Tuesday, February 4, 2014


Meet Javier. He screams when he feels overwhelmed.

I should have gotten a picture of him screaming, arching his back, and trying to get out of his father's arms. But I wasn't quick enough.
Instead, this is what the camera captured:

As soon as Papa put his hands in the soil, the spell of sensory overload was broken. The screams and the rigidity were gone as if they never existed.

And when Mama found a worm...

Javier held it.

As the hour outside progressed, the group--the staff, his parents, the other parents, even the other children--were mesmerized by his behavior change.

He enjoyed a story.
He dug in the garden.
He played with his friends.

And when given other opportunities, that would have been overwhelming in a different setting, he welcomed the experience.

Does time spent in nature have positive mental health benefits? 
Research and study prove it. If you need to read it try here: http://www.childrenandnature.org/

But the question can be answered from within more readily...

Know your own bone; gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it, and gnaw it still.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Your Questions: What Is the Easiest Veggie To Plant TODAY?

Think you can't plant in January? But you can!

If you are not lucky enough to live where I am in Phoenix or another warm winter climate, plant indoors at a sunny window.

If you are lucky enough to live in Phoenix, check out this planting guide for January from the Maricopa Master Gardeners:

Started vegetables are seasonally available at your local DIY store. Though starts are more expensive than seeds, young children can see the results of planting right away. This might be more meaningful to them.

Seeds are still a wonderful option. Try getting large seeds such as peas, pumpkins, corn and beans. These can easily be planted by small fingers. 

Another fun idea is to  plant seeds that feature in a favorite book like Mrs. Piggle Wiggle and the Radish Cure.

What are some non-poisonous vegetable plants that we can plant on our playground?
There are so many! Try these:
· Beans. Beans are great eating raw or fresh and dried beans make wonderful pieces for mosaic art works.
· Squash. Find lesser known varieties for their weird and wonderful shape, colors, and skin texture. Carve them or decorate them anytime of year.
· Fresh herbs like lavender, mint, basil, and oregano will last all year and can be nibbled and crushed.
· Kale and broccoli—totally edible, from root to flower!

No raised beds? No money for soil?
Try window gardening...

All you need are the seeds (any variety will do, even dried beans from the pantry) and a ziplock bag.

   Give each child a small piece of paper towel or tissue to put in the ziplock baggie. Lay it on the table will make this process easier. Give each child 1-3 seeds to place on the tissue. Add a small amount of water (one plastic spoonful is plenty) onto the seeds and the tissue. Pat the air out gently and seal the top. Tape to a sunny window. The seeds should sprout within a week.

Cross cut your class's learning by integrating some math skills. Make a chart to record who planted which seeds on what day and when the seeds sprouted.

Though these seeds cannot be transplanted into the garden, the children will enjoy seeing the hidden life of a seed while it is waking up! 

Don't just stand there, Plant something!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Stepping Stones

It's project time!
Perfect for little feet, these stepping stones define paths through the garden. And they are easy to make from start to finish.

Get yourself a bag a Quikcrete from the Do-It-Yourself store. It costs all of about $5. Each bag will make about 20-30 stepping stones.

For the mold, you can either use disposable pie tins, plastic planters, or simply dig a shallow depression in the ground.

Add water in small amounts until the mix is completely damp but not runny. Go small, it won't take much.

I put the concrete in a ziplock bag so it's easy to stir--no shovel needed

4 cups of Quikcrete will fill one 8 in plastic saucer.
Tap the mold gently on the ground to remove the airbubbles.

Add your decorations--glass beads, plastic letters, or leaves. Press in gently.

Leave the leaves on the cement and they will eventually rub off completely leaving a very nice impression.

 Place the stepping stone, mold and all, into a plastic baggie. This will create humidity and slow the drying process (and keep any odd rain storms off). The slower concrete dries, the stronger it is. Leave it in the bag at least a week, up to a month is even better.
and they are ready for use!

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Supporting the Shy, Kinesthetic Learner

There are those of us who like to do, but are too shy to do it.


What is also frustrating is the stereotype about the kinesthetic learner:

  • can't sit still
  • "hyperactive"
  • often turn out to be performers such as actors and dancers
  • very coordinated in their movement

The shy kinesthetic learner is often none of the above

Yet, as kinesthetic learners we:
  • learn by doing
  • make an emotional connection through action
Connect that with the shy part:
  • we move around, but at the back of the room
  • we want to do the action, but won't raise our hands to be picked
  • we will perform, but only with lots of practice in safe environments first

We are the quiet ones, watching others perform the action, but our brains are humming! We are imagining ourselves doing the action. We are watching how others do things, so we can imitate.

We are so quiet that teachers think we are auditory learners--nope.
We are the note takers, not that we will review the notes, but only to be doing something kinesthetic in a safe way.

How you can help the kinesthetic learner:
  • Give lots of opportunities over the entire course of the educational experience. Be it one hour or one year, let the whole group know that there will be lots of hands-on learning involved. The shy, kinesthetic learner will jump in when she's ready.
  • Provide safe environments for kinesthetic movement. Encourage note-taking. Provide space at the back of the room for standing. Allow all learners to move around the room. The shy, kinesthetic type can go see how others are performing without being the only one moving around.
  • Use peer role-models. The teacher is on another level, showing how it is done right. The shy, kinesthetic learner needs to see someone on their own level make mistakes first.
  • Be okay with imitation, it is a step toward independence.
  • In large group gross motor activities, be okay with the wallflowers. Repeating the activity a few times will allow the shy, kinesthetic learner time to feel safe enough to participate.
  • Don't call me out in front of the group! That's the worst.
  • "Wait for it." We will eventually dazzle you with our brilliance.

Why do I bring this up? 
There is a little girl at my place of employment--you've seen her picture. Every event she moves closer but does not say a work or get in the action. 
Yesterday, for the first time, she laughed with me. 

I earned it.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

plantar semillas (to plant seeds)

Forgive me, I am quick to use unskilled labor in the garden--

and I don't mean that in a politically incorrect way.
I mean that I use older children to teach their younger siblings.

The interaction is sometimes not immediate, but be assured that Little Brother is always watching.
When I teach a  family, I often direct my teaching to the older siblings. If I have taught the lesson well, the older siblings naturally, often without any prompting, will turn around and teach the younger ones.

"Sometimes being an older brother is better than being a superhero." --Marc Brown (author of the children's book series, "Arthur")

This doesn't just go for gardening--it works well for language development too.
Big sister made sure he picked the right letters in the right order while we made this display. 

Perhaps it is because our older siblings are our first friends and our first enemies. Our older siblings push and pull us in ways that our parents--with their agendas and good intentions--cannot.
Unlike our parents, our older siblings are within our reach to be like.
Shy siblings who may not be able to get in the action, can warm up to the teacher and teaching through their older siblings.

 And boy, do our older siblings love to tell us what to do. Perhaps they are not so unskilled after all.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Your Questions: What do I need to buy to teach Nature Education to my students?

Watch out Lakeshore Learning because here we come.… Then again, maybe not.

   I have easily spent thousands of dollars over the years collecting the goodies that help me do “my thing” of teaching nature. But all I really need to enjoy nature is a door that leads outside. 

Opposable thumbs would be good right about now.
 To learn about nature does require something more—the encouragement to focus on differences, similarities, and interactions.  Some consider “encouragement” to be an expensive DSLR camera and an Alaskan adventure but nature can be studied well even on the smallest of budgets. Break down the process of learning from nature and you will find several stages: 
  • getting to nature, 
  • experiencing nature, 
  • recording nature, 
  • collecting nature, 
  • and sharing what you have learned.

So... now that we've opened the door...

Here's the basic equipment for experiencing nature: Footwear!

Closed toes shoes are required

... most of the time.

Yep, that's about it.

Okay, okay, here are some MORE things you might want for teaching nature education. 

   When it comes to  recording, collecting, and sharing, here’s some “encouragement.”

   #1 Phone books for pressing plants. These actually work better than the cardboard with straps variety. They won’t leave crinkly marks and the plants dry faster!

   #2 Bug viewing jars. When I was a kid, canning jars were the best, but you can buy plastic jars that have air holes and a magnifier attached. Why not just purchase cheap magnifying lenses? In my experience, children don’t use the lenses after the initial excitement of getting it. With a jar there is the finders-keepers quest to keep them focused.

Heck, even a plastic baggie works!
(and the captured bugs will appreciate the crumbs left over from the sandwich)

   #3 A journal or some way for  each individual to record what he or she wants to record on site. Children have different learning styles—some might use words, some might make drawings, some might want to do the collecting and smooshing themselves. Either way—using art or science or a combination of both—the important part is to make a connection right then and there. This focuses the attention for detail.
Audubon started with one of these when he was a boy.

   #4 A sorting space back at the classroom. Egg cartons or plastic tubs or a table with squares—a space for the children to organize and categorize their finds. In this process they are seeing differences and similarities. 
Warning: You might go broke on craft paint.

   #5 A way to show off their finds and share their learning. Pressed plants can be run through a laminator and made into a book. A display wall or cabinet can showcase a theme. Put on a science fair. Put together a digital slide show. Or just have the kids get up in front of the class and show off.
This piece of cardboard retails for $300 at Nordstrom's but I had a coupon.

Have money left over? I should hope so!

If you want to, you can also buy: butterfly nets, identification books, puppets. 
Or think bigger—a garden cart to tote the goodies or tired children. 
How about spending that money on live plants? Or chickens? Or building a raised veggie bed? Or a shade ramada? 

Here's another option... spend that money on a field trip and open the door.
This door has been letting cooped up children outside for a thousand years!

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Your Questions: Do ladybug releases work? I've heard they just fly away.

Ladybug, Ladybug, fly away home... Wait!

Yes, they tend to do that. And some nursery sell ladybugs from China (that's a long haul home for a ladybug).

Here are some tips to keep your friendly bugs at home:
  • Buy ladybugs from North America or an even closer local source. 
  • Sprinkle your plants with water before releasing the ladybugs--all animals require water as part of their habitat.
  • Release ladybugs at their bedtime (dusk). This way they have time to settle in and come to like the new digs before the next day brings new opportunity.
  • Release the ladybugs over a few days so there’s not too many crowding the space.
  • Let them come to you by planting cilantro, radish, and fennel and letting these plants bolt (which means to go to seed).
  • Ladybug larva look much different from adult ladybugs. Larva love aphids!