Saturday, January 29, 2011


Winter is a great time is teach our children about temperature! How detailed you get with your "temperature lesson" will likely depend on the age of the child and their knowledge of numbers. My five year old has recently learned to count to 100 so I felt pretty confident that he'd be successful in learning to read a thermometer. Granted our current temps have been below zero quite a lot lately and he doesn't grasp the concept of negative numbers. (For that matter, I am not sure that I can fully comprehend -23F but I try to!)

To get us started I made a fun project "paper thermometers'. We made these by printing out a thermometer template onto card stock (see link below). We added red & white curling ribbon that could be moved up and down. The red portion of the ribbon is the part to read, which made more sense to my son when we looked at a real thermometer. Then we practiced reading the temperature in increments of 10. We were looking at just Fahrenheit for now. I left the Celsius markings on our models since the rest of the world uses C and one day I will teach my son C as well as F.  :)

Then to make sense of what the different numbers mean we read a mini book called "Watching the Weather". This does a good job describing the four season and explains the weather associated with each. The book also has pictures of thermometers in it to show the tempature. As we read the book my son adjusted his paper thermometer to reflect that temparture. (Unfortunately I can't put a link or copy of the book in this blog, but if I find something similar I will post it in the future.)

Likely a younger child would not understand that the white ribbon isn't meant to be read. I suppose clear fishing line would be a better substitute for the white curling ribbon. Either way, younger children would enjoy moving the ribbon up and down! This could just be an simple intro for them.

Another activity that works well are "Temparture Sequencing Cards" (see link below). The child puts the cards in order based on the temperature (coldest to warmest). This clearly illustrates what would happen to a snowman as the temparture rises. {A couple of tips on using these is that you may want to enlarge them on a copier to make the numbers appear larger. Also, don't include the directions card because it confuses the child as to why there are two cards with 30F.)

Other extensions:
*Purchase a zipper pull type thermometer. My son has one with a wistle and he enjoys using it when we are on our outdoor adventures.
* Purchase an indoor/outdoor thermometer that has a picture of person and illustrates how to dress for certain temperatures.
*Practice simple temparture experiments with cups of water and ice cubes. (I'll be posting some of these soon.)
* Keep a nature journal and log occasionally what the temperature is!

For a free printable thermometer -- go here:

For free snowman sequencing cards -- go here:

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

What's your lowest temp?

After a few days of indoor play, I am SO excited to get the kids outside later this morning. We survived an "Arctic Blast" for the last four days but the kids are starting to climb the walls. Today the high will be 31F so we will take full advantage of the 'warm' temperatures!

What's your lower limit for taking your kids outside? For Nature Preschool we say 15F but for my own kids we venture out in 10F. I find that as long as there isn't wind our winter gear keeps us toasty for at least 30-45 minutes of outdoor play.

Besides our Queen is very good at letting us know when she is cold. She rips off her gloves and screams. We know that we immediately need to head inside. Luckily we play mostly in the woods behind our house so that we can quickly head inside.

Well...enough blogging for today. The great outdoors is calling.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Hibernation Games

Baby it's cold outside! This has been the coldest weather we have had all winter and we have spent an unusual amount of time indoors. So I decided to plan some fun indoor games for the kiddos while we hibernate.

1. Indoor snowballs - masking tape and tissue paper are all it takes to make an arsenal of snowballs. Just the making of these took my five year old about an hour! Then we played snowball basketball, snowball toss, and a not so successful round of snowball bowling! (Rolled up socks or large white pom poms can make great snowballs too!)

2. Ice Fishing - I had made a fishing game last fall for my son's "Camp Out" themed birtday party. Last night I gave it a winter make-over.
I took a large flat box and covered it in cotton quilt batting, then I used hot glue and few staples to secure. To make it seem more like ICE fishing we added a penguin made from construction paper, tongue depressor snowflakes, cotton balls as snowballs, and the ice pieces from the game "Don't Break the Ice". The sign I painted  was supposed to say "Ice Fishing" but I sort of ran out of room for the 'ing', but I still liked the effect of sprinkling coarse salt on the wet painted letters.
We got to take this game to a friend's birthday party and it was a big hit. We discovered that two fishing poles were the most that should be used. Tangled fishing line and stealing each other's fish seemed less of a problem when just two folks were fishing!

3. Mitten Toss Game - I covered another piece of cardboard with the cotton quilt batting but this time I cut three holes in it. Then I took a few pairs of outgrown mittens, added pillow stuffing, and sew them shut. My son suggested making each hole worth points so we cut numbers from glittery felt and hot glued them to the batting. To make the game stand up we tied it to a milk crate and put it up on a desk so it was easier to toss into. ~~ This game also went to the birthday party and it seemed enjoyable for both the 2 year olds and the 5 year olds. Though the latter seemed to enjoy hitting each other with the mittens than tossing them through the holes.

4. Snowman Dress Up - we pulled out of box of winter accessories and took turns dressing each other up as snow people. Some left over black top hats from New Year's Eve made us look like the real Frosty. For buttons we cut circles from sticky backed foam, but they are a one time use since they lose their stickyness quickly.
We decided that snowmen MUST have carrot noses so we took toilet paper rolls, cut and rolled one end to a stubby point, and then used paper mache to give it some shape. Once the first layer dried, we added a layer of orange tissue paper which saved the step of having to paint them. The first one turned out so cute that I decided to make one for each of the kids at Nature Preschool!

5. Snowman Circle Match - We raided our recycling bin for anything that was circular. We traced snowmen onto white paper, cut them out, and glued them onto file folders. The object of the game is to match the recycled item, lids in our case, to the snowman. The game is really simplistic but since my son made the game he has been enjoying playing the game over and over again.
To make this a bit more fun, add more pieces to accesorize the snowmen. Buttons, googly eyes, popsicle stick arms, and felt scraps would be exciting.... but with our little 20 month old on the loose we are going to skip the extra choking hazards for this year! 

6. Indoor Igloos - think fort building but with white sheets and winter clothes on. Before we began building we looked at the book "How to build an Igloo" so inspiration. Building a real igloo is on our "winter to do list" but hasn't happened yet. 

My son also made a cute Igloo craft using  crepe paper pieces and blue& white paper scraps. He drew 12 snowflakes for others to find!

7. Indoor Skating - with pieces of wax paper under our feet we tried skating on the carpet but my 5 year old found it too difficult. After a few different attmepts, he found that plastic pot scrubbers held on by rubber bands were much more fun on the tile floor. He even put pot scrubbers on his knees so he'd look like a hockey player! Too funny!

8. Hot Cocoa -when all else fails, make hot cocoa and read some good winter themed books -- but that's a post for another day. I need to get back to my indoor igloo!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Snow Mazes

Each year I make a snow maze for my kids. We have a large back yard that is flat, so making the maze is as simple as putting on my snowshoes and packing down a winding path. Pictured above is the simple maze we made in January 2010. Every time we had friends over they were excited to take the meandering path, especially when they realized that there was buried treasure at the end!

This year we are working on a bit more complicated maze that connects the front & back yards and even travels down to the stream in our woods! We are making it wide enough for the wooden sled so the Queen can be pulled along. To make it even more fun we added dead ends and few speed bumps to slow down anyone traveling too fast on our maze. We also decided that drawing up a map would help us explain to friends the best path to take & highlight some of the special attractions that are not to miss. Hopefully we get a couple of more dumpings of snow so that the maze lasts for several more months! 

Another simple way of making a maze is to fill a large storage tote with snow to give it some weight. Then push the tote around the yard to pack the snow down. I did this last week with several kids at Nature Preschool and they were amazed at the results! Of course the kids thought it was a chasing game so as I pushed the tote they were hot on my trail trying to catch me! 

Either the snowshoe or tote method work well because they pack the snow. If you shoveled the path it would not last as long because on warm days (what are those?) your maze would melt and disappear. Besides shoveling is too much effort!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Snowball Maker

A Christmas gift to myself this year was a Snowball Maker. I'm not sure why but it's something I have wanted for several years. I just felt too silly buying one for myself. Now that my son wants to have snowball fights, I had a perfect excuse to buy one!

I also bought a "Snofling" but that has somehow disappear. It will likely resurface in the spring when our snow drifts melt! For now we will just take turns with red snowball maker, which makes the most beautifully round snowballs you could ever want!

Sometimes simple little toys like this one make spending time in nature just that more fun!

~~~ oh and while I'm thinking of it...we did establish some ground rules for snowball throwing:

1. Absolutely no snowballs thrown at the Queen (our nickname for my daughter)
2. Snowballs only thrown at people with their permission.
3. No snowballs thrown at a person's face.
4. When someone says they are done playing then you must stop throwing snowballs at them. :)

Note: The Flexible Flyer Snowball Maker is available through Amazon for about $9!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Catching Snowflakes

"Under the microscope, I found that snowflakes were miracles of beauty; and it seemed a shame that this beauty should not be seen and appreciated by others. Every crystal was a masterpiece of design and no one design was ever repeated." ~William Bentley

Today was a perfect day for catching snowflakes. We were having a steady snowfall with big fluffy flakes. The little one fell asleep in her stroller on the walk back from the bus stop so I had a little more time to focus!
I keep a couple pieces of dark colored felt in our unheated garage for when the moment strikes to catch snowflakes. You could also use black construction paper, but I find the flakes kind of stand up against the hairy texture of the felt. In the same area, I also store a couple of magnifying glasses so we can delve deeper into our snowflake investigations. (In a pinch, you can also just use a dark colored glove, like in the photo above.)
Initially my son was less than interested today. So I just studied the flakes on my own, but my constant ("wow", "no way", "that's amazing") comments lured him over to check out what I was finding! Today the flakes were mostly in the shape of needles, columns, and even a few plates. We also made the discovery that if you catch the flakes on the cloth then view it while standing under the sled, that more flakes don't drop onto the cloth and disrupt what you're viewing.

We decided that snowflake catching was so much fun that we needed special "Snowflake Catcher Necklaces". To make these we took old CD's and covered one side with dark colored felt. On the other side I drew examples of a few types of common snowflakes and made a pocket to store a small magnifying glass.  (insert photo)
We also read the book, Snowflake Bentley, which tells the story of a Vermont man that dedicated his life to studying and photographing snowflakes. If you haven't read this book, you really should!

Another great website to learn more about snowflakes is listed below. Be sure to print out a copy of their "Snowflake Guide", slip it into a plastic sleeve, and take it outdoors with you on the next snowy day!   

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Curious George teaches Science skills!

My son loves to watch Curious George, mostly because of the video clips after each of the animated shows. The clips are usually only 1-2 minutes but they show wonderful age appropriate science experiments. We have recreated many of the experiments throughout the years.

So I realize that suggesting you watch television with your child seems like a strange suggestion for a nature blog, but really I think this one is worth it! In fact, you don't really have to watch the whole show. If you go onto and click on Curious George then videos you will find over 80 different video clips on a wide variety of topics! Below is a link to the animal tracks video that we have recently enjoyed!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Embracing Winter

In 2006 when I moved to Vermont it was the tail end of summer. The temperatures were warm and my favorite season, autumn, was right around the corner. That fall we went for drives to see the leaves changing, I bought lots of pumpkins & scarecrows to decorate the house, and every weekend it seemed we were going to a new town to check out their Fall Festival. Maybe it was all the fresh apple cider or the newly discovered Green Mountain Coffee Roasters Pumpkin Spice...but I was enchanted with Vermont, so much so that somehow I blocked out of my mind the reality of what was to come. By early November I realized that I was going to have to learn to love winter & all of its glories. Or my picturesque view (and residence) of the green mountain state would have come to abrupt end.

You see, growing up in Delaware we would have about 12 inches of snow for the whole year and the temperatures were rarely below freezing. When it did snow life would stop and the entire state would shut down. The grocery store would be packed as people rushed in to buy milk and bread.

Needless to say my first winter in Vermont was quite the wake-up call. I didn't have the right clothes for staying outside for an extended period of time. I had a one year old that could barely walk and who hated his snowsuit and mittens with a passion. We had horrible shovels that made the task of clearing the driveway a nightmare. And I hadn't grown my 'winter skin' as someone recently explained. {Seriously -- look at the picture. My son is wearing unlined cotton mittens, soft leather booties, and fleece pants. Not to even mention the crappy shovel and ridicously long driveway!}

Luckily over the last four years I have learned to LOVE winter. Not just tolerate it while I wait for spring...but I really have embraced it. Buying the right clothes and learning to layer has made a world of a difference. A scoop shovel and some fun snow toys also helped, but my most influential factor in embracing winter is having kids.

This past fall at my son's preschool they made a chart of the kid's favorite season. By far the top pick was winter. What kid doesn't love snow, and snowballs, and snowmen, and snow shelters, and winter tracking, and sledding, and ice skating, and on & on. Spending time playing in the snow is magical. Gearing up and heading outside is not a dreaded's what they look forward to.

This winter my daughter is just a bit older than my son was that first winter we lived in Vermont. Whether it's her dispostion or my skill (or a bit of both) getting dressed and out the door is much less laborious. She eagerly gets her boots and mittens for me to put on her. Even her snowsuit goes on without much fuss. It's clear that she too is embracing winter~~ and it didn't take her nearly as long as it did for me!

So my advice for you? Buy good quality snow gear for all members of your family. (Even if snowy days don't come as frequently as they do for us.) Then feed off your child's enthusiasm and get outside to embrace winter yourself.

Friday, January 14, 2011


One day this week I was pulling the two kiddos in the wooden sled. My son looked like he was falling asleep so I started to ask him if we should head inside for the day. His response---
"Shhhhhh....I can hear the birds better when my eyes are closed."
Once I got quiet, I too could hear the beautiful bird songs.
Goes to show that we as adults don't need to 'teach' anything to our nature loving kids...sometimes we just need to be quiet and experience nature with them!

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Tracking Deer

Freshly fallen snow is such a great medium for tracking animals. Footprints in snow are easy to spot, even for young children. My children and I have been tracking out in the snow over the last few weeks. We have identified squirrel, cat, bird, but our favorite is deer! {Oh and I can't forget to mention that on Christmas Day we even found reindeer prints! Sure am glad we left out carrots for Santa's furry helpers!}

When we are out tracking we love to follow the animal tracks and pretend that we are that animal. My five year old has gotten very skilled at tracking the prints and describing why the prints go in a certain direction. "The deer went this way because the logs were in his way." "See how he didn't go down the steep hill, but went this way instead."  "I bet the deer wanted to go to the stream for some water."

We also enjoy looking for deer beds. These oval shaped depressions in the snow are easy to identify and generally we find them in clusters of 4-6 deer beds. We also have been looking for deer hairs that may have been left behind, but we haven't found that treasure yet!

Here is one treasure the deer leave LOTS of for us....their own special version of Cocoa Puffs!

~~~ This afternoon we were inside eating an afternoon snack when we spotted a deer at the edge of the woods. After watching him for a bit we noticed that he had a limp on his front left leg. My son could hardly believe that animals get injured like people. Guess he had never thought about that concept before...nature has so much to teach us!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pinecone Birdfeeders

While we were outside this weekend, we noticed that the pinecone birdfeeders we put up in early Decemeber had been completely eatten clean. Since it was above freezing we were able to easily take down the pinecones so we could 'refill' them inside. This is much easier than trying to spread the peanut butter while the cone is suspended from the tree. Not to mention, it's much more comfortable on little fingers to spread peanut butter when they aren't frozen like icicles!

Listed below are the general directions for making the pinecone birdfeeders.

Other tips:
  • I have read that adding shortening and cornmeal to the peanut butter make it easier for birds to digest & it prevents the mixture from sticking to the birds beaks.
  • Also, if someone has nut allergies you can omit the peanut butter and use just shortening. The results are bit slimey but the birds will not notice!
  • If you don’t have pinecones in your yard, you can use halved oranges or bagels.
  • Hang the pinecones in trees that you can see from your house. Having a bird guide is a great way to learn more about the birds that winter over in your area!
  • If you're making these with a group of children, it's good to send home the instructions. Most children love this simple project and will want to do it again (and again) at home!
  • Pinecone Birdfeeders  
    1.    Collect pinecones
    2.   Tie on a string.
    3.   Spread mixture of peanut butter.
    4.   Roll it in bird seed.
    5.   Hang the birdfeeders in a tree.
    6.   Enjoy watching birds eat their treat.

      Saturday, January 1, 2011

      Ice Painting

      Today the temperature outside was above freezing so I thought it would be a great day to experiment with melting ice. Our metal roof provided the best chunks of we grabbed the shovel and loaded them into our empty plastic sandbox.
      After explaining that salt lowers the freezing point of ice (and an extended lecture on why children should never touch chemical ladden ice melting products), we took coarse sea salt and sprinkled it onto our chunks of ice. After waiting for a few minutes we could clearly see that the parts of ice with salt were turning into water.
      The fun really began when we started dripping food coloring on top of the ice. Tunnels of the food coloring are created throughout the ice, in a sort of spider web effect. After awhile we were out of food coloring and there was still lots of ice to decorate.
      So we tried out washable markers. The markers easy enough for my 19 month old to use and my 5 year old had more control in making designs. The markers are ruined in the process, but that is a small price to pay for such a wonderful scientific discovery. (Also note that food coloring can stain clothing so you may want to use diluted washable paint instead.)
      Once the ice was mostly decorated, we decided to leave it sit for an hour. When we returned the ice paintings had turned into beautiful tie dyed ice art! There was a colorful puddle of water that had formed as well. Tomorrow we plan on revisiting the ice art to see what an evening of temperatures slightly above freezing will do!

      Happy New Year! May 2011 be filled with nature adventures for you and your family!