Nature Ornament #1 - Berry Twigs and Beads

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

This is the first of five craft tutorials about how to make a Christmas tree ornaments using items found in nature and around your house.  All of these ornaments are kid friendly with only a little help needed from parents.  Be sure that your child won't eat items that could be poisonous because some berries are poisonous.

Berry Twig Ornament
small twigs with berries
beads that will fit through twigs

1. Find twigs with small berries and cut off a few straight, thin stems.  You may need to sand or cut down bumps to make it easier to thread beads.   We used holly twigs.
2. Paint the berries.  Allow paint to dry. Most berries will wither and turn black over time, and painting will ensure it will look beautiful through Christmas season.
3. Thread beads on top of the berries.  

4. Tie a string at top of the twig to hold the beads and make a loop to hang on tree.
5. Due to the delicate nature of the berries, this ornament may not last past one season but it will be beautiful addition this Christmas.  It will give you an excuse to make more next year.

A Child's Tour

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tis' the season for the sniffles. While what seems like the rest of the blogosphere seems to be in full holiday spirits and cheer, I am recovering from the obligatory travel illness.  Since my achy body and fuzzy Sudafed head disables me from preparing for the Christmas season just yet, I bring you a non holiday post since there is not a sign of Christmas yet in this house.

We took a road trip to Hot Springs, Arkansas during this Thanksgiving break.  One of my favorite afternoon outings was simply a walk around the town with Miss E.  We traveled at her own pace which meant we walked only a few blocks, but as she said, "We are exploring the world."

Here's a four year old's tour of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Check out the mesmerizing decorative yard art. In our suburban neighborhood, we would never be allowed to do that.

Run through crunchy piles of leaves, and it's an added bonus to throw them on top of your head.  We don't get the same loss of leaves during the autumn season in Central Texas so a bounty of leaves was a true treasure.

A stick aids exploration around the town.  Walk on and off a ramp tapping the stick along the way.

Splashing a stick in a fountain is a must.

And for the the thrill seeking four year old, practicing balancing skills along the edge of a hot fountain is a daring sport.

If you don't have a chance to travel for vacation with your child, take a walk in a neighborhood unfamiliar to your family.  Let your child take the lead on where to go and what to explore, and it will feel like an adventure to your child.  

Go Explore the World!
This post is part of the Outdoor Play Party - a weekly linky party with parents and educators sharing how they appreciate the outdoors with children.  

Gratitude for My Time and Place

Monday, November 21, 2011

The first half of this year was one of the hardest times of my life, and I had fallen into a trap of focusing on my grief.  I was full of sorrow and anger for the dream that I had lost, and it felt like I was just surviving each day.  I could still love and cherish my daughter, but I didn't love my life.  My life had taken an unplanned direction.

About half way through this challenging year, I decided to write this blog.  I knew I was providing an enriching play environment for my daughter, and I wanted to document the joy that I was bringing to her life.  By focusing on the beauty of parenting in the present, I hoped I could see the abundance of love and light in my life rather than focusing on the dreams lost and future changed.

By spending time writing about the positive environment I provide to my daughter and family, I have become more grateful that I have arrived at this time and place in my life.

My time and place provided ....

me to be born to a teenage mother who chose to love and provide for me.
food and shelter even in times of need.
a free public school system.
the opportunity for my mother to earn a college and law degree while raising three children.
a college degree from a school that challenged me and broadened my scope of the world and life.
a healthy job market so I could obtain a teaching job right of school.
internet dating so I could meet my devoted and loving husband.
a community supportive of cross cultural marriage.
advanced medical technology so we could conceive our daughter.
a career field for my husband that allows me to be stay at home mom, the best job I've ever had.

My time and place brought me to this journey of blog writing.  By documenting the life I am living now, I am able to recognize that I am living a bountiful life.  I have grown to appreciate my life is full of love, faith, health, growth, beauty, devotion, simplicity, creativity, and challenge.

So this journey of time and place has brought me the incredible gift of my life now.  I still feel sorrow for my loss, but it doesn't consume my life, the life that I have learned this year to love.   A life of living in the light of today and feeling grateful for it.

Happy Thanksgiving to you and your beautiful families!

How Seeds are Moved by Wind

Friday, November 18, 2011

We have a collection of seeds and berries on our Nature Table, and I want to build on Miss E's knowledge of scientific concepts using the items on the table.  Some seeds and berries are transported by the wind, and I want her to play with materials to build on that concept.  I provided her with a turkey baster, fan, and straw to make artificial wind.  I played with the materials alongside her to model how I worked with the tools.

At first, she was mesmerized by the beautiful fan, and found it more fun to cool herself because it was difficult to move the seeds with the fan.

Then she discovered that the fan moved the fluffy, white seeds, and she moved them all over the floor with the fan.

She was frustrated with the inefficiency of the turkey baster.  

It took many attempts to use the straw to move seeds, but once she got the hang of it, she raced the berries down the hallway.  

This activity provides a hands on experiment to demonstrate how seeds move with the wind which is one way they can be transported to grow in different locations.  While that concept may be difficult for a preschooler, this experience will build background knowledge to prepare them for elementary school.  This lesson provides experience with motion, weather, botany, and experimentation.   

Superhero Capes for Toys

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Most of Miss E's day involves imaginative play with her stuffed animals particularly her set of Backyardigans.  There is often a superhero involved, and we sometimes use old bibs as capes.  The other day we decorated the capes.

  • Bib
  • fabric paint
  • paint brush or q-tip
  • pen

Write the first initial of the toy's name onto the back of a bib.

Trace the initial with fabric paint using a q-tip or paintbrush.

Decorate the cape with more paint.  Miss E wanted to keep decor to a minimum.  Perhaps, she thought it would ruin a superhero's tough image with a fancy cape.

Allow capes to dry for a day.

Tie capes onto stuffed animal or doll.  Now, your superheroes are ready to save the day in style.

This activity facilitates letter identification, sound recognition, and handwriting.  

Autumn Nature Table

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Miss E and her Papa have developed a Sunday morning tradition of going on a bike ride where they collect natural artifacts.  After a month of this, we have amassed quite a collection, and I wanted a place to display it all.  I'm impressed by the natural collections used for indoor play at preschools , and I hoped to create something similar on a smaller scale for our daughter.

Since this season has brought us a lot of berries, nuts, and seed pods, I chose these items for our display.  To keep it contained, a beautiful tray found at Goodwill would be perfect to hold it.  Small bowls and lids are used to hold the different materials.  Miss E decided where to place each material.

Once placed on the coffee table, it was ready for play.

She has investigated each of the materials on the tray.  So far, her favorite activity has been taking apart the seed pods and shells.  The fluffy seeds fascinated her.

She has rearranged the materials.  When she first decided to place these shells into a lid, I almost stopped her to inform her they wouldn't fit.  She proved me wrong by beautifully stacking them to contain them in the lid.  I am glad I let her figure out her own way because Mommy doesn't always know best.

We have had the tray out for only a few days, but she has spent time each day working with the materials.  One day she decided to plant the seeds, nuts, and berries, and we did that.  Another day I set out a egg carton tray, and she explored the materials sometimes working on counting.  

Over time, I plan to include more materials to encourage art, science, math, and literacy play with her nature tray.  The elements of the tray will change according to her interests and seasons.  Having the materials on a tray is helpful when we have itty bitty friends over to play because we can easily remove the tray out of reach since some of the materials can be poisonous or a choking hazard if eaten.  Although, I have always allowed Miss E to explore nuts and berries as long as I am watching her carefully, but each parent has to use her own best judgment.

Lantern Walk

Monday, November 14, 2011

I just love the homemade candle holders at Nurture Store , and I remember decorating jars with tissue paper as a child.  I wanted to create something similar with Miss E, and she created a lantern using tissue paper to take on our evening walks this Autumn season.

Use any clean, plastic jar with lid.  Glass can be used, but we are using our lanterns for neighborhood walks, so plastic is a better choice for that. To decorate the lantern, water down liquid glue.  Paint the glue onto the lantern.  Cover the lantern in small pieces of colorful tissue paper, and paint over the tissue paper with the watered glue.  In addition to tissue paper, we used flower petals for our lantern.  For the petals to stick well, adhere them with glue, and tissue paper covered in glue on top of the petal.

Allow glue a day to dry.  If you are anxious to use the lantern, you can speed it up with a hair dryer like we did.  We painted the lid to coordinate with our fall colored lantern.  Find a battery operated tea light and tape onto the bottom of the jar.  Tie two strings into two, separate circles and place on top of the open jar.  Screw the lid shut securing the strings.  This makes handles to carry the lantern.

Take the lantern outside and enjoy a magical evening walk with your child.  

Come join other families nurturing a love for the outdoors at the Outdoor Play linky party.

Turkey Craft

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Here's an easy turkey craft you can make with your child.  I was inspired by this turkey at World Market, and created a turkey using materials found at our home.

  • paper bag - small or large 
  • construction paper 
  • googly eyes or you can cut out eyes
  • leaves
  • berry twigs
  • acorns
  • sticks
  • piece of craft styrofoam
  • glue
  • paint
  • string

How to Make a Paperbag Turkey 

I wish I had better pictures to illustrate, but my camera ran out of battery power when we started this project.
  1. Take a paper bag and stuff it with crumpled paper to about a few inches from the top of the bag.
  2. Tie off the top of the bag to make a round body for the turkey.
  3. Where the bottom of the bag is, hot glue a round piece of craft styrofoam.  You don't have to do this but it makes it a bit easier to secure the berry twigs and sticks.  
  4. Shape the head by taking a small square piece of paper and wrapping it around crumpled paper.  Tie the head to the tied end of the paper bag.  At this point, your turkey will look creepy, but I promise it looks cuter by the end of the project.
  5. Collect leaves, acorns, sticks, and berry twigs to decorate your turkey.
  6. Glue the leaves and acorns onto the paper bag body.
  7. Poke the leaves and berry twigs into the styrofoam plate.
  8. Make the turkey's face with construction paper and googly eyes.  Glue those onto it's face.
  9. Wait a day for the glue to dry.
  10.  Paint the turkey.  We used fall colors to paint since we don't get the lovely fall foliage down in Central Texas.  If your leaves are colorful, it's not necessary to paint.

    Now, you have a handcrafted turkey made by you and your child.  Gobble! Gobble!

    Wordless Wednesday

    Wednesday, November 9, 2011

    Wordless Wednesday is just as it sounds - a picture.  

    Tracing Leaves

    Tuesday, November 8, 2011

    A lot of children practice handwriting skills by tracing worksheets.  While I am not against worksheets and my daughter enjoys using workbooks, natural materials can be a beneficial educational tool to encourage fine motor skills too.

    My daughter practiced writing lines by tracing the veins in leaves.  She wrote with a Sharpie which boosted her interest in the project because it's not often she can get her hands on a permanent marker.

    She traced several leaves, and when she grew tired of tracing she colored in the leaves with the marker.  

    This activity facilitates the development of her handwriting skills, and it encourages observation skills useful in Science.  At first, Miss E didn't notice the lines on the leaves, but when she focused on finding lines to trace, she discovered even the finer lines and cracks on the leaves.  

    Children can trace the patterns found on pieces of bark, rocks, nuts, and shells found in nature.  If concerned about tracing with a Sharpie, chalk, crayons, or paint are useful alternatives.  

    Animals on the Clothesline

    Monday, November 7, 2011

    This past weekend was super windy, and I wanted to demonstrate the force of the wind to Miss E.  I hung up a few of her stuffed animals from the clothesline with a piece of string.  She observed the animals swinging in the wind for a moment.

    But the effects of the wind weren't nearly as thrilling as her own force of energy.

    She pushed her toys, and she was satisfied she could provide a more wild ride to the toys.

    She ran back and forth trying to keep each toy in motion.

    She lifted them as tall as she could to try to create a higher arc.

    Here I was trying to teach Miss E about the wind, but she was only mildly interested.  It doesn't mean that our time was wasted because she didn't seem to grasp the lesson.  This day reminds me that small children are most interested in how they relate to the world, and how forces of nature influence other objects, people, or animals may be a challenging concept to grasp or not as fascinating.  There was a lot of talk about how the wind was blowing her hair on her face and how it kept tossling her tutu, but the wind pushing her animals didn't hold her attention.  She enjoys carrying around a pinwheel and watching the wind spin it or blowing bubbles and seeing the wind carry the bubbles.  Since Miss holds the pinwheel or blows the bubbles, she is an active participant in seeing the effects of the wind thus the activities are infinitely more interesting to her.

    So she didn't observe the wind, but Miss E took pleasure being active in our backyard experiencing the force of her power.  I will continue presenting opportunities for Miss E to observe nature even if she shows interest for a brief moment and moves onto something else.  It shows her that I value the natural world, and I value her unique interests as well.    

    Find lots of inspiration for how to get your kids playing outdoors at the Outdoor Play Link Up!!  

    Bowling with Candy

    Friday, November 4, 2011

    Here's another simple way to keep the Halloween candy out of our bellies, but still keep it fun.  You can use candy as a bowling ball.  On hard flooring set up marker tops as pins in a bowling alley.  Arrange them however you like, and your child can set them up too.

    Collect several hard, round candies to use as balls.  Sit a couple feet distance, or closer for younger children, from the marker tops.  Take aim and roll the candy at the pins.

    Keep rolling the candy until all the pins are knocked down.  Once you finish, you can start all over again because you don't need to worry about paying for another round of bowling because this game is free.  

    This activity supports your child's physical development by building hand-eye coordination.  

    Playing with Candy

    Thursday, November 3, 2011

    We firmly favor chocolate over any other type of candy in our house.  There could never be enough chocolate, but we have too much of the other candy after trick or treating.  We created a candy wreath with some of the excess candy, but we still had quite a bit left.  I decided to let Miss E explore the other candy, and I opened all the packages, and dumped them in a bowl.  It was one of those activities I came up with when she was making it difficult for me to finish cooking dinner.

    Materials for Candy Play

    • Assorted hard candy (If child is still in baby or toddler phase, be present while playing to prevent choking.)
    • Bowls of varying sizes
    • Different types of kitchen utensils of different sizes - We used spoons, measuring spoons, ladles, and tongs.
    • Tweezers
    • Small toys - We didn't use them, but they would add a fun addition.
    Ela has been playing with the candy for three days. 

    She picks them up with tongs.

    She pours the candy into different bowls.

    She transfers them from spoon to spoon.

    From November 3, 2011

    The Little Miss rolls and spins a candy around in a bowl.

    She shook the candy creating noise.

    This activity supports fine motor skills by using kitchen tools to move around the candy.  It develops mathematical skills by creating experience with the concept of volume.  It benefits science skills by allowing children to observe the motion of the candy.

    I know there are many of you who have been thinking, "My child would just eat it all."  I do have a confession.  Miss E is like any other child.  She sniffed and savored the sweet smell...

    ...until she could no longer resist temptation and took a lick which led to many stealthily eaten pieces of candy.  So I allow her to have a few pieces, and if she wants to continue playing with the candy she needs to stop eating it when I tell her she has eaten enough candy.  It looks like she likes playing with it because she stops eating the candy to keep having fun.