Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Ants On A Log

Ants on a log

Here at Camp Brighton, we are all about playing with food. As long as the food ultimately ends up in their mouths, they can mess with it any which way. Today, the kiddos were on their best behavior all day because I promised them that they could make their own ants on a log this afternoon when Baby R took a nap. 

The beauty of this promise is that it benefited me in so many ways... first of all, great behavior in anticipation of a messy and delicious snack activity and second, possibly more important, I had minimal involvement in the messy snack activity. They could build their little logs as long as they found it intensely captivating while I could make myself a little (big!) iced coffee and peacefully put away a few dishes.

Ages and ages ago, when I was a kindergartner in Ms. Duksta's 2 1/2 hour kindergarten class, one of my favorite snacks of all time was this one. I actually credit Mrs. Duksta with developing my early love of food ... how many teachers would bring in gouda to share with a bunch of 5 year olds on "g" day? I was wowed. The ants on a log snack is a little more tame than gouda cheese - but just about as good - and all you need are three basic ingredients.

Celery, peanut butter, and raisins
The Details ... 

You will need celery, peanut butter (or something similar), and raisins, a few small bowls, and a butter knife. 

Wash the celery and cut it into about three even sections. Pile up the logs on a plate. Scoop out some peanut butter into one kid friendly bowl and pour a bunch of raisins into another one. 

Let the kids fill their logs (celery) with peanut butter and decorate the tops with the little ants (raisins). If your child is old enough to hold a spoon, he or she is old enough to make this snack. It might be a little bit messy for the younger kids, but it is great fine motor practice and gives them a nice sense of accomplishment!

This snack packs very well in school lunch containers - I size the celery sticks to fit into a little bento box and presto! lunch is ready. My older daughter would take this to school every day if I would let her. 

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Milk Carton Bird Feeders

Milk Carton Bird Feeder
This project is so easy! We snuck out of the house early yesterday morning to wander around the gardens at Wing Haven Garden and participate in their weekly "In the garden" time set aside specifically for children.

We would never turn down an opportunity to putter about in a garden, say hi to a bunny and some chickens, drink lemonade and do a craft. The most beautiful part about all of this? Mama just had to sit back and admire the flowers! What a perfect morning.

Q with his creation
This week, the children's craft was making milk carton bird feeders. The supplies were easy ... a milk carton, some stickers and markers, a skein of yarn, and some bird seed.

Miss Shaelynn cut the milk cartons for us ahead of time. About one inch from the bottom use sharp scissors to cut about a six inch opening that takes up 2 sides - leaving the handle intact. After the hole has been cut the kids can decorate the bird feeder with stickers or color with markers.

Once the decorating is done, tie a piece of double strength string around the handle so that the bird feeder can be hung on a tree or a hook. Our yard has no shortage of bird feeders, but who couldn't use one or two more? The birds will thank you! Have fun!

Entrance to the Children's Garden

If you are in the Charlotte area, be sure to check out the beautiful Wing Haven Gardens! They have wonderful programs for children, gardening classes for adults and a fabulous plant sale every year.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Pick Your Own

Camp Brighton is still in full swing although we have temporarily relocated up north for a visit with the all-important grandparents. Unfortunately, my camera and a good internet connection were left behind in Charlotte. Alas, we are making do...

One of our summer traditions has always been blueberry picking. We are lucky enough to have a wonderful farm just a few minutes away from my parents' house. However, no matter what state we have lived in - Ohio, Massachusetts, and now, North Carolina, I have enjoyed searching out "pick-your-own" opportunities because they are so much fun and also a great way to support local farms and businesses.

It isn't too difficult to find out if there are any local fruits or veggies just waiting to be picked by you and your family. Most state agriculture boards offer a list of pick your own farms. There is also a great website - aptly named - that allows you to search by state to find farms near you. In North Carolina, we are lucky to have a vibrant community that strives to support local agriculture and a local author, Diane Daniel, recently released a new book - Farm Fresh North Carolina - an excellent guidebook to exploring food and farms all over the state.

Off to a good start!
Enjoying the view from my back ...

Blueberry picking is an activity that can be enjoyed by children of all ages. Because the blueberry bushes are generally small - most of the bushes at the farm we were picking at were all shorter than an average adult - the berries are very low to the ground and can be easily picked by your littlest walker. Buckets were provided upon our arrival and we were directed to a small grove of bushes just bursting with blueberries.

Our tired crew is ready to go home!
The children were issued 2 simple instructions, "Only pick the blue ones and don't pick up the ones on the ground." The children scattered, eager to get picking. My friend and I were left alone to leisurely chit chat and pick our own buckets of berries.  This activity is such a great way to get your kids outside, enjoying the fresh air, and really connecting their food to the actual source. Blueberries already enclosed in a plastic clamshell will never look the same again!

When you look for a local farm, you will want to be aware of hours and picking conditions. We arrived at the farm rather early - we wanted to make sure the farm didn't get "picked out" and we also didn't want the kids to get overheated as the day wore on. Our farm had picking hours from 7 to 12 so be sure to call ahead to confirm that the farm is open and ready for your gang.

Of course, one of the best parts of a pick-your-own farm experience is the built-in snack factor but another great aspect is the ability to bring home your loot and continue to eat it and cook with it. The very next day we made a blueberry quick bread and a blueberry streusel cake. Delicious!! If you find that you have picked too many blueberries, you can always freeze them. Don't wash them first. I like to measure out 2 cups of blueberries at a time and place them in freezer bags. Other techniques suggest laying them out on a cookie sheet and freezing them before putting them into freezer bags and storing in the freezer. Blueberries keep very well in the freezer - we have easily kept them past six months in a cold part of the freezer with no issues. Find yourself a farm and get picking!

Additional Resources:

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Tie-Dye Party

Wearing tie-dye to tie-dye ...
My son loves anything tie-dyed. At first, I was mildly embarrassed by his obsession with tie-dyed shirts, but little did I know that he was just on to the tie-dye resurgence way ahead of the curve. Today was the second time in a month that my children were part of a tie-dye party. So much fun! Kind of a mess... Wear gloves and clothes that might get splashed by permanent dye.

If you want to recreate the magic of tie-dye with your kiddos, Grateful Dead sing-alongs optional, you just need a few supplies that you can easily gather wherever you live. This project is best done outside!  

You will need ... 

White t-shirts
Fabric dye (find it at your grocery store or craft store)
Squeeze bottles 
Rubber bands
Rubber gloves
Plastic bags to store the dyed shirt

Ready for dye!
Directions ... 

1.  Prepare your dye in the squeeze bottles - if you buy a tie-dye kit at a store like Michael's, the kit will include squeeze bottles. Don't prepare your dye too far ahead of time to keep the colors bright.

2. Soak your t-shirt in water and squeeze out the excess. Lay your t-shirt flat on the ground and gently pick it up in the middle. There are many ways to rubber band your t-shirt but we have stuck with one basic approach both times. After gently lifting your t-shirt up from the middle, gather about an inch or two of fabric and wrap a rubber band around it. I recommend using at least 4 rubber bands to section off the t-shirt, but you can use more than that.
No gloves, you should see his feet...
The smart girl wore gloves

3. Put on gloves!! Using your dye, start coloring one section at a time, making sure to saturate the entire section. My son took a pretty orderly approach to dyeing his shirt but my daughter was all over the place with her colors and her sections.  Better to over-saturate than to not use enough dye to get through all your layers of fabric.

 4. When you have finished creating your masterpiece, do not remove the rubber bands! Place the t-shirt in a plastic bag and let it sit overnight.

5. Carefully remove the t-shirt from the bag and rinse under cold water until the water has rinsed clear. It might take a while. After all the extra dye has rinsed out, you can remove the rubber bands and wash in the washing machine using a little detergent and warm water.

6. You can safely wash your tie-dye creation with other colorful shirts after it has been washed once by itself. Enjoy!!

Another way to wrap your shirt...

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Flower Prints

The basics ...
My girls and I went to the Davidson Farmers Market a few weeks ago and they were doing a great craft - flower prints. If you have kids with short-attention spans or children who like to bang things, this is the project for you.

You will need:

Assorted colorful flowers
Paper (paper with a little texture works well)
Wax paper
Rubber mallet


"I found blue!"
This activity started with a flower hunt - my kids were told to find one flower per color so as not to decimate my mother's lovely gardens. The mission was successful; as they ran around the yard, I could hear them calling out, "I found yellow!" and "Does anyone have blue?" For the most part, they all stuck to the "one flower per color" rule.

After collecting the flowers, the real fun began ... the banging. Using somewhat rough paper, the kids arranged the flowers (or just the petals) face down on the paper placed on a hard surface. (We used scraps of wooden boards.) I tore off a piece of wax paper roughly the size of the paper and placed it over the flower - one flower at a time works best and then they can rearrange the flowers or petals as they wish. Using a rubber mallet, the kids banged away on their little flower, trying to transfer some color and even a little bit of the petal imprint, to the paper.

Watch your fingers!
Helpful hints ... After much experimenting, we discovered that "little bangs" were better at transferring color from the petal to the paper. "Big bangs" with the rubber mallet were not very successful. We also tried to eliminate the wax paper and just hit the flower but, for the most part, that technique did not work well at all. The girls also tried to get the flowers a little bit wet before they banged them, a little too much water quickly made the paper a soggy mess so we opted not to dampen the flowers at all - being that they were freshly picked, they were a little damp to begin with.  Also, although a rubber mallet is not too heavy, it is probably a good idea to remind your little people not to put their fingers in the way!

Try different flowers, different colors, different papers. Let the children "experiment" to see what works the best! Have fun!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Eggshell Seedlings

Our empty eggshells
Adding the soil ... with a kitchen spoon

If you compost, you know that eggshells are great additions to your compost pile! Some gardeners even directly crush eggshells into their garden beds, partly for nutrients and partly to deter certain critters from eating their plants. Starting seedlings in eggshells is the perfect way to combine a crafty project (painting eggshells) with a practical project (starting seeds for your garden).

Here in North Carolina, we are lucky to be able to plant almost all year round so it can always be a fine time to start seedlings. And, even if it isn't a great time to start veggie seedlings, you can always plant flowers!

Painting! Of course ...
You will need: 

Empty eggshells - rinsed out and dried
Non-toxic paint (if you want to... we paint everything)


1. Prepare the eggshells ... We get free-range Amish eggs by the flat every week or so - we eat a lot of eggs around here - so it doesn't take long at all to accumulate a small bunch of empty eggshells waiting to be planted. I rinse out the eggs with hot water and let them air dry overnight. On the second day, I let the kids paint them - inside and out.

Let the seeds germinate
2. Prepare the seeds ... For this project, I used some okra seeds that my friend had generously given me from her mother-in-law's garden. Just to extend the project a little, we placed the seeds into a small glass and covered them with water so we could watch them germinate overnight. The kids loved seeing them sprout in just a little bit of water. You don't really need to do this step but it is fun to watch!

3. After the eggs are dried, we filled them with soil using a spoon. Yes, a spoon right from the silverware drawer. We're not picky over here. Place your seeds into the soil-filled egg. A good rule of thumb is that you should plant the seed twice as deep as it is wide.

4. Once you have planted your seeds, you have two options depending on the time of year. If the weather is not quite ready for starting seeds outdoors, this is the perfect way to create your own little starter plants. Keep your eggshell seedlings in a sunny window and keep the soil damp. After the seedlings have started to grow, you can transfer them directly to your garden - right in their little shell! Or, if the weather is hot and sunny with no cold weather risk, you can plant them immediately into your garden as my children did! No waiting around...

Have fun!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Recycled Nature Buckets

2 of the final products
We are always going on nature walks - sometimes down the street or around the park and sometimes just in our own backyard. Having the children make their own nature buckets alleviates the problem of "Mom, mom, can you carry this bug home for me?"

Gather together... 

Empty milk cartons, rinsed and dried
Paint, glue, paper, stickers, paintbrushes
Hole punch
Twine or string


Decorating his nature bucket
For this project, I set aside three empty milk cartons - in this house, that took just a couple of days! Rinse out the cartons and let them dry. Open the tops of the cartons like you would open a small milk at school and, using a scissors, make a cut down the side to give you access to cut evenly around the top of your milk carton to make a nice-sized bucket. You can make these buckets small for little people, or taller for the big kids.

Since every project in our house seems to involve paint, I set out some different colors of paint and strips of paper so that they could decorate their nature buckets. Stickers or markers would also work well.

Someone always has to paint herself...
Colored glue trick: I like to use regular Elmer's school glue but I tint it with one of the paint colors. For this project, we tinted the white glue with yellow paint. All you have to do is squeeze some white glue into one of your egg carton spaces and then add any color. Gently mix it together with your paintbrush and you have colored glue! We try to keep a designated paint brush the GLUE BRUSH and clean it with soapy water after our project is finished. I have rarely seen anything good come out of having small children squirt glue out of an unwieldy bottle. This approach seems to make our projects go much more smoothly when glue is involved!

To finish... 

A hole punch and twine
Once your bucket is decorated and has dried, use a hole punch to punch a hole in two sides. Cut a piece of twine or string double the length of the handle that you would like to have and loop it through the holes. Double knot the double length string or twine on the inside of the nature bucket and presto! your project is complete!

Happy nature hunting! These buckets can be used to collect bugs or leaves or mushrooms or just about anything. Enjoy!