Tag Archives: lessons from nature

Good Things Come to Kids Who Wait

It was cool among the Tamarisk, and they misted on me lightly.  I sat, hugging me legs to my chest, chin resting on my knees.  I resisted the urge to swish away the bugs exploring my ears and eyebrows.  My mind wondered to other places.  Lunch.  School the next day.  I ignored the sweat collecting in the crooks of my knees, and the way it tickled the backs of my calves.  Why was I here again?

I am not a patient person.  I am a now person.  The first thing I look at when contemplating a new recipe is how long it takes to make.  I want to know how the story ends by the last page of the second chapter.  I can’t diet worth beans because I want the weight gone by the end of the first day.

I blame society.

In a world of immediate gratification and one-click buying options, where television images change on a screen an average of every three seconds, and where short bursts of information, facebook statuses, and tweets are the norm, I am required to multi-task constantly.  In an effort to succeed in this world, I have developed the skills needed to thrive in the face of so much information, sacrificing any chance at a quiet moment.  I grew up at the cusp of this great change in our social structure.  My children, on the other hand, will be born into it.  They will have few opportunities to learn the important skill of waiting, of delaying gratification, of thinking ahead, and of focusing for more than a minute.  The implications of an entire society of young ones growing up constantly distracted are incredible, and affecting everything from the development of a young child’s brain, to how society functions in the future .

I am terrible at holding still—with one exception.  When I was a teenager my dad taught me how rewarding it can be to sit in one spot and wait for the natural world to forget you’re there.

I remember the lesson well.  We were taking a walk.  He was an avid birder and was looking for spring migrants making their way north after the cold winter.  We wandered along the edge of a lake, he stopping every few feet to eye some new movement among the Tamarisk that lined the beaches, me kicking at rocks and thinking about being somewhere else.  I don’t remember my attitude, but knowing me I was bored, easily distracted, and likely hinted repeatedly at how far from the car we had come.

“Did you see that one?” he exclaimed while holding his binoculars to his eyes.  “Western Tanager I think.  What do you think?”  he looked over at me to find that I didn’t even have my binoculars to my eyes.  “What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

I mumbled some lame excuse about there not being that much to see in a bunch of boring old Tamarisk trees.  He stared at me in incredulity for a long moment, then instructed me to follow him, and walked me to the Tamarisk grove.

“Here.  Sit down in the middle.  I’m leaving for 15 minutes.  I want you to sit here.  Don’t move.  We’ll talk about what you see when I get back.”

Slightly peeved, but mostly curious at the strange request, I sat.  In retrospect, he may have left me there in order to have 15 uninterrupted moments of bird watching—not because he expected me to learn any important outdoor skill.

But the lesson stuck; those fifteen minutes were unforgettable.  Twenty years later I still find myself looking for opportunities to hold still somewhere and see who forgets me.  Last week at the botanical gardens it was a lizard, who found my shoes were an excellent place to grab a quick lunch of bug debris.  The hummingbirds were perched above my head, and bees worked the flowers around me, oblivious to my presence.

Game: Holding Still

When played as a game, this skill isn’t too hard to learn, and it is one that you can play with your child, or (as my father did) that you can suggest they try on their own.  Advise for first timers:

  • Pick a good spot where activity is likely to happen soon (near the bird feeder in the backyard is a good spot).
  • Get comfortable so that half way through their/your legs won’t be asleep.
  • Focus on listening for the animals that will come in from all directions.  (If you turn too quickly to look, you’ll lose your chance; better to listen first.)
  • If your child finds holding still for that long too difficult at first, you can throw a blanket over them so that just their face shows.  This will allow them to twiddle their thumbs, scratch the inevitable itch, and move ever so slightly without nearby critters noticing.

Learning to hold still is the stepping stone to many wonderful natural moments.  Both hummingbirds and chickadees will land on outstretched hands that haven’t moved for some time (with hummingbirds, place your finger near a hummingbird feeder, like a perch, and wait, or do like this lady did; with chickadees, stand near your birdfeeder with seed in your outstretched hand—here is an excellent instructional on handfeeding.  Nature photography, for beginners and experts (here’s a fun example!) alike, begins with finding a good spot, and waiting as long as it takes  (if you’re into wildlife photography, here are some good tips.

The skill is an important one, especially for children.  It teaches the value of patience, the rewards that come with waiting, how to focus for long periods of time, and the important skill of observing.  It reminds them that the world doesn’t always move as fast as television would make it seem.  And it gives them something to brag about later (“I was five feet from a squirrel and he didn’t even know I was there!”).  The squirrels in my back yard move at the same speed that they did when my grandfather was a child—nature is immune to the social revolution in which your children find themselves, and provides a natural context for learning skills that apply to every generation.


Three Lazuli Buntings, the color of jewels and rainbows, flew into the grove and proceeded to squabble, completely unaware of my presence.  A Western Tanager flew to a perch somewhere over my head and serenaded the world.  I contemplated turning to get a better look when I heard a noise beside me.  Slowly, ever so slowly, I moved my head.  There, sharing the shade of the Tamarisk grove with me, was a jack rabbit.  Not five feet from my hunched self, he stretched his back legs out behind him, pressed his belly into the cool dirt, laid his long ears flat across his back, and closed his eyes.  I could see the hair on his rump was ruffled, I could see the nick in his ear, and I could see how very big his nose was.  Why was I here again?  For this moment.

Helping Your Child Choose a Science Fair Project

Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.  –A. Einstein

First of all, I must confess, I’m quite the science fair savant.  I had an 11 year career while in public school with projects like dissecting owl pellets, measuring the respiration rate of crickets, conducting experiments to see what color honey bees prefer, etc.  I even spent all three years of high school studying a weevil that at the time was undescribed; a project that took me to the International Science Fair, twice (insert back patting here)!

Why Participate in Science Fair?

Some kids had sports Dads; I had a science fair Dad.  My motivation wasn’t necessarily that I loved science. Initially my motivation was that I got to spend time with my Dad.  Every spring we would plot and plan my project, conduct my experiments, gather and analyze the data…

I’m sure there was some moaning and groaning in there somewhere, but looking back those are some of my fondest memories. I truly believe the science fair is one of the best ways to get involved in your child’s education (and by involved I mean taking on the role of guide and mentor; not active participant).

Believe it or not, children are naturals when it comes to the skills needed to excel at a science project.  They’re observant, curious, creative, unconstrained by what they think ‘should’ happen, passionate, and easily excited (Eureka! moments are not hard to create).  The ‘science’ of a science project isn’t in the subject matter; it’s in the process.  The textbooks call this process the scientific method, which is really nothing more than a simple but effective way of thinking.

The hardest part is helping your child come up with a project, something they would be interested in that hasn’t been done hundreds of times (my niece actually brought home a note last year discouraging “volcanoes”). This is really just as easy as asking a question.

Note: While we have included the major parts of the scientific method, the intent of this post is primarily to help you get started on a project. For more information on the actual process I would highly recommend this Project Guide, specifically the “detailed help for each step” section just below the visual.

Step One: Ask a Question

To do this, help them recognize when they’re making an observation that can be turned into a question. Make note of things that seem to always happen together, or things that appear to have a pattern to them (children do this daily—they just aren’t usually aware that this is where science begins).   For a science fair project help them center their brainstorming around things they are interested in and familiar with:

  • Have you noticed that most things you bake in the oven have eggs in them?
  • Did you see all those bugs fly out of the flower bed when we were there?  I didn’t see as many in the gravel…
  • Why are there always so many wasps at our barbeque?
  • Isn’t it interesting that scotch tape is never used by dad when he’s jimmy-rigging something?  It’s always duct-tape.
  • Have you noticed that the rose bush has yellow blossoms and white blossoms on it?  I swear mom waters them with the same stuff every day.
  • What do you think would happen if we didn’t put our food in the refrigerator?

Each of those observations can be followed by the simple musing:  I wonder why…. And any kid will follow that immediately with: What do you think would happen if… And now you have a science fair project.

Step Two: Construct a Hypothesis

This is really just an educated guess at the answer to your question. You must state your hypothesis in a way that you can easily measure, and of course, your hypothesis should be constructed in a way to help you answer your original question. “If _____[I do this] _____, then _____[this]_____ will happen.”

For example, say you settle on the question: What do you think would happen if we didn’t put our food in the refrigerator? (more…)

Ten things you probably didn’t know about bees

It’s summer time.  And the bees… they’re everywhere!  You’ve heard them buzzing on a lazy day, your kids have been stung, or someone has remarked on the bees busy at flowers.  They’re everywhere… and yet so misunderstood, poor things.

Here are ten interesting facts about the wonderful creatures known as bees.

How is it that I know these things about bees?  Because I’m a certified geek, and when I’m not cooking or taking pictures, I’m thinking about bees.  And okay, so I’m studying bees for my PhD.  But whatever.

Spout these little factoids off to your kids and wow them with your worldly knowledge.  Or just take a moment to marvel out how cool these little beasties are.

1. There are between 20,000 and 30,000 species in the world. In North America there are between 3,000 and 4,000.  New species are found every year.  Really.  Every year!  It’s like Lewis and Clark or Dr. Livingstone out there in the bee-world.  “Where are most bees found,” you’re wondering?  I’ll tell you:  the deserts.  Unlike butterflies, beetles, monkeys, hummingbirds, frogs, sloths, and many, many other creatures, bees love dry heat, and are most diverse in the hot and dry places of the world. (more…)

Use #2 for a stick: Call a Woodpecker

That’s right, there’s more than one way to use a stick.

Here’s one you may not know about, but that I learned about from David Attenborough on his The Life of Birds videos (I put a youtube video of Attenborough in action at the bottom).

Note that Attenborough uses a rock, which, obviously, can work too.  I have found that sticks resonate better, but it may depend on the type of stick, the type of ‘drum’, and the type of bird.  I leave you to find what works best in your area.

Especially useful during breeding season, woodpeckers (by the way, did you know that a group of woodpeckers is called a ‘descent’ of woodpeckers?) respond not only to vocal calls, but to the drumming sounds they make when hammering at wood with their sturdy beaks.  Each drumming rhythm is unique to the particular species (though some sound a lot alike to me!) and not only attracts a mate, but also helps to delineate territories.



Here are some examples: (more…)

How to encourage creativity: Embrace chaos

I love TED talks.  They are varied, fascinating, and stimulating.  They make me think of things that it never occurred to me to think about. Here is one that I watched not too long ago. It has been viewed over 5 million times, and has been extremely well-received.

At first I was inspired: the idea that we can be ‘educated out of our creative capacities’ hit a chord with me, the girl who has spent the last 29 years being educated and is currently feeling rather water-cracker bland.

Then it hit me what he seemed to be implying and I felt slightly indignant. (more…)

A Home for Pinchy

The other day we took an outing down to the river.  I was kayaking with some friends while the boys looked for crawdads.  Their search was a success, they found a “ginormous” crawdad that Ari just had to keep, but only for a few days…

Pinchy (as it came to be known) accompanied us to a 4th of July BBQ (in a Tupperware), then came home with us to take up residence in the kiddy pool for a few days.  Ari constantly stopped by the pool to watch Pinchy scuttle along the bottom.  He’d pick Pinchy up in a cup, examine it, ask me all sorts of pinchy-related questions I couldn’t answer, and try to feed it various things from the kitchen (naan, pepperoni, dog food, carrots etc…) (more…)


    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

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