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Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Start Them Young #EarthDay #StreamTeam

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Kids are such amazing sponges for information. They soak up what's happening around them, with a seemingly endless curiosity. Sometimes this isn't such a good thing. Like when a small boy is driving in the car with his mom, and she uses some of those special, loud words that seem reserved for other drivers. *cough* (Not me, of course!) But generally it's a great thing. Kids are eager to learn, and we can take advantage of their natural curiosity to instill in them some of the values and lessons that will serve them well throughout life. Like lessons about caring for the Earth.

When I was growing up in the 70s, recycling wasn't a thing. But I learned much about re-using and re-purposing household items from my grandmother, who had grown up during the Great Depression. The idea of saving the cardboard pieces from my grandfather's new shirts so we could draw on them later became second nature. Coffee cans became planters. Jam jars from the store were re-used for our homemade jam. And so on.

Due to a particularly hot and dry summer when I was small, to this day I cannot leave the water running while I brush my teeth. It was one of the conservation measures the city asked everyone to follow because of a water shortage. Water shortage or no, it's a good practice not to waste, and so my boys were taught to turn off the tap while brushing too.

These lessons and examples from my childhood have stuck with me, reminding me that early childhood is the perfect time to encourage good habits. And if you can sneak in an educational message with some entertainment, like hiding the vegetables in their smoothie, why not?

With Earth Day being today, it's the perfect opportunity to share some age-appropriate environmental lessons with our little ones. Netflix Canada has a great line-up of preschool shows, and many of them present stories supporting the importance of caring for our planet. Here are a few suggestions for you to check out. After watching with your kids, ask them some questions. What did they think? Did they learn anything new? What ideas do they have for being good stewards of the environment and keeping it healthy for future generations?

  1. Curious George: Mulch Ado About Nothing / Gets a Trophy
  2. Go Diego Go: Rescue of Red-Eyed Tree Frogs
  3. Bubble Guppies: Boy Meets Squirrel
  4. Dinosaur Train: Stargazing on the Night Train / Get Into Nature
  5. Sesame Street: The Camouflage Challenge
  6. Wild Animal Baby Explorers: Beaks and Bills / The Mighty Oak Tree
Disclosure: I am a member of the Netflix #StreamTeam program, and receive special perks as part of my involvement. I was not financially compensated for this post.

Monday, April 21, 2014

In the Garden - Starting Seeds

Easter always makes me think of renewal and rebirth and the regrowth of life in the spring. I spent a lot of
time in the garden this Easter weekend, as the weather was gorgeous. I got a fair bit of clean-up done and am almost ready to start working on getting my planting beds ready for next month. Of course, that means that I need to have things to plant! I do buy most of my plants as nursery stock, but Boo and I like to start a few things from seed as well. Kids love to watch things grow, and the magic of a little seed sprouting out into a plant is pretty cool.

This post isn't so much a how-to on starting seeds, but some ideas on the types of containers you can consider. I'm a big fan of re-using and re-purposing, so I have a few suggestions for you!

When looking for containers to start my seeds, I prefer to use materials that can readily break down and add organic matter to the soil. You can purchase peat pots or peat pellets at the garden centre if you want to go that route. Or, you can use items you already have around the house. Like ...

1. Egg shells. When you crack your eggs for breakfast or for whatever recipe, try to break the shell close to the pointed end. Rinse the larger part of the shell and set aside for later planting. Bonus - egg shells provide lots of calcium for the soil as they break down.

2. Egg cartons. The cardboard kind, not styrofoam. Remove the lid and add soil to the individual compartments. Once the seedlings are ready to transplant to the garden, cut or tear the sections apart.

3. Empty toilet paper rolls. Cut four slits approximately 1 inch, evenly spaced, on one end. Fold in the resulting four tabs to create a bottom. Add soil.

Of course you can also use things like empty yogurt or pudding containers. You will need to carefully remove seedlings from these containers to transplant, so it's a little more touchy, but the containers work great. Just try not to disturb the roots too much. Either gently squeeze the sides, while holding the seedling close to the soil and pulling gently (upside down), or use scissors or garden shears to cut the container away.

Especially if you are using biodegradable materials, you will need a tray of some sort to keep the surface underneath the pots dry and clean. Purchased kits will come with a covered tray, but have a look around and see what you have already. And old cake pan, or even foil pie trays work great. How about clamshell containers from the bakery? Built in cover to keep in the humidity! If you don't have anything to hand to keep your egg shell planters upright, check out your local dollar store. You should be able to find a variety of disposable foil trays and pans there for $1 - $2 each, or even less. I picked up a super, covered, foil casserole dish for $1.25! Having a cover over your seeds aids in keeping the soil moist and the temperature warm enough for germination. You can remove the cover once the seedlings are an inch or so tall. If your tray/pan/etc. doesn't have a clear lid, cover your seed containers with plastic wrap.

Do you start seeds indoors? What kids of containers have you used?

Friday, April 18, 2014

Teach a Kid to Use Word, Stock Up On Printer Ink

This week Boo's teacher assigned a research project for their social sciences unit. The kids need to pick a country (other than our own!), research it (climate, geography, food, school, etc.), and then create a bristol board presentation. She'll be working on it with them in school, but she wants them to do some of the research at home, and bring their stuff in to class in their special folder. This is only second grade, so we're not talking really in-depth stuff here, but it's a great exercise for them.

Boo picked Japan, since he loves karate. Sounds good. And we started the research on Tuesday. I got him going, and gave him some tips, but he did most of the work on his own. One thing I did teach him was how to do some basic stuff in MS Word. He wanted pictures for his display, and I find the easiest way to print one from the web is to grab it and insert it into a Word document. That way you know it will fit on the printed page, and you won't get extra stuff you weren't counting on printing. You can also add a border or what-not if you wish. So I did it once, and then he took over. I also showed him how to change the font and font size so he could create captions.

Well, it appears I've created a monster. Or a creative genius. Or something.

I went out for a bit this morning, and when I came back he excitedly called me upstairs. He was making posters for his room, using these new skills I'd taught him for his social studies project. He found images he wanted, right-clicked to "save as image." Then opened a Word document and inserted the image. He then chose a font and wrote a caption under each, and printed. He even did a sort of title page to highlight the collection, which is now proudly displayed on his wall.

In case you don't have boys, these are all computer games. His faves.

Anyone have a good line on discount printer toner?? I think I'm going to need lots!

Research tip for kids - There are so many excellent informational sites directed specifically to the younger set. When searching, include the word "kids" in your search stream. This will bring up pages better suited to their reading level, with the kind of details they will find most interesting and useful.
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