Saturday, October 20, 2012

Fall Spelling Words

Like most third graders, my son comes home from school each week with a list of spelling words to study.  He will write out his words multiple times, alphabetize them, create stories and sentences using as many spelling words as possible in hopes that by Friday he can ace his spelling test.

I try to help this process by reinforcing each week's spelling words with library books and games we play both inside and outside.  Here are some of our favorite ways to take spelling practice outside:

  1. Hopscotch: I think a modified game of hopscotch will suffice for any outside reading and writing lessons.  Thankfully, there are myriad different ways to play the game.  Most importantly for spelling, I'll have my third grader set up the hopscotch board which affords him extra practice writing his words.  Additionally as we play, he gets another chance to review each word as he reads it aloud.
  2. H-O-R-S-E: This classic basketball game can be modified to use any word.  Ideally played with two participants, one person takes a shot and if that shot is successful, the second player has to mimic that shot exactly.  If the second player misses the shot, they are assigned a letter sequentially, until the word is spelled in its entirety.  This game is best for older players, although my kindergartener has been able to play with assistance spelling the words.  It is also helpful to write the penalty letters near the basket as they're accumulated to avoid "forgetting" how many letters each player had and also is one more chance to practice writing the spelling word.
  3. Bean bag toss: Draw a grid of letters on the driveway including all the letters you'd need for each spelling word.  One player will select a spelling word to throw for, then players take turns throwing their bean bag at the grid to collect letters.  The winner is the first player to collect all the letters in the right order to spell the chosen word.
  4. Hangman: inside or out, this classic game is great for spelling practice.  Play outside simply by chalking the game board on the driveway.
  5. Foursquare: Draw a foursquare court on the driveway in chalk.  The "king" gets to choose the spelling word and calls out the first letter when he serves the ball.  The child who receives the ball must hit the ball to another player and correctly call out the next letter of the spelling word.  Brush up your knowledge of foursquare game rules before you start.
  6. Word search: Again, draw a grid of letters, but this time have several spelling words hidden within your grid.  Call out the definition of a spelling word then have players race to find the correct word within the puzzle.
  7. Capture the letters: For group practice, play this variation of capture the flag.  Instead of one flag though, give each team letters to be captured then unscrambled.  The team who captures all the letters and decodes the spelling word first wins.
How will you be learning outside this week?

Friday, October 19, 2012

Nature Walk Homework

My kindergartener doesn't often come home with homework assignments, but I could tell he had something he was excited to complete as soon as he got off the bus early this month.  His teacher had assigned a month of homework projects that we were to complete at our own pace and in whatever order we chose.  A smiling caterpillar curled around an orange sheet of paper with a different assignment on each of his body segments.  Many of those assignments were obviously intended to encourage  practice of self care skills like tying shoes or reinforce concepts being taught in the classroom like searching for certain letters within a magazine.

I was thrilled though, that several assignments would allow us time to get outside and explore seasonal changes:
Draw something you like about fall.
Talk about what the weather is like today and draw a picture.
Go outside, find a spider, and watch it.
Take a walk and make a fall collection.

My kids have been doing lots of tree climbing this fall (and we're not the only ones.  Check out Barb's Me and My Tree Photo Challenge on Pinterest).  Eli was anxious to go on a fall nature walk to collect twigs for a tree house the boy's are building up in their favorite climbing tree.  We've been waiting anxiously for the leaves to begin to change here in North Carolina.  While on our walk we found some beautiful leaves that had just begun to change.  These leaves were still pliable and green along the edges.  But inside, near the center-most vein, they had begun to change orange, yellow, and brown.  The boys loved to see these mid-process leaves and started collecting them.

We walked, and talked about why leaves change color in the fall, and collected twigs and beautiful fall leaves for our collections.  What a wonderful way to spend an evening together after a day of school!

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Halloween Costumes Inspired by Nature

One of my family's most memorable Halloween costumes was the carrot costume my mother made for my sister heavily utilizing orange RIT dye on a white sheet and ked sneakers.  Our neighbors didn't know what to say about the lanky orange cylinder trick-or-treating on their doorstep.  Was it a tree?  Some type of candy?  No one knew.  And my poor sister was furious by night's end.

I look back now and commend my mom's efforts to homemake a costume that was not the latest cartoon character.  Timeless Halloween costumes can be inspired by nature, not something seen on a television or computer screen. 

While I haven't been brave enough to take on the DIY nature-inspired Halloween costume yet, every year I peruse the options.  Here are a few of my favorite ideas plus more every day on our new pinterest board:
  1. Animal kingdom costumes: dog, cat, lion, bear costumes are all popular and can be easily made by matching a homemade mask to color coordinated sweat pants and t-shirts.  Tails and ears can be made out of felt and attached with elastic bands.
  2. Plant life: trees, flowers, carrots anyone?  Green or brown sweat pants and t-shirts make a nice stem or trunk.  Felt leaves or flower pedals attached to a headband finish the costume.
  3. Celestial beings: clouds, stars, and the sun can be drawn onto fabric or poster paper and worn like a sandwhich board.  Glow necklaces and bracelets will make the costume shine.
  4. Natural elements: wind, water, fire, air.  Lots of hair spray and a few pinned on leaves makes a great wind costume.  Dress in blue and attached blue balloons with safety pins to the costume to make water.  Similarly, dress in red and carry an empty fire extinguisher.  Any ideas for air?
In past Halloweens, I've encouraged an ethic of reuse and recycle, having my boys select a costume from among the myriad dress up clothes we already own.  If they felt uninspired by the selection, I would encourage them to pick a costume with elements that could be reused after Halloween.  Most of our past character costumes have been centered around a t-shirt that they could then wear throughout the year.  Last year, my oldest went trick-or-treating as Indiana Jones wearing cargo pants, an Indiana Jones t-shirt, plus a fedora purchased on the cheap.  My middle child went dressed as Batman wearing a purchased bat cap, Batman t-shirt, and black jeans.  After Halloween, the t-shirts went in the drawer, the cape and fedora into the dress up bin.  I felt pretty good about myself.

This year, I took a similar approach and we are considering our options: hockey player, football player, policeman, all from the dress up bin or clothes already in our closet.

How do you manage the expense and commercialism surrounding Halloween costumes?

Check out these Pumpkin Carving Gifts for Toddlers ( article).

Friday, October 12, 2012

How to Keep the Dog out of the Vegetable Garden

I had big plans for a small fall garden.  With the help of my little ones, we planted garden peas, lettuce, carrots, potatoes, garlic, and green onions.  We watered daily.  Once a week, we poured a mixture of whey and water onto the seedlings.  We weeded carefully and often.  Our plants were flourishing, and the kids were learning a lot about gardening and responsibility.

It turns out that our puppy was just as excited about fresh-grown fall produce as we were.  The first thing to go was an entire row of lettuce.  Who knew that dogs were so fond of greens?  The damage was devasting, but I was able to redistribute the soil and preserve what was left of our growing veggies.  Evidently, puppies also like carrots, a lot.  Unfortunately, the potatoes and garlic were in his way and also became casualties.  We are now nurturing only a few pea plants and hopeful to eat any produce from our own efforts this season.

To protect our sweet growing peas, we've taken a few measures to keep the dog out of the garden.  I love the dog and I love the garden, so I wanted to try as many means as possible to keep him out of the garden without harming either one.  Everything we put on the garden was all natural, so we won't have to worry about a sick puppy or tainted fruits.  

1. We erected a scarecrow: this was a fun seasonal craft that the kids enjoyed.  We stuffed just a shirt with straw and set a hat on top.  To make it a doggie deterent, we soaked a rag in vinegar that our scarecrow wears as a scarf.

2. We sprinkled a few spices: mustard and peppers deter pests, like our puppy, who find their scent rather obnoxious.  Equal parts of the two were mixed together then sprinkled right onto the soil.

3. We recycled some coffee grounds: I collected coffee grounds for a few days then spread them evenly around the perimeter of the garden.

In addition to keeping the puppy out of the garden, most other pests are detered by the scent of at least one of these.  We're seeing less ants in the house and hopefully keeping other animals out of the garden as well. 

It's been three days without digging, so maybe something we tried is working.  Our pea plants are still standing.  Hopefully soon, we'll be eating those fresh peas instead of defending them from pests.

What's growing in your garden this fall?

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Why I Love Playgrounds in the Fall

I love everything about fall: pumpkin bread, apple cider, Halloween costumes, boots, sweaters, leaves, even cooler weather and shorter days.  This weekend, here in North Carolina, we got our first taste of fall-like cool and damp weather.  None-the-less, since the cold front rolled in on Sunday, we've been enjoyed lots of time outside with two football games, one softball game, and two trips to playgrounds.  In fact, I love playgrounds in the fall, maybe even more so than other times of the year.  Here's why:

It's not as hot
That one's obvious, but in the summer, after about an hour at a playground with no shade, I'm melting and ready to run for the air conditioned car.  In the fall, I let the kids play longer and even find excuses to stay outside once we're at the park.  Today, we were at one of my favorite parks and before leaving we strolled through a beautiful Fall Butterfly garden.  There were so many pink and orange flowers blooming and lots of butterflies and bumblebees to watch.
Just because it's cooler, don't forget the sunscreen and water bottles.  We play longer and harder at the park in the fall, so sunburn and dehydration are definitely still a risk to consider.

There are more same-age friends
In the fall, older kids are in school, leaving parks full of kids under the age of five.  My littlest guy loves his brothers, and learns a lot from older peers.  Still, playing with kids of a similar age and developmental stage helps to reinforce moral and social development skills.  It's so nice to watch sharing and good manners spread contagiously through a group of two-year olds!

New animals and nature to observe
I love the sound of crunching leaves as little ones come down the slide.  I love collecting acorns as they fall from tall trees into the mulch.  I love watching squirrels scurry around and geese fly in formation and butterflies slurping nectar from fall blooms.  More than that, I love watching my children notice the changes in nature as the seasons change.

So, don't let fall temperatures keep you inside.  Get out and enjoy your favorite parks from summer break and relish the changes of the season.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Celebrate Fall's Shorter Days

Autumn brings shorter days, cooler weather, and often more school and sports related time commitments. For many families, it's a perfect storm of variables that leads to less free play outside.  Unless of course we find ways to celebrate the shorter days and crisp weather that fall has to offer.  There are many ways to continue to play outside through the fall season.
  1. Start the afternoon outside: As soon as the kids pile off the bus, we sit around the table and work together on homework and memory verses while also enjoying an afternoon snack.  We haven't put away our patio furtniture for the winter yet, so we will often sit together outside to complete these tasks.  Similarly, we love to eat dinner outside as a family.  Despite other evening committments, we always spend this time together; spending it outside just ensures we don't squander the shining sun while we finish our work.
  2. Take an after dinner walk: We have an energetic puppy that requires at least two walks a day.  Taking these walks together allows the older kids a chance to participate in our nature walks.  Additionally, walking as a group increases our visibility and gives us parents a chance to reinforce the rules for safely enjoying outdoor activities at dusk. 
  3. Play shadow tag: Shadow tag is a simple rendition of backyard tag best enjoyed as the sun begins to set.  The "it" tags other players out by stepping on their shadow.  The last player to be tagged is "it" in the next round.
  4. Play flashlight tag: As it gets darker, a game of flashlight tag can be really fun.  Whoever is "it" has a large enough flashlight to spot other players.  Players hide in a predetermined area, then the "it" tries to find them by shining the flashlight into hiding spots in the yard. 
  5. Draw with glow in the dark chalk: Glow in the dark chalk can be purchased or made with simple ingredients.  Homemade chalk is made from a mixture of water and plaster of paris then colored with tempura paint.  Glow in the dark tempura paint can be used for colorful, glowing chalk.  Sidewalk art can begin at dusk, then be sure to check back as the sun sets to see your art work begin to glow.
  6. Blow glowing bubbles: As much as kids love blowing bubbles, nothing is more exciting than bubbles that glow in the dark.  Empty a few glow sticks into bubble solution for the desired effect.
  7. Play with glow sticks: parents of smaller children may understandably have reservations about opening up glow sticks or using other glow in the dark craft materials.  Glow sticks on their own can be tons of fun as the sun sets.  Hide glow sticks in the garden and have kids find them.  Or just let kids dance around wearing glow necklaces and bracelets, putting on a light show.
  8. Search for noctournal animals: Even suburban backyards are filled with animal life both day and night.  As the sun begins to set, look and listen for noctournal animals that you may not see at other times of the day.  Bats, racoons, and owls can often be spotted if you're looking for them.
  9. Looks for fall's constellations: Probably because of the silly name, I remember looking up every November to find Cassiopeia.  Depending on where you are and when you look, the night sky is ever changing providing an ongoing invitation to enjoy the stary show.
  10. Eat breakfast outside: If an evening packed with organized activities keeps you out of the backyard, start the next day with breakfast outside.  A morning dose of vitamin D will help to wake everyone up and increase alertness for the day ahead.

Remember to always dress appropriately for the weather.  My family and I all have our favorite hooded sweatshirts that do wonders to keep our core, head, and hands warm when tucked inside the front pocket.  It is also essential to kee feet warm and dry in the fall months to maintain warmth.  My little guys love an excuse to wear rain boots to stomp in muddy puddles or piles of wet leaves. 

Also, take a few extra steps to ensure that children have a safe place to play.  As it gets darker, it is harder for cars to see small children, especially if they are dressed in dark colors.  We generally move to the backyard as the sun begins to set.  I installed Solar-Powered LED Path Lights along the back of our house a few months ago providing a little extra light to play.

Warm and safe, we can enjoy outside play all year long.  How do you inspire outside play despite fall's shorter days and cooler weather?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Arnold's Apple Tree Book and Outdoor Activities

We have ready so many wonderful books this fall, I wasn't sure there were any good ones left at the library that we hadn't already checked out!  So I was thrilled yesterday when we came home with The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree by Gail Gibbons. The book was published in 1984 and the cover art bears the book's age.  The content though is timeless and I loved it!

The book describes the year-long outdoor activities enjoyed by Arnold and centered around his beloved apple tree.  The book is both educational, teaching about how the tree changes with the seasons, and accessible, offering classic outdoor activities that most any child would love to do every day of the year.  

Compiled together, the book reads like an outdoor bucket list to be enjoyed the whole year round.  Some of the activities require little or no materials or preparations. Those activities that are a little more involved are all still feasible DIY projects.  I've done my best to collect some good links here in order to recreate a few of Arnold's favorite activities.

1. Climbing trees to see the earth from above
2. Watch bees collect nectar and make honey
3. Hang a tree swing
4. Weave an apple-blossom wreath
5. Make an apple blossom bouquet
6. Build a tree house
7. Learn to juggle
8. Nap on a matress of fall leaves
9. Pick a basket full of ripe, red apples
10. Bake apple pie
11. Press apple cider
12. Decorate apples for Halloween
13. Hang a garland of popcorn and cranberries for the birds
14. Build a snow fort and a snowman

If you've never read it, I'd encourage you to pick up a copy and enjoy The Seasons of Arnold's Apple Tree with your little ones today.  Then get outside and enjoy the fall air!