Category Archives: Fun Family Learning

Homemade Light Box

I saw this idea on Play At Home Mom, my new favorite blog and Facebook page.  Since I store our Christmas lights in a clear container anyway, this was a quick project!

My only concern was that Joshua decided to climb up on the box.  I’m storing it out of reach when we’re not using it, and supervising him very closely when we play with it.  I may pick up a shallow clear box to use instead, but this one works for now.

I have high hopes for many more easy, simple, cheap/free homemade projects this summer!

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Filed under Fun Family Learning, Living from Scratch, Natural Learning

Fun Family Learning: Cupcake Core Sampling

How can we know what’s underground if we can’t see it? One method is core sampling.  I wrote a post about my experience taking sediment samples from the bottom of Long Island Sound, and this is just one example of a real life use for core sampling.  An easy way to model core sampling at home is with cupcakes.

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A sediment sample from the bottom of Long Island Sound. Note the distinct layers.


  • cupcake pan and liners
  • cake batter
  • food dye
  • frosting
  • clear straws


All you need to do is whip up your favorite cake batter and separate it into about 5 bowls.  Use food coloring or a natural dye to make 5 different colors, then spoon each color into your lined cupcake pan.  Be sure to vary the layers so each cupcake is different.  Bake the cupcakes, then allow them to cool and top them with your favorite frosting.

Use a clear straw to take core samples.  Children can choose to use a coordinate system for their holes or may prefer to wing it.  As they pull up each sample, they should note the colors present.  After they’ve taken samples, they can guess what the cupcake will look like or even draw a picture.  Then cut the cupcake in half and see how what it looks like.  Did you drill enough holes? Were the layers in the order you expected? Finally, go ahead and eat the cupcake!
  • Use a foil or opaque cupcake liner and cover the whole top with frosting so you really can’t see any of the colors.
  • Bake strawberries, blueberries or chocolate chips into the cake to play the role of fossils.
  • You will need to make the batter very dark so the layers will be obvious in the straws.
  • The layers will compress a little as you push down on the cupcake, so you may not be able to tell their relative thickness.

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This post is part of my Fun Family Learning series.  Please let me know what you think about it and feel free to request a future topic!


Filed under Food, Fun Family Learning, Natural Learning, Recipes

Farmer Boy

Welcome to the May Carnival of Natural Parenting: Growing in the Outdoors

This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they encourage their children to connect with nature and dig in the dirt. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.


I grew up on a farm that has been in my family for over 350 years and spent a big chunk of my childhood working in the farm market.  This means I have had the fortunate opportunity to enjoy amazing fruits and veggies at the peak of perfection.  My favorite was a warm strawberry picked and then transported a short distance, directly into my mouth.  My husband Ed’s family raises their own pigs, turkeys and chickens, and also operates a shellfishing business. 

It is incredibly important to us that our son Joshua knows where his food comes from.  My philosophy of education is one of place-based, experiential learning, and this is exactly how we teach Joshua about his food.  We bring him along, visit our families, let him get dirty, eat the apples, and pet the piglets.  Farm kids are not isolated from the work that their parents do, and though we don’t live on a farm anymore we plan to keep Joshua involved with where his food comes from throughout his life.  Even a small child can help to raise his own food, and his responsibilities will grow along with him. 

We started early.  About two weeks before Joshua was born, I joined my family for a walk around their 60-acre farm as they tapped trees in sugaring season.  This year, I brought an almost one-year-old Joshua along.  Next year, he’ll get to participate in some small way.

As Joshua grows up, he’ll learn to plant seeds, weed, fertilize and harvest.  He’ll be expected to work, learn, and play along with the adults.  He’ll learn to drive a tractor at a young age, when we think he’s ready.  He’ll grow pumpkins, berries and squash and climb up the dwarf tree to get a juicy peach.

He’ll help take care of animals and grow to love them like we do.  He’ll help to package meat, learn to cut it up, and maybe even learn to slaughter our meat animals, though I think we’ll let him make that choice for himself.  He’ll learn to fish in fresh and salt water, too.  We believe that if you choose to eat animals, you had better know where those animals came from and how they lived.

We also spend time in our own kitchen so that Joshua can learn to cook what he grows and raises.  Family meals are important to us, too, and he will get to help in an age-appropriate way.  Right now, Joshua plays with wooden spoons, measuring cups and pots while I cook.  Soon he’ll get to help stir, strain, and wash.  Maybe someday he’ll even cook a whole meal while I put my feet up. A girl can dream.


Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: MamaVisit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

  • Get Out!Momma Jorje gives reasons she doesn’t think she gets outside enough and asks for your suggestions on making time for the outdoors.
  • How Does Your Garden Grow?The ArtsyMama shares her love of nature photography.
  • We Go Outside — Amy at Peace 4 Parents describes her family’s simple, experiential approach to encouraging appreciation of nature.
  • My Not-So-Green Thumb — Wolfmother confesses to her lack of gardening skills but expresses hope in learning alongside her son at Fabulous Mama Chronicles.
  • Enjoying Outdoors — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine describes how her children enjoy the nature.
  • Five Ideas to Encourage the Reluctant Junior Gardener — For the rare little ones who don’t like to get their hands dirty, Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers tips for encouraging an early love of dirt (despite the mess).
  • Connecting to NatureMamapoekie shares how growing your own vegetable patch connects your child to nature and urges them to not take anything for granted.
  • The Farmer’s Market Classroom — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction shares how the Farmer’s Market has become her son’s classroom.
  • Seeds — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment‘s hubby Ken shares his perspective on why gardening with their kiddos is so important . . . and enjoyable!
  • Toddlers in the Garden — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares her excitement as she continues to introduce her toddler and new baby to the joys of fresh veggies, straight from the garden.
  • Nature’s Weave — MJ at Wander Wonder Discover explains how nature weaves its way into our lives naturally, magnetically, experientially, and spiritually.
  • Becoming Green — Kristina at Hey Red celebrates and nurtures her daughter’s blossoming love of the outdoors.
  • Little Gardener — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis looks forward to introducing her baby girl to gardening and exploring home grown foods for the first time.
  • Cultivating Abundance — You can never be poor if you have a garden! Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on what she cultivates in her garden . . . and finds it’s a lot more than seeds!
  • Growing in the Outdoors: Plants and People — Luschka at Diary of a First Child reflects on how she is growing while teaching her daughter to appreciate nature, the origins of food, and the many benefits of eating home-grown.
  • How Not to Grow — Anna at Wild Parenting discusses why growing vegetables fills her with fear.
  • Growing in the Outdoors — Lily at Witch Mom Blog talks about how connecting to the natural world is a matter of theology for her family and the ways that they do it.
  • A Garden Made of Straw — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares tips on making a straw bale garden.
  • The Tradition of Gardening — Carrie at Love Notes Mama reflects on the gifts that come with the tradition of gardening.
  • Gardening Smells Like Home — Bethy at Bounce Me to the Moon hopes that her son will associate home grown food and lovely flowers with home.
  • The New Normal — Patti at Jazzy Mama writes about how she hopes that growing vegetables in a big city will become totally normal for her children’s generation.
  • Outside, With You — Amy at Anktangle writes a letter to her son, a snapshot of a moment in the garden together.
  • Farmer Boy — Abbie at Farmer’s Daughter shares how her son Joshua helps to grow and raise their family’s food.
  • Growing Kids in the Garden — Lisa at Granola Catholic shares easy ways to get your kids involved in the garden.
  • Growing Food Without a Garden — Don’t have a garden? “You can still grow food!” says Mrs Green of Little Green Blog. Whatever the size of your plot, she shows you how.
  • Growing Things — Liz at Garden Variety Mama shares her reasons for gardening with her kids, even though she has no idea what she’s doing.
  • MomentsUK Mummy Blogger explains how the great outdoors provides a backdrop for her family to reconnect.
  • Condo Kid Turns Composter and Plastic Police — Jessica from Cloth Diapering Mama has discovered that her young son is a true earth lover despite living in a condo with no land to call their own.
  • Gardening with Baby — Sheila at A Gift Universe shows us how her garden and her son are growing.
  • Why to Choose Your Local Farmer’s MarketNaturally Nena shares why she believes it’s important to teach our children the value of local farmers.
  • Unfolding into Nature — At Crunchy-Chewy Mama, Jessica Claire shares her desire to cultivate a reverence for nature through gardening, buying local food, and just looking out the window.
  • Urban Gardening With Kids — Lauren at Hobo Mama shares her strategies for city gardening with little helpers — without a yard but with a whole lot of enthusiasm.
  • Mama Doesn’t Garden — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life is glad her husband is there to instill the joys of gardening in their children, while all she has to do is sit back and eat homegrown tomato sandwiches.
  • Why We Make this Organic Garden Grow — Brenna at Almost All The Truth shares her reasons for gardening with her three small children.
  • 5 Ways to Help Your Baby Develop a Love of the Natural World — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama believes it’s never too early to foster a love of the natural world in your little one.
  • April Showers Bring May PRODUCE — Erika at NaMammaSte discusses her plans for raising a little gardener.
  • Growing Outside — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers how to get her kids outside after weeks of spring rain.
  • Eating Healthier — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey talks about how she learns to eat healthier and encourages her children to do the same.
  • The Beauty of Earth and Heavens — Inspired by Charlotte Mason, Erica at ChildOrganics discovers nature in her own front yard.
  • Seeing the Garden Through the Weeds — Amanda at Let’s Take the Metro talks about the challenges of gardening with two small children.
  • Creating a Living Playhouse: Our Bean Teepee! — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings shares how her family creates a living playhouse “bean teepee” and includes tips of how to involve kids in gardening projects.
  • Grooming a Tree-Hugger: Introducing the Outdoors — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her planned strategies for making this spring and summer memorable and productive for her pre-toddler in the Outdoors.
  • Sowing Seeds of Life and Love — Suzannah at ShoutLaughLove celebrates the simple joys of baby chicks, community gardening, and a semi-charmed country life.
  • Experiencing Nature and Growing Plants Outdoors Without a Garden — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares some of her favorite ways her family discovered to fully experience nature wherever they lived.
  • Garden Day — Melissa at The New Mommy Files is thankful to be part of community of families, some of whom can even garden!
  • Teaching Garden Ettiquette to the Locusts — Tashmica from Mother Flippin’ (guest posting at Natural Parents Network) allows her children to ravage her garden every year in the hopes of teaching them a greater lesson about how to treat the world.
  • Why I Play with Worms. — Megan of Megadoula, Megamom and Megatired shares why growing a garden and raising her children go hand in hand.


Filed under Food, Fun Family Learning, Gardening, Living from Scratch, Local Agriculture, Natural Learning, Nature, Outside, parenting, Sustainable Living

Monitoring Air Quality with Lichen as a Bioindicator

This post is part of the May Green Moms Carnival, hosted this month by the Green Phone Booth.

Cross-posted at Moms Clean Air Force

Joshua explores plant life outdoors (but not lichen!)

 Lichen, which consists of a symbiotic relationship between a fungus and an alga, is sensitive to atmospheric pollution including nitrogen and sulfur emissions that lead to acid rain, as well as toxic lead and mercury emissions.  This sensitivity makes lichen a valuable biological indicator of air quality.  It can be difficult to identify lichen species, even for seasoned naturalists.  We’ll generalize lichen into three categories for this activity. 

  • Crustose lichens form a “crust” onto their substrate of trees, rocks or soil.  The crust is attached so firmly that it cannot be removed without causing damage.
  • Foliose lichens are leafy (think: foliage) that attach loosely, and the lobes of the leaf are often parallel to the surface of the substrate.
  • Fruticose lichens are the three dimensional, often growing perpendicular to their substrate.  They can look like little bushes growing off the side of a tree or rock.

Look at some pictures of each of these lichens until you’re comfortable identifying them.  (See the resources listed at the end.)

Activity: Go for a nature walk around your yard, a park or other favorite natural environment.  As you walk, stop to look at the types of lichen present.  Lichen is very slow-growing, so try not to disturb it as you examine it to determine if it is crustose, foliose or fruiticose.  Younger children can identify the lichen’s color: bright green, gray-green, blue-green, yellow-green, or even pink! Older children may want to bring a field journal along to diagram the lichen that they see.  Keep track of the number of different types of lichen you see while on your nature walk.  Generally speaking, the more lichen you see (in color and quantity) the cleaner the air.

Analysis: Use the modified Hawskworth-Rose Index below to estimate air quality in the area.

  1. No lichens present – very poor air quality
  2. Crustose lichens only – poor air quality
  3. Crustose and foliose lichens – moderate to good quality (based on number of different lichens)
  4. Fruticose, foliose and crustose lichens – very good air quality

What if we have poor air quality?

If you’re lookin’ for lichen but can’t find it anywhere, you may have very poor air quality.  Please write to your representatives and voice your concerns about your local air.  Children can write letters, take photographs or draw pictures to convey their ideas.  You can also tell the EPA that air quality should be a priority!

What if we have good air quality?

I bet that your representatives would love to hear about that, too! Why not send a letter, drawing or photo to let them know that your air is clean and you want it to stay that way?


  • Track changes in your local lichen each year to see if it increases or decreases.
  • Older children and teens can measure the lichen and calculate its area to collect quantitative data and practice graphing.
  • Photograph the lichen and make a guide to your local species. You don’t have to get technical, you can make up your own names.
  • If you want to get technical, consult an online lichen key to find the scientific names.
  • Grow your own lichen! You can paint on rocks or trees with yogurt to promote lichen growth. Not for those seeking immediate gratification…


Backyard Nature: Lichens


Lichen Lite

How to Know the Lichens

This post is part of my Fun Family Learning series.  Please let me know what you think about it and feel free to request a topic!


Filed under Fun Family Learning, Natural Learning, Nature, Outside, parenting

Fun Family Learning


I often stumble across interesting activities geared toward younger children when I’m building or improving my lessons, and recently I’ve been thinking of ways to adapt my high school activities to use with my son as he grows up.  I’ve decided to share some of these ideas here in a new series of posts: Fun Family Learning.  I think that all families will find these activities useful, whether you’re just looking for some weekend fun, homeschool lessons, or background for yourself.

Though I have experience in many areas of science education, I’m going to focus on environmental and life-science topics, since they’re my favorites.  I’d be happy to take requests, too!

Look for my first post in the Fun Family Learning series coming soon…

Monitoring Air Quality with Lichen as a Bioindicator


Filed under Fun Family Learning, Natural Learning