This is the time of year we start planning our summer vacation. There is a certain sense of anticipation and excitement about it. Books about National Parks and hiking are scattered everywhere. Dinnertime discussions get everyone's input. Over the years we have been to some pretty amazing places with our kids. Morocco, Germany, Belgium, but the last few years, we have stayed in the states and hit some of the National Parks. I think if you asked my kids, they would say they loved the National Parks the best. It is unbelievable what natural treasures there are in our country!
Given a chance to go to Disney World or a National Park - my kids would choose a National Park in a heartbeat!
Recently, I overheard a middle schooler say, "We never go anywhere." And this was just in repsonse to the teacher talking about a local nature area. I just wanted to cry. I was sad for her. I understand that exploring takes effort, but if there is anything that can give childen a sense of curiosity, instill gratitude and an appreciation of diversity, it is seeing new and different places. Starting with local places is an easy way to begin your exploration journey. Check out a nature center, museum or find a hike nearby. Not only will you get to see remarkable things, it gets your whole family moving and off technology!
Once you have gotten the hang of exploring locally, start venturing out a little bit. Do some research and make sure to include the kids in the planning. Spend the night somewhere in a hotel, Airbnb, or try camping, depending on your style. There are so many options these days - we have stayed in lots of fun and different places. It is hard to choose a favorite but it is probably a tie between sleeping in a treehouse or the house in Oregon with a treehouse AND a tiny house!
I am so thankful my parents took me places and we have tried to do the same with our kids. Its not just about the beautiful places - although, that is a great motivation. It is about helping the current generation understand that people and places are different in a good and healthy way. As you travel through the U.S., it brings you in contact with people of different cultures and socio economic levels - things you might not see if you never left your hometown - or only went to theme parks. In a culture where people are so intolerant of people who believe differently, it helps us all by broadening our horizons.
My recommendation to you as you consider how to spend your vacation time this coming year, is to consider seeing some of the natural wonders of the United States. After seeing some of these places, you come away with a sense of wonder, gratitude and a desparate desire to preserve these places for the future. Check out some of the places we have discovered:
Do you want to raise children that appreciate diversity, have a sense of gratitude and have a sense of curiosity about their surroundings? Then, you need to take them places!
What are some fun and unique places you have gone with your family?
Leave a comment here or on my Facebook page
Stay tuned to upcoming blogs about finding local hikes, planning trips and finding unique housing at your destination.
Although Spring does not officially start until March 21, we had a burst of warmth not too long ago where I live and Spring is in the air! I always feel like the earth is ready to burst as Spring approaches. It is time for new beginnings in so many ways. The bulbs are up. Some trees have sent out buds. And the birds are active and singing. We even just spotted a foal running next to its mom on our drive yesterday.
Spring is a great time to push the reset button and start getting back outside. Even though I love being outside, sometimes the winter makes me just want to cozy up by the fire and hunker down with a good book or craft project. Although there is nothing wrong with some indoor downtime, there is nothing that does the body good as much as getting outside!
I have rounded up some great activities for you to do with your kids. Be sure and click on green titles for more information or a link to directions. Enjoy and Happy Spring!
Get out there quickly! Give your child the responsibility to take a picture everyday of the same tree or plant over the next several weeks and see how it changes. There are so many easy to use photo programs out there that you could make a fun slide show or time lapse of the changes.
Not only are these a fun way to see seeds grow, they are a great way to recycle. This article from Southern Living has some great containers to use for starting seeds. Who needs to go buy expensive starter pots when you can use ice cream cones, eggshells or orange peels??
This is one of my family's favorite signs of spring. The first person to hear peepers at dusk gets a special prize. Do a little research and see what conditions it takes for peepers to start peeping. I can still remember tromping around in the dark for my college biology class to measure how the temperature of water affected the rates of peeping. At the time that seemed like a lot of work - now I love the sound of peepers!
Spring is a great time to visit Botanical gardens. Not only is it a chance to get outside and get some Vitamin D, it is always a feast for the eyes to see the tulips and dafodils in bloom. Make it a game to see how many varieties of dafodils you can find. Or see how many colors of tulips you see. Take lots of pictures! Post them on the Skipping Stones facebook page!
Birds are pretty great at building nests from things they find in their environment. Why not give them a little extra help! It is sort of like giving your friends some building supplies as they are building a new house! I am a knitter so I think this is a great idea. Now I have something to do with all my leftover scraps. Another idea I have seen is to buy a gravevine ball at a craftstore and stuff it with Alpaca hair or yarn. The birds will be so glad for the help. Who knows maybe you will spot a nest with some colorful fibers woven into it. Maybe you can give a special prize if one of your children spies one.
These rocks are adorable! I particularly love them because I have a daughter who has been ladybug crazy her whole life! I can't wait to put some of these in my flower garden this year. Not only are they a fun craft and a cut outdoor decoration, they would great fun in a scavenger hunt. Hide them for your kids or hide some for them! What fun and great for fostering development of visual skills!
Hanging May Day (May 1st) baskets is a forgotten tradion. When I was growing up my mom and I always made May day baskets and secretly hung them on our neighbor's door knobs. Today neighbors aren't as neighborly as they used to be but in my book anybody can be a neighbor! Why not shower someone you know or someone you don't with a little spring pick-me-up. Consider it a random act of kindness. This fun tradition is a sweet way to work together with your kids while reaching out to others in kindness.
Here are several more options:
May Day baskets by Three Scoops of Love
Coffee Filter Flower Baskets by Urban Comfort
Paper Bag Baskets by Patina White
8. Visit a new Playground
Kids love going to new playgrounds. Ask around or do some searching on the web and find a new playground to take your kids to. It's a great way to tire them out...I mean have some fun! Look for ones with swings, climbing apparutus and spinning opportunities. These are all great for fostering sensory development, as well as, confidence and strength.
They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. In the same vain, I say, if life gives you dandelions, make a dandelion crown! I know our yard is full of these pesty weeds! As adults we find them annoying and hard to get rid of, but kids see them as treasures. I can't count the number of lovely yellow bouqets I have received from my kids over the years. As the warm weather starts, so will the dandelions! Celebrate with a crown!
Along the same lines as dandelion crowns is making mud pies. With spring it is inevitably going to be rainy. Embrace the mud and make mud pies. It is great for kids to get their hands muddy and it is great for their creativity. Get some olds muffin tins,cake pans, and spoons from your local Goodwill store and let them have a blast. See what wonderful concotions they can come up with. Maybe they can even set up a bakery!
Post some pictures on the Skipping Stones facebook page! It would be great to have a community of parents can share ideas about nature activities.
Now get outside and have some fun!
Hey Mom, You HAVE to come see this sunset!
I came running to the window, standing next to my daughter as we looked in awe at the spectacular showcase of colors filling the sky. We shared that moment. We connected.
One of our children's deepest needs is to feel connected, noticed and loved. Throughout the day, they offer us many opportunities to engage or get our attention. Researcher, John Gottman calls these bids for connection. Bids for connection can be verbal or non-verbal. How we respond to the bids, is essential to healthy emotional connectedness. Three possible responses to these calls for attention are: 1. turning towards, 2. turning away or 3. not responding at all. As we make the choice to turn towards our children, we are filling their emotional bank account and setting them up for emotional success. (Not surprisingly, this concept is true in marriage, as well. With happy and healthy marriages reporting a "bid towards" 9 out of 10 times a bid is offered.)
I found that connecting to my children when they were babies was easy. They loved to pick up things and show them to me. It could be a leaf, a bug or a clump of dirt. They didn't even need words. By showing them to me, they brought me into their world. With each connected moment, they grew more firmly attached to me emotionally and their love tanks were filled.
Depending on your child's personality and interests, answering the bids for attention can get more challenging as they grow older. I have to admit, that I do not always fully turn towards a long explanation of a Lego creation - as my son describes all the weapon systems and vehicle add-ons, I confess I may have been looking towards him but my mind was elsewhere (just being honest). Now that I am aware of it, I am trying to do better. How often are we on our phones checking Facebook or Instagram when our kids are trying to connect with us? (yikes, that hit close to home.)
A young mom shared with me recently that she had made a conscious decision one day this past week, to put aside her household responsibilities and chores to whole-heartedly play outside with her children. Her children were amazed. On reflection, this mom realized she was so often just giving her children 5 minutes of play, here and there, but by putting everything else aside and fully "turning towards", she and her children had the shared experience of an emotionally filling day.
Just as the mom above realized, many things in our fast paced, independence-driven, modern life make connecting challenging. Nature makes connection easy. It provides a wealth of opportunities for focused attention in the same place - for turning towards. By walking outside, leaving behind our distractions - (and boy, are there a lot of distractions!), we are better able to offer ourselves to our kids. Every time we take a walk in the woods, we see things together. Spying an interesting shaped tree or an intricate spider web, my son will call me over and we will observe it together. In our family, seeing a rainbow is a major family event. We all come running. Looking up close at the moss on a tree or listening together to a woodpecker are all opportunities for connection. The natural world invites interactions. Even the simple act of pushing your child on the swing is a pathway to connection. As your child gives an invitation for connection, how will you reply?
This week, try to notice those bids for connection. Create opportunities by spending time outside together. Whether it is marveling at the latest mud pie or going out to check out a tree fort, you are fostering a deep sense of connection which can be drawn upon in the future. If your child asks you to build a leaf pile or play in the sandbox, look at the fun shaped clouds or listen for peepers, consider what type of response you will give.
We are given opportunities every day to make connections happen. How will you respond?
More information about bids for connection
The transformative power of getting closer to nature.
To a child who hasn't spent time outside, a tree is just a tree.
But to a child who has experienced the outdoors a tree is so much more. It is:
Home to wildlife.
A hiding place.
A shady respite
Food for woodpeckers.
A balance beam
A lookout tower
Highway for ants
The options for interaction are limitless.
A relationship with nature is like any other relationship, As an onlooker, you can have knowledge about something, a list of facts, but until you take the time and effort to have honest to goodness encounters, you don't really grow any deeper in understanding. As that relationship grows, you grow in comfort, empathy and understanding. Benefits are mutual. It can be quite transformative.
Nature is no different. I believe it has transforming power for our children, ourselves, our families and our communities. By giving our children opportunities to experience nature firsthand, they not only become more creative, better decision makers and physically stronger, they become more invested in taking care of the land and all that it holds. Comfort with nature grows. Rather than fear, they develop a sense of conncection.
The interconnection becomes part of who they are and what they care about. It is up to us as parents, caregivers and educators to introduce children to nature at a young age so that they can build upon that relationship. Starting young is best, however, it is never too late to begin. Don't give up if your child resists being outdoors at first. New relationships take time. Before you know it, they will be begging for more. Often, now, it is my kids who initiate taking a walk or going on a hike. We all benefit from their developping friendship with the outdoors.
Not only does connectivity with nature change children at the stage where they are, it paves the way for their future self. Toddlers who play in the grass and feel the wind in their face are much more likely to grow into curious kids who explore, dig in the dirt and climb trees. Kids who have run through streams and built forts in the woods are more likely to become adults who care about the envirnoment and want to preserve it for their children. Teens who experience the calming effects of a walk in the woods, transform into adults who value the calming aspect of spending time in nature.
Nature changes the way we experience things. The invitation is waiting. Create the time and space in your family's schedule to have an encounter with nature. You won't be disappointed!
Some fun ways to build a nature relationship this week:
Children really do follow our lead as parents
As a parent who is passionate about the outdoors, I sometimes get disheartened when my children grumble about getting outside.
"It's too cold."
. . . . .or the most offensive of all . . . "I need to finish this game on my phone."
But, then there are those moments when you realize they get it. And it makes it all worth it. This week I have a special guest blogger - my son. A few weeks ago he had an open-ended creative writing assignment for his English class. When he brought home his finished work, I melted. You have to understand that this essay is a victory in so many ways. For a boy who has struggled to read and write and express himself for much of his schooling, this essay is the beautiful fruit of much labor. It stems from a continuing journey of development and finding a place in the outdoors when many other places have not been welcoming.
Read it and be encouraged and see that, as he says, "the outdoors is for everyone." The grammar and spelling may not be perfect. The paragraphs may not be indented. But it is a picture of progress and a reflection of the joy that being outside can bring. Read and enjoy.
Printed with permission from my son.
10 great things you and your kids can do with pine cones
I LOVE pinecones!
I don't know what it is about them but I can't go by one without picking it up. My mom is the same way. She passed her love down to me and now I have passed it down to my kids. On every hike we go on, my son gathers them up for me. "Here, Mom." No explanation is needed! Basketfulls are all over our house. My teenage daughter recently told me she is cutting me off!
Not surprisingly, our kids pick up on what we love and it helps form who they are.
Food for Thought: What do you love? What are you passing on?
Not only are pinecones cute, pretty, and FREE, they are very versatile. Here are 10 lessons and crafts you can do with pinecones with a variety of ages.
1. Teach sizes and relationships
3. Make a Bird Feeder
4. Christmas Trees
5. Pinecone Crown and Wand
6. Pinecone Pineapple
7. Pinecone Zinnias
8. Pinecone Spiders
9. Pinecone Firestarters
There are so many variations of these out there that I had to share more than one! You may know from my previous post, Playing With Fire, how much I value time around the fire. These would make great gifts!This project definitely requires some adult assistance but I think the result is worth it.
10. Frosted Pinecones
For more ideas check out my Pinecone Crafts board on Pinterest
So, next time you see a pinecone, don't pass it up! Nature's little gems are just waiting for you to put them to good use!
In an effort to promote a life of simplicity, I take gift giving pretty seriously. Gifts that are thoughtful, meaningful, and useful can have a big impact. With that said, I am also a proponent of experiences and not things. In that vein, I have come up with a list of gift ideas for parents and kids who either love the outdoors or want to boost their outdoor time. Its not an exhaustive list, but just some things that either we have enjoyed as a family or I can get behind as an mom and an occupational therapist. A wide price range is represented to accomodate varying budgets. No financial profits are received from these items, you are free to shop around and purchase anywhere.
1 Marshmallow Roasting Forks
2. Nature Journal
3. Bird Feeder
4. Daypack or Backpack
5. Portable Hammock
If you don't live near snow, plan to take a trip somewhere so you can sled with your kids. Sledding is so much fun and sure to build lots of great memories. There are so many sled options, from cheap saucers to fancy baby friendly sleds to souped up inflatable versions like the one pictured on the right. Sleds are sure to delight! Bring on the snow!!
7. Slack Line
8. Cold Weather Accessories
9. Stocking Stuffers for Outdoor Lovers
10. National Park Pass
Holiday wishes often include health and happiness - what better way to promote that than a gift that gets families outdoors?!!
The unifying element
I don't know what it is about fire but it draws in kids and adults of all ages. Whether in your own backyard firepit or at a campground, there is something special about sitting around a fire. Last night at our house we cooked dinner over the firepit and it reinforced for me what I already knew on a subconscious level - a fire yields a lot of power - not just power on a physical level. But it has the power to connect. The power to teach. The power to calm.
Disclaimer: Building a fire requires resposibility. Adult supervision is required. Fires should be built in an open area, and tended at all times.
Power to Connect
Once the fire is lit, it is like a magnet. The attraction to fire goes across the board. We have kids in all walks of life at our house and they all love the fire. The attraction is not age or gender-specific. It reminds me of the famous line from the movie, Field of Dreams - "If you build it, they will come." Make sure you have seating around the fire for everyone. Chairs are great but tree stumps make great seats, too. The attraction may stem from different reasons, but it is there. Some want to come to poke and add sticks- I think most boys are pyros at heart! Some may come just to get warm. And others may come because flames are mesmerizing. But the good news is that they are all there. All ages, All abilities. All personalites. Together.
As you sit together as a family or a group, connections will happen. You will be surprised. It may be that just sitting around the fire together is a unique opportunity to be all in one place, focused on the same thing. In these days of fast paced lives and so many distractions, being together is a beautiful thing. But often, being together sparks (forgive the pun) conversations. Conversations that connect and bind people together. Fires make space for connection.
Not only is the fire itself a connecting point, add food into the mix and you've got double connection! You can start with good old fashioned marshmallows and hot dogs on a stick or you can get a little more creative and try some more complicated things. Some we have tried and like are double barbecue bacon chicken and campfire cones or search on Pinterest for many more options for campfire meals. You can learn a lot about people by watching them cook over a fire. Who patiently roasts their marshmallow until it is perfectly golden on all sides? Or who would rather see ther marshmallow go up in flames? Every moment is a teachable moment which leads to the next point.
Power to Learn
And not only are skills learned that are directly related to a fire, but other more general skills are used that can be used across many situations.
In addition, children learn important concepts about limits and boundaries. Rather than just teaching children to avoid fire because it is unsafe, it is far better for them to learn safety and fire management through experience. Setting a fire and tending a fire are great skills to have. In an effort to keep children safe, parents today often shield them from potentially risky situations rather than allowing them to learn safety and limits through experience. Research studies (pg. 33-40) show that allowing children to engage in creative, challenging, and exciting, outdoor experiences promote health and development.
And how about good old curiosity? What happens when you blow on a fire? Why are there different color flames? Curiosity leads to exploration and exploration leads to learning.
Adults can learn, too! For more information about how to build a safe fire or build a fire pit in your yard, check out these links:
Building a Safe Campfire
How To Build A Better Fire
How To Build a Fire Pit
Power to Calm
Research now backs up what anyone who has sat by a fire already knows in their heart. Fires are memsmerizing and relaxing. Just like the calming effect of watching fish in an aquarium, watching and listening to the crackles of a fire lowers blood pressure and calms the body. A University of Alabama study abstract says, "campfires induce relaxation as part of a multisensory, absorptive, and social experience." Everyone can benefit from more opportunities for relaxation in their life. Family life is hectic these days, so it is all the more important to intentionally create some downtime. Whether planned or spontaneous, family moments spent around the fire create great memories.
Whether you live in the city or the country, seek out a place where you can build a fire. Maybe even consider gifting your family a firepit this holiday season.
Going Against the Culture For The Greater Good
I don't know about you but life pulls me in a million directions. Driving kids to games, planning meals, blogging, checking email, trying to keep a healthy lifestyle, laundry, helping with youth group, a never-ending to-do list .....it is chaotic and noisy. Sometimes the noise is literal (picture 3 teenagers living under one roof ;-)) and sometimes it is just the chatter in my head thinking about so many things at once. Most of these activities are good things but they don't always refresh me, restore me or recharge me. I find that the best antidote for the noise is to remove myself from the crazy and go to a quiet place in nature. For you, maybe it is going to the water or maybe it is the woods that invites the calm. For me, the woods are particularly therapeutic. As I get into the woods, I can almost physically feel the release. There is that freeing moment when I can no longer even hear the buzz of cars on the nearby road - a relaxation washes over me. My brain slows down and I can focus on the important. When I try to take a break at home, it usually goes like this: I sit down on the couch to read or knit I remember there are a few dishes on the sink that need washing so I hop up to wash those, thinking I can relax once that is done. Then, I realize I better empty the dishwasher and "Oh yeah" I have to do laundry so my daughter can have a clean shirt for the game that afternoon...Hmmm, I better get something out for dinner........You get my drift.
I never quite get free from the tyranny of the seemingly urgent. But when I go to the woods, I am able to fully detach. Fully de-stress. Fully let go any expectations. And usually what happens is that instead of being "wasted" time, it restores me to a much more productive state in the long run. I come up with solutions to problems I am facing and come to a better understanding of where I am personally and how I want to grow. I become filled with gratitude, rather than worry. Nature provides so many opportunities for attitude-shift - for restoration and inspiration .
As a mother, I know I need this time for myself and I know that I want that for my kids, as well. Today's kids face increasing pressures to be successful and be well-educated and well-rounded, while often what they need most to thrive is time to slow down and just be kids. Often when they need a break they reach for electronics games or the television to fill the silence. While that can be a break from some daily tasks, it does not free their brains for creativity and depth of thinking. Nicolas Carr, author of The Shallows, explains how neuroscience supports the findings that frequent technology use lowers our brain's capacity for contemplative thought. I personally want to be a critical thinker and I want that for my children. As I shared in an
What barriers keep us from being quiet?
What would I do in the quiet? Isn't that boring? I need to get things done. These are some of the thoughts that I'm sure crossed your mind when I mentioned that we need silence in our lives. Unconsciously, you may not want to be quiet with yourself. Often it is scary to be alone with our thoughts. John Ortberg puts it this way, "The truth is, as much as we complain about it, we are drawn to hurry. It makes us feel important...It means we don't have to look too closely at the heart or life." Even turning on the radio in the car the minute we get in is a way of "making sure something is happening around us," according to Dallas Willard. On the contrary, experiencing nature has been shown to be calming and reduce anxiety. It allows us to gain perspective and find our own identity away from others.
2. Addiction to Technology
Addiction is a strong word - I don't take it lightly but I think it is something we all need to consider. Can we walk away from our phones, tablets or computers for a time without a feeling of withdrawal? The existence of smart phones is a blessing and a curse. How great is it that we can have our kids text us when they arrive safely at their destination but how easy it is to get sucked in to checking email Facebook, Pinterest and Instagram at the expense of other activities and relationships. I know I am guilty of that! For our kids, electronics are a quick fix for boredom. By limiting the use of technology, we are encouraging thought and creativity. While there may be audible silence while scanning screens , there is no mental silence.
3. Being "Too Busy"
"I don't have time for that." That's our gut response. Our days are filled with activities and responsibilities. Our calendars are booked. How could we ever find time for silence? I challenge you to make time. To schedule it. Just like any other important activity. Times of quiet need to be put on the calendar or they definitely won't happen. Get up before your kids wake up. Take a walk at lunch or perhaps just sit on your deck to look at the moon. Right now, the autumn splendor is a perfect excuse to get outside. You won't be disappointed. Have you ever noticed that you come up with great ideas in the shower? or when you are running or taking a walk? Studies show that by giving our mind a break from a challenging problem, it allows our unconscious mind to process it more effectively. We make better decisions when we take a break (read more in The Shallows). Also, studies show that multitasking is overrated. When we do too many things at once, we just end up doing a lot of things poorly! So, by taking a break you are actually becoming a better thinker!
Take down the barriers
Hopefully, I have debunked some of the excuses that keep us from seeking quiet in our lives. I love the fact that as I have experienced this personally, I have found research to support the benefits of unplugging and taking time to be quiet. Finding quiet takes discipline and planning. Start this week to introduce quiet into your life. Sometimes a few simple changes can be the beginning of healthier patterns.
Find a place that works for you. As you make it a priority, you will be setting an example for your kids and opening yourself up to restoration. Bathing ourselves in times of quiet, especially in nature, nurtures every aspect of our lives - cognitive, spiritual, mental and physical. Turn off the noise, grow as a person. Get some quiet for the greater good.
Challenge: Take 15 minutes/ day to enjoy some quiet time. No phone. No radio.
Hi! I'm Ann - mother of seven, grandmother of two and occupational therapist. My mission is to provide the support families need to raise thriving children and to help you build a family environment that supports healthy development and a pathway to success.
Great blogs to check out:
Rain or Shine Mamma
Children & Nature Network
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