giggle and enjoy each others company and silly conversations about who’s food looks so yummy. I am working on getting them all to clean up after themselves as well in a Montessori fashion. After lunch is more free play while I clean up the kitchen.

1:00 – We begin preparing the younger toddlers for nap time. We go potty, get out blankets, and read books. Then it’s off to naps. The older kids get to watch an educational show on tv while I pick up the tornado that blew through our house while we were playing.

2:00 – You might have already guessed, but it’s more free play. This involves the older kids (3 and 4-year-olds) so it’s lots more pretend imaginative play which is so fun to listen and observe. I try not to interfere unless there is a dispute which they cannot solve on their own.

3:00 – My son comes home from school. I probe my son for answers to how his day a school is, what he is learning, and what he wants to do this afternoon. I try to give him some one-on-one attention. Then I wake up the little ones from their afternoon naps. This is the busiest time of my day because I end up juggling diaper changes, snacks, and various toys all over the house.

3:30-4:30 – The children I keep are now trickling out as their parents come pick them up. This Ema is now exhausted, however, I push on and try my best to spend some quality time with just my kids.

4:30-6:00 – We either run errands or prepare dinner or sometimes we just veg out to some tv or iPad time. (yes, we allow screens but monitor the time carefully) My husband comes from work in this time slot as well.

6:00-7:00 – Dinner is served. We always gather around the table and I love having a nice family meal after such a long day.I clean up after and my husband has some one on one time with the kiddos.

7:30 – Bathtime

8:00 – Bedtime! This mom and dad are beat! We plop down for some Netflix before retiring to bed.

What I love about our days is that there is some structure so the children can feel a rhythm and balance but I also love that they are free to entertain themselves, engage in their own interests, and play with other children or play alone. They are able to be themselves whether that means painting a picture alone, getting their energy out by jumping on the couch, or engaging in pretend cooperative play with friends they are truly leading the life that, I believe, children should be leading. I love being the facilitator of their learning and growing. It’s amazing how much they learn through play. We do a lot of “hide and seek” and suddenly my daughter can count up to 20 no problem! I am always amazed and what they come up with themselves and, when I give suggestions, how they take that advice and make it work for their own personal enrichment. Our days are usually carefree and fun and as a toddler, isn’t that what life’s all about? Now don’t get me wrong, we have our fair share of spilled milk, fighting over toys, and general meltdowns, but that is all part of the learning process for these tiny humans. At the end of the day, this lifestyle works for us and we know we are very blessed to be able to raise our children this way.

If you have any questions or want to fill me in on how you structure your days please feel free to get in touch with me. I would love to hear from you!