Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Fun at the Fire Station

For the second year in a row my little guy chose to be a fireman for Halloween. This was a good thing since in our homeschool we have been talking about community helpers. On halloween, I decided we would take him up to the fire station to meet some real firemen and bring them some treats to thank them for all that they do for our community. I can't tell you how excited my little guy was when they offered him a tour of the fire station and fire trucks!

The firemen explained to him about the different trucks and what they do and showed him the fire pole and let him roll out the fire hose from the truck, which was his favorite! He was allowed to climb up in the firetruck and the fireman turned on the flashing lights for him. This was such a fun learning experience for him and he had a blast!

My husband and I even got into character with him by dressing up as the "fire" and the dalmation fire dog. Another fun and educational halloween in the books!

                  "Education is not preparation for life, education is life itself." -John Dewey

Friday, September 19, 2014

Pretend Pirate Play!

Arrgggh, Mateys!  Today is September 19th, which happens to be National Talk Like a Pirate Day. My little guy is pretty fascinated with pirates and in honor of this day I wanted to share some fun pirate activities and crafts.

Pretend play is always a great idea and I love to be a little creative with it. Last year my little guy was a pirate for halloween and I put together this little treasure chest filled with jewels, gold coins, a little skeleton head that I bought at Michaels (where I also got the treasure chest) and spray painted gold, a spy glass and a treasure map. You know, all the stuff pirates need. He dressed up in his pirate costume and off we went to "Pirate Island" (a lake area by our house). My son had the most wonderful time spying on land lubbers, looking for treasure, fighting "scallywags", and playing in his "pirate ship."

Probably one his favorite pirate things is the spy glass. They are pretty inexpensive to purchase or you can easily make one like we have done on many occasions. All you need is a paper towel roll, some twine and spray paint if you desire to paint it.

We spray painted ours gold and tied some twine around it. I can't tell you how much fun he has with this simple "spy glass." We even made them for his last birthday party, which was Peter Pan themed, to give to the guests. They played on the "pirate ship" and had a blast watching out for "scurvy beasts."

And of course you have to know how to talk like a pirate to be one. I love this website full of fun pirate words. And check out these other fun crafts and activities for your little buccaneer, too!

Pirate Crafts from Busy Bee Kids Crafts
Cardboard Pirate Ship from Red Ted Art
30 Pirate Activities from Nurture Store
Treasure Hunt from Enchanted Learning

Happy Pirate Play!!

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Turtle Walk at Archie Carr Refuge

Halfway between Melbourne and Vero Beach on the east coast of Florida, is the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge. This 20.5 mile stretch of beach is designated to provide protection to the 15,000 to 20,0000 sea turtles that make their nests here every year. Located on this strip of land is the Barrier Island Center, a 34 acre sanctuary and educational center with interactive exhibits and presentation hall. I was thrilled to learn that in partnership with The Sea Turtle Conservancy, they offered sea turtle walks during the summer when the loggerheads, green, and leatherback sea turtles make their way to shore to find their perferct spot on the beach for nesting. So, I booked my daughter and I a spot (my little guy was too young) and we took off for the weekend to learn about these awesome creatures.

The Barrier Island Sanctuary, where the turtle walk is held, is an educational facility on the refuge that has intereactive exhibits, a presentation hall, classrooms and a library that invites you to learn and explore. My son loved the exhibits and could distinguish between the different species of sea turtles before we left!

As the sun set, my daughter and I geared up for the turtle walk. We sat in the presentation room and learned about the different crawls of each species of sea turtle. On our walk we spotted a green sea turtle laying her eggs. We couldn't get close, though, because this species of sea turtle is endangered. We walked the beach a while and saw a loggerhead come out of the water, but she decided not to lay her eggs and went back into the ocean. We learned that this was called a "false crawl" and sometimes the turtles do this because the beach is too lit up or they are not satisfied with the sand or by some other disturbance. In the first photo below, you can see the tracks coming out of the water on the left and turning before nesting to go back out in the water.

False Crawl Tracks

We actually saw two different species of turtles and three different kinds of sea turtle tracks. 

           Loggerhead tracks                  Green Sea Turtle tracks             Leatherback tracks

 These are the three species that nest on the refuge with the Loggerheads being the most common. We  learned that the Loggerhead alternates their limbs to crawl and there is no center tail drag in their tracks, while the Green Sea Turtle also alternates their limbs to crawl but does have a center tail drag as shown in the middle photo above. The Leatherback is a massive turtle with a track extending 6-7 feet and move their limbs simultaneously with a faint center tail drag.

We had a super fun time learning all about these amazing creatures! Below is a list of sea turtle crafts and activities we also enjoyed doing, some links to help you learn more about sea turtles and some fun facts!
-There are seven species of sea turtles:
Kemp's ridley
Olive ridley
For more info on these species go here.

-Six of these seven species are classified as threatened or endangered. Mostly because of the way humans live or their actions. To see how you can help be a friend to sea turtles go here.

-For fun facts about green sea turtles click here

Paper Plate Sea Turtle from Sun Scholars
Rock Turtle from Preschool Daze
Sea Turtle Hatchling Craft from Raising Arizona Kids
Egg Carton Turtle from National Wildlife Federation Kids
Recycled Bottle Cap Turtles from Inna's Creations

Monday, July 14, 2014

Gardening Fun with Kids: The Harvest

Back in March, my little guy and I planted seeds for our garden. He was very excited for the plants to grow and even more so in the fact that he would be able to EAT these plants (he loves to eat:). He asked if they were ready to be eaten almost everyday from the day we planted them, and of course they were not, so it opened up the opportunity for me to help him learn about the way plants grow. We read books about seeds and vegetable plants and daily watered our little seedlings and took care of them together. He was thrilled when they started sprouting!

We planted zucchini, yellow squash, watermelon, spinach, lettuce and eggplant seeds, and when they started sprouting we transplanted them into the little raised garden bed my husband made out of some landscaping timbers we had. My little guy jumped right in to help with the garden bed and the transplanting of the seeds. After I showed him how to dig the right sized hole for the transplant, he did a great job of it by himself and was so proud to work along beside us in the garden! 

We discovered our first zucchini flower on Earth Day, which was super cool and my little guy was so excited about it. I told him how the zucchini would grow out of the flower and how all of his patience would pay off when he was able to pick it. Eventually, the bloom finally sprouted into the zucchini and the day came when he was able to pick it! Oh, happy day!

Not only was he excited to pick it, I had to go in and cook it up right away! He had been patiently waiting for that first vegetable and he was not going to wait a minute more to get it in his belly. 

Overall, we harvested about 12 very large zucchini from the garden. We had the squash sprout, but they became rotten before they were large enough to eat, and nothing else produced well except for a bit of lettuce. I'm still super thrilled at our first real attempt at gardening and we will be planting another one in the fall (too hot in Florida for a summer garden.) We learned alot and my little guy got his fill of zucchini (ironically, he won't eat them if I get them at the grocery store or farmer's market) and we had a fun experience together. There's no better way to show kids where their food comes from and to teach them how it grows than to grow it together!

Monday, July 7, 2014

Exploring in the Ocala National Forest

The Ocala National National Forest is an amazing place to explore. With more than 383,000 acres consisting of wilderness and water resources, including rivers, lakes and springs, there are more than enough activities to enjoy. On our trip to the forest this past weekend, we had fun hiking, kayaking, snorkeling and swimming. Our first stop was an off the beaten path hike to Lake Eaton Sinkhole Trail. We drove down a long clay road to get to our destination, going deeper into the forest with every mile. When we reached our hiking destinination, we chose our trail (the shortest, since my little guy gets bored after a half mile each way) and off we went, battling banana spiders and mosquitos every step of the way. The sinkhole was basically a huge hole in the ground that was grown in with trees and plants, and we took the 119 steps down into it. It was pretty interesting, especially since when they first built the steps to the trail, there were 188 steps. Apparently, sinkholes get smaller and smaller and most likely fill in over time!

After our hike, we drove to Alexander Springs, where we kayaked down the river. The river was so crystal clear running down from the spring that we could perfectly see the fish and turtles swimming around us. As we went down the river, we saw alligators sunning on the river bank and more turtles happily perched on the branches coming up out of the water. 

After our river run, we dropped our kayaks off and headed over to the spring. The constant 72 degree temperature of the water was a treat for us after the hiking and kayaking. My daughter and I grabbed our snorkels and made our way to the heart of the spring, which flows at an impressive 80 million gallons a day! It was a beautiful site to behold, with the water flowing through many different sized rock formations.

After our swim, we decided to hike the trail which runs along the spring named after the Timucuan Indians that made there home here a thousand years ago. The Timucuan Trail is a one mile hike along a boardwalk, with stops that overlook the spring. It is a beautiful trail lined with tall sabal palms, magnificent Atlantic white cedar trees, which the Timucuans would hollow out and make canoes from, and the scrub palmetto, from which the Florida scrub jays make their home and from which the Timucuans used for food and medicine. My little guy was in awe of the cedar tree and could not believe that people made canoes from them! He asked one hundred questions, many that I couldn't answer, so we will be reading books and searching the internet for more information about it and the Timucuans. It was an enjoyable and educational hike for both my kiddos and myself! 

I'm so glad that we ventured out for the day to the Ocala National Forest. We had a wonderful learning experience and learning about nature in nature is the best (and most fun) way to learn! It was a great day in nature and a wonderful opportunity to enjoy it with my family. We will definitely be making another trip back to explore more of the forest in the near future!


-It is the southernmost forest in the continental United States and the second largest in Florida

-Contains more than 600 lakes, rivers and springs in it's 383,000 acres

-Protects the world's largest contiguous sand pine forest and is known as "The Big Scrub" because of it's dense Florida scrub vegetation

-Established in 1908, it is the oldest national forest east of the Mississippi River

-Is home to the highest concentration of Florida Black Bears and to the highest population of the endangered Florida scrub jay


Friday, June 20, 2014

Summer Fun!

Summer is by far my favorite season and brings such nostalgia for me and a longing to make wonderful memories for my kids to have as they grow up. The long days of running around the neighborhood with bare feet, climbing trees, building treehouses, swimming until our fingers and toes resembled prunes and chasing down the ice cream truck for a cherry screwball, the cone shaped sherbert with the gumball on the bottom (kids of the 80's know what I'm talking about:) are some of my fondest childhood memories. My family's summer traditions have been built around our interests and most of them include being in nature. Summers outside are the best! Here are our favorite summer activities and some we will be doing for the first time this summer!

Camping is a great way to get outside into nature. Since our primitive camping experience, we have gone camping again at Disney's Fort Wilderness. My kids love it there! From horseback riding to campfire sing alongs and movies under the stars, it is camping at it's finest!
 If you don't want to plan a big camping trip, set up a tent in the backyard and camp. Use a firepit to roast marshmallows and tell stories or sing songs. This is such a great family bonding experience!

Check out a local horse farm to see if they have trail or pony rides. We did a trail ride at Fort Wilderness and my little guy did a pony ride and it was fun to be out in nature with the horses. 

Kayaking is one of our favorite family activities. It brings you so close to all kinds of  plants and animals in a serene environment. We love to hop off our kayaks in the ocean or spring and snorkel around to check out the underwater environment.

Summer is a great time for looking to the sky and the trees around you to check out the bird world. We love to take hikes at our local state parks or the Florida birding trail to see what bird species we can find. If you have trees in your neighborhood, you can just take a walk down the street to find some feathered friends. Sitting on our back porch this morning we saw a woodpecker, a bluejay, a cardinal and a mockingbird in all of five minutes! I always tell my little guy the names of the birds so he can learn them, too, and if we find an unfamiliar bird, we get out our bird handbook and look it up!

If you live near an ocean or will be visiting one this summer, check out the Sea Turtle Conservancy and their programs for sea turtle walks. June through August is when sea turtles make their way to the beach to nest and while on one of these turtle walks there is a great chance for you to watch this amazing occurance.  We are signed up for one in Melbourne for this month and are so excited about it! 

 Fishing with kids is so much fun. It's a great way to interact together and spend time as a family.

Geocaching is a fast growing hobby for many outdoor enthusiasts. It's basically an outdoor treasure hunt where you use GPS as a guide to find a hidden container at specific coordinates. To play, you just register online and pick a location. This is definitely on our summer bucket list!

We are so excited about these activities, but my kids will definitely be outside with their bare feet making fun memories on their own as well!

 Happy Summer!

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Fishing Fun with Kids

Living in Florida, we spend a lot of time on the lake. Our city alone consists of 16 lakes which are all connected by canals. These lakes make up the southern part of the Chain of Lakes in Central Florida, including Lake Eloise, which used to be the home of Cypress Gardens and is now home to Legoland Florida. My husband is an avid fisherman and has fished these lakes since he was a child. I am so grateful that he has passed his love of fishing on to our children. As a family, we enjoy being out on the lake and fishing together. My little guy has been fishing since he was a year and a half and at three years old, has learned to cast and reel in his own fish!

The great thing about fishing is that it is inexpensive, easy to learn, and can be done anywhere there is a body of water.  Fishing is a great way to connect with and learn about nature. My kiddos have learned to be respectful to the animals we come across, including the fish we catch, through time spent on the water. It builds an appreciation for nature by linking them to the natural world and fosters a caring and responsible attitude towards nature. The environment is calm and relaxed and away from distractions, which can help open up communication with your kids. Fishing also stimulates learning from the opportunities available for problem solving and decision making.

Here are some things I've learned for getting and keeping my kids interested in fishing:

Have Your Equipment Ready To Go
Get your equipment in working order before you leave. Have your rod and reel and your bobber strung up and ready to fish with. This will avoid frustration at the lake and will ensure your kids are able to fish right away.

Gather Your Own Live Bait
If possible, let your kids help you dig for worms in the yard for bait or give them a net to let them catch their own minnows. My little guy loves nothing more than to go in the backyard with his shovel and dig up worms for his fishing trip or jump in the lake and catch minnows with his net. In my experience, live bait is the best bait for catching fish.

Fish On The Shore
We have a boat to fish from, which we do often, but my little guy prefers to fish on the shore. He loves to catch the little bluegill which swarm near the shore in early summer. It gives him the opportunity to run and play and move around while he's fishing. Which brings us to the next tip...

Don't Worry About The Size 
My little guy has caught tilapia, bass, large saltwater fish like redfish and snook, but his favorite thing to catch is bluegill. Don't worry about catching large fish. Just have fun catching whatever is biting, even if it's just bluegill or some other small fish. They are usually more plentiful and easier to catch which makes it fun for kids.

Help Them Learn
It's easy to step in and solve problems for kids, but let them try to work it out first. If the line gets tangled or the hook snags, let them try to figure out how to deal with it. If the fish stop biting, let them decide what should be done to get them biting again. Work with them to figure out a solution. Let them develop skills which will improve their self esteem.

Be Responsible
Educate your children on the importance of a clean environment, which includes not littering. Show children how to properly release a fish and make good use of the fish you keep. Follow all rules and regulations and teach kids to do the same.

Fishing is a great way to spend quality time with your kiddos. Keep an open mind and take cues from them. Small children don't have a lot of patience so limit time to ward off boredom. Make sure to plan another trip. Talk about what they had fun doing and what wasn't so fun so you can plan your next trip accordingly.

Happy Fishing!