Although parents have to make calls about when hot is just too hot for kids, kids and adults alike are capable of contending with the heat more than we think. A little diversion goes a long way, and building and decorating a “nature fan” is just the thing kids need to feel in control of their own physical comfort and enjoy being both maker and master of a powerful tool—a functional fan. It'll definitely make you glad you and your kiddos left the AC behind to brave the heat.
Start by getting some heavy card stock. For example, cut manilla folders in half along the fold, then in half once again, each folder yielding four “fans.” Next, cut three slits (~1 inch each) in the bottom center of each piece, so you can weave a stick through the slits once outdoors. Remember to pack some strong tape (e.g. packing or duct tape) to help the stick stay in place. Finally, pack some double-sided tape (e.g. window insulation tape or poster mounting tape).
Step 2: Let kids find their stick and help them make a fan.
Ownership starts with kids searching for a stick to make their fan. Help them pick sticks that aren't too heavy and are about 10 to 12 inches long. Weave the stick in between the slits in the cardboard and use the strong (packing) tape to attach the stick to one side of the card stock. Voila! They have their very own fan. Help kids test it out and appreciate its cooling effects. Ahhhhhhh. Then, add some double-sided tape to the front of the fan. Now, it’s time to decorate by sticking objects to the tape.
Step 3: Let them loose to decorate.
The hunt for nature treasures may be the best part. Ask kids what kinds of objects will stick well and which won’t. Prompt a little planning by asking them to think about what kind of fan they are in the mood to make: camouflaged? colorful? simple? Then, send them off to search and stick treasures to their fan.
Step 4: Regroup to discuss the fans.
When kids are done, praise their efforts as you regroup to sit, relax, and enjoy the fruits (or breezes) of their labor. Ask open-ended questions about the fans, with prompts like, “Tell me about this fantastic fan,” “What is your favorite thing on this fan? Why?” or “Does the fan make you feel cooler? Why/how do you think it does that?” Anything that gets them talking and gives you the chance to show that you are genuinely interested in their creation is great!
Try these fun twists to add a challenge and pump up the learning for kids who are ready:
Have kids identify a category of items for their search:Our favorite categories hones sensory skills (e.g. Objects that have either color, smell or texture; Use as many different greens as you can).
Turn it into an art project:With more double-sided tape, enough to cover most of the fan, kids can use the leaves, petals, berries, dirt, and anything else they find to make any kind of picture. Anything is possible, including faces, animals, designs, creatures, and words. Again, encourage them to imagine the picture before they start hunting and making to activate their imagination and planning skills.
Let them discover other ways to use the fans: Give them time and space to use the fans however they can imagine. Nature fans can become pretend fishing poles, fly swatters, paddles for "leaf volley ball," swords, and flags.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Giving kids a tool to stay in control of their own coolness builds confidence and self reliance. Examining all the amazing sights, smells and textures in nature builds on their inherent curiosity and requires kids to use multiple senses carefully in the search for natural decorations. Putting the fan together and then imagining and trying out different ways to use their nature fans gives kids several ways to develop creativity. Whether or not you challenge kids to find a category of objects, all ages have to pay attention and stay focused on the task at hand as they hunt for objects and decorate their fans.
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By creativity, we mean the ability to both imagine original ideas or solutions to problems and actually do what needs to be done to make them happen. So, to help kids develop creativity, we parents need to nurture kids' imaginations and give them lots of chances to design, test, redesign and implement their ideas.
"Creativity is as important now in education as literacy, and we should treat it with the same status.”
Why, you ask? For one, it is through being creative that a person is able to get senses, sensibility and spirit working together. Simply put, without creativity, we don't think our kids will live a full life.
On a more practical level, it's also the means by which humans of all ages make an impact on the world and other people around them. A lot of heavy stuff is going to go down in our kids' lifetime, and their generation will need to imagine and implement solutions to big and very complicated problems. Although our kids are still far from public office or the boardroom, today's political and business leaders worldwide are already pointing to creativity as the most important leadership quality for the future.
Although years from the art studio or design lab, little kids can learn to think and act creatively if you give them time and the right practice.
What is a Naturalist?
The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?
What is Self Reliance?
Nearly all parents agree that we want to raise our children to become independent and self-reliant people. When they are babies, children rely on us for their basic needs and mobility. As they grow, they rely less directly on us for these basic needs but still need us for love, protection, direction and help. As they grow into adolescence and early adulthood, they will rely on us less and less, separating from us to prepare for the transition to adulthood.
Even though much of the separation dance plays out during adolescence, how we offer our kids both support and independence in their early years paves the way for them to develop self reliance later on. Many well-intending parents may become too involved, protective or demanding of their children and, by doing so, actually foster dependence in them. In turn, their kids grow to rely on others for motivation, happiness and direction, unable to make sound decisions for themselves.
Independent children, however, possess the belief that they are competent and capable of taking care of themselves. They were given the freedom to experience life and learn its many important lessons, both the joyful and the not-so-fun ones that come from taking risks and doing things for and by oneself.
Why does it matter?
Independent children emerge as intrinsically motivated, natural explorers. They are capable decision makers who have had practice weighing various options and, with the support and guidance of their parents, have been allowed to and lived by their own decisions. This kind of self reliance helps children navigate all realms of life. Academically, they advocate for themselves, take chances and try new things. Socially, they are less dependent on others for happiness, making them far more likely to weather the ups and downs of young friendships and social power dynamics. They have likely had the chance to identify and pursue their own interests and, therefore, have a rich sense of self. They are also more likely to make sound judgements and far less susceptible to engage in negative behaviors, succumb to peer pressure or become either bully or victim.
As children grow into adulthood, these same patterns continue to play out. Self-reliant adults have an easier time feeling happiness, self-respect and the respect of others. They are better decision-makers and often accomplish more given the self confidence and self awareness that comes from having been allowed to try, succeed, fail and learn along the way.
“Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string.” - Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance