Monthly Archives: May 2013

Museum of Natural History – Toddler Approved

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It’s true. I’ll admit it. There was a period of my life where I questioned the awesomeness of Nova Scotia’s Museum of Natural History. While it may not be in the same ball park as say…the Canadian Museum of Civilization, don’t look down on this Halifax gem until you’ve seen it through the eyes of a child.

Dean a year ago at Young Children's Nature Discovery/

D a year ago at Young Children’s Nature Discovery.

We first took D to the museum a little more than a year ago on a rainy weekend in February. We took him to see the monkeys that were visiting as part of a temporary Life in the Rainforest exhibit. I looked at the museum and to be honest I saw a collection of dead animals, some whale bones, rocks etc. the same displays I had known as a child (with the exception of a new Netukulimk exhibit which is perfect for young children…more on that later). D however saw something entirely different. D saw a real ‘live’ bear that growls when he walks by, skunks and moose that he could get within a few feet of, sharks and a living bee hive (I did always love the bee hive). D saw a myriad of wonders that were completely new to him, laid out in a big space (big to a 1.5 year old) that he could wonder freely and explore. Experiencing the museum with a toddler made me stop, really look around and gave me a new appreciation for the quality of the museum and great work that is being done there. Since that first visit we have become regulars at the museum. We have seen the same displays at least 20 to 30 times and a year later he’s still excited every time we go and here is why….

Here are the top 5 reasons your toddler will adore a visit(s) the Museum of Natural History:

1. Kids love to press buttons and touch things:

The Netukulimk exhibit seemed to be designed with little kids in mind. The whole area is interactive with buttons set in natural looking foresty displays that allow you to hear the sounds animals make (this is D’s favorite part). There are live animals, a live bee colony, hidden drawers with insect specimens, fun to be found everywhere. It’s a fantastic space for kids to run around and explore.

Photo from eastcoasttravels.ca

2. They have the best toys in town:

Animal puzzles and fishing games, a felt board, dress up play with amazing costumes, natural wood blocks, Incredible animal puppets and a puppet theater, magnifying glasses with things to examine, animal figurines and more! No joke. The children’s programing at the museum is amazing.

The museum runs two preschool programs; Wee Wild Ones, which in my opinion is the best under 5 program we have come across in the city (unfortunately the program does not run in the summer. This Tuesday is the last Wee Wild Ones day until September. If you can make it out, do, you won’t regret it) and Young Children’s Nature Discovery. Both programs incorporate hands on exploration of real museum objects (D has gotten to feel bear pelts, hold teeth, touch bugs, it’s a crazy fun time) and creative play. Wee Wild Ones has a structured format, skillfully facilitated by Mary, who all the ‘Wee Wild Ones’ seem to instantly adore, it includes songs and puppet shows and directed activities followed by free play (with the awesome toys) while Young Children’s Nature Discovery is mostly free play.

Wee Wild Ones – 10:15 Tuesdays (May 28th is the last Tuesday until September)
Young Children’s Nature Discovery – Sundays 9:30 – 11:30 (under 5)

dress up wee wild ones

3. You can hang out with a tortoise: Walk with Gus

At 3:30 every day Gus the 90 year old tortoise that calls the museum home goes for a ‘walk’ and has a snack. Museum staff supervise and kids can ask questions, touch his shell and watch him chow down on some grub up close and personal.

Walk with Gus

Walk with Gus

4. Animals are awesome:

What D really loves at the museum are the animals. He loves simply walking around pointing out the animals he knows, asking questions about them and just looking around and taking it all in. One of his favorite activities in the Marine gallery is to play a search and find game with one of the displays. I will ask if he can find a crab, a starfish, a shell etc. and he will point them out in the under water scene.

snake

5. You Can Have a Nature Scavenger Hunt!

My favorite thing to do at the museum is to go with the sole purpose of playing a game. Museum scavenger hunt. I print off a sheet of paper with pictures of things you can find in the museum, moose, frog, bone etc. (anyone else who might be with us also gets a sheet) and we run around and search for the items on our page. Every time D finds an item we cross it off our list with a sticker…I sometimes point him in the right direction but when he finds an item on his sheet it is wildly exciting for him! Very fun to watch 🙂 Even carefully placing the stickers on the right pictures is an enjoyable activity. If he finds everything I usually have an actual ‘prize’ there are lots of great collections to start in the museum store, stones, little plastic lizards etc.

*** The Coasts CoastMart is currently offering half price one year family passes to the museum. Click below for the link:

Half off One Year Family Pass to the Museum of Natural History

Bug Week: Backyard Bug Hunt

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How to Have a Backyard Bug Hunt

  • Dress appropriately.
  • Venture into the great outdoors.
  • Look for bugs.

Go in your backyard and look for bugs?

Really? Is this all you have to offer?

Is this a cop out post?

Absolutely. It’s Wednesday. In all honesty though the simplest of activities are sometimes the most fun…call it a safari if you need more excitement, either way I guarantee enjoyment.

Bug Hunt copy

Since we are blessed with an uncommonly large ant population in our yard, a very common after supper activity in our house is to go out and look for ants. I don’t know how this started, or why D finds it so endlessly entertaining but it’s a brilliant game for a number of reasons:

  1. There is virtually no way to be unsuccessful at an ant hunt…given you aren’t hunting in January.
  2. Ant hunts can be as long or short as you want.
  3. Ant hunts require no set up, prep work or supplies…just you (although magnifying glasses do add to the fun).
  4. Ant hunts can be conducted in the comfort of your own backyard (or inside the home if you’re not so lucky)
  5. It is one of the most portable warm weather activities there is when you need a quick distraction.
    • Bus Stop: ‘Hey D. let’s see if we can find any ants waiting to take the bus’
    • Strapping sibling into 1 million point stroller harness before walk: ‘Hey D. let’s see if we can find any ants on the path, wouldn’t want to run any over with the stroller’
    • Picnic lunch: ‘Hey D. While mommy sets up lunch why don’t you see if you can find any ants that want to join us?’
    • Grocery store line up ‘Hey D. I think I saw an ant, see if you can find it?’ Use the last one sparingly, it won’t work forever. Cruel you say? No. It’s entirely possible that you could find an ant in the grocery store line up.

How to make the most out of your bug hunt:

Get a magnifying glass. Seriously, magnifying glasses are available at the dollar store and they are fun for all ages.

D also had a lot of fun trying to get bugs to walk on a piece of plain white paper, easier to examine.

Take a trip to the library. Reading up on different bugs and seeing pictures will help kids recognize the bugs they find and add to the excitement.

Track the bug you see.

Print some pictures of common bugs and check them off as you find them. We made ‘saw on this spot’ signs for the garden with pictures of different bugs that D can use to mark where in the yard he has seen different bugs. I believe I saw this, or something similar, done on a website awhile back but I couldn’t turn it up despite long arduous hours searching so maybe I imagined it. I will give appropriate credit for the inspiration should I ever come across the post again. The markers are great to see where different types of bugs hang out. We printed off pictures, colored them then I used packing tape to water proof so we can leave them in a bucket outside and grab them whenever a bug is spotted.

markers

No bugs were harmed in the making of this post.

Bug Week: Garden Bug House

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How to Make a Bug House

  • Gather a variety of natural or recycled objects that when fitted together create some nooks and crannies for bug buddies.
  • Find a container with one open side to arrange your collection of objects.
  • Place in a shaded spot in the garden or yard and wait.

Bug House TitleOur second endeavour for Bug Appreciation Week was building a bug house! I’m not going to lie, making this was probably the most terrifying experience of my adult life but I think the pay off will be worth it if our little insect summer home attracts some critters for D to observe.

We originally saw this idea over at Garden Therapy. Check out the link for tips on attracting specific insects to your garden like bees, ladybugs, beetles and spiders. We took a less directed and more toddler friendly approach, here is how we went about building our summer bug home…

Early in the morning we grabbed our buckets and capes (because everything is more fun in a cape) and headed out to a local park for a walk through the woods. We choose a park that I knew would have lots of different natural materials that we could gather. We had talked about the bug house before we left so D knew we were on the look out for things like tree bark, pine cones, small sticks and other things that bugs might like to live in.

Bug House 2

We spent about an hour wandering around and adding things to our bucket but you could easily gather what you needed in as little as 10 minutes around the house and yard. The local dollar or craft store also has a lot of good bug home building options, we selected mostly natural materials to fill our house but anything that creates nooks and crannies will do such as straws, coiled pipe cleaners, Popsicle sticks, bottle caps etc.

Bug House 5
Once we got home we took inventory of our haul. D loves to sort so before we decided what would go into our house we sorted all our materials into groups…and here is where the terror comes in. In addition to our pine cones, sticks and tree bark our bucket contained two ants, one beetle, and a spider that was approximately the size of my head. I maintained total composure when we came across the beetle and the ants, we took out our magnifying glass and calmly watched them climb over this and that until we summoned husband to take the little ‘buggers’ (I’m so sorry, I couldn’t help it) outside to wait until the bug house was ready. The spider caught me off guard, I may have screamed, but took appropriate precautions to prevent it from happening again. We finished the sorting task with the help of BBQ tongs. I told D we were using them because they were helpful for sorting, and they were.

It was raining by the time we went to construct our house but I do not recommend this activity for indoors…who knows what else we let loose…*cue menacing dum dum dum*

Bug House 6

To hold the house together I picked up an unfinished wood box (these are often easy to find at your local dollar store, old clementine boxes would work perfectly as well) but then found an actual house shaped paper mache box and opted to use that instead. Unlike a wood box it will need to be weather proofed using a finish spray or acrylic sealer. We lined the back of the box with homemade playdough to help hold our bits and pieces in place. Dean put the house together sticking things in the playdough, I encouraged him to find things to fill in gaps to pack the house a little tighter. We added a toilet paper roll to hold the smaller items that D wanted to include (he was dead set on having dandelions in there ‘but mommy these flowers are wonderful’).

Bug House 3

The following picture shows what ended up being included in the house.

Sarson Bug Summer Cottage Bug Contents

When we were all finished we slapped on the roof and set it out in the garden. We will be checking back frequently for new residents.

Bug House 7

Prep: Once you have something to hold the contents of your house together you are good to go!

Activity Length: We did this activity in two stages, collecting the materials could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour. Putting the house together took about a half hour including the sorting which some children may not be interested in. For D, finding things to collect in his bucket was probably the most fun part of the activity (with the exception of the surprise visitors that hitched a ride in our bucket), however you could collect the materials before hand and just construct the house.

Sum up:

  • D really enjoyed all aspects of this activity, it was nice that he could burn of energy on the walk and then follow it with quiet time putting the house together…perfect morning lead up to a nap.
  • Cheap or free.
  • Provides lots of opportunity for exploration of natural materials and discussion about bugs, where they live, what they eat and their various jobs or purposes in a garden.
  • Finished house is a cute addition to the garden.

Bug Week: Paper Butterfly Catching

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Bug Appreciation Week

It’s Bug Appreciation Week! Not really. I made that up. Secretly there is no such thing as bug appreciation week, although I can’t see why considering the following ‘holiday’s’ exist…

As I was saying, I made up bug appreciation week as an excuse to post the 5 super fun bug related activities D and I have planned this week! And because I have to be proactive about bug appreciation as I have a debilitating fear of all insects that I am actively trying to not pass on to my children.

No joke.

I once got stuck in a parking lot for 40 minutes because a grasshopper got into my car, I had been working late and it took that long for someone to come by and remove it for me. I think I screamed  all the way home.

And with that introduction…I give you our first Bug Appreciation Week Activity: Catching Butterflies!

butterfly catching

Butterfly catching is great for indoors or outdoors and is as simple as it sounds, we made a jar full of paper butterflies, thew them up in the air and D tried to catch them with a butterfly net. The more butterflies the better, catching them is harder than it looks, especially if there is a bit of wind.

What you need:

  • Butterfly net (we got ours at the dollar store), a bucket or a grocery or gift bag would do just as well
  • paper
  • scissors or butterfly punch

Prep: D helped me punch out the butterflies so there was no real prep, but if using scissors you may want to set aside 10 – 15 minutes to cut out the butterflies ahead of time.

Activity Length: We did this activity inside and out and it kept D entertained for about an hour on both occasions (bonus: baby girl in a bouncy chair nearby was also very entertained by all the colorful butterflies flying about.) We switched back and forth so that sometimes he could throw the butterflies and I could catch them. D really enjoyed collecting the butterflies and putting them back in the jar between each game.

Bonus Fun:

  • Add Tweezers – When we played the game inside D had a pair of tweezers that he used to pick up the butterflies and return them to the jar, this lengthened the game and gave him a chance to work on fine motor skills.
  • Examine Your Catch – We also had a magnifying glass near by and every now and then D would take the butterflies he caught and examine them under the glass.
  • Decorate Your Butterflies – Decorating  your butterflies can be fun on it’s own and allows you to track which butterflies you’ve caught, we did this with colors ‘try and catch a green butterfly’ ‘how many yellow butterflies are in your net’
  • Use a Vacuum to Launch the Butterflies – If you really want to impress, pack the butterflies loosely into the wand of a vacuum and turn it on reverse to really shoot the butterflies up in the air! We were exposed to vacuum fun at a family fun night at Wee Care Development Centre hosted by Jeff Johnson of Explorations Early Learning. Shoving things in a vacuum and shooting them into the air is surprisingly fun with anything that is light and small enough to fit into a vacuum wand, paper confetti, Styrofoam pieces, streamers, it’s like a refillable party popper!

Sum up: Cheap, quick, easy to play, easy to clean up and fun, fun, fun (for adults as well) it’s on the shelf for another day.

Homemade Face Paint Fun

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Our on the fly recipe:
Equal parts Palmer’s Cocoa Butter (or any face friendly lotion) and crayola washable paints
All natural recipe:
Use a thicker lotion for a base, pure cocoa butter, diaper cream etc and Natural food coloring

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Rainy afternoons sometimes produce odd requests from D.

  • ‘Mommy, let’s find a spider.’ (who in their right mind searches out a spider?)
  • ‘Mommy, I have your wallet and your phone, please? I want to be a mommy.’ (apparently all you need to be a mother is a wallet and a cell phone)
  • ‘Mommy, maybe we can have Halloween today?’ (this isn’t actually all that odd, there are lots of days that I just want to dress up and eat chocolate)

Our last rainy afternoon D requested a Rose Tattoo…the kid likes Celtic punk, what can you do? You can give him a Rose Tattoo is what. So away we went to find a red pen, but somewhere between the junk drawer and the office I had a better idea, why stop at a teeny tattoo? Let’s make face paint!

Why go through the trouble of making face paint you ask?

1. Face paint is awesome. However, we didn’t have any face paint on hand so we work with what we have.
2. D has more fun playing with things he has a hand in creating, so when given the option, we make.
3. The Campaign for Safe Cosmetics has drawn attention to the fact that many commercial face paints contain lead, nickel, cobalt and/or chromium…(see above or read on for a more natural non-toxic face paint recipe).

So, I pitched my idea to D and he immediately saw the potential, his tattoo request quickly changed…

to a beard…

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then to Spiderman (Yes, it is a terrible Spiderman, but you try painting webbing on an over excited 2 year old).

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Then D made a life changing discovery, when it comes to face painting the real fun is for the painter not the paintee, and so I became a butterfly. When he deemed my face paint finished he proclaimed ‘Mommy, it’s a wonderful butterfly!’ and it was.

I actually became a few different butterflies, and a spidermom. He made me clean my face multiple times so he could start with a clean canvas. The activity was a big hit and one we will be doing again.

If you aren’t fond of the idea of your toddler smearing colored stickiness all over your face, have them paint a baby doll or, if you have more than one small child, each other.

To make the paint we used a mixture of washable crayola paint and coco butter, any lotion would do. We were not exact with our measurements, we set out the lotion first then added paint until we were happy with the color, approximately equal parts paint and lotion. We used a mini muffin tin to mix and hold the paint and separate colors. The paint washed off of skin, clothes (and couches) easily and it didn’t cause any skin redness or irritation. If you are worried about using the paint mixture and you decide more than 5 seconds ahead of time that you’d like to have some fun with face paints, here is a great recipe from smilinggreenmom.com for all natural non-toxic face paints.

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