Nature Scavenger Hunt

Spring is finally upon us and nature is beginning to wake up after the long winter.  With warmer days and new life appearing all around us, it is the perfect opportunity to get outside and observe nature–especially if you can bring your kids along for the fun!

One of our family’s favorite activities is to go exploring–just find a trail or a beach or a patch of woods and see where it takes us. This week I decided to take advantage of my boys’ excitement over exploring (and David’s new-found obsession with scavenger hunts) and embark on our first-ever nature scavenger hunt. The concept is simple, but there is so much (fun) learning that can happen on a hunt like this.

To begin, we needed only two supplies: our “treasure map” (a Nature scavenger hunt page that I created that included items I knew we could find in the woods behind our house) and a jar with a lid (I just used a clean, empty jam jar).

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Then, it was time to start searching! I held onto the “treasure map” and David carried the jar, where we placed our “treasures” as they were found.

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Jacob loved following his big brother on our hunt, and he even found a few treasures of his own to add to our collection.

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The boys were thrilled to be outside running around finding treasures to place in their nature jar. David couldn’t wait to see what was next on the treasure map and he carried his nature jar around with such pride.

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After we’d found every item on our treasure map we walked back home and brought the nature jar inside for observation. We had three ladybugs in our jar, and the boys were absolutely mesmerized by them. In fact, David sat like this for about half an hour while I made dinner (and, just so you know, that is highly unusual!):

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I poked some air holes in the lid of the jar for our little ladybug friends and we kept them for two days before releasing them back into the wild (our back yard). The boys couldn’t get enough of their nature jar, so this was the perfect opportunity to sneak in some learning. Here are a few questions I asked David to get him thinking about what he observed on our nature walk and in his nature jar:

  • How many (sticks, rocks, leaves) can you see in the jar?
  • Is this rock smooth or rough? Is it hard or soft?
  • Which (stick, rock, leaf) is the biggest/smallest/longest/shortest/darkest/lightest?
  • What colors do you see?
  • How many legs are on the ladybug? How many eyes? How many wings? How many dots on its back?
  • Which of these treasures are alive or come from living things?
  • Can you arrange these stones in a row from smallest to largest?
  • Which of these items starts with a b/r/t/f sound?
  • Can you think of a word that rhymes with bug/twig/rock?
  • How many syllables are in the word flower/pinecone/twig/leaf/berry?
  • What was your favorite part of the nature walk? Why?
  • Which of these items do not belong in nature? Why shouldn’t this be in nature? Where does it belong instead? (One of our items was litter and, unfortunately, we found lots of it on the trail. After this experience, I think our next nature walk may be a litter clean-up!)

We can’t wait to go on another scavenger hunt soon to see what else we can find!

 

Repost: Easter “Resurrection Roll” Bible Story and Recipe

Easter is just a few weeks away, which means it’s time to bring back all of my favorite lent activities. Easter is such a special time to share with children, and I’m always looking for fun and creative ways to share the truth of this season with my boys. This week we will begin using our resurrection eggs and we’ll also be doing one of my all-time favorite cooking projects: resurrection rolls. Resurrection rolls are a simple (and, might I add, delicious) way to share the gospel with children, a truly memorable experience. I thought I’d repost the recipe and story here for you if you’d like to join in the fun–enjoy!

Original Post: Resurrection Roll Recipe and Bible Story

I love finding creative ways to teach important truths to kids. And I love it even more if I can find a way to tie food into the “lesson”. You can imagine my excitement, then, when I first discovered Resurrection Rolls.

Basically, Resurrection Rolls are a treat that you make where each step of the cooking process represents part of the Easter story. It’s a wonderful way to tell kids the Easter story AND the rolls themselves are sublime. I’ve had people make the rolls for me before, but this was my first time doing the whole project with David. He was able to help out a bit and was pretty engaged the whole time (even if he did keep trying to swipe marshmallows from my stash). I’ll definitely be doing this again next year–a new tradition has been born!

What you’ll need:

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  • 1 package of crescent rolls
  • 8 large marshmallows (plus extras to snack on while you’re waiting for the rolls to bake!)
  • 3 Tablespoons melted butter
  • 3 Tablespoons sugar plus 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • Parchment paper
  • Baking sheet
  • Bible (or use the “script” below)

How It’s Done:

IMG_1513Start by preheating your oven to 350 degrees. While the oven is preheating, get out your Bible and open up to John 19 or find the Easter story in a children’s Bible (my favorite is the Jesus Storybook Bible). Below you’ll find the pictures and the “script” for how I told the story to David (he’s only 2 years old, so I kept it simple for him).

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Say: “Even though Jesus was perfect and had never sinned–he had never ever done anything wrong– some people did not like him. They wanted to hurt Jesus because he said he was God. They made Jesus carry a cross and they killed him. This made God very sad, but it was all part of His great rescue plan. When Jesus died, his friends took his body off the cross.”

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Do: Give your child a marshmallow
Say: “This marshmallow represents Jesus’ body. Jesus died for you and for me, because we have sinned and we need to be rescued from our sin.”

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Say: “After Jesus died, his friends came and they put special oil and spices on Jesus’ body to get him ready for burial.”
Do: Roll the marshmallow in melted butter, then in cinnamon sugar

Say: “Next, Jesus’ friends wrapped his body in special cloths–almost like a mummy! Jesus had died, and they were getting his body ready to bury.”
Do: Roll the cinnamon-sugar marshmallow up in a crescent roll (it won’t look like a crescent roll). Press all of the seams firmly. Repeat for each of the crescent rolls. Place the rolls on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet.

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Say: “Next, they laid Jesus’ body in a tomb. A tomb is like a big cave carved out of rock. Then big, strong soldiers rolled a heavy rock in front of the tomb so nobody could get in or out of the tomb. They even put a special seal over the entrance so they would know if anybody tried to move the rock that was in front of the entrance. Soldiers stood in front of the tomb to guard it day and night.”
Do: Put the rolls in the oven and set your timer for 10-12 minutes. Let the rolls bake until they are golden-brown. I even let David stand guard in front of our oven “tomb” with his toy sword.

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Say: “Jesus was dead in the tomb for three days. Let’s count to three: one, two, three. How many days was he in the tomb? That’s right, three days.”
(We had some time to wait for the rolls, so I let David play while they were baking. I kept going back to him, though, and we’d repeat this whole conversation about how long Jesus was in the tomb.)

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Do: When the rolls are done baking, take them out of the oven and let them cool (I let mine cool for about 20 minutes, and that was perfect). The marshmallow will probably have exploded out of your rolls, but that’s to be expected (that’s why we put down the parchment paper!). After the rolls have cooled…

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Say: “Three days after Jesus had died, an angel of God appeared to one of Jesus’ friends. He told her that Jesus was alive! Jesus’ friends decided to look in the tomb where they had put Jesus’ body, but when they did, it was empty! Jesus had risen! And still today, Jesus is alive. Today he lives in heaven with God.”
Do: Cut open one of the rolls. The marshmallow has melted, so the “tomb” is now empty.

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Do: Eat your yummy rolls!
Say: “These rolls are sweet, just like the love of God. God made you and he loves you very much. And some day, if you choose to love and follow God, you will be able to spend forever and ever in heaven with him and Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus is our Great Rescuer. The Bible tells us that the only way to Heaven is through loving and believing in Jesus. We celebrate Easter, because Jesus died and rose again so that we could have a way to Heaven.”

Repost: Redeeming St. Patrick’s Day

I posted this entry last year shortly after returning from our first visit to Ireland. Now that we are actually living in Ireland and about to celebrate our first St. Patrick’s Day here, I thought it would be fitting to repost it. Although the drinking and the leprechauns still seem to steal the show here in Ireland, I am reminded that St. Patrick was a real man who really stood for something. So, on Monday as we join thousands of spectators lining St. Patrick’s Street and Grand Parade for (what I’m hoping will be) the most memorable St. Patrick’s Day parade I’ve ever witnessed, I’ll keep good ‘ol Patrick in mind. And hopefully he won’t mind if I have a pint in his memory.

 

Original Post: Redeeming St. Patrick’s Day and a Shamrock Craft

I’ve never really liked St. Patrick’s Day. People seem to just use it as an excuse to drink too much beer and pinch unsuspecting bystanders who made the unfortunate choice to not wear green on March 17th. This year, however, I’m seeing things a bit differently. You see, I just got back from my first trip to Ireland where I learned a lot about Irish history and who St. Patrick really was (yes, he was a real person). So this year, instead of eating green eggs in a drunken stupor, I am going to try and redeem St. Patrick’s Day for my kids.

Who Was St. Patrick?
First of all, Patrick is not really a Saint (you know, the capital “s” type canonized by the Catholic church). And he’s not even Irish. Patrick was born in Scotland and, when he was about 16 years old, he was captured in a raid and brought to Ireland as a slave (this was in about the year 405–a really long time ago). At the time, Ireland was a radically pagan place– considered to be about as far away from God as any place on the planet. Patrick’s grandfather, however, had been a priest. While Patrick remained in bondage in Ireland he clung to his faith and relied on prayer. Then, after 6 years, he managed to escape and return home.

When Patrick was in his 40’s, God brought him back to Ireland–this time as a missionary (I love God’s sense of irony!). Patrick had become intimately connected with the Irish people during his years in slavery and history tells us that one of his first converts was the very man who had held Patrick in captivity. Patrick went on to spend the next several years of his life preaching and spreading the gospel throughout Ireland. He was so successful in his missionary work that he turned the once-pagan island into one of the early centers of the Christian faith.

Legend has it that on one of Patrick’s missionary journeys through Ireland he came to a castle at the top of a rocky crag called the Rock of Cashel. I had the great honor of visiting the Rock of Cashel a few weeks ago when I was in Ireland:

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It was here at the Rock of Cashel that Patrick (reputedly) used a shamrock to tell the story of the trinity and then baptized King Aengus. Basically, the illustration of the shamrock trinity is that each of the leaves represents one of God’s persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. While they are each separate and unique, they are all part of one whole.

As you look out from the Rock of Cashel to the Irish countryside, it’s easy to imagine what that day must have been like:

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For The Kids: Shamrock Collages
This week I told my 2 year old about St. Patrick. I told him how he was a man who lived a long, long time ago and that God used him to help other people learn about Jesus. We looked at pictures of shamrocks and I explained the trinity to little David using Patrick’s illustration. It was awesome!

Then the former-kindergarten teacher in me had to get crafty. We decided to commemorate our little shamrock “lesson” with a simple project.

I started by gathering an assortment of green things: scrapbooking paper, pom-poms, foam shapes, tissue paper and a large piece of green cardstock. I also put a dime-sized squirt of glue into a bowl with a Q-tip to use as a paintbrush:

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I used a pencil to draw a shamrock shape onto the cardstock (heavy construction paper or cardboard painted green would also work), then I cut out the shamrock:

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I sat David down at the table and gave him all of the green things I’d collected. He helped me tear the tissue paper into small pieces (this is great fine-motor practice, by the way!). Then I showed David how to use the Q-tip to “paint” glue onto the shamrock where he wanted to stick his green things. Whenever we’re using glue we use the mantra “just a dot, not a lot!”. David had a lot of fun picking out the decorations for his shamrock and sticking them on.

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He required quite a bit of supervision and direction (put the glue here…ok, now pick out another piece of paper..ok, now put the paper on top of the glue…please don’t lick the glue…). In the end, though, his little shamrock turned out pretty darn cute! And the best part of all: we’ll have something meaningful to think about this St. Patricks day.

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DIY Lacing Cards Activity

The other day I was working on a little sewing project while David was playing. He kept coming over to me wanting to “help” me sew. As any parent knows, a child’s help is anything but that–plus, I didn’t think that a 3-year old boy who is prone to throwing every item in sight should necessarily be “helping” with a pile of sharp pins and needles. I made him a deal, though: I would make him his own sewing project if he would just leave mine well-enough alone.

After a quick look around our house I found some supplies to make David his own set of lacing cards. Lacing is a great fine-motor activity for toddlers and preschoolers and something they actually enjoy doing (now if only I could train my preschooler to do all of my mending…). Here’s the how-to:

DIY Lacing Cards

What you need:
-Cardboard (I used a cereal box)
-Scissors
-Tracing templates (I used cookie cutters)
-Hole-punch
-Yarn or ribbon
-Tape

What you do:

1. Start with a flat piece of cardboard. I cut apart a cereal box into pieces that lay flat.

IMG_1461 2. Trace the shapes that you want to use onto the cardboard. I used large children’s cookie cutters, but you could use just about any found object to trace around. Or, if you are the artistic type, you could even free-draw the shapes. It’s up to you. I ended up tracing six shapes onto one cereal box. IMG_1462 3. Cut out the shapes. Then, use a hole-punch to punch holes around the perimeter of each shape. Make sure the holes are not too close to the edge so the cardboard will not tear when your enthusiastic child begins lacing. IMG_1463 4. Tie one end of a piece of yarn or ribbon onto one of the holes with a double-knot. Cut the piece of yarn just long enough so that it can be laced through all of the holes without running out of string. Wrap a small piece of tape around the “open” end of the yarn to make a durable tip. I just used plain white yarn because that’s what I had on hand, but using a variety of colors would be much more exciting! IMG_1464 5. Start lacing! IMG_1474

Color Swirl Milk Experiment

David loves “projects” so I’m always looking for fun, simple activities we can do together. I recently came across this idea for a preschool science experiment involving milk and food coloring. Sold!

To do this “color swirl” experiment you only need a few household materials: a pan or wide-rimmed plate (I used an 8×8 baking dish and it was perfect), dish soap, milk (high-fat or whole milk work best), liquid food coloring, Q-tips and/or toothpicks, and *optional* paper (watercolor paper or construction paper, not computer printer paper)

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Once you’ve gathered your materials, the fun begins! Start by pouring milk into the pan until it just covers the bottom of the dish. Drop 4 or 5 drops of each color of food coloring near the center of the pan so the colors are close together. Tell your preschooler to resist the beautiful colors and keep his hands to himself for 2 more seconds.

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Dip the end of a Q-tip into the center of the colors and watch what happens (nothing, except maybe you push a bit of milk around). Now ask your child what you think will happen if you dip the same Q-tip into soap before dipping it into the center of the milk (“What is your prediction, child? Will anything be different? What do you think will happen?”). Now, generously coat the end of the Q-tip or toothpick with dish soap. Dip the Q-tip into the center of the colors and hold the Q-tip still (I know, holding still is a difficult concept for a preschooler, but trust me–it’s worth it!). Now watch the colors explode as they dance away from the Q-tip!

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Now dip the other end of your Q-tip in the dish soap and poke it down somewhere else in the dish. It’s like magical little fireworks repelling away from the Q-tip!

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I was curious about the science behind the color swirls so I did a quick internet search and found this great website with a thorough explanation. Turns out that dish soap is bipolar–not in the manic-depressive sense, but in the hydrophilic polar (water-loving) and hydrophobic non-polar (water-fearing) sense. When the water-fearing part of the dish soap connects with the fat in the milk, the magic happens. As all of the little soap molecules start racing around trying to find the milk-fat molecules to connect with they push the food coloring out of the way, creating those wonderful swirls.

We thought that the colors were so pretty that we decided to try capturing them on paper. I just cut a few pieces of artist paper down to a size that would easily fit in our pan and we laid each piece straight on top of the color swirls before gently lifting it back up. The color swirl paper looks really beautiful (and, just in case you’re wondering, a few days later they still smell fine!).

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After playing with four batches of milk in the pan, it was time for another experiment. I came up with this one all on my own. What will happen if we replace the milk with water, take away the food coloring, add a bit of dish soap and switch out the Q-tips for scrub brushes? David couldn’t wait to find out!

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Ta-da! Prest-o, clean-o! Now that’s one science experiment that can keep all of us happy.

Angry Birds Learning Activities

The other day I woke up and, like most mornings, the first thing I did was to roll over, rub my eyes, and check my phone for whatever items of crucial importance might have popped up while I was sleeping. Unlike most mornings, however, my phone was flashing a message from my Angry Birds App:

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Seems that someone had the audacity to beat my high score and claim my top spot in the weekly tournament. The only thing is, I’ve never actually played Angry Birds. David is only one who has ever played the game on my phone–which means my 2-year old is somehow an Angry Birds record holder. An Angry Birds prodigy, if you will. I am one proud mother.

And, while I’m sure he’s learning tons about the trajectory and velocity needed to catapult those birds into towers, there is still a part of me that thinks his love of Angry Birds could be redirected into more noble endeavors. I was thrilled, then, to discover that Homeschool Creations has actually created loads of free printable Angry Birds learning activities (yessssss!).

I printed off all 24 pages of the Preschool Angry Birds Activity Pack (there are also a Kindergarten activity pack and vocabulary cards available to print on the site). There were a few activities that required (minimal) prep work like cutting and gluing pieces together, but after only a few minutes I had everything ready for our Angry Birds fun and learning time.

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There are several different age-appropriate activities in the learning packet: line tracing, color words, patterning, sorting, counting, sound-matching, and even puppets for creative play.

David was so excited to see all of the Angry Birds mumbo-jumbo that I don’t think he even realized he was practicing school skills.

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After a good hour of intense concentration, David was ready to put down his “Angry Birds games” for awhile.

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We will definitely be returning to this packet-o-fun again sometime soon. In the meantime, I’d better get busy. It’s only a matter of time before David passes me up in more than just gaming.

Fun and Learning at the Farmer’s Market

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Today we went on a culinary adventure to our local farmer’s market. I’ve been wanting to visit this market ever since we moved here, and I’m so glad we finally made it! It’s a great farmer’s market with all locally-sourced food–and GOOD food, at that.

Farmer’s markets are really my dream come true: I love fresh produce, bread, cheeses and the like, but I have a hard enough time getting the kids fed and my teeth brushed each day to worry about things like gardening and baking (or cheese making, mind you. Although I can see cows from my kitchen window. Perhaps that’s in my future. We’ll see.). Thankfully there are plenty of people who enjoy doing those things and they gather together every week in the parking lot at my local shopping center so I can reap the benefits.

We had a lot of fun exploring the tents and tables of the farmer’s market…and sampling our way through the stalls. We all enjoyed this cheese (and by enjoyed, I mean the boys ate about 10 slices each) so I felt obligated to buy a round:

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It was getting close to lunch time and all of the food looked so yummy that I couldn’t resist getting a little something. We got some delicious pizza and raspberries–which David quickly smeared over his face like a clown with a bad face-paint job:

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And, since I’m always one to take the easy road for dinner-prep, too, I picked up some roasted chicken and veggies for tonight’s dinner:

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I would have been happy just camping out at a table in the center of the market and eating all day but, alas, my children had other agendas. Turns out 2-year old boys want to touch and smell and taste (read: lick) everything in sight. And babies who were forced to skip their nap so Mom could go to the farmer’s market get cranky.

Before we left, though, we made one last pass through the stalls to play a few quick “farmer’s market games”. The teacher in me couldn’t resist sneaking in a few teachable moments disguised as food-fun. For instance:

  • IMG_3341We compared the size, shape and colors of vegetables at one stand: What is the biggest veggie you can find? What is the longest veggie you can find? Can you find a red vegetable? Can you find a vegetable that is round like a ball?
  • We found vegetables that represented the different parts of a plant: Parsnips for the roots, celery for the stem, and broccoli for the flower.
  • We played farmer’s market bingo (print your own Bingo card here)
  • We played “5 senses”: we looked at, felt, smelled, tasted, and listened to the sounds different veggies made.
  • Together we came up with three questions to ask a farmer, and then we found an obliging farmer to “interview”IMG_3336
  • We counted: Can you put three apples in our bag? Which plate has more cookies on it? How many slices of pizza did Mommy just eat for lunch?
  • We voted for our favorites: after tasting three different cheeses we talked about which was our favorite and why
  • We learned about economics: Money is used to buy the things we want and need. See, Mommy stated with a wallet full of money and now it is empty. Now Mommy needs a second job to support her new-found market obsession.

With full tummies and a (truly) empty wallet, we left the market. Until next week, farmer friends!