The Nature Connection | Book Review

The Nature Connection by Clare Walker Leslie has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

With Earth Day right around the corner, this book would be an AWESOME gift for nature-loving kids.

Let’s take a peek…

The Nature Connection Book Review

The Nature Connection has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

The book encourages kids (ages 8-13) to get outside, and enjoy nature. And it works!

Note: The Nature Connection is designed as a interactive journal, meaning that you write and draw right on its pages. If you’re planning to use this with more than one child, you’ll want to offer them separate notebooks or buy a copy for each child.

Take a look at this video with the author and a group of school kids:

Says Leslie,

“I’m trying to win over kids who are much more interested in Game Boys and the internet because they have not had a grandfather go fishing with them. They haven’t had a grandma go berry picking with them. They haven’t had anybody take them outside and share with them the love of nature. This is why today so many kids don’t like nature. Because nobody has shown them how to be outside.”

Yes! And this is partly why my poor suburban kids, raised by a city mama, sometimes freak out at the thought of taking hikes. Sigh.

The book begins with tips on how to be a naturalist. It also includes ideas such as what to pack in your outdoor adventure kit and worksheets for tracking the phases of the moon (see the end of this review for a link to this as a FREE resource).

We’ve been carrying Adventure Kits around for a while now (we call them “Adventure Packs”) and we got some new ideas to include clips and a pen knife that weren’t already in them. This makes sense since we started carrying these packs around from age two, when pen knives weren’t exactly needed.

This introduction is followed with a month-to-month guide of twelve sections for tracking and noticing how nature changes throughout the year. You can see a few of our entries from the winter months below.

The Nature Connection has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

Each of the “month” sections invites you to do “Nature Quests” and describe what you see. The monthly sections also include short narratives, activities, and ideas for exploring the unique qualities of each season. In February we searched for animal tracks (easy to find in snow and mud) and learned about how the groundhog searches for its shadow.

This Winter we spent some time in Lake Tahoe, California, which is far more seasonal than the sunny Bay Area where we live. While you can see snow in the distant mountains, the area has had what some call the worst winter ever and that little mound of dirt just off-shore is usually underwater. The drought has been really hard on us Californians!

Family at Lake Tahoe

While walking around that mound, my 6-year old hunted for treasures amongst the small shells and discovered what she thought was a bone. Yes, I think she was right!

The Nature Connection has been part of our book collection for over a year, and it’s been such a worthwhile book for our nature-deprived family that I thought it was high time to review it here. This book is responsible for getting my kids excited about spending time outdoors, and the activities inside are so well designed that once underway it’s close to impossible to bring them back inside.

She was fascinated by it, chose it for her “Picture of the Month” drawing, and wanted to bring it into school to show her friends.

The Nature Connection Book Review

For families like ours that have to make treks to spend time in nature, this book is a goldmine. When I tell my kids that we’re going on an outdoor adventure and mention that we’re bringing this book along, excitement mounts!

Buy The Nature Connection

You can find The Nature Connection on Amazon (affiliate) and you can download free worksheets for The Nature Connection from the publisher, Storey. We haven’t started a Moon Journal yet, and my kids are excited to give it a go. Thanks, Storey!

10 Ways to Have Creative Fun with your Kids this Summer

“Summer afternoon—summer afternoon; to me those have always been the two most beautiful words in the English language.”   – Henry James, Author

10 ways to have creative fun with your kids this summer from Tinkerlab

Today is the last day of school for my kids before the start of summer.

Not only is summer a school-free time for many children, but it can also mean warm weather, long car trips, digging up lots of beach sand, and long empty hours to lollygag (my favorite pastime).

While we often think of creative activities for kids as easel painting or drawing, getting outdoors fills children with new ideas, an imaginative spirit, and a thirst for life that will give children fodder for their ideas and art making.

Here are ten simple ways to have creative fun with your kids this summer:

10 Ways to Have a Creative Summer with Kids | Tinkerlab

1. At the Beach. While many parents look forward to beach trips as an opportunity to relax while the kids play (me, me!!), you can take comfort in the fact that while children play they are filling their brains with the sensory experiences of playing with sand, architectural processes of building castles, and physics lessons in how waves and tides move. We love the beach as a spot for the creative adventures that always go along with tidepooling, and look forward to trying our hands at sandcasting with plaster of paris (via The Artful Parent).

DIY Travel Coloring Station | Modern Parents Messy Kids

2. During Long Car Trips. Are you dreading planning a long car trip this summer? While DVD’s do wonders for keeping backseat bickering at bay, hands-on activities not only keep the mind active, but they can encourage long, uninterrupted spells of creativity as well.

We always put together a travel art kit like the Itty Bitty Art Kit for Little Travelers. These are a key to happiness, both on the road and once we’re at our destination.

To keep everyone’s mind occupied and on the same page, you’ll enjoy this awesome list from MPMK of audio books that the whole family can enjoy.

MPMK also shares the brilliant idea of making a DIY Car traveling station (photo, above). It’s magnetized so that materials won’t fly all over the car. Once you see this you won’t want to go back to your old methods.

Related to that, The Imagination Tree shares this how you can repurpose a simple plastic tray into a drawing station with window crayons with this clever DIY Portable art board.

Backyard Camping | Modern Parents Messy Kids

3. At the Campground. Getting outdoors and taking adventures do wonders for eliciting creative thinking. If you don’t have any grand plans for camping this summer, not to worry because you can always pitch a Tent in the backyard and make sun-baked s’mores (via Kids Stuff World) on a hot day with creature comforts not too far away. Mmm.

Now, if you can actually manage to pack up all your gear and head out to the woods, This Mama Makes Stuff offers some sage advice on how to make the most of camping with kids. The Creative Homemaker shares a Happy Camper Scavenger Hunt  (with a free printable that’s super cute) that will encourage children to look carefully at the world around them.

outdoor adventure

4. Around the Neighborhood. 

Speaking of scavenger hunts, you don’t have to go very far to find cool things to look at. Just walk out your front door with a camera and you’re ready to take a rainbow scavenger hunt or any other sort of scavenger hunt you can dream up.


5. On the Hiking Trail.

And then we can always kick scavenger hunts up a notch!

Have you ever been geocaching? When geocaching was first introduced back in 2001, I was one of the first people to go out and buy a GPS. And my husband laughed at me. We planted one of the oldest caches in Southern California and then the first cache in Indonesia, and wouldn’t you know that they’re both still there!

Now geocaching is so easy and affordable with phone-based apps like the Geocaching App for the iPhone. This activity gets kids moving and encourages them think hard as they go back and forth between connecting coordinates with real-world landmarks. Not only that, but it’s fun for everyone in the family.

I can’t recommend it enough. Hmm, all this cache talk reminds me that it’s been ages since we’ve hit the trail. I’m adding this to our summer list!

climbing trees | tinkerlab

6. At the Park

Did you know that climbing trees can support creative thinking?

And then there’s the DIY Art Camp. If the weather is nice, why not invite your friends to join you for some art-making at the park? A couple summers ago we hosted a summer art afternoon for some friends. After a picnic (kids need fuel for the brains), we made sand paintings, paper bag crowns, and summer fireworks tote bags.  

7. On the Lake

Put engineering skills to work by making your own boats like these from NurtureStore, and then test them in the lake, pool, or stream.

plant a garden with kids

8. In the Garden

Whether you have a large plot of land or a tiny patio, a short walk out your own front door into the fresh air gives children a low-threshold opportunity to get close to nature. You could try making your own Water Wall, planting a Garden with  the Kids, easy outdoor water painting, set up an impromptu garden art studio, or make fairy gardens for your resident gnomes and keepers of pixie dust.

Matching Sticker Game from Tinkerlab

9. On the Plane

Make a stack of these matching games (photo above) ahead of time.

If you’re traveling with a Lego-fan, and you have some skill with a sewing machine, this fabric tray Lego base is gorgeous and brilliant. Now if only there were a way to wrangle all those Legos on the plane!

Before you travel, your child may enjoy pretending that he or she is taking a trip or setting up a travel agency. This does wonders for building excitement (as seen in these pictures!).

take an adventure trip

10. On an Adventure

Have you ever organized or gone on a mystery trip? They’re so fun, and can make even the most ordinary outing an adventure. On this recent trip to San Francisco, my husband wanted to introduce us to a Smitten, an ice cream shop that makes fresh ice cream, while you wait, with liquid nitrogen. Cool! (sorry I couldn’t help myself).

Adding to the cool factor, Smitten is located in a recycled shipping container in one of our favorite spots for people watching. Scott kept the whole thing to himself and then wowed my 4-year old with the adventure of watching her ice cream come to life.

To arrange a mystery trip, announce that you’re planning one, let your party know if they need to come prepared with any special clothes, snacks, or other creature comforts. And then hit the road!

get outdoors

On that note, enjoy the great outdoors and know that that spending time outside is one of the best things you can do for a child. 

I’ll leave you with this quote from playwright Henry Miller:

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” 

50 Earth Day Activities for Kids

Earth Day is our annual reminder to slow down and appreciate the bounty of the earth. The following 50 Earth Day Activities for kids will encourage children to create objects from natural and recycled materials and spend more time outdoors.

50 EARTH DAY activities for kids!

I hope you’ll find some inspiration here, and if you have more ideas to share, please add them to a comment so that others can enjoy them too.

Happy Earth Day!

Earth Day Activities with Natural Materials

So easy and magical! Fairy

Earth Day Activities with Recycled Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Outdoor Art Earth Day Activities

playing in mud pie kitchen

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Fall Crafts: Glycerin Leaves

Make Glycerin Leaves

We’re ga-ga for all the multi-colored maple leaves of the season, and my older daughter, N, is likely to burst into a chorus of “red and yellow leaves” as we drive down the road. I’ve been reading up on how to preserve the leaves so that they’ll last more than a couple days and it turns out that you have a few choices, some of them being : preserve them with a glycerin solution, seal them with hot wax, press them between sheets of contact paper, or melt them between sheets of wax paper.

We had a bottle of glycerin in the cabinet for bubble-making, so I thought we’d try our hands at making glycerin leaves. I have to tell you upfront: the process was fantastic and my kids really got into it. The results, on the other hand, meh. Not so spectacular. More on that soon.


  • 1/4 c. glycerin
  • 1/2 c. water
  •  Fall leaves
  • Two pans that can stack inside each other
  • Spoon for mixing

Mix the glycerin and water in your pan. Add leaves.

If you don’t have enough solution to cover the leaves, make another batch. My 4-year old loved taking charge of this step and we ooohed and ahhhed over the leaves as they went into the glycerin bath.

Find another pan that’s a bit small than the first, and place it on top so that all the leaves stay submerged.

Put this aside for three-ish days, or until the leaves are super-supple. At this point, the leaves should have absorbed enough of the glycerin solution to retain their color and texture.

Remove the leaves from the glycerin solution and pat dry on a towel. Your leaves are now ready to display.

For those of you who might be banking on this recipe as a way to preserve your leaves for years to come, I think this is worth the experiment but it may not be foolproof. About two weeks later, our leaves have not turned brown, but they definitely haven’t retained their original color. I decorated a corner of our mantle with them, and they look pretty good, but not spectacular. I found this recipe that added surfectant (found in garden supply stores), and it sounds like that may help the glycerin soak into the leaves.

This minor detail has not affected my kids, however, who have been incorporating the leaves into their projects.

Have you ever made glycerin leaves?

Any tips or thoughts on what may have gone wrong? Or was I expecting too much?


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Nature Table: Where Art, Stories, Memories, and Peace Unfold

make your own spiritual nature table

Today I’d like to introduce you to Rashmie Jaaju, the mama behind the creative learning blog, Mommy Labs. I’ve known Rashmie since I started blogging and always appreciate her sincerity, mindful approach to parenting, and the passion she brings to raising a creative child. Furthermore, Rashmie lives in New Delhi, India, and I hope you’ll enjoy peeking into Rashmie’s colorful corner of the world as much as I do.

Welcome, Rashmie!

Hello friends, I’m elated to write for Tinkerlab today and be able to connect with all you wonderful, creative people. Rachelle is a long-time blogger friend and she’s an inspiration to me for the passion, creativity and focus she puts into her blog; as well as for the person and the mother that she is to her adorable kids.

I’d like to share with you all my Nature/Spiritual table. Actually, it’s not just a table but a part of our home that’s now synonymous with quiet time, peaceful vibes, nature inspiration and a place to get together as a family for a few moments of prayer and connection with the higher self.


How Our Nature Table Started

I’ve always loved collecting ‘finds’ from nature – fallen leaves, river stones, pine cones, drift wood, sea shells, feathers. I have dozens of boxes stuffed with these things; plus piles of books that hold leaves, flowers and petals within their pages.

It struck to me one day that keeping these natural elements in closed boxes and books is not serving the purpose. I’d much rather want to keep these beauties in front of my eyes so that my family and I can connect with nature inside our home, and also recollect the stories associated with them – the stories from trips, nature walks, beaches, treks…

So, in that whimsical, uplifting moment, I started this nature table.

All it took was a quick refurbishing of an old wooden table that I’d used for different purpose at different points in time. From being a pedestal for the refrigerator to a book shelf to a low dining table, this table has served various needs.

We scrubbed, painted and polished the table and found a clutter-free, well-lit, cozy space for it in the study room. There’s a big window right above the table and a door next to it that leads to a balcony overseeing vast open green land, so there’s ample sunlight and fresh air.

Nature Table for Spirituality and Meditation

The Table as a Natural Canvas

It’s been almost an year now and I’ve redecorated this space every two months or so introducing flavors from every season, a festival like Holi or Diwali, or family events (birthday, travel, anniversary). See some pictures of the nature table from winter 2012. And then, there’s always something to add after a nature walk in the near by park or in the neighbourhood.

Recently, we went on a trip to the Himalayan region in India (it’s called Himachal Pradesh) and we collected tons of things from the treks we took there. These have now become part of the nature table.

Interestingly, the nature table has become an artful corner in our home. It’s almost like a canvas for me and my daughter – Pari – who’s 6.5. She rejoices in laying out leaves, pebbles, feathers, pine cones on this square space. We love lighting aromatic candles and incense here. It also gives her a sense of ownership since she actively takes part in decorating this corner of the house…

Kids Connecting with nature in home with nature table

Spiritual Corner

My family sits in front of the nature table almost every day and we recite a Buddhist mantra (though we’re not Buddhist) and Sanskrit Shlokas, including a Gayatri Mantra. We play the Tibetan Singing Bowl. Read more about the meaning behind the singing bowl over here. You may also read on the same page about the Buddhist mantra – Nam Myo Ho Renge Kyo.

So, this nature table is a spiritual corner rather than a religious place of worship. It helps us fill our cup of peace and quiet. 🙂

Buddha Nature Table

Even our guests – kids and adults alike – are immediately drawn to it. The moment my 2-year old niece, Sarah, enters our home, she heads for this corner. The gemstones, pebbles, feathers, copper bells, shells – she can engage herself with all these for an hour at least…!

nature art spirituality for children

Keeper of Memories

Above all else, as I look at each of the natural elements placed on this table, I can’t help but reminisce about the moments we found these pieces. The stories come alive through the mind’s eye. The drift wood for example – it came floating on the waves of the river Sutlej when Pari was playing along the bank. This river is on a volcanic bed, which gives the water a unique characteristic that’s also said to heal and alleviate joint aches. The water on the surface is chilling cold but thrust your toes just an inch deep and you’ll feel the heat instantly!

Every inch of the nature table tells a story. I’d say it’s a keeper of memories….!

nature table waldorf spiritual connection for kids

A Place to Reflect

This room is also where I sit everyday to write – be it for my blog or in my journal. There’s an aura to this space that makes me reflect and put them into words. As such, nature is the source of sustenance for my soul. And, art!

Do you have a spot in your home that’s dedicated to nature or spirituality? What helps you connect with your inner self? I would love to hear your story.

Rashmie writes about creative and natural learning for children at Mommy Labs. She takes inspiration from art, travel, books, photography and most essentially – the spiritual energy of nature to nurture a sense of wonder in young souls.

Crushed Flower Experiment

Now that summer is coming to an end (sniff — I’m kind of in denial — you?), it’s a good time to harvest some of your last blooms for some flower-painting experiments.

Crushed flower experiment

We took a walk around the neighborhood and picked some weeds from wild roadside gardens, and also selected a handful of flowers and leaves from our own yard.


For this project you’ll need: assorted flowers and leaves and paper

The experiment lies in testing the flowers to see what colors actually emerge from them as they’re crushed and smeared onto paper. We were surprised by the blue hydrangea’s brownish-green hue, but also got some more predictable amazingly brilliant yellows and purples from our roses and dandelions.

Crushed Flower Experiment

More Artsy Science Experiments

If you’re interested in more experiments that lie at the intersection of art and science, you might also enjoy Invisible Ink: A Citrus Painting Experiment and the Egg Geodes Science Experiment.

More Flower Projects

For more with flowers, you’ll have a lot of fun Pounding them into Flower Bookmarks or maybe you want to learn how to press flowers. Zina at Let’s Lasso the Moon has a lovely idea for turning a huge sunflower harvest into back-to-school teacher gifts. And, there are over SIXTY amazing ideas in the Tinkerlab Flower Creative Challenge that will keep you busy with all your harvested flowers.

And similarly, here are some ideas for making vegetable-based egg dyes.

What are your favorite ways to use, preserve, and harvest your end-of-summer flowers?

Make a Terrarium

Today I’m joined by my friend and colleague, Amanda E. Gross, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with at the San Francisco Children’s Creativity Museum. She has an incredible eye for all things related to creativity and kids, and today she’s here to share some tips on how to make a terrarium. I’ve wanted to make one of these for a long time, and thrilled that Amanda is here to give us some guidance.

How to Make a Terrarium

Terrariums are the perfect project to stoke both the imagination and a curiosity for nature.

Before building your terrarium, you might like to start by reading a book about an outdoor critter (i.e, Eric Carle’s Very Quiet Cricket, Leo Leonni’s Inch by Inch, or Patricia Polacco’s The Bee Tree). After reading the story, find out if your child wants to build a home for the critter with materials from outside. Talk about the critter’s habitat and its other likes and wants that might be incorporated into your terrarium.

As alternatives, you could guide the project with a focus on fairy houses or on terrariums as little ecosystems. To begin, discuss the seasons and/or plant life cycle, and how the terrarium will incorporate sunlight, soil, and water, just like the plants’ environments outside. The little world your child creates will foster a sense of eco enjoyment and responsibility.

How to make a Terrarium

Step One

Take a stroll outside, getting up close to wonderful sensory experiences like dirt, pebbles and lush green plants.  Gather interesting leaves, sticks, acorns, etc. to use in the terrarium.  Soil, pebbles, and moss may be collected if available, or purchased.

Step Two

Bring your materials home and spread them out over a plastic sheet, and play around with combinations and the possibility of making a critter house.

How to make a Terrarium

Step Three

A clean fishbowl or Mason jar makes the perfect terrarium container.

How to make a Terrarium

Step Four

Add about an inch of pebbles to the fishbowl, for drainage. Pile on an inch or two of soil mixture, with chunks of activated charcoal for filtration and fertilizer. I’ve been told that pyrite is a good mix-in, but not necessary.


How to make a Terrarium

Step Five

Make small valleys to add plants, while their roots are still moist. I bought a succulent to add to my terrarium, a low-maintainance green buddy (it only needs water about once a week) that is fun to watch grow over time. Next, arrange moss, sticks, leaves, and other bits. I used the top of an eggplant for the roof of my critter house.

Step Six

Tailor the terrarium to your child’s interests and skill level. If appropriate, make a little critter friend to add; I made my bug out of plasticene clay and sticks for legs. You could add a literacy component by making a collage poem or haiku about the terrarium after creating it, using words and pictures from magazines.

Place your terrarium in indirect sunlight and make sure to water it every week or so if you have a succulent nested in there, and more often for temperate plants.


Making Terrariums so Simple
Make a Kid-friendly Terrarium
Terrarium as a learning too for children
Twig: Purchase supplies for moss terrariums and other small worlds
Terrarium Figurines on Etsy
More Terrarium Figures on Etsy

Amanda E. Gross_headshotAmanda designs curricula to guide and inspire children, teens, and adults to appreciate art and to create!  She earned a Master’s of Arts in Teaching from The Rhode Island School of Design and is an instructor at Academy of Art University.  Amanda is also an illustrator, painter, DIY crafter, and permaculture enthusiast. Find out more about Amanda here: Art Curricula WebsiteArt Portfolio WebsiteLinkedIn, and Pinterest.

Natural Playground with Tree Stumps

Let your walks now be a little more adventurous.
– Henry David Thoreau

Build a Natural Playground with Tree Stumps,

Do you have a natural playground in your yard or near your home? A natural playground is an outdoor play area that’s landscaped with materials such as logs, dirt, grassy hills, sand, natural bridges, and streams instead of plastic playground equipment.

Aside from our beloved plastic playhouse, our small suburban garden is full of natural loose parts and I’m constantly looking for ways to develop it into an inspiring, open-ended, natural play area.

Why a natural play scape? 

In Children’s Outdoor Play and Learning Environment: Returning to Natureplayground designers and early childhood experts Randy White and Vicki Stoecklin, found that when given the option of imagining an ideal outdoor play space, children would choose things like water, sand, and vegetation over jungle gyms and slide; a surprising conclusion considering what most of our neighborhood parks actually look like. The reason? “Traditional playgrounds with fixed equipment do not offer children opportunities to play creatively (Walsh, P. (1993). Fixed equipment – a time for change. Australian Journal of Early Childhood, 18(2), 23­29.) and promote competition rather than co­operation (Barbour, A. (1999). The impact of playground design on the play behaviors of children with differing levels of physical competence. Early Childhood Research Quarterly, 14(1), 75­98.).

Start with Tree Stumps

Tree stumps are useful for walking on, turning into seating for impromptu fairy tea parties, using as a base for bridges or tables.

We live near a children’s museum with a large-scale spiral tree stump path that will entertain my kids for hours. The stumps are of various heights that challenge children to climb, crawl, skip, walk, and jump. When they bump up against each other, as they move in opposite directions, they have to negotiate the space and make concessions. In short, it’s brilliant.

Ever since I first discovered this neighborhood treasure, I’ve been on the hunt for some tree stumps of our own. No small feat, though! We don’t own a chain saw, our trees never get trimmed, and I had no idea where I could find these beauties.

My radar was tuned and then low-and-behold, I spotted these guys, hard at work.

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I asked them if they would be so kind as to share a few pieces with my stump-loving kids, and they said yes. I’m indebted. My car was soon overloaded with heavy lumber and I was beaming!

So how do you find tree stumps? This one stumped me for some time (how could that pun not be intended?). I was on the lookout for tree trimmers, and lucked out that my trunk was empty and these guys were generous with their time and muscles. I would caution you that trees can be infested with termites or other dreadful bugs and diseases, so it could pay to secure your stumps at a cost from a local lumber yard. These stumps appeared to come from a healthy tree that was getting trimmed away from a power line, but I’m no tree expert. If you know more about this than me, please let me know if our stumps are healthy!

Tree stumps for nature play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I got these beauties home and my kids wanted to play with them right away (notice the tap shoes — ha! — these two crack me up). I put the stumps in our front yard until we could find a good place for them, and of course our next door neighbor friends wanted to come over and play too.

How to score tree stumps for your play scape, from Tinkerlab.

I think I have a good spot for them now, in the dirt and under a tree, and I’ll share more of our natural play scape ideas as it comes together.

natural playground with tree stumps

More Nature Play Ideas

How Climbing Trees Builds Critical Thinking

Finding Nature

Plant a Garden with Kids

Thrifting for Natural Materials for the Garden

Theory of Loose Parts (Let the Children Play)