Friday

Books That Inspire Kids To Explore Nature!

Did you know that one of the best ways to instill a love of nature in your kids is to spend time reading nature-related books and talking about what you read? It is true and it makes sense. While playing and exploring the outdoors does create a certain amount of connection with nature (and is an essential part of childhood), it is when kids start to understand what they are seeing that a true fascination and love forms. So besides watching nature-related media, reading is the best way for kids to gain knowledge about nature.

Because of this somewhat new revelation I am always on the lookout for good nature-related books. So I was more than excited when I had the opportunity to interview author and photographer David FitzSimmons. He has written no less than six children's book about wildlife and is currently working another. David is also a Sigma Pro photographer who specializes in nature photography and freelance writer.

Attracting Butterflies To Your Yard Without a Garden!

I love butterflies. They are undoubtedly the most beautiful insects; graceful, colorful and unique. But beyond their beauty they are are essential to a healthy ecosystem. Did you know the pollinate as they fly from flower to flower? They do! Some of our favorite hikes and outdoor adventures have been when we have discovered butterflies. Kids love them and I can't think of many better ways to get the kids excited about getting outdoors this summer.

Betcha didn't know...

  1. Butterflies cannot fly when their body temperature is below 85 degrees F. This means they need to feed in the sun. 
  2. Butterflies colors are more than just beautiful. They help them attract mates, absorb heat and provide some protection when flying among flowers. 
  3. Puddling is when butterflies congregate around a puddle or patch of damp earth to gather essential minerals. 
  4. The life spans of butterflies vary greatly between species. Some live only a couple days while others can live up to 11 months.
  5. Antenna are used to "smell".
  6. Butterflies migrate to avoid the cold weather.
I realize not everyone has a "green thumb" or the desire to garden; but that doesn't mean you can't attract butterflies to your yard. Here are a few ways to attract butterflies without having to garden.

Butterfly Feeder

This feeder is very easy to make and there are plenty of ways to dress it up. I painted the bottom of the tin to a color that attracts butterflies. You can also add silk flowers to the rim of the tin or along the string. The disadvantage of this feeder is that it is light. If there is a lot of wind take it down.

Materials: 


  • Tin pie plate
  • Nail
  • Over ripe fruit
  • Small bright colored sponge
  • Sugar water (1 part sugar dissolved in 9 parts boiling water)
  • String
  • Scissors

Instructions: 

  1. Punch four holes equidistant apart in the lip of the pie tin. 
  2. Cut string into four equal lengths. These should be at least 18 inches long. 
  3. Tie one string to each hole in the pie plate. 
  4. Hang feeder in a bright area. Preferable close to a window or door. 
  5. Place sponge and over ripe fruit in the bottom of the plate. 
  6. Fill sponge with sugar water.

Butterfly House

Did you know butterflies don't like the wind? It lowers their body temperature and makes it hard for them to fly. Providing a shelter for them is an excellent way to encourage them to stay in your yard. Plus it gives them a little protection from predators as well. We made this house at Home Depot during one of their Free kids workshops. It was a lot of fun, but if you can't find a workshop near you, you can buy one online. There are tons of options but this one Toysmith is fun because the kids can paint it. After you hang it place a few stick and leaves in the house to make it more appealing to the butterflies.

Puddling

As I mentioned earlier, butterflies obtain essential minerals from water. Having a place for them to find water will also keep them in your yard. It could be as simple as a bird bath or just a place where you dampen the earth regularly. 

Raise & Release

You can actually buy kits online that will give you everything you need to raise the caterpillars to butterflies. I kind feel like this cheating because you aren't really attracting butterflies as much as you are bringing them to your yard. But once you have brought them, now you will have a few more ways to keep them around. Plus I just think this is a great way to get kids excited about nature. 

Your turn, how do you attract butterflies to your yard?

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The 10 Easiest Vegetables and Herbs to Grow in Flower Pots. +10 Tips for a Stellar Harvest!

"I don't have a yard."

"I don't have a 'green thumb'."

"I don't have time."

These seem to be my most common excuses for not gardening. But I have decided to stop making excuses and start getting my hands dirty. If I can, you can too and here are a few reasons why you should; time outdoors, fresh food, and connecting kids with food sources. The only type of gardening I can do right now is with flower pots, but you might be surprised how much you can do with them. I love them because I can use bagged soil; so no soil preparation needed. Pots can be purchased; so no need to build raised garden beds. And it is a great place to start if you are new to gardening.

Flower pot gardening is a little different than traditional but still pretty straight forward. Unfortunately, when I start a project I don't always do a lot of research a head of time. As a result I have a lot of "learning opportunities" in my efforts to garden. So if you are ready to take the plunge, please learn from my mistakes. Here is what I have learned. The best plants to grow is flower pots are after the tips.

Wednesday

6 Creative Nature Journal Entries (free printables).

I am pretty new to nature journals. I have spent countless hours outdoors and saved all of my school work from my undergraduate degree but I have never "journal-ed" about the outdoors. My son is in school so I haven't really wanted to add more "work" to his week but I thought it would be a fun activity for this summer. Not only will be be learning through exploring the outdoors and nature as a family but we will be preserving our memories and practicing hand writing skills and such.

If you are new to nature journals, I have more resources that can answer your questions at the bottom of this post. Here are a few ideas for entries for your nature journals.
  • Tree ID for Preschoolers - This is an easy activity that introduces kids to the two basic types of trees and the different shapes of leaves. 
  • Maps - I found this article a while ago that talks about the benefits of teaching kids spatial skills. One great way to do this is to have kids draw maps. So on your next outing have your kids draw a map of the trail or park. Label landmarks, fun plants or where you saw animals. Green Acorns has a few other very creative map activities for your nature journals
  • Leaf Drawings - This activity can be done in the field or at home and is a another way to introduce your kids to more leaf shapes. 
    Source
  • Color Matching - My original idea was to just to draw circles of color and have the kids find natural materials that match each color. But one of my readers mentioned they do the same thing just using a rainbow. Brilliant! Just stick a piece of double sided tape over each color to stick materials to or print the pages on card-stock and cut SMALL slits so kids can stick flowers, leaves, etc. into the slit. See Tree ID Post for pictures of this process. 
    Click on image to download a printable PDF version. 
  • Graphing - Have your child find a comfortable place to sit in your backyard for 5-10 minutes (depending on the age of the child) and color in the boxes according to the number of critters or things they see. If the child is older you may want to have them place 10 dots in each box because they will mostly like see a lot more than younger kids and could run out of boxes. Then discuss your finding with your kids, compare and contrast the differences, etc. If you have questions about what you see, ask a naturalist as your local nature center. 
    Click on image for printable PDF.
  • Take pictures, decorate & journal - Let the kids have a camera and encourage them to take as many pictures as they want. Sort through and choose a few favorites to print at home. Make a collage and decorate with natural materials collected on the outing or let older kids write what they experienced. I generally add a picture of my child with the camera to the top. To save money and time I created the collage in Powerpoint and printed it out on regular paper. I did let me kids decorate it afterward. I then pressed it to preserve the flowers and leaves. 

Tips for Nature Journals

  • Rythums of Play has a great post that gives an introduction to the basics of nature journals. She covers a lot and offers a number of free resources. 
  • I prefer using a 3-ring binder for journals in general. That way I can add pages as needed, use plastic sheet protectors for delicate items and I don't have to take the entire journal on our adventures, just the page I need. Here is a cover for a nature journal binder I created. 
Click on image to download a PDF version.
  • Preserving the memories! Don't forget to press the pages with leaves and flowers. This can be as simple as placing pages between the pages of a magazine and piling heavy books on top. I generally leave them for a week or two. The leaves and flowers will last much longer if they are dried and pressed.
  • DON'T FORGET TO ADD THE DATE. It would be a shame to forget when it happened. 
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Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

A Family's Guide to the Petrified Forest National Park

National Parks have been called America's best idea for good reason. They safeguard some of the most aw-inspiring ecosystems in the United States of America. But our family outdoor adventures to these unique areas are only as good as our planning and there are a few things I wish I would have known before our visit to the Petrified Forest National Park.
Blue Mesas at the Petrified Forest National Park

I did plenty of research ahead of time on the National Park Service website about activities and the amount of time we should expect to spend at the park and planned accordingly. The Park Service has laid out several Trip Itineraries on their website and going by those I assumed we would be able to see all of the major sites and have time to hike in the time I allotted. One problem, it took us longer to visit everything than what the website predicted. I guess should have known; everything goes WAY slower when you have kids. 

Important take-a-ways!

  1. The Petrified Forest website suggested we could see most of the sites and have time to hike. Not true. We needed more time. 
  2. Bring food. Some is available at the north and south entrances but it is pretty limited; especially in the winter. Closest towns are about 20 miles from the entrances. 
  3. The biggest petrified logs are on the south end of the park. Leave time to visit and explore them. 


Here are a few more of the specifics of our visit and recommendations for making the most of your time.

First Stop: Painted Dessert Visitor Center


We stopped here to get a paper map, purchase souvenirs and obtain junior ranger program booklets. We did ask the ranger for advise on stops to make but we didn't take time to watch the movie. We had been in the car for a long time and it just didn't sound fun.

Second Stop: Painted Dessert Inn National Landmark and view points

The Painted Dessert was stunning and we definitely do not regret taking time to stop at the Inn. If your time is limited don't stop at the viewpoints along the way, just head the to Inn. There are plenty of views there.

My husband and I both love museums and wanted to spend more time at the Inn but once again it just wasn't the place for an energetic five year old who has been cooped up in the car for over a day. Our main purpose for stopping was to fulfill a requirement for the junior ranger program.

Part of the original Inn before it was restored and converted into a museum. 
When we first left the Painted Desert and started seeing petrified logs we were amazed. We stopped a number of times and enjoyed the views. But I highly recommend NOT stopping to view the logs at this point. The Giant Logs at the south end of the park are much more impressive. I wish we would have spent the time down there.
Don't stop to view the logs at the Blue Mesa. Be patient; they are much more impressive on the south side of the park. 

Third Stop: Blue Mesa Trail 
View from one of the viewpoints at the Blue Mesas.

This trail is paved and perfect for the whole family. As I mentioned earlier, we had driven a long way and enjoyed stretching our legs. Although there were trade offs; there were other parts of the park we didn't get to visit. Driving through the blue mesas and stopping at the view points gives you a pretty good idea of the unique scenery and hiking is just more of the same.
Fun & easy trail but if your time is limited I suggest skipping it to see other sites you won't want to miss.

Forth Stop: Rainbow Forest Museum and the Giant Logs


Yep, we skipped a lot in the middle because we ran out of time :(. My #1 recommendation is to plan for more time. We stopped here so the kids could be sworn in as junior rangers and to see the Giant Logs. There is also a gift shop and small cafeteria. But I highly recommend bringing food with you. In the winter they had some packaged sandwiches and other prepackaged food, but it wasn't much. In the summer they have a few options for hot foods.

Amazing colors in the petrified wood.


Time of Year

We visited in the winter just before Christmas. It was chilly but nothing unbearable. We layered up and were very comfortable. The #1 benefit of visiting this time of year was that there were no crowds. Still people around but I never felt crowded; which is saying a lot for a National Park.
By the early afternoon it was warm enough to shed some of my layers. 

Obstacle to visiting. 

REMOTE. This National Park does allow back country camping but doesn't maintain any campgrounds. There are campgrounds in the area but they are anywhere from 45 minutes to 3 hours away. You can find a list of campgrounds on their camping page.

There are plenty of hotel options in surrounding communities. We stayed in a Hampton Inn on the west side of Gallup, NM. We found most of the surrounding communities to be tourist traps and weren't too impressed with food options. I guess we are kind of picky.

Overall we had a wonderful time and would love to go back and see the rest someday.

Have you visited the Petrified Forest National Park? What were your favorite sites?
Here are a few posts I have written related to visiting national parks. 

Keeping the Kiddos Happy - Ideas for entertaining the kids without electronics.

Friday

Nature Bookmarks

My son found two beautiful red, heart-shaped leaves on our walk to school one morning. He was so excited because red is his favorite color and they were a unique shape. I knew I had to find some way to preserve them. The best I could come up with was these nature bookmarks. Not only do I have a beautiful bookmark but I also have a keepsake that reminds me of a fun morning outdoors with my kids.

The most difficult part of the process for me was finding items small enough to fit on the bookmark. Most of the leaves we ended up using were from bushes because we did these in the fall.  During the spring and summer it shouldn't be too hard to find small flowers you can press and add to the collection. The other option is to make a wide or round bookmark. It will look great either way.

Thursday

10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"

In general I don't like carting "toys" when hiking as it usually means more work for me before, during and after our hikes. But every now and then my kids need a little something extra on our hikes. Sometimes I can make-up simple activities for exploring nature or I bring a special treat; but other times they need something more substantial, like a toy.
10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"

Half of the "toys" we bring on our hikes are things I came up with and the other half my kids asked for. Which is a lesson in and of itself; involve your kids in planning for your hikes. Some of their ideas sounded awful to me at first but ended up being very little work for me and kept the kids very happy. Bringing their teddy bears is an example.

But before turning to any of these toys I would suggest trying activities. I have had many miles of happy hiking without extra toys. A few of our favorites are exploring the forest using our five senses, playing in the mud or a special treat. I have found that "special treats" don't have to be sweet to be effective. On one of our hikes last fall we bought individual bags of chips, which we NEVER do. It was such a special treat for each kid to CARRY their own bag of chips, it kept them happy for the last leg of our hike.
10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"

One more quick tip about hiking with kids. If you are going on a long hike, hold back an activity or treat for the last mile or two. That is what we did on the potato chip hike. The last mile would have been miserable if we had not had the chips.

Just to be clear, I don't bring all of these on our hikes. I generally pick anywhere from one to three depending on the length of the hike. My kids would be board with the toys if we used them all the time and it is just too much to carry all of these all the time.

  • Whistle - Most people would hate this but it makes my kids so happy I just endure. I don't let them blow it constantly and I have taught them how to blow it softly. If there are a lot of people on the trail I don't bring it out at all. We survived our hike at Palo Duro Canyon State Park because of our whistle. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
    My son is still smiling after our hike at Palo Duro Canyon thanks to the whistle.
  • Capes - These are are simple ones made from felt. They are very light weight and stuff easily into my backpack if the kids get tired of them. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Teddy Bear - This was totally my kid's idea and it worked great. My only suggestion is to make sure the teddy bear is small. I did end up with them in my backpack once. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Butterfly Net - A Kids' Bug Net works the best as they don't take up much room and are light-weight. Trails are some of the best places to find butterfly's and unique bugs. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Sword or Gun - We sometimes call our hikes "hunts". Generally my kids like to "hunt" bad guys. Their favorites are Count Dooku and Ventress from Star Wars Clone Wars. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Bubbles - Bubbles make everything better. I just place the bottle in a ziploc bag in case it leaks. 
  • Camera - I let my kids use our old point-and-shoot camera but the camera on your old phone will work too. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Plastic Produce Bag - Have your kids collect garbage from the trail in these kid-sized bags. Maybe this isn't so much of a toy but it can keep the kids busy. Have a contest to see who can collect the most garbage and offer a special reward for the winner to make it more interesting. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Duct Tape - Place a piece around your wrist, sticky side out and add natural materials for a beautiful nature bracelet. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
  • Something Unique - My son decided he wanted to wear a head lamp on one of our hikes. I didn't complain because he thought it was great and kept him happy. We don't let them play with our nice flashlights and headlamps so this was a treat for him. Other items that have worked for us are letting the kids carry the Camelbak, wearing my or my husbands' hats, carrying the walking stick, letting them collect and store natural items in my backpack, adult binoculars, looking through the viewfinder of my nice camera, or, on a really bad day, taking pictures with my phone. 
    10 Low-Hassle Hiking "Toys"
Bonus - Keep hard candy in the glove box in your car. Doesn't make a big of a mess if it melts and it lasts much longer than chewy candy on the trail. Our favorites are Werther's Original caramels. The only time we eat them is on the trail or on a road trip.

Your turn. How do you all keep your kids happy when hiking?



Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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