Four Ways to Nurture the Love of Nature

Warmer weather is here, so no more excuses from your children on why they can’t get outside. Not only is the weather to be enjoyed but so are the budding trees, flowers, influx of birds, and the arrival of insects are all there to be observed and studied.  

Kids by nature are curious. Unfortunately, in today’s world, kids fill a lot of their natural curiosity with the use of technological devices rather than real experiences.  Likewise, they spend a majority of the time spent on devices inside rooms with recycled (hopefully) air, artificial light, and nothing organic (including experiences).

Most of us who spend time in nature understand the positive effects that it can have on our well-being. Researcher at the University of Utah, David Strayer states, “Now we are seeing changes in the brain and changes in the body that suggest we are physically and mentally healthier when we are interacting with nature.”  And now, we have the science to go along with the emotion. In Japan, a recent study was conducted with individuals who spent time walking in a forest as well as individuals who were assigned to walk in an urban area. The participants who walked in nature had significantly lower heart rates and a “higher heart rate variability (indicating more relaxation and less stress).”  Stanford University actually used fMRI technology to watch participants brains and after a walk in nature they found an increase in activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (SPC) which contributes to calm and optimism.  On the flipside, inactivity in the SPC contributes to depression, mood swings, and negative thoughts.

So what do you do?  Well, here are a few activities to get those kids outside and moving this summer:

Scavenger Hunt

One of the best ways to get them moving and enjoying all nature has to offer is by creating a scavenger hunt.  Create a list of items for students to collect out in nature along with some tasks (students might even be able to use their technology outside for identification, but books could be found and checked out prior to the scavenger hunt), for example:

  1. An insect –  identify the different parts
  2. A flowing plant –  Identify the parts of the flower
  3. Birds – Identify 3 different kinds.
  4. Bird sounds – Identify the sounds of three different birds
  5. Trees – Identify three different types
  6. Scat – (go somewhere you can find some?)

There are a number of other items you could have children look for.  They can even look for different types of the same items on subsequent hikes.  Encourage students to draw pictures or make their own identification book. ***And, if your kids are like mine, where competition is the order of every day, have your children race and the neighbor kids race to see who can find the items the fastest.

Obstacle Courses

Kids love obstacle courses. You can build one with them out of things in nature and boxes, buckets, 2×4’s, logs, rope, hammocks; you name it.  Have the kids take turns practicing and then timing one another. Have children determine what they could do in order to complete the course at a faster speed.  Next, allow the children to create their own course with their own clever obstacles (and sorry, their course will probably be way cooler than your’s). Another fun challenge would be for them to create obstacles that allow them to cross the area without touching the ground.  Encourage them to try and get across it without touching ground.

Like Ms. Frizzle Advises-Get Messy

Have your kids get in and get dirty. Go to the gardening center and allow the kids to pick out their own seeds, seedlings, or plants to contribute to the family’s yard.  Have them identify what type of climate they live in (region) as well as growing conditions that are needed for the plants they are interested in growing. Then have children plant their finds in your green space. If you don’t have an area, look into the cooperative gardens that are prevalent in a number of areas.  Have them help you garden and get them excited about creating their own green space.

***Go ahead and teach them about pollinators and their importance to the food chain.  Have them pick out some plants that will invite pollinators into your garden.

Research in Action

Have you children start a nature journal before you go outside for a walk.  Ask about their mood, thoughts and feelings and have them write down their answers.  Show them how to take their pulse then have them write it down. Go sit outside for ten minutes and lie under a tree and look at the sky, talk about the clouds, relax in nature.  Then go inside and take their pulse again. Have the kids write about their mood, thoughts, and feelings now. Discuss the results and whether they agree with the research. Do they feel more relaxed?  Is their heart rate slower? Do they feel more at peace?

Take a hike, get dirty, play hide-n-go-seek in a confined safe area of the woods, go for a bike ride on a trail; in other words, get out with your kids and exercise in nature!  Train them to utilize the best medicine out there for their well-being–NATURE!

What can we learn from Rube Goldberg?

Pulitzer winning editorial cartoonist, inventor, engineer, and author Rube Goldberg left a significant legacy to inspire makers and thinkers. While most believe that the STEAM Education revolution started just a few years decades ago, Goldberg has been inspiring tinkerers with his detailed drawings for generations, aside the great inventor artist Leonardo daVinci.

Goldberg drew an estimated 50,000 cartoons starting in the 1920s, many of which depict delightfully wacky machines completing simple tasks. Goldberg once said that his creations were symbols for “man’s capacity for exerting maximum effort to accomplish minimal results.”

Rube Goldberg is the only person to have ever been listed in the dictionary as an adjective! That’s how special he is.  Learn more about this intriguing individual here.

 

Learning the Goldberg Way

Title: The Self-Operating Napkin Artist: Rube Goldberg (1883-1970) Created: 1931 Medium: pen and ink printed

 

 

Approach life with humor and curiosity. View tasks with whimsy and playfulness. Break it down into simpler parts. Share your ideas, however wacky they are!

 

Complicated, multi-step contraptions when broken down are simply simple machines. The wheel and axle, inclined plane, wedge, lever, pulley, and screw are all around us, we use them in our daily tasks.  Learning about and building with them helps us explore science and engineering in an engaging, practical, inspired way.

Building and testing the concepts of movement and force with simple machines allows for practice and repetition, or in STEAM Ed lingo, fostering “testing and iteration” skills. Repeated failure and making changes are a good thing!

Top Five benefits of exploring simple machines:

— via the Wacky Contraption Challenge

  1. Solve real-world, relevant problems together. Collaborate and Communicate! Explore the power of invention.
  2. Practice iteration skills and perseverance, aka F.A.I.L First Attempt in Learning.
  3. Flex design thinking muscles.
  4. Supplies are low-cost and readily available.
  5. Wild, Wacky, and Outrageous ideas encouraged! Make it FUN!

It’s Spring: Get Your Science On!

Spring and summer mark the start of severe weather including tornadoes; they also mark the arrival of bees and butterflies.  Spring is a great time to enjoy the outdoors but a great time to learn! Children are fascinated (or terrified) by tornadoes; we all are somewhat.  So, why not help children face their fears and learn what a tornado is while making their own. While you’re at it, it would be beneficial to review how to stay safe when a tornado warning occurs.   It is also a great time to teach children about the importance of pollinators and how to help their populations grow while at the same time adding some charm and appeal to your garden. And the best part? You get to play in the dirt!

Be Like Dorothy Without Leaving Kansas: Make A Tornado In A Jar

Materials:

  • 8 ounce with a lid (pickle, mayonnaise, or canning jars are perfect.
  • Water
  • Vinegar
  • Food Coloring
  • Dish soap
  • (Old Glitter is Optional – and a lot of glitter isn’t environmentally friendly)
  1. Fill the jar with water leaving about an inch at the top.  
  2. Add a teaspoon of vinegar, dish soap, and glitter (optional). ***if the jar is bigger than 8 oz. try doubling the measurements, for example 16 oz. water to 2 tsp. of vinegar and soap.
  3. Add the lid and tighten.  
  4. Swirl the jar in a fast circular motion for 10 seconds.  Lay it down on the table and watch the tornado.

Discuss with children words like: vortex-a whirling mass (water, air) moving in a circular path and centipedal-a force that makes an element or object follow a curved circular path.  Share with children that a tornado is a column of air that is created when cold air meets warm air and that they typically appear out of cumulonimbus clouds. The really extreme tornadoes can have winds as high as 300 mph and can be bigger than two miles in diameter.

Tornado safety is important, so this would be a good time to discuss the family’s plan during a tornado warning.  Choose a spot in the interior of the home and explain to children that this is to avoid outside doors and windows.  You can also discuss the difference between a tornado watch and a tornado warning.

Bees, Butterflies, and Dirt, Oh My!

Spring is an awesome time to talk about pollinators and the importance they have on our food sources.  Learn all about bees and butterflies, including: how they help the environment, how they help your family and how they can help the insect populations grow.  

Plants need pollinators as much as they need sunshine, dirt, and water, and pollinators, like bees and butterflies, need plants.  If plants like corn and other fruits and vegetables are going to produce more plants to feed people, the Earth needs lots of pollinators.  

Design a bee and butterfly garden and get planting!

Materials:

  • Seedlings or plants: salvia, bee balm, black-eyed Susans, penstemon, snap dragons, verbena, cleome, coreopsis, milkweed, echinacea, buttonbush and some herbs like fennel, dill, oregano, and parsley are great for caterpillars to feed on, raspberry bushes and vegetable plants
  • Potting Soil
  • Plant food (fertilizer)
  • Water
  1. Prepare an area for the plants.  Rake up the soil and add in some new potting/top soil and plant food.  
  2. Dig holes as big as the containers.
  3. Lay the plants in the holes.
  4. Surround the plants with extra soil and pat firmly.
  5. Water

Bees and butterflies are attracted to flowers.  Bees particularly like white and yellow flowers and butterflies like big areas of red and purple flowers.  With older children, make a map (plan) when things will bloom and for how long so that you have a combination of plants that will continually bloom all summer long.

Another great addition to your bee and butterfly garden is a bird bath where they can get a drink of water.  And if you want to take it a step further, do some research on creating insect nesting grounds where you can further encourage the growth of bee populations.

Spring is a great time to experiment, to be outdoors, to be immersed in nature, and best of all, to dig in the dirt, so get to it.

Colorado Gives Silicon Valley a Run For Its Tech Company Money!

“Sayonara, Silicon Valley!”  According to USA Today, PCMag.com, and a considerable number of other sources, Denver is growing into one of the largest tech hubs in the United States.  Some of the rankings, like the one determined by CBRE (a commercial real estate firm) use a combination of factors including availability of tech talent, outlook for jobs, and rental costs for employees and companies. While San Francisco and Portland still rank up at the top, Denver slid into the Top 10 in 2019.

Startups and Well-knowns

Not only is it becoming a popular place for start-ups to open up shop – look at the success of Denver-Based companies like Ibotta, Guild Education, Home Advisor, Zillow and more – but also for long-established major companies as well, including Google, Twitter, Oracle, Level3, Liberty, Amazon and IBM.   

Denver Attracting the Home Grown and Migrants

Also making it a hot spot is the number of millennials with high tech IQs and experience who are making Denver their home. This mainstay of “highly-educated home grown millennials” is providing the tech industry with a work force that well-established tech companies and start-ups are looking for.  Amy Zupon, CEO of Vertafore told PCMag.com that she agrees that Denver has a “great startup culture and a young, technology-literate, educated workforce from which to recruit.” Another reason for such quick growth is the “relatively low cost of wages,” CBRE Senior V.P. of Tech and Media Alex Hammerstein told BisNow.com.

According to Kore1 (a recruiting and staffing agency), Denver is highly attractive to many of the young pros looking for IT jobs because of the growing tech community, steady employment levels, and a good market.  Not only are people migrating in droves to the city, but many of the skilled professionals the IT companies are looking for are graduating from local colleges like the University of Colorado Boulder and Colorado State University.

Incubator Heaven

Another reason for Denver’s tech growth is the presence of incubators and accelerators that are helping startups to grow.  The state is in the top 10 in receiving investor capital from not only private investors, but the city of Denver and its government are working hard to contribute to the tech industry’s growth throughout the city.

STEM Education a Contributor

Kore1 also mentions the inclusion of STEM education throughout the state as well as a culture where innovation is valued and promoted. Organizations where young people are encouraged to explore their interests in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics are big contributors to the Gen Z talent pool.  In order for Denver to continue to build on its momentum, it’s important that the city and surrounding communities like Boulder, Fort Collins, and Colorado Springs continue to foster programs that are contributing to future job pools; well-established large tech companies and those startups just coming out of the gates will need young, innovative minds to fuel their growth and progress.

Resources to learn more

Want to learn more about the Colorado Tech culture and growth?  

BuiltinColorado.com