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At Home with Nature

Children running on meadow at sunset

My childhood memories of nature include holding soft baby kitties, bicycling on the dusty gravel road, watching ants in the grass, hanging upside down in the swing in the big oak tree, collecting rocks, and digging tunnels in snow drifts. What are your favorite outdoor memories? Did you know that those experiences, in an unstructured, extended time frame, form the foundation of curiosity, learning and development of empathy? Scooping and dumping sand, making mud pies and stacking wood scraps were how you might have begun to learn physics and mathematics? Climbing a tree, running on uneven ground and carrying branches help a child develop body awareness, strength and visual spatial skills. Want your kid to be able to parallel park when he learns to drive? Give him outdoor experiences manipulating large natural materials and chances are he’ll be at the head of his driver’s ed – or graphic design – class. Kids also learn to manage risk and problem solve when they have early experiences in natural settings. Pokémon Go the virtual reality game may be a way to get kids outdoors, however unless they pay attention to the surroundings and explore those spaces, it does not substitute for actual experience with nature. Geocaching is another way for families to explore the out of doors.

I’ve been a certified Nature Explore trainer since 2009.  Thousands of Iowa early childhood professionals – teachers, child care providers, naturalists, parks and rec staff and parents – have learned to use tested design principles to help children connect to nature. Imagine my joy when I was invited to participate in a research project on Nature Explore backyards in Iowa City.  It was magical to watch  families embrace the concepts and open their backyards to transformation.  My memory of watching a toddler explore sound in his family’s new outdoor ‘classroom’ sustains me whenever I do a design consultation or teach a workshop. Excerpts from that research are in the book At Home with Nature.

My own backyard contains the Nature Explore principles and I’m having fun seeing how they will change over time as my 16 month old granddaughter grows up. Watching her pick and eat berries for the first time, check out the wren’s nest and sing back to the momma and papa birds, stack river stones, fill a pail with pinecones, turn sea shells over and over in her tiny hands and swing in the mosquito netting hammock all fill my heart with gratitude and hope for her future.

How do you help your kids connect to nature?

Kristi Cooper

Kristi Cooper

Kristi’s expertise in caregiving, mind body skills and nature education inspires her messages about healthy people and environments with parents, professionals, and community leaders.

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Dirt and Kids Go Hand in Hand

Beautiful child with sunflower in spring fieldConfession. I am not a gardener. Well, I’m not a vegetable gardener. I can grow a mean hibiscus and a lovely tulips but vegetables stump me. Its not that I don’t day dream about growing a bountiful garden, I just haven’t quite figured out how to get started. So in an effort to set the stage for the rest of the month I want to first say, “you don’t have to do it all”.

If you had a chance to listen to the podcast you heard about all the great things that children learn from gardening. Truth be told, they can also learn many of those things while caring for flowers and house plants as well. So before you say, “This month isnt’ for me”, consider the live plants that you may already have. Consider the flowers you may currently be watering. Substitute them for the gardening ideas (except for the eating part).

Share with your children how to keep they happy and healthy. Teach them how to put them in sunlight or shade. Ask them questions as you thin, separate and re-pot them. Tell them about the benefits of growing green plants in an indoor environment as well as outdoor. And most importantly don’t give up on the the fact that you really are a gardener. I haven’t.

Let us know about your green thumb.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Remember when…

I remember every summer camp experience I had. I only had a few but I REMEMBER! There were pivotal things that happened at each one. They shaped me. They were so important to me that as an adult I have attended a camp with my children for the last 5 years in a row. Not so much to create an experience for them, but to create experiences for all of the children attending. I LOVE CAMP! Can you hear me practically dancing on the keyboard as I type? You should have seen/heard me trying to speak slower for the podcast! My excitement over the possibilities that children have during camp experiences knows no boundaries. I’m even rambling now. So many organizations understand the importance of camp that they have scholarships, grants and monetary support systems to ensure children have opportunities.

Share your camp experiences with us. And if you really want to make a difference – find a camp near you and help a child enjoy it!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Summer Camp

86489804-campers280The 4-H camp, sports camp and music camp brochures are arriving and the kids are begging for a summer adventure. But other than fun, is there any value to camp?

According to the American Camping Association, more than 8 million kids attend summer camp every year. So obviously camps are an attractive summer activity for many families.

We’ll take a look at some research on whether camp experiences can contribute to the healthy development of young people.

During May, we will examine the research and discuss how to help children choose an appropriate camp. Join us!

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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Under the Stars

The hot weather has sent people scurrying indoors to the AC. It’s just been too uncomfortable to enjoy many of the usual outdoor family fun activities. The temps normally cool down in the evenings so maybe we could look for some fun under the stars.

I remember my mother talking about when she was a child back in the 1930s. It was so unbearably hot in the house that at night they pulled mattresses outside to sleep, hoping for a cool breeze. When our girls were young we laid blankets in the front yard. Then we would stretch out for some rest punctuated by lots of giggles and interesting conversations.

This is a family fun activity that parents and kids of all ages can enjoy. Grab some blankets, cool drinks (maybe even a snack), and head outside. Allow everyone to get situated and then see what happens.

Use this as a chance to talk about the stars. Don’t worry if you’re not up on what is where – there’s an app for that on your computer or smartphone or stop by the library for a book.

As the mood quiets and the night grows deeper, just be present and allow the conversations to go where they may. There is something almost magical about a beautiful summer night that allows people to share their thoughts and feelings.

When was the last time your family spent time under the stars? Why not tonight?

Donna Donald

Donna Donald

Donna Donald is a Human Sciences specialist for Iowa State University Extension and Outreach who has spent her career working with families across the lifespan. She believes families are defined by function as well as form. Donna entered parenthood as a stepmother to three daughters and loves being a grandmother of seven young adults.

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Frogs, Crawdads and Other Slimy Things

I have 3 girls and do you want to know what we love to do for family fun?  It’s not very girlie!  Hunt and peck around in the mud at ponds! Overturning rocks to find crawdads. Moving the branches to find the frogs on the edge of the pond. Watching the turtles duck under the water when they see us coming.

We love to find and watch and listen to all the sights and sounds of local ponds. There is so much to see if you get down and look. You don’t have to get dirty just get closer to the grass and trees and rocks and water and really look. It’s a whole new world with new adventures when you are that close.

Family fun that includes nature can be fantastically exciting and fabulously FREE!

What are some idea you have when it comes to enjoying nature as a family? Let’s start a list…

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Lori Hayungs, M.S.

Mother of three. Lover of all things child development related. Fascinated by temperament and brain development. Professional background with families, child care providers, teachers and community service entities.

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