Sunday, July 31, 2011

Backyard Camping + Kid-Friendly Summer Activities Blog Hop

Welcome to the Fun in the Summer Sun event!

Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon By Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.

Here's the line up:
1st Monday of each month: link up your "Kid-friendly summer activities"
2nd Monday of each month: link up your "Kid-friendly summer crafts"
3rd Monday of each month: link up your "Kid-friendly summer recipes"
4th Monday of each month: link up your "How to stay cool in the summer heat"


Family Fun Backyard Fun Badge

In the July 2011 issue of Family Fun, the Backyard Fun Badge was presented. For ten months, there will be a monthly challenge for families to do. There are three options from which to choose.  By doing the activity, you earn a badge (either use the one in the magazine or download from the computer).

Then go online and tell them what you did and enter their sweepstakes for a chance to win prizes. 

One of the ideas that caught my eye for July was option #2 - Host a Campout.  Although they suggested sleeping out under the stars, we don't have a tent so we opt to spread out a blanket and pillows and enjoy spending part of the day outside.

Fire by Lake Superior
A campfire I made on the
shore of Lake Superior.

One of the recipes I remember trying when I was in Girl Scouts and one that is easy to use with children is called Dough Boys. To make them, here's a basic recipe:


hot dog
biscuit mix


Make biscuit dough mix according to the directions on the box or a recipe. Take a hot dog and wrap the biscuit dough around the hot dog (completely or just a center wrap).

Be careful not to put too much dough on or your hot dog will not cook. Toast your "dough boy" over hot coals until it is cooked through and golden brown on the outside. Serve with catsup or mustard.

When I directed a camp program for children, one of the meals that we taught the children to make was All in One Wrapped in Foil Dinner.


ground beef
sliced raw potatoes, carrots, and onion
seasoned salt


Fold aluminum so that there is a double layer. Put ground beef (about the size of a small hamburger) on foil, in the center. Drizzle a small about of oil on it (about 1/2 tsp).

Place carrots and potatoes (to your liking) and then onions. Fold over foil edges to make a flat packet. Be careful to fold over any edge so the package doesn't leak. Use tongs and place right on the coals.

When you hear it "sizzle," flip it. Flip it often and cook for 7-10 minutes. Open carefully (the foil will be hot!) and poke a potato with a fork. When it pierces it easily, supper is ready. Serve with seasoned salt and catsup.

The Girls and I  at William O'Brien Camping
Olivia, Sophia, and I at William O'Brien State Park
camping one year. It was so much fun!

A couple of years ago, Sophia, Olivia, and I went camping with my sister and her two sons. One of the things we made were Brown Bears.  All of us liked this easy dessert.


refrigerator biscuits
spray margarine
cinnamon and sugar
wooden dowel for roasting stick


Stretch biscuit dough and wrap around a wooden dowel and roast over coals until brown. Remove biscuit from dowel, spray with margarine and roll in cinnamon and sugar mixture. Fun to make and tasty too.

The Girls Making Cinnamon Rolls Over the Campfire
Olivia and Sophia trying 
Brown Bears for dessert.

For another dessert, there's a special treat that reminds me of when I was growing up and took a kids cooking class. It's a chocolate-banana melt dessert that was featured in the June/July 2011 issue of Family Fun

To make the dessert, cut a lengthwise slit in a peeled banana and place it on a sheet of alumninum foil. Stuff in as many chocolate chips and mini marshmallows as you can fit.

Wrap the foil around the banana and place it on a grill for about five minutes. The melt, once cooled, is best eaten with a spoon (and lots of napkins).


For the August Badges of Fun, the theme was "Hit the Road."  Out of the three activities, we chose to do "Pack Easy-to-Eat Snacks."

One of the recipes on the Family Fun website is for homemade granola bars.


1/2 cup butter or margarine
1/3 cup sugar
1/3 cup honey
1/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups crisp rice cereal
2 cups rolled oats
1 cup dried fruit bits
1/2 cup sliced almonds


Heat the oven to 350┬║ F. Coat a 9- by 13-inch pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.

Melt the butter or margarine in a large pot over low heat. Remove the pot from the heat and whisk in the sugar, honey, flour, vanilla extract, and cinnamon. Add the remaining ingredients and mix well.

Transfer the mixture to the baking pan. Using a sheet or waxed paper and the palms of your hands, press the granola firmly into the pan, packing it to a flat and even thickness.

Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Allow the granola to cool 1 hour in the pan, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely before cutting into bars. Makes 16 to 24 rectangular bars.


Now it's your turn to share some of your kid-friendly summer activities!

Orange - The Summer of Color (Week 8)

For those of you who also have been participating in The Summer of Color and/or who are following along each week, thank you for all the positive comments about what I've made each week. Thanks to

During the challenge, I've enjoyed creating a variety of window stars and quilt squares in each of the featured colors. The encouraging and uplifting comments have been such day-brighteners for me!  Thank you! 

I've been enjoying seeing the creativity and beautiful items that the participants create each week. It's amazing how diverse all the items are even though we are all using the same color. 

For this week, Kristin assigned the color orange. So, I made two orange window stars that have 16 points each.  Each star is made with a special translucent paper that lets the sun's light shine through and illuminate the pattern.

Orange Sunburst Star with 16 Points
Orange window star to brighten a room.

This past week I had an interesting thing happen: a hummingbird visited one of the window stars I made that had four colors in it: red, orange, yellow, and pink.

It hovered around the window star for quite a while which was such a treat to see!

Autumn Window Star
I'm wondering if the hummingbird will come back
this week and visit the window stars.

I added a couple more orange stars on August 2nd:

I usually don't make a lot of orange window stars,
but the summer sun seems to make the patterns more defined.

I finished two more quilt squares so there are now 16 squares ready to be made into a quilt. 

Two quilt squares in orange-patterned fabric.

I'm beginning to think about how to put all the squares together into The Summer of Color Quilt. I'm committed to only using what I have on hand, and it looks like white is the color of fabric that I have the most of - so that will (most likely) be the background of the front of the quilt (in between each of the squares).

The back side of the quilt will be the twin sheet that my daughter no longer uses. It's a very soft cotton with a high thread count.

It has images of lavender pale lavender violets with a plum- and yellow-color center.  There are 1-2 leaves behind each flower.

With purple and green as my favorite colors, this seemed to be the best piece of fabric for the backing.

52 Books in 52 Weeks -Week 31 - The Year of Living Biblically

This week for the Read 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I picked The Year of Living Biblically - One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible by A.J. Jacobs.

The author was raised in a secular family and was interested in seeing how faith and real life intersect. He chose to follow the Bible in as literal sense as possible - from the Ten Commandments to hundreds of less publicized rules in both the Old and New Testaments.

Some of the outward changes in the author - such as letting his beard grow and not trimming it for a year - bring out some interesting reactions from those he encounters. Some of the reactions are positive and accepting (especially from those of a similar, ultra-conservative faith) while other reactions are questioning and apprehensive (such as when he tries to navigate through an airport security screening).

There are many funny experiences that he has during the year, especially as he tries to figure out how to follow some of the more obscure and dated rules/behavior. For these, he consulted and met with numerous Jewish and Christian leaders who helped relate what was in the Bible to everyday life.

What was interesting to read were the changes that the author went through on a personal and spiritual level. Whatever faith or spiritual journey a person takes will be filled with growth and even some set-backs that challenge one's beliefs. This book - since it documents the author's experience over a year - captures all of those elements.

I enjoyed reading this book. I learned about Biblical rules I had never heard of - such as not mixing wool and linen (Deuteronomy 22:11). The author says that the was probably zero chance that anyone in America was following this rule. "Of course, I was flat wrong," he said.

There are actually shatnez testers. Shatnez means "mixed fibers." The tester will come to your home and look through a microscope at the fibers in each article of clothing. The book says that "Linen looks like a piece of bamboo. Wool is like a bunch of stacked cups. Cotton resembles twisted streamers. And polyester is smooth, like straw."

Another section discussed the importance of focusing on the present day rather than living or expecting things to happen in the future. It ties into a verse in Proverbs that says, "Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth."

One of the friends he consulted through his journey had a voice mail greeting that ended: "Your next action could change the world, so make it a good one." What an excellent reminder and a great way to guide one's life. I could only hope that at least some of my actions in my life have made a difference.

Monday, July 25, 2011

P is for Painting - ABCs of Homeschooling

On 5 Kids and a Dog, there's a series called the ABCs of Homeschooling.  This week's letter is "P." 

Alphabet ATC or ACEO Available - Needlefelted Letter P for Painting.

One of the activities that the girls enjoy doing is painting. When they were younger, they did quite a bit of wet-on-wet watercolor painting.

Watercolor Painting
Sophia doing a wet-on-wet watercolor painting.

I would soak the watercolor paper in water for a bit, lightly dry it off, and then she would paint using all-natural paints. The paints were made from plants and were from Germany. They were nice quality paints which resulted in some pretty colors.

Initially, I had the girls start with painting only one color. Then they learned to combine a couple of colors.

They also have enjoyed painting clothes and accessories.  When they were younger, the painting was more abstract; and as they grew older the did more representational/realistic painting.

Olivia Decorating a Purse with Fabric Paint
Olivia decorating a purse with fabric paint.
She is wearing a shirt she painted and
used when she did art and crafts projects.

One Christmas, the girls received paint kits. They traced the first letter of their first name onto a canvas and then added different shapes and swirls around the letter. Using a variety of acrylic paint, they created their own unique images.

Painting on the Day after Christmas
The girls painting the first letter of their first name on canvas.

Another activity the girls enjoyed was tracing their hands onto canvas, coloring the hand with oil pastels, and then painting with watercolors around the outside of the handprint.

Olivia Painting with Watercolors on Canvas
Olivia making a handprint picture
with oil pastels and watercolors.

They also have enjoyed painting without a paintbrush. They've used fingers, hands, pine needles, marbles, and vegetables.

Sophia Doing Marble Painting
Sophia doing a Valentine's Day painting with marbles.

Sophia Painting Her Potato Print Shamrock
Sophia carved a heart into a potato.
Then, she made 3 prints of the heart to make a clover shape.
She added the stem, ground, and
some details with a paintbrush.

Doing vegetable and fruit printing was a fun process. Using peppers, apples, celery, and other fruits and vegetables yielded some interesting and pretty prints.

Vegetable Print Painting in Ag Class
The girls with other homeschoolers doing
fruit and vegetable printing.

Using hands and getting messy are the fun parts of painting for the girls.

Olivia Making a Handprint Christmas Tree
Olivia made a handprint Christmas tree.
She's painting the tree trunk and snow with a paintbrush. 

In addition to creating their own images and work, they also enjoy using painting kits. Early on, they did some simple watercolor painting with pre-printed images.

Sophia Watercolor Painting
Sophia doing watercolor painting with pre-printed images.

When they were 7 and 9 years old, they each did a paint-by-numbers kit. These are not the kits that I grew up with which were substantially easier.

These kits had very tiny spaces, lots of blending of paints, and required much patience and time. The end-product is one that both the girls were so proud of and framed.

Olivia Painting by Numbers
Olivia doing a paint-by-numbers painting.

They each entered their paint-by-numbers paintings in the county fair and/or 4-H; and both did very well. Entering the paintings for 4-H (in Cloverbuds and Crafts) was a great way for the girls to share their experience about painting and what they liked/found challenging about the process.

Olivia with Cloverbud Judge
Olivia meeting with the 4-H Cloverbud judge
to discuss her painting.
She's 7 years old in this picture.

Painting has been and will continue to be an important part of homeschooling. It's been something the girls truly enjoy, and it gives them an opportunity to creatively express themselves.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

How to stay cool in the summer heat - Fun in the Summer Sun

Welcome to the Fun in the Summer Sun event!

Each Monday until September 7th
Mama to 4 Blessings along with Harvest Moon By Hand,
Adventures of Mommydom, Sweet Diva, and Sweet Phenomena
will be hosting Fun in the Summer Fun link up events.

Here's the line up:
1st Monday of each month: link up your "Kid-friendly summer activities"
2nd Monday of each month: link up your "Kid-friendly summer crafts"
3rd Monday of each month: link up your "Kid-friendly summer recipes"
4th Monday of each month: link up your "How to stay cool in the summer heat"


With the temperatures rising this past week to a rather tropical level (dewpoints were in the upper 70s and low 80s and temperatures in the 90s making some days feel like it was 110-116 degrees), it's a perfect week to look at ideas for cooling down. 

Make a Pinaqua

This idea is from the Family Fun June/July 2011 issue. This is a candy-free version of a pinata that is filled with water. To make it, fill a medium plastic trash bag with 1-2 gallons of water and knot the top.

Tie a rope or piece of twine beneat the knot. Toss the tree end of the rope over a tree branch and either tie it securly or have an adult stand by to raise and lower the pinaqua.


After being blindfolded and spun around three times, each player takes three whacks at the pinaqua with a broom. The winner is the one who manages to break the bag and unleash the wave.

Go Swimming

The girls enjoyed going swimming with a family friend on Wednesday. She took them to their favorite beach where they swam and played in the water for about an hour and a half. Afterwards, they enjoyed a little snack on the beach before coming back home.

Square Lake Beach.

Stay Indoors

On the hottest days when it literally felt like an oven outside, we chose to stay cool by staying indoors. The girls read and/or listened to books on CD, embroidered, played board games, practiced the piano and harp, did puzzles, and sewed doll clothes.

We also homeschool around the year (with a slightly more relaxed scheduled during the summer months), so they also worked on math, history, science/nature study, and government this week.


Now it's your turn! What are some ways that your family stays cool during the summer?

Bats - Outdoor Hour Challenge #49/Summer Series #4

This week, as part of our nature study, we focused on bats. We're using the Handbook of Nature Study website which features different Outdoor Hour Challenges based on the book with the same name.  I used two different challenges on the website: Outdoor Hour Challenge #49 Bats and Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer Series #4 - Bats and the Sense of Hearing since each has different activities.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
- Bold - are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
- Italics - are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
- Regular - are my own words.

1. Read pages 241-245 in the Handbook of Nature Study. Although the lesson for bats states that it should not be given unless you can directly observe bats in person, I think this interesting creature deserves his own Outdoor Hour Challenge.

These are some points that were made in the book that I shared with the girls:

[The] wing [is a] thin membrane...equipped with sensitive nerves which inform the flier of the objects in his path, so that he darts among the branches of trees at terrific speed and never touches a twig.

Bat wings have raised domes which act as touch receptors.

The flight of the bat consists of darting hither and thither with incredible swiftness, and making sharp turns with no apparent effort.

[Bats]...catch insects on the wing for food. He makes a collecting net of the wing membrane stretched between the hind legs and tail, doubling it up like an apron on the unfortunate insects, and then reaching down and gobbling them up; and thus he is always doing good service to us on summer evenings by swallowing a multitude of insects.

The short fur of the bat is as soft as silk, and covers the body but not the wings.

The plan of the wing is something like that of the duck's foot; it consists of a web stretched between very much elongated fingers.

If a boy's fingers were as long in proportion as a bat's, they would measure four feet.

Since fingers make the framework, it is the thumb that projects from the front angle of the wing, in the form of a very serviceable hook.

Bat wing bone structure.

These hooks the bat uses in many ways. He drags himself along the floor...or he scratches the back of his head with them.

He is essentially a creature of the air and is not at all fitted for walking; his knees bend backward in an opposite direction from ours. This renders him unable to walk, and when attempting to do so, he has the appearance of "scrabbling" along on his feet and elbows

Bat walking using its wings/elbows to help move it along.

He uses his teeth to aid in climbing.

The little brown bat's wings often meausre nine inches from tip to tip.

Brown bat flying with wings outstretched.

He does not fold [his wings] like a fan, but rather, like a pocket knife.

The tiny armed with five wirelike toes, tipped with sharp hooked claws. It is by these claws that he hangs when resting during the day, for he is upside-down in his sleeping habits, slumbering during the daytime.

The bat is very particualr about his personal cleanliness. 

He washes his face with the front part of his wing, and then licks his washcloth clean; he scratches the back of his head with his hind food and then licks the foot.  [To] clean his wings, he seizes the edges in his mouth and stretches and licks the membrane.

The bat has a voice which sounds like squeak of a toy wheelbarrow, and yet it is expressive of emotions.

He squeaks in one tone when holding conversation with other bats, and squeaks quite differently when seized by the enemy.

Little brown bat.

The mother bat...takes [her babies] with her when she goes out for insects in the evenings; they cling to her neck during these exciting rides; but when she wishes to work unencumbered, she hangs her tiny youngsters on some twig and goes back for them later.

The little ones are born in July and usually occur as twins.

During the winter, some bats hibernate like woodchucks or chipmunks. They select for winter quarters some hollow tree or cave. They do not awake until the insects are flying. Others migrate to the south with the advent of cold weather.

Hibernating bats.

2. Supplemental reading in The Burgess Animal Book for Children: Read Story 21. Use the illustration on page 128 to prompt a narration after reading the story about the Little Brown Bat.

The girls both enjoyed the story. There was one section about where bats will rest, and barns were mentioned. This, of course, made them think about how fun it would be to take flashlights and go the hayloft in the barn and see if they could spot any bats.

"Should we go at night? Like around 10 p.m.?" Olivia asked.

"No, they'd be outside eating bugs," said Sophia. "Let's go up during the day when they'd be hanging there."

We went to the barn loft and I gave each of the girls a flashlight. They were so eager to shine their flashlights on the inside of the barn roof and find bats. 

Climbing on top of some old hay bales to find bats.

They walked the entire loft and then Olivia suggested they climb on top of some hay bales. Although they wanted to see bats, I couldn't even begin to imagine what would happen if bats flew out from behind the wood pieces in front of them.

Looking for bats in the barn loft.

Since we didn't see any bats in the barn, we headed to the pine trees in the front yard since I've seen bats flying around the trees at night. Again, we didn't see any bats from the ground.

The girls even climbed one of the tallest pine trees to see if they could spot any bats.
Sophia enjoys climbing trees.
She said the pine tree had a lot of sap where she was standing.
She even spotted raccoon scat on one of the limbs.

If there are any bats in the front yard pine trees, they must be up near the top of them.

Olivia was determined to find at least one bat.

3. This week during your 10-15 minutes of outdoor time, look for any mammals in your neighborhood or in a near-by park. Many of us will not find any mammals to observe or signs of mammals like scat or tracks. This should not discourage us from taking the time to be outdoors with our children.

When the girls were climbing the front pine tree, Sophia spotted some raccoon scat. Near the base of the tree, there were parts of pine cones that the raccoon (s) didn't want to eat.

Parts of pinecones that the raccoon didn't want to eat.

Both of the girls were excited to have spotted evidence that there are other wild animals here that we don't see during the day.

4. After your walk, discuss any interesting things that you observed. Help your child to find words for their experience. Record their words on paper and have them sketch a simple drawing for their nature journal.

Use some of the ideas that worked in the past like a rubbing of a leaf or feather. Take photos for your nature journals. Research and record what you learned about the bat this week from reading in the Handbook of Nature Study. One idea would be to sketch and record how a bat’s wings are different from a bird’s wings.

You could discuss why a bat is considered a mammal and how it differs from other mammals that we have studied. Keep it simple but make some connections this week.

The girls will be working on their nature journals and doing an entry about bats now that they saw the bats flying at night (see more information below).


Summer Series #4
Bats and Sense of Hearing - Train Your Senses

Sight: Observe the sky at sundown, look for the silhouettes of birds, bats, or insects in the air.

Hearing: Observe the sounds of the night starting at sundown: bats, crickets, frogs, bark of a dog, hoot of an owl, birds, rustling in the leaves, wind, etc. Can you hear more sounds on a damp night? Can you hear more sounds at night when your sense of sight is not as keen?

Inside Preparation Work - The reading from the Handbook of Nature Study is the same as above. There was another book reference "Discover Nature at Sundown," but I didn't have this book.

Outdoor Hour Time:

1. Things That Go Bump in the Night: Spend 15 minutes outdoors at sundown, observing some of the sounds suggested in the book. The book suggests observing sounds on a damp night and a dry night and comparing your results. Something else to listen for is “sudden silence” where the night noises completely stop and then start up again after a period of time.

Since we didn't spot any bats during the day, we agreed that we would go out again when it was starting to get dark. So, around 8:45 p.m., we walked to the front yard.

The girls both heard frogs in the pond and pasture and birds in the trees. They said they felt a few rain drops and the wind.

We looked at the pine trees and walked up and down the driveway where the bats are often seen, but there wasn't a single bat out at that time. I suggested that we come out again when it's a bit about 15 minutes.

So, around 9:00 p.m. we went out again when it was much darker. It took a moment for our eyes to adjust from being in the light indoors to the dark outdoors. Yet, we could easily see everything outside after a few minutes. 

Again, Sophia and Olivia heard frogs calling to one another, but the birds had now quieted down. A new sound was apparent: mosquitos buzzing around our ears. 

Then...the first sighting!  "Bats!" the yelled enthusiastically and pointed up. 

Sure enough, the bats were flying within 3-4 feet of our heads. It was a great opportunity to see the bats up close and in flight.

Olivia and Sophia looking at the pine trees
where the bats were flying to and from around 9:00 p.m.

We walked to the pine trees again and saw that they were heading in and out of one of the trees more so than the others. Olivia began counting the number of bats she saw and got to 14.

As we walked back to the house, I saw a firefly near the pasture gate. We walked over to where I saw it, and then the golden glow happened again, but closer to the girls this time.  Needless to say, they were thrilled!  They had never seen a firefly up close.


The more we looked, the more fireflies we saw around us. It was a wonderful time outside - seeing both bats and fireflies!

2. World of Bats:

“Although an occasional bat can be found flying about during the day, most bats take to the sky during the twilight hours. On a summer evening you can observe them in a dance of twists, spirals, and loops that is choreographed by the insects they pursue.” Discover Nature at Sundown, page 148

If you have the opportunity to observe some bats up close, make sure to use some of the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study and/or the Discover Nature at Sundown.

The girls were able to see quite a few bats fly and the variety within the flight pattern. Both were amazed at how quickly they flew.

Although some bats did fly relatively low (about 8-9 feet from the ground), the majority flew much higher (about 20-40 feet high).
Follow-Up Activity:

Make sure to give time and the opportunity for a nature journal entry.

Sophia and Olivia will work on their nature journal entry in the morning and recall their experience of seeing the bats flying around them.

52 Books in 52 Weeks - Week 30 - Golden Sun

For the 30th book that I read this year as part of the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge, I chose Golden Sun by Ruth Sanderson. This is actually a youth fiction book that I read to Olivia, but it fits the goals of the challenge (e.g., over 100 pages, has a plot).

The book is the fifth one in the Horse Diaries series, and is a wonderful story that combines history, Native American life, and horses.

Much like how the book Black Beauty is narrated by Black Beauty (the horse) himself, Golden Sun is written in a conversational tone and told from the perspective of the horse (also named Golden Sun).

Golden Sun is a chestnut snowflake Appaloosa. During the summer, he treks through the mountains with his rider, a Nez Perce boy named Little Turtle who collects healing plants. He accompanies Little Turtle on his Vision Quest where both realize their true calling.

Golden Sun intersperses words used by the Nez Perce which Olivia and I knew because we had read the Kaya books (an American Girl series about a Nez Perce girl).

The Kaya books had a translation/dictionary in the back to explain what the Nez Perce words meant which was helpful. Having read that series first, we had a greater appreciation and understanding of Golden Sun.

Golden Sun has realistic, beautiful illustrations by Ruth Sanderson. Her ability to capture the detail and beauty of horses is consistent throughout the entire Horse Diaries series.

There is a sixth book in the series that will be released (hopefully) soon. Both Olivia and Sophia are looking forward to reading it.

Healthy (and Fun!) Holiday Eating - White Christmas in July - Day 4

Even though I have multiple files filled with ideas for celebrating Christmas, I always enjoy looking at other ideas.

Last year, Sophia, Olivia, and I did a lot of cooking and baking.  We all enjoyed our time together in the kitchen trying new recipes - like these for chocolate cookies made in a waffle iron.

Calendar of Healthy Eating Ideas

This year, I'd like to incorporate some healthy foods into the Christmas season. One way to do this is by using the 25 Healthy Days to Christmas PDF from Nourish Interactive. The calendar has lots of great ideas that would appeal to both children and adults. 

Edible Christmas Tree

For a holiday gathering, this is a clever way to display fresh vegetables. The person who created the edible Christmas tree used a mix of cauliflower from the gardenia mix, broccoli, and boccoflower for a contrast of color.
Edible Christmas Tree.

She recommends quickly blanching the broccoli and broccoflower heads for a few seconds in salted boiling water and then chilling them to brighten the color.

To assemble the edible Christmas tree, you need a Styrofoam cone and toothpicks. I would cover the cone with saran/clear wrap so none of the Styrofoam gets on the vegetables. Serve with a healthy dip on the side.

Muffin Tin Meals
After a busy day, sometimes it's nice just to have a simple dinner or light snack. One of the ways to do this is to serve a meal in a muffin tin.
Christmas theme Muffin Tin Meal.
Photo Source

The muffin tins can be lined with a cupcake paper liner. Not only does this add some color to the meal, but it helps reduce clean-up time.

There are a variety of cutters available - either for cookies, appetizers, or bento boxes. These help reinforce the theme of the meal.

Doing a muffin tin meal in a trio of colors (red, green, and white) or single color would be another option that would be fun for a child to look at and eat.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Summer Cattail Observations - Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer Series #7

In the spring, we did a nature study about cattails.  It was the first of four studies that we will be doing over a course of the year.  This idea came from the Handbook of Nature Study website, and is the
Outdoor Hour Challenge Summer #7 - Summer Cattail Observations.
Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
- Bold - are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
- Italics - are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
- Regular - are my own words.

Inside Preparation Work:

Read pages 500-502 in the Handbook of Nature Study if you have not done so before (starting on page 551 if you have the free download version) . It might also be beneficial to read it again this season and highlight the parts that contain information about the leaves of the cattail plant.

The following parts of the book were shared with Sophia and Olivia:

In June and early will be seen to have the upper half of the cat's tail much narrower and different than the lower half - as if it were covered with a quite different fur.

Cattail balloon and the part above it
(this is where the pollen comes from).

It seems to be clothed with a fine drooping fringe of olive yellow.

The fringe is a mass of crowded anthers, two or three of them being attached to the same stalk by a short filament.

These anthers are packed full of pollen.

All the leaves have the same general shape, but vary in length.

Olivia and Sophia by a group of cattails.
Olivia is swatting off mosquitos and
is ready to do something different.

Each leaf consists of two parts: the free portion, which is long and narrow and flat towards its tapering tip but is bent into a trough as it nears the plant; and the lower portion, which clasps the plant entirely or partially, depending upon whether it is an outer or inner leaf.

The texture of the leaf is soft and smooth. 

The cattail is adopted for living in swamps where the soil is wet but not under water all the time.

The cattail roots are fine and fibrous.

Outdoor Hour Time:

Enjoy your outdoor time this week at your cattail spot. If you have been participating in the year-long cattail study since last autumn, you will know just where to look for cattails. Use the suggestions from the Handbook of Nature Study to talk a little about the habitat where your cattails are growing.

Is your cattail still growing in water or has it dried up?

The cattails are both growing in and out of the pond.

The cattails grow in and out of the pond.

What does the “cattail” parts of the plant look like now?

Sophia said that the cattail part is, "Brown, fluffy, and tough."

"There's some kind of stem at the top," Olivia said.

I asked the girls to remove one of the cattails so that they could observe it closer inside. Olivia tried to snap off the cattail, but the stem was very tough to remove. Sophia tried, struggled a bit, and finally was able to break it off.

The girls were trying to break off the top of a cattail
so they could examine it indoors.

What color and shape are the leaves?

Olivia said, "Long and green."  Sophia said, "Long, pointy at the end, silky, smooth, and green."

Do you see the cattails seeds or balloons?

The balloons are the parts that we see now. (We had to look up what a cattail balloon is on the internet and found that it is the term for the long, oval brown part of the cattail.)
Can you pull some of the fuzz from the cattail and observe it more closely?

We took one cattail as well as a small section that was on another stalk.  We brought these two items inside to look at them closer with a magnifying glass. Some of the plant is included in the nature journal page.
How do you think the seeds spread, by wind or water?

The girls both thought they would be spread by the wind.

However, as we discussed it more, we thought the seeds could be spread by both wind and water - the wind could carry the seeds to different nearby areas of the pond and pasture; and the water could carry the seeds (once they landed on the water) to different parts of the pond itself.
How crowded are the cattails growing together?

Some of the cattails grow close together in the pond while other cattails are growing by themselves in different parts of the pond. and pasture.

The pond where the cattails are growing.

Train Your Senses

Sight: Observe the cattail’s habitat. Look for birds, insects, and animals living or resting in or on the cattails. Look for nests. See if you can find the cattail flowers.

The girls saw red-winged blackbirds, two unidentified birds, many dragonflies, and mosquitos. The dragonflies were twelve-spotted skimmers. We were seeing the brown and white winged ones - the males. We didn't see any females.

Twelve-spotted skimmer dragonfly.

Smell: Sit or squat near your cattails and close your eyes. Breathe deeply and see if you smell anything.

We didn't sit near the cattails because most of them were near or in the pond. There seemed to be a lot of mosquitos and other insects near the edge of the pond.

Olivia was having a particularly difficult time with all the bugs, so I opted to move on to walking in the wooded area of the pasture and see if we could spot anything else of interest.

Touch: Feel the leaves, edges, and spikes of the cattails.

Both of the girls felt the leaves and thought they were soft and silky. Despite the softness, they are quite tough and provide a bit of challenge when trying to break a small section off.

Hearing: Take a minute to listen as you stand or sit near your cattails. Can you hear any birds or insects? Water running?

The red-winged blackbirds were the predominant sound...that and the buzzing of mosquitos.  The water is in a pond, so there isn't much movement on a relatively calm day.

Follow-Up Activity:

Make sure to allow some time after your outdoor hour to discuss any subjects that your child finds interesting. Encourage the completion of a nature journal entry recording your observation of your cattails. You may wish to pull out your other cattail entries and compare the year-long changes in your cattails.

Once we were inside, we spent time touching and looking at the cattail balloon and leaves. From a sensory aspect, the cattail has such a diversity of textures which makes it an interesting plant to explore.

One Small Square - Outdoor Hour Challenge #9

I was looking at the Handbook of Nature Study website, and came across One Small Square - Outdoor Hour Challenge #9.

Throughout this post, three different typefaces are used:
- Bold - are words from the Handbook of Nature Study website.
- Italics - are words from the book titled Handbook of Nature Study by Anna Botsford Comstock.
- Regular - are my own words.

“Children should be encouraged to quietly and
patiently watch the bee, spider, ant, caterpillar or
other wildlife that crosses their path.
If this seems dull to them,
they just need to watch more closely,
because their alert eyes can catch the smallest ways of insects
in ways that grown-ups can’t without magnifiers.”
~ Charlotte Mason, volume 1, Outdoor Life, page 57 ~
1. Let’s give ourselves a challenge. Gather yarn, scissors, ruler, and four rocks. (Optional: small garden trowel and magnifying lens.)

Measure off one square somewhere out in your yard or near-by park. (I prefer to do this somewhere I can dig up a few inches of soil and not get into trouble.) Use your ruler to place rocks in a one foot square plot. Use the yarn to mark off the edges of your square.

Now the challenge comes in. See how many different things you can find in your square. If there are leaves, lift them up and see what is underneath. If there are rocks or gravel, scrape them aside and see what is underneath.

If there is grass or weeds and you have permission, use your trowel to dig up a few inches under the grass, moving it carefully to the side to replace when you are done observing. Use your hand lens if you have one along with you on your challenge.

I remember reading about this activity when I did a summer camp program for children and thought it was such a wonderful way to closely explore a small section of the world.

By having such a tiny section in which to explore, one is essentially "forced" to take her time to look carefully and go section-by-section and find new things.

Olivia discovering a world within the square of yarn. 

Olivia found some things right away within her square: a small stick, odd-shaped leaves, grass, and moss.

Sophia identifying what she sees first
without a magnifying glass.

After a little while, Olivia felt she had identified everything in the square. I joined her and we were able to find some more items that she had missed on her first time around the square.

Looking a bit closer,
Olivia found even more items.

Olivia used her magnifying glass to find a few more items: part of a pinecone, ferns, creeping Charlie, some kind of clover, dandelion leaf, dew, and a pine needle.

Sophia seemed to have found an interesting section of the front yard. Right away she said she saw: grass, pinecone shaving, wood, creeping Charlie, old pine needles, a bit of dirt, moss, dew, and a few little ferns.

Sophia exploring another section of the square.

By alternating with her magnifying glass and getting closer to the ground, Sophia found even more items in the 1 square foot of space: seed pod, few pieces of bark, a weird-shaped leaf that looks like a heart, a few roots, old grass that's turning brown, a dandelion leaf, wet ground, and tiny little bugs.

That's quite a diversity of natural items within such a small amount of space. Imagine what is in twice that amount of land...or the entire farm. 

It's so easy to rush through each day without taking the time to slow down and appreciate the small things in life. If we hadn't done this Outdoor Hour Challenge, we would not have enjoyed seeing two miniature worlds right in the front yard. 

Although each one was similiar to the other in some respects (e.g., both had grass, moss, and dew), there were unique elements in each square which made it all the more fascinating to further explore and take one's time in finding as many different things as possible.

2. Add any new items to your focus list that you are keeping in your nature journal. Add any items to your collection that you found during this week’s challenge time. Give an opportunity for a nature journal entry. If you used your hand lens during this week’s challenge, encourage your child to draw something they saw that you would not normally see like a small insect, worm, or seed.

The girls each chose a few small items that can be pressed and placed into their nature journals. Once the items are pressed, they will write and illustrate the entry for the day. 

Because I wrote the list of items they found as they were saying them, they can simply copy their lists at a later date.