Sledding With Linden Hills Nature School

My car needed an oil change, so Livia and I spent an hour sitting inside the dealership yesterday morning. The dealership has a play room with a basket of toy cars, and Livia doesn’t mind when we occasionally have to stop there. She is happy to play with all the little vehicles.

When the oil changed was completed, we stepped outside and discovered that it was a very pleasant 26 degrees. The sun was shining, which felt even better. I knew the coming days were forecasted to feel much colder. We couldn’t waste the rest of the morning by staying inside.

We decided to try to meet up with Linden Hills Nature School. I drove to their location for that day. When I pulled into the parking lot, I saw that the group was climbing on a snow mountain at the edge of the lot.

I parked the car, and one by one, the kids came running over to me. I was greeted with hugs, and several requests to get Livia out of the car. I helped her bundle up, and grabbed her sled. The nature school gang led us to the sledding hill.

The first thing the teacher did when we reached the hill was spread a tarp on the ground. Everyone sat down and warmed up with some tea. The children observed how the thermos was steaming when the top was removed. Some kids experimented with pouring the warm tea on the cold snow. They discovered that the hot tea made the snow melt.

There were some tears while everyone was gathered on the tarp. Some of the kids are still figuring out that in order to keep their hands warm in winter, they need to keep their mittens on. The teacher helped the children work through their feelings. She allowed them to express their emotions, but she also let them know that she was there for them when they were ready for help.

It was good for me to see that hardy nature school kids sometimes cry when they are outside, even on a pleasant, sunny, winter day. It doesn’t mean they don’t like being outside. It doesn’t mean that being outside in the winter is too much. It just means that young kids are still learning how to handle their frustrations, and adapt to the changing season.

The tears didn’t last for long. Soon, everyone was ready to slide down the hill. At the top, the teacher helped them form a train with the sleds, and away they went.

The teacher whooped and cheered along with the kids as they slide down together. Joy was all around.

It was hard work getting back up the hill. Some kids had taken their mittens off, and were once again reminded that snow is cold. But, they managed to make it up, over and over again.

Even Livia, at 2 years old, was able to climb up by herself. The thrill of flying on the sled was a good motivator to do something hard.

Livia’s hat fell off during one of her runs down the hill. This upset her, and she began to cry. Upon seeing her tears, one little boy offered her some help. I was touched by this gesture. Having compassion for others is important throughout life. Kindness is something that can not be taught from worksheets.

Every time I spend a morning with Linden Hills Nature School, I feel a renewed sense of hope. This is a school that understand a child’s need to move, and right to play, and is doing all that it can to protect both. This school respects children as unique individuals, and doesn’t force them to fit into any mold. Kids are allowed to be kids at this school. Childhood is celebrated here, and not rushed along.

Eventually it was time for the nature school kids to eat lunch. I hadn’t packed lunch for Livia, so we needed to go home to eat. I was sad to see such a lovely morning end, but I felt lighter after witnessing all the connected, playful moments that had occurred.

Baby Snow

Right now, my niece is not a fan of snow. Going outside when there is snow on the ground requires layers of clothing, a big snow suit, a hat, and covered hands. It’s hard to move while wearing all of that, especially for a small person who is just learning to crawl.

Some people would just assume that she hates winter and will always hate winter. They might keep her inside until spring. Why go through all the work of dressing her, when she’s only going to stay outside for a short time?

I bundle her up and take her outside because she needs many chances to get used to her gear. The required clothing is more of a problem for her than the snow or cold. It can take time to adjust to something different. She’s not used to having her hands covered, and that’s frustrating to her, because she learns so much about her world through touch. She’s a baby who likes to be in constant motion, and she needs practice to learn how to move in her snowsuit.

I don’t believe that we should not offer a child an experience, just because there’s a chance the child might feel uncomfortable. It’s okay to be a little uncomfortable sometimes. With time, and support, a child can overcome their discomfort, and even find joy in what used to be a challenge.

The other day, I brought some snow inside for my niece to play with. I had to let her touch it with a bare hand first, because she didn’t want to wear mittens. Once she realized how cold the snow felt, she let me put mittens on her hands. She then spent a few minutes smashing snowballs on a towel.

We’re spending less time outside these days, but we’re still trying to get out when we can. It won’t always be like this. When my niece is older, and able to move more independently, I think she will want to be out for longer stretches. Until then, I will just keep offering her opportunities to explore the snow.

Refreshing

I try not to say anything negative about cold weather in front of Livia. There are plenty of other people who complain about winter, so I try to balance out all the grumbling with something different. When we hear someone say, “It’s too cold,” or similar, I always follow up with, “It is cold, but it’s a beautiful day. It’s so refreshing out here! It’s invigorating! It wakes you right up!”

Sometimes, Livia agrees with me. Other times, she just looks at me like I’ve lost my mind when I say things like that. I say those things just as much for myself as I do for Livia. It’s easy to get caught up in everything that makes winter a challenge. Focusing on the less desirable aspects of cold and snow doesn’t benefit anyone.

We go outside for at least short period every day. If Livia is dressed appropriately for the cold, I am often the one that has to tell her when it’s time to go in. If she’s well rested with a full belly and warm gear, she seems to enjoy being out there.

We spent more than an hour the other morning climbing on, and crawling under fallen trees. Livia rolled down a hill and slid into crunchy, frost covered leaves. She stomped on a frozen puddle, and was delighted to discover she could crack the ice. I did have to convince her that it would be fun to play outside at first, because the wind was strong, but once she got moving, she didn’t want to stop playing.

When it was time to go home and have lunch, we slowly made our way back to the car. About halfway to the parking lot, Livia insisted on being carried. She was tired from all the playing. I picked her up and we pushed on against the wind. After an especially biting gust, I said, “Brrr!”

Livia looked at me, then tipped her head back so her face was in the wind. I thought that she was going to cry.

“Ahh! Freshing!” she said, with a big smile.

“Yes. It certainly is refreshing,” I agreed.

There will still be days when Livia doesn’t want to play outside. There will be times when I want to hide from the wind and cold. Choosing to talk about the weather in a more positive way will ensure that there are more days of bundling up to explore than days of not.

An Afternoon with Edison and Bridget

I didn’t feel like going outside. I’d been out for almost 3 hours earlier that morning. I hadn’t dressed appropriately for the weather, and I got really cold. It was a chill that I just couldn’t shake. I didn’t want to leave the comfort of the couch to go back out.

Edison and Bridget had each had a great quiet time and nap. It wouldn’t have been fair to keep them in. They are both used to having lots of outside play time every day. I also knew that Edison really wanted to walk to the market to get brownies with me. Though I would have preferred to stay on the couch, I bundled all of us up, and we headed out.

Bridget didn’t want to wear mittens. She cried when I tried to put them on her. She was eating a cheese stick, and that was hard to hold on to with covered hands. I decided to let her go with bare hands for a little while. I brought along a couple pairs of mittens for her, so we would have them when she got cold.

After a quick stop at the market, we decided to continue walking down to the park. The kids were happily sharing a brownie, and I noticed that I didn’t feel cold while I was moving.

Edison pointed out each bird and squirrel that we passed. He noticed that several birds were making a lot of noise in this one particular bush. We couldn’t see the birds, but he knew they were there, because he could hear them.

After walking in silence for a few minutes, Edison said, “I like your shirt, Chelsey.”

I misunderstood him at first. I thought he was asking for another shirt.

“Are you cold?” I asked him.

I had a moment of panic. I’d dressed everyone in layers and snow suits before we ventured out, but the whole process had been chaotic. I knew that the kids’ mom probably had a much better system for getting everyone ready. I was sure that I didn’t have everyone zipped and tucked as tightly as she would have.

“No. I like your shirt,” he said again.

This time I understood.

“Oh! Thank you, Edison,” I said.

When both children had finished their brownies, I put mittens back on their hands. Bridget didn’t keep hers on for long, but she did give her hands a few minutes to warm up. Once we arrived at the playground, I put her mittens back on. A few minutes later, she took them off again. I let her be, but I continued to check her fingers.

Both kids got right to playing. Edison asked for sand toys, but because we didn’t originally plan to go to the park, we didn’t have any with us. Edison understood this when I told him, and he played on the teeter totter instead.

At one point, Bridget was playing on a piece of equipment that spins. Edison immediately ran over to that piece of equipment and tried to get on with her. I thought about telling him that he needed to wait for his turn, but I decided to wait, and watch to see what would happen, instead.

Bridget was frustrated when Edison first got on. Once she realized that Edison was playing with her, and not taking anything away from her, she liked the idea of spinning with him.

When he was done spinning, Edison ran through a patch of leaves that had collected along the perimeter of one side of the playground. He did this a few times, and then he spotted a big stick in the grass. He left the playground area to grab the stick, and then he brought it back with him to the patch of leaves.

He ran through the leaves while carrying the stick.

When he tired of running, he carried the stick over to another part of the playground. He started hitting it against the sand. A piece of the stick snapped off, and Edison found this to be hilarious.

Bridget still didn’t want to leave her mittens on. Her hands were cold, and I couldn’t let them be bare anymore. When I helped her put on the pair of mittens that she couldn’t pull off, she was too mad to play. More than an hour had passed since we left the house, and it was time to go back home.

As we were leaving the park, Edison looked at the pool and said, “No water in the pool today.”

“I wouldn’t want to go swimming today. Brrr! What do you think would happen if they put water in the pool on a cold day like today?” I asked him.

“Freeze. Ice in the pool,” he answered.

“You’re right. The water would freeze.”

When we got to his street, Edison once again pointed out all the squirrels that he saw. He wanted to get out of the stroller and walk, so we took our time. Eventually we made it back home.

The kids wanted to play in the backyard for a few minutes before heading into the house. I let them play while I unloaded the stroller and put it in the garage. Then we all went in to eat dinner, and had a nice inside play time before bed.

Edison sat and listened to me read several books before I tucked him in. When I left his room, he quickly fell asleep. Bridget was also asleep not long after I tucked her in.

I know that getting outside was the key to our good afternoon and evening. It was cold and gray, but we were still able to meet everyone’s needs for play, movement, and fresh air.

Ball

She was sleeping when I arrived. While I waited for her to wake, I set some things out on the floor in her play space. She would probably be ready to explore after her nap.

She woke up happy. She even let me put a new hat on her head, to see if it would fit.

She spent some time looking at the two books. She patted and rubbed each page, searching for the different textures. Then she noticed the ball.

I had a feeling she would be interested in the ball. It was the first time she had seen this particular ball. I imagined that she would enjoy pushing it to watch it roll. I thought that maybe she would like to crawl after it.

The ball didn’t roll far on the carpet. She wasn’t interested in pushing it around. She was fascinated by the sound her fingernails made when they scratched the ball’s surface.

She started out scratching lightly. She was immediately pleased by the soft noise that this produced. She also seemed curious about the bumpy texture of the ball.

After a few seconds of gentle scratching, she experimented with scratching harder. When she really dug her fingers into the surface of the ball, it produced a louder sound. Her face showed an intense focus on what she was doing.

The noise she was making reminded me of nails on a chalkboard. It was unpleasant to my grown-up ears. I didn’t like the sound, but it was still interesting to observe her interaction with the ball.

After about 5 minutes of scratching the ball, she pushed it away. She watched it roll, but didn’t go after it. Then she turned her attention to something else, and didn’t look at the ball again until much later in the evening.

A Shrew, A Bug, A Hill, A Rock, White Leaves, And Ice

There was a dead shrew outside the visitor center. We didn’t know for certain that it was a shrew, but I thought it looked like one.

“Just pick it up and bring it inside and ask them,” Charlotte told me.

“Well, I’m not sure if I want to touch it,” I explained.

“Why?” Charlotte asked.

“It’s dead, and I’m just not sure if they would like me bringing it inside,” I said.

“You could just pick it up with a leaf and then you don’t have to touch it on your skin,” Charlotte suggested.

“Why don’t we just go back in and ask them if they know what it is,” I said.

“Okay,” Charlotte agreed.

We walked inside and asked the man at the desk if he knew what the little dead thing outside the door was. He had no idea what we were talking about. He followed us outside to have a look.

His best guess was that it was some type of shrew. I told Charlotte that we we could look up pictures of a shrew at home and see if they matched what we found. She was satisfied with this plan.

As we were heading out to meet friends, I said,”It’s such a nice day. I don’t even think there is any wind. Isn’t it nice out here?”

“There’s a little bit of wind. It’s tiny wind. But it’s still a nice day,” Charlotte said.

We finally made it to the trail and caught up with our friends. I explained our dead shrew delay, and then we got right to exploring.

I noticed something small and green poking out of the leaf litter. I picked it up and saw what I thought was a stink bug. I brought it over to show the kids.

They were not impressed with my find.

“Peeeyeeeew!” they shouted.

I put the dead bug back down in the leaves.

Everyone stopped to look at some fungus on a log.

A fallen tree called to kids, and they all gathered around it. Charlotte crawled under it.

One of our toddler friends spent a few minutes poking a stick into a hole on part of the fallen tree.

Livia crouched down and peeked at her friend from the other side. This caused both toddlers to giggle, and instigated the type of peekaboo game that only a toddler can understand.

The older girls noticed that there were white leaves on the ground. They worked hard to collect as many as they could.

One small white leaf was extra special for a few minutes, but quickly discarded when the moment had passed.

The older girls climbed up a big hill.

“How will we get down?” they shouted to the grown ups.

“Can you think of a good way to get down?” we asked.

The girls thought for a few moments. They walked to a section of the hill that was less steep, and then they scooted down on their bottoms.

The next challenge they wanted to conquer was climbing on top of a huge rock. Charlotte’s friend managed to get up with no problem. Charlotte struggled to get up, but we all encouraged her to keep trying. After a few tries, she managed to climb up right next to her friend.

We were in no hurry to get anywhere. The kids stopped and played whenever they wanted to. My nanny friend and I both felt comfortable letting the older girls run ahead when they felt they needed to. The toddlers took their time.There was an ice patch on one part of the trail. All the children played together on the ice.

They jumped and stomped to make it crack. They jabbed at it with sticks, and kicked at it.

Each child noticed that one part of the ice was more solid than other parts. They were all very determined to break the solid ice. They tried many different things to get it to crack, but all attempts were without success.

They all had fun despite not being able to break the ice.

After an hour and a half, it was time to head back to the car. There were some tears on the walk back, but everyone was happy again by the time we reached the cars.

Leaves, Ice, And Tracks

Yesterday we met some friends in the woods. We arrived a little earlier than everyone else, so we explored on our own for a while.

Livia discovered two large oak leaves on the ground. She was delighted by their size, and she held them tightly as we wandered.

“This hand, this hand,” she told me, holding up each leaf.

“Yes, you have one oak leaf for each hand,” I said.

The turtle pond was frozen over. Livia had to sit observe to understand where the water had gone.

“Water frozen. Ice. Water gone,” she said.

“Well, kind of. The water did freeze, and now it’s ice,” I explained.

“Yeah. Ice. Water frozen,” Livia repeated.

She sat for a few more minutes, trying to process this change. Then she popped up, and we continued on.

Our friends had arrived by then. We decided to try a hike. Our group consisted of 3 nannies, 3 toddlers, and an infant. All of the adults understood that a hike with toddlers was not about distance. We did have a destination goal in mind, but we all agreed that it didn’t matter if we made it to that point. We were going to follow the kids and see where they took us.

It was a slow and wobbly hike. There was lots of stopping to examine things on the ground. Sticks were acquired, and animal tracks were spotted.

One of the other toddlers was curious about the ice, as Livia had been. He peered over the boardwalk to get a closer look.

The boy continuously tried to get to the ice.

Eventually, his nanny lifted him over the side, so he could experience it with his whole body. Toddlers are hands on beings, and ice is something that can’t be fully understood by looking only with one’s eyes.

The boy’s nanny was close enough to lend a hand if he needed it. He slipped and slid a little bit, but he didn’t fall.

After a few minutes, the boy’s nanny helped him back up on to the boardwalk.

We did not make it to our agreed upon destination, but that was okay. We lived the morning at a toddler’s pace. We took time to explore, examine, discover and play.