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!

Leafy Green Pumpkins

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When you think of pumpkins and fall d├ęcor, the color orange likely comes to mind. But this beautiful, more subtly-shaded pumpkin decoration feels just right as summer gives way to fall, when the world is still mostly green and hasn’t yet turned to autumn’s vivid oranges, yellows, and reds.

Travis has been very into ferns lately, so as soon as I spotted this front-porch pumpkin idea in Country Living, I knew he’d love it, too. First up was a fern hunt! We did a family nature walk and were careful to take only a few fern tips here and there, leaving most of nature undisturbed.

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What a beautiful fern glen we stumbled upon!

Make the next stop your local farm or farmer’s market, because the best background for these ferns will be white, not a standard orange. Fun fact: these pumpkins are called Snowball or Ghost Pumpkins.

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All we needed to do was glue down the ferns with clear tacky glue, applying a few strips to each. A green Hubbard squash added height and fit the color palette perfectly, to complete the ensemble.

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How do you decorate your porch in early fall? Please share in the comments!

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Depth Perception Walk

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It might seem like there’s less to seek and find on winter nature walks than in other seasons, but the opportunities to leran are still abundant! To wit, we had beautiful cold sunshine today, and used the walk to play with concepts of distance and balance for Veronika!

As we walked, big brother Travis and I took turns pointing out items that were either near (“These branches are so close!”)…

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…or far. “Those leaves are far away!” Travis said. “Let’s race to them!” I was so proud of his teaching, because the racing was his own idea, and helped highlight the difference between items close by and those we needed to get to.

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After that we played around with how fast or slow we could cover the distances. Travis loved leading Veronika with the trail of a stick in the snow, too, sometimes close to her…

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…and sometimes far up ahead. For some final fun on the return walk, we collected a few nature treasures (winter-brown leaves were the most readily available!) and lined them up like a balance beam in the snow.

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Veronika loved testing her balance as she walked along the line. Once the leaves scattered, she repeated the task but this time her footsteps took her in a zig-zag! All in all, these activities kept us warm and active on what could have been a frigid walk.

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Bundt Pan Suncatcher

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We’ve made sparkly winter suncatchers in cookie cutter shapes before, but this year we decided to think big: Bundt pan big that is!

To start this gorgeous project, head off on a treasure gathering hunt. Veronika especially loved finding the bright pop of red berries and collecting small pine cones as we took a walk.

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Once home, I filled a Bundt pan with water about half full, then we plunked in our treasures.

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Now simply set it outside to freeze! We actually had to wait a few days for this to work, since first I realized our layer of water was simply too deep and poured some out. Then we needed a night that dipped down to 20 degrees, and finally we woke to a beautifully solid chunk of ice.

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To unmold, simply run the bottom of the pan under a little hot water and slip out gently. I wrapped a bright ribbon through the hole in the center of this ice “cake” and suspended it from a tree branch.

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This was absolutely gorgeous in the sunlight!

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Travis loved that way that tiny icicles began to form near the bottom as the sun warmed the ice through a little.

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We’re hoping for a few icy cold days so this can last before the sun melts it. As a bonus, all the nature treasures can simply fall where they lie as the suncatcher melts. Just be sure to clean up the ribbon!

Stone Paperweight

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If you’re looking for a gift your toddler can make for a relative this holiday season, the paperweight is it.

The best part about this gift is that it starts with a nature walk! It can be a harder to motivate kids for these once the cold sets in, so I loved motivating Veronika by telling her we were on a treasure hunt for the perfect rock.

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We came home with two that were the perfect size and shape, including one that almost looked like a heart.

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Now it was time to paint. Not only did we use sparkly paint…

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…but she wanted to dump glitter on, too. We used the recipient’s favorite color combo of orange and blue.

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Let dry, then spray with shellac for a shinier finish. (Note: that’s a grown-up only step).

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Wrap up and gift to someone special!

No Carve Nature Pumpkins

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It was a brisk fall morning, perfect for one of our nature walks to collect treasures. This time, I specifically kept my eyes open for items that we would be able to later glue onto pumpkins. We came home with sticks, leaves, pine cones, and acorns. I had hoped to spot some maple keys, but didn’t see any.

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I arranged all of our treasures onto a craft tray, and Veronika loved sorting through the items.

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As she simply explored with all her senses, I arranged the items with more purpose to see what would work where on each pumpkin as facial features.

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Our first orange fellow soon had acorn eyes, a stick nose, a leaf mouth, and a big branch of multiple leaves for hair.

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He was soon joined by a second orange friend, this one with acorns for eyes and nose, leaves for mouth and ears, and a fun little pine cone headdress. I tucked a few leaves behind the pine cone so it almost looked like one of those fancy fascinator hats!

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Veronika was clearly delighted when she saw that our pumpkins now had eyes, noses, and more.

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They look quite jolly and happy on our patio. As with our recent pumpkin mask craft, this is a great way to decorate pumpkins a ways out from Halloween, since they won’t rot before the big night.

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Leaf Scrunch

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Unseasonably warm and dry weather has meant the leaves are slow to change this autumn. Finally we’re spotting the first of the fall color, and we celebrated with a nature walk and leaf activity!

First up was a walk in the woods. We brought along a paper bag to fill with leaves, and Veronika loved dropping in our treasures.

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She also discovered the delightful crunch that the leaves made if she scuffed her feet through them!

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Once home, we dumped out the bag of leaves so they filled an old box. I showed her how she could simply scrunch her hands through the leaves…

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…or toss them out and then fill the box back up again.

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The drier leaves crumbled in her fingers, to her delight. Or, she could rip up the softer ones into small pieces, which kept her busy for quite some time.

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Thanks to a gentle breeze, she soon had the idea to toss the leaves off our patio. I loved watching the wheels of her brain turn as she discovered that leaves don’t go as far as other things she can throw, like pebbles and acorns!

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Then we picked up armfuls and tossed them over her head, where they scattered to the patio.

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Or landed right in her hair.

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As a final component of the activity, we took some of the prettiest ones inside and I showed her how to press them onto sticky contact paper.

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Fold the paper over itself, and you have an instant autumn placemat!

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In sum, there was so much joy to be had in this first batch of fall leaves!

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Nature Bracelet

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Turn any nature walk into a hunt for treasure with this toddler craft!

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As we headed off on a nature trail through a meadow, I wrapped a length of masking tape around Veronika’s sleeve, sticky side out. While we walked, I started adding small flower petals and leaves to the bracelet, and remarked how beautiful the items were.

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She very quickly got the idea and soon started gathering finds of her own, which I helped her attach to her “bracelet”.

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Big brother Travis thought it looked so fun that he wanted an armband of his own to decorate.

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And he was a big helper adding finds to his sister’s arm!

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The activity led to beautiful moments on our walk, like pausing by the strands from a milkweed pod, which looked like silk on her bracelet.

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Once home, I cut the masking tape from her sleeve and we mounted it on the wall as a gorgeous memento.

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Make a Mini Troll

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After reading in Highlights magazine about an artist who makes troll sculptures from wood and recycled materials, Travis was eager to make his own. A walk to a nearby beach was the perfect opportunity to collect pieces of bark, branches, and wood shavings on the ground.

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We returned with a plastic bag full of pieces and now needed to design the troll! Travis loved setting this out, initially with the troll lying down.

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He carefully arranged arms, legs, and a head.

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I then used hot glue to make his creation stand up in 3D. We even added a little orange peel as a hat!

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What a ferocious little troll it was, and a neat concept to boot.

Sound Walk Scavenger Hunt

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When we go on nature walks, I tend to draw Veronika’s attention to things we can see… a natural tendency, and of course a great way to help her hone skills of observation. But it can be easy to neglect other senses. So today we specifically focused on things we could hear on our walk instead!

Armed with a cute template, we set out on a sound “scavenger hunt”.

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I loved this template because the pictures were cartoon-ish and easy for even a young toddler to understand. “Bird!” she said, looking at the drawings. “Plane!”

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The template is also just right for this age because it only includes a few items, instead of an overwhelming list. Pretty soon, we could start to check items off.

We met a dog on our walk, who barked happily. “Dog!” she said. I showed Veronika the dog on her paper and helped her check it off. (Older toddlers will no doubt proudly make the check marks themselves).

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Then she eagerly pointed when we heard a plane! And that earned a check.

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A bird near the water caught her attention and she chased after it yelling out “tweet tweet!” So that one got a check, too.

There is ample space to add other sounds that you hear, so we drew in a little cartoon of the wind after listening to it rustle through the leaves.

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Perhaps we’ll do a scavenger hunt for our sense of smell or touch on our next walk!