Beach Reads : Beautiful Swimmers

Teachable Moments is a relatively new series on the blog, you can find the archive here. And you can learn more about Saxis in this selection of posts. And if you’d like to see our favorite sun gear for toddlers, click here.

We just bought the tickets for our big annual trip to the East Coast. We’re so lucky to be able to take this big chunk of time and spend it visiting family both in PA and VA. In addition to that quality time, what I really love is being able to expose the boys to activities and ideas that they may not have at home in Colorado. Isn’t that what traveling’s all about?

Many of our days are spent at the beach, but that’s just a snippet of how the boys spend their time on the island.

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Whenever Poppop’s in town, they spend many quality hours on the boat. There are one to two trips a day to check the crab pots in the bay. Sometimes they stay out longer doing a bit of fishing or line-crabbing, but our primary prey is the blue crab. Their scientific name is Callinectes sapidus, and it has the most perfect meaning : calli = beautiful, nectes = swimmer, and sapidus = savory!

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Cooking with Kids : Brownies Hack!

Cooking with Kids is an ongoing series where we share recipes that are easy enough to make with a little kid.  If you’re new to the series, here’s our first post that provides our detailed tips for cooking with little ones; subsequent posts are less detailed, but each contains recipe-specific ideas for working with your little ones in the kitchen.

Ugg, our first Cooking with Kids post was exactly two years ago this month! Look at that wee little two-year-old Alex! I can hardly handle it. I’m also realizing that there have not been nearly enough of these posts, and we really have to get Luc in on the action.

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Putting my nostalgia aside, this post is definitely a hack in the whole Cooking with Kids series. We aren’t making anything from scratch and you may say that we’re barely cooking, BUT I think this simple cooking exercise has some serious independence value for impressionable kids.

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Colorado Roadtrip : Pagosa to Ouray

You can find more of our Colorado adventures here, and if you like travel posts, we have a lot! We took this road trip in our *new* van (can’t wait to tell you more about it); this post gives you a little overview of what we pack in the van. And here are some of our basic tips for camping with kids.

Yesterday I shared a glimpse of our 36 hours in Great Sand Dunes, today I’m sharing from the rest of our trip as we visited Pagosa, Ouray, and the scenic highways in between!

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First up, the most breathtaking pit-stop that we made for a certain 4 y.o. that had to go. Look at those cliffs! This is somewhere east of Pagosa along US route 160. I stayed neared the van where Luc was sleeping while Alex and Calder took a short walk to stretch their legs. Can you see them in the first pic? They’re just little dots holding hands and being careful not to lose each other down the cliff.

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First Bikes for Kids

There’s no doubt about it, we are a biking family. Did you see our recent ride in Rocky Mountain National Park (that was my Mother’s Day treat, and I couldn’t have been happier!)?

Calder’s the intense guy you’ve passed in your car; the one riding up the steepest of mountains and making it look like it’s no effort at all. In my heyday, I biked all of Philly & Boston and was so proud when my car would sit unused for a week at a time.Thanks to the generosity of my mom, we were early adopters of the TAGA. When we moved to Boulder, C added an extra basket so that I could do all of my grocery shopping and errands via the bike. I have such fond memories of getting to know our new city by riding the bike paths with Alex! I would still bike everywhere if I could, but kids and living on the mountain make it a challenge. Continue reading

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Easter Basket Idea : Bugs!

I’m so excited about this post! It may leave some of you squirming in your seats, but this sort of themed gift with unexpected items makes me so happy.

If you’ve been following us for a little while, you know that the boys in my house are really into bugs (and any animal, really).  They like looking at them, holding them, talking, and reading about them. Our boys are 2 and 4, so I geared this basket theme for that age, but I do think this basket could easily be scaled up or down depending upon the books you choose.

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The basket above looks innocent enough, right? Look closer, and you’ll see the edible insects!

When I saw packs edible of insects at our local nature center, I was so excited to pick up a few boxes for the boys! And since Easter’s right around the corner, I realized that they would make perfect crazy treats for their baskets.

I love the idea of introducing them to edible insects at this age because they are adventurous eaters… they already think that they’re eating worms when they eat long pieces of pork in the fried rice from our local restaurant. (We’re either awesome or horrible parents.) Anyway, I’m hoping these edible insects will be well-received and lead to conversations about eating bugs and how people in different parts of the world eat bugs every day. And, it’ll also give me a good excuse to show them some of Sarah’s photos from the Thai markets!

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Teachable Moments : Letters

Living with kids, we’re realizing that there are teachable moments all around us! So we’re turning them into a blog series. Example number 1 : BUGS!

I guess it was about a year ago, when Alex was just turning three, that we started to pay more attention to letters. It began with singing the alphabet and spelling his name, and then we started to help him identify the letters all around him : pointing out letters that we saw on daily adventures, spelling words on packages and in store windows, and it’s snowballed from there.

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Early on, we realized that we could minimize a lot of letter confusion if we just stuck to one case, and for now our focus is on uppercase letters. They’re everywhere! 😉

And in this post I wanted to share a few of the fun ways that we’ve increased the letter play in our house. Continue reading

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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 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?

*This post contains affiliate links.
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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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Cooking with Kids : Ginger Cookies

Cooking with Kids is an ongoing series where we share recipes that are easy enough to make with a two-year-old. If you’re new to the series, our first post that provides our detailed tips for cooking with little ones; subsequent posts are less detailed, but each contains recipe-specific ideas for working with your little ones in the kitchen.

Ahhh, I meant to share this post before Christmas so that you could add yet another cookie to your baking list, but time got away from me, so here we are with a delicious ginger cookie that tastes just as good on a cold day in January as it would during the hustle and bustle of Christmas.

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And I’m still smiling about how this came to be my favorite ginger cookie recipe. Calder’s sister made them a few years ago at Thanksgiving. That first batch was delicious and reminded me of the ginger chews that I used to buy in Trader Joe’s. I was so smitten that I asked for the recipe. She sent it along, and from her notes, I could see that it came from the grandma of a good friend. As I was baking these with Alex, I looked more closely at the bottle (more on that below) and realized that the recipe on the Grandma’s Molasses bottle matched the recipe I was making! Ingredient for ingredient and word for word. So, maybe you already know this recipe?

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Cooking with Kids : Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin is our ingredient of the season. We have all sorts of sweet and savory dishes, as well as a face mask to wear while drinking your lattes. Cooking with Kids is an ongoing series where we share recipes that are easy enough to make with a two-year-old. If you’re new to the series, read our first post that provides our detailed tips for cooking with little ones; subsequent posts are less detailed.

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You may have seen these pumpkin muffins on Instagram, they spent Halloween week masquerading around the house as spiders. After browsing the Halloween baking supplies on sale, Alex picked out the spider holders, and they dictated our afternoon baking activity.

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It had been a couple of weeks since Alex helped Calder and I in the kitchen (somehow we had even skipped our usual weekend pancake session), and I didn’t realize how much he was yearning for some kitchen time until we started these muffins. The kiddo went ballistic when I put “his” measuring cup and spoon in front of him. I wish I had a recording of his excited giggles/yelps.

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In the first Cooking with Kids post, I mentioned using my phone to look up recipes while in the kitchen. While I do get recipes online, I’m proud to say that just as often I’m using cookbooks as my source. For this particular recipe (and much of my basic baking), I used the King Arthur Flour Baker’s Companion. I recently read an article about how kids today aren’t getting the experience of using phone books, dictionaries, and other physical resources because so often we just search for information online. While I could wax poetic about how much I love cookbooks for their recipe ideas, inspirational photos, and stories, I think Alex will pick up on all of those details himself if I just keep the books around and continue using them during our kitchen adventures.

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King Arthur doesn’t have a recipe for pumpkin muffins, but it does have reliable recipe for banana chocolate chip muffins with whole wheat flour. I just subbed pumpkin puree for the banana and white chocolate chips for the semi-sweet. I might have stuck with chocolate chips if we had any, but the white ended up being a delicious alternative, adding an an indulgent candy sweetness to these hearty muffins.

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On this particular day, I decided to let Alex try using the can opener. I knew (and I’m sure you do too), that there’s no way he would be strong enough to operate our basic opener, but sometimes I think it’s nice for him to figure out what we can’t do on his own rather than having me always telling him. With a two-year-old, letting them try can actually make your days a lot more peaceful because you won’t have the whole “you can’t do it/you’re too little”, “but i want to/whining” back and forth. Instead, they try, fail, and then we use “teamwork!” to open the can together.

After opening the can (and reminding Alex that the edges were sharp), I gave him a spoon and let him measure out the pumpkin. He started scooping the pumpkin into the measuring cup, but after a few minutes, the temptation was too much, and he ended up tasting the puree. One taste led to two and three, and he completely lost interest in measuring out the puree, so I finished the task. That was no big deal at all. I could have tried to keep him on task, but why cause a fuss that would stop him from eating the healthy pumpkin?

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Other than the pumpkin, the rest of our baking proceeded as normal. Alex measured and sampled. He smelled the cinnamon. He sampled, and spit out, the salt. He ate a few walnuts and a few white chocolate chips.

Pumpkin Muffins

Pumpkin Muffins

Ingredients

  • 8 Tbsp butter
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp nutmeg
  • 3/4 cup pumpkin puree
  • 1/2 cup milk
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 cup white flour
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup white chocolate chips
  • 1 cup walnuts, chopped

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 350F.
  2. Cream together the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer. Scrape down the bowl and then beat in the egg, cinnamon, nutmeg, pumpkin, and milk.
  3. In a separate bowl, whisk together the dry ingredients, and then gentle mix them into the pumpkin mixture.
  4. Spoon the batter into 12 muffin cups (grease the muffin cups if not using papers). Bake the muffins for 20 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove the muffins from the oven and cool for 10 minutes before removing them from the pan.
http://liveseasoned.com/cooking-kids-pumpkin-muffins/

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Bake these muffins, I promise they are anything but scary! Of course, if you’re looking to add a bit of spook to your table, we found the spider holders at Michael’s.

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