Posts Tagged ‘learning about nature’

25 Days of Christmas: Day 18 – Tree Decorating for the Birds

I know I’ve said this many times but we really are fortunate to live beside a huge natural park right here in the middle of the city. And even greater, is the High Park Nature Center located in High Park. They offer great programs for kids, families and schools. They demystify nature and bring it closer to kids, the next generation to care for and respect our symbiotic relationship with one another.

In time for winter, the Nature Center ran their wonderful Tree Decorating for the Birds workshop so as part of our 25 Days of Christmas I took all 3 kids over to participate.

I’m always amazed how the program leaders remember my kids by their names. It’s been awhile since we’ve gone and I’m sure they see many kids but it’s a wonderful feeling for the kids and shows the involvement the staff takes with the kids involved with their programs.

When we arrived the room was set-up with 5 workstations on big tables. Each station covered a decoration you were to make for the trees in the park. But these were typical decorations, like paper chains or pipe cleaner candy canes. The purpose of these decorations were to give the animals of the park food for the cold winter that lays ahead of them.

The first station the kids visited had them making Garlands. Long pieces of thread were precut and knotted and a needle hung on the other end. Around the table were bowls filled with popcorn, cranberries, apple pieces, Cheerios and orange segments. We quickly discovered that Cheerios weren’t the best item to put on the chain first (they slipped right off the sting and needed something bigger on the end) and that popcorn is harder to string than you think. My 4-year old managed her needle pretty well on her own, carefully pushing it through the different items for her chain. After about 10 pieces she was ready to move on to the next station. My 6 and 8-year-old however  wanted to finish their chains right to the end of the rope.

Each child was given a plastic plate to place their crafts on as they moved from station to station. I took my 4-year old to the next station which was making Seed-Head Bouquets. She clipped a few seed heads and bunched them together. I held her bunch while she wrapped a piece of string around the stems. I tried to let her do the crafts as much as she was able. The idea was for the kids to make the decorations and although I could have done things faster or easier my kids were getting more enjoyment out of doing each thing on their own.

After the Seed Bouquet we moved on to Yuletide Logs. This was a messy one. My e-year old took at popsicle stick (it had to be the purple one) and worked on spreading lard all over a stick, just like painting it. Eventually she decided to copy some other kids and just rub the lard on her stick with her hands. Then she dropped her lard covered stick into a bowl of seeds and rolled and patted as many seeds as she could get to adhere to her stick. Surprisingly she kept herself pretty clean.

My two oldest were still at the garland making table. It seems they were competing with each other to see who could fill their string the quickest. Ah, nothing says family fun like a little competition.

The last activity was to make Pine Cone Bird Feeders. Similar to the Yule Logs, you had to cover a pine cone in lard and then stick seeds to it. Covering a pine cone in lard is a little trickier than covering a flat stick but my 4-year old managed.

After washing up we enjoyed some hot apple cider and cookies and then listened to the story Night Tree before heading out for our forest walk. I had never heard of the book Night Tree but it’s a delightful tale about decorating a tree in the woods for the animals, just like we were going to do.

On our walk we stopped to feed some of the birds in the forest. My 8-year old was fortunate enough to have a Nuthatch eating out of her hands 4 different times on our walk. We even had the chance to see a beautiful red cardinal. Some interesting things I learned:

  • Unlike many birds, Cardinals don’t eat things off the ground.
  • To warm up after a night’s sleep birds puff their feathers up to 3x their body size.
  • A woodpecker’s tongue is too big for its mouth. There is a spot in its head where it coils its tongue around when it’s not being used.

In the forest all the kids found spots to hang or place their decorations for the birds and then we headed home. It was a great way to spend the afternoon.

How are you celebrating the Christmas season with your family? See what we’ve been up to for our 25 Days of Christmas.

Thanksgiving Outing: Leaves, Running and Slide Stunts

Last weekend was Canadian Thanksgiving which we celebrated at my mom’s house north of the city. My sister and her ever increasing family were coming over to celebrate with us on the Sunday so we arrived a day early. This gave me time to spend with my mom and the kids to hang out with grandma.

My mom’s home backs on to the escarpement so it’s like a natural wonderland for the kids when we show up.

Not far from my mom’s house is a park with a modernized playground for kids. It’s one of those parks that are suppose to be more accessible to everyone. I loved the musical playground as we entered. They had steel drums and pipe drums the kids could play but my favourite was the standing pipe instrument made with steel and plastic pipes. Kids could run their hands across the pipes to make sound.

They also had a lot of climbing structures and a triple slide. The competitive side of my son had him setting up races between himself and his little sister. But these slides have their own built-in fun with turns and bumps so when my son tried to do some crazy stunt by sliding down on his feet he ended up riding the rail for a short part. Thank goodness he didn’t fall off. Of course I wasn’t quick enough to stop him but I did capture it on the camera. Funny how these things happen.

Remember merry-go-rounds in school playgrounds when you were growing up? I do. They were one of my favourite, running around to make it spin fast and then jumping on to enjoy the ride. I was saddened to hear that many of these merry-go-rounds were actually removed from playgrounds as they were deemed dangerous. But at this playground they had a super structure merry-go-round. Imagine a rope ladder wrapped around in a cone shape then put on a spinning platform. That’s what this was and my two kids loved it. My 3-year old climbed up near the top and sat there as the thing swung around. My son loved jumping in and out of the cone, swinging out from the top and all sorts of crazy stunts. Sounds so much safer than the merry-go-rounds we use to use right? [snort]

Write a Review Wednesday: The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge

Welcome to another Write a Review Wednesday, a meme started by Tara Lazar as a way to show support to authors of kids literature. Last week we reviewed Sterling Publishing‘s EcoMazes. 12 Earth Adventures (age 7+ ) by Roxie Munro. Still in an Earth Day mindset we’re reviewing The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge (age ) written by Joanna Cole and illustrated by Bruce Degen. I have to thank Nikole at Scholastic Canada for my review copy.


The kids at Walkerville Elementary School are studying global warming, but if you’re familiar with Mrs. Frizzle, you know she likes to give her class a unique hands-on perspective to what they’re learning. So starts the latest classroom learning experience in The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge.

The kids travel around the Earth to see the changes global warming is having on the planet: ice melting in the Arctic, sea levels rising, changes in weather conditions. They also observe first hand, by turning into rays from the sun, how heat-trapping gasses are causing the planet to warm itself. And special goggles enable them to see how much CO2 (a heat-trapping gas) is floating around and what’s causing so much of it.

But the book isn’t all about how bad things are. The kids also explore ways they can help cut down on CO2 emissions through alternative energy sources and simple things like waking, turning off lights and more.

My kids love The Magic School Bus series as do I. The premise of kids taking a fantastic field trip to learn and see first hand how things work fascinates even my youngest. The subject matter of Global Warming can be overwhelming to kids, but breaking out key facts in little digestible chucks makes it easier for kids to absorb, especially when they’re written like project notes from the kids in the story.

The pages in The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge cover a lot of material but you can choose what to read; the message isn’t lost if you just read the story content and only add in one or two of the side notes, depending on what is interesting to your kids, but I think you’ll find they’ll want to read it all.

We try to make environmental choices every day at  home, but Earth Day approaching has given us a chance to talk more about the topic. I love that The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge shows kids that they can affect change to: recycling, walking more, writing letters to local government. There are a lot of ways kids can help. I love how the author extends the story and adds realism to the kids by including an email question and answer at the end.

You can discover more about The Magic School Bus series and some online activities by visiting Scholastic Canada‘s website.

You can add The Magic School Bus and the Climate Challenge to your own library by visiting your local bookstore or Looking for other great kids books? Checkout the past Write a Review Wednesday posts.

What will you be doing with your family on Earth Day?

Making a park takes work

Tuesday is upon us again, which means another adventure with my two youngest over at the Nature Centre. Last time I talked about what the kids learned about Blue Jays. Our next visit was about seeds. The Nature Centre works with High Park, a large city park, to help protect and promote the growth of natural plants and animals. When we first arrived the kids created seed balls, which are seeds embedded in the centre of clay. The loved ‘hidding’ the seeds inside the clay (which would later harden, protecting the seeds inside from animals).

Hiding the seeds inside clay balls

Hiding the seeds inside clay balls


Washing off the extra clay

After our snack and story it was time for the hike. We were going to hike to a field in the park to drop our seed balls. On the way the kids hunted for different types of seeds. They were each given a piece of felt to collect the seeds on and compare them. The councillors also pointed out the different delivery method of some seeds: sticky ones attach to animals and get deposited, some have ‘wings’ that enable them to float in the wind, some are eaten by animals and deposited in other locations (of course this last method was a favourite with the kids).


On a seed hunt in the woods


Collecting pine cones for the birds


One of the brave few to taste seeds (fuzzy lemon flavour)

Finally at the hill all the kids received their seed balls and tossed them into the field. And next Spring when we’re walking through the park, the kids will know they’ve played a part in keeping the park growing and looking beautiful. How many kids programs can you say give kids that type of ownership. I wonder what we’ll be talking about this week?


1, 2, 3, toss...making the park a more beautiful place