The Tree Tag Project {or How to Surprise Your Neighbors}

The Tree Tag Project | Tinkerlab

Expect nothing. Live frugally on surprise. 

- Alice Walker

I love visual surprises. They fill me with fresh ideas and the reminder that humans are full of the endless potential to create. Things like public art installations, alleys full of colorful murals, political graffiti on the sidewalk, yarn bombing, and couches falling out of buildings excite me.

But where I live these visual surprises barely exist.

There are all sorts of things that I adore about my neighborhood, my immediate neighbors for one. But my town lacks the weirdness that comes with living in a place inhabited by artists. Like this altered sign by Banksy, the intersection painting project in Portland, OR these fake shiny geodes by artist Paige Smith.  After much complaining I realized, of course, that I had become part of the problem. It wasn’t like I was out there nailing rubber chickens to the side of my house or anything.

Stung with the realization that the suburban dream was about to swallow me whole, I decided to reclaim my place among the artists.

So let me introduce to you the first of what I hope are many more surprising projects to come (along with the caveat that this project is on the tame side — I’m just getting started here, after all)…

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

What is the Tree Tag Project?

Our neighbors are invited to write their response to a prompt and then hang it from a tree.

What’s the Point?

Bring people together: I want my children to get to know their neighbors outside of hosting the usual lemonade stand.

Empower a child: It’s empowering for children to see that they can set up a real world project that other people will respond to.

Be Surprising: Surprise my neighbors with an interactive project that stops them in their tracks and gets them thinking.

Democratize visual communication: Have you noticed that public visual communication is often limited to brands as they market to us through their loud signs and billboards. Visual noise is all around us, so why not reclaim a bit of this space in a way that’s fun, inexpensive, positive, and community-building?

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

How we did it

We turned an old crate on its side and topped it with a small container that was filled with crayons, pre-made paper tags, and a card with the question: “What’s your favorite place to travel to…near or far?”

Choosing the question proved challenging for us because I wanted five-year old N to be involved in the whole process. Our brainstorming session went something like this:

  • What book are you reading? (me)
  • What does your backpack look like? (N)
  • What’s the best thing that happened to you today? (me)
  • What’s your favorite show? (N)

We finally agreed on the travel question, I think because it’s something we were each able to answer, and that made it all the better since it was important to me that children could respond to these cards as much as adults could.

By the way, I still got to ask my book reading question over here. If you’re looking for a new book, you might find it as useful and interesting as I did.

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

To get this started we gathered supplies.

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

And then set it up.

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

My kids seeded it with a few cards. Some with words.

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

Others with pictures.

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

The next day we were greeted with messages from our neighbors who like to travel to Tokyo, the Amalfi Coast, Bali, Lake Tahoe, the local walking trail, a city park in San Francisco, Los Angeles, and a host of other places. One neighbor who was out for her brisk morning walk didn’t have time to make a contribution, but she commented (while walking) on how inspiring the project was.

Baby steps, people. Today it’s a question about travel, tomorrow we may paint our grass purple.

The Tree Tag Project, or how to Surprise your neighbors and get them talking | Tinkerlab

My kids loved counting the cards each day. At the end of the first day there were five cards, and by the middle of the second day there were ten. This was exciting!

The project ran for one week, and then we took it down to build the next street project. We’ll test out a few more questions, and maybe shake this up with some variations on the challenge.

Will you join me?

I realize that this isn’t for everyone, but I hope I’ve managed to encourage you to give this a shot. You don’t need a lot of materials or anything fancy to make this happen. And my experience is simply here for inspiration — you should run this with whatever materials move you.

The real joy here lies in the feeling of empowerment that comes from bringing people together and making something fun happen. If you’re as excited about projects like this as I am, will you let me know in a comment? I’m thinking about setting up a series of challenges that relate to this theme and I’d love to know if there’s a real interest…or not.

There are two ways to share immediately:

Facebook: Share a photo or a link to your blog post of your own Tree Tag Project (or something in the same spirit) on my Facebook page

On my blog: Send me an email with a photo of your Tree Tag Project (or something similar) or a link to your blog post, and I’ll share it right here on Tinkerlab! Email: Rachelle at Tinkerlab dot com

More Neighborhood Interventions

Keri Smith wrote a cool book called the Guerilla Art Kit, which is full of all kinds of public art interventions that share the spirit of this project.

A question for you

What other ideas do you have for neighborhood art installations or interventions?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Seven Tips for Setting up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio

Bundt Cake

The other day we had the most amazing weather, so we set up a garden art studio…

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

When I was in college I always loved those teachers who took their classes outside on a nice day. So why not recreate that magic with our kids? Did you know that most children don’t spend enough time outdoors?

Why Making Art Outdoors is so Awesome

  1. Being outside is calming, restorative, and resets the mind.
  2. Nature is fodder for the imagination.
  3. Getting messy isn’t an issue.
  4. You can get up water some plants/play/dig a hole, and then return to making.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

I offered my children a few after-lunch options that included reading in the garden, making art outside, and going on a hike. Can you tell that I wanted to spend some outdoors? The weather was that incredible.

My older daughter liked the idea of setting up a blanket on our lawn and helped me hatch a plan to create an art studio picnic. 

Within moments of setting it all up, which took us about ten minutes, the girls were deep into making. At this point I gleefully broke out my new garden sheers and tackled mountains of overgrown plants. Hack hack hack. Things had gotten so out-of-hand in my poor garden, which now looks rather normal, that it initially appeared quite bald as I managed to fill our entire composting bin with greenery.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Meanwhile, I’d pop over to check on the kids periodically and captured 4-year old N as she decorated a big river rock with paint pens. More details on drawing on rocks over here. 

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Her little sister has been invested in painting lately and we knew that she’d enjoy easel painting. If you really can’t get outside, 10 Steps for Easy Indoor Easel Painting will help you bring the magic indoors.

I also have a stand-up easel, but I thought this would be a nice way to have the girls work side-by-side. It was a great strategy until the watercolor jars were knocked over onto the blanket. Ahem, we only own washable paints for moments like this.

Summertime Art Tips: Seven Tricks to Set up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio.

Also, this little easel has a tray to hold paint on both sides and I knew both kids would want to paint at the same time. All in all, it was a fantastic afternoon and just the sort of experience that I imagine we’ll invest in all summer long.

Tips for setting up an Impromptu garden art studio

First of all, it’s important to address that you don’t need a sprawling lawn to make this happen. A patio, stoop, or balcony work just fine. The important thing here is to get outside and enjoy some fresh air!

  1. Wear play clothes, aprons, or nothing at all. 
  2. Wait for a warm day.
  3. Keep the materials simple and choose one or two basic projects. We chose watercolors + easel and rock painting.
  4. Have a water source nearby for washing up.
  5. Set up a picnic blanket so that little makers can get comfortable.
  6. Make sure you have a camera to capture these moments.
  7. If you’re painting, lay dry pieces out on the ground to dry. If it’s windy, dry them on a clothesline or indoors.

Outdoors + Kids Resources

Tape paper to the wall for an Instant Outdoor Art Studio

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

Start a Family Nature Club with this Nature Tools for Families Toolkit (FREE download) from Children and Nature Network. I’m dying to start one of these, so if you live near me give a holler if you’re interested! The Children and Nature Network is run by Audubon medal winner Richard Louv who wrote the bestseller, Last Child in the Woods. 

If you’re in the Bay Area, get your hands on a copy of Bay Area, Best Hikes with Kids: San Francisco Bay Area by Laure Latham. I just got it and it’s awesome!

A fabulous roundup of ideas for building outdoor forts and shelters for kids, from Let the Children Play.

A question for you…

What one word comes to mind when you think of the last time you spent time outdoors?

Note: This post contains affiliate links, but I only share links to products that I love or that I think you’ll find useful.

How to Make a Paper Airplane

paper airplane table set up

How to build paper airplanes

Have you ever made a paper airplane?

Did you learn how to make it from a book? Or maybe it was from the kid you shared a desk with in the third grade?

I fall into the second camp, learning from my friends in school. And for all of the hundreds of airplanes we made, not one of them truly soared the way I expected it to.

How to make a paper airplane

Well guess what? Today I’m sharing links to instructions for making paper airplanes that actually work, along with some ideas on how to help kids invent their own paper airplane designs.

So let’s get started with How to Make Paper Airplanes while building Design Skills…

paper airplane table set up

The Set-up

  • A few sets of instructions for making paper airplanes. You can get these from a book or download instructions from the internet. Our favorite was The Eagle, and we also tried High Glider and Fancy Flier. I found these by doing an image search for “Make Paper Airplane.”
  • Copy paper. Thinner paper is easier for children to fold.
  • Markers (optional)
  • Scissors (optional)
  • A clear table

paper airplane instructions

Step One: Select a Design

We looked through all of our designs, picked one to start with, and my daughter and I sat down and followed the directions for the first airplane. If you’ve ever made origami, it’s the same approach. Most of the steps were easy enough for her four-year old hands and mind, but I had to help her with a few of the trickier folds.

If you find instructions that are too complicated for you, then skip them and find another plane to make.

Step Two: Teach someone else how to make a plane

Once we got the hang of it, N thought our six-year old neighbor would enjoy this project and we invited him over to join us. Either that or misery loves company.

We each started with another sheet of paper and while we folded, the kids educated each other on hamburger and hot dog folds. If you don’t have a neighbor to teach, teach a parent, babysitter, or grandparent. This step does wonders for building confidence.

paper airplane collection

Step Three: Iterate and Invent New Planes

Once that first airplane was complete, it was interesting to see where the kids took the project next. My daughter, a designer to the core, got busy decorating her plane with markers. Her friend, a tinkerer at heart who has a soft spot for Legos, began iterating on the design to improve it!

As we folded, he asked me questions like, “On your Eagle, how did you make the wing tips?” And then he proceeded to invent his own series of planes with pointed noses, flat noses, and wing tips.

When my daughter jumped in to help him, I commented that they were iterating. I actually said, “Hey you guys are iterating! Do you know that word? It means that you’re building a lot of planes to test new ideas and in order to figure out how to make it better. Can you say ‘iterate?'” And then of course, they obliged me.

I swear, the teacher thing will probably never leave my soul! Do you ever find yourself in that mode?

How to make a paper airplane | Tinkerlab

Step Four: Take it outdoors

They tested their planes in the house and once they amassed a small fleet of planes, I heard, “Let’s have an airplane show!!” So we took it outdoors to see what the planes could do.

Our friend guessed that the pointy-nosed planes would get more distance and said he was “amazed that the flat-nosed Eagle flew the best.”

PAPER AIRPLANES WITH TEXT

All in all, we spent a good hour on this project, and in the end not only did these kids have fun bonding and playing together, but they came away with some new design skills, tools for developing an innovator’s mindset, and good ol’ fine motor skill practice. 

A question for you…

Did you ever make paper airplanes as a child? Where did you learn how to make them? And how did they fly?

50 Earth Day Activities for Kids

Upcycled Box Bugs

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.

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!

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Earth Day Activities with Natural Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Earth Day Activities with Recycled Materials

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Outdoor Art Earth Day Activities

50 Earth Day Activities for kids | TinkerLab

Crushed Flower Experiment

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.

Materials

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?

Natural Playground with Tree Stumps

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)

Messy Art: Splat Paint Olympics

splat paint olympic rings kids

Today I’m over on the Melissa and Doug blog, writing about our experience making Splat Paint Olympic Rings with household sponges. Painting with non-traditional materials does wonders for helping children look at the world with fresh eyes. And throwing paint-soaked sponges? Well, that’s just silly fun.

 

While we did this with the end-game of the Olympics in mind, I could imagine setting up this process-oriented, messy art exploration at a block party, artsy outdoor birthday party, or just for the joy of throwing paint at big sheets of paper.

Since we set this up in the driveway, clean-up was simple. Read the post to see how we did it.

Have you tried painting with sponges? Do your kids enjoy making messy art?

Easy DIY Bubble Solution for Kids

how to make a one minute bubble solution

This easy bubble solution recipe is a staple for parents and pre-school teachers. It’s easy to make, comes together in just one minute, it’s safe for kids, and kids love it.

how to make a one minute bubble solution

I’ve been so busy with all sorts of parenting/household/traveling/social things lately, and love to find easy projects that make my kids happy. This is one of those things.

My daughter’s preschool has a big bubble table set up all summer long, and it’s a magical place where the kids can chill out and regroup while they make and pop bubbles. The other day I set up a few water areas around our yard, and the kids would migrate to this bubble table after a few rounds on the Slip ‘n Slide or bounces on our neighbor’s see-saw.

Easy Bubble Solution Supplies

  • Dish Soap
  • Water
  • Big Bubble Wand
  • Large tub, small pool, or water table

how to make a one minute bubble solution

How to make the Easy Bubble Solution

Squirt some dish soap into the water table and then fill with a little bit of water. Add a big bubble wand and you’re good to go!

I use the dish soap from Trader Joe’s, and was surprised that it worked so well. I’ve used Dawn in the past, and the bigger, commercial soaps make fantastic bubbles. The ratio is approximately 1:5, but don’t rely on this too heavily since it varies depending on the brand of soap you use — just add more soap or water to get it just right.

I’d encourage you to experiment with your soap and see if it works before setting this up for a big group of eager kids.

I’m always looking for easy projects that my kids will enjoy? Do you have a favorite one-minute activity?

Plant a Garden with Kids

kids in the garden

Do you have a little spot of dirt for your kids to garden in? If not, today I’d like to challenge you to think about your outdoor spaces and see if you can come up with a spot that’s just for the kids. It can be anything from a large plot to a couple of planters.

Children learn through hands-on experiences, and this project will enable them to spend time outdoors, design their own garden, and make a deep connection with plants and nature.

If you live in the Northern hemisphere, there’s a good chance that you’ve been knee-deep in dirt at some point in the past month. We have a small garden that’s keeping us busy with our share of vegetable planting, soil tilling, and outdoor beautifying.

In the process of involving my kids in all my garden projects, they’ve grown their own fascination for dirt, creepy crawlies, plants, roots, and flowers. When my neighbor suggested that we turn a sad and dusty little spot of land between our houses into a kids’ garden, I knew this would be a fun project for us.

We started out with a chat about the dirt patch, and I shared that she would have the opportunity to design her own garden. We talked a bit about our vision and she couldn’t wait to get to the garden store.

I gave her a limit of fifteen plans, and she had to make some choices.

When she spotted these technicolor cacti, she decided that she wanted a section of the garden to be a cactus garden. Not exactly kid-friendly, but it’s what she wanted. And I have to agree that these little plants are spectacular. We decided to put them into a planter on the side of the garden.

kids in the garden

I outlined the space with some bricks that remained from a neighbor’s garden excavation. Score. We then filled the space with three bags of garden soil (2 cubic feet each).

My Father-in-law bought my kids a little kid rake last summer, and it was perfect for this project. We also picked up some new gardening gloves, which I think go a long way for generating enthusiasm for a project like this.

Oh, and since it was a hot day and water would be involved (at some point), my kids insisted on the bathing suits. Love it.

kids in the garden

kids in the garden

Nutmeg chose the big pavers to line a path in her garden.

kids in the garden

She decided on the direction of the path and I helped her set them into the dirt.

kids in the garden

And then she decided where her flowers would go. I mostly dug the holes, just to make sure they were deep enough. Little Rainbow wasn’t such a big help, but she hung out, wore her new garden gloves, and talked about the dirt and flowers. Success all around.

So, what do you think? Do you have a little spot of land or a few planters you can set aside for your child to dig in, design, and call their own?

Inspiration


I’ve partnered with GoGo squeeZ, the first squeezable, re-sealable, no-mess, 100% fruit, no-sugar added apple­sauce based snack for kids in the U.S, as a Playbassador, which means that I have more reasons to share fun outdoor activities that celebrate play and creativity. All opinions in this post are my own.

GoGo squeeZ believes in the simple mantra of “always play” and is putting this belief to work through the “Pass the Play” campaign with the goal of bringing the simple joy of play to those who need it most across the country. GoGo squeeZ recently announced their brand new flavor, Apple Cherry. This flavor will be hitting stores in July!

 

Thrifting for the Garden

IMG_9460

Is it warm in your part of the world? Are your kids spending lots of time outdoors?

Summer is here and our garden is getting so much attention. My kids are happy when they’re outside, so I’ve been thinking up ways to turn our outdoor spaces into play pockets and learning laboratories.

thrifting garden

In addition to our water wall, fairy garden, and outdoor drawing studio, my children and I headed over to one of our bigger thrift stores in search of low-cost inspiration for building out some new creativity corners in our garden.

thrifting for the garden

Going to a thrift store with kids can be overwhelming, and I wouldn’t recommend it if yours like to run in every direction, but the experience can be educational as well as fun. We donate a lot of our gently used toys and clothes to the thrift store, so the full-circle story of use and re-use is not lost on my children You can give older children a budget and allow them to make some purchases of their own, and watching children play with toys can help you decide what’s worth buying.

The home goods section of our thrift store is nicely organized, and I decided to head straight for the wood and basket areas to keep our focus on objects that would fit in nicely with our outdoor space.

thrifting for the garden

I found all of these nifty pieces for about $25. So what did we get?

  • My one-year old chose a cute little hand-made wooden bench for $5 that fits her perfectly
  • A few baskets that are perfect for treasure hunts
  • A table-top easel
  • Wicker picnic basket
  • Small wooden manger turned into doll house

manger doll house

Everything we picked up has been put to good use. Most popular, fo far, has been the basket-treasure hunt game with my 21-month old. We’ll scatter treasures and rocks all over the garden, which she collects. And then we start all over again.

thrifting for the garden

My favorite thing about this experience is that I spent a minimal amount of money for maximum impact. And my second-favorite piece is that you just never know what you’re going to find, and that element of surprise is perfect for kids’ toys and activities.

My children don’t care if something is brand-new or not, but high quality is important to me. I’d rather spend $3 on a nice used wooden stool than $10 on a brand-new plastic stool. I don’t always have such good luck on thrifting adventures, but with a little bit of luck and effort I usually come home with something wonderful.

How about you? Are you a thrifter? What treasures have you found in your second-hand shops?

Creative Adventures: Tidepooling

tidepool

 Creativity involves breaking out of established patterns in order to look at things in a different way. - Edward de Bono, psychologist and writer

This post is something new for me. I usually write about our hands-on projects, but I thought it would be fun to take our creative thinking out into the great wide world. In reference to the quote above, not only am I breaking out of the pattern of my blog posts as I write this, but it’s experiences like the one I’m about to share that encourage children to look at things in a new way and help build their creative thinking skills.

As you read this, consider how you can break a pattern in order to look at things in a new way.

Can you believe this view? It’s a favorite beach about 45 minutes from my house…not too far, really…and here’s the pattern that we broke: this was the first time we’ve been there in over a year!  Sad, right? It’s an awesome spot called the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve, located in Moss Beach, CA, just north of Half Moon Bay. And what makes it doubly amazing is that you can walk all over the fascinating tide pools and check out the sea life up close. A kids’ dream.

tidepool kids

The reason we haven’t been in ages because my youngest, Baby R, hasn’t been stable enough to handle the rocks on her own and I wasn’t sure of my own footing with her in the carrier.

Well, she’s hardly a baby anymore at 21 months, so there we were. I didn’t know how it would go with her, actually, but after holding my hands for a bit she wanted to brave the rocks by herself. She fell a couple times, nothing major, and seemed to enjoy the challenge of navigating the slippery, uneven terrain.

Creative adventure at the tide pool | TinkerLab

N is almost 4, and turned this into a jumping adventure. Oh, and in case you’re wondering, my kids like to dress themselves. Who wears dresses and tights to the tidepools? Um, that would be my daughter.

tidepool kids

When I was a kid I loved discovering the squishy sea anemones that retract and squirt water when you touch them. So of course I had to introduce them to my little friends. They were hooked and would squeal with laughter when they found a colony of these little slippery creatures. This turned out to be a great bonding activity for these two.

beach lunch kids

We found the perfect spot to eat lunch and talk about the molting seals (they’re sitting on those far-off rocks), talk to the park ranger about sea stars, and take in the fresh air.

And without any extra effort on my part, this outing encouraged my kids to explore and follow their curiosities; building blocks of creative thinking. On the walk back to the car N asked when we could come back to see the sea stars that the ranger told us about. She wanted to know all about the harbor seals and how they’re different from ringed seals. And where do they go when the tide comes in? And she wanted to bring her dad back to introduce him to the tide pools.

Spending time in nature, outdoors, and in a new environment does wonders for the mind. These experiences can challenge, excite, and educate us.

So now I ask you: What can you do to break your established patterns in order to look at things in a different way? 

Favorite web spots for outdoor adventures

Go Explore Nature: Connecting with Kids and Nature. A beautifully written and photographed blog by Debi Huang, an LA-based mama of two boys. This is a must-read site if you live in California. I get all sorts of good tips for traveling with kids to Yosemite and Lake Tahoe, not to mention anyone who can explore nature in LA gets major props in my book. She also has a fantastic list of nature-related resources. Not to be missed.

Let the Children Play. Written by Jenny, an Australian-based preschool teacher. Jenny’s child-raising point of view is play-based and project-oriented. You’ll often spot her little charges learning through play in their natural outdoor space, and her ideas often influence my own backyard transformations. She did some great leg-work and put together this useful list of Top 10 Outdoor Play Blogs

How Climbing Trees Builds Creative Thinking

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Have you ever climbed a tree? Do your kids like climbing trees?

This has never been high on my list, even back in the nursery school days, but my 3 year old N has climbing in her soul and will climb just about anything: rock climbing walls, trees, jungle gyms, furniture, fences, etc. She seems to gravitate especially to trees that offer a challenging climb, and I like it because it gets us out into the fresh air and builds strong minds and bodies.

I love good ol’ fashioned play like this, and thought we could all use a visual reminder of how important free-range outdoor play is for kids.

outdoor play kids

The spirit of play is at the heart of imagination, creativity, and innovation. In playful environments, we’re prone to divergent thinking (generating numerous ideas about a topic) and are more inclined to push the limits of what’s possible into the impossible.

Climbing trees may not seem like highly cognitive work, but let’s take a look at what might be involved…

tree climbing kids

First of all, you have to map your idea (a will to climb a tree) with your reality (how will you climb that tree?). And then you have to send signals from your mind to your body to problem solve the execution. Our neighbor’s poor flowers were pelted by too many little climbers who have deemed this the most climbable neighborhood tree, so you might also have to navigate around the mini-flower-shielding fence that’s now in your way.

You might have to make room for a friend, which can build emotional intelligence and help develop spatial reasoning.

You might not yet be ready to climb a tree, but you’re building your confidence by climbing things that are within the zone of proximal development. Go you!

tree climbing kid

And when you reach that branch that always eluded you, the feeling of pride is beyond belief. You’ve accomplished something that only you could accomplish. You’ve tested your strength and your limits, and proven to yourself that you can achieve what you set your mind to.

I always watch my children closely and offer a lot of support when they first take on new physical challenges, but since my goal is to empower them I will step back once I get the cue that they’re comfortable without my assistance. I was talking with a friend today about free-range parenting (maybe you’ve heard of this movement?) and I follow this parenting philosophy to a great extent. I’m very involved in my childrens’ lives and everyday experiences, offer them a great deal of compassion and emotional support, but I’m raising them to be confident, independent thinkers who can make decisions for themselves without a lot of supervision.


I’ve partnered withGoGo squeeZ, the first squeezable, re-sealable, no-mess, 100% fruit, no-sugar added apple­sauce based snack for kids in the U.S, as a Playbassador, which means that I have more reasons to share fun outdoor activities that celebrate play and creativity. All opinions in this post are my own.

GoGo squeeZ believes in the simple mantra of “always play” and is putting this belief to work through the “Pass the Play” campaign with the goal of bringing the simple joy of play to those who need it most across the country.