Updated on 01.28.09

The Simple Dollar Weekly Roundup: Nature Exploration in Winter Edition

Trent Hamm

Suddenly, my three year old son is very interested in nature and the outdoors. He’s started noticing tons of things outside (even in the Iowa winter) and has started requesting that we watch nature documentaries when we watch television, instead of his usual previous standbys of various PBS shows.

This makes me even more anxious for spring. I simply can’t wait for a nice spring day when I can take my kids (both my son and my one year old daughter) out into the woods to wander around and discover whatever we may find.

We’ve gone outside a bit during the winter, but with literally feet of snow on the ground here and a temperature that’s rarely above 20 degrees or so, exploration is limited for a three year old.

Our solution? So far, it’s revolved around nature documentaries. We’ve been DVRing a few nature-oriented series, and we’re thinking of picking up a copy of the BBC’s Planet Earth documentary series and watching them together. It’s not an ideal substitute for outdoor exploration, but when the snow outside is almost as tall as he is and the temperature rarely breaks above twenty degrees, we’ll do what we can to keep him interested.

As always, any suggestions are welcomed.

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Positives from Downsizing Our Home Most people want to upgrade their homes to something larger. Matt found great joy in downsizing – it saves money and needs less maintenance, providing more “life space” for other pursuits. I’d like to … “go sideways” with our home. The square footage is right, I think, but I’d really like to rearrange the rooms. (@ unclutterer)

5 Credit Card Company Tricks — and How to Thwart Them If you’re struggling with your credit cards, this is an excellent post to read – it’s got a lot of insights into how credit card companies manipulate people. (@ get rich slowly)

15 Uses for Coffee Filters We have a big pile of coffee filters that rarely get used – they’re for the big coffee pot that we only get out when there are guests (my wife drinks coffee, I do not – so we use a tiny pot most of the time). Most of these ideas are great uses for those filters that are just sitting there gathering dust. (@ gather little by little)

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  1. PF says:

    Hi Trent,

    Watch ebay, local sales, or craigslist for some kids snowshoes and heavy-duty snowsuits and get out there. I hike with my daughter in the baby backpack every weekend. She is about two months younger than yours. Do I posthole up to my knees in places? Yep. Is it slow? Yep. Is it the greatest workout I ever had postholing through snow with 30 pounds on my back? Pretty Much! You can kill two birds with one stone.

    Try getting them out, even for 15 minutes. It is so invigorating! I’m in colorado, so many people I know have their kids on skis by your son’s age!

    I purchased her snowsuit on ebay. It was a terrific investment and eventually, I’ll sell if for what I paid.

  2. Sandy says:

    Definately do not let some snow get in your way of having fun outside! Snowsuits and backpacks for the babes are the way to go! My girls and I had so much fun during the winter…you usually can’t take them out for a long afternoon, but get them out anyway! I think that sadly, America is growing a bunch of kids who only go outside at the perfect temperature/conditions. If you get your kids (starting NOW, when they are little) used to weather of all kinds, they won’t just want to sit inside in front of a screen all day when they are older. I have been lucky enough to only live 1/2 mile from my kids elementary school. We have walked 90% of the time in all kinds of weather, and every day turned out to be a nature walk. And my little one went in a backpack on the snowy days, and on non-snow days, in the stroller, til she was walking the whole way and back (by about age 2 1/2).
    Another advantage, I think, in getting them out early is that they are healthier…they get fresh air, sunshine (even in the winter)which is really good for Vit.D utilization, exercise, and most importantly, away from a screen. My kids rarely get sick, and they are both teens now.

  3. Anna says:

    Your son can have a great time with you outdoors just digging in the snow — you with your snow shovel and your son with a kid-size shovel. You and he can excavate a small “room” or “tunnel” or “cave” right outside the door and maybe give it a funny name. He will get a kick out of helping dad shovel (how much snow he actually moves, compared with what you move, doesn’t matter a bit), and the physical and sensory experience of being in the snow and moving it around can’t be replaced by watching videos, even good ones.

  4. Joe says:

    lol to a New Englander like me, 20 degrees is down right balmy! When the temps are that high, I climb and snowshoes in shorts.

    Don’t let snow and cold keep your kids indoors. Winter is the best time of year to be outside. Young children are practically immune to the cold, so you have to watch them for signs of frostbite and adjust their layers or go inside. Really, the key is for them to be moving around, generating heat, not sitting for too long. A small set of bearpaw snowshoes are inexpensive and loads of fun.

  5. ub says:

    That’s great that he’s interested in nature. (I second Colorado as a great place to live/grow up/appreciate nature.)

    Definitely go ahead and get your hands on Planet Earth. Be warned that there are probably at least one if not several major “facts of life in nature” incidents per episode (i.e. one animal killing and eating another animal) but there’s no reason to skirt around the issue of the food chain with children of any age if you ask me.

    And go ahead and get him outside in the snow. I remember hours and hours of fun building forts in snow that falls under and on top of bushes and small trees in Colorado. Not to mention skiing (cross country skiing in Iowa perhaps?) and snow-shoeing.

  6. Kevin says:

    Winter is a great time for getting outside. It is so obvious where animals have been. Check the local library for a book on animal tracks. Then go out and let him compare the book with the tracks in the snow. This was one of my favorite pastimes when I was young.

  7. J says:

    Definitely get some snowshoes and the kid pack. You can even get kid’s snowshoes, and a three year old that’s reasonably agile can likely handle them.

    And yes, if you don’t already have a snowsuit, sled, kid sized shovel, etc — pick those up. There’s nothing like a hour outside in the snow to completely knock out a three year old!

    You likely don’t want to do this on a single-degree day, but if it’s 20-30 degrees, a decent coat and snowpants with a nice hat and gloves will serve well.

    Winter is also very nice because you don’t need to worry about sunscreen or bugs (especially mosquitoes!)

  8. My dad is predicting a depression. I don’t think we’ll get that far. But I do know if we get to depression, we won’t call it that. We’ll call it the “21st century economic reset”, or the “Economic Inverse”, or my favorite the “Duhpression.”

  9. Lynnita says:

    My girls (1 and 3 years old) are similarly snow-bound and enjoying nature DVDs. Their favourites are:

    – Growing Up Wild, which are kid-oriented but fun for everyone

    – Planet Earth

    – The Life of Mammals

    Like you, we’re all waiting for spring!

  10. Erin says:

    Planet Earth is the best! All my children love it!

  11. Veronica says:

    I agree with the others about getting outside – my niece and nephews are out in the snow building forts and having snowball fights every chance they get. Another thought – do you have a botanical garden or zoo nearby – you can also take them there to explore nature. Even a good museum will have some nature exhibits.

  12. robin says:

    Take some bird guides out from the library and teach him to identify all the birds; then register for the Great Backyard Bird Count, which runs the weekend of Feb 13!

  13. Carrie says:

    Have you considered a trip to the botanical center? Children under 5 are free and it’s only $4.00 for adults. It sounds like your son would be fascinated to spend an afternoon looking at all the tropical plants and fish.

  14. Abnermil says:

    Botanical Gardens? I always loved going there.

  15. Erick says:

    Ever thought of geocaching? Basically, it is an outdoor treasure hunt with a GPS unit that can be played anywhere in the world. Kids love it and after buying the GPS unit for around $100 (which can also be used in your car for navigation) the whole experience is completely free. Go to geocaching.com for more information. Just a thought.

  16. Xenko says:

    Planet Earth is an amazing documentary that I highly recommend. The visuals alone are outstanding. But I’d have to agree with the previous poster that it might be a bit much for a 3 year old in terms of the whole food chain/hunting/killing thing, although I am not sure, since I don’t have kids. You might want to watch each episode first and see if the material in that episode is appropriate for a child, but at least pick it up for yourself (or borrow it from the library)!

  17. f says:

    Inside activities:
    – start a vermicompost!
    – find a cheap microscope to look at stuff and get books on what other things look like under there
    – start seeds
    – grow paperwhites
    – how about a few bugs or another animal in an aquarium? They’re almost free on Craigslist, usually.

    But yeah – even in cold weather you can get out there. Not if it’s pouring rain, but with a good snowsuit, even a 30 minute walk helps with the stircrazies!

  18. Jennifer says:

    How about bring some nature to you? Set up some bird feeders and watch the birds (and squirrels) – this can be very entertaining.

  19. K says:

    I agree – get some snowshoes and bundle up and take a walk. Your kids might think those ski caps with the eye holes are fun.

    Or find a nature center or something similar at a state park. Our state park as well as a private nature center rent snowshoes but the trails are well worn enough that you can just walk with boots. And indoors they have stuffed deer, pictures of birds, etc, and even have some caged birds, snakes, mice, etc. They have kids games where you reach into a box and guess what something is based on feel (pine cone, feather, etc.) Other games where you match the smell of something to what it is (orange peel, pine needles, syrup) or match the tracks to the animal. They also sell flavored honey that they make right there, and in Feb/March you can watch them tap the trees and make maple syrup. Check out your local parks and centers to see if they have anything similar.

    Geocaching is definitely a fun activity but a few of the caches are not accessible in bad weather.

    I also agree about getting a bird feeder. That’s a great way to experience nature without leaving the house.

  20. James says:

    terrariums are easy and cheap when made out of an old fishtank, and you can enjoy them year round. Just google terrarium diy

  21. Jenni says:

    One of my fond memories from childhood is of walking in the woods (the ‘Hundred Acre Wood’ as we called it) with my dad and younger sister. We would search for animal tracks, awesome leaves (we usually went in autumn) or anything else cool.

    I highly recommend Planet Earth, not just for your children but also for you. The images are INCREDIBLE and the stories they put together are breathtaking.

  22. Sarah says:

    I agree with the people suggesting that you screen Planet Earth first. They kill off not one, but two, baby animals in the first episode! Might be tough stuff for a three-year-old–*I* found it traumatic!

  23. Lisa says:

    What about bringing some of the great outdoors indoor? Planting seeds (beans grow well) or setting up a terrarium/aquarium (see freecycle) are easy activities and fun to check on each day.

    Also seconding the go outside comments. Growing up in Canada, some of my best memories are of snowbanks higher than myself.

  24. I heartily second Geocaching – it’s fun for all ages! My boyfriend and I got my 55-year-old mother into it, and now she goes almost every day! She likes to take my 4-year-old niece along with her when she can. It’s very easy to tell which “caches” are kid-friendly – there’s a little icon on each cache’s webpage that tells you so!

  25. Andy says:

    One of the neat things about winter is thinking about how the different animals and plants make it. How do trees survive? How do squirrels stay warm? Where do the fish go, and what do they do?

    Also, there are fewer bird species around, so its easy to memorize all the different kids of bird around.

  26. Andy says:

    Interesting how many of the above comments involve buying something.

  27. kristine says:

    I have the same caveat about planet earth. Babies get eaten. Some rough stuff.

    Another idea- Tae some pancake syrup and pour it into your super deep snow to make maple candy strips! It’s a blast.

    Put coffee cans outside to catch the now, and then measure each day how much snow fell.

    Make a bird feeder, out of peanut butter and seeds on a milk carton, and put it where your kids will see the birds come by.

    Put plastic containers with different juices outside to make ice pops! Try a different one each day.

  28. Mary says:

    Here are several very simple things you can do. First, to let your 1 year old enjoy the snow in the warmth of your home bring in a big bowl of snow and set it on a big towel and give the children muffin tins, yogurt containers, spoons etc. and let them play with the snow. The three-year old, with supervision, might like to “paint” the snow with a spray bottle filled with water colored with food coloring. I’d also suggest planting fast growing seeds, like grass, in potting soil. Use recycled containers, even egg cartons, to plant in. You can plant seeds from the food you serve them, just to see if they’ll grow (apple, orange, etc.) A simple fish bowl is another possibility. 2 male guppies in a 1 gallon jar with 1 or two live plants is a pretty self sustaining combination. You should feed to avoid over feeding. Gold fish are very dirty, they get the water really dirty and I don’t recommend them. Cloud watching (through the windows in winter) was always a favorite out door activity, for at least a few minutes. Family Fun had an issue a number of years ago that had some fun winter activities in it, so check their website for more suggestions.

  29. PF says:

    Um, okay Andy, let me revise my post. Trent, go out and trap some rabbits and squirrels and make some warm clothes for your kids (plus you get dinner to boot). Weave some snowshoes from the tendons and get out there! LOL!

    I’m just joking, but Andy, you are right. However, the good news is that if you buy good quality, name-brand used kids gear as I suggested, you can usually sell it for what you paid.

    For Example, I purchased a down snowsuit on ebay made by Columbia for my daughter for $23 including shipping. I’ve used it at least 50 times, so it has cost me about 50 cents every time we go out to date. With months of winter ahead, that will keep decreasing. Well worth the price. However, because of its quality, I don’t think I’ll have a problem selling it for at least the same amount of money. When it comes to winter and kids, you can’t really skimp.

  30. Thankful says:

    DEFINITELY get Planet Earth, it is beyond amazing. I love documentaries, and this one blew me out of the water.

  31. Rob says:

    Any this is the simple dollar. not the miser dollar.

  32. Thankful says:

    In response to Andy about purchasing things, we just watched a Planet Earth episode on Discovery HD last week — it was the actual British version narrated by David Attenborough (we’ve only seen the version narrated by Sigourney Weaver until now). You should be able to check out the TV schedule and DVR enough episodes.

  33. The Personal Finance Playbook says:

    I ran into some people doing the geocaching thing while I was in Europe a few years ago. It seemed like a cool hobby. I think its a good idea and I will probably look into it myself. I had sort of forgotten about it until just now.

  34. Andy says:

    I definately think that good outdoor clothes for kids are worth it (having suffered through my first Minnesota winter in first grade with a thin jacket). Its just interesting that we automatically think about buying stuff before we exhaust free activities.

  35. Sarah says:

    I think it’s great to get outside and play in the snow… definitely do that… but have patience waiting for spring. I am also dying for spring and taking the kids outside half the day and gardening, but I know I will just appreciate it all more when it comes. I guess I’m just trying to encourage us all to live seasonally and appreciate winter for what it is, even with little children in the house – as gardeners it is one of the best seasons to get the house clean! At least we are not exhausting ourselves in a frenzy of picking & preserving fruits & vegetables right now. :)

  36. Dawn says:

    Others may have already suggested this, but if your area has an aquarium, you could take him to visit the sea creatures, getting some nature while staying warm! My five year old’s preschool is wrapping up a unit on the ocean and sea creatures with “Beach Day” tomorrow, where all the kids where their bathing suits to school (under their warm clothes and boots, obviously) and they recommend visiting the aquarium as a corollary to the unit.

    Also, our zoo has some indoor exhibits that are open year round, so that would be another possibility. We’re quite lucky in that we also have some fantastic museums in our area (Philadelphia) with science and nature exhibits for the kids.

    Playing in the snow is great, but for the littler kids, they get cold and/or tired out there pretty quickly, so it doesn’t last long.

  37. PF says:

    The key for winter fun may be to plan ahead. Shop for boots and coats for next year right now. Still means spending money though. For us, however, that is why we are frugal, so we can afford good gear and get outside. That thin winter coat in Minnesota sound miserable. :-(

  38. Betsy says:

    Check out two great preschool programs by National Geographic- Mama Mirabelle’s Home Movies which airs on PBS and Sprout- and Toot & Puddle which is on Noggin. Mama allows preschoolers to explore their world by watching animals on the savannah … Toot & Puddle are best friends who travel, recycle- and are great at being part of their community. A lot of the same things you do in your life- but made for a little one’s perspective!

  39. Mary says:

    I have always purchased my kids winter gear at the end of the season on super clearance. I have 2 boys, but before I had the second I always bought neutral colored snow bibs/boots.(Because I try to get 2 years out of the outfit on each kid I figure I get my moneys worth-4 winters for around $50, cheap fun) I try to get my kiddo’s out at least 30 min a day no matter what. When I lived in AK and boys were little we hooked the flyer up to the dog or just made footprints. We still do that. On the weeks at 30 below high temps I would get a plastic bin of some kind and go out and dip up snow and play inside with it. More than one way to “skin a cat”, or play in the snow! Have fun! (By the way, now I live in SW MO and folks think I’m nuts letting my kids out on a 20 above day! All relative)

  40. Gayle says:

    Definitely make some snowballs, grab some icicles & save them in them in the freezer for summer. Make some “ice sculptures” – use some cut down plastic milk jugs, metal baking pans, etc. and put interesting twigs, leaves, little toys in the pan. Pour water over the creation & watch until it freezes. Unmold & voila! Yes, it takes longer to dress & undress the little ones for outside play, but outdoors in the winter is FUN!!! We didn’t have fancy snowsuits (six of us!) but we wore lots of layers – long johns, flannel-lined jeans, knee socks, mufflers, mittens, hats. Plastic bags over boots, you name it! Have fun!

  41. Jo says:

    Planet Earth? David Attenborough?……oooooh, my favorite naturalist. Nothing against Sigourney Weaver herself, but I so do enjoy listening to Attenborough talk.

    Going outside in 20 degree temps, ah the memories when I lived in Idaho and had to exercise my mare in the winter time. The windchill was minus 15 but it had to be done. No one else was going to ride the poor horse.

    As for playing in many feet deep of snow, yep, that brings back memories of when I was a kid and lived in Montreal (Canada). Frigid weather, but still lots of fun. It always made coming back into the house to have hot chocolate something to look forward to…

  42. Amanda says:

    David Attenborough is incredible. Don’t stop at Planet Earth. Check out (at your library- see- no spending involved) Attenborough in Paradise. Some incredible images of birds of paradise and other birds. If your son likes birds like most kids, it’s worth it.

  43. Diane Taylor says:

    How about books for your son? My son loved snakes at 3. He had books with pictures of all different kinds of snakes. He memorized all their names and we went to “Monty’s Traveling Reptile Show” at our local shopping mall for his 3rd birthday. He is now a field biologist in Hawaii.

  44. Anne says:

    One series of books that you might want to look into is the

    “National Audubon Society Field Guide to….”

    My sister and I read the dozen or so my parents had over and over again when we were kids. I use the word “read” loosely because we started before we really knew how to read. They’re sorta kid sized and the first half is all pictures. Once we started reading at higher levels we slowly moved on to the back section. My parents also bought us a few big gem/mineral field guide and plant books that got the same treatment.

    They’re not kids books at all but I think that makes them more attractive because they don’t have a shelf life and they seem special to younger kids.

  45. Anitra says:

    It is great that your son is into the outdoors. I think exposing a child to the wonders of the natural world can really increase their appreciation of our planet and keep them healthy by exercising while being outside. The love of the outdoors can also make it easy to teach them frugal and environmentally responsible lessons in the future (i.e. recycling, turing the lights off when you leave the room, taking shorter showers, the list goes on and on). If you can relate the lesson back to how it positively impacts the outdoors (which you kid loves) then it can make them eager to pitch in…so good job so far Trent!

    As for activities to do, I would get them out anyway you can. But, if you are looking for some indoor things you can do to get prepared for the spring and summer I would spend some time on the internet or by borrowing a good book from the library and make ups a set of “Outdoor Bingo” boards. On the board you would put pictures of the plants, flowers or animals that you would see in your area of the country. Under each picture you might have a few key words as well (the color of the flower, the number of petals, how big the animal normal is). Make your board kid friendly but also age friendly. Use a font the kid can easily see. This will encourage language/reading development as well as outdoor awareness.

    Your board may simply be 8 rectangles (4 on the front side of the page, 4 on the back) so that the picutre can be big and the words underneath it are big also. After you (and your child) make the board and print it out I would either get it laminated or get some laminating paper and adhese it your self…that way you can use the board over again. When you are out on your nature walks, take the board with you and with a dry erase marker, “X” out the things you see! It can be very exciting for kids, they are getting exercise walking and it’s education.

    As far as costs for this exercise: The infomation can be gotten from the internet or library. If you use the library’s internet it’s even cheaper. You do need to spend a few cents on ink and paper to print the “boards” out. And the big cost is on either getting it laminated or buy some laminating paper (probably a few dollars). Depending on your wife’s job, she might be able to get it laminated for you. Then you need a dry erase marker. So it’s pretty cheap.

    You can also make multiple boards for siblings or other kids that come along on your walk. Enjoy!

  46. Sharon says:

    Plant some seeds in egg cartons or something. This gets a head start on your garden if you have grow lights.

    While getting out in the snow to play sounds great, some things to consider:

    1. Buying things in the spring for the kids in the following winter involves some significant gambling on what size they will be later.

    2. Not all of us have normal circulation. My chief memory of all of my family’s snow “fun” is agonizing pain in my fingers and toes, regardless of how many layers of warm clothes I had on. I’m not saying your kids will be the same, but if they are complaining of pain, take it seriously instead of labeling the kid a whiner. Nobody else in the family had that problem, so I couldn’t possibly have actually been suffering.

  47. Lindsey says:

    Hi Trent,
    I’ve been reading your articles for a long time, but have not commented yet, until now. I am moving to Iowa (my husbands home state) in a few months and we have a 2 year old. She also loves the outdoors and doesn’t seem to mind the weather. But another indoor option is to buy some goggles and let them use them in the bath. My daughter is warming up to the idea of taking the plunge, to see all the new plastic froggy and fishy toys I put at the bottom of the tub under the bubbles. She is a little hesitant to submerge her head, but I think she is about to do it any day now, she wants to find those frogs! I have a mesh bag and net for her “fish” for them once she gets the hang of it. Try it with your kids, it might be a winter alternative to swimming at the lake this summer! See you in Iowa in the Spring!! ~ Lindsey in CA

  48. Diane says:

    If you have access to a local greenhouse or conservatory, try to get in for a visit! When I lived in Minnesota, I would go to the local greenhouse at least once a month Jan-April just to see the color green, and to smell things growing.

  49. connie says:

    Have you thought of a terrarium? That was a project we did in winter for about 3-4 years in elementary school. Probably 3-7 grades. Most of the kids had moms with houseplants that supplied our cuttings, we rooted them, then found a large jar with a tight fitting lid (usually a gallon jar left over from somebody’s restaurant – yes back then they were glass not plastic) which we filled with the appropriate things, I think I remember a layer of crushed charcoal, potting soil, plants, a layer of moss and even a snail or two. Then water well, seal and watch it grow. A complete little eco-system. I’m sure there are better directions somewhere on the net….This was all done with minimal cost (remember, it was a school project!) and some of them lasted for several years before outgrowing the containers. Even then, you could open them and prune the plants, etc. and seal again. But I also have to say – this is only an indoor activity. I agree completely that you should start your kids out early with being outside some each and every day. If they are kept inside all the time, then the occasion comes when they have to get out – they will be much more likely to get sick in my opinion ( as a mom who made this mistake and had a 3 year old with an ear infection) and also according to our pediatrician. Hope any or all of this helps –

  50. EJ Koon says:

    Go outside and look for animal tracks–even backyards will have some.

    Freeze ice in different throw away plastic containers with colored water and build ice castles.

    Catch a snow flake on a piece of black construction paper and then put it in the freezer. Look at it. Read books about Snowflake Bentley.

    Look for book by Sandra Markle at the library. She’s written “Exploring Winter,” “Exploring Spring,” “Exploring Summer,” and “Exploring Autumn.

    Blow bubbles outside when it’s cold.

    I always used to go the the library and look for nature books and I also do search on-line (this time of year try: winter nature activities for preschoolers.

    Have fun!

  51. Courtney says:

    Now is the time to start long-term plants for spring planting! Start some tomatoes from seed! See also eggplants, watermelons, etc.

    The Blu-Ray BBC version of Planet Earth is tops, but super-expensive. We watch Nature and Nova and lots of Gardening-by-the-Yard. ;)

    And I second the just get out there bit. Even 20 minutes a day is great for the kiddies. Build an Igloo!

  52. irena says:

    Explain to him that no two snowflakes are ever alike, and then make paper cutout snowflakes with him to hang up in his room or on the windows. I remember cutting different designs into paper to makesnowflakes use to amuse me for hours! =]

  53. ThomasB says:

    go find some alder branches and make some snowshoes, he gets to watch you “use” nature, be self sufficient and frugal, you get to be a kid, stomp around in the snow and tow him behind in a cheap plastic sled (use 2 thin pieces of PVC about 5ft long crossed behind you to keep the sled from bumping in to you). There’s a solid 7 months of real winter where i live ,it is an awesome time to get out in nature,it will blow your mind to see tracks and watch animals survive or thrive, they adapt so should you. Enjoy.

  54. partgypsy says:

    As others have said, Planet Earth is incredible from ages 4 to 84. We have bird feeders up so the wintering songbirds (quite a variety) come to feed. I’m not sure what birds are in your area, but if you have food they will come and you can observe.
    I highly recommend “Almost Everything” by Joelle Jolivet. It has pages of anatomy, trees, structures, animals, etc done in beautiful but very accessible artwork, your children will love it.
    I love the Usborne science book series. Even if your child is too young to read them, these were some of my older child’s favorite bedtime books, especially the ones where you have to find say 5 of a certain animal in a certain ecology scene. She was having fun but learned alot on the way!
    I don’t know if you have a telescope or a neighbor has a telescope, star and comet gazing are year-round affairs.

  55. Vicky says:

    Try this book:

    Don’t overthink or overplan it. Just bring them out. Camp in your backyard. Get one of those magnifying boxes for kids and just walk around looking for things to look at more closely. The wonders of nature are something you can’t plan for – be open to them.

  56. Gratie says:

    Your son is not too young for a magnifying glass and you will find all kinds of creatures in the corners of your basement probably (unless you are clean-a-holic) – mites, dead spiders, and other reminders of animals. You can collect dead plants or frozen plants and look at their small structures. You can find cool things in an abandoned bird’s nest, too.

    If you go to Ebay you can probably find a little “microscope” attachment for your computer and he can look at all sorts of things he finds with the magnifying glass.

    He is also not too young to make a biome in a jar or grow seeds and start to take simple measurements of growth. He can use a real ruler at that age.

    Of course, he will find all kind of things to do with fish. You can teach him about fish being attracted to certain things – like colors, or rocks, or you can train him to make his fish only eat from a certain part of the tank. You can take his goldfish, wrap its gills in gauze soaked heavily in water and then look at its blood flowing through its tail through the microscope. The fish will not be injured at all as long as you keep moistening the guaze with the water from the fish tank.

    He is not too young for a thermometer either – he can do experiments with ice and water – the effects of wind on evaporation, how ice freezes, how salt works to change the freezing of ice, how ice and wind changes the tempoerature of the air.

    (I am a scientist, start ’em young!)

  57. Laurie says:

    This may have been mentioned already (too many comments, not enough time!)… grow some sprouts indoors. A little bit of nature in action even in winter, ties in with your interest in gardening and in food. Something low key to “study” after you come in from your adventures in the great (cold) outdoors.

    Plus, lots of nutrition for not much money.

  58. Sandy says:

    One other thing that I did with my kids when they were small (and still do to this day) is utilize my local nature centers. I’m really lucky…in NEOhio there are nature centers everywhere, and all of them have age based programs for 1-100 years old. And the best part, is that they are usually free, or at most $3 per outing. And trained professionals whose life work is the environment is leading the activity. (I DON’T NEED TO KNOW EVERYTHING!!!) With my girls, we’ve learned some amazing things…like how the doodlebug rolls up, where the groundhogs sleep, why the woodpecker has such a long tongue, and all the critters that live in the mucky part of a pond by digging it up and (yuch!) sorting it all out!(There’s an awful lot!)Most of the program have a portion of the event outside. Also, if you have a National Park close to where you live, they offer excellent Junior Ranger programs, and the one near us recently started Junior Junior Ranger programs for the 3-5 set. If you visit a National Park on vacation or other travels, inquire about what your kid can do on that day of your visit…I guarentee there is something available to do to learn about the park you are at. Plus, if you do about 3 or more of the offered activities, your kid gets a Junior Ranger badge! My kids have probably 6-8 badges from different places and years we participated locally. I know a homeschooling family who spend all vacations at National Parks and the kids have a vest with all their patches and badges…they are smart kids!

  59. Joan says:

    Trent: Are you aware that this is the start of a good education for your children? They don’t even know that they are learning, but you will be surprised at how much they will retain. Just the fact that they are doing something with daddy is making memories that will stay with them forever. One day, one of them will mention something that you have done together; you will think back to how young they were and be amazed that they remembered. It isn’t so much what you do with them at this age; because everything is new to your children. I think it is a great age to be around a child. THE TERRIFIC TWO’S THREE’S AND FOUR’S.

  60. SarahMich says:

    I can think of several nature-related things that can be done inside. I don’t know how many you’d have close to you, but if you checked around, you might be surprised. Locally, around here, options include:

    -A fantastic indoor conservatory as part of the university’s botanical gardens. The outdoor gardens are free, and there’s a fee to tour the indoor conservatory, but it’s low (around $3, maybe cheaper for students and young children) and it’s worth it.

    -The local science museum. Admittance is by donation, and they have a planetarium, a great geology exhibit, dinosaur bones and more.

    -Science and nature programs through the local library, such as a speaker coming in and showing off a variety of live bats.

    -Several parks locally have science and nature centers which can be visited for free. They’re indoors and feature educational exhibits that include plants, stuffed animals or sometimes even live animals.

    -Aquarium and pet stores often don’t mind if you just browse through taking a look and not buying.

  61. partgypsy says:

    Joan reminded me that some of my favorite memories as a child was visiting an arboretum that our parents, especially our Dad, would take us quite often. We would look at the flowering trees in spring, walk through leaves waist deep in fall, climb over fallen tree trunks in winter.

  62. CPA Kevin says:

    I was just saying the same thing to my wife after shoveling snow yesterday – that even though it’s cold, we need to find a way to get outside more. We have a 18 month old, so it’s tough to find that balance of getting him outside but not keeping him out too long. We spent about 15 minutes playing in the snow yesterday though and had a blast.

  63. Battra92 says:

    Anyone who is predicting a depression is either ignorant or arrogant.

    Probably both.

  64. Jude says:

    Birds. They’re around all year. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology http://www.birds.cornell.edu/AllAboutBirds/ has bird songs and information. It’s an amazing site. I’d also use the wildlife sites for your state to see what wildlife lives there, and use enature.com to read more about animals. My favorite nature store is Acorn Naturalists. They have fun nature kits and books, as well as track, scat, and bone casts. But you can study anything you can find–e.g. cockroaches and spiders, if that’s what you have.

  65. Shevy says:

    What leads you to define everyone who predicts a depression as either ignorant or arrogant?

    While I believe that a depression is by no means certain, it is one of the possible outcomes on a relatively short list of alternatives.

    On a totally different note, the post with all the uses for coffee filters was great. My personal contribution dates back to when I was with a previous employer, in the IT department. We used to go around the office every few months cleaning all the computers, both monitors and keyboards, with barely damp coffee filters moistened with water and diluted liquid soap.

    You wouldn’t believe how much grunge would be removed with a little gentle rubbing and the benefit of the coffee filter was that (as noted in the article) they’re lintless. A paper towel would have made a terrible mess and could have caused problems with the functioning of the keyboard. Lint, crumbs, dust, etc. builds up underneath the keys. The worst example I ever heard was of someone whose keyboard stopped working and the repairman discovered that it was due to all the cheese powder from the Cheetos the owner ate while on the computer!

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