Take recycled materials and nature treasures to create a beautiful nature menorah. As you build, talk about what you are building and where this comes from, either to reinforce your traditions or to learn about the traditions of other people. Once your menorah is built, add a new nature treasure each day or night of the 8 nights.
This activity is featured in our December calendar. If you do not yet have your free copy, get it here.
We used 9 cardboard toilet paper rolls, a flat, rectangular piece of cardboard and low-heat hot glue to create our nature menorah. You could use a variety of recycled materials and could even dedicate 9 glass jars or other reusable containers as your holders, if you can't find recycled materials that work for you. Or, keep it simple and use wood cookies to hold a treasure for each day.
Construct your menorah:
The menorah that is used in celebration of Hanukkah is actually called a "Hanukkiah" and has 9 candle holders—8 smaller and 1 larger or more prominent that is the "helper" candle to use to light the others. We created our nature menorah to have the same. We cut 8 of our toilet paper tubes a bit smaller and left the 9th tallest. Then, we used hot glue to glue one end of each tube to a rectangular piece of cardboard.
Each day, gather a new nature treasure to add to your menorah. This gives us a little extra inspiration to get outside on these chilly days, new eyes to see beauty in the nature around us. It's also a good chance to talk about size and capacity—which treasures (e.g. that really big stick vs. this small pebble) will be too big or just the right fit for your nature menorah.
Add a treasure each night:
In the evenings, add the treasure to a new holder on your menorah, slowing down to admire it and sharing thanks for nature as you go.
Learn more about Hanukah:
If Hanukkah is part of your spiritual tradition, enjoy tying this into your other holiday rituals in whatever way works for you. If it is not part of your spiritual tradition, learn more about the holiday and what it means to those who celebrate. Visit the PJ Library's Hanukah Hub for a kid-friendly telling of the Hanukkah story or visit your local library's children's section to find books like Hanukkah Haiku by Harriet Zeifert or Sadie's Almost Marvelous Menorah by Jamie Korngold. Hanukkah is a celebration of light, hope and survival. Enjoy learning more about people whose traditions differ from ours—something that helps our kids learn to value all people.
Why is this activity great for kids?
This inspiration for this activity as well as the cover photo came from Lindsay Fogg Willits of High Five Books/Always Art, a marvelous book shop/artist in my community and our friends at PJ Library. We just loved this way to celebrate or learn more about the traditions associated with Hanukkah, the Jewish festival of lights. If you celebrate Hanukkah, this could be a nice activity for kids to do alongside other holiday traditions. If you do not celebrate, it could be a nice way to learn about the holiday and how others celebrate—a wonderful way to help children learn to value all people, even those different from themselves. For all who enjoy this activity, it adds another reason to get out and celebrate the treasures that nature provides!
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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 are Fine Motor skills?
Fine motor skills refer to how we coordinate small muscle movements in the hands and fingers in conjunction with our eyes. Children begin with whole arm movements at birth and refine their movement, using smaller muscle groups as their bodies develop. With time and practice, children are able to enhance and strengthen the movements in their fingers, becoming able to manipulate small objects and perform a range of important life and learning tasks.
Why does it matter?
Kids need fine motor skills in order to perform every day tasks like using fork and knife, turning a door knob, cutting with scissors and catching and throwing a ball. These same skills are essential for tasks associated with higher level learning like hand writing and typing on a keyboard. If kids enter school without good fine motor skills, they can not only fall behind, but learning can become very frustrating. Moreover, they can develop lasting negative attitudes towards learning and themselves as learners.
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?