Sunday, April 27, 2014

Visiting the Farm

My little guy adores animals and what better way to get up close and personal with them than visiting the farm! We have such a wonderful farm nearby that my kiddos love to visit. On our trip to Green Meadows Farm, my little guy fed pigs, sheep, and goats. He had the opportunity to milk a cow, ride a pony and hold chickens and ducks. He traveled around the farm on a train ride and a hayride and was in awe of all the old tractors they had displayed around the farm. He enjoyed looking and learning about the ostriches, donkeys and turkeys and was intrigued with the water buffalo and zorse (a zebra and horse mix) that were on the farm. It was a fun day of learning about how a farm works and the different animals that were on the farm.

Here are some tips and fun farm activities to enhance your farm experience:

Check the Weather
All farms are outside. Many farms will close due to inclement weather. If it has recently rained, make sure you wear tennis shoes or boots (or crocs, which is my little guys shoe of choice) as many paths and animal cages are full of dirt and animal food, and it will probably be muddy.

Come Prepared
Don't forget to bring your sunscreen, hat and sunglasses. Also, you will want to bring your camera to capture all the memories of your farm adventure. Pack a lunch or make sure the farm you are going to has food for purchase. The farm we went to only had microwave hamburgers and corndogs, so I am glad I thought ahead and brought a healthy lunch and snacks for my kiddos.

Read Books About the Farm
Reading books is a wonderful way for children to get excited about going to the farm and learning a bit about the farm animals even before the farm experience begins. These are some of our favorite books about the farm:
Charlotte's Web
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When we returned from the farm, I did these activities with my little guy over the course of a week to enforce the things we saw and learned about the farm and the animals there:

Preschool Farm Learning Pack from Creative Preschool Resources
Farm Coloring Sheets from Free Homeschool Deals
Cow Door Hanger from Busy Bee Kids Crafts
Life Cycle of a Chicken from I Heart Crafty Things

My little guy learned so much through his hands on exposure to the animals at the farm and these fun crafts and activities!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Exploring on a Nature Hike

Today was Earth Day and it was such a great day. I knew it was going to be great because when we checked the garden this morning we found the first zucchini flower of the season! My little guy was pretty excited about it.  He's been waiting so patiently for the vegetables to grow and I told him we should have some zucchini very soon! When we came in, I had an Earth Day activity book for him to color and we read some books about the Earth together.

I planned a little nature walk for us to do so that we could explore and learn more about the Earth and our environment. We have a wonderful nature reserve close by with a nature discovery center and many trails to walk. My little guy (and my teenager) love to look and learn in the discovery center, which is what we did first. They have displays of the different types of habitats in our area, which includes marshes, wetlands and scrub areas. There are plenty of hands on learning activities as well!

                                              (yes, my little guy is literally a tree hugger already:)

When we were finished in the discovery center, we chose our trail and headed off. We walked under huge canopies of oak trees and through open areas of palm trees. We walked along the trail beside the lake to the dock and observed the different birds and other wildlife. We walked through a swamp and stopped to watch as a small alligator scurried across the path. We stopped and talked about how old we thought the trees were and saw a small green snake staring out at us from a hole in one of the them. We listened and heard woodpeckers pecking away in the trees, while my little guy counted how many woodpecker holes he saw in them. We also saw chameleons, skinks, frogs, caterpillars, butterflies, dragonflies, and a beautiful bald eagle among other birds. It was a day full of discovery and learning in the best way possible. There is no better way to learn about nature than by actually being out in it and experiencing it! As one of my favorite sayings goes "Think outside. No box required!"

Here are some things that help us make the most of our hiking experiences:

Be Prepared
Make sure you have everything you need to make the hike enjoyable. Comfortable shoes, sunscreen, hats, sunglasses, bug spray, snacks and water are a must. If you have a small child, a stroller or backpack carrier are also helpful.

Let the Kids Choose the Pace
This might seem like a hard thing to do, but I find that if my little guy finds something he wants to stop and look at, it keeps his interest level high and wards off boredom for him. We will stop and look at the bug or squirrel or whatever it is he finds to be interesting, and talk about it for a few minutes and move on. 

Have a Few Fun Activities in Mind for the Hike
Sometimes kids will get bored or tired after a long walk. Have some fun activities on hand in case this happens. Have a list of your local birds and flowers handy (alot of times you can get this from the welcome center where you are hiking at) and mark off the ones you find. Make a scavenger hunt list or print out one like this to do on your hike. Bring a camera and take pictures to make a nature journal of your favorite things from your hike. 

Get Excited
Sometimes it is easy to take for granted the wondrous nature around us. While we help our children to learn and discover things, they can also help us to open our eyes and see things anew. Take cues from them and get excited with them about all of the nature around you. My little guy stopped to observe a caterpillar for ten minutes! He was fascinated with it's furry hair and the way it slowly went along, it's body moving up and down as it went. There are so many things in nature to get excited about!

Happy Hiking!

Friday, April 18, 2014

Coloring Eggs Naturally

Today we colored our Easter eggs. I wanted to try dying them with natural ingredients since I boiled them and will make deviled eggs with them for Easter.  I am wary of the chemicals in the packaged dye from the store, so I grabbed some ingredients from the pantry and started experimenting. I wasn't sure what would work, but I figured that if it stained my little guys clothes when he ate it, then it would probably stain an egg shell, too. I'm not gonna lie, this took me a half of a day, easy, to get the eggs stained a decent color because of all of my trial and error. But that will make it easier for you, since I figured out what worked and what didn't. First off, the things that did not work for me were broccoli, juice (grape and cranberry), beet juice and green tea. Maybe if you left the eggs in them to soak overnight it might work, but my little guy had no patience for that. The ingredients that did work for us and dyed the eggs fairly quickly were turmeric, paprika, blueberries and red cabbage.

For the turmeric and paprika, I took about 3-4 tablespoons and boiled it in 1/2 cup water and 2-3 tablespoons white vinegar. I just let it boil a few minutes and then waited for it to cool. I poured it into cups and we set the eggs in them. The paprika took abot 30-40 minutes to color the eggs a nice, bright orange color. The turmeric colored the eggs a light yellow in 5-10 minutes and a much brighter yellow if left in about 30 minutes. I smashed the blueberries and chopped the red cabbage and boiled them seperately in 1/2 cup water and 3 tablespoons white vinegar, also. I drained the liquid from the pots into the cups for coloring. The eggs from the red cabbage came out a blue color and the blueberries came out any where from lavender to dark purple depending on how long we left the eggs in the dye. The blueberries and the turmeric were our favorites because of the range of colors they produced quickly, depending on how long they stayed in the dye.

I am so happy with the way our eggs came out and I feel good knowing that they were dyed with no harmful chemicals. It takes a little more patience, since the natural ingredients take longer to stain the egg shell, but my little guy played while they were in the dye and came back to check on them every now and then. I let him decide when the color was to his liking and then we would take them out. He  loved watching the process of the eggs changing colors!

Monday, April 14, 2014

Picking Strawberries-Farming Fun with Kids

Since we have been doing a little gardening this spring, my little guy has been very interested in plants and amazed that food actually grows out of them. We go out and water our little garden of tomatoes, squash, zucchini and watermelons and he gets so excited when we get a new bud or a small vegetable starts sprouting out. The other night, as we were eating some strawberries, he asked about the strawberry "tree." He had it in his mind that strawberries, like apples, grew on big trees. Since we live in central Florida, home of the Strawberry Festival and tons of strawberry farms, I did a little research to find an organic strawberry farm in our area where we could pick our own berries. I came across Jordan Farms in Dover, a wonderful farm that grows many organic vegetables, as well as strawberries. A few days later, we headed out to the farm. It was about a 40 minute drive, but it was so worth it! There are not many activities that my teeneager and preschooler both like to do together, so when they both were excited about the trip, it was like a festivus miracle!

When we first got to the farm, we talked to the owner for a bit and I learned that she grew 3 different varieties of strawberries. I didn't even know there was more than one. She had Radiants and Festivals, which are both Florida varieties and Camino Reals, a California variety. As we were picking and tasting, I could tell that the different varieties also had different tastes and looks. The Camino reals were dark red and very sweet, and the Radiants were glossy red and not quite as sweet as the Camino reals, but still juicy and sweet and larger than the Festival strawberries. We brought water jugs with us that I had cut the top off to put our strawberries in as we picked. My kids had so much fun picking and tasting the fruit. I think my son ate half a gallon while we were picking!

We talked about how the strawberries grow and looked at the strawberry blossoms. He understood then how the strawberries grow on small plants and not on big trees. We picked strawberries for almost two hours and my kiddos hunted for the biggest and juiciest ones together.

There were other things my little guy was intrigued with, too. They had an old truck that was sitting at the front of the farm that he loved and told me it was Mater. He also liked looking at the old tractors and farming equipment. The other vegetables weren't quite ready for picking yet, but we still looked at the plants and he did pick a sweet onion that was growing in with the strawberries. Hopefully we can go back in a couple of weeks for the other vegetables.

This was such a great learning experience for my kiddos (and me)! There is something so refreshing about knowing where the food you consume comes from and that it is being grown organically and for kids to be able to look beyond the grocery store and see how their food is actually grown and produced. I also love to support our wonderful local farmers whenever possible and we got three gallons of strawberries for only $6.00! We've been putting strawberries in everything! Here is a link to a full directory that shows where you can pick your own produce. Organic blueberry picking is next on our list!

Happy Picking!!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kayaking with Kids

In the winter, manatees flock in high numbers to the warm, shallow waters of the Crystal and Homosassa Rivers on the west coast of Florida. From November to March, there is a greater chance of seeing the manatees in the wild in these areas and since we live only about 1 1/2 hours from Crystal River, I wanted to check them out with my family before they started to spread out. At first, I was a little wary about taking my rambunctious 3 year old out in the river on a kayak. We have a boat that he is used to going out on, but there is room to move and walk around, unlike a kayak. Nonetheless, we planned the trip anyway and I'm so glad we did! My three year old was totally enthralled in the nature, very observant, asked tons of questions and learned so much! We did see some manatees and lots of different species of fish (the water was crystal clear in the spring), birds and plants.

Some things we did to make our kayaking trip a success with my little guy were:

Choose a destination where the water is calm and shallow
The river we went on was shallow in alot of places. If my little guy started getting antsy, we stopped and let him get out and wade around in the water. After a few minutes of splashing around, he was ready to get back in and go for another ride. We took turns snorkeling while he played!

Bring lots of snacks
If my little guy is snacking, he's happy. We brought lots of water, fruit and crackers for him to eat while he was enjoying the ride.

Choose the right kind of kayak or canoe
With smaller children, a canoe or sit inside kayak is the best option. My hubby and son got the double sit in and it was perfect. Older kids might prefer a sit on top kayak as long as long as the waters are calm.

Don't overdo the length of the trip
We planned on a two hour trip, but were prepared to leave earlier if we needed to. Fortunately, my little guy did great and we could have even stayed longer if we wanted to, but I didn't want to push it. We had a map of the river which showed us the different paths we could take and our current location so we always knew how far we were from the docking area.

Pack accordingly
Don't forget life jackets (although most canoe and kayak rental places will provide them), hats and sunglasses, water shoes, sunscreen or sun protective clothing, bug spray, towels and plenty of water and snacks. We also like to bring binoculars, birding book and journal, snorkeling gear, and fishing poles! 

Discuss the nature around you
My little guy (like most kids) is a sponge! He is so curious about everything around him and this is a great time to talk and teach about nature. We observed the different birds and kept count of how many species we saw, we watched the fish in the water and discussed their habits and we identified the different tree and plant species we saw. Be prepared and read some great books about nature in and around rivers before your trip. These are some of our favorites:

With the right preparation, kayaking or canoeing on the river is an enriching experience for everyone. We had fun spending time as a family and learning and experiencing new things together. There is no better way to teach kids about nature than actually being out in it and observing it for themselves!

Happy Exploring!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Paper Mache Easter Eggs

With Easter just around the corner, I thought it was time over the weekend to start doing a fun Easter craft. My little guy likes any activity that is messy, so I thought we would try our hand at some paper mache eggs. We mixed up our own "glue" which was 1/2 cup flour, 1 cup warm water and and about 2 tsp. of salt. As I was getting the rest of the materials together, my little guy had fun pouring out the whole container of salt and "making art" because obviously the mess we were making with the paper mache wasn't big enough..:)

 I grabbed the balloons and tissue and crepe paper. I wanted to try both kinds of paper to see which one was better and the crepe paper won. It was a bit more sturdier than the tissue paper and held the "glue" better. I tore the paper into strips and blew up the balloons. We sat the ballons up in the bowls and then dipped the paper into the "glue" and then wrapped them around the balloons until there was no more balloon showing. We put 2-3 layers on. Then we let the paper dry overnight.

The next day they were dry and I popped the ballon inside. They turned out pretty good! They would be cute hung up with a ribbon for decoration just as they are. I decided I wanted to cut out the middle to see if they would hold stuff inside. They would be good as gifts filled with candy or Easter decorations, which is what we put in them!

                                         We had a blast making these paper mache Easter eggs!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tape Resist Cross Easter Activity

My preschooler loves to do most any kind of craft. Coloring or painting...not so much. He gets bored fast just moving the crayon or paintbrush around, so I like to give him different things to work with. This tape resist is great because we used a sponge brush and it only took all of about 5 minutes to create! I taped down paint tape in the shape of a cross and let him pick out what paint colors he wanted to use. I put the acrylic paint on a paper plate and gave him the sponge brush and let him go at it. I love how he dabbed a big spot of yellow on the top left of the picture and said it was the sun.  He covered every inch of the paper with the paint and we let it dry.

After it was dry, I just pulled off the tape and there you have it! A super fun Easter painting that kept my preschooler engaged for 5 whole minutes!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Celebrating Earth Day with Kids

Teaching kids to appreciate and preserve nature is vital to the sustainability of our environment. Earth day is a great time to teach kids that they can make a difference in keeping the earth healthy and clean by preserving the environment and our resources everyday by recycling, not littering, not wasting water and protecting wildlife. It's important to talk to our children about the environment and the effects we have on it and ways we can make a difference for the good of the planet. There are so many activities that are fun for kids and teaches them to value the earth. Getting outside and paying attention to nature is a great start! Here is a list of some great activities to start your Earth Day celebration with your kiddos:

Volunteer Your Time to a Project to Help the Environment
The Nature Conservancy is a great resource for ways that you can help the environment. Depending on where you live, they have many opportunities to volunteer your time and a Nature Rocks program that gives you activity ideas for exploring and learning about nature and the environment with kids.

Adopt an Animal
The World Wildlife Federation has a program where you can adopt an animal from a polar bear to an African elephant. With your donation, which helps protect the future of nature, you receive a gift bag with a plush animal of what you have adopted, a species id card, photo, and an adoption certificate. 

Create a Nature Craft
Nature crafts are a great way to help kids observe nature and learn about the nature around them. Here are some of our favorite nature crafts:

Grow a Native Plant
Native plants are plants that grow naturally in your area. They use up less resources and take less work to grow. Native plants attract wildlife, like your local birds and butterflies, to your garden and they depend on the plants for food and shelter. Here is a native plant guide to help you find out which plants are native plants in your area.

Reuse or Recycle Something That You Would Normally Throw Away
Upcycle something old into something new. Make a toy or kid activity with these ideas:
Make a Water Wall Activity with plastic bottles

Color an Earth Day Picture
Here are some great Earth Day coloring sheets from that open up conversations about ways kids can help protect the Earth and keep the environment clean.

Read a Book About the Earth 

Here are some great books for kids that teach about conserving nature:
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Get Outside
Go fishing
 Go camping
Go kayaking or canoeing
Visit a botanical garden or a zoo
Take a nature walk and pick up any garbage that you see

Earth Day is only one day a year, but it is our responsibility to teach our kids to be conscious to protect it everday for future generations!