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!

Seven Tips for Setting up an Impromptu Garden Art Studio

These are great ideas! 7 tips for setting up an impromptu outdoor art studio for kids.

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?

The Benefits of Making Art Outdoors

  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.

Our Process

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.

7 Tips for setting up a 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!

These are great ideas! 7 tips for setting up an impromptu outdoor art studio for kids.

  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.

 

Set up a Permanent Outdoor Art Studio

Take a look at Meri Cherry’s inspiring outdoor art studio for ideas on how to build or set up a more permanent outdoor maker space.

How to set up a successful backyard art studio for kids | TinkerLab.com

Outdoors with Kids Resources

Tape paper to the wall for an Instant Outdoor Art Studio

Six Ways to Take Art Outdoors

11 Classic Summer Camp Crafts for Kids

Start a Family Nature Club with this Nature Tools for Families Toolkit (FREE download) from Children and Nature Network.  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.

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

Creative Adventures: Tidepooling

 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

Winter Gardening

Although it’s winter, we were hit by a glorious warm spell about a week ago and I was overwhelmed by the planting bug. Now that the rain is back, what’s especially timely about this activity is that it’s all about bringing the outdoors inside. So, for my snow-bound friends out there, this easy gardening project may make you almost believe that Spring is right around the corner.

We started with a bag of wheat berry seeds that I got from a local farmer. You can also find them at just about any health food store. These are the ones they use to make wheatgrass, and I chose them because I heard they grow fast. This is no joke, they sprouted up almost immediately, and the grass was 7″ tall after just one week!

Day 1

We soaked the seeds in water overnight (about 12 hours), and then dried them out for another 12 hours.

Day 2

I poked drain holes in the bottom of a clean clamshell salad container (go recycling!!) and then filled it with some organic seed starting soil that I found at our neighborhood Hardware store. I love this little store, and all of the good people who work there. Is your hardware store the same?

Filling the container with soil and watering it really well. The spoon is for mixing. This may have been THE BEST part of the activity for my two and a half year old. Following this picture, there was dirt EVERYWHERE!

Filling little biodegradable pots (similar to these) with planting soil, and moistening the pots really well. Once the seedlings are strong, the whole container goes right into the ground. I’ve since found tutorials for making our own seedling containers from newspaper and cardboard egg cartons. They look really simple and incorporate recycled materials! Needless to say, I can’t wait to try both methods next time around.

N distributed the seeds amongst the pots.

So that you could barely see the soil.

And then watered them. I think the seeds can sit right on top of the soil, but I covered them lightly with a little bit more dirt.

She distributed the extra seeds all over our sad winter garden, hoping some of the seeds would catch. We watered our indoor seeds for one week, this is what our garden looks like…

Day 7

I swear, I’ve never seen anything grow this fast! We sprayed twice a day, to keep the soil nice and moist.

And often got impatient, and far preferred POURING water on our plants.

So I devised this much more elegant solution.

I just discovered that the fabulous Marie at Make and Takes experimented with growing grass in tons of different pots and planters — lots of good ideas there for planting pretty grass.

Now the big question — what to do with all of this wheatgrass??

Has anyone had luck feeding wheat grass juice to a toddler?

Sunprints

I’m in love with the fall season, and now that I have little ones, it’s somehow more fun to break into the pumpkin-pie-goblin-turkey spirit. We “Boo-ed” our neighbors last night, something I’d recommend to anyone interested in generating some old-fashioned community spirit, and my daughter got a kick out of ringing doorbells and running down the street! Ay-ya-yay.

Yesterday we tore into a new bag of sunprint fabric squares that I’ve been hoarding for just the right time, and I can attest that this project is easy, rewarding, and toddler-approved.  On the creativity side of things, this activity presents good opportunities to explore nature, experiment with composition, and discuss the process of developing photographs (a far-off concept for today’s digitally saturated world). Sunprints are technically cyanotypes, a type of photograph made without a camera. The sunprint fabric is light sensitive and produces a negative image when exposed to sunlight or very intense artificial light.

And now that we’ve entered the highly addictive land-of-sunprints, I can see all kinds of potential for printing small toys, fridge letter magnets, stickers, flowers, and other little knick-knacks. I bought the sunprint fabric from Discount School Supply. They come in packs of 25, which made me think how fun this would be for a school group or a big sunprint quilt.

Start with a batch of leaves. We collected ours on a walk the other day, and I’m proud to report that my 2-year old can recognize a maple leaf! She trumps her urban mama in her nature-knowledge every time.

Get your fall spirit on. Note: ambient candle and pinecones :) Open pack of sunprint fabric, being sure to keep all unused pieces in the dark, dark package.

Place leaves on the fabric and set it out in the bright sun for about 15 minutes.

This is an excellent way to reinforce the value of patience!

Rinse in cool water…

…and voila!

Now that the piece is done, it could be stitched onto a bag, t-shirt, quilt, etc. N decided that she wants hers attached to a bag, and I’ll update you on our progress.

What fall projects or traditions are you working on?

This post was is part of the 30 minute challenge. Check out the Moms’ 30-Minute Blog Challenge for more 1800 second posts.