Tag Archives: Nature

Sunflowers & Squirrels

Squash, peas, beans and sunflower seeds are large enough that the toddlers can plant them independently so we plan to grow them in our garden every year. We always grow a little bit of wheat so we can grind it into flour and bake something with it. Tomatoes are a staple in our garden too but we usually purchase seedlings to ensure we get plenty of tomatoes. Each year we also try some different things for variety – this year it was dill, radicchio, and carrots.

The weather was crazy this summer – most of our plants did OK but not great. All four types of squash failed to produce any usable fruit. The wheat and radicchio started off nicely and then fizzled and died – first time we’ve ever had a complete wheat crop failure. We had a fair number of tomatoes and a few beans and carrots but would have liked more. The sunflowers grew very well – almost taking over the whole garden.

We had planted two different types of sunflower seeds but there seemed to be more than two varieties of sunflowers – many different sizes and colours, some stalks with just a single flower, others with multiple flowers, some with few seeds and others that were mostly seeds. These fancy ones were my favourites;

The sunflowers created a lot of interest in the garden. Butterflies and bees were plentiful all summer long.

Squirrels were also frequent visitors in our garden – and they were not overly concerned about sharing the yard with toddlers.

The cats were entranced – probably wished they were allowed outside too instead of just watching through the window.

The squirrels were very messy – leaving piles of discarded shells and debris all over the yard.

They also left our sunflowers looking like this;

Luckily we still managed to collect some seeds to plant next year – and we discovered that the seeds from those fancy sunflowers turn your fingers bright purple!

Even without seeds the sunflowers made wonderful loose parts for outdoor play. The biggest one was a whopping sixteen inches wide!

Both squirrels and sunflowers were welcome attractions in our yard this summer.

Quiet Spaces 2

Our indoor ‘nature area’ located just off the main play area has always been considered a quiet space. Decorations include trees, flowers, rocks, birds, butterflies and grass-like carpet. The large window provides plenty of natural light (when the sun is shining) and a view to the real outdoors. The entrance/exit gates serve as a reminder that toys were not supposed to be brought in here. The babies’ cribs are also in this room allowing them to nap if necessary while the older children play in the play room – another reason why this was not a play area. This is where the children can come to read books or just relax.

There were some cushions here for sitting or relaxing on but some of the children thought they were better for tossing or using for pillow fights. *sigh* While most of the children appreciated this quiet space, there were occasionally some that thought the 30 square foot ‘grass’ area was a good spot to play tag or wrestle.

After creating the little quiet nooks I wrote about in my last post, I wondered if we still needed this quiet space – maybe I could somehow re-purpose the nature area into an active play space. I decided against it. We have the music/dance space and we use balance pods, resistance bands and tunnels for some indoor gross motor play when we can’t go outside. We spend a lot of time outdoors and that is still the best place for tag and rough and tumble play. Even if our indoor nature area mimics an outdoor space, it is still indoors and not to be used for active play.

I needed to find a way to encourage all the children to use this indoor nature area for its intended reading/relaxing purpose. So, I purchased this nest swing;

It is small enough that is doesn’t use the whole space but large enough to discourage running and jumping. I have it hung less than one foot off the ground so even the toddlers can easily get on and off the ‘nest’ (we don’t call it a swing) without assistance. It is also the perfect height to use as a table/desk – some of the children prefer to sit on the ground around the nest and place their books on it instead.

I have the nest anchored on two sides so it does not swing far but still provides a gentle, relaxing movement. It is especially nice when laying down and looking up at the trees above.

It has definitely become a favourite quiet space for everyone to read and relax.

Field Trip

For many years I regularly used my 15 passenger van to take the children on field trips.  It had plenty of room for all the car/booster seats, supplies, and even my teens when they came along to help out. Eventually the costs of upkeep for the old van began to outweigh the benefits of using it. When all my original car seats expired I priced out buying five new ones I decided that the expense wasn’t justified for just a few outings a year.

I discovered that I don’t miss taking the children to museums and we can walk to the library and many other neighbourhood attractions.  So, for the past four years we haven’t gone on an outing that required transportation.  In fact, we go on far more walking adventures than we ever did before and they are much more spontaneous (emergent). I do however miss the farm trips and many of the distant hiking trails we used to frequent. So this summer I decided to take my little group on a city bus adventure to the closest one of  the trails – Bunn’s Creek Trail.

For some of the children this was their first ever experience on a city bus.  They were all very excited.  Throughout the 20 minute ride they giggled and cheered and sang songs amusing all the regular bus riders.  We disembarked and began our hike down the 3 km trail.  I loved that my little group of preschool hikers immediately began assessing risks.  ‘Those trees look like bridges – it would be fun to walk on them but if they broke we would fall in the water’;

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I told the children I would take a picture of anything they found interesting along the way.  The first one they requested was this lonely ‘rainbow leaf’;

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They were amazed by the ‘broken beaver dam’;

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Of course they noticed all the thistles growing along the trail.

These boys find thistles everywhere – in parks, back lanes, trails and even gardens.  They like to touch them – they know they are prickly but to them this seems to be an acceptable risk.  I find it interesting how gently they touch the thistles.   Most of the time ‘gentle’ seems to be difficult for this group yet when it comes to thistles they demonstrate that they have the ability to be gentle so yes, keep practicing that!

Then they spotted ‘dandelions’ but they were very tall so a quick check of our field guide and we found out that they were actually sow thistles.

The children don’t think sow-thistle is as prickly as Canada Thistle and quickly lost interest until they found this;

‘Sticky!’

We’ve seen these big leaves of the Common Burdock on many of our hikes but the children have never paid much attention to them or the burrs.  Now these have become the ‘must touch’ favourites on all our hikes.

We reached the park at the end of the trail and took a washroom break.  Everyone wanted to stay on the bridge for a while and look at the creek.

This was the mid point of our hike – we headed back along the trail to where we started.  It was interesting how many of the landmarks the children remembered on our return trip.  They got really excited as we approached the spot where the lonely rainbow leaf was.  Pretty amazing that they can find the same leaf twice in a 6 km nature hike.

We had our lunch in the field near where the creek meets the Red River.  It was so peaceful.  

There was a bald eagle that flew from one side of the clearing and back several times but I was never able to get a picture of him.

The bus ride home was still exciting but much quieter and everyone was ready for a nap when we returned.

We continue to go on long hikes in our neighbourhood but now the children point out all the prickly/sticky plants AND the buses too. Maybe we’ll have to try another bus adventure soon.

Summer 2017 – The Hill Project

As usual my summer ‘vacation’ project list was very long – too long for the two week time slot I allotted.  The back yard was not actually on the list at first but in June I suddenly had an idea to solve a concern I had about ‘the hill’ (sometimes called the bridge or tunnel).  This is a picture taken last summer of the view of the hill/bridge/tunnel from the tipi;

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The hill was originally created back in 2010 when the old play structures were removed leaving the gravel area looking quite bare.  I didn’t want another large structure but I did think the space needed something.  The hill originally had a slide on one side, the tunnel was very popular, and the native prairie plants provided some much needed greenery in the yard at that time.

The slide and log steps never stayed as secure as I would have liked so they were soon removed.  For a few years the platform and tunnel were very popular for many dramatic play and gross motor activities like ‘Motabular’ (the children named that activity). As the interests of the children enrolled changed, play on the hill also changed and two years ago I added some rocks.

The children liked to use the platform to ‘play hockey’;

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And sit on the ‘bridge’ to go fishing;

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But there were many disputes over who would be on each side.  There were also problems with reckless behaviour like racing up and down the hill or jumping off the bridge without first looking for obstacles or hazards. Additionally, the structure was beginning to show its age.  I decided it was time for the hill to go.

My first step was to gather some supplies (thanks Annika);

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Then I spent two days removing rocks, transplanting plants, moving pails of soil to the other gardens, disassembling the bridge and cribbing and raking gravel.  It was beginning to take shape;

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I used the new stumps in addition to the old ones to create a full circle with little space between the stumps.  The majority of the gravel was raked to one side of the inner circle to three distinct levels.  Outside the circle the gravel in the ‘walkway’ is about 8 inches deep and fairly well packed as we haven’t dug here in years.  Inside the circle there is no gravel, just an old blue tarp on one side and nearly two feet of gravel on the other side.  The slope between the two sides is held in place by all those big rocks that used to be on the hill.  So now the gravel area looks like this;

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And from the other side;

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The view from the tipi now;

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And in case you were wondering what happens when it rains….I said it was an old blue tarp – it has holes in it so the water drains out.

Within seconds of entering the yard on the first day back after vacation this is where the boys were, happily chatting about what they did on their vacation;

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The Destination

Going for a walk or hike is one of our favourite things to do.  Whether planning a short walk or a full day outing we rarely have ‘destination’.  We have some preferred routes but we often deviate from are original plan when we find something interesting.  Walks are time for exploration.

The children are involved in the planning of our trips but I don’t usually ask ‘where’ do you want to go – implying that there is an end point.  Rather, I ask ‘which direction should we head’ and at various points I’ll ask ‘which way should we turn’.

Walking through the cemetery is one of their favourite routes – they like to look for owls in the nest boxes. Last fall on one of our cemetery walks they noticed this park on the far side of the river – “Can we go there?”

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Hmm, some day maybe.  I was not very familiar with the area on that side of the river and although I had a rough idea how to get there I would need to scout the trail without children first.

Earlier this spring my husband and I went on an evening hike to check out the available routes.  The park wasn’t actually difficult to get to – just a short detour off one of our familiar trails.  However, to make a full loop back to my house was not possible that day because the spring river levels were too high and parts of the trail were under water.

Last week the children and I made our first trip to the new park – not the playground, I rarely go to playgrounds (read why here). Parks are full of nature and so many things to explore and discover.  We left early and took our morning snack and picnic blanket with us;

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It is a little difficult to see in the photo but the children were easily able to locate the cemetery across the river from our picnic spot;

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The new park also has an amazing forest and riverbank to explore;

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The boys like to look for bears and wolves in the forest – this trip resulted in a very exciting discovery;

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Probably just a dog tracks but HUGE like a wolf!

I was impressed when these three and four year olds noticed – and correctly identified this bridge by name.  It is one of five bridges we frequently visit but we have never approached it from this side.

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Crossing the bridge on our way back they stopped as usual to look at and talk about this ‘house-shaped’ cement barricade/structure (please leave a comment if you know the real name for this thing).

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When we pass this way we often discuss the river levels at various times of the year.  This day they were talking about how the driftwood got stuck up there in the spring when the river was higher.  Then they noticed something even more interesting in the driftwood…is that a nest?  Why would she want to have a nest there?

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We’ve visited the new park twice now.  On our second trip the children eagerly anticipated seeing this goose again – and maybe babies.  She wasn’t there, however there was a pair of mallard ducks.

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While we were watching them they jumped off the cement into the river below.  The children were thrilled and now refer to this as ‘the diving board’.  I suppose that’s better than ‘house shaped cement thing that I don’t know the real name for’.

Picnics in our new park and the exploration along the way have been full of adventure and discovery.  I’m sure there will be many more to come.

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.

Winter Yard

Last summer I rearranged the stumps in the yard to create a path to and over the rocks on the little hill/tunnel.

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At that time I wasn’t thinking about winter but now that the snow is here we have been creating a BIG hill in the yard by piling all the snow inside the stump circle.

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This picture was taken before the recent snowfall.  Yesterday we spent nearly two hours adding more snow to the pile so now the hill is much bigger 🙂 Watching the children play on this hill makes me dream of permanently filling that stump circle so we have a big hill in the summer too – but I would miss the inner stump circle and the tunnel too.

With all the snow piled up one side of the tunnel is now blocked so the ‘tunnel’ is actually a ‘cave’.

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This cave is now a favourite – not so secret – hiding spot.

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Found you!

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Another favourite space is inside the tipi.  In summer it is nice to be able to see through the tipi and into the lane beyond the fence.

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In the winter I pile snow behind the tipi and it becomes a wonderful place to sit when you want shelter from the wind.

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We love our winter yard.