Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Nature Themed Snack Ideas

Celebrate Food Day by introducing your students to healthy nature themed snacks today and throughout the school year. These “recipes” are from the KinderNature website.

Monarch Butterfly Citrus Snacks
Place two orange segments per child flat on the table making a butterfly shape. Add black string licorice antennae.

Bunny Snack
Use a pear half as the rabbit’s body.
Two mini carrots form the ears.
Raisins make the eyes.
And a cherry makes the nose.
Add a marshmallow for the tail.

Peanut Butter Edible Clay
1 cup Creamy peanut butter
1/2 cup Instant powdered milk
3 Tbsp. Honey
Peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips, mini M&Ms and coconut for decorating (optional)

Stir the peanut butter, powdered milk and honey together in a medium-size bowl until dough is smooth. If mixture is dry and crumbly, add more honey. If it is too moist and sticky, add more powdered milk. Have children form their clay into a yummy edible animal. They can then decorate their artwork with peanuts, raisins, chocolate chips or coconut. Refrigerate unused clay in a sealed container.

Caterpillar Rolls
Pop-can dough (bread or biscuits)
Mini marshmallows
Mini M&M’s, mini chocolate chips, or raisins
Straight pretzel sticks

Divide dough into small equal sized pieces. Roll each piece into a ball. Place 4 balls in a straight line on a baking sheet (balls should be touching). Bake according to directions on package. Cool rolls and decorate.

To decorate: heat each marshmallow in microwave for 5 to 10 seconds or until it becomes soft, plump and sticky when pressed. Firmly press two marshmallows on caterpillar faces for eyes. Press M&M’s, chocolate chips, or raisins into each marshmallow. Place two straight pretzels into the top of head for antennas. Pierce one marshmallow with each pretzel stick for tip of antennae. – I’ve also used tube icing to decorate with spots, lines and shapes.

Fossil Layer Sandwiches
Make a six-layer stack sandwich by alternating the bread type (pumpernickel, white, and wheat) and the colored cream cheese. Add raisins (fossils) to find in your earth layers.

Tasty Turtles
Put peanut butter or cream cheese on a Ritz cracker. Place 5 raisins for head and legs and top with another Ritz cracker.

Peachy Spiders
Push 4 pretzel sticks into each side of a peach half for the spiders’ legs. Place 2 raisins on the peach for the spiders’ eyes.

Bird Nests
1 bag peanut butter chips (10 oz.)
1 Tbsp. Solid shortening (Crisco)
1 5 oz can chow mien noodles
1 bag M&M peanut candy or small jelly beans

Melt entire bag of chips and 1 Tbsp. of shortening slowly in microwave or double boiler on stove top. If using microwave, heat full power at intervals of 30 seconds or less until chips melt. You want the chips and shortening to be well blended and creamy and hot. Immediately pour the can of chow mien noodles into the peanut butter mixture and toss lightly to coat noodles. Do this quickly, making sure the noodles are evenly coated. Drop by spoonfuls onto wax paper and gently form into the shape of a nest, leaving a hollowed area in the center. You may need to reform your nests slightly as they cool. Place three M&Ms or jelly bean in the nest as the “eggs”. Each batch makes approximately 14 nests.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Birding with Kids

Bird watching is a great way for kids to become aware of birds. Birds can be found anywhere, all year round. Just gather the basic gear—a field notebook, a field guide, and binoculars, if you have them—and go outside. Have kids observe and record what they see in several different habitats and make comparisons.

Fall is a great time for bird watching. Almost everything is on the move: songbirds, shorebirds, raptors, and even some waterfowl. Weekly migration forecasts are available from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s  BirdCast project to help you know what to look for and which days to go out.

Try these fun ideas from the KinderNature website to help your students explore the wonderful world of birds.

Birds and Worms
Using clothespins for beaks and have children pick-up worms (pieces of string, yarn or macaroni) with their beaks. Discuss how birds eat with their beaks and how worms are camouflaged.

Nest Building
Show examples of a variety of nests and materials that birds use. Using 2 fingers for beaks have the children build a nest with shredded paper, clay etc. Go on a tour of their nest homes and have each child show off their nest.

Dress like a Bird
Go over the characteristics of birds: wings, feathers, beaks, feet, eggs, and nests. Using bird costume, dress someone up as a bird.

Fly Away
Make a set of wings for each child by cutting a pair of wing shapes out of construction paper and taping them to his or her wrists. Let your “birds” experiment with their wings. Have them show you how they fly fast and slow, high and low. Ask them to swirl and twirl in the sky as they fly carefully around the room.

Bird Wings
Let your children create their own bird wings, using a paper towel tube. Draw a straight line from the top of the tube to the bottom. Cut along this line. Cut different colored crepe paper into strips and tape or staple along the cut line. Children can then slip the paper towel tube onto their arm and flap their wings.

Bird Zipline
Make cardboard cut-outs of common birds in flight (red-winged black bird, cardinal, blue jay, Canada goose, owl, robin, bluebird, chickadee, goldfinch and woodpecker). Glue a toilet paper tube or a 1” drinking straw to the back of each cut-out bird. Put a string through the tube or straw and allow the birds to zip along the string. Explain about bird migration. Take children on a hike through a backyard or a park. Place the zipline in a tree and have students follow along with binoculars and identify each as they zip past. Or have children lie on their backs with their binoculars while you send a cutout bird down the zipline.

Toilet Paper Tube Binoculars
Tape toilet paper tubes or paper towel tubes cut in half together. Have children decorate the binoculars. Punch one hole in the end of each tube. Tie string to tubes. This will be the strap of the binoculars so they can be worn around the neck. This can be a strangle hazard. Do not connect tubes or do not add strap to prevent this hazard.

Reading Connections
Allen, K. 2006. Why Do Birds Fly South in the Winter?: A Book About Migration. Capstone Press.
Arnosky, J. 1997. Bird Watcher. Random House Children's Books.
Arnosky, J. 1993. Crinkleroot's 25 Birds Every Child Should Know. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Arnosky, J. 1992. Crinkleroot's Guide to Knowing the Birds. Simon & Schuster Children's Publishing.
Arnosky, J. 2002. Watching Water Birds. National Geographic Society Children's Books.
Bailey, D. 1992. Birds: How to Watch and Understand the Fascinating World of Birds. DK Publishing, Inc.
Boring, M. and L. Garrow. 1998. Bird, Nests, and Eggs. National Book Network.
Collard, S.B. 2002. Beaks! Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc.
Crossingham, J. 1997. What Is Migration. Crabtree Publishing Company.
Gans, R. 1996. How Do Birds Find their Way? (Let’s-Read-and-Find-Out Science 2). Harper Trophy.
Garelick, M. 1995. What Makes a Bird a Bird? Mondo Publishing.
Herkert, B. 2001. Birds in Your Backyard. Dawn Publications.
Lerner, C. 2001. On the Wing: American Birds in Migration. HarperCollins.
Pascoe, E., et al. 2000. How and Why Birds Use Their Bills (How and Why Series). Creative Teaching Press, Inc.
Rabe, T. and A. Ruiz. 1998. Fine Feathered Friends: All About Birds (Cat in the Hat's Learning Library). Random House Children's Books.
Ray, M. 2004. Welcome Brown Bird. Harcourt Children’s Books.
Sayre, A. 1998. Home At Last – A Song of Migration. Henry Holt & Company.

Apps for Birding with Kids
This app makes bird identification so simple it seems like magic. Because of the simple, user-friendly interface, birding becomes both easy and fun. To identify a bird, Merlin first asks five questions – when, where, size, color, and activity of the bird observed. Using eBird data, Merlin then gives the most common species around you who fit the criteria provided. It also provides 1,000+ photo resources, tips from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s expert birders, and bird sounds from the Cornell Lab’s Macaulay Library. Cost: Free for iOS and Android users.

BirdsEye Bird Finding Guide*
The app provides information and population statistics on 1,000+  birds across North America.  You can view seasonal populations, current lists of birds reported near your location, and notifications of when rare birds are observed in your area. Looking for an outdoor space to take kids birding? Open up the “Browse by Location tab in the app and you can view checklists that were recently submitted in nearby areas. These features will help you feel prepared as you head outside to discover birds with kids. Cost: Free for iOS and Android users.

Helpful Websites

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Come along with me…to the prairie!

September 13th-19th is Iowa Prairie Heritage Week!

Iowa’s landscape was once covered by vast rolling hills of prairie.  An estimated 85% of the land was prairie grass and flowers when European settlers first arrived.  Since that time the Iowa landscape has changed drastically and today only 1/10 of 1% of our native prairie remains. 

The largest remaining prairie remnants in Iowa can be found in the Loess Hills of Western Iowa.  Other prairie remnants can be found in old graveyards, railroad right-of-ways, road ditches and scattered in small patches on state, county or private lands.

Prairies are a diverse pool of plants species, are habitat for many wildlife species and are a protective buffer for ground and surface water supplies.

Several events are planned across the state to celebrate our prairie heritage.  Visit the Iowa Prairie Network Calendar of Events to find an event in your area. Contact your local county conservation board to learn more about prairies in your community.

Teaching about Prairies
·         Ask children about prairies. Have they ever been to a prairie? What did it look like?
·         Look at pictures of prairie grasses, plants and wildlife.
·         Read books together about prairies.
·         Using pictures and/or furs, talk about animals that live on the prairie.
·         Try bringing in prairie plants for kids to look at, touch and explore.
·         If possible plan a trip to a local prairie so children can get a hands-on look at a prairie.
·         Contact your local county conservation board for resources, such as naturalist programs and supplies, they are always happy to help.

Prairie Crafts
Try these prairie themed crafts from the KinderNature website.

Compass Plants
Carefully glue the sunflower seeds onto the lid of a frozen juice can. Glue yellow tissue paper petals to the juice can lid forming the compass flower. Add leaves (made from green construction paper) to the stick with glue. Finally, glue the flower head to the stick. Parade around the room with your compass plants and talk about what a compass tells us and how the compass plant got its name.

Grass Weaving
Cut notches in the end of a piece of cardboard (cut to the desired size of weaving) approximately 1/4 inch apart and 1/4 inch deep. Carefully place the strings in the slits of the cardboard, knotting the ends. Keep the string taut by slightly bending the cardboard. Weave dried prairie grass or raffia in and out across the strings. Taping the end of the grass with a small piece of masking tape will help smaller children.
Reading Connections
Butterfield, M. 1999. Animals on Plains and Prairies. Raintree Publishers.
Fleming, D. 1991. In the Tall, Tall Grass. Henry Holt and Co.
Fowler, A. 2000. Lands of Grass. Scholastic Library Publishing.
Geisert, A. 1998. Prairie Town. Walter Lorraine Books.
Howard, F. 2006. Grasslands. ABDO Publishing Company.
Johnson, R.L., P.V. Saroff and G. Braasch. 2000. A Walk in the Prairie. Lerner Publishing Group.
Mader, J. 2004. Living on a Prairie. Scholastic Library Publishing.
McGehee, C. 2004. A Tallgrass Prairie Alphabet. University of Iowa Press.
Nichols, C. 2002. Grassy Lands. Benchmark Books.
Penny, M. 2003. Grasslands. Thameside Press.

Thursday, August 27, 2015


Just in time for back to school, the KinderNature website is once again live. Search the over 300 activities reviewed by the Iowa Association for the Education of Young Children for being developmentally appropriate and incorporating a variety of learning styles. Many activities will meet Head Start Performance Standards.

Activities range from songs about birds to making creature cupcakes to creating craft projects with leaves to playing a game to learn the roles of bees. They offer experiences such as discovery-based learning through play, sensory exploration, large and fine motor activity, creative expression, making friends, and developing social skills.

Featured Activity

Students use their senses to observe signs of fall, size and shapes of leaves, matching seeds, animals that eat the seeds, and fall migration of ducks and geese.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Touching for Textures

Nature is full of a variety of textures – rought, bumpy, smooth, prickly, and slippery. Try these simple ideas to explore the sense of touch outdoors.

Texture Rubbings
Explore textures in your schoolyard or a local nature area. Help your students make rubbings of the textures they find. Experiment with various paper types and writing utensils to compare which works best. Have the children share out their experiences and show their texture rubbings.

Texture Creations
Add sawdust, crumbled leavers, coffee grounds, nutmeg or cinnamon to tempera paint. Make a masterpiece!

Mystery Box
Make mystery boxes by cutting two circles in the long side of each box so that a child could put both hands inside. Place one natural tree item inside each box (e.g., bark, cones, evergreen needles, leaves, nuts, seeds, fruits, paper, rocks). Each child reaches inside the box to feel an object and then describes how it feels to the class. Invite the children to remove the lid and look at the object.

Musical Texture Squares
12x12 squares of different textures (e.g., bubble wrap, carpet, cardboard, sand paper)

In a large area, tape one texture square to the floor for each child. Explain how the different squares feel. Play music while the children move from square to square. Instruct them to stop on a square when the music stops. Teach children a simple call and response. For example, you can ask, “Who is standing on a bumpy square?” and the children standing on a bumpy square can answer, “I am standing on a bumpy square!”

Textured Trail Mix
Mix together different textured fruits, nuts, or dry snack foods in a large bowl. Let each child scoop out an appropriate measure of the mixture to eat. While they are eating, ask the children how the different foods feel on their tongues (e.g., crunchy, smooth, mushy, or rough).

Monday, August 10, 2015

Reconnecting Children with Nature: Growing Up WILD trainings

This workshop leads you out the door and provides hands on activities and resource materials to help you lead your own nature explorations. Growing Up WILD activities use age appropriate practices and concepts to build on children’s sense of wonder and invites them to explore nature and the world around them. Specially written for children 3-7, activities include sections to address many learning areas: math, science, language, literacy, health living, play, and creativity.

September 19, 2015
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Cass County Extension & Outreach (805 West 10th Street, Atlantic)
Iowa Child Care Providers Training Registry— Click on Search Trainings, then search Reconnecting in the Title.
Registration Deadline: September 4, 2015
Registration Fee: $15 - your enrollment will be complete when payment is received: mail to Cass County Extension, 805 West 10th Street, Atlantic, IA 50022
For more information, contact Kim Branter at 712-542-7076 or

October 3, 2015
8:30 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Heery Woods State Park (27887 195th St., Clarksville)
Registration: Iowa Child Care Providers Training Registry— Click on Search Trainings, then search Reconnecting in the Title.
Registration Deadline: September 25, 2015
Registration Fee: $10 - your enrollment will be complete when payment is received: mail to Allison office, 101 Cherry Street, Allison, IA 50619
For more information, contact Cindy Thompson at 641-229-6655 or

October 3, 2015
9:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.
Page County Extension Office (311 E Washington St., Clarinda)
Iowa Child Care Providers Training Registry— Click on Search Trainings, then search Reconnecting in the Title.
Registration Deadline: September 18, 2015
Registration Fee: $10 - your enrollment will be complete when payment is received: mail to Page County Extension, 311 E Washington St., Clarinda, IA 51632

For more information, contact Kim Branter at 712-542-7076 or brantner@iastate.edu

Monday, July 27, 2015

Fun Nature Themed Games

Keep your kids active this summer with these fun nature themed games.

One Fish, Two Fish
Designate 2 students as ducks. The remaining students are fish. Fish are scattered throughout the pond. When the music begins the fish “swim” around the pond. The ducks waddle around trying to tag the fish. If a fish is tagged he/she becomes a duck and tries to tag the fish. When the music stops all fish must freeze. The ducks continue to waddle around trying to tag the frozen fish. If a frozen fish moves while the music is stopped, he/she becomes a duck. When the music starts again, fish begin to swim. Continue until 2 fish remain. You can repeat the game with the last 2 fish becoming the new ducks.

The Hungry Caterpillar
Scatter small balls or cones across the play area. Divide students into small groups. Each group is a hungry caterpillar searching for food. The first student in each group is the caterpillar’s head and the remaining students are the body. The last student carries a ball bag. Caterpillars must travel around the play area in single file, holding onto the student in front of them. Each caterpillar must collect as much food (balls) as possible within the time limit (30 sec - 120 sec). Only the head of the caterpillar can guide the body and only the head can pick up the food (one at a time) and pass it back through the body. The food must be passed to each student down the line (as in relay) to where it is collected in the caterpillar's stomach (ball bag). To increase difficulty, designate a specific method in which the food must be passed (e.g., using left hand only, passing to the rear over the head, under the legs). 

Leap Frog
Mark off two parallel lines (using chalk, masking tape, or rope) two to three feet apart to create a stream. For large groups, create several streams to keep all students active. Students line up on both sides of the stream, facing each other (towards the middle). Outside of the lines are the “banks of the stream” and the middle is “in the stream.” The leader will call out one of two commands: “in the stream” or “on the bank.” Students must leap like frogs according to the command. If a player follows the wrong command, they must sit out. The leader can repeat the command “in the stream” while players are in the stream and if any student moves, they are out of the game. To add further challenge, the leader can give false commands like the “in the lake” or “in the ocean.” Students should only move to the commands “in the stream” or “on the bank.”

Snake Tag
Designate one student as the snake tamer. Arrange the remaining students into groups of three or four. Each group forms a snake by holding onto the waist of the student in front of them. The student in front is the head of the snake and the student in back is the tail. Snakes must twist and turn to keep from losing their head. The snake tamer tries to catch the tail of one of the snakes and attach to it. If the snake tamer successfully attaches to a snake, the head must come off and become the new snake tamer.