Category Archives: Nature

Hiking in the City

It has been just over a week since I returned home after Nature Summit 2016.  I’ll admit that for the first few days I did seriously consider putting my tent up in the backyard because I really missed spending all day, every day outside.  Summit was fabulous as usual – I got to participate in many outdoor workshops.  I went for a ride on a zip line, climbed almost to the top of this;

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And of course I did a lot of hiking through the woods.

I know I really enjoy a nature hike and so do the  children in my care.  I also know that, even in the city, there are many places where we can hike and feel like we are out in the wilderness.  However, a city hike can be pretty special too – especially to a group of boys who can tell me the name and purpose of almost every type of construction vehicle. 🙂

My little group and I have spent the last few months exploring the the nearby neighbourhoods.  Our city hikes vary in length from just a few blocks to up to 8 km.  They can take anywhere from a half hour to several hours and it is rarely the children that suggest we’ve been walking too long and it is time to go back.  Pretty amazing when you consider that these are 2 and 3 year olds.

So, what do we see when we go on an 8km city hike?  Back hoes, buses, dump trucks and trains.  Cement trucks, front loaders, street cleaners and cranes.  Yes, there is a lot of noisy traffic but there are also many quiet spots too.  In fact, one of our favourite paths takes us through the cemetery.

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We look for birds – the children know where all the nest boxes are located (there is a nest box in the above picture but it is hard to see).  We listen to the wind in the trees and watch the river in the distance.  Inevitably the river sparks the topic of bridges – which one will we cross today?  Within walking distance of the cemetery there are FIVE bridges we can go over, and THREE that we can go under.

There are several more bridges we can explore if we pack a lunch and make it a day long hike but that tends to be too much even for this active little group.  Once this past summer we did make it to two distant bridges but the children were obviously tired and there was not much excitement.  Besides, when we stick to the familiar, nearby areas there is a whole more to our hikes than just walking.

In some cases we can cross one bridge and examine the structure of another bridge at the same time.

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There are bridges for people, bikes, cars and trains. Only some of our bridges cross over water.  Others cross over roads or train tracks and give us a whole lot more to talk about.  The children often complained that there were never any trains on these tracks when we crossed over them – but twice this summer there was a train here!  So of course we had to stop for a while to watch.

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One time the train was moving so very slowly that we were able to continue our walk, loop around and walk under the same train we had just been standing over.

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Standing under a train bridge while a train slowly squeaked and creaked, clanged and banged overhead was a new experience.  Trains on bridges sound much different than cars on bridges. The children also enjoyed yelling ‘ECHO!’ as they do every time we venture under bridges.

We don’t spend all our time on noisy city streets.  For contrast we also explore parks and riverbanks along the way.  We get to hear and smell the difference between the roadway and the forest.  On this particular hike the ‘big’ boys were with us and the ‘littles’ enjoyed showing them all our favourite spots.

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Just as we use the bridges to compare the traffic and trains from above and below we can also do the same with the river.  Standing on the bridge we watch the water flow, count geese and ducks, and watch sticks and other debris float by but there is the noise of the traffic crossing the bridge too.

It is amazing how just a few steps away from a busy road can feel like a totally different world.  What can you hear now?  Our river bank trails offer another perspective of the water.  We can get closer to the water – but not too close, this is not a swimming river.

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There is a tree they want to climb.  Normally I’d say yes to a tree climbing adventure but a quick risk assessment resulted in a ‘No’ to climbing on this tree;

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Yes, I love a good nature hike but a city hike offers something special too.  We could read books or watch videos and memorize facts about cars and trucks, trees and birds, rivers and roads or we can go for a city hike, experience it, and begin to understand the impact we have on the natural environment.

Spring 2016

There is a thin layer of snow on the front sidewalk but I am stubbornly refusing to go sweep it off.  The temperature display on the weather station reads ‘0’ degrees at 6am so I am confident the sidewalk snow will melt soon – the snow on the steps has already melted.  Yesterday morning when we went out to play there was no snow anywhere in my back yard and there was a collective “Awww, there’s no snow” 😦 from the children so I’m certain this recent snowfall is Mother Nature’s response to that lament.

I like winter too and this past (present?) winter has been quite pleasant.  There have been a few indoor issues with running across the playroom and jumping in and out of the nature area.  I’ve tried several indirect measures to curb the reckless behaviour – most had limited effect but this has been quite successful;

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These cardboard circles used to be attached to the loft for toy storage but we no longer have the loft – of course I kept these ‘just in case’ I found another use for them… 🙂  The smaller children enjoy using the ‘tunnels’.  The school age children and I can step over.  Either way it slows down traffic – like the pot holes on the street.

Speaking of cardboard tubes, I can’t believe we still have these ‘binoculars’ made from plastic wrap tubes and tape;

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I quickly put them together for some toddlers who wanted them for a dramatic play activity they were engaged in two years ago!  I never expected them to stay in the playroom for more than a day or two but they are just as popular as ever and they haven’t been damaged yet.  I’ve considered making, or having the children make more, fancier ones but no one is really interested so these ones stay.  The current group likes to lay on the floor in the nature area and use them to look for butterflies and birds in the trees.

Another constant in the playroom is these eggs in this pot;

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Upon entering the playroom one of the toddlers will place these eggs in this pot and set it on the counter.  If at any point someone else moves the pot, puts other food in the pot, or puts the eggs is a different pot there will be a scuffle.  I can’t explain it but it has been like this every day for months now.  No one ever actually plays with the eggs in the pot and the toddlers will happily put them away at clean up time but they MUST be on the counter like this during play time.

However, there have been several complaints that I have not yet taken down the Easter decorations;

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Honestly, I’m happy leaving them up as ‘Spring’ decorations.  I have many window clings for Fall, Halloween, Christmas, Winter, Valentines, St Patrick’s Day, and Easter but for the period between Easter and Fall all I have are butterflies.  Butterflies are nice but I’d like to have some variation over the 5 month Spring/Summer period.  Flowers or birds would be nice.

Yes, there is snow on the ground – again – but summer is coming.  Check out our seedlings;

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We’ve started our peppers, corn and several types of squash.  The corn surprised us – we don’t usually plant corn but we found an old package of corn seeds in our seed collection – we were not certain they would grow.  I don’t usually buy seeds – most of our garden plants are grown from seeds we collect from our garden or produce from the store or CSA box.  Our peas and beans will be planted directly in the garden outside but it is too early yet – we’ve tried digging in the soil every time the snow melts but the ground is still frozen.  Some of us are very eager for Spring to arrive.

 

 

Happy Earth Day

So, yesterday was Earth Day.  I didn’t plan anything specific to celebrate – I prefer child led activities over planned instruction.

One year I had a four-year-old who chose to make ‘confetti’ out of the leftover bits of a hay bale along with miscellaneous items she collected from our garden. She spent the rest of our outdoor play time running around the yard tossing the confetti into the air and cheering ‘Celebrate the Earth!’   The other children joined in.

This year my preschool group is very young.  Early in the day, after everyone arrived and we were playing together in the playroom I mentioned to the group that it was Earth Day.  There was casual interest as I talked about the Earth, the environment, celebrations etc.  Mostly the toddlers just played as they should.

We continued through our regular schedule much like any other day – indoor & outdoor play, meal times, potty breaks, nap etc.  On several occasions the children initiated ‘birthday parties’ – one of their favourite dramatic play themes.  It took me a while to catch on – probably longer than it should have.

After nap time as the first child got up he said ‘Happy Birthday Cheryl’ and then ran off to play.  As I put away the cots and blankets other children came over to wish me a happy birthday too.  Some offered hugs too.  That’s when I finally realized what was going on and tried to fix it.

Me: ‘It’s Earth day, not my birthdayEARTH day’.

Toddlers: ‘Happy Birthday Cheryl’.

Me: ‘No, EARTH day. E-A-R-T-H Earth day’ (spelling for toddlers like that might help).  I showed them the globe and a world map.  ‘Earth‘.

Toddlers: ‘Cake?’

Sigh.  No, no cake.  I didn’t even think of having cake on Earth Day.  In fact, it was hard to think of doing anything different on Earth day because around here we always celebrate nature and the Earth.  We don’t need a special day for that.

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Good-Bye Old Tree

Last summer the tree across the street was marked for removal – we loose so many of our grand old elm trees due to Dutch Elm Disease.  Although loosing trees makes us sad, the tree removal process is also very exciting.  One morning last week we noticed that the city workers were putting ‘No Parking’ on the street signs around the tree.

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We had the perfect vantage point – the tree is directly in front of our window;

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After the signs were put up the snow plow removed all the snow banks from the area around the tree.  Then, for the rest of the morning there was no further activity.  We waited. We had lunch and then I closed the blind so it was darker for the toddlers’ nap time.  As the children slept I caught up on some paperwork and answered a few emails — then I heard the trucks.

Seriously, why do they always come at nap time?  Who do I complain to about this?  I paced back and forth listening to the chain saws and impatiently waiting for the children to wake.  As soon as the children began to stir I flung open the blind and sent all the children to the window as I put away the cots.  The baby stayed in his crib – standing there he could see over the children at the window.

All the branches had already been removed from the tree and they had cut a notch from the trunk;

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They tied a rope to the tree as a safety measure so it would not fall on the nearby houses.  Then, one more cut and the trunk began to fall;

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CRASH! Wow, that was loud and the whole house shook.

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As the workers began cutting the tree trunk into smaller pieces one of the children started complaining about the ‘bad pirate’ wrecking the tree.  I was confused until they pointed to this worker’s helmet;

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The tractor then picked up the trunk pieces;

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And put them in a big dump truck;

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It was all very interesting and kept the children engaged for the remainder of the afternoon.  I printed off a series of pictures of the tree removal process and used them to create sequence cards.  The children have enjoyed looking at them and reliving the excitement of the day.

Artificial Nature

It was back in 2005 that I first created a nature area in the playroom as a way to bring nature indoors.  Originally it was just 16 sq ft nature loft;

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It was a very popular picnic spot so in 2009 I redesigned it and doubled the size;

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This new loft was also higher off the ground and under the loft was an ‘underwater’ tunnel;

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Admittedly this under/over nature areas was one of my personal favorite designs but it was a nightmare to clean.  The children hauling armloads of toys up and down the loft stairs was another concern.

In 2010 I abandoned the nature ‘loft’ idea and created a nature ‘area’ in one half of the small nap room off the main play room.  This new nature area had both ‘land’ and ‘water’ areas with many pillows to create comfortable places to relax;

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I found that having the trees up against the walls meant the nature area lost the secluded/sheltered feel that the loft had provided.  So, in the next renovation I moved the trees from the border to the centre  of the nature area.  Moving trees is somewhat easier to do in an artificial environment 🙂

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This new arrangement allowed the trees to create a canopy over the whole area and the open corners provided quiet areas to sit.  It also created another problem – running in circles around the tree.

It wasn’t the circling the tree that bothered me, it was the running.  The circling always started slowly – often marching and singing – but gradually became fast and reckless.  Left unchecked the situation could become totally out of control.

As is often the case with direct guidance, repeated reminders to ‘walk’ were usually ignored.  I much prefer to use indirect guidance so I’ve been looking for a way to add something to the environment to slow down or eliminate the running problem.

I had this chunk of tree against the wall for texture and a ‘home’ for small toy animals.  I moved it over to create a sort of speed bump;

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However, I was concerned that the triangular shape – that had been perfect when placed against the wall – would be dangerous in this location;

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So, I placed pillows over the log and covered it with the ‘grass’ blanket.  Now it is a little hill in our indoor nature area;

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The babies love climbing over the little hill and curling up in the comfy relaxation corner;

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Yes, I’ve now managed to replace indoor ‘running’ with indoor ‘climbing’ but it is a climbing activity that I consider acceptable for an indoor environment.

We do spend a lot of time outdoors where all running, jumping, and climbing is encouraged.  Interestingly, the children are aften a lot less active outdoors.  I know why.  No matter how much ‘nature’ I bring to our indoor environment there is one thing I can never recreate.

The calming effect of nature cannot be replicated in an artificial indoor nature environment.  To truly relax in nature you must go outside.

Bees and More

We have many insects in our yard.  Our garden has several plants chosen specifically because they attract insects.  The bees love the giant hyssop and we love watching the bees;

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This butterfly was outside the yard when the children first saw it.  They called it repeatedly and finally it obliged and flew into our garden so we could see it better.

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Earlier this spring we had a nest of baby spiders by the bench;

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Those baby spiders entertained us for several days before they left to find homes elsewhere.  The children were very protective of the baby spiders and ensured no one sat on the bench and damaged the web.

Some of the children are afraid of bugs – especially spiders and wasps.  I believe that learning about the insects we encounter will help the children overcome any fear of them. When we know what these insect do we begin to understand how they can benefit us.

Even wasps are welcome to visit our yard – they have a job to do in the garden too.  We don’t let them build their nests where we play though.  When they are near we give them the respect they deserve.

Daily I am summoned to various parts of the yard by a child asking “What kind of bug is this?” That question is followed by many more.  I don’t always have the answers but we do research to find out more.

I always try to remain calm even when we discover insects that I don’t like – such as these aphids we just found on the oats in our garden;

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Where are the lady bugs – we need them now!  A strong negative reaction may instil unnecessary fear.  I’ll explain why I dislike certain insects and what we can do to avoid contact with those that we don’t like.

Earlier this week two of the girls were sitting in the garden smelling the herbs and flowers.  They were conversing quietly and I overheard one say “Ok, it’s your turn to pet him now – he’s really soft.”

I moved closer to see what they had found.  It was a bee – possibly the biggest, fattest, fluffiest bumble bee I have ever seen.  It was busy moving from one flower to the next and every time it landed the girls would PET IT!?!?

I tried to remain calm as I said “Please don’t pet the bumble bee.” but I’m sure my voice was a much higher pitch than normal.

“But we love him” the girls replied.

“Yes, I know, but he’s busy working and we don’t want to make him angry.  Watch him but don’t interrupt what he is doing.”

Love my job 🙂

Trimming Trees

One day last week as I was helping to get the toddlers dressed to go outside I told the preschoolers to put on their boots.  They looked at me and in unison asked “Are we going for a walk?”

They know the routine.  We get dressed at the front door because there is more room there but we carry our boots to the back door to go outside to play.  We only put our boots on at the front door if we are going out the front to go for a walk.

They sounded a little disappointed.  They look forward to playing in the yard and sometimes the toddlers walk so slowly that we run out of time to play.  I reassured them that we were just walking around the block and would come in the back yard to play.

There was something on the street that I thought they would like to see.  I had noticed the ‘No Parking – Street Work’ signs the day before and now the trucks were down at the end of the block.

We went out on the step;

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“What are they doing?” the children asked.

“Trimming the trees” I replied.

“Can we go watch them?”

“Yes, but not to close.”  We talked about the warning signs;

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We discussed the things we saw and heard.  The equipment was very loud.  I explained that it was easier to trim the trees in the winter when there were no leaves and the trees were dormant.  One child expressed concern that the workers would cut down ‘all the trees and we’ll have none left’.  Awww.

We walked around to the back yard to play.  I was hoping that by the time we came back inside the workers would have moved farther down the street and the children would be able to watch some more from the playroom window.

By lunchtime the trucks had only moved slightly closer – they didn’t appear to be making much progress.  I figured at this rate they wouldn’t reach my house until the middle of nap time – grrrr.

Actually, they never did come further down the street.  I wondered why.

The school bus dropped off the older children and then had to back down the street to leave because the trucks were still blocking the road.  That’s when we noticed this;

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That’s some MAJOR trimming.  Luckily they only cut down the one tree and not all of them.  We still have some left – for now.