1…2…3…Butterflies!

Here’s a novel way to encourage children to practice counting and other math skills: try counting butterflies.  All across the US, volunteers are counting butterflies in the name of science. In 1975, the North American Butterfly Association (NABA) launched it’s annual butterfly count program. Volunteers from all over North America  join together on designated days to identify and count butterflies – no scientific degree needed. By using only your eyes and enthusiasm, you will contribute to scientists understanding of local butterfly populations and how they have changed over time.

For more information on where and when these counts take place check out the NABA website: http://www.naba.org

You can also learn more about butterfly counting at: http://www.monarchnet.uga.edu,  or at: http://www.butterfliesandmoths.org.

Happy Counting!

Use Native Plants For a Healthy Yard…and Planet.

Adding flowering plants to your garden supports earth-friendly pollinators such as bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds.  But not just any flowering plant will do.  NATIVE PLANTS are necessary in order for insects such as butterflies to reproduce.  Without pollinating insects, our crops and food supply is at risk.

What is a native plant?  A plant that grew in the US in free colonial days.  More importantly, the plant should have grown and evolved LOCALLY.  Plants native to Maine would not be the same as those found in Kansas.  To create healthy ecosystems, our gardens and farmlands are best pollinated by creatures that depend on NATIVES for their survival.  One great example is planting milkweed for the monarch butterfly – an endangered species.  While butterfly bushes ATTRACT these insects, monarch butterflies DO NOT lay their eggs on anything except the milkweed.   

Milkweed from my garden.

For more information about native plants in your area, visit: http://www.npsnj.org

http://www.natureconservancy.org

Also check out the children’s environmental site: http://www.Parade.com/turfmutt

Follow the “right plant, right place” rule when you plant your garden.  Transitioning to Native Plants makes a positive contribution to our environment and the future health of our planet and food supply.

Take Me Out to the Ball Game.

Baseball season is here!  As fans know, there is a LOT more to the game than mere sport.  Each team has its own traditions and each ballpark its own atmosphere. Here are some of the wackiest:

Sausage Racers: At Miller Park in Milwaukee, WI, costumed cased meats take to the field during the sixth inning for a foot race.  check it out at: http://www.brewers.com

Disappearing Lighthouse: When the Seadogs hit a home run at Hadcock Field in Portland, ME, attention turns to center field.   A foghorn plays and a 16 foot retractable lighthouse emerges from behind the fence with a shower of roman candles.   http://www.seadogs.com

Giant Wheel: Modern Woodmen Park, Davenport, Iowa.  To get the best view for watching the Quad Cities River Bandits, ride the 120 ft. Ferris wheel that overlooks left field.  Plus, the ride’s LED lined spokes provide a laser-like show for those sitting in the grandstand.  http://www.riverbandits.com

Here are some other unique ballparks to check out:

http://www.ridersbaseball.com

http://www.padres.com

http://www.fightins.com

http://www.loons.com

http://www.biscuitsbaseball.com

To get the kids in the mood for a day at the ballpark, try reading some great baseball themed books chosen by kids:

http://www.readbrightly.com/10-baseball-books-kids-say-home-runs/?sid=302&mcg=29DBD02CB53302C9E0534FD66B0A0B59&ref=PRH0563577803&aid=randohouseinc13256-20&linkid=PRH0563577803&cdi=2AEB03AD52D94BE9E0534FD66B0A7FAD

What’s your favorite ballpark tradition?

Become a Naturalist

Ah Spring! There is so much about this time of year that brings out poetry, curiosity and a sense that anything is possible. When the kids get restless and itchy, take a break from video games and household routines and explore the natural world. To make it a more interesting adventure, become Naturalists and record the days observations and sightings. All you need is the following, all of which will fit in a backpack:

1. A pair of binoculars for zooming in on birds or other elusive wildlife. A magnifying glass for closeups of insects and plant life.

2. A Field Guide of insects and birds of North America.  There are many excellent ones you can borrow from a local library or download onto your Kindle or iphone.

3. A journal or notebook will help you record sights, sounds, names of animals and plants you discover, and details to use in writing a story or drawing a picture when you get back home.

4. A camera.

5. Comfortable shoes, water, snacks.

Try an outing at different times of day. What is awake in the early morning hours may be totally different from what is active mid day or at sunset. If you’re having difficulty finding “critters”, be still and listen to the sounds of nature. This stillness often leads to amazing discoveries. It will definitely bring you peace and calm your stress. If you’re near water, turn over some rocks at the water’s edge. There are many hatching insects under them to marvel at.

And, like every good naturalist, remember to leave only footprints, and take only pictures and memories, and bring back any trash left behind by the human animal, so we can enjoy the natural world for years to come.

Three Cheers for SPRING!!!

The Inspiration Called Spring.

After painting my thoughts from a grey pallet with a cold winter brush, I pick up the same brush and find it changes color like a chameleon. The words coming from its tip are filled with sensory images that wake up the dormant muse. There is no doubt that spring has entered into the picture to spread its influence on my thoughts. How can I stay grey when yellow and purple crocuses wave their tongues as I pass by? How can I be cold when the earth feels warm in my hands? How can I take a breath of air without bringing the scent of grass and hyacinth to my nostrils? Spring is the season of poetry; it is the feast promised after the famine passed. It is the reason birds sing, and the sun shines. It is the reason I pick up a fresh piece of paper and a newly sharpened pencil and bare my soul in words.                    crocus

Get your children outside on a SPRING SCAVENGER HUNT. Make a list of things to look for as you take a walk through the neighborhood or park. Some possible things to include on your list are: flowers of various colors, different kinds of birds, different kinds of trees/leaves, insects, things popping out of the ground, nests, etc. Or, make it a sensory hunt and try to identify various bird songs, nature sounds, smells from blossoming trees and flowers, taste of newly sprouted asparagus, rhubarb and strawberries.


Celebrate all things spring!

Ever See a Crab in the Forest?

  NATURE MAKES US NICER.

A study done by the U. of Rochester, 370 people were shown either images of man-made or natural objects and worked in space with or without indoor plants. Images of nature and indoor plants made people feel more connected, more caring and charitable toward others. Man-made images made people place more value on wealth and fame. Other research tells us that exposure to nature reduces stress.
So, if you’re looking for a gift that keeps on giving, try plants and photos of natural settings to help you through the dreary days of winter. Visit parks and natural areas as often as you can.
To view beautiful photos of nature click on Travel + Nature at:   http://www.treehugger.com
Spring is just around the corner!

To get children interested in nature, take them            

Boston Arboretum

Boston Arboretum

outdoors. It doesn’t have to be a park or forest. A playground, back yard or grassy field will do nicely. Get down on your knees and look for things hiding in the grass and under leaves and rocks. Most children have a natural curiosity when it comes to bugs, birds, and wild creatures. If you’re a bit squeamish regarding members of the insect population, try not to project those feelings onto your child.  Most bugs and insects are harmless and fascinating to watch as they go about their business. A magnifying glass will add a level of “scientific authority” to the activity. It’s also fun to take along a camera or some paper and pencil to record what you discover. Have a contest for whoever can find the most different species.

Buds are springing up from the ground and on trees thanks to our mild winter.  How many can you and your child identify?  There are lots of field guides available to help you identify plants and insects.                             Triple oaks spiderWhat are some of your favorite natural spaces?

Remember: “Take only photos, leave only footprints

Go Take a Hike: by Marilyn Ostermiller

If you need a reason to enjoy the great outdoors, why not take a hike?   With more than 60,000 miles of trails in the National Trail System across the 50 states, there is no lack of opportunity to go for a walk.   The benefits of walking are well documented: eases stress, great for cardio/vascular and joint health, improves mental function and helps maintain or even lose weight.  There are even locations that are open for hiking year round.

To find a hiking trail close to home or in an area you plan to visit, enter the zip code at www.Trails.com. It list locations and the length of each trail.

To set off on the right foot, the Wilderness Society offers 10 tips, among them:

  • Keep it simple. Select a hike that isn’t too long or too strenuous. If you are introducing children to hiking, pick a trail that has an interesting feature, like a lake, stream or waterfall, to give them something to look forward to.
  • Plan for frequent energy stops because hiking requires a lot of energy.
  • Leave no trace. Take a ziplock plastic bag large enough to hold all the trash you are likely to generate.

For the full list, visit http://wilderness.org/blog/take-your-kids-hiking-10-tips-make-adventure-fun-whole-family

Be prepared. Take the 10 Essentials including:                  file0001233456056

  • water and electrolytes
  • food and salty snacks
  • flashlight or headlamp
  • first aid kit
  • sunscreen
  • hat
  • sunglasses
  • rain jacket
  • spray bottle
  • good attitude

Learn what makes each item essential, at the National Parks Service website  https://www.nps.gov/grca/learn/photosmultimedia/hike_smart-02.htm

What you wear depends on whether you are hiking around town or someplace more ambitious. Basic apparel includes sneakers or boots, socks that aren’t going to cause blisters, long pants to avoid scratches and poison ivy, and a light weight, long-sleeved shirt that will wick away perspiration.

Among the books that will introduce children to hiking:

The Book on Hiking by Andy Dragt. This is a basic introduction to hiking for youngsters 10 to 18 years old. The focus is hiking in the Canadian Rockies and the preparation, gear, and knowledge required to do so. Also included are wildlife, survival techniques and the benefits of hiking with a club.

Walk on the Wild Side, written and illustrated by Nicholas Oldland, is for children 3 to 7 years old. One day, a bear, a moose and a beaver go for a walk in the mountains. To make the hike more exciting, they decide to race to the top. But soon the friends fall into deep trouble and one of them must find a way to save the day.

 

Marilyn OstermillerMarilyn Ostermiller is a long-time business journalist who now writes for children. You can follow her on Twitter @Marilyn_Suzanne.