June 24

Building a Solar Oven

We did this fun summer project with our kids over the weekend. I’ve been wanting to try this for a while and we were waiting for a nice hot day, of which we seem to have no shortage at the moment. There are lots of directions available on the web, and I put together this project with inspiration from a few websites I came across.

What I like about this particular plan, is that there are a couple of elements which serve as models for how man-made objects and emissions are affecting the climate. So in addition to an engineering experiment, the project serves as a launch pad to a discussion about climate science, in what I think is a non-frightening way.

We used:

  • a solar shield like you would put in a car windshield to keep the heat out (although I think foil wrapped cardboard would have worked just as well)
  • duct tape, which does not stand up to the heat as it turns out, next time I would use binder clips
  • high heat black paint, used to refurbish grills and wood stoves
  • canning jars with lids
  • a plastic oven bag like you might use to roast a turkey
  • an oven thermometer, which is optional, but it was fun to keep track of the temperature

supplies

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June 2

Summer to Do’s

“I like to play indoors better ’cause that’s where all the electrical outlets are,” reports a fourth-grader in Richard Louv’s Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature-Deficit Disorder

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We all know kids spend more time indoors than ever before. We are big believers in the ‘go outside and play’ type of outdoor play constructed entirely by children, rather than directed by adults. However, our kids can become so used to scheduled and planned activities during the school year that they are at a loss when we finally open the doors and set them free. This can lead to either complaints of  ‘there’s nothing to do’ or to kids chasing each other in circles with sticks, Lord of the Flies style.

We compiled this summer bucket list with some of our favorite summer activities to provide a little inspiration on those more challenging days. No complicated or expensive equipment needed. Continue reading

May 20

Bird Watching

He rocks in the tree tops all day long
Hoppin’ and a-boppin’ and a-singing his song
All the little birds on Jaybird Street
Love to hear the robin go tweet tweet tweet…
Rockin Robin by Bobby Day

My thoughtful kids love birds and were introduced to bird watching at their pre-school. Toilet paper rolls, glued together served as their first pair of binoculars, and a bird feeder out the school window provided the activity with blue jays, cardinals, and black capped chickadees. Watching birds encourages kids to experience the world above them. Learning about what birds eat, how they reproduce, the songs they sing is especially magical to young people.

Bird watching is a great family activity.  Together you can practice this hobby anywhere and at any time: in the backyard,  on vacation, at work, at school,  in the city, in the country, at the seashore. Springtime is an especially fun time to watch birds return from their winter homes. They are busy building nests, laying eggs and raising their young.

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May 12

Kids and Chickens

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We’ve been keeping chickens for seven years now, I think, since my oldest was three years old. We started with two and at our largest we had eleven chickens in our flock, including a bantam rooster, but we’ve settled into three laying hens as the perfect number for our egg producing needs.

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Fresh, wholesome eggs from healthy, well-kept chickens are the obvious main benefit of a backyard flock, but I’ve found that there are many more benefits for the children who love and care for their chickens. We ordered our last set of chicks through the mail. They were two days old when they arrived (their after birth yolk sack allows them to survive for up to three days in the mail with no food or water). When they arrived, they didn’t yet know how to eat or drink. We had to dip their beaks in their water to teach them how to drink, and show them their food, (a chicken baby food called starter mash). They have to have a very shallow water dish so that they don’t drown, which meant the kids had to fill it several times a day as well as keep them warm with a heat lamp. Their sense of responsibility for these baby animals was intense.

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May 6

Bike or Walk to School Day

This Wednesday May 7, 2014 is Bike or Walk to School Day! This is great opportunity for thoughtful kids and their families to have fun and to help the earth! Below are some tips to plan for this great day:

  1. Make sure you bike is tuned up, air in the tires, chain lubricated.
  2. Wear a helmet. Both children and parents should wear a helmet when riding a bicycle.
  3. Plan the best trail to get school. Use a bike path or pick a route that has sidewalks or is less heavily traveled by cars.

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April 27

Bee Friendly

“If the Bee Disappeared Off the Face of the Earth, Man Would Only Have Four Years Left To Live.”

This quotation has been attributed to Albert Einstein, Charles Darwin and Maurice Maeterlinck and probably originated in this form from none of these luminaries. It is perhaps a bit hyperbolic, but you get the idea. Bees are crucial to the health of the Earth and the survival of numerous species. If there is one species that exemplifies the interconnectedness of all the Earth’s creatures it may be the bee.

bee sign

Most crops that we eat; tomatoes, squash and apples, nut trees and almost all fruit plants, as well as crops like hay that we feed to livestock rely on bees for pollination.  We have all heard the devastating reports in recent years of bee shortages, and the ravages of colony collapse disorder. You can learn much more about the how and why in this NY Times article about the recent decline in bee populations. You won’t be surprised to hear that pesticides are suspected to be a large part of the problem.

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Category: Nature
April 22

Earth Day

“Every spirit builds itself a house; and beyond its house a world; and beyond its world, a heaven. Know then, that the world exists for you. For you is the phenomenon perfect. What we are, that only can we see. All that Adam had, all that Caesar could, you have and can do. Adam called his house, heaven and earth; Caesar called his house, Rome; you perhaps call yours, a cobbler’s trade; a hundred acres of ploughed land; or a scholar’s garret. Yet line for line and point for point, your dominion is as great as theirs, though without fine names. Build, therefore, your own world.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nature

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Category: Holidays, Nature