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?

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Last Minute Gift for Pre-schoolers

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It’s Christmas week!!! We’ve been having so much fun with Alex this year since he really understands that Christmas is something special, but he’s still asking a lot of questions and trying to make sense of what’s going on around him. “When can we open the presents?” “We get to put the tree in our house?!” “It’s Christmas season, but not Christmas day, right?”

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Summer Essentials : Park Days!

From the popsicles on Monday to cooking with Little A on Tuesday and Sarah’s tips for taking sibling snapshots yesterday, it inadvertently turned into a kid-themed week over here. Meanwhile, Alex, Luc and I are in the middle of an awesome summer of kid fun. What does that mean? Playgrounds and parks. Between naps and rainy day visits to the library, we try to spend as much time outside as we can, so I thought I would share our park/sun essentials.

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Swim/sun suits are the way to go if you have little ones and a park with a fountain. The suits make sunscreen application so easy! … and they aren’t just for kids, my mom just gave me this suit for my birthday. PS. everything on that site is 15% off with the code SUMMER15.

I love all of the cheap options for prescription glasses these days, and am thinking about ordering these sunglasses.

Homemade sunscreen? Check!

Word on the playground is that skorts are a mom’s best friend. I never thought I’d say that, but luckily, there are a lot of great looking and fitting skorts out there. Unfortunately, my current favorite is now sold out, so I can’t buy a dozen more, but this is the “sport” alternative.

Keens are awesome for active little kids. Socks aren’t necessary, they keep feet cool, they are great on dry or wet days, and they dry quickly. The only bummer? They’re targets for stray pebbles.

I always pack a hat, and my favorites are the inexpensive floppy ones.

No matter where we’re going, staying organized is the key to getting out the door quickly. I just bought this small Timbuk2 bag and am so happy to be back on the messenger bag train again, especially when there are so many pockets involved.

And the key to keeping everyone happy in the heat is water. At Christmas time I used Cafe Press to make us a couple of personalized water bottles – they made great stocking stuffers, and now they’re in constant rotation for our park trips.

Little A is such a tough guy that he rarely needs more than a kiss to get back on his feet, but I picked up a couple of these first aid kits just in case we happen upon a bandaid moment. They are compact enough to keep in my bag and in the glove box.


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As is my nature, I try to keep things simple when we head out for the day; it gets us out the door faster and there’s less to keep track of when we’re at the park. Of course, we always pack a snack and my camera :-). What about you? What are your park essentials?

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How to: Photograph Young Siblings

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Family portraits are hard.  There’s a good chance everyone involved has varying levels of interest in taking a great portrait.  I’m usually the one in the bunch groaning, so I’m here to tell you how to make future family shots a little less painful, specifically portraits of young siblings.

It all comes down to making it quick, easy and safe for the little ones.  You’re not going to walk away with fifty amazing portraits, but if you get one great shot, the squawks and squeals are all worth it.  In previous posts, we gave you a primer on photography, newborn portraits and kid candids.  I advise skimming those posts to get a better understanding of light and photography before setting up your mini models.

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Cooking with Kids : Lemon Bread

Lemon is our ingredient of the season! So far we’ve used it in a bucklein bars, in a savory pasta, and in the shower. Oh, and there are two on my counter waiting for our next project!

You don’t have to have a kid to make this Lemon Bread, but it’s more fun messy if you do! As you’ll see, the simplicity of this recipe is what makes it the perfect choice for cooking with an assistant, but it’s also what makes it an easy go-to treat. You can bake a loaf in no time at all for a last minute brunch, but it also stores well, so it’s the perfect tangy treat to make on a Monday and eat it all week long with your afternoon tea break (speaking from experience). Now on with the cuteness ~

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We’ve reached a new milestone in our house : weekly cooking sessions with Alex. It’s no surprise that Calder and I love to cook, and we’ve kept the kitchen open to Little A from the start. We recently turned a corner when it comes to sharing the kitchen with a little guy; at first we were just trying to keep him busy and safe, but now he’s actually helping with the cooking and he understands what’s going on!

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Preparing for Baby #2

As the months and weeks wind down, we’re starting to *think* about how we’ll prepare for our new little guy. When I was pregnant with Alex, I really enjoyed reading other people’s lists of necessary baby gear. Just as each pregnancy/labor/baby is different, so are these lists. Some are over the top with gadgets and gizmos, others are relatively tame. Luckily, Calder and I are on the same page about many things, and minimal baby gear is one of them, so I thought our list might be helpful to other minimalist parents.

Today I wanted to talk about what we needed/will need for the baby in the first few weeks after his arrival, and I’m leaning heavily towards the notion that you don’t need much for a few reasons. I think some expectant parents may find it useful to hear a voice saying that those long lists of “necessary” baby gear, may not be necessary. You don’t have to empty your wallet in order to prepare for a baby. We care deeply about our impact on the environment, and by default, the more you buy, the bigger your environmental footprint. That said, so much early baby gear gets lightly used, and you may be able to find some great second-hand sources for clothes, furniture, swings, and seats; that choice saves you money and saves resources.

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When planning for the new baby’s arrive, I keep two questions in mind : 1. what does an actual newborn do/need? 2. if we don’t have it, but find that we need it, can we easily buy it?

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