Category Archives: Activities

What tape is stickiest? Helping young kids in the science fair.

Just after Ari started back to school this last January, his teacher handed out a piece of paper outlining this year’s school wide science fair project.  I’ve talked before about what a wonderful and lasting effect the science fair had on my own life so I was excited to finally have the chance to share that joy with my own school-aged kid.

Olivia talked a few weeks ago about helping a fifth grader with his science project.  Just to help any mom’s who may still be grappling with their own fears of science, here’s another story–how Ari and I put together his project.

The real problem we (I) had was coming up with a question worth answering.  When I originally broached the subject, my ever-so-typical boy threw out the idea of farts, and testing what foods made him the fartiest.  I’ll be honest–I thought it was a pretty cool project, but I wasn’t so sure his teachers would feel as I did.  So we decided to do that one at home, and think of something else to take to school.

It took three weeks to come up with a new idea; I kept waiting for that spur-of-the-moment question; I kept listening for Ari to muse over some aspect of his daily life.  Finally, as Ari was helping me wrap a birthday gift for Joe, that special moment happened.  We were trying to wrap a box with a brown paper bag, and discovered that the tape we were using was horrible at holding it together.  I think it took us about 18 pieces. At some point Ari said “I wonder if we have any stickier tape we could use.” (more…)

da Vinci schma Vinci: Ice art for the creatively challenged.

It is finally warming up here.  I should be elated, but I find that warmth has turned the snow to mud.  Except for right by the front door–our main entry way is always shaded, and continues to be a slippery death trap.  The house feels cramped and boring after this cold winter.  Even the dog seems lethargic.

I have been in need of color and something creative to do, so this morning I tried ice art.  I saw something similar to this online a few weeks ago somewhere–I can’t for the life of me find the page again, but a quick search pulled up dozens of other moms and teachers who’ve done the same thing.  And I found this cool video of salt melting ice in slow motion.  Some recommend using liquid water colors which can enhance the melting, but I used just plain old food coloring.


How to make a recycled bike chain bracelet

The last time I gave handmade gifts to my friends for Christmas I was 11. I hand painted them all little wooden rabbits.

Twenty plus years later I decided it was high time I made another batch of handmade gifts. I first came up with this idea because I wanted to make something ‘bikeish’ for my much missed mountain biking buddy in Reno. After making a bracelet for her I loved it so much I made more. Who knew  you could make something so ascetically pleasing out of  an old bike chain and some utility cord.

Here are the supplies you will need: (more…)

Ten things to do in the snow in your backyard

Isn’t there some saying about drinking lemonade when life throws lemons at you? Frankly, it is so cold and snowy here, I don’t think there are any lemons to be found. We are instead stuck trying to make icees out of ice. Snowmen out of snow. Fun out of cold, and wet, and slightly uncomfortable. We are stuck trying to dream up things to do outside in the snow. And guess what? We’ve found some!!!

Introducing Ten Awesome Ways You May Not Have Thought Of To Entertain the Kids in the Backyard When There Are 15 Inches (0r even 2) of Snow On The Ground! (more…)

Tips for helping kids track animals in the snow

There is an added bonus to walking in the winter that you might not think of at first–the animals that use that same trail as you every day are no longer invisible.  They leave undeniable proof of their presence.

On a winter walk once, my kids and I found a set of dog-like tracks and followed them.  They meandered into a clearing, and there we found a mess of bird tracks, some wing marks in the snow, lots more dog tracks… and a dead magpie torn to pieces  We tried to piece together a couple different theories that could explain what could have happened based on just the tracks.  And we left with a few good stories.

Not only is tracking fun, but it gets you outdoors in the winter, when finding things to do outside with your kids can be a daunting task. Even if you never get around to actually identifying any of the tracks, just knowing that you’ve come across the path of a wild creature is pretty thrilling.

It’s bonafide detective work, and what kids isn’t going to love that? (more…)

Helping kids with the science fair: One woman’s story

My next door neighbor is my best friend in town.  We meet up several times a week for popsicles, hot chocolate, or chit chat about what’s been going on in our lives.  His name is Elias and he’s 11.

Did I mention I don’t get out much?

It doesn’t matter, he’s as entertaining as any adult, and full of jokes and wild ideas.  You should hear his plans for the shed in his back yard… it involves a two-story swimming pool, a fire pit, and tiles made out of natural sandstone.  He’s a whiz at doing math in his head (but not questions about time).  He loves electronics, making up stories, and mapping out routes in his head.  Elias has Asperger’s Syndrome.

I won’t even pretend to know what this means from Elias’ point of view, or what it’s like to be his mother.  He and I have a different sort of relationship… but I do know this: he struggles in school and gets picked on a lot.  So much so that he now hates school.  I don’t have to pretend that this makes me sad. (more…)

DIY ‘Natural’ Christmas Tree Ornaments

We’ve started a tradition of having our kids make a new Christmas tree ornament every year. I like having our tree decorated with meaningful bits of child craftiness from Christmas gone by.

This year I was searching the web for ornaments ideas that we could make, and that also had the following characteristics: 1. kid friendly (as in they would enjoy making them), 2. would allow the ability (i.e. surface area) to write our names and the year on the ornament, and 3. something that might also get us outside in order to collect our ornament making supplies.

I found several options, so I thought I would share.

1. Peanut Snowmen. You can buy these on Etsy, but it would also be fun to make something like this. 2. Twiggy Christmas Trees. Check out the site for instructions, I think these are the ones we will do this year. 3. Driftwood Ornaments. Drift wood is cool all by itself, wish I lived near some. Also, check out that site for more holiday decorations with driftwood, the post is pretty cool. 4. Snowflake Ornament. Not really any instructions here, but a cool idea to make your little something like this. 5. Hanging Ornaments. I really like these! I was thinking it would be cool to use small red sandstone pebbles and tiny pieces of ‘sea glass’  you can find on the beach at Lake Tahoe. 6. Clay Leaf Prints. My kids would really like this one, and that website is really cool!!. 7. Hanging sea shells. We’ve gathers a lot of these over time, their all sitting in a jar, this would make them more useful. 8. Tree Cookie Ornaments. This site give you instructions on how to make these, or, just cut some tree cookies and let your kids draw on them? 9. Hanging Acorns. There is just something so simple and pretty about this ornament. I just really like it, and they would be fun to gather.

And don’t forget to use that Queen Anne’s Lace you collected last summer…

Fun natural facts about your Christmas tree

We’ve never had a real Christmas tree, as in a tree that was once living. I grew up in a house where my Mom hated to “watch something die in the living room.”

But this year we thought we’d give it a try; the whole getting a permit and chopping down your own tree bit. I broke the news to Ari today thinking he would be thrilled. Our conversation went something like this:

Ari: (disgusted tone) Mom! We can’t just go walking out into the forest and get a tree!! It would take like 30 hundred people to carry it back!

Me: Well, I was thinking we could just get a small tree…

Ari: We have a tree, it’s the tree we always use! It’s in the basement, we just need to put it together.

Me: Ya, but don’t you want to get a different tree this year?

Ari: (still disgusted) Why can’t you just be happy with what you already have?

While he does have a very good point, I still want to cut down my own Christmas tree. And I finally convinced Ari that while I am grateful for the 10 year old pathetic looking fake tree in the basement, it was still a good idea to try cutting our own, just once, to see if we’d like it.

So, while we are out in the woods focused on finding the perfect coniferous tree I thought I’d take advantage of the occasion and make a list of interesting factoids to throw in casual conversation with my children.

Here is what I came up with: (more…)

My 10th Anniversary work of art

Joe and I celebrated our 10th wedding anniversary last month. To commemorate the occasion Joe, knowing I’m a sucker for the hand made gift, made me a bit of art.

Some might look at this and wonder why on earth he would give me a bird made of dead plant matter instead of a diamond encrusted jewel on such an occasion. I think you guys probably understand.

There’s symbolism in this little bird. We met in the fall. Our first date was a hike among the changing leaves. We were married in the fall. Our boys were born in the fall. I’m somewhat obsessed with this season…

A the bird? It’s a wren. My favorite bird. So diverse, so happy. Most are rather small, palin and inconspicuous, but are known for their loud and often complex melodies. Joe thinks the wren and I have a few other traits in common. And my favorite wren? My daughter Viviann Wren. My new favorite piece of art? This one.


Incorporating the outdoors into your Halloween festivities

Since the month of October is one of my favorite times of year for getting outdoors, we tend to incorporate that into our Halloween festivities.  I’m not into the blood and gore of Halloween, so we try to focus on other aspects… the spiders, owls, bats, and pumpkins, along with some fall colors and crisp cool air-appreciation.

A few traditions we have enjoyed:

Halloween bike ride
After it gets dark, throw on a jacket, strap on a headlamp, and take a bike ride around the neighborhood to check out decorated Halloween houses.

Halloween tree hunting
Much like Christmas tree hunting, we use this as a good excuse to get out in the woods. We search for the perfect “spooky branch” to decorate. Note: This branch can later be recycled for a Thanksgiving thankfulness tree.

Night hike
There is always a full moon sometime around Halloween, this year it’s even really close! October 29th is the ‘Hunters Moon‘. This makes for a great night to take a Halloween hike. Look for critters out after dark. You could even take a hike in your costumes for added awesomeness.

Outdoor Halloween Party
Last year we were fortunate enough to accompany some friends on their traditional Halloween camp-out at the beach in central California. All the kids brought their costumes and participated in Halloween party, camping style. Bobbing for apples in the wash basin, doughnuts hanging from stings on the tent trailer awning and hunting for pirate treasure buried in beach sand.

Destination Trick-or-Treating
Since October is a great month to travel, consider a family vacation around this time of year. We’re rarely home for Halloween and have enjoyed trick-or-treating in some small out of the way desert towns.

Pumpkin picking
A trip to the pumpkin patch is always in order. We take the kids out and let them pick their own pumpkin to take home and carve up.  Its a half-day outing that usually includes exploring the tractors at the farm and some caramel apples.  Good times.

And of course, don’t forget these nature themed do-it-yourself costumes. I tried this year, but was vetoed in favor of Spiderman and a Clone Trooper. You can’t win em all!

Happy Halloween season!

If you have an outdoor tradition, please share!


    I'm Lindsey. I'm an environmental educator, my husband's a biologist. The outdoors is infused into everything we do; which explains why I'm better at mud pies than home decorating. More About Me

    I don't blog alone! Meet outsidemom contributer Olivia