No bad weather

It’s howling outside, we’re about to go for an overnight camping trip, and I need to convince my children to bring the right clothes. I think it’s time for a refresher on how to dress for success in the outdoors. There are many tricks I’ve learned wandering around the mountains in New Zealand, so here are some – as a way to remind myself as I teach them to my children.

Fabrics

No cotton. None. That stuff gets miserably cold when it gets wet. We used to have synthetic underwear just for hiking in NZ, and if we were to go winter camping I would insist on those for us now. The problem with cotton shows up only when it gets wet, which it will with sweat, or rain, or melting snow. Cotton becomes cold when it gets wet and can cool your skin to hypothermic levels. So definitely no jeans, no t-shirts, no cotton “thermals” (they got me with those the first year), cotton socks, cotton everything. Leave the cotton home.

Down-containing jackets and pants might seem like a good idea, and they are as long as they stay dry. In NZ there was always some rain during the day, so down jackets were only useful if they got trotted out in a hut. Those jackets are useful in below-freezing snow and ice environments, because it just isn’t going to rain. The moisture that might come from sweat will easily escape out from the body.

Good warm fabrics to bring along are fleece, polypropylene, and if your don’t mind the itch, wool. Even if these fabrics get wet, they will keep you warm to much lower temperatures. So, fleece sweater, pants, jacket, hat, gloves, and polypropylene thermal underwear. My list of clothing items to take camping on a cool, possibly rainy autumn camp is below.

Layers

Another trick to getting the most warmth out of your clothing is to wear layers. Your body heat will get trapped in subsequent layers between clothing, with the end result of less of your body heat dispersing. If you can keep your body heat close to your skin, you will be warmer.

Image result for hiking clothing layersThe Outdoor Gear Lab has some nice infographics on how to dress based on different expected temperatures.

So when I go out in the above mentioned autumn rain for a camping trip I will wear a non-cotton thermal base layer of thin polypropylene. On top of that I might wear a slightly layer of thicker base layer, followed by at least one layer of thick fleece. If it’s raining, I’ll put on a waterproof outer layer of a jacket and some rain-pants. If it’s not raining I might show off my down puffer jacket. I’ll also have on a fleece hat, and fleece gloves.

Here are my recommendations:

Nature Playscapes–Zoo New England

Zoo New England educators Stephanie Veitz and Jennifer Jenson asked us if we’d be interested in being one of the first to check out their new natural playscapes.  Let’s think about the type of things that make it onto the “Angelika and Lindsay perk up their ears” list:

  • playspace– CHECK!
  • natural elements and recycled materials–CHECK!
  • community partnerships–CHECK!
  • nature mentoring–CHECK!
  • art–CHECK!
  • efficient, creative, and environmentally responsible use of under-utilized empty space–CHECK!
  • being surrounded by actual perky-eared animals–CHECK!

Yes, I think Zoo New England thought correctly!  They invited us to take a look at their work in progress last weekend.  This time, we went to check out the Stone Zoo, although they are constructing a similar playscape at Franklin Park, as well.

Check out the sensory table!  They can easily change out the contents, although these selections are hits:

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While a focus is child-led exploring, they offer a variety of prompts.  Here’s a nature guide worksheet.  They also include leaf rubbing supplies, a scavenger hunt, and will continue to include more based on observation and inspiration.  IMG_1471

What would your children do with a simple wooden frame?  Bridget and Fiona just completed Friends of the Fells youth programming and were inspired to share their recently honed lean-to skills.  This will be a likely be a common approach, but I bet it will be far from the only one.

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Colorful blocks, flowers, and mirrors?  Add some art to your engineering, or discuss optics, color, and more:

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The girls took to the “balance beams” right away.  They will also be including a variety of stumps to hop on or hide behind in this space.

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The zoos expect to open these spaces to the public by the first week of August, 2016. One exciting addition that had not yet been installed: a large nest replica the children can climb in, similar to the one near the bears Smokey and Bubba!  The space opens next month, but they plan to continue to tweak, develop, and listen to input and feedback.  They’d also like to run workshops with groups–if you’d be interested in joining a Playground Hunt contingent, let us know!  When will you go check out the new Zoo New England playscapes?

 

 

Playground Tourism–April Vacation Fun!

It’s getting to be prime playground season!

I just took a trip to Colorado and New Mexico, and Angelika used to live out that way.  My family and I saw some fantastic playgrounds!  I figured I’d do a quick write up of some of the best.

Whether you’re able to make it to visit them someday or not, I figured they may be of interest because a) when we share articles on our Facebook feed about playgrounds around the world, they are always super-duper popular–there seems to be a high interest among our followers in what people are doing elsewhere and b) seeing these pictures will let you think about what elements you like most, whether you’re looking for a similar one to visit or looking to do a build.

We stayed with friends in Trinidad, CO.  This one stood out.  It is not huge or particularly fancy, but it has a great “treehouse” feel with amazing tunnel slides.  Their benches are beautifully decorated with tiles depicting local history.

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Taos, New Mexico, is well-known for its Twirl Play and Discovery Space.  This beautiful and artistic playground is known for not just being a place for kids to meet and climb, but as a local institution–they have programming, welcome art installations, and work closely with community partners. (As always, click on thumbnails to enlarge.)

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Who knew Colorado was known for a reptile park?  Well, I didn’t.  We love their alligator shaped play structure!

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Did you travel over April vacation, or get a chance to spend time exploring New England?  If you went to a great playground or attraction, let us know in the comments.  Or better yet–let us know if you’d like to write a guest post!

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Nature Pen Pal Exchange

Bridget with an alder branch

Bridget with an alder branch

I’ve had pen pals since I learned to write.  I remember rushing home from school to check the mailbox. In some ways, the advent of social media didn’t feel so new to me:  While I love getting together with friends in person, I’ve been long used to interacting daily through words, pictures, and fun little shares.

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Some friends share this passion, and now our kids are pen pals, as well.  It has been a multi-generational connection!  So when one of them told me about the Nature Pal Exchange, knowing that if anything is more up my alley than writing, it is nature geek stuff, I was immediately intrigued.

 

Opening our box!

Opening our box!

They do periodic matches and themed swaps, all surrounding a nature theme.  You can exchange letters and goodies, just as you would with any traditional pen pal, but the point is to include nature specimens as well.  I was relieved to see the founders of the program put a large focus on preventing the spread of invasives, with multiple guidelines and references on sterilization and disposal tips.  Many of the participants are homeschoolers–I see why–it is a great curriculum addition, but you don’t have to be one to participate.

Check out our box ready to go out.  We included a corn husk doll, a map from our state park, “beads” made from branches by insects, a drawing, and many small and sterilized samples:

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We were excited to find out our pen pals are from Fox Island, Washington, near Mount Rainier, and in the Puget Sound.  It is a green and temperate coastal area like where we live, but it is clear on the other end of the country.  And that’s part of what was so much fun–seeing the similarities and differences.

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We each sent the other two kinds of lichen, and all four were very distinct.  We both find a lot of sand dollars on our local beaches, but the Pacific ones tend to be much larger. It wasn’t all science–we loved hearing about how they frequently forage salal berries to put in their pancakes.

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We were thankful for a way to merge two of our favorite hobbies and interests and learn a lot and make new friends at the same time.  How do you and your families combine your interests?

Snake Fern and Bracken Fern

Snake Fern and Bracken Fern

 

Daisy Petal Worksheets – Printable

I’m creating worksheets from the Girl Scouts Daisy Flower Friends. There are ten of them, which guide Daisies through earning each of the ten petals. I use these to give to the girls after we spend a meeting on the petal activities, to fill out at home and return them the next meeting to be given their petal. I will keep updating this page until all ten are here 🙂



Scouts

So a funny thing happened the other day. No I didn’t walk into a bar – what happened was that I somehow signed up to become a scout leader. You are now looking at the proud troop co-leader of Girl Scout troop 72055.
All this is a little bit crazy of course because I have so many health issues which is also the reason why I haven’t blogged very much recently.
Instead I have been reinventing the wheel by making Daisy troop printables.
I’ve been on Pinterest a lot.

Somewhere I saw a blog post that talked about giving the girls a handout to work on at home. This was supposed to reinforce whatever activity or petal there working on that week.

In our first meeting we worked on the Light Blue Petal – Honest and Fair. We read the story from the handbook, we guided the girls through fairly splitting uneven snacks, and practiced honesty by playing Musical Chairs. I then gave them this handout to work on until the next meeting. They are supposed to bring it back filled in to next meeting to be given their Light Blue Petal.

Download it for your own troop by clicking here:

How to Raise a Wild Child

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I received an advance reader’s copy of the book How to Raise a Wild Child by paleontologist and educator Scott Sampson over six months ago, and I’m just getting around to talking about it in this unsponsored review.  Is the fact I was busy raising wild children a good excuse?  I’d like to think so.

It is impossible to talk about a book about children and nature without bringing up Richard Louv’s contemporary classic The Last Child in the Woods.  In Louv’s book, he talks about how much reduced exposure to the natural world has so deeply changed society, and about what we can do to get some of those benefits back.  His Children & Nature Network has become an entire movement.

Scott Sampson’s new book has already joined Louv’s as a critically acclaimed go-to reference, but although they both have a very similar mission this book takes on a much different angle.

Louv’s book very much preaches to the choir.  It appealed most to those who already had one foot *out* the door.  He also wrote extensively about how the modern world’s infrastructure has changed our relationship with nature.  It is engagingly and accessibly written, and interesting from historical and sociological points of views. It captured the attention of a broad audience, from educators to politicians to conservationists and other scientists.

How to Raise a Wild Child seems to be more directed at the parents, but it doesn’t come off as condescending at all, as some parenting books can be.

He speaks of free play, of just immersing oneself in nature, and touches quite a bit on nature mentoring.  He explains how nature mentoring should not be preachy, and should be child-led.  You’re there as a guide, and not as a lecturer.  Nature mentoring can mean anything from starting a Forest Kindergarten for your community (thanks Angelika!) to simply not brushing your children off when they say “Why is the sky blue?”

Personally, I like to let my children be independent and push boundaries outdoors, but “free-range parenting” just brings to mind fried chicken to me (or maybe I’m just hungry from running around outside?) and helicopter parents are generally seen as too clingy.  He includes a great quote from nature writer Michele Whitaker:
“I call myself a hummingbird parent.  I tend to stay physically distant to let them explore and problem solve, but zoom in at moments when safety is an issue (which isn’t very often).”
This nature metaphor sounds like an appealing happy medium!

Your nature mentorship can have a broader reach than you’d suspect.  Over at the Friends of the Fells, where Angelika and I are both involved, another staffer and I discovered we had the same science teacher–at opposite ends of the state.  He taught and influenced me in the foothills of the Berkshires and her on Cape Cod.  And now we’ve met in the middle, working together to educate children on the same subject he helped inspire passion for.  Thanks Paul Niles!

Another thing Sampson focuses on is “thrivability”.  He doesn’t like the word “sustainability” because it has a bit of a “just treading water” feel.  We can do better than that!  Some nature geeks completely eschew screen time and technology.  As the host of PBS’s Dinosaur Train, it would be disingenuous if Sampson completely brushed it off.  It can be a matter of balance and perspective.  If your child is fascinated by “technology” but you’d like to expose them to more nature, consider GPS systems or telescopes and so on as a gateway.

I put technology in quotes because that is another area where perspective comes into play.  Some things are more transformed and processed than others, but truly the whole world is natural, is it not?  We need to keep sustainability (thrivability?) in mind when interacting with the world, but it might benefit us more to stop viewing them as separate.  We should innovate and support our human population in a way that is best in tune with our fauna and flora and the rest of the planet.  We’re all in it together and should stop viewing nature as separate.  The world right now is a very different place than it was several hundred or several thousand or several hundred thousand years ago.  But overall?  We still view it as beautiful.  Some conservation discussions take an Armegeddon approach.  While it is a serious subject indeed, that tends to inspire more hopelessness and depression than connection and action.  Yes, it is likely the status quo won’t remain.  The way we live on this planet will likely change in a big way–in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse.  But we’ll likely still see it as beautiful even if it is indeed very different.

This train of thought can be especially important in urban wilderness regions like the Greater Boston area.  Scott Sampson’s book has become an instant classic in outdoor education circles.  Start small–like with picking up this book!–and look at the big picture.

 

Stanley Park–Westfield, MA

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Our followers in Western Massachusetts are probably familiar with Stanley Park.  It is large, beautiful, well-known, and has lots of amenities.  Those of you in Eastern Massachusetts (and everywhere!) who went to Westfield State University–as I did!–are surely familiar with Stanley Park.  The students are lucky enough to have it practically on campus.  It’s not officially, but it might as well be.  If neither of these things apply to you, and you’re one of our Greater Boston readers, this park may still be worth a visit.  It is quite close to Six Flags New England and other tourist attractions, so it is a doable side visit.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That's the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

See that tent behind my speedy daughter? That’s the jumbo sandbox, with shade and benches.

As usual, playgrounds are a top priority for us and Stanley Park has a great one–a relatively recent rebuild.  It is large, and ADA accessible, with a toddler structure as well.  Stanley Park is quite accessible overall, and has an annual “Wheel Walk” tour to showcase this.
Some playground highlights include an extra large twisty slide, and a huge canopied sandbox.  The playground is fenced, and dogs aren’t allowed in that area, but are welcome leashed in the rest of the park.

(Click to enlarge thumbnails)

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Stanley Park was founded by philanthropist Frank Stanley Beveridge in 1949. He moved to Massachusetts as a teen but he was originally from Canada–a legacy that is shown in the famous black squirrels he introduced to the park.

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of "tree fort".

My nephew and daughters found a different kind of “tree fort”.

 

Stanley Park has many other amenities.  It will always hold a special place in our hearts because Craig and I got married there, right between the Rose Garden, the fountain, and the dinosaur tracks!  It also has many other award-winning gardens, hiking trails, playing fields, and event pavilions.  They are known for their historical tours and the wide variety of community-building events they host.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I'll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

My husband took this photo. I would NOT have taken this photo because I have a goose phobia. But I’ll grudgingly admit it shows off the duck pond area pretty well.

Please take some time to check out some more photos at the Facebook feed and the park webpage linked above. We were rushing around with small kids and didn’t have time to do the gorgeous grounds justice photography-wise.

Do you have any favorite Stanley Park memories?

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Springs Brook Park

The last time we went to Springs Brook Park was two years ago. Last year they closed in early/middle August and we missed the chance to go. We made sure to go this year:

SPRINGS BROOK PARK is a man-made, filtered, swimming facility. The park is set back in a beautiful wooded setting. It is located at 181 Springs Road, just north of the four way intersection at Springs Road, Page Road and Pine Hill Road. SBP is staffed by lifeguards/swim instructors who are certified in water safety,lifeguard training, first aid and professional rescuer CPR.

Turns out there are some changes for this year. For 2015 the park is not open on weekends. There is now minigolf and a few other extra things to do.

General Info

Hours: Monday-Friday: 10:30-7:30 —  Saturday & Sunday: CLOSED (Park will not be open on weekends summer 2015.)

Cost: $7 per person, with a maximum of $25 per family, free for under 1y.o.

GPS coordinates: https://goo.gl/maps/DXaNW

Parking

Springs Brook Park has a decent sized parking lot, which is free. I like to get there as close as possible to opening as I can. I suggest arriving before 11am, or after 3pm.

Stuff to Do

  • Sandy beach with shade
  • playground
  • sprinkler park
  • water slide (must be >9y.o., or level 3 swimmer, or wear a life jacket)
  • swim lessons
  • volleyball, basketball, golfball (I’m sure that should be a thing)
  • concession stand (reasonably priced – e.g., icecreams are $1 to $2) that sells snacks, icecream, drinks, hot dogs, pizza
  • mini golf
  • barbecue spots
  • picnic tables

Bring:

playground photos

Playground at Springs Brook Park

lake photos

Panorama of man made lake at Springs Brook Park

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Beach and Lake at Springs Brook Park

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Lake at Springs Brook Park

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park - sorry, it looks wonky as panorama

Panoram of Sprinkler Park at Springs Brook Park – sorry, it looks wonky as panorama