Saturday, June 22, 2013

Backyard Bingo

My oldest daughter and I both have first hand experience with the interest and delight children find in nature. When she was five and we were newly moved in, I stood agape, pointing out a bed of large, floppy leaves blanketing our quarter acre woods. "Those are Mayapples!" she confidently exclaimed. "That's nature's umbrella!"

Last month, my precocious Kindergarten botanist, now a competent mother of four, collected her sons from pre-school. Nick immediately launched into an enthusiastic description of "tomatoes." Regaled with the qualities of these sumptuous orbs, mommy listened intently, struggling at points to separate fact from bewilderment over their nature to "spin and spin and spin and get bigger and bigger and bigger!" Huh? Some new fangled bio-farming technique?  It was not until she pulled into the garage while being asked, "Do we have any of those around here?" that she realized he was talking about tornadoes!

The preschool my grandsons attend is a wonderful one. Located on a working farm, the kids plant  produce and feed goats, alpacas and chickens. They harvest, gather eggs and make healthy food from fresh ingredients. Nature hikes through wooded on-site trails are an almost daily part of the school morning, giving me a well initiated and captive audience for the game I planned for the boys and their cousin, Bree.

Backyard Bingo is basically a scavenger hunt. Game boards are made from inverted gift box lids so carefully matched and collected goodies won't go slip-sliding away. Hot glue nine samples indigenous to your hunting area within a grid of sticks. I suppose normal people let it go at that. Not me. Our boards featured my hand crafted seed pod urchins whose little pointed hats were hidden in the woods, waiting to be found alongside other items matching those on their boards.

What fun it was to seek, to gather, and then convene to examine and discuss our treasured finds! Brown oak leaves are leftovers from last fall, you know, but newly sprouted ones are green, full of chlorophyll and ready to begin a new season of growth. Both are from a deciduous tree - those have flat, wide leaves and are different from evergreen shrubs that yield small pointy ones. Bark protects the tree  - and little stones? They've been around for a looong, looong time, breaking off from really, realllly big rocks that lay beneath the ground and pushing their way up to the top, one at a time! Tiny red hats were easy to find, but squirrels and deer? - less simple to spot, and we know exactly why! Camouflage, dear friends...camouflage!

Once again I left the teaching to children, who easily and accurately described to me this place where pretty Mayapple plants still come alive each early spring to shelter woodland critters from the rain.

Our show-and-tell was followed by a tasty lunch and then an indoor sleeping bag campout to further discuss our finds and peruse new pop up picture books about nature. Murmured commentary gradually faded to quiet as, one at a time, sleepy little heads sought, and gratefully sank into pillows.

It was then I realized, despite the absence of a formally declared backyard bingo winner, that there were indeed, prizes. Three of them in fact. And I had won them all!

Saturday, June 8, 2013

"Two Much" Talent!

"Two much talent?"
Yep, that's a real problem for me over here! My grandchildren are prolific in the fine arts and quantity produced has long ago exceeded square inch refrigerator space. Among the group of artists frequenting grandma's is a set of four year old twins. That means a run on dinosaurs, for example, leaves me with a head-spinning collection of watercolor behemoths. Thank goodness for Father's Day. Bless the person who invented that celebration! Bless him for clearing my cupboards and drawers and folders and closets and shoe boxes in advance of that national day of recognition for the fine young men whose precocious offspring fill my home and my heart with paintbrush, crayon, marker and pencil packing talent - "three much," actually, counting Bree, to absorb by myself!

The daddies in our family are not connoisseurs of the masters. They watch basketball for artistic stimulation. If we were to mention Picasso's "blue period" during a commercial break, they would nod in enthusiastic agreement, saying that there is only one more of those left in the game before the national championship is decided.

But I have seen one thing - one thing! - make them turn down the volume, drop the chips and set aside the beer. "Daddy, look what I made!" Awwww! Works every time. Crayons always trace the most direct way to daddy's heart! So, bless the woman who invented the recycle of kids' artwork into Father's Day gifts that surprise and delight while clearing grandma's shelves for next year's batch of creative overload! Oh, but wait! That's ME we're talking about here!

The Mother's Day gift cookbooks we made were a huge hit. That's when I decided we'd do the same for Father's Day, subbing original artwork for recipes. The twins' "Two Much Talent" book, with tabs for dinosaurs, creatures, rockets and abstract work, is pictured above, in progress.

Bree's gift for daddy will always remind him of his daughter's love for her first favorite song, "The Itsy, Bitsy 'Pie-der.'" The two of them still sing it together, so one day I asked if she'd like to paint a picture of the "pie-der." This is the result. With a very inexpensive frame and a fancy sheet of card stock, the painting became a work of art. My hope is that some day daddy will rock his grandchild, singing the same song. The image of a framed purple critter will linger in his mind as he smiles at the wisdom of his lovely mother-in-law who told him often that the years ahead would fly by before he knew it!

Purists may argue, "That is not an arachnid! Those have eight legs, not six!" But I would protest, "We never said this portrait was that of a 'spider.' We said it was a 'pie-der,' and last time we looked, those still had six legs, not eight!"