Leaf Animals

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The next time you head out on a nature walk, be sure to collect some of the fall leaves on the ground. They’re begging to be used in so many art projects, and this particular one is perfect for preschoolers.

When we got home and set our leaves out on a tray, Veronika marveled at the colors. “The leaves come from the fall, and snowflakes come from winter!” she told me. Sounds like somebody is learning her seasons at preschool!

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The first step was to glue our leaves down to colored construction paper. We used reds, yellows, and oranges for the background, to keep up the autumnal color scheme. We then painted our leaves to turn them into various animals. Outlining “cheeks” and the tips of “ears” on a maple leaf made it look like a little fox!

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Turned sideways, the leaves were more like birds flying (headed south for winter of course). You can either paint on eyes, or glue down wiggle eyes to each animal, too.

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Veronika’s final creations were decidedly her own. Smiling frogs perhaps? Let your toddler create the animal he or she wants and see what creatures you end up with!

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We happened to have leaves of only one shape, but if you collect a variety, you’ll be able to explore even more options for painting animals. A long oval might be a deer face with narrow oak leaves for antlers, while a fat oval could be the body of an owl. Please share your animal leaf creations in the comments!

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Take Learning Outside

Fall weather provides ample beautiful weather to get out in nature and toss some learning into the mix! Here were three fun ways Travis did just that with recent nature projects.

Nature Art

First up was a standard nature walk, equipped with a baggie to collect treasures. Travis took such pride in finding just the right leaf, stick, flower, and more to add to our collection. I loved how intent on nature he was on this particular afternoon, pausing to marvel at birds in the marsh or bees on the flowers.

By the end of your walk, aim to have a variety of textures, colors, and items, so your child can make a fantastic collage once home.

After sorting through the items, Travis left the process of gluing down to little sister Veronika…

…who happily obliged and wanted to add splashes of paint, too! I loved that this turned into a sibling collaboration

Grow a Plant

We don’t always have luck making things grow around here, since my kids are handicapped by mom’s lack of a green thumb. But a potting project with a dose of magic thrown in was one we could definitely get behind! I found a kit for “magic beans” (beans with words and images that show up after they sprout), which were the perfect seeds to plant after reading Jack and the Beanstalk.

To start, we needed to get crafty. Travis painted the provided white pot with bright paints.

Once the paint dried, it was time to set the magic beans to work. Travis filled the pot with soil, then each kid made a wish as they pressed a bean into the dirt. Add water until saturated, and set your plant some place that gets bright sunlight for at least half the day.

Three days in, the magic beans were sprouting. After a week, we had a beanstalk worthy of Jack’s attention!

Although there’s always something “magic” about watching a seed turn into a new plant, we loved the added wow factor in this project.

Nature Word Sort

Finally, we headed to the park, where Travis sat on a bench and I challenged him to write down everything he could see…but didn’t tell him why yet. He proudly scribbled in the dugout.

At home, we looked at his list and came up with three different ways to sort the words. One obvious answer was natural vs. man-made, but I was proud of Travis choosing to also sort them by color and sport.

This was a great quick activity to get him thinking about sorting.

What are your fall outdoor adventures so far? Please share in the comments!

Summer Outdoor Learning

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Expeditions into the great outdoors are the perfect opportunity to sneak in summer learning, helping to avoid the summer slide. With the last week of summer upon us, here are a few activities we enjoyed at the park!
Draw Your Environment
For a review of natural versus man-made, we sat down in the shade and Travis divided a piece of paper in half with a crayon. On one half, he drew things he could see that could be found in nature. The other half was for things that were man-made.
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Once he brainstormed a few answers, the nature side filled up with trees, grass, and flowers. Man-made items included park benches and picnic tables. Depending where you are, this list could be quite varied and interesting.
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Follow the Leader
Next it was time for verb review combined with gross motor skills! Pick a leader and everyone does whatever action the leader does, whether rock climbing…
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…or walking with an apple, Travis’s impish answer since he loved the apple trees around us. This game is also great practice for turn-taking, a soon-to-be-needed skill in the classroom
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Adjective Hunt
Now it was time to review a different part of speech: adjectives! We played “I Spy” using adjectives on our nature walk. “I spy something small and purple,” Travis tried out.
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You might even spy something exciting, like when the kids spotted a very cool insect.
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Measure Your Footprint
Finally, it was time for outdoor math. Head to a place where your child can leave a footprint in the sand, whether a park, beach, or lakeside. I traced the outline of Travis’s foot with a stick, then we chose a rock as our unit of measurement.
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His foot was 7 and 1/2 “rocks” long!
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What outdoor learning did your family enjoy this summer? Please share in the comments!

Even or Odd Race

You can help kids keep math skills sharp this summer with this fun chalk game. To start, Travis drew a circle on our patio, and then a line to divide it in half (see how we were sneaking in geometry already?).

We labeled one half of the circle “even” and one “odd”. Next, toss an object into the circle (such as a pebble or shell). Depending which half it lands on, the tosser chooses a number that is odd or even. This was great review for Travis, as well as a chance to practice skip counting.

His first choice was odd (5). Pick a nature object (like sticks, rocks, or leaves) and set off on a race to find the correct number of that item. First person back to the circle wins! Travis ran back with 5 clover flowers in the first round, and 7 blades of grass for our second round.

Keep going and reviewing those evens and odds until your kids tire of the game! Note: For more of a challenge, make a rule that the number has to be between 10 and 20.

Pretty Nature Collage Suncatcher

We love finding uses for the treasures we bring home from nature walks and scavenger hunts, and here’s an idea that a toddler can easily help craft!

To start, I cut the center from paper plates and laid them out next to an assortment of nature finds. We only had small plates, but you can do this on a larger dinner plate size, too.

Cover the back of the plate with a square of sticky contact paper, then flip the plate over so the sticky surface faces up. I showed Veronika how she how could press down her latest finds, including wildflowers and leaves.

Once decorated to your toddler’s satisfaction, press a second square of contact paper on top, sticky side down, to seal everything in place. All it needs now is a hole punch and some twine or ribbon to hang from a window and catch the sun!

If you use dinner plates, these might even be big enough to use as a “placemat”. As an alternative, skip the plate and simply have your toddler decorate one rectangle of contact paper, then place another piece on top to seal everything together. You’ll have an instant placemat!

Easy Outdoor Scavenger Hunt

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There are so many ways to do scavenger hunts in nature with big kids, including seasonal twists on the idea, hunting by color, and more. But these complicated hunts can be daunting to younger siblings along for the walk, so today I made a scavenger hunt that Veronika could do too, with items that she was guaranteed to find!

Before we set out, I printed out a template from The Resourceful Mama, and we had fun coloring the cards in together. This was a great way to set expectations for what we might see once outside! I cut the cards into squares, hole- punched each one, and then secured them together with a bit of yarn. This little packet was easier for toddler hands to hold than a standard scavenger hunt score sheet!

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On our walk, everything was pretty much obvious right away, including tall trees, green leaves, and grass on the ground. But we had fun gathering items together, like a pine cone, stick, and rock.

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The last item on the list that she spotted was the flower, which happened to be purple. How perfect because we’d set the goal to also find something in her favorite color!

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You can also encourage your child to think beyond the cards. Could we find something that smelled nice? Had a nice texture? Feel free to ad lib!

In total, her list today included:

Tree

Grass

Rock

Stick

Insect

Leaf

Flower

and Pine Cone

Painting with Nature

I love thinking outside the box when it comes to painting tools, and one of the most beautiful alternatives to a real brush are “brushes” found in nature. This is the perfect activity to culminate a day in the park or a nature walk! Veronika saved up several finds, including a bristly pine cone, yellow flowers, and different leaves.

At home, I set out all the nature treasures on a tray, along with a big sheet of craft paper and paper plates with different colors of paint. If you want to go extra wild with this project, use cardboard as your canvas and do the painting outside, too!

Veronika was hesitant to hold the pine cone, so I showed her that if we rolled it in purple paint, it made neat dots across the paper.

She couldn’t wait to test a flower! She dipped it carefully into orange paint…

…and then pressed down. “It made a flower!” she said.

Some of our leaves could be used almost like regular brushes, making long streaks of paint across the paper.

Others, like maple keys, made what looked like a silly mustache print! Have fun experimenting with colors, the way you hold your nature treasures on the paper, and more. And if your kids want a slightly different take on this activity, paint on your nature finds, not with them!

Find Out What Absorbs Water

I love games that combine nature play and fresh air with a little sneaky STEM thrown in, and this idea from Hands on as We Grow fits the bill!

To start, I sent Veronika hunting around the yard to find treasures. With some mommy help, we then sorted these into the compartments of a large muffin tin, including flowers, grass, leaves, wood chips, and dirt. We also left one compartment empty.

I then handed over Veronika’s watering can and encouraged her to water her items!

It immediately becomes clear that the effect of the water is not the same on all the nature items. Some, like the grass and flowers, are soon just sitting in puddles of water.

But for others (spoiler alert: wood chips and dirt), the water wasn’t there for her to see any more. It was time to introduce new vocabulary: the dirt had absorbed the water! The flowers and grass had not.

Of course the STEM lesson is advanced for my two year old, but half the fun here was just in pouring the water from the can, stirring items around, and enjoying a warm morning on the patio!

My Tree Journal

Today, Travis embarked on a project that will actually be a year-long process: To find a tree to follow and document the changes and differences across the seasons. This beautiful project truly teaches children to feel the wonder of nature, connect with a living natural thing, and become observant little scientists!

It all started with a picnic lunch at our local arboretum. I let Travis lead the way to the tree he deemed worthy of our picnic in the shade, and that sealed the deal of which tree he’d be observing.

The next step was to check out the label under the tree; he’d chosen a sweet cherry! This was exciting, since not as familiar to him as a maple or oak. If you’re not at an arboretum with labeled signs, consider taking along a nature guide or check out websites to identify your child’s tree.

He immediately decided the tree’s name was Chersie and drew Chersie’s picture on the front of his journal. We also made sure to snap the first of what would be our seasonal pics, in this case Chersie verdantly green in summer.

Travis went over to the tree with wonder. “It spoke to me!” he said. I asked him what the tree had told him. “It said, ‘I love you’,” he reported seriously. My tree whisperer! We marveled at how the bark was rough in patches, but smooth in others, and at all the bugs that were making Chersie their home. Travis said he missed the tree already on the drive home.

Once home, we printed the Summer photo using our Zink printer, which he then glued into the tree journal.

I will update this post with pictures from the fall, winter, and spring, so stay tuned!

Fun Ways to Play with Sticks

There’s a fantastic nature playground near our home, where the only “structures” are those found in nature (think balance beam tree trunks, stepping stones made of rocks, a pebble sandbox, and more). I love the space because here, imagination is king! To wit, today Veronika and I set out to see how many different ways we could play with sticks we found in the area.

First, she designed a little hut for her toy kitty cat. Depending on what your child loves, the tiny house could be for a fairy or a gnome, instead!

Keeping up the whimsical theme, I tied a scarf around one stick and it became a streamer that she could wave through the air.

Or perhaps it was a magical wand in my big fairy’s hand.

The sticks were also great for drumming (on tree stump drums, naturally), leading to an impromptu jam session!

Of course sticks are great for learning, too. Collect a few and then sort them by some attribute, whether length, color, or another feature. We then decided to take a few favorite sticks home, where they were perfect for arts & crafts!

Veronika loved painting directly on the sticks with silver and gold. She decided another should be black with pink spots.

There are so many tried-and-true sticks games that we didn’t even get to today, like drawing in the dirt, forming alphabet letters, stacking sticks into towers, and stirring up some nature soup. As long as you’re careful, sticks can even be used for a quick game of Jedi lightsaber battling.

What’s your child’s favorite way to play with sticks? Please share in the comments!