Some children hate bugs, they think they are disgusting or scary. That’s why I love our annual preschool bug hunt in the woods. The children look for bugs, find out about them, collect them in bug jars and bring them back to observe in a terrarium for a few weeks.
In our front garden we have a wildflower border. As we pass it each day we look out for bees, ladybirds and butterflies. When we found aphids on the lupins, we hoped they would attract ladybirds.
“Why can’t we spray them?” my daughter asked. She had been learning about aphids at school.
“If we spray them”, I explained, it will disrupt the ecosystem, “the ladybirds won’t come and ladybirds are good food for birds. If we kill off all the bugs we will have fewer birds and small mammals in the garden.”
They don’t like every bug – they are a little afraid of spiders, think mosquitoes are a nuisance and my youngest is a little unsure about worms but they don’t see that as a reason to kill them. We know the worms in our compost bin turn our scraps into compost for the garden , spiders can be left alone if they live outside and they are good because they eat flies and even mosquitoes provide food for bats and birds. This is a useful resource for explaining to children why bugs are good.
There are two kinds of bug we don’t collect on the bug hunt.
Termites because they will eat our preschool. The children know that termites are important for breaking down old wood from fallen trees but they need to stay in the woods.
2. Slugs because they will eat all the produce we have planted. There is plenty of food for them in the woods.
There were other bugs to collect.
Lots of worms and millipedes.
and evidence of caterpillars munching leaves.
We looked up
We saw evidence of how the bugs break down an old tree log so that it can go back into the soil.
It gets smaller every year, we used to be able to fit inside.
Sometimes it is useful to add a focus to a walk and those tiny bugs can easily be forgotten, so next time you walk with your kids, turn over some logs and stones and see what you can find.
On our walk to school every day, my daughter loves to stop and look at leaves and flowers, to take a short cut through the woods or to save worms stranded on the path. Often there isn’t enough time to stop and share her observations and wonders. It is important therefore, that I make time to walk with her when we aren’t constrained by time.
Last week, when I was out running, we spotted ducklings on the local pond. I decided to take a walk and see what other babies we could find.
Our first observation was a deep, vibrating sound, a little like a honking goose. The sound followed us but we couldn’t see anything. We thought perhaps it was a type of frog or maybe a bug.
We sat on the bank and watched the ducks come in and out of the water.
As we carried on around the pond, we came across a family of geese.
We watched them until they swam away. Passing a smaller pond,we decided to rest there a while, watching the birds and dragonflies. We noticed ladybirds on the lupins. Looking closer, we could see the leaves and stems were covered in aphids. On the centre of one leaf was a pair of ladybirds, who proceeded to fight, just like in the ‘Bad Tempered Ladybird’ by Eric Carle.
As we sat watching the ladybirds, the geese came swooping across the sky and landed in the pond with a splash.
The spring baby theme has continued. We found a salamander with its eggs in a friends back garden, a newt in the drain and a tiny frog in our worm composter.
The birds are building a nest in our bird box and we expect to hear the babies soon.
We noticed that the frog spawn has gone from the storm water pond and if you look closely you can see tiny tadpoles swimming.
To top it all off, the horse at preschool finally gave birth to a foal.
However simple, the wildlife we see around us every day, is a constant source of wonder. I hope my children will always see the world this way.
This photograph depicts what all childhood should be; full of the magic and excitement of the unexplored. It reminds me of the magical tales of Enid Blyton that inspired me to pretend to run away to the woods, when I was a child. My friends and I would sometimes pack a picnic or a bag of sweets and sit deep in the trees, listening to the streams and waiting for magic to happen.
A few weeks ago I went for a walk to the park with my daughter. She likes to climb to the top of the climbing frame and play pirates. The game involves roaming the edges of the park for interesting treasures and on this day, she discovered big rocks. She proceeded to pick them up and roll them down the bank, watching them crash at the bottom. The only other child at the park was a little younger than my daughter and after observing her for a while, she found her own rock. She used all of her efforts to lift the rock and proudly show it to her mum. At which point, she was greeted with a look of horror and her mum quickly took the rock away and ushered her to ‘more suitable’ pursuits.
This kind of reaction is very familiar. When my children were toddlers, other parents would often ask me if my children were okay when they climbed a ladder and slid down the longest slide, as I observed from a distance. I have never been a parent to shadow my child’s every move and rarely feel the need to step in.
It is always refreshing to find a parent who shares my attitude. On a recent trip to the park with a friend, I was so happy to find someone who not only didn’t bat an eyelid when my eldest started paddling barefooted in the cold wet mud but actively encouraged the others to join in. When the children threw rocks on the ground to see if they would break , she gave them advice on how to do it safely, rather than stopping them because it was too dangerous.
You are my kind of mum friend because you let all these experiences happen.
And when you let these things happen, with a little bit of support they will have the courage to jump.
You might only consider visiting Alki Beach in Summer when the children want to swim and soak up the sun, but there are many things to do when visiting out of season. Alki beach is more than just a beach, it also has great historical significance. Alki Beach is the site of the landing of the first white settlers in Seattle on a cold, stormy day in November of 1851. Chief Seattle and his tribe greeted them and helped them build their cabin to stave off the cold, wet winter.
You may be lucky and end up with a surprisingly warm, Spring day as we did. Some attractions, like speciality bikes, aren’t available until Easter and the ferry to Seattle only runs on weekdays but in some ways this gives children more chance to stop and take in the simple things. Here are some of the things my children enjoyed.
Build a sandcastle
The first thing my kids want to do when they see sand is build a sandcastle. They found shells and feathers to decorate it and we had to judge whose was the best.
2. Climb on Driftwood
Alki Beach has an abundance of driftwood and uprooted trees for little climbers.
3. Let the Air Vents Blow your Clothes and Hair
4. Visit the Miniature Statue of Liberty
The Statue of Liberty, a small replica of the original “Liberty Enlightening the World” in New York City, was a gift from Reginald H. Parsons and the Seattle Council of the Boy Scouts of America in 1952. The statue has become such a symbol of liberty and courage that it became a place to mourn, to reflect, and to leave mementos after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001.
5. Follow the Avenue of Stars
if you continue along the path past the lighthouse you will reach a stretch of path where all the constellations are marked along the path. Great for an evening stroll as in the spring as you won’t have to wait too long for the stars to come out.
6. Search for Signs of Marine Life
All along the trail are signs outlining the wildlife you may find. Seal pups are common between June and September but even in March you may see evidence of seals, sea otters or whales in the water. The girls were excited to see seagulls and enjoyed pretending to be seals.
7. Stop for Ice Cream
Not just any ice cream, Italian fair trade, organic gelato from Gelarto
8. Find the Little Lighthouse
Lighthouse tours are available during the Summer at weekends.
We’ll definitely head back soon with our bikes, scooters and roller blades for a safe and beautiful place to practice.
Occasionally, you come across an unexpected treasure. Anticipating a fleeting look around the Bainbridge Art Museum with the children in tow, I was pleased when the assistant greeted the children warmly and entrusted them with a task. The children were given a list of thirty animals that were hidden in Nancy Thorne Chambers’ ceramic installation ‘A Story Place’. If they could find them all, they would be rewarded with a special prize.
Motivated by the prize at hand they made their way to the exhibit. They worked together to find the life-sized animals , studying every angle of the exhibit. They were captivated by the detail and wondered how something so delicate was made and transported to the museum. The animals are reminiscent of Beatrix Potter characters and took me back to my childhood passion for those stories.
My favourite piece was the mole wrapped up in the girl’s sock and the children loved the girl and boy mouse, huddled together with their tiny tea tray.
A Story Place remains at Bainbridge Art Museum until June and is worth seeing if you are visiting Bainbridge Island with children. Entry to the museum is free of charge so visiting this installation alone is worthwhile.
The children were equally compelled by the adult exhibits. It’s easy to assume that children will find art galleries boring but their fascinated faces reminded me that children often find pleasure in unexpected places.
They were mesmerised by models that fold into boxes by Nancy Smith-Venturi and wouldn’t leave until they had seen the slide show of the whole collection.
The younger children wanted to understand each of the models and read the descriptions with interest.
‘What does this one say?’ asked my youngest pointing to a textile on the wall. I read the description. ‘How does it look like wind?’ she asked. ‘It could be because it moves’ I replied ‘ but you might see something different, you don’t have to see the same thing as the artist.
The girls were completely absorbed by the museum and we spent a leisurely few hours there. I think we may have discovered a new passion.
When I ask the girls where they would like to go, a popular response is the zoo. In the UK we were members of Bristol Zoo and visited there regularly. Having membership made our visits more relaxed, we didn’t have to run around trying to see every animal and if the children wanted to play in the playground all day that was fine too.
Woodland Park Zoo is more spacious than the zoo back home so we are able to see larger animals. Recently, we were invited to Woodland Park to see some of the activities available in the Zoomazium – a nature inspired play space for the under 8’s. To be honest we have always avoided Zoomazium during previous visits, expecting it to be a large, noisy soft play. I was pleasantly surprised however, to see a mix of play spaces and activities. There is a designated space for toddlers, fully enclosed and safe, with a library area to the side. The children can also explore the cricket exhibit.
The play area for older children has rope bridges, places to climb and lots of little caves that are perfect for hide and seek. There are also tables with toys for building, a stage area and a sensory area to explore.
Zoomazium is the perfect place to explore if you want to escape the heat (or cold) for a while but it is also a good starting point for your visit to the zoo. Creature Feature occurs every morning at 10.30 and encourages children to get close to some of the smaller animals at the zoo and learn about them from zoo staff. Our visitor was an armadillo.
My favourite Zoomazium offering was activity backpacks that the little ones can take with them around the zoo. Each one has a different theme and they are packed with activities, toys, books, magnifiers and things to look out for during your visit. After a lot of deliberation,the girls chose one each; the back yard and big cats.
I love the design of the backpacks, they look so cool and we had lots of comments as we wandered around. The backyard backpack had a number of activities to complete in the backyard of the Zoomazium or when exploring the rest of the zoo.
The big cats backpack was a good starting point for exploring the new Banyan Wilds exhibit.
Having the backpacks, encouraged us to take it slowly as the girls wanted to stop and take in the contents of their packs.
The squirrel puppet from the Backyard pack was a definite favourite and was a constant companion.
Completed activities can be traded for Nature points at Zoomazium’s Nature Exchange. The points can be exchanged for interesting, rocks, fossils and natural materials on display. Nature loving children can also create projects at home to earn additional points. Older children are not left out, there are activity sheets to suit all ages. My eldest chose a worksheet relating to the otter exhibit.
Our favourite part of the day was having the opportunity to feed animals. Bird seed on sticks can be purchased for $1 and the birds fly down to feed from your hand.
The best experience of all though was getting close to the giraffes and hand feeding them. The keeper was great at encouraging the children to ask questions and it was a truly memorable experience for all that I will definitely do again. Giraffe feeding is $5 per person and under 5’s go free with a paying adult.
A day at the zoo was perfect for my nature explorers.
Zoo membership is perfect for families with young children. There are a number of membership options to suit different needs and admission is free for children under 3.
Right from the Start readers can benefit from a special offer.
Quote MOM15 at checkout to receive a 10% discount plus entry into a draw to win 2 giraffe feeding tickets and 2 tickets for a carousel ride.
Disclaimer: Complimentary tickets for 4 people were received. All opinions are my own and we were under no obligation to write about our visit.
Regular readers will remember that when I moved to the US, I struggled to find a preschool that I was entirely happy with. I became so disillusioned that I decided to home preschool for a year. I’d lost faith of ever finding a preschool that valued play, independence and individuality above academics and rigid schedules until a friend told me of a preschool situated on a farm. The preschool shared my belief that children learn best by doing things that have relevance in their lives through exploring, discovering and creating.
The school is so popular that it was a whole year before I had a chance to visit and see the school for myself. Children were busy pulling apart sunflower heads on the covered deck area whist others moved freely between the different activities indoors and outdoors. The teacher’s enthusiasm and passion for both the children and the setting was evident immediately and a bubble of excitement rose up within me. Our name was put on the waiting list for Sept 2015 but before Christmas a place became available in the co-op class so finally my youngest daughter had the chance to attend. This was perfect as I also had the chance to be involved in this wonderful experience as a parent helper.
There was little doubt in my mind that this was the perfect preschool for my outdoor loving daughter. My expectations were high. I have been fortunate to teach at a highly acclaimed nursery in the UK and to visit the best preschools in my local authority as an advisory teacher. My experience of this school has surpassed all my expectations, I couldn’t have hoped for a more perfect preschool for my daughter and I am only sad that my older daughters didn’t have a chance to go there. After she started, it just seemed to get better. Regularly she would come home covered from head to toe in mud. To some parents this would be horrific but to me it meant she had the freedom to be herself and have fun.
Being a part of the co-op class means that I get to help out once a month. This is the most exciting part for me as I get to join in. I love the covered deck area which enables the children to play outdoors all year. The children explore the whole farm for the 2nd part of the session, mud, water, animals, climbing and balancing. They are actively encouraged to take risks.
What makes it so perfect?
1. Children are individuals
Small classes and the dedication and experience of the teacher, mean that she understands each child as an individual. My daughter who is uncomfortable speaking in a group or to unfamiliar adults is given time to think about what she wants to say, often being presented with a question at the start of a session and returning for a response later. The child who hates to get his hands dirty is offered alternative tools and all the materials are open-ended so that children can use them as they see fit.
2.Children are competent
Children are always encouraged to try things for themselves, even when they ask for help they are first encouraged to try. The children are trusted to use adult tools for woodworking and tinkering, peeling vegetables and cooking. The teacher shows them how to use the tools safely and responsibly and thereon in they are trusted with them. The children cook their own green eggs and ham on the tiny stove, they dig with metal shovels, they observe candle flames and peel carrots with a peeler. Outside they are permitted to climb trees, feed the animals, hold guinea pigs and dig in the mud. The children are trusted to handle precious materials like birds eggs, chicks and nests.
This tinker table is always available. I regularly see children sawing pieces of wood placed in the clamps, hammering nails or taking apart electronics with a screwdriver. In the nursery I taught at we had a tool bench with real tools but we weren’t confident enough to leave it out all of the time. I have never seen a child have an accident or do anything dangerous with the tools.
3. The Preschool fosters understanding and respect for nature.
Many of the activities involve the natural rhythms of the farm, collecting the produce, understanding the cycles of the plants and learning about the animals and creatures they find.
After the first few sessions, my daughter told me they had unicorns at preschool but that it was too small to have grown a horn yet. A preschool with unicorns? Could it get anymore magical?
4. Children’s thoughts and opinions are important
Each session the children are asked a question and the answers are recorded for parents to read on the wall outside. The children listen to each others responses and discuss them with respect. The children’s choices are respected as they are presented with a number of activities to choose from at leisure. They also have opportunities to choose the songs they will sing and are confident at asking for things. The children are offered a snack, they choose when and if they would like to eat it .
5. They have fun.
Best of all, I feel that my daughter experiences something here that she would never have the chance to experience elsewhere. I feel so fortunate to have found this preschool and that my daughter has one more year there. When our time is over I will be so sad but I hope I can remember her teacher’s words of wisdom.
I knew my youngest children would learn to read and write in the US and as a result I would have to accept that they would spell differently and use American phrases and grammar. There are some unexpected differences however that I hadn’t considered.
A few days ago my 4-year-old remarked,
“Mummy, all the other children at preschool don’t write t’s properly”
“Really! Can you show me”
It is a bit like an x, like this……
My youngest is 4, I taught her to write her name but it never crossed my mind that letter formation might be different here.
I asked my kindergartener
” Do you write a curly bit on the bottom of the letter t at school?”
“No we do it like a cross”
I checked with the teacher and she explained that they use the ball and stick method where letters such as t, w and y use straight lines rather than curves as they feel it is easier for the young children to master. It is one of many differences that I hadn’t anticipated.
I always believed the transition would be most difficult for my eldest, who went to school in England until she was 8, so learned to read, spell and write ‘the English way’. The first thing she noticed, was that punctuation had different names; full stops were periods and brackets became parentheses. We were really keen that she wouldn’t lose her knowledge of British spelling, so school agreed that she could learn both. As an avid reader and proficient speller this wasn’t really difficult.
Choosing books wasn’t simple either. Most books by British authors are rewritten for an American audience. When we borrow books by British authors from the library or buy books here, they are American versions. My daughter is really eager to maintain her ‘Britishness’, so we often order books from the UK. This way she can still read books with British spelling and vocabulary and is able to read literature from both cultures. Tonight we read an American translation of Pippi Longstocking. This was my daughter’s favourite book for many years, so she knew much of the text by heart. Every time she spotted a difference, she would quote the British text. In the end we got her old battered copy down to compare. I was surprised that though the meaning remained the same, the texts were very different. The monkeys name was different and the language in the British version was more detailed and poetic (although I am sure that the original Swedish is even more rich).
“A remarkable child” said one of the sailors, wiping a tear from his eye when Pippi disappeared from view. (British translation)
” A remarkable child” said one of the sailors as Pippi disappeared in the distance (American translation)
My daughter’s desire to maintain her British identity isn’t without its pitfalls. Once she was marked down in a piece of writing because she referred to a ladybird rather than a ladybug (which I felt was a little harsh).
I thought things would be simpler for the younger ones because they started school here but they have been faced with different challenges:
1. The alphabet ends with zee (my daughter has decided that it makes more sense the American way because the song rhymes).
2. What sound does a short ‘o’ make? To us it is o as in fox, box and top but American pronunciation is different, instead it makes the sound a as in fax, bax or tap. Confusing but also a little amusing to the girls who still have perfect English accents. I think I was fortunate that my daughter was beginning to read when she went to school and had already learned basic phonics so this wasn’t too much of an issue.
3. School reading books have American phrases which to a Brit’s ears sound totally wrong and often make me shudder. An examples from today’s reading book is :
Let’s go find Leo.
The omission of “ly’ at the end of adverbs is common as in ‘We need to be real quick’. I suppose one positive is that the girls generally notice and remark that it sounds different. When my daughter reads a word that we don’t use, she substitutes it for the British word “I’m just going to say mum not mom”.
4. Sometimes they complete worksheets where they have to circle pictures that begin with particular letters. This can be confusing if the British word is different from the American or if it is something traditionally American like baseball equipment.
On the whole I think the girls awareness of the differences gives them a far richer experience of the written word. It certainly gives us a lot to talk about.
‘ Let’s just go camping for our Summer holiday this year’
Hold on a moment, did those words really come from my mouth? Until my mid twenties I recoiled in horror at the thought of camping. After I left girl guide camp half way through the week because I hated it so much, I convinced myself that camping wasn’t for me. In truth, I didn’t hate it at all. A rumour that newcomers would be pushed in the cesspit if they didn’t pass initiation had worried me so much that I begged to go home. My views changed after a few great camping trips as an adult but I’d never have considered a camping trip for my main holiday.
A yearning to explore the beauty of the Pacific Northwest, good weather and the children’s eagerness to go camping, convinced me it was a good idea. An eight hour car journey with a canoe on top of the car, three young children, a dog and a heatwave; perhaps I had lost my mind?
Amazingly, the car journey was fine. The first couple of hours were spent playing ‘would you rather….’ and guessing the names of characters from books or screen. The rest of the journey we listened to cd’s of musicals and admired the view.
Our destination Curlew Lake State Park, chosen for its beauty, a place for the children to swim and for my husband and the girls to go fishing. “Fishing!” I hear my 20- year-old self, with an irrational fear of fish exclaim, ” are you intent on sending me on the holiday from hell?” Strangely none of those sentiments cross my mind as we set up the tent in a quiet corner of the campsite on the shore of the Lake.
Without a shop or a playground in sight, would the children be happy? For now the excitement of sleeping in a sleeping bag, cooking outside and trying to catch their first fish fuelled their enthusiasm.
They were eager to go to the beach to swim. I was amazed that we were the only people on the beach. The ground wasn’t soft like the lake at home but filled with slippery algae. It didn’t put them off. They used the algae and stones to create patterns on the ground and then set up their own foot spa, spreading the algae over their feet and washing it off.
I sat and watched from a distance, joining in when they asked me to. At that moment I knew why this holiday was no longer my biggest nightmare. The children were immersed in the moment, playing, discovering and sharing. In the distance, my husband was on the lake in the canoe and I was here in a rare moment of quiet. This wasn’t one of those family holidays where we rushed to cram in every little experience. I’m sure that these unhurried moments are the ones they will remember most.
There was a child went forth everyday,
And the first object he look’d upon, that object he became.
And that object became part of him for the day or a certain part of the day, Or for many years or stretching cycles of years.
They found magic in the simple things.
Look I think Eeyore has been here
Maybe it’s his barbecue?
Really! Do you think so?
My eldest had big girl time with dad, paddling the canoe at sunrise. Nights weren’t the most restful we had ever had, with five people and a dog in the same tent but there are few things more peaceful than the middle of a lake in the early morning.
It didn’t take us long to understand the rhythms of nature; the time of day that the deer would wander down the hill to visit, geese would fly across the lake, fish would start to bite or that darkness would fall.
Sometimes though, nature takes you by surprise. One night, as we were snuggled in the porch of the tent telling stories, the poles holding the porch open, fell down. As if from nowhere, the winds whipped up and tugged at the tent. Before we knew it dad and big sister had us zipped up inside while they battled against the wind and dust to secure the tent. I tried to drown out the rangers talk of trees blowing down, by telling the story of ‘My Favourite Things’ from the ‘Sound of Music’ and singing. Enraptured, the little ones soon forgot about the storm. They implored me to tell the story of ‘The Sound of Music’- the whole story, all 3 hours of it complete with every song. Thankfully the storm was short, the tent and trees survived and unlike my 11-year old self, I didn’t get the urge to run home.
One of the reasons for choosing Curlew Lake was the fishing, so in the early evenings we took the canoe out to explore the lake and try to catch fish. The girls had only ever caught small fish and were eager to catch one they could eat. Our family trips in the canoe lacked the quiet and patience needed to catch anything of note. However, on the last day their wish came true. Our neighbouring campers, who visit every year to fish, offered to take us out in their boat and help the girls to catch trout. The fish came one after the other.
Then the fish got bigger
They were so proud of their catch.
After the holiday, fishing has become a regular pastime. When dad goes out on his own, the girls greet him eagerly to see if he has caught anything we can eat. Other times, we all go to the lake together and mix up fishing with swimming and playing. On a recent trip, we explored the river bank , a place we probably would never have visited if it weren’t for fishing . Watching the girls excitement at their discoveries and creating with sticks and stones was magical. We returned home with a pile of sticks and ideas for making things with them. Moments like this are important for all of us. Resting our minds through daydreaming and play increases productivity and creativity says Daniel Levitin author of ‘The Organized Mind’. Without time for spontaneity, children lack the mental space to come up with new ideas and ways of doing things.
As I looked out across the river at the jumping fish, the blue skies and the green trees, I could picture an old couple; man fishing, wife painting the landscape or writing in a notebook. I suppose fishing isn’t so bad after all. I’m happy to spend many more years waiting for the fish.
Look I think someone has been building fairy houses in the trees!
Do you believe in fairies? On a quiet walk around Beaver Lake Park, we discovered that they had taken up residence. Had the fairies crafted their own houses or had someone else built them to entice them in? Either option was equally magical to a 3-year-old. Having recently finished our own fairy garden, she was desperate to build a house herself and ran to fetch her sister. We carefully tiptoed around the trees, discovering at least a dozen fairy houses and rooms.
It took a while to find the perfect tree to build in, untouched but with interesting levels and holes.
Meanwhile on another tree, her sister was building a bridge to reach from one tree stump to the other. We searched for the right sized piece of wood.
They set to work making tables and benches, carefully scouring the area for the perfect materials.
They really wanted to stay but the night was drawing in and mummy was slowly being eaten alive by mosquitos. Every little girl knows that fairies come out at dusk and are afraid of humans. We needed to leave the woods quickly to give the fairies a chance to discover their new home. I wonder what type of fairy will choose to rest there?