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Outdoor activities for your kids that are simple, fun and designed for learning.

 

Wednesday
Apr162014

Make music like wee wild things

 

  • Ages: 0-2; 3-5
  • Materials: A container with a lid for each kid; rubber bands
  • Time: Under an hour
  • Season: All year
  • Skills: Creativity; Music; Sensory Development; Emotional Development

 

 

The scoop:

Little kids love to make noise. Even in their first year, they learn to run any new object through a battery of tapping, shaking and banging tests, trying to decipher how many different ways it can make sound, only to repeat, and repeat, whichever way is most pleasing to them. If you are like us, music plays all day long in your home, and a box of instruments, some store-bought and some homemade, is almost perpetually out and in play. Kids love to jam, and, not-so-secretly, so do their parents. This joyful compulsion to create sound means more than that we are simply noisy creatures. Making music is part of the human experience. And it turns out that both enjoying and making music are brain-boosting activities that research shows help kids develop socially, emotionally and cognitively.

To initiate this activity, take the indoor music making habit into to the great wide open, where you can really get down. Bring a few helpful instrument-inspiring materials but gather most (if not all) that you need from mother nature. Then, you and the kids start making sounds—it pretty much flows from there. Make as many different sounds as you can and let kids just keep making them too. Make up a new rhythm or even a melody. Be as loud as you like. Celebrate each and every new sound or just keep making more.

two kids bang out a rhythm the whole group jams
girl shakes a nature shaker

 

The guide:

[1] Pack a few materials: Start with things you can bang, shake and strum. For example, metal containers to bang, drop or plop objects into; rubber bands to stretch between branches and pluck; and canisters with tops (e.g. yogurt, raisin or oatmeal containers) to fill with pebbles, wood chips, acorns, etc.

[2] Start with silence—As best you can, encourage everyone to lie down, close their eyes and listen (20 seconds of this is a huge achievement to wee ones). Talk about the many sounds you hear.

[3] Make your own sounds—Ask kids, "How can we make our own sounds or music outdoors? How many different sounds can we make?" Gather a pair of sticks each and explore how many ways you can use them to make sounds (e.g. bang them together and on logs, trees, objects from home, rub them against rough bark, shuffle leaves or dirt around). At some point, pick up a container and wonder together how you could use that to make even more sounds. Let kids have at it. They may make a whole bunch of sounds or just enjoy making the same sound over and over.

[4] Add a live Jam session (optional)—If you play an instrument or know friends who do, add in some live music that everyone can bang, beat, strum and even dance around to. Have and love a parade highlighting all of your musical instruments. Or, just sing your favorite songs and bang or clang along.

[5] Chant a rhythmic poem and kids play along (optional)—We love the poem Grassy Grass Grass by Woodie Guthrie, for example. Repeat it a couple of times so kids can pick up and join in with the rhythms and even the words. Teach it to them and you give them a chant for life.

[6] Add some challenge (optional)—Play a simple rhythm and see if the kids can follow. If they are into it, keep trying new, increasingly complicated rhythms and challenge kids to repeat them back to you. Stay short and simple if they are enjoying the game but can’t keep up with your trickier patterns. Turn over the reigns and let kids generate a rhythm or two.

Why it matters:

When you are in the midst of this activity, especially if you add in some live music, singing, dancing or parading about, you simply feel how joyful making music is for little kids—it’s moving to both body and soul. You’ll likely find yourself hoping that your kids never lose the ability to bang, shake, march or dance with such abandon. When you, old adult, make music and move along with them, you make that wish more possible.

As if this joy were not enough of a benefit, listening for and making sounds are powerful ways to encourage sensory development. Allowing kids to simply play with sound and discover sounds in their own way offers a real chance to develop creativity and problem solving skills. Being musical is also tied to brain development and even success in school. Research shows that participation in music, especially at an early age, can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating parts of the brain that are related to memory, language, patterns and emotional development. All of this may explain why participation in musical activities is such a predictor of success in school, college and beyond.

Monday
Apr142014

Make music like wild things

 

  • Ages: 6-8; 8-10
  • Materials: Digital recording device (e.g. iPhone); 1 container with lid per kid; rubber bands; string (optional)
  • Time: Under an hour
  • Season: All year
  • Skills: Creativity; Emotional Development; Music Intelligence; Problem Solving; Self Control; Sensory Development;

The scoop:

Music never loses it’s ability to move us, in fact as kids get older and get exposed to more and more music, their capacity to appreciate and be moved by music grows. Somehow, though, around age 5 or 6, so many of our music makers start to grow more shy about letting loose the playful musician inside. Perhaps it’s for good reason. Many start to learn to play an instrument, focusing on technique over wild experimentation. We also know that most kids enter school and hop on the activity and playdate circuit, a lifestyle in which chances for unstructured play with sound grow few and far between.

To reawaken the wild musician inside, take your kids outside to make music. Give them the open-ended challenge to make as many different sounds as they can with a few materials from home and with all that mother nature has to offer. Bring your phone or any digital recording device to capture each different sound, honoring each discovery and motivating them to bang, rub, shake and shuffle outside the box. Add some live music and turn the day outdoors in to a jam session. If you are a digital adventurer, download the sounds and add them to a favorite track, making your own nature mashup. No matter how you spin it, making music outside with your kids is good for body, brain and soul.

 

 

The guide:

[1] Pack a few materials—Bring metal containers to bang, drop or plop objects into; rubber bands to stretch between branches and pluck; and canisters with tops (e.g. yogurt, raisin or oatmeal containers) to fill with pebbles, wood chips, acorns, etc. Pack some string too to give kids even more options. Pack a phone or digital recorder too!

[2] Start with silence—Start out by lying down, closing your eyes and listening for the natural sounds around you (A minute of this is great, challenging practice with self control). Talk about the many sounds you hear.

[3] State the mission—Ask kids, How many different sounds can we make outdoors? Their mission, should they choose to accept it, is to make as many as they can. If they need a jump start, gather pairs of sticks and explore how many ways you can use them to make sounds (e.g. bang them together and on logs, trees, objects from home, rub them against rough bark, shuffle leaves or dirt around). Keep the containers handy so kids an use them to make more sounds.

[4] Record the sounds—As kids play, record new sounds using a digital recorder (e.g. the voice memo app on the iPhone). Soon, kids will likely be excitedly calling you over to record, proud of each new sound.

[5] Add a live Jam session (optional, but fabulous)—If you play an instrument or know friends who do, add in some live music that everyone can bang, beat, strum and even dance around to. Sing a few of your favorite songs and bang or clang along.

[6] Chant a rhythmic poem while kids play along—We love the poem Grassy Grass Grass by Woodie Guthrie, for example. Repeat it a couple of times so kids can pick up and join in with the rhythm and words. Teach it to them and you give them a chant to sing as they take a long walk, wait for the bus, or anytime their mind needs a beat to grab hold of.

[7] Make a mashup—Once you are back at home, drop your sound files into a program like GarageBand, and lay them over a favorite instrumental track. Many kids will enjoy watching this process, and some will even be able to teach you! Play the track back for your kids and see if they can remember how they made the different sounds. Share the track, dance around and relish the glory of the new record you just cut.

Why it matters:

Watching even “big kids” lose themselves in the joy of making sounds and, if you add some live music, in making music is super gratifying. It’s so rare that kids just get to be noisy and generative, and it’s a perfect way to develop the creativity they’ll so desperately need in the future. Just taking time to be silent and listen to the sounds around them also helps develop self control and further hone kids' senses. Further, as kids adjust materials and methods to make new sounds, they experiment and problem solve. Being musical is also tied to brain development and even success in school. Research shows that participation in music, especially at an early age, can help improve a child’s learning ability and memory by stimulating parts of the brain that are related to memory, language, patterns and emotional development. All of this may explain why participation in musical activities is such a predictor of success in school, college and beyond.

 

Sunday
Apr132014

Host your own egg roll

The scoop:

What is more American than a good egg roll? Confused? We don’t mean the deep-fried, Chinese appetizer; we mean the good, old Easter Egg Roll. Our first egg roll started more as parental quick thinking than an act of patriotism, though. We had a lot of fun mixing the dye, gently (or not so gently) placing eggs in the colorful liquid and watching them transform. We even threw an introductory physics lesson in the mix while boiling the eggs. It was magic, really.

Once the magic show ended, though, our daughter asked, "What do we do with the eggs now?" Every suggestion we gave was met with disappointment. Put them in a bowl and look at them? That's it? Pretty boring. Wait a week to put them in the Easter Basket? Delayed gratification=no fun. Eat them? Eat my pretty eggs?!

Fortunately, we remembered that U.S. presidents host Easter egg rolling parties at the White House. In fact, we learned that they've been doing it since 1878. With over 100 years of presidential approval, this game must have some magic to it. They wouldn't still be rolling eggs on the South Lawn every Easter if it didn't challenge and delight.

Hours later, we rallied some equally kooky friends, packed up our eggs, a few large spoons and a few other props. Then, we headed to a local patch of grass, and a new tradition was born. That’s all it takes. Dye some eggs, gather some friends or family and hatch your own egg roll this year!

See more photos from our first annual egg roll in our photo gallery!

The guide:

[1] Dye eggs—Dye enough soft-boiled eggs for each child to have about three shots at it, and maybe make extra in case you attract a few new friends who want to play.

[2] Gather your materials—Each egg roller needs a long-handled, flat-headed spoon. You may also want to bring something to indicate the start and finish line, like some ribbon or big “START” and “FINISH” signs. To help little ones stay focused, we also placed a stuffed bunny at the finish line and told them to roll the eggs to the bunny.

[3] Get outside—Find a patch of grass long enough for a roll. About 20 yards is more than enough for kids 3 and younger. Go longer as kids get older.

[4] Line players up and demonstrate—After a quick egg rolling demonstration, players, spoons in hand, and their eggs line up on the start line. Emphasize how delicate these eggs are before you start. You may even want to demonstrate how easy it is to crush an egg so kids know to be careful.

[5] Ready, set, race!—Whoever reaches the finish line first with no damage to their egg wins! With preschoolers, you might just be looking for the egg that is most intact or simply cheering if they manage to go in the right direction.

[5]While you’re at it try some other games too

  • Slalom—Set up “cones” (anything works, including upside-down yogurt containers) and challenge rollers to weave around the cones on their way to the finish. You can also include trees, rocks or other objects already part of your course.
  • Egg spoon race—Put eggs on a spoon and race to see who can finish without dropping or cracking their eggs.
  • Egg toss—Just as in a water balloon toss, partners toss an egg back and forth trying not to break it. After each successful round-trip toss, they take a giant step backwards, making the next toss even more harrowing for the delicate egg. The last pair with an unharmed egg wins.

Why it matters:

Trying to use a spoon to roll a soft-boiled egg across grass without breaking it demands that kids’ eyes and hands work together, making it great for developing eye-hand coordination and essential fine-motor skills.

Fun as it is (and, it really is), kids also get a lesson in sportsmanship. Today, many adults work hard to shield kids from disappointment, leaving them under prepared to cope with life. But, there is no mistaking when you crush a soft boiled egg in the grass—you see and feel real results. The egg roll is meant to be fun, so go ahead and give kids as many mulligans as you want. But, you can also feel good knowing that, if and when their egg breaks, they will get some valuable practice with picking up the pieces and rolling on.

Perhaps most importantly, the egg roll is an exercise in self control. Anyone who rolls has to balance the desire to rush with the delicate nature of task. Even those too young not to break the egg are learning about their own limits as they play. Childhood self-control far exceeds intelligence as a predictor academic achievement, and provides the basis for mental flexibility, social skills and discipline. It predicts success in education, career and even marriage. Pretty sophisticated stuff for such a silly and fun Easter tradition!

A word of warning—Check pockets before you leave. Wee ones may not want to leave their pretty eggs behind, so don’t wait until the next morning to discover a well-loved, crushed egg in a coat pocket. It happened to us, don't let it happen to you!