Much of our kids’ time spent playing outside is spent in the backyard. We don’t have a landscaping “budget,” so to speak. I’ve tidied up the flower beds around the deck, moved some bushes since we moved into the house, and several years back I bought some perennials (so I wouldn’t have to keep buying them year after year). So, what I am saying is, the kids don’t spend a lot of time exploring nature in its natural habitat, but neither do they get to see nature cultivated and landscaped in a way that fully expresses its potential as an art form. For the former, we head out to a state park for camping or hiking. For the latter, we turn to botanic gardens, arboretums, and designed parks (like those of the legendary Olmstead).

This weekend we had the opportunity to visit the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. On a Sunday morning, to our surprise, cars were flowing into the garden like ants into an anthill. We soon saw why. The place is simply stunning, and not just for adults.

We came with the expectation that there would be some selling involved. Tater, all of 19 months, is cool as a cucumber. He’s happy to look at whatever you show him. But Grace’s four-and-a-half-year-old mind wants, nay “needs,” stimulation. We often have to keep activities lively with an ongoing discussion of what she’s looking at and why it’s worth looking at. Not so much, however, at the Botanic Gardens.

Our visit wasn’t terribly planned. In fact, our first thought was that this would be like an arboretum—we’d drive through then park for a bit and maybe stroll around for a half hour. Instead we found a heartier garden than we imagined. We picked up a map in the Visitor Center, saw a sign about a bonsai show, and headed in to see what we could see. Through sheer luck we walked straight to the Model Railroad Garden. There a small admission price for this area, but the look on the kids faces as they wandered through 1,600 feet of model railroad landscape was worth it. The displays represent landmarks from across the United States, from the White House to the Corn Palace of South Dakota to Seattle’s Space Needle. Of course, Thomas and Percy and James have a corner of the garden, but much more interesting to the adults are the more than a dozen other trains.

After the model railroad, we strolled over to the Regenstein Center where we wandered through the small court of bonsai trees. Grace has a thing for small trees, and this kept her attention for a little while. Then we were off for a longer walk, out over to Evening Island and its impressive Carillon, then back to find our way out to the Japanese gardens on the next island.

Families were everywhere, and our kids had a lot of fun making friends. There wasn’t time for the kids to take a class or really dig into the children’s activities, and when we go again, we will bring better shoes for the kids (the flip-flops did not serve us well), perhaps a snack and some water, and we will carve out more time. You could really spend an entire day here and not regret a moment of it.

(The garden brochures proudly state that there is never an admission charged at the gate. But if you bring your car, be aware that it will cost you $20 to park.)

It’s been raining here off an on for over a week now. That and the 50-degree weather, it’s a real hypothermia-fest out there. So what’s a family to do? Instead of spending a lot of time outside, I’ve been talking to Grace and Tater about the spring rain and all the green we’re seeing everywhere. Gracie turns four and a half this month. It’s a milestone she’s been keeping careful track of. She was asking about it every day. Several times a day, actually. And, in all honesty, it was getting downright annoying. My wife, in a stroke of genius, told her that she would be four and a half when the trees showed their buds. For well over a month, Grace has been inspecting every tree we pass, searching for the buds. And then all of a sudden, last week, the trees just exploded with leaves. Very spectacular!

Since then, we’ve watched the flowering bushes and ornamental trees blossom and then lose their flowers in the rain. Smaller flowers has started to bloom around the edges of our landscaping, such as it is.

Then there are the birds and animals. The pregnant robins and mourning doves, goldfinches and cardinals. The turkeys (the photo above is from Grace ‘n’ Tater’s grandparents’ yard), squirrels, and rabbits. All skittering and flitting around the yard. In the morning, I crack a window in the kids’ rooms and let in the cacophony of chirping from outside.

Spring has sprung, finally. And even the rain can’t douse our enthusiasm!

A dad’s job for Mother’s Day is to find a gift his kids can make and give to their mother in appreciation for all the junk she has to put up with all year. Thankfully for many of us dads, grandmothers need projects too, which moms often oversee. So if you’re lucky, you can watch your wife pull together some resources and piggy-back on that a little.

I queried my network of awesome parents on Facebook, and came up with a great list of crafty projects you can do with your kids. Here are a couple of their ideas:

“Pre-cut tulips and stems from construction paper (egg carton sections) and other flowers if you can. Glue them to a paper plate for a garden.” –Michelle

“Our pre-K just made water-colored flowers and a vase. Trace both hands twice—paint, cut out when dry, attach to pipe cleaners, trace a vase shape, paint, cut out, attach to other end of pipe cleaners. We also paint both our hands with tempera paint and print on a piece of paper so thumbs are touching—you want it to look like a butterfly—then they add details and background with markers. Then they attach a poem they wrote about Mom below. :)”–Jeannie

“Make stepping stones. You can buy the whole kit at Michael’s. It comes with the cement, jewels, and you can even by letter stamps to stamp in the cement. I love the ones my kids made me.” –Amy

“Last year my son made me a bouquet of flowers made out of egg carton cutouts and pipe cleaners. They were in a clear bottle that had pastel tissue paper glued on like papier-mâché. It was cute.” –Yvonne

Friends also listed a couple of great websites for finding even more crafts:

MotherDayCentral (a collection of crafts from around the Internet)

Perpetual Preschool (good ideas from other parents)

North of Boston Library Exchange (great collection of projects!)

We followed the links and eventually landed on a Disney FamilyFun page and a project they call Flower Power. This little bouquet of handmade flowers, cut from paper, folds up flat and can be mailed. (Grace’s finished flowers are there on the left.) This is perfect for the grandmother and great-grandmother we have living at a distance. Another idea, and one that fits in with the theme of this site, are Paper Blossoms. You will need to go outside and collect some long thin branches. Sticks and twigs seem to be strewn everywhere this time of year, so it should be easy to find them. Along the branches you glue tissue paper flowers for nice effect.

Now that the kids are set, I just need to figure out what I am going to do for Mother’s Day. Do you think mom will go for tissue-paper carnations?

For today’s post I asked my friend Rob Kristoff to share a bit about his family’s experience outdoors. Rob is a freelance writer who lives on Boston’s North Shore with his charming wife and precocious daughter. He’s written a guide to local mountain biking trails, a must-have for anyone searching out the best trails around Boston.

It’s hard to summarize how important it has been to our daughter to get outside.  And I really do think that some of the reason she loves being outside comes from how we treated nature with her when she was a baby.

I know when she was very small her mother had to spend some time in the hospital, and I took her around the (extremely large) building and closely showed her the trees they had growing in the atrium:  letting her feel them and putting her face close to the leaves. Did that have an effect? Who knows.

And even before this, because I had a job plowing skating trails on local lakes (yeah, it was as cool a job as it sounds), her mom would bring her out to see what I was doing (within reason and only for very short periods of time). She would’ve been just weeks old then.

Another moment came when she was barely walking and I tried to get her to sit quietly in her stroller as we walked through the state forest, where there was a paved road closed to cars. She cried and cried until I (almost randomly) thought to let her get out and try to walk by pushing the stroller. She did that for about three seconds, while continually glancing to the forest at the side of the road. “Do you want to get off the paved road? Go ahead,” I said, jokingly. Her face lit up a little bit and she let go of the stroller and headed straight for the woods—up a rather tough incline for a two year old, I thought. I’m pretty sure if I’d have let her continue she’d have pressed on straight into the woods.

Or I think of taking her for walks in her baby-backpack. We’d walk trails and sing songs. Occasionally—I won’t lie to you—I’d accidentally smack her in the face with low-hanging leaves.  Just the tips of branches, nothing serious. But I’d feel bad and say “Oops!”  She thought it was hilarious. We’d walk for hours that way, taking our little dad and daughter adventures.

With all these moments in mind, were we crazy? Did I not know she was a small baby and that there was some danger or risk involved?  That it was cold out by those lakes? No, we were not bad parents, and yes, we knew there was some risk involved. I kept it to a bare minimum, was very careful when need demanded it. But for the greater goal it felt worth it, and I think we’ve been proved right.

I can’t, and wouldn’t want to, tell you what to do with your baby, but in our family, even my wife (who was a nature lover, but not so much of an adventurer before this) would say that it has been nothing but good for our daughter to go outdoors on adventures, especially including when she was very small. “Raise up a child in the way she should go, and when she is old she will not depart from it”…

Garden planning with kids

Garden planning with kidsIn college I read The Good Life by cheap nfl jerseys Scott and Helen Nearing. This began a love affair with books on farming and subsistence living. My shelves are full of them. The great irony is that I’ve never even had my own garden. When I was a kid we had a half acre we planted every summer. We grew raspberries, strawberries, tomatoes, cucumbers, pumpkins. I even planted my own rows of popping higher corn one year, but ever since high school it’s been a nonstarter.

This summer I am determined to change that. Armed with only a blade of understanding of the square-foot method of gardening, we’re going to try a four-by-four-foot raised garden. And by “we” I mean, me and the kids. Of course, Tater’s too small to be much help, but this afternoon Grace and I set out to plan our garden.

Planning at this level is really basic. First Grace listed all the vegetables she could think Fly! of, and then drew pictures of them. We followed that with faulty attempts at explaining why a fruit is different from a vegetable (no thanks to my know-it-all asides that a tomato is a fruit), why we can’t grow bananas Milano in our backyard, and why it would take a couple years for an apple tree to actually produce an apple.

Once we had our highly edited, though still questionable, list of things we want to About grow, we drew our four-by-four-foot divvied plot Night and cheap mlb jerseys decided what we wanted to plant where. The wall against the back is perfect for a small lattice for the string beans, tomatoes go in the back so they don’t wholesale mlb jerseys block the sun for the carrots and herbs (aka “spices”), and peppers can go in front of the beans cause we don’t know where else to put them.

Now all you gardeners out there, be kind. I will be getting wholesale nfl jerseys a book from the library before we begin in earnest to sort out what plants should share soil. Right now I am just trying to get the kids excited about a garden?a task that turned out to be much easier than I thought. In fact, Grace wants to plant carrots today so we can have some in time to feed the Easter bunny (which she “knows isn’t real, except in Easter world, which is the whole cheap mlb jerseys world every Easter”).

Now I just need to buy some wood, dirt, and seeds, and start thinking about whether I should plant starter beds… I will keep you posted as we go. Watercolours Should be a fun summer!

Being outside you always find different ways to engage with Loan the natural world. This week the wind is just blowing, and it got us talking about the wind and birds and airplanes. Grace loves to point out long All contrails when we are on road trips, and she can spend hours making and tossing airplanes around the house with her grand-dad.

There are a ton of ways to have fun outside trying to “ride the wind,” so to speak, and most are pretty cheap. Even the price of a little R/C helicopter has come down! But we’re looking at hand powered toys today. Here are a couple of ways et we like to explore the wind.

Kites
Kite-flying is really all it promises to be. You can spend hundreds (even thousands?) on professional kites and string rigs, but as Mr. Banks rightly sings at the end ‘The of Mary Poppins, “With tuppence for paper and strings, you can have your own set of wings.” In fact, when it comes to kites, I always say cheaper is better.

In college, a former tenant of a house we lived in left a really nice nylon kite. It was missing supports and was really too big for a regular spool of string. For a few bucks at a kite shop I was all set for a day a of fun. Once in flight, however, this kite was like trying to land a marlin! I had bottled over Miami Dolphins Jerseys 200 feet of line out, and it took me an hour to wind it back in. And quite frankly, it was boring.

Kids bring back the fun. They don’t mind standing out there watching the kite just float. They’re ecstatic just to hold the string, and if it crashes eventually all the better. So with kids I think the best kite is one Katrina that costs less than a Happy Meal. (I am exaggerating, but you get the idea.)

Balsa Wood Airplanes
Powered by winding up a long rubber band, the old balsa-wood airplanes from your youth are still available. They’re a bit pricier now a-days, but not prohibitively so. You can find them online, but shipping just makes the expense ridiculous. Instead we find ours at Hobby Lobby or Michaels for less than $3 (usually much less).

We have a nice high deck off the back of the house. It’s about six feet wholesale NFL jerseys above grade, which is just enough altitude to add some lift when tossing a plane, but not so much that you need an escalator to make the endless runs up and down retrieving spent aircraft.

My kids are still young yet to really exploit the learning moment. We spend most the time chasing airplanes and screaming with giggly delight every time they crash. But with a few simple tweaks?moving wings forward or back, angling the tail fins, etc.?we can get the plane to start acting in unusual but predictable ways. That’s where they start picking up on the nature of aerodynamics.

Paper Airplanes
Paper airplanes can be just as fun as their balsa-wood peers and don’t require endless winding of rubber-band propellers. On the down side, they don’t stay aloft as long either (though with a balsa-wood plane I’ve never even gotten close to the paper-airplane world-record flight of 27.6 seconds. On the up side, you get to make (and decorate) them all by yourself.

There are a ton of sites out there with paper airplane designs. Some designs are really overly complex, and if your kids are really young, you’ll be doing all the folding work yourself. While not the prettiest page on the Web, I have found this paper-airplane site to have a lot of great designs. You can even find videos on here wholesale NBA jerseys in addition to the illustrated instructions.

For our kids, a favorite part of flying is the crash, so any design that cheap NBA jerseys promises a gentle glide then sudden nose-dive is an instant hit. The other favorite part is trying to fill every inch of the paper with some crayon decoration. This adds to the weight and messes with the dynamics of flight, so I usually just make regular old planes, nothing fancy.

Parachute Guys
Any decent toy shop will have parachute guys for a song. Easy as anything, you simply remove the rubber band holding the plastic chute and toss. These work best if you have someplace high you can climb to. Really good if there’s a three-story playground fort nearby. We used to toss them from the third-floor gallery of our town courthouse (but part of that fun was seeing how long you could watch them before the security guard looked up and came after you).

Maple Tree Helicopters
Nature also gives us plenty to play with. For watching thing fly you could do worse than sticking with maple seeds. In the summer these seeds whirl and wind from the tree in our back yard. When they are still bright green, we collect them by the handfuls and toss them from the deck. You can keep doing this all summer as they dry out and yellow, until the blades start to wear too thin. This year we are planning on collecting a bucketful and using markers (the kind that clean up with water) to color the blades. It might be fun to watch a hundred of these twirl away, like it’s raining Skittles.

Riding a bike gives kids a way to explore and enjoy the world outdoors. But what’s the best way to teach a kid to ride a bike. It’s tricky business, right? Training wheels, scraped knees, and all that running along side holding the seat?

Several years back we met some friends at a park in Gloucester, Massachusetts, to watch a cyclo-cross race. A good time with friends, watching our two girls play together for the first time. Anyhow, that was the first time I ever saw a kid riding a ????? Skuut wooden balance bike.

It was a revelation. There was this kid, couldn’t have been any older than my two-year-old?in fact, he could have been younger?and he was riding a bike. This bike had no pedals, and the seat was set low enough that he would alternate between walking, scooting himself along, and coasting. As he came to the top of a rise, he’d lift his feet and ride all the way to the bottom.

The idea is nothing less than cheap nfl jerseys genius. The bike teaches kids to ride by teaching the balance part first, in a way that allows them to learn it gradually, at their own pace.

At the time, Skuut was cheap jerseys China the only company making these, and they were pricey. Since then a lot of companies have tossed their bikes out wholesale jerseys China onto the market, and the price cheap jerseys has come down (on the Skutts, too). Many have gone beyond the simple look of wood and come out with metal-framed bikes. Today, our daughter is riding a wooden balance bike from Smart Gear, and it’s turning out just as we planned. In the past year we’ve had to raise the seat, and she’s become really adept as cruising.

Watching her ride up and down the driveway, you can almost see her looking for new ways Walks to move the wheels forward. The transition to a bike with pedals will be no problem later this summer, and we’ll have a kid riding a bike before she turns five. Now if there was just an easy way to teach swimming, whistling, and how to blow a bubble. . .