Teachable Moments : Bugs!

I’m starting a new series on the blog to share some of the education adventures that the boys and I go on; you can read my introductory post here.

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Mamas and Papas, I’ve decided that fall through spring is the perfect time to investigate bugs!

You’re confused, I know, but hear me out : I spend those seasons vacuuming up all sorts of insects in our house. There are stink bugs, green lacewings, some wasps, flies, and sometimes lady bugs. So, rather than toss the dead bugs in the trash, they are the perfect specimens for learning.

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Have your kiddos collect a bunch of bugs, and then start asking them probing questions that get them observing.

  • You could start with an open-ended : What do the bugs look like?
  • And then get more specific : What color are they?
  • How many legs do they have?
  • How many wings?
  • If you’ve found more than one variety : How are the bugs different or the same?
  • And then you could build curiosity: How did they get in the house?

I try not to hammer them with questions. Instead, I like to sit back and let them explore, but the questions can help to get them thinking and/or they’re just handy to have in mind if you’re having a conversation about the insects and want to keep it going.

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Introduce your kids to scientific tools. We have a few magnifying glasses and the kids’ microscope that you see in the photo above. We also happened upon a super easy trick – use a macro lens on your phone to shoot a zoom-in photo of the insects. If your kids are like mine, they will be amazed at the detail! While they love using their tools, I’ve found that the tools don’t come with the strongest lenses and it can be hard for shaky/excited hands to keep everything in focus. Using the macro photograph is one of the easiest ways to expand your kids’ awe and curiosity about bugs – they can’t believe all of the details that are on the bug sitting there on the table (the fuzzy hairs, the patterns that just looked like stripes now are something else, etc.).

For better or worse, seeing the bugs magnified to this level makes it easier to anthropomorphize the insects, which can lead to some awesome learning conversations. My guys like to talk about the bugs families, what the different members of the family do, where they get their food, etc. And then this can lead to more detailed discussions about the social structure of some bugs, their lifecycle, the predator/prey relationships, and on and on.

When it comes to bug-related tools, we also have a bug box that’s handy when we’re catching and analyzing live insects.

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We also like to pull out the insect field guides to look up the insects we’ve found. The first time I pulled out this book, Alex went bonkers! He couldn’t believe all of the different insects that were in the book. So, I gave him plenty of time to just browse the book. Then we narrowed in on the insects we had, once we were on the right page, I had him find the specific insect, and then we read about them.

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My goal is for us to do activities like this over and over again whenever the interest arises, with the intent to increase the boys’ depth of knowledge each time. Some examples include teaching them the correct names of insect parts, the lifecycle of the insect, their role in the ecosystem. And here are a few other simple ideas for extending this activity:

  • draw pictures of the insects
  • discuss and paint a picture of their habitat
  • visit the insect exhibits at your local natural history museum
  • during the summer, we like to start by catching some bugs in the garden! This is one of the easiest ways to discuss the insects’ role in the ecosystem, their preferred habitat, and food. We don’t kill them, but we are still able to carry out a variety of the activities above, and this is where having the bug box is key to keeping your live specimens in one place.

If you’re a bug lover, a parent, or just someone with an idea, I’d love to hear from you! Do you have any other ideas for introducing kids to insects? Do you have any favorite insect facts?

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Teachable Moments : an Introduction

Now that Alex is nearing 4 years old and Luc is nearing 2, I’m starting to be more intentional with how we spend some of our time together. While they spend their days playing, I want to highlight more “teachable moments” that challenge the boys to learn new skills, whether it’s physical, practical, and/or academic. And since we blog about what we love and what’s important to us, I’m hoping to share some of these pre-school teaching adventures on the blog.

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We’ve already started some of this work and sharing through the Cooking with Kids series, but I’d like to expand the posts to share some of the work we’re doing outside of the kitchen.

Our Learning Philosophy

If you’ve been reading our blog for a while, it’s no surprise that Sarah and I enjoy challenging ourselves to learn new things, and (of course), we love to share what we’ve learned with others. Much of what we do here on the blog is from the perspective of an amateur in that we’ve had no formal schooling in cooking, crafting, or potion-making, yet other things we do from the perspective of professionals (Sarah as a photographer and yogi, myself as a scientist, naturalist, and quasi-economist). Beyond spending years as a student, I’ve also worked as an educator in one capacity or another (volunteering to work with high school kids in urban gardens, being a teaching assistant in grad school, and teaching college courses). All that’s to say that we have many passions, some we’ve pursued through formal education and others we’ve pursued as hobbies.

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As you may expect, we’re keen to pass our love of learning on to the boys. The most important skills that I hope to nurture in them are to be observant of the world around them, ask questions about how the world works, and come up with ideas that try to answer those questions. I’m hoping to raise curious problem solvers. Of course, I’m also hoping to raise kiddos with a social conscious, but aren’t we all? I hope?

What are Teachable Moments?

While they’re still young, I’m not concerned about enrolling the kiddos in a rigorous academic environment, rather, I think it’s fairly easy to engage them in teachable moments no matter what we’re doing from one day to the next. For example, Alex is starting to identify letters of the alphabet and spell simple words. He doesn’t need worksheets to help with this, instead, we’re always finding moments to have him find letters (road signs, cereal boxes, books, etc.). And Luc’s learning is much more basic – he’s learning to form sentences, ask questions, and (of course) he tries to copy anything his big brother does from counting to jumping off the furniture. So we spend a lot of time talking to/with Luc (not at him) to help his language develop. I ask him questions, give him time to answer. Before he was even speaking in sentences, I would really listen when he was making noises at me, because often he had something he was trying to communicate.

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Whatever the subject manner, there’s often a way to relate to it in our day-to-day lives. For example, Calder and I were total dorks when we bought the NPS pass and talked about the utility we get just from knowing that we could go to any park at any time… and when I’m hiking in the mountains, a rock slide makes me want to talk about entropy – the idea that things gradually go from an ordered to disordered state. The bottom line is that there are so many moments in the day where we could stop, observe, and start an academic conversation about a whole slew of topics.

But those are big ideas. At the boys’ age, I like to follow their curiosity. Some days we’re using blocks to see who can build the highest tower, and why does one stay up while another falls? Other days we’re sitting outside for hours looking for bugs, watching where they go and what they do. And other days, we’re mixing food coloring into homemade gak to see what happens when we mix red with blue (purple!), but what if we add yellow and green too (brown!)?

Teaching Resources

Right now, given the boys’ ages, our conversations and teachable moments are really pretty mellow, but they’re there, and more are happening every day – especially with Alex.

I’ve started to look for some resources that I can refer to as I think about fostering a creative, problem-solving, independent environment in (and outside!) our house.

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For the most part, I’ve been leaning on my intuition and ideas from our mom who is a retired teacher, but I’ve also begun to turn to a couple of books:

  • Tinkerlab is a great resource for helping parents to foster a more creative and exploratory learning environment at home. It begins with a few sections discussing the importance of letting kids tinker, how to organize your home, and lists of suggested tinkering supplies for kids. Then the bulk of the book provides ideas for tinkering activities, organized broadly under the topics of “design, build, concoct, and discover”. There’s also a Tinkerlab website bursting with ideas and inspiring posts.
  • The Outdoor Classroom in Practice, Ages 3-7 is a great basic resource if you would like to have some practical help for creating a forest school environment. Admittedly, we aren’t spending our full days outside, but it is a major goal of mine to have a lot of the boys learning and activities taking place outside. This is a month-by-month guide with ideas for introducing children to the idea of a forest school and with a few simple seasonally-appropriate activities for each month.
  • The Kids’ Nature Book This book is out of print, but Sarah picked up a copy for us at a used book store. There are other versions of nature activity books available, but I really love this one. It gives you an activity idea for every day of the year – that’s 365 ideas! Some are super simple (measure the snowfall), while others are more intensive. The bottom line is that you can find an activity that’s appropriate for any moment and age level. I’ll come back to this book in a future post and talk in more detail about how I use it.

In addition to those books, as we all know, the internet is full of ideas, and I have a few Pinterest boards to help me keep those resources organized.

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I’m exciting to start this series on the blog, and am thinking about a variety of future posts covering everything from how we create teachable moments while on vacation to our early experiments with learning letters. I know these posts won’t be for everyone, but I’m hoping that there’s a community of readers who would like to join in this discussion and share their teachable moments.

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Why You Should Volunteer

I’ve been volunteering my time quite a bit lately and as always, it feels wonderful. I’m republishing this post in hopes that you’ll research a new volunteering opportunity in your area and field of interest. If you have any experience volunteering or suggestions for others, throw them in the comments. 

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Happy Monday!  Over a year ago, when Katie and I started this blog, we had intended for our Mondays to be inspiring.  We thought, what better to read on a Monday morning than something that will amp you up for the rest of the week or at the very least, make your Monday a bit better.  We’ve strayed a little bit from that scheduling because we realized we have so much to share in all spheres, but today we’re going back to our roots and inspiring you to help out a little. You know, volunteer a few hours or a few days, whatever you can. Today I’m sharing my two cents on why you should volunteer followed by a recap of my recent volunteer experience on the Appalachian Trail that includes a remembrance of our dear hiking friend.

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Cultivate a Life of Travel

Live seasoned live a life of travel designTraveling extensively really comes down to a few factors: time, money, and willingness.  If you’re willing, you are capable of creating the time and funds to take a trip.  If I, the least motivated money maker on the planet, can scrape together enough cash to travel to 15+ countries, you can too.  I absolutely despise money and trading my precious time for work (some people read this as being lazy, but I assure you I’m not), but travel motivates me to make paper.  Traveling is a drug and I am in the throws of addiction.  Life feels dull if I’m not exploring. Here’s how I motivate myself to maintain a life revolving around travel.

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Ecuador Packing List

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Howdy! Nine days until I fly to Ecuador and I can tell you, I’m not ready! I’m just beginning to pull out my backpack and lazily toss things inside.  I’ll be in Ecuador for about two weeks. The first week, I’ll be attending and working at a yoga retreat. The second week, I’m planning on climbing a couple mountains. While packing, I always think back to this article and while I can’t pack quite as light as that couple, I’m really going to try to take only the bare minimal on this trip. I’ll need some equipment for trekking and a few gadgets for my photo work, but otherwise not much.

Here’s what I’m taking:

That’s it for now. I plan on taking my hiking backpack and a small shoulder bag to carry everything.  I’ll also pack everything inside big plastic bags for protection. Am I forgetting anything?

 

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Winter (Van) Camping

We like to get outside every chance we get, whether it’s a quick run, a day-long hike, or a weekend camping trip. You can see all of our outdoor adventures here, and more of our Colorado hikes here.

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Last weekend we packed up the van and headed into Rocky Mountain National Park for an overnight adventure! Since winter camping is not a common past time, especially if you have little kids, I thought I’d share some details about our adventure, and hopefully encourage you to take off into the snowy mountains for a weekend of fun.

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Within RMNP, Moraine Park is the only campground that’s open year-round, and in the winter it offers 77 sites on a first-come-first-served basis (for only $18/night!). When we arrived on Saturday, there were a handful of other campers, but most of the sites were open!… at that point, Calder and I considered this trip a success, because it’s often impossible to get a campsite in Colorado without reservations made months in advance.

The Moraine Park area is a wide valley within the park that’s great year-round for wildlife watching and in the winter, it provides a beautiful backdrop for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.

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What do you do during a winter camping trip? Much of the same stuff that you do in the summer. Instead of just hiking, you do it with snowshoes, and instead of shorts and a t-shirt, you do it with plenty of layers.

We arrived Saturday afternoon, set up our site and let the boys explore, and then went out for an adventure. Calder skied with Alex on his back while I snowshoed with Luc. Once we got back to the van, we lit a fire and started in on dinner. After breakfast the next day, we headed out to the Fern Lake Trailhead for a long hike, and then we hopped in the car, drove into Estes for lunch, and headed home.
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What gear did we take? Great question. Since we were van-camping, we had the luxury of being able to bring more gear than we would on a hiking trip, but even so, we keep it very simple.

CLOTHES : We are notoriously light packers, and even for this trip we kept it simple. Since we already do a lot of winter day-trips, it’s easy for us to pack our bags with the exact winter layers that each person needs. For each of us, that includes good boots, a hat, gloves, coat, snow pants, and an under-layer. We brought a change of clothes for everyone, but honestly, Alex is the only person that needed extra clothes because he has a knack for covered himself in muck. The rest of us were too lazy and warm to change out of our clothes for day two.

SNOW GEAR : We brought the chains for our van (they are always packed), a snow shovel, a sled, snowshoes, and a pair of skis fitted with AT bindings and skins.

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CAMPING GEAR : I talked about most of this gear in another post on van camping, but I’ll give you a quick run-down here. We brought our camping box that contains all the basic necessities for eating – matches, cookware, camping stove, silverware, french press, can opener, etc. During the winter, we’re serious about a warm and cozy bed set-up, so we bring two extra large thermarests that cover the van bed, and two down comforters, one for under us and one for over. Luc sleeps in the bed with us, while Alex sleeps in his own nest on the floor (he is snuggled into one big down comforter).

ENTERTAINMENT : We rely on nature to keep the kiddos happy while the sun’s out. When we go into the van for the night, we’ve started playing Go Fish and other card games with Alex (while Luc makes it his goal to disrupt the games in any way possible). We also packed a few good books for everyone, knitting for me, and podcasts for Calder.

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FOOD : Just as with the clothes, we keep it simple. For this quick trip, I’ll tell you exactly what we brought (all packed in one large cooler).

  • drinks : coffee, tea, milk, hot chocolate mix, G&T fixings (obvs!), and water
  • lunch/dinner : soup, hotdogs & buns, smoked oysters
  • breakfast : bacon & eggs
  • misc. : marshmallows, oranges, sugar

The soup was leftovers from the previous week. It was actually a blend of this broccoli & cheddar and this creamy chicken – we had a little of both, and the mixture turned out to be delicious! Does that seem weird? We’re soup-mixers from way back (we’re guilty of making soup cocktails at every soup bar we visit). Soup is great for a winter trip because you’ll want something warm, and having it pre-made makes reheating really easy.

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I love to take the fixings for G&Ts on camping trips. The easiest way I’ve found to do it, particularly for a short overnight trip, is to take just the shot (or two) of gin in a flask, and the appropriate number of 8oz cans of tonic from Trader Joes. Those cans are the perfect size for a single drink. And they’re cute.

The smoked oysters may seem a bit random, but they are a common Schu-family appetizer. They are particularly awesome on a cold-weather camping trip when the extra calories may come in handy and when you need something quick to eat while you’re waiting for the fire to get going and your drinks are already flowing.

Our boys love smoked oysters, but I’m sure many wouldn’t even want to try them. Although as all parents know, kids are more risky eaters on camping trips, so if your kids have never had them, your next camping trip is the perfect time to introduce them to this little piece of oily heaven.

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Most of the photos above were from our first day of our trip. The photos below are from our second day. Hot Chocolate in the van, followed by our hike on the Fern Lake trail. The trail is so well-traveled that on the day we went, snowshoes were unnecessary.

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This was our first winter camping trip with two kids, and it was a major success. As I’m writing this post, Alex is talking to Calder about the trip and wondering when we can go again (soon, little guy, soon!). We had a great time, and I’m so happy that we’re introducing the little guys to year-round camping adventures.

I know that getting out into the snow with kids can be daunting on a typical day, so camping may seem like an absurd idea, but really, if you have the right clothes to keep everyone warm, and you’re ready for a weekend of adventure in the snow, you’ll have an amazing time!

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Like Haiyaha Hike

We like a good hike, and every once in a while we have the chance to hike slow, take pictures, and share the adventure with you. You can check out some of our previous Colorado hikes here.

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These are photos from a hike that we took a few months ago, and I just happened to find them here in an unpublished post. I was so sure that I wrote about this hike, but a few searches finally convinced me that I’m crazy.

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I have this thing where once a season full hits, I have a hard time remembering what other seasons are like. When we’re covered in snow, I can’t remember exactly what a hot summer day feels like. And vice versa. You would think that looking at pics would help, but I’m just confused and trying so hard to remember what this hike felt like. Welcome to my twilight zone.
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This is a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park, and this page has a great description of the trail and details about getting to the trail head, so I won’t repeat those details. The one thing I will emphasize is that RMNP is CRAZY PACKED during any nice day, including this particular one. It can be really difficult to find parking. They have a park shuttle that will take you to many of the roadside trail heads. If you are flexible, that may be the way to go. Since we had the boys, two packs, and other gear, we chanced it and luckily we found a parking spot, but it was touch and go.  liveseasoned_haiyaha3liveseasoned_haiyaha4 liveseasoned_haiyaha5 liveseasoned_haiyaha6

This hike was particularly nice because the trails take you past a number of small lakes and there are plenty of scenic overlooks. On the day we were there, the weather was in flux. It started out sunny but windy, then there was a light rain, and at the top of the mountain, snow! It made for some pretty beautiful and dramatic scenes, but it’s also a reminder to be prepared for any weather when hiking in the mountains. We dressed in layers, and were comfortable throughout the hike.
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As you can see, we hiked with both boys in packs, which had become our m.o. last fall. Many of the hikes we were doing were well over a couple of miles and involved patches of rugged or steep terrain, so to keep everyone happy, it made sense to carry the kiddos. Even though our boys are bursting with energy, they both were happy to be carried (who wouldn’t be?!).

I love for the kids to be awake and experience nature as we hike, but with some of these longer hikes, it can be nice to plan the hike so that it overlaps with naptime. That’s what happened here. Calder and I still had a beautiful hike, and the boys were happy to nap for a portion of the hike. liveseasoned_haiyaha10 liveseasoned_haiyaha11 liveseasoned_haiyaha12 liveseasoned_haiyaha13 liveseasoned_haiyaha14

Of course, when you get to the lake, it’s beautiful. There’s nothing quite like an alpine lake. The water is clear, cold, and this particular one was slightly green/blue in color. We sat on the rocky banks and ate a little snack before heading back down the trail. We didn’t pack a full lunch because we were saving our appetites for some mountain dogs.
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Ahhh, seeing this photos, I really can’t wait to get back to the park for a winter visit! It’s going to happen one day soon… liveseasoned_haiyaha17

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