The COVID-19 pandemic has affected everyone in different ways; caregivers, patients and families alike are all experiencing new types of stress, grief and loss. This complicated grief has inspired many members of the community to develop new programs that are designed to meet this need. Here is a sampling of some of the free virtual support groups available in your area.
As the chilly weather and shorter days roll in, spending time outside with the kiddos becomes a bit more challenging, but as important as ever. We’ve all heard someone say something along the lines of, “Come inside…you’ll catch a cold!!” But this common misconception that cold weather brings about illness should be abandoned at the door…leading outside, of course! As long as children bundle up and stay safe, the benefits of outdoor adventures far out way the risks. Getting the blood flowing and soaking up essential vitamins, both supports our immune systems, so we may better fight off such viruses, and excites the senses. However, finding outdoor activities can sometimes be tricky and it is easy to want to curl up in a cozy blanket and hibernate until spring. Here are a few ideas and projects my children and I have done to stay connected to the natural world this winter.
Nature Confetti and Ice Suncatchers
Frozen Ice-suncatchers are a beautiful way to capture the sun and add some splendor to your yard! And they are super easy to make…winter temperatures do most of the work for you!
You will need:
Some sort of container: paper plates, aluminum pie crust pan, etc.
Natural materials: leaves, twigs, rose hips, feathers, berries, etc.
Something to hang the suncatchers: kitchen twin, yarn, ribbon, jute, etc.
Freezer or just set outside in freezing temperatures
Hole punch to make confetti from dried leaves (optional)
We used compostable paper bowls but you could use any sort of container. Search the yard or go for a walk in the woods or neighborhood to find natural materials and arrange them in your container. Next fill with water. You can even add a couple drops of food coloring to add some vibrant colors. Finally leave outside to freeze!
When they are frozen, you can pop out the ice and drill a hole for your string to hang. Or as an alternative hanging measure, you can wrap the string around the perimeter, with a good length at the top, then fill with some cold water and refreeze. You will then have string that wraps the suncatcher! Hang on a tree where it can catch the light and enjoy the beauty of your creation!
Winter Scavenger Hunt
Committing to learning with your children outside, ignites many opportunities to use your senses and connect with your little ones. Who doesn’t love a good scavenger hunt? Winter scavenger hunts are a great way for the kiddos to have fun, while using their senses to understand winter habitat ecology! You can use the list here as an example, but there are certainly more items that could be added, depending on your region or where you intend to do the hunt!
Before the adventure, try talking with your children about how to use their senses for each item. For example, do you “see” the pine trees? Can you “smell” them? What do the bark, pinecones, and pine needles “feel” like?
After the search is a great time to talk over the items in your search, as the excitement and chaos of the hunt is often too great whilst in the moment! What items did you find, and which did you not? What was the most exciting winter spotting? Any new discoveries?
Electronic Wildlife Watchers
This next activity is not one to be done outside, but is great fun to watch wildlife in real time from the cozy comfort of your home. There are numerous wildlife cams, such as Cornell FeederWatch Cam, where we often catch a mongoose snatching fruit at the Panama feeders during the nighttime hours. My children also love to check on Iris the osprey at the University of Montana’s nest camera! https://www.allaboutbirds.org/cams/hellgate-ospreys/
Time to get out the Sibley’s and see how many backyard birds you can identify! This is a great introduction to fascinating bird behaviors and I am always amazed to hear about the children’s “eagle-eyed” observations.
Another fun activity to check out some “bugs” and the health of your local watershed, is to identify macroinvertebrates using a dichotomous key. You can find the one we use here.
Bring a container so that you can collect specimens, being sure to keep an adequate amount of water for the creatures. Carefully turn over rocks and you should find some critters. Use a net if you have one.
Once you’ve collected some species, start at the top of the key, asking questions based on the characteristics you observe. For example, “shell or no shell, legs or no legs,” following your way down to the correct identification!
Check out some valuable online resources for more information on your local watershed, what makes a healthy stream, and how macroinvertebrates are bioindicators. A great resource for Butte, Montana is The Clark Fork Watershed Education Program!