Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp: Grow Your Own Green Thumb, Part 2

Exploring Plants & Flowers Through the Five Senses


Gardening is certainly a hands-on experience and anytime we engage our children's senses, we appeal to the variety of ways in which they learn and grow. In Part 2 of this play theme, we will explore plants and flowers through all five senses!

Touch: 

Digging in the dirt, sitting in the grass, the cool water of a sprinkler, the variety of textures of a rock or a stick--gardening is a tactile smorgasbord! So often, however, when it comes to gardens and plants we tell our children "look with your eyes, don't touch!" If you have the space to allow for it, I highly recommend allowing a plot for children to garden on their own--mistakes, learning experiences and all! If not, planting your own "Please Touch the Plants" Garden will be a great way to introduce a variety of textures to little fingers in your yard, in a container or even indoors.

What to Plant:
Select a variety of succulents from your local garden center. Aloe, lambs ear, yucca, hens and chicks, desert rose, burro's tail, and snake plant are all popular options. Avoid cacti with sharp thorns. Do opt for a variety of textures, heights and colors.
We planted a few pots with a selection of succulents. I used permanent marker and some garden tags I had on hand to make some "Please Touch the Plants" signs and voila! I have to say, this feels like a grown up version of touch & feel books for me! From fuzzy to feathery, bumpy and smooth--this a wonderful way to explore textures and related vocabulary.

Petal Potions Water Table: Playing with real flower petals is so much fun! We love to give our fresh cut flowers one last hurrah before they head to the compost heap and this is one wonderful way to do that. Alternatively, you can pick some wildflowers from outside or hit up your local florist for rejects and flowers that can't be sold.
Truly, water, flowers and maybe a dish and a spoon (or long stem) are all you need. We added some glitter and food coloring along with a bit of lavender oil for scent. It was a huge hit with both my boys!

Sensitive Plants are a fascinating wonder of this world! If you can get your hands on one (literally), it truly is an amazing thing to experience a plant respond to touch. It's definitely on my gardening wish list!

Sound
What to Plant: 

  • With an eye toward the Fall, plant some mini gourds this summer to grow your own shakers in the fall! Once harvested and dried, the seeds inside a gourd create a natural and beautiful homegrown musical instrument.
  • In the interim, plant flowers and plants that will attract songbirds to your garden. Marigolds, sunflowers, daisies and asters are just a few. Read about others in this article from National Geographic.
Take a Sound Scavenger Hunt Walk: Whether it's through your own yard, your neighborhood, a park or nature preserve or even your local botanical gardens, taking a nature walk with an ear toward the sounds of the garden can be fascinating! Can you hear birds? Bugs like bees or cicadas? Can you hear frogs or toads? Ducks or geese? What about man-made noises like lawnmowers or hedge trimmers? We often go to the garden for some peace and quiet--and peaceful, it certainly is--but rarely is it truly quiet. When you open up your ears outdoors, you can truly discover the orchestra of your garden!

Make Your Own Windchimes: This is great activity to empty your recycling bin with. You'll need a variety of items (particularly tin/metal) like cans, bottles, lids, CDs, even old spoons and forks. Use an old hanger or an overturned colander and some twine and have an adult help with any necessary handiwork with tools. 

Build a Garden Sound Wall: If you have the space for it (and no neighbors super close by), building a sound wall with interesting recycled and upcycled items is a great way to encourage budding musicians of all ages outside. If there is one thing I have learned from both my boys so far, it is that anything can be a drum! Grab a spoon, a stick or your hands and play away!



Smell:
What to Plant: Plant or purchase starter plants of a variety of herbs. I recommend some familiar varieties and a few unique ones as well.

Identifying Herbs: You can release the aroma of herbs by gently rubbing a leaf between your fingers and thumb. You can demonstrate and teach children how to do this even without removing a leaf from the plant. Thyme can be quite aromatic simply by brushing your hand over the tiny leaves!

What's That Smell? You'll really need your sniffer for this game! Have each player rub a leaf of familiar cut herbs between his/her fingers and thumb and try to guess the smell.  You may need to provide a visual or written key. You can add an element of challenge by blindfolding players so they can really hone in on their sense of smell.

That Reminds Me Of...  What smells like lemons but isn't? How about chocolate? Pineapple? Cinnamon? Licorice? Herbs, of course! Lemon thyme, chocolate mint, pineapple sage, cinnamon basil and fennel are all great herbs to trick your sniffer and enhance your dinner (or tea)!

Mortar & Pestle Play: One of my very favorite gardening tools that isn't a gardening tool at all is our mortar and pestle sets! These are great for grinding all kinds of things, but especially fresh cut herbs are amazing in this along with some elbow grease from little hands. It is great fun to grind and smell herbs individually and in combination.

Sensory Play with Herbs: Add in some water and take the aromatic experience of exploring scent with herbs to a whole new level! Choose a variety of herbs that smell lovely in combination like a few types of mint, or lavender and rosemary.
Added to a batch of homemade playdough, cut herbs become decorative and add in a lovely scent and texture. In this simple invitation to play with herbs and playdough, we used some sprigs of fresh cut herbs, scissors and rolling pins. The result was a heavenly aroma and hours of fun!

Sight:

What to Plant: Visual appeal is a huge part of gardening, and what could be more visually appealing than planting a rainbow? Read Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert and then head to your local garden center to choose your own rainbow of flowers, plants and maybe even vegetables.

Plant, Grow & Eat a Rainbow Collage: To prepare for this activity, you'll need a large sheet of drawing paper with the outline of a rainbow drawn on. You can set up six or seven sections depending on whether or not you will include indigo and violet as in a true rainbow or just purple. Enlist the help of older children to cut colorful pictures from recycled seed catalogs or gardening magazines. Children can sort the pictures into color categories. With younger ones, I like to isolate one color row at a time. We love double sided tape for this project but you can also use a glue stick or white glue. 

Garden Scavenger Hunt: We love a great scavenger hunt here! You'll really need your sense of sight to find pollinators, songbirds, flowers, herbs, vegetables, worms, a rock and any number of other things in your own garden. You can create your own scavenger hunt list or try one of the great Spring Nature Scavenger Hunts at I Heart Crafty Things. You can search your own garden or yard, walk through your neighborhood or visit a community garden, park or botanical garden center.

Through Their Eyes: How do our gardens look through the eyes of an ant? Or a butterfly? Or a bird? Using storytelling and dramatic play, try to imagine how plants and flowers look to the little critters and creatures in our gardens. You can also add in some viewing tools to the mix like binoculars, prisms, magnifying glasses and kaleidoscopes.

Art in the Garden: Nature is its own art form and gardens can be a true masterpiece. Incorporate children's art into the garden and even invite children to create art outdoors. For more ideas, check out our Art and Artists in the Garden play-theme!

Plot Plans: Whether you're actually planning and designing your garden or just drawing up a dream, graph paper is the perfect base to this art activity to design your own garden. Add in your favorite drawing utensils (we love oil pastels here) and perhaps some stickers or magazine clippings of vegetables, fruits and flowers and design your own garden blueprints.

Taste:

What to Plant: When it comes to growing your own edible garden, I highly recommend planting at least one thing you know you like and at least one thing you know will grow well! This year, we tried (and succeeded!) at growing our own strawberries. We are on year 3 of very successful cherry tomatoes. If you want to mix it up a bit, grow a pizza garden with tomatoes, peppers, and favorite savory herbs. Or try a salsa garden with tomatoes, cilantro, garlic and onions and perhaps some hot peppers. Try a traditional Three Sisters Garden with squash, beans and corn. Growing our own produce has been a way to encourage trying new foods while also providing a unique and personalized "farm to table" experience in our own backyard.

U-Pick Plot-Luck Playdate: Summer is just beginning and our own garden is just beginning to provide us with a small harvest of arugula, sweet peppers, strawberries, and herbs, galore! Radishes are just a couple of weeks away and we have a steady crop of microgreens in our kitchen window. We pick and enjoy what we can as it comes, but at a certain point, the bounty exceeds our own plates and pallets! That's when it's time for a Plot-Luck Playdate! Gather some neighbors or friends and enjoy the harvest together. You can invite others to bring tasty treats from their own garden or provide the produce yourself. Build your own pizza parties are a popular choice and even pickier eaters might have fun with a garden salad bar! Children can be involved in as much of the process as possible--from harvesting and picking produce to washing, cutting, preparing and baking--and most importantly, eating!

Extra, Extra, Eat All About It: Pair some fresh picked produce with a popular children's book. Here are a few of our favorite pairings:

  • Fresh Picked Jam Berries go quite nicely alongside Jamberry by Bruce Degen, Bread and Jam for Frances by Russell and Lillian Hoban ,and The Little Mouse, The Red Ripe Strawberry and the Big Hungry Bear by Don Wood. They're so yummy right off the plant, but they are also quite delicious made into jam. Try out this easy recipe for Quick Refrigerator Strawberry Jam.

  • Blueberries are great for snacking and delicious in pancakes. Mix up a batch of your favorite pancake recipe and see how many blueberries are left to add in once you're done munching! You'll definitely want to read Robert McCloskey's Blueberries for Sal while you're waiting for them to brown.

  • Pick a Pickling Cucumber and read Pickles to Pittsburgh, the equally wonderful sequel to Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs by Ron and Judi Barrett. Then whip up a batch of Easy Refrigerator Dill Pickles!

  • Quick and Easy Fresh Mint Tea is the perfect way to use some of super easy to grow mint leaves in your garden or kitchen window. Enjoy it warm or iced or even mixed with lemonade and read Miss Spider's Tea Party by David Kirk! 
Gardening with children is a full sensory experience. This is just a sampling of activities to accompany and enhance that experience. We will be back with more activities to take you from Garden to Table next time (although this post probably gave you a little taste of what's to come). Until then...

Happy Playing!

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp Bonus Activiity: Four Colorful Ways to (Re-) Use Your Old Seed Catalogs

We are getting ready for our first theme based week of Sprout Scouts Playcamp. Picking up a container of worms is actually on my list of things to do today and I can't wait to dig in to our Digging in the Dirt theme tomorrow morning with the boys! We have been starting our mornings with a table time activity both boys can do each day per S's request to have "Morning Work" as he did in his preschool classroom. Right before Shabbos this week, my husband retrieved a seed catalog I'd ordered from the mailbox. I pored over every colorful page on Friday night and the only way to keep us safe from me ordering a $400 plant tower with built in vermicomposting bin is for me to cut that thing up ASAP! So this morning, my husband took both boys out (THANK YOU!) and I curled up with a cup of coffee, scissors and my seed catalog and I introduce to you today...


Four Colorful Ways to Re-use Your Old Seed Catalogs:

Suggested Materials:

  • seed catalogs
  • scissors
  • double sided tape
  • clear contact paper
  • glue or glue stick
  • masking tape, painters tape or scotch tape
  • washi tape (optional)
  • large drawing paper
  • markers, pencils, crayons
  • DIY Rainbow Nature Journal 


A couple of things before we begin--
Children who are old enough to use scissors can definitely cut out pictures independently. It's a great cutting practice activity and recycled magazines and catalogs are a great addition to your scrap paper bin. Recycling, re-using and up-cycling are all integral parts of our Sprout Scouts Playcamp themes and our family values all year round. If you do not have a seed catalog or don't want to cut yours up (please send the Garden Tower 2 to the following address...), you can recycle any home and garden magazine, clippings from store ads, old seed packets or even print off pictures from your own photos or the internet. Many libraries also have old magazines on sale for less than a dollar. Your funds would support the library and give new life to an old publication.

Suggested Reading:

  • Planting a Rainbow, Growing Vegetable Soup and Eating the Alphabet all by Lois Ehlert

When it comes to children's literature about nature and gardening, Lois Ehlert is one of my favorite author/illustrators! Her children's books truly inspire get outdoors and read with my kids in every season. These are just a few great titles to check out from your local library or add to your personal library.


  • The Reason for a Flower by Ruth Heller
  • A Seed is Sleepy by Dianna Aston & Sylvia Long
  • What Makes a Rainbow? by Betty Schwartz
I set our pictures in a bag hung over the doorhandle
right beside our sticky wall. You can store yours on a
shelf nearby or in a basket or tray depending on where
your sticky wall is located. You can also tape a large
envelope to the wall and store pictures inside.

  1. What's Growing in Your Garden Sticky Wall: In our first activity, you'll set up a sticky wall using clear contact paper on any vertical surface at child level. You can tape it to your wall, a door or even an easel. I love using a colorful washi tape border to make it pop (otherwise it really blends in!), but you can just use masking tape, painters tape or even clear scotch tape. Using cut outs of colorful vegetables, fruits, flowers, herbs and gardening supplies, children can stick pictures onto the sticky wall. This is especially geared toward the 2 and under crowd, but my almost 4 year old also loves the sticky wall!
  2. Garden Wish Collage: In a variation of the previous theme, children plan and plot out their own dream garden using markers or crayons to draw the background and pictures cut out from seed catalogs to add what they wish or hope to grow. Older children can be shown garden plans and blueprints and you can even provide graph paper for a more realistic approach. Younger ones may be more inclined to glue on pictures and use markers or crayons for adding in background details.

3. Plant, Grow and Eat a Rainbow Collage: Although this involves a bit of prep work from adults or older children, it's a really fun way to explore the rainbow color by color. Before you begin, you'll need to use pencil to draw the outline of a rainbow onto large drawing paper. Provide enough sections for each color. If you are being true to the colors of the rainbow, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet, you'll need seven sections. If you are combining indigo and violet, you'll need only six. I like to introduce one color in isolation when I do rainbow collages in this way or at least two non-consecutive colors so that it is easier for children to see where the materials belong. More advanced artists can likely do the whole collage in one sitting, but I prefer to do only one or two colors at a time--and with the very young (like Y) only one. You can provide glue or a glue stick or even prep the area yourself, but I love using double sided tape strips so that the area is sticky but not in danger of drying or spreading stickiness to unwanted areas before artists can finish their work. A little pro-tip with larger picture sizes is to cut them into multiple squares or rectangles so they will fit into your allotted space. Your finished work will make a lovely poster to hang indoors or even laminate and hang in your garden.


4 .Growing a Rainbow Nature Journal: We are using our Rainbow Nature Journals with seed catalog cut outs and double sided tape to collect pictures in each color that we particularly love. It's a beautiful way to capture the rainbow of things we can plant, grown and eat!


These are great filler activities and ones you can pull out or set out over the course of multiple days. I'll bet you can think of even more great ideas and I'd love to steal hear about them! Until then...

Happy Planting, Growing, Eating and PLAYING!

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Waterplay Wednesday: Just Add Water!

We're about to head out to one of our favorite sprinkler parks and playgrounds for my nature based playgroup. Sprinkler parks are one of my go-to outdoor summer activities and water play is something we do here year round whether we're outside, indoors or just in the tub. I can usually be found at the sprinkler park toting a utility bucket full of unusual items. This is undoubtedly a conversation starter! Some years I have a soggy child or two decked head to toe in waterproof clothing. Some years I have a dry child or two decked head to toe in waterproof clothing. Children generally love to get wet and play in water. Some do not love the "surprise" element of sprinklers and some love it one year and give it a wide berth the next! S has gone through phases of feelings about sprinklers and this year, he's back in with Y right alongside him!
Nonetheless, having something to hold in their little hands makes little ones all the more eager to get in and get wet. Having a nearby waterplay alternative like my "pop-up" water tables made from filling a plastic bin or bowl with water is a great way to be inclusive to those who are hesitant around sprinklers or unable to move about independently. Last summer S even cleverly figured out how to pawn off the job of filling our utility bucket with water for him on a willing and unsuspecting peer. I've written about waterplay take-alongs before, but here is an updated and revised list including a new section of art materials, natural items and some especially for the littlest ones!

Just add water, bring a towel and Happy Playing!

Water Play Take-Alongs



Household Items:
  • cups, containers, things you can fill and pour from
  • colanders/strainers
  • measuring cups & measuring spoons
  • large paint brushes & sponge brushes
  • scrub brushes and sponges
  • recycled plastic containers from produce (the ones with holes in the bottom can be especially fun!), pudding cups/applesauce cups/fruit cups
  • spray bottles
  • empty condiment bottles for filling/squirting
  • utility bucket (great for transporting stuff and filling/pouring)
  • plastic bin or large plastic bowl for a “pop-up” water table (great for very little ones or those who are hesitant to get in the sprinkler or pool)
  • wash cloths and rags
  • Ice! Freeze water in ice cube trays or containers of all shapes/sizes--you can add food coloring, glitter, even small toys

“Non-traditional” Water Toys:
  • toy cars and sponges make a great car wash--you can even add shaving cream for suds!
  • plastic animals or plastic dinosaurs
  • plastic baby dolls and washcloths
  • Legos/Duplos or Mega Blocks--if building towers indoors on dry land is fun, think how fun it will be in the sprinkler outside!
  • balls/balloons
  • plastic food and toy dishes--outdoor tea party, anyone?
  • shovels/pales and toys traditionally used in sand are also fun to explore in water
  • craft foam shapes and foam puzzle pieces (these make awesome bathtub stickers when wet!)

Natural Materials:
  • Sticks and twigs
  • Pine cones, seed pods
  • Flowers, leaves
  • Wood circles, drift wood
  • Seashells
  • Rocks and large pebbles

Art Materials--just add water!
  • Watercolor paints
  • Sidewalk chalk
  • Watercolor pencils
  • Things to paint/color on: Paper, white coffee filters, paper towels, tissue paper
  • Things to paint with: paint brushes, sponges, squirt bottles and spray bottles
  • Paint with water books (available at Dollar Tree)

For the Very Young:
Set up a “pop-up” water table using a bin or bowl of water (or a few) and choose some add-ins:
  • Frozen teething toys (great for teething babies!)
  • Teething rings
  • Water safe plastic rattles and baby toys
  • Any materials from the above list that are not choking hazards

Loose Parts Sensory Play: Read All About It...


"Have you taken the sensory play plunge yet? Children learn so much through play activities that ignite their senses of sight, sound, touch, taste, smell, balance and movement! If you have been following this series on loose parts play, you can probably already imagine the multitude of ways in which sensory play and loose parts go together like peas and carrots. And if your brain works like mine, you probably also just jumped to the multitude of ways playing with your peas and carrots can incorporate the concepts of loose parts play and be a sensory activity at the same time! Ok, I’m [mostly] joking about that one…"

Stop on over at Fantastic Fun and Learning today to check out my latest article on Loose Parts Sensory Play and learn more!


Happy playing!

Monday, June 4, 2018

Make it At Home Monday: Rainbow Nature Journal

Hooray, hooray, it's finally today! The first "official" day of our Sprout Scouts Playcamp. I'll bet you think I had a million and two things planned out for today to kick off our amazing summer. You probably think I executed them all exquisitely in a graceful dance that resemble some freakish crossbreed between June Cleaver and Teacher Tom. Actually, no. Not even close. With all of the planning I have done for our Sprout Scouts Playcamp (insert shameless plug to join our Facebook group and share in our activities this summer), I really felt strongly that we all (myself included) need a week to ease into this whole being at home together thing. S has very mixed feelings about school ending. He is "nervous" about not having school (it's like we're related or something!), he misses his school friends and he wants things to be the same--including the routine of having "Morning Work."

All things we can deal with here! This morning, both boys sat at the little table (thank you, Tatty, for helping with this while I eased into the morning with some coffee and oatmeal) and played with playdough using our favorite garden playdough mats from Picklebums. Playdough is an activity that can easily captivate their attention for a whole morning, but today everyone was excited to pack up and head to our local Botanical Gardens. It's the kind of place I drool over. I have been quoted (accurately) in a preschool graduation speech as referring to it as "my perfect classroom." Yes, I would live there if we could but we shall have to settle for visiting as often as possible this summer (and all year round).

On my way out the door, I grabbed a book to bring along, Lois Ehlert's Planting a Rainbow, partly because I love this book, partly because it fit in my purse. We rarely need any take-along activities on our visits to the botanical gardens, but this was a good backup just in case, and both boys loved hearing it as we ate our picnic lunch.

While we were there, S and Y both tried their hands at some art under their giant tree house. Today's activity was watercolor painting at some makeshift easels. This reminded me of how much I have been dreaming of having an outdoor easel. I asked my husband if he could kind of DIY one for us this summer--even showed him a Pinterest photo--and he kind of chuckled the way he did when I asked for a wine bottle rack to store all of my sensory bottles... Nonetheless, as we all left the gardens somewhat reluctantly but sufficiently tuckered out, I had plans to figure out how to construct something in our own yard for outdoor painting and I also remembered this cute little project I did with S as a young toddler based on Planting a Rainbow. 






Well, a great miracle happened here and no one took an accidental car nap on the way home! Both boys fell asleep and I investigated the front and backyard contemplating ways to create an easel space. Ok, maybe my husband is right and we don't need any more junk really cool stuff loitering around our play garden and keeping our pop up greenhouse company... But then I remembered our door is magnetic. Our door is magnetic! Introducing the easiest, most portable outdoor easel ever, a magnetic bulldog clip!
Such a fine line between genius and madness, huh? The boys are eager to get back outside (especially S) and play in our own garden. I've set a couple of easel stations and some watercolors out for us and when we're done, cleanup is easy peasey lemon squeezy!

But I promised you a post about making your own Rainbow Nature Journal, not one about my excessive excitement with magnetic vertical surfaces...

One of the most exciting features in Lois Ehlert's Planting a Rainbow is the second half of the book that opens up ladder style into a rainbow of colorful blooms, ready to be picked and displayed. I love the idea of presenting both boys with a nature journal to begin our summer together, and I decided creating a couple of small, portable rainbow ladder books would be a great way to do that! I've done this on a larger scale before with S (pictured above) and they can be created in a number of ways. For the smaller versions I made today, I cut six sheets of cardstock in rainbow colors in half (width-wise). Next, I set each page overlapping the next with about an inch of border. Once they were all aligned, I folded the booklet in half. I hole punched about an inch inward from either end on the crease and tied a length of twine through the middle to bind the book. I glued the edge of each page down on the "cover" side and the first, red edge down in the center. The larger book (above) was made in a different way--rather than folding in half, the fold was made about 1/4 of the way in to create larger page space inside. Tape and glue were used to bind it rather than twine. You can do either method! How will you use it? Here's a few ideas...


  • Use some double sided tape and take a color scavenger hunt outdoors. Collect colorful petals, leaves and blooms that can be stuck onto each matching page of your journal.
  • Using old magazines or seed catalogs, cut out pictures of colorful plants, flowers, fruits and vegetables to glue onto each page.
  • Take and print photos of things in nature to glue onto each page.
  • Use stickers of colorful items found in nature to stick to each page.
Or come up with your own great idea! And don't forget to share it...



Happy Playing!



Friday, June 1, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp: Grow Your Own Green Thumb! Part 1

Grow Your Own Green Thumb!
Part 1: From Seed to Sprout...


Gardening is truly the overarching theme for our Sprout Scouts Playcamp and as such, I'm breaking it down into four parts: From Seed to Sprout, Plants & Flowers, From Garden to Table, and Terrific Trees. Today's post is a great starting point! Whether or not you have a green thumb, gardening with children is an incredible experience for everyone involved and the advantages are plentiful. I love this Fact Sheet from the University of Colorado that summarizes some of the many benefits of gardening with children. I have incredible memories of my own childhood gardening experiences, but to be completely honest--I've had a home garden in some form each year since my eldest was born and this is the first year I have enjoyed it. On the one hand, my eldest is now old enough to help and understand more (and help "teach" his younger brother). I also did some things quite differently this year and in today's post, I will aim to sow some seeds of inspiration and encouragement for you, whether you are an avid gardener or trying it out for the first time.

Why garden with children? Here are a few of my favorite reasons:
  • it gets your body active
  • it encourages healthful eating habits
  • it connects children to their environment, to nature as a whole and the creatures we share it with and especially to the foods on the table (or flowers that decorate it)
  • it inspires curiosity, self discovery and critical thinking
  • it connects families and communities together
  • it beautifies your home and neighborhood
  • it can be done with very little space, on a low budget
  • it fosters responsibility and independence
  • it can be fun for a variety of age groups and generations
  • it provides an opportunity to experience success and failure as part of a process rather than a means to an end
What resonates with you on that list? What would you add? To begin with today, I'll provide a suggested materials list. I do highly encourage planting and growing something this summer. Not every home and family is equipped to have a huge, edible garden. We actually live in a townhouse style apartment and share a common yard space. We're able to plant some things directly in the ground and have quite a plentiful crop in process this year through container gardening and a pop up greenhouse in our backyard. If you do have an interest in and means for a larger garden, go for it! You might even designate a space that is just for the kids. This was something my own mother did when I was growing up and it was quite special! If you are low on space and/or time, perhaps a container garden or a raised bed is more your style. You can even keep your gardening experience indoors with an edible kitchen garden if outdoors is not an option. Perhaps you live near a community garden and can rent/volunteer with a plot there. Or perhaps you have a neighbor who gardens and would like some help pulling weeds and sharing the harvest. I have heard incredible stories of school gardens being supported by families in the community over the summer months and even apartment complexes where neighbors banded together to create a community garden in a public space. While there is apparently such a thing as guerrilla gardening (who knew?), I recommend  taking the safer route and asking permission before planting anything in a space that is not your own.

Many people avoid gardening with children because they fear their plants will die. I've even heard folks encourage parents and families to only plant things that will be "easy" and "successful" so as not to discourage budding botanists. I could not disagree more! Failure is a natural part of the planting process and even with "easy" crops, it's still a possibility. Let this be a part of the experience and lesson rather than something that discourages or ends it. A good portion of the fun we have had this year in our garden so far has been navigating unexpected torrential downpours and troubleshooting ways to organically combat a host of unwanted creepy crawly visitors.

So, now that you're geared up to get going, where should you start? I'd highly recommend a local nursery and garden center. These are amazing community resources. Certainly big box stores, hardware suppliers and home improvement centers all have a variety of gardening products for sale and even the grocery store and Amazon can get you what you need without much of a drive (or any at all). But the one thing all of those places lack is the sense of community and connection that comes from talking to fellow gardeners! One of our local garden centers even has a free kids club that encourages young children with a free gift each month to get them planting, growing and learning in the garden. Just perusing the aisles of the greenhouse will certainly spark your children's interest and curiosity (if not your own as well)! 

My three year old fell in love with a strawberry plant on our first visit to the garden center this spring. I honestly thought it was not a good idea to buy one (the one we saw was actually enormous and half dead). Strawberries are also very prone to bug infestations and that is an issue for a kosher kitchen (not to mention the plant itself and anything else in your garden). I distracted him, walked on and then drove to another local garden center the next morning to pick up this lovely little guy. Well that was the best $5 I ever caved in and spent! He visits his plant at least twice a day to check how many berries are red, how many there are in all and pick (and wash and devour) whatever is ready to harvest. So be bold, be brave, try growing something you've never tried before--it's all part of the incredible process of gardening with kids!

Here are a few more tips to get you started from seed to sprout...

  • Don't bite off more than you can chew. I cannot stress this enough. And I mean it on a variety of levels. Don't plant a bazillion different things if you don't have the time for it or space to accommodate it (or desire to eat it)! Pick a few things you know you like to eat and start with that. If you happen to want a larger variety in crops than you can accommodate in your own garden or you feel you won't be able to use enough of one with your own family, consider partnering with some neighbors or friends. One family can grow the tomatoes, another the zucchini and another the eggplant. Also, you do not need to plant all of your seeds and seedlings in one day! And you shouldn't either--in fact, if you can, choose some crops that can be stagger planted throughout the season. Where we live, radishes and lettuce can be planted and harvested relatively quickly in the early part of the spring and beans, peas and carrots do quite well even late into the fall.
  • Choose some tried and true companions that you know will do well in your garden. You may need to do a bit of research if you're new to gardening in your area. You can inquire at your local nursery or ask a neighbor with a successful garden.
  • Choose some more adventurous options and wing it! I'm attempting mini pumpkins and gourds this year. I have no idea if it will work, but what fun it would be to have some gourds and pumpkins to decorate our table this Autumn if it does!
  • A seed is all you need. Seeds are incredible when you think about it. Everything a plant will ever need (aside from external environmental factors like soil, sun and water) is in that amazing little package. Choose at least one option to start from seed. Some good options include radish, bean, peas or sunflowers.
  • Instant gratification is also a good encouragement for the impatient gardener (hi, that's me!) so selecting some starter plants may be a good idea as well. I love choosing a few hardy flowers in the early spring (like pansies) to plant in our yard as soon as the threat of frost is behind us. I also love fresh herbs. Herb starter plants are a great investment when it comes to growing an edible garden. They can be grown quite easily with plentiful sun exposure (even indoors) and having fresh herbs at your fingertips will save you a bundle on those pricey and less flavorful bundles available in the produce section. You can take clippings of many and pass them along to friends who can then start them in jars of water until they take root. They can then be transplanted and grown! You can also freeze, dry and otherwise preserve fresh herbs when the season draws to a close. These are inherently more flavorful and aromatic than their dried or even fresh grocery store counterparts. Many herbs will die off after one season but come back the following spring so long as they are not frozen. Microgreens are also quite popular at farmer's markets and local produce shops. You can grow your own indoors, year round in as little as 10-14 days and they really are a tasty (and nutrient dense) way to spice up your next salad! Something about being able to see and/or taste the fruits of your labor right away (or soon thereafter) truly inspires a desire to keep gardening as the season continues...
Suggested Materials:

Now that you have an idea of what you might like to grow, here are some suggested materials:
  • seeds/starter plants of your choice
  • containers, planting pots--whatever you have on hand
  • gardening tools, watering can 
  • soil--you don't need anything particularly fancy here, although if you're growing an edible garden with children, you may prefer organic/untreated options
  • empty seed packs and any corresponding extra seeds
  • snack sized ziplock bags, sandwich sized ziplock bags
  • seed catalogs (these can be ordered free of charge from a variety of websites, including Gurney's and Burpee Seeds
  • a nature journal, blank notebook, or paper
  • glue stick, tape, scissors, school glue
  • yellow and red tempura paint
  • markers, crayons, pens, pencils
  • magnifying glass
  • paper towels or cotton balls
  • a bag of mixed dried beans (often called bean soup mix)
  • white paper plates
  • dried black beans, poppy seeds or sunflower seeds
Now it's time to get planting and playing!

By this time, most zones are safe for direct outdoor planting. You can also choose to start seeds and/or seedlings indoors. One thing to consider as you are seed shopping and selecting is how much space you have and how much you want to grow and use. If you, like me, are short on space and might not consume a forest of tomatoes on your own, you might want to select varieties with a smaller yield or consider ways to share the wealth!
Alternatively, extra seeds can be saved and stored for the following year (they may be less potent by then) or used in some of the play activities below...


Host a community seed/seeding swap: The nature-based playgroup I run had a butterfly garden seed swap early this spring. Families were encouraged to contribute a pack of flower seeds that attract butterflies and other pollinators to the garden such as marigolds, morning glory, zinnia or petunias. Each participant went home with their own butterfly garden seed pack to grow or give away. As the weather grew warmer, we rediscovered our tomato crop for the third year in a row! Last year, it turned into an unruly tomato forest, so this year, I carefully dug up and transplanted several plants and put them up for local adoption! Later in the season you might host a community harvest swap to celebrate and share everyone's most successful yields.

Keep a Nature/Gardening Journal: One of the very best things you can gift your child with at the beginning of the summer is blank notebook! No assignments, no agenda, it can be used however they wish. They might find it enjoyable to use it to draw/dictate or write about the experience and process of gardening. This can include lists of what you're growing, drawings of your landscape or plot plans, still life drawings of flowers, fruits and vegetables, nature themed poetry or whatever strikes the imagination.

Garden Wish Collage: What do you hope to grow this year? Grab your seed catalogs (as long as you're done looking through them), some empty seed packets or even pictures of seeds, plants and flowers from old magazines. Cut and paste pictures of seeds and plants you'd like to go on a large piece of paper or in your nature/gardening journal.

Seed Observation Station and Match-It Game: Your recycled seed packets will come to play in two ways here! Save and preserve any leftover seeds and corresponding packets in snack sized ziplock bags. For your observation station, you'll combine seeds and the packet in the same bag. You may wish to staple or tape the top for reinforcement. Using a magnifying glass, you can observe the unique shapes, sizes and colors of a variety of different seeds for flowers, herbs, fruits and vegetables. For the Match-It Game, you'll separate seeds and seed packets. Store and preserve seeds in a snack sized bag and keep the corresponding packets in a separate pile. The challenge now is to see if you and your children can accurately match the seed to its corresponding plant! Do small seeds always produce a small plant, fruit or vegetable? How about larger seeds? Can you recognize seeds from foods we eat (like beans or peas or pumpkin seeds)?

Do you eat seeds? It's quite fun to ask young children who eats seeds and listen as they all respond with birds and other animals like squirrels and chipmunks. Then I point out that we eat seeds as well! Snack on some popular (and less popular) seeds we eat--like pomegranate, strawberries, blueberries and raspberries, cucumbers, zucchini, nuts, beans, peas and corn, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, even roasted squash seeds.

Do All Seeds Need Soil to Grow? In this indoor science experiment, you'll need a handful of different dried beans and peas (you can get a great selection from a bean soup mix). For each type of dried bean, use one ziplock bag and a wet paper towel or about half a dozen wet cotton balls. In each bag, drop in one or two of each type of bean. Seal your bags tightly--they will act like tiny little greenhouses! Hang your bags in a sunny window and observe over the next week or so which beans sprout and which do not. You can even record predictions and observations in your nature/gardening journal if you wish.

Another variation on this idea is to try sprouting sweet potatoes or baking potatoes (especially good use for ones that got a head start in this process on their own), carrots or other root vegetables in a glass or jar of water. You can also cut and sprout many fresh herbs this way.

Outdoor Seed Scavenger Hunt: We all know what seeds in packets look like and even seeds in fruits and vegetables, but can you find seeds in nature? They are in some unlikely and incredible places and packages! Go on an outdoor seed scavenger hunt to find pine cones, acorns, pods, chestnuts, milkweed, cat tails, fluffy white dandilons and other interesting seeds and seed locations!

Make a Paper Plate Sunflower Craft:
One of my very favorite gardening themed books with early readers is The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle. This is a great companion craft! Older hands can assist with cutting into the edges of a white paper plate so that it resembles petals of a flower. You can use a paint brush or a sponge and yellow tempura paint (we used red paint as well and actually used real flowers as our "paint brush") to paint your plate. Once dry, you will glue your "seeds" to the center of the flower. You can use actual sunflower seeds or dried black beans or poppy seeds if you have those on hand instead. 


Recommended Reading:
The Tiny Seed by Eric Carle

A Seed is Sleepy by Diana Aston

The Carrot Seed by Ruth Krauss

The Dandelion Seed by Joseph Anthony

Miss Maple's Seeds by Eliza Wheeler

Growing Vegetable Soup and Planting a Rainbow by Lois Ehlert

We'll be back with our second part in this series next week: Plants and Flowers! Until then, happy planting, growing and PLAYING!

Thursday, May 31, 2018

Sprout Scouts Playcamp: Water, Water, Everywhere

Water, Water, Everywhere!


Every great Sprout Scout knows a good rain is great for the garden, but even so, a rainy day can be a real downer! This theme is a great way to explore and celebrate water, water life and rain. You can use these activities as a stand-alone theme or stash them away for the perfect rainy day! The very best thing about water play is that it can be done with a wide range of ages and developmental levels in mind--from infancy through adulthood. This theme has something for everyone--just add water!


Materials List:

  • water!
  • shaving cream
  • food coloring
  • sidewalk chalk
  • paint brushes in a variety of sizes, especially sponge tip and paint rollers\
  • plastic and/or rubber toy frogs 
  • tempura paint
  • washable markers
  • watercolor paints, watercolor pencils
  • white paper (watercolor, card stock or construction weight paper is suggested)
  • nature's loose parts--pine cones, sticks, stones, leaves, twigs, drift wood, etc.
  • fresh, aromatic herbs such as mint, lavender, rosemary--whatever you like and/or have on hand
  • containers, colanders, sponges, buckets, etc. for exploring, pouring and playing with water and freezing water
  • plastic pipettes (available on Amazon)
  • sandwich size ziplock bag, sandwich size fold-top bag
  • rubber bands
  • permanent markers
  • tape (masking tape, duct tape or even scotch tape are fine)
  • balloons in a variety of sizes
  • scissors
  • glitter
  • toy hammer and other toy tools
  • party favor necklaces, jewels, wands 
  • Kosher salt
  • recycled brown paper shopping bags
  • clear glass jar

Art:

  • Rain Art: This is one of my favorite rainy day activities! You'll need some heavier weight paper and washable markers. Young artists will begin by doodling and drawing on their paper. You'll want to preface the activity by explaining that this will be Rain Art and perhaps even asking your young, artistic scientist what he/she thinks might happen to washable marker drawings left in the rain. Once you're ready, you'll set your artwork out for a bit of time in the rain--but not too long, or you'll come back in with white paper again! Observe the results, allow it to dry and you'll have a lovely work of art to display or use for collage or gift-wrap. You can also use this as an opportunity to experiment with the affects of rain on different art mediums. What happens with permanent marker? How about watercolor pencils? Crayons? 
As an indoor alternative in the event of drought, you can also conduct your rain art experiment using a spray bottle or pipettes to wet your artwork!
  • Watercolor Painting and Drawing with Watercolor Pencils are wonderful art mediums for children of all ages to explore. With younger children, using a sponge to wet their paper first can help the color to more easily spread. I recommend a heavier weight paper such as watercolor paper, card stock or construction paper. You might experiment with the affects of kosher salt on watercolor. Perhaps you will experiment with other types of paper such as paper towels, white coffee filters or tissue paper. You might even bring along paper and watercolors to the sprinkler park or poolside for a shady spot activity when kids (or parents) need a break from the sunshine! 

  • Ice Painting with Watercolors: One of our very favorite and most often repeated art activities at home is painting ice with watercolors! In advance, freeze water inside a plastic container or dish. When you're ready to paint, release your ice onto a tray or baking pan and simply provide watercolor paints and brushes. You may also add in additional water for washing brushes or kosher salt to create a unique texture as the ice melts Another fun way to explore watercolors and cool off at the same time is to provide ice cubes in lieu of water and brushes. You can even freeze some "ice brushes" by sticking a small wooden craft stick or Q-tip inside your ice cube tray. 
  • Sidewalk chalk + Water = PAINT! Oh, this is a fun one! One you can do outdoors on a warm, rainy day or on a sunny day with added water--you might want to coordinate it, either way, with a good soak in the tub afterward! Grab your sidewalk chalk and maybe some brushes if you like (although hands and feet work just as well) and see what happens when you mix water and chalk...

  • Frog Prints: Ponds can be found in almost any area and are such a wonder to explore. One of the most fascinating critters to learn about is frogs! Here's a bit of process art fun for those plastic or rubber frogs you can find at the dollar store. Set out some paper, a tray of green paint (or your color of choice), some toy frogs and paintbrushes if you wish. Once those frogs get a hoppin', there's just no stoppin'! This is particularly fun for the younger crowd...


Outdoor Activities:


  • We're Going on a Frog Hunt! This requires a bit of preparation prior to beginning. Gather a selection of toy plastic and/or rubber frogs. I've found these year round at Dollar Tree stores. You can do this at home in your own yard or even at a park. You might want to count how many you have beforehand! Hide your frogs around the area, on the ground, under trees and bushes, on a leaf.... Next, you'll gather the troops. You might even provide a small container to collect their findings. You can talk about how some frogs and toads protect themselves by camouflaging into their natural surroundings, while others have brightly colored skin to ward off predators by letting them know they are poisonous. We love to do this activity outside, but it can also be done indoors on a rainy day...
  • Rain Drums: This is one (of many) great ideas in the book A Little Bit of Dirt: 55+ Science and Art Activities to Reconnect Children with Nature by Asia Citro, MEd. You'll need a selection of different sized plastic containers (no lids necessary) and a variety of corresponding sized balloons. You'll also need a rainy day! And perhaps some rain gear or waterproof clothing... Cut the ends off your balloons and stretch one over the top of each container. Take your drums outdoors and listen, ever so quietly, to the musical interludes of raindrops falling. The harder the rain, the louder your drums will play! You might even experiment with other types of coverings and see how they sound... Or perhaps you'll test out some metal tins turned upside down that you have in your Mud Kitchen? There is something so inherently soothing about the sound of rain falling! It might even brighten up the next rainy day...


  • Ice Castle Excavation: Ice is an oft forgotten form of water that is great for play--especially in the summer. You'll need to prepare in advance for activities like this one (and maybe explain to your spouse why you have to eat all of the leftovers tonight because you need the freezer space to make an ice castle...). Using a castle shaped bucket and/or containers in any variety of shapes and sizes (even muffin tins are great), freeze some water. You can add in glitter, food coloring of your choice, and jewels, necklaces and other trinkets from the party favor section of your dollar store (keep in mind that these may not survive the activity, so don't use your finest family heirlooms!). I find it best to prepare this the night before we want to do the activity. When you're ready, choose a space outdoors either on the ground or in a sensory bin/water table to set up your ice castle excavation. If you have a hard time getting the ice out of any container, just run a bit of warm water over the bottom. Ice excavators can use toy hammers and other tools to try to to retrieve the jewels frozen in the castle. They can also test out what happens when they add water and or kosher salt to the ice. You can use safety goggles if you wish and, as always, provide support and supervision with the use of hammers and tools with young children! 

  • Painting With Water: I have great childhood memories of using a big foam tipped brush to paint fences and sidewalks with water in the summer and it's an activity I introduced early to my own kids. Big paint brushes and sponge brushes are still one of the most popular (and fought over) toys I bring to the sprinkler park each summer. It is so much fun to create designs and pictures with water and watch the sun make them disappear!
Indoor Activities & Active Play:

You can't always get outside for a good puddle jump in the rain, so here are a few activities to try inside, including some that will get you and your kids moving!

Indoor Puddle Jumping with Letters or Sight Words: Using recycled brown paper shopping bags, cut some large mud puddle shapes. On each puddle, you'll write a letter or (with older children) sight word. You can add in some music to get everyone moving and when the music stops, it's time to puddle jump. There are three ways to play (depending on your puddle jumpers' level of ability). You can call out and/or show a letter name (for letter recognition), a word (or picture) for beginning sound, or a sight word for word recognition. You can even make this into a rhyming word challenge and provide a word and/or picture on each puddle and call out rhyming word. Everyone will have a great time being active and jumping in mud puddles without any of the muddy mess afterward!

Frank the Frog: Rain Forest Yoga from Cosmic Kids Yoga:
Got a little yogi at home? We love the videos from Cosmic Kids Yoga for rainy days or afternoons that just beg for a bit more movement. Many are available on YouTube and this one is one of our favorites!




Science:


  • How Do Clouds Make Rain? Water Cycle in a Bag Experiment: This science experiment is so simple to set up and a great one for teaching about the water cycle. You'll need a ziplock bag (sandwich size is fine), a permanent marker, some masking tape, duct tape or packing tape, and water. You can also use blue food coloring if you wish. Begin by drawing a body of water on the bottom of your bag and clouds at the top. Fill your bag about a quarter of the way full with water, adding food coloring if you wish. Tightly seal the bag and add some tape for reinforcement. Lastly you'll want to tape it to a window and observe throughout different times of the day how the change in sun exposure/temperature creates "fog" in the clouds that eventually drip into "rain" back to the body of water at the bottom of the bag!






  • Rain Cloud in a Jar Experiment: This is another simple and fun way to demonstrate how clouds make rain! You'll need a clear jar or glass, some additional small recycled containers or cups, shaving cream, food coloring, pipettes and water. Begin by filling your glass about 3/4 of the way full with cool water. Meanwhile, fill your extra cups/containers with water and a color of your choice to set aside as your "rain." Squirt a fluffy shaving cream cloud atop your jar of water and have your junior scientists try their hands at sucking up and gently squirting drops of "rain" onto the rain cloud. As the cloud gets heavier and heavier with colored water, you'll observe colorful drops of rain coming through the cloud down into the water! It will be the most beautiful (or at least the most colorful) rain storm you've ever observed!




  • Do Leaves Sweat? You betcha! In this simple science experiment, also featured in Asia Citro's A Little Bit of Dirt, you'll need a clear plastic bag, a rubber band and leaves on a tree. You can even set up more than one observation on different types of trees to compare and contrast. Bundle a few leaves in your plastic bag and gently fasten it with the rubber band so it won't slip off. Observe what the leaves look like now--maybe even draw or take a photo of it! Come back to the same spot the next day and you should see a fair amount of water in the bottom of your bag. Because the bag prevents water from evaporating back into the atmosphere, moisture that is sweated out by the leaves collects in the bottom--similar to how a rain cloud works!

  • How Do Plants Drink Water? Have you ever wondered how the water we provide our gardens or from rain gets to the plants and helps them grow? In this great experiment from Buggy and Buddy, you'll observe how water travels through the stem to other parts of the leaf over a period of three days. You'll need a cup or jar, a leaf, water and food coloring. Read more about how to set up and observe your experiment at Science for Kids: Exploring Leaves.



  • Sink or Float Science: Experimenting with materials that sink or float is another favorite science activity here. We do it several times a year and in a variety of ways. I especially love using items found in nature to test. Grab a basket and fill it with interesting leaves, seed pods, flowers, pine cones, acorns, twigs, rocks--whatever you can find. You'll need a basin of water and then the test is on! You might talk about what makes items sink to the bottom or float to the top. What materials tend to float? What are boats made out of? You might also try this inside with household items. Perhaps you'll talk about the difference between fresh water (like a pond) and salt water (like the ocean) and add a couple of salt water basins with a different amounts of salt. Does that affect the results of your test items? The best thing about sink or float science is that it can be done inside in a bin, in the bathtub, in your sink, outside, at the pool--wherever water is available! You can record your results if you wish or just enjoy the process. It's a great experiment to do on a family vacation or trip as it requires very little in the way of preparation or special materials.



Sensory Play:
Water is an amazing tool for sensory play. It's available just about everywhere all year round. It's usually free (or at least already included in your monthly expenses). It's allergy safe and fun for all ages and developmental levels. I have yet to meet a child who tires of a simple water table set up--just water and a container or two for filling, pouring, and transferring. You can add in toys, vegetables for washing, or even items found in nature. Water play is also a wonderful way to introduce sensory play to infants and young toddlers. Read more about that in Waterplay Wednesday: The Baby Edition. Here are a few more of my favorite water life and rain related sensory play activities:


  • Frog Pond Sensory Bin: Pond life comes alive with this small world sensory bin! You'll need some toy frogs and from there, you can add in whatever natural and man-made materials you have on hand. We used rocks, a variety of wood pieces, glass gems, a plastic baby dish drainer made to look like grass that we never actually used for its intended purpose, and some artificial flowers. This captivated my older one for days! We changed out the water each evening, but when small world play and sensory play collide, the result is often hours and hours of fun!



  • Scented Waterplay with Fresh Cut Herbs: If you happen to be growing herbs in your garden or have some leftover from a recipe, this is a heavenly way to add an additional sensory component into waterplay. The bonus is that it's totally taste safe for the still-mouthing and/or younger crowd. Choose some fresh herbs that you particularly like together (like a couple varieties of mint or lavender and rosemary...) and add them to a bowl or basin of water. You can also add in spoons for mixing or bowls/cups for pouring, but this is just as lovely on its own with two (or more) hands to splash in it! You can add as much or as little of your fresh herbs as you like, and if the thought of just tossing out fresh cut herbs when you're done simply tugs at your heartstrings too much, you can still give them another good rinse and use them for cooking or making tea!
  • Shaving Cream Clouds Sensory Play: Shaving cream is such a fun sensory play material! You can squirt it right on your table top (it's a self-cleaning play activity!), on a tray or even in your tub. Little hands will love making designs in the shaving cream clouds. You can also add in a few drops of food coloring or tempura paint (one or more than one color for mixing). We love doing this as a story stretcher activity with Eric Carle's Little Cloud and trying to make different cloud shapes as seen in the book. For those who may be a bit sensory averse or hesitant to dig right in, a plastic fork or comb or wooden craft stick can be a great tool. Providing a wet rag alongside can also help children who are averse to messy play to feel more comfortable.


Family Field Trips & Extension Activities:
We are so fortunate to live near several sprinkler parks. These are so much fun in the summer! They entertain a variety of ages (yes, even the adults) and it can be active fun for the whole family. Some children are game to jump right in (and through and over and under and on top) of the sprinklers while others are a bit more hesitant. My own older one used to be the jump-right-in-type and aged into the give-it-a-wide-berth-type. For the more hesitant ones at the sprinkler park or pool, I like to offer some support tools and alternative activities. A plastic bucket or basin can be filled with water for poolside or park-side water play and combined with the add-ins of your choice. Taking along some of the art materials or activities listed above can also be a great option. Read Waterplay Wednesday: Spicing Up the Sprinkler Park for more ideas on great waterplay take-alongs.

Cloud Watching is another great (FREE) family activity! You'll need one of those perfectly blue sky and fluffy cloud kinds of days, maybe a big grassy hill, a cozy picnic blanket to lay on and maybe some sunglasses. Watch as the clouds go by and see what shapes and pictures you can find in the sky.

Talking about water conservation is something that most of us probably do without even thinking of it. How many times a day do you remind someone in your house to turn off a faucet or to hurry in the shower before the fish run out of water? Take it to the next (less nagging) level this summer by using leftover water in your water bottles to give your garden a drink or practicing using the sprinkler and hose at their most efficient hours (early morning or dusk). Additionally, you can model and talk about protecting water life by cleaning up rubbish in parks and pond areas, and avoiding the tempting activity of feeding ducks human food. If you do live near a pond, river, lake or other body of water, it's a great family field trip to take and observe the flora and fauna. You can check out a variety of interesting books, both fiction and non-fiction from your local library!

I'm throwing in a little backyard (or front yard) hack today as well to encourage and invite water play without always needing a hose and running water. I love using a large plastic spigot jug filled with water for my kids to use as a filling/pouring station. It's great for use in the Mud Kitchen, watering plants and even a quick rinse of the hands! When it's empty, simply refill it and you're good to go. Just make sure to provide separate water for drinking and in general, to avoid areas with stagnant water in your yard that can invite mosquitoes and other unwanted pests.

Well, Sprout Scouts, we will be back with our next playcamp theme soon. Until then...[don't] stay dry and happy playing!