Friday, July 24, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 5 - Night Owls!

Yes, conflicts arise!
Grandma sets out seeking nighttime nature treasures. The kids see Ninja Turtles in the sewer. But who am I to argue that? Just a few hours ago, I told them there were zombies hiding behind my garage!

When you're at home with mommy and daddy, you can pretty much plan on being snuggled in bed when the mysterious aura of darkness falls. They say that's where kids belong - seen; cute little heads atop pillows -  not heard; scampering about mischievously outdoors! But when we're with grandma? Soooo not so! Creeping about in the dark, looking for "discoveries?" Hiking the neighborhood, gaping at stars? Peering in from edge-of-the-woods spookiness? It's simply our "thing," - it's what we do! And we do it well, with a conspiratorial anticipation that bonds grandma and campers firmly together, flashlights in hand, ready and waiting to go!

Here's when books on night flying animals - moths, bats, owls, fireflies - come in handy. We get ready as dusk falls, putting heads together over pages of nature books. Ones on constellations, too. It's nice to know in advance what's likely to be found out there! Detailed "compare and contrast/night and day" discussions are fun to anticipate, but they don't always happen. The kids just flitter from one worthy biological observation to the next cable box or sewer, pleasing themselves with the same joy of being alive after dark that fellow nocturnal wild creatures do!

We have late night fun inside, too. Lots of cool things glow in the dark at Dollar Tree - necklaces, floating pool balls.....

One rainy night, each camper gathered candy and glow balls, hidden ahead by grandpa. But the best self-made fun followed. An "otherworldly" campfire was constructed to cluster about and enjoy in a room otherwise cloaked in eerie darkness!

When we tired of that, it was time to dance! We jumped and gyrated to the techno "Everybody Dance Now" by C+C Music Factory, grandma center stage, grateful to be the only one in control of a camera!

I'm grateful, too, for the tip on Dollar Tree's (seasonal) battery operated, multi-color glowing pool globes from creative blogger friend, Lisa, at "Hoopla Palooza." Here's what she does with them!

Books with sections on after dark nature fun are listed here at the end of a previous Grandma Camping post.

And Part 6 of Grandma Camping is right here!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Grandma Camping 2015 - Part 4 - Investigators!

Scientific observation: Being nearly toothless does not disqualify one from
being a competent investigator!

My six year old twin grandsons refer to themselves as "investigators." I suspect they don't realize I know they've pinpointed the place I stash early purchases of Christmas and birthday gifts! They check it frequently, and I hear murmurs of approval behind that closed bedroom door. Someday I may pull a little prank on them, but for right now, I consider that skill genetic in nature. The boys' mommy was unmatched as an "investigator," and in my time, so was I!

What better place to harness that abundance of "investigative talents" than grandma camp? We're surrounded by wooded nature here, and curious minds want to know who lives out there and what they do all day and night. My campers were an eager audience for discovering some answers!

I don't have a background in science, so I stalk Pinterest for ideas. And book stores. I found a few favorites there (mentioned below), just brimming with creative and very usable ideas. One of them held the first project we completed - a small mammal tracking device!

Something I need to emphasize now is that we never capture or disturb any living creature as it goes about its daily business! We step back and respectfully observe the magic of life in the same way we'd appreciate being undisturbed by visiting interplanetary beings. Please just stop by, say "hi!" and continue on your way! Thank you very much! :) 

Our tracking device is a cardboard tube, 3" wide and 8" long. Inside, a white strip floor is anchored by small squares of waxed paper. Non-toxic water based paint mixed with cooking oil is dabbed onto each square. A generous glob of peanut butter, placed right smack in the middle of the tube's "roof" is the treat we hope will lure a small critter. He or she will leave behind delicate little footprints as evidence if we're lucky!

And then we hike into the woods, seeking places to nestle our tracking tubes. We search for sheltered spots, speculating that our "customers" might appreciate snack-time privacy! We look around a bit, too. What kind of critters are supported by this habitat? Chipmunks hop about in abundance here, so that's my own guess. But the kids think mice, squirrels, or even a raccoon may be tempted, and I concur with them. We make visual notes of where we've left our devices, departing until tomorrow's bright and early return!

And here we are - at the moment of Bree's delighted discovery! Some little whippersnapper has slurped up her peanut butter treat, right down - and into! - the cardboard! The little scamp kicked that tracking paper right out of the way, politely leaving it behind, unused, for us to try again later!

"Look, grandma! GONE! Everything!"

Sae led us to his hiding spot next. A hungry visitor has also kicked the paper strip out of the way! But this time we observe a telltale smudge! Somebody's furry little body left evidence by way of a streak across the paper floor - ending right at the center of the tube where the treat laid in wait! We were now in possession of scientific evidence, agreeing that:

a) something small (under 3"), cute* and furry was here
b) peanut butter was gobbled by the visitor

* Brielle "just knew" the critter was a "cute one," and insisted that fact be entered into the record. It probably had small, soft ears and a tiny pink nose. That, too!

And now......Nick's turn!

He had left his tube the farthest into the woods. Before departing, we observed that a mushroom covered log alongside the path marked the spot where he'd turn right and take five kid-sized paces to recover it.....

But it was gone!
Even with assistance from Canine Special Forces Search and Rescue!

What might have happened here? Possibilities were posed! An animal larger than 3", that's for sure! - one who chose to take its discovery back home for leisurely disemboweling! A raccoon? An owl? Deer? BIG FOOT?

Nick's face says it all. Sadly, some scientific mysteries are not meant to be solved in our lifetime!

See Grandma Camping Part 5 right here!

Resources for a delightful nature-based Grandma Camp experience:
Each book can be found at your library or here, on pages 11 and 13 of my Amazon gift shop.

Great Things to do Outside - published by DK - My favorite! 365 beautifully photographed ideas that include the small mammal tracker, a toad home, spiderweb catcher, butterfly bar and so many, many more! Plenty of ideas for next year too!

The Boy's Book of Adventure - published by Barron's - Great outdoor activities, including one we used - a lighted white sheet screen that attracted all kinds of interesting insects to observe close up after dark!

Roots, Shoots, Buckets & Boots - by Sharon Lovejoy (a delightful grandmother!) - Here's where we found instructions for "moth broth" to paint on trees at kid eye level; after dark we returned to observe the feast!  Even for someone like me who has no suitable space to share unique gardening experiences with grandkids, this book is a treasure, right along with Toad Cottages & Shooting Stars. 

Backyard Explorer Leaf Collecting Album and Leaf and Tree Guide by Rona Beame - published by Workman - Now, this set I love, but it posed a dilemma for me! Weeks before Grandma Camp, I told Bree we'd be learning from this guide. "But, grandma!" she protested, "I already know about leaves!" I guess the trick is to get there before those pre-school teachers do! But that's okay - the younger kids will love the one-on-one exploring experience with me. We'll find, match, and collect from easy-to-find examples. No weirdo specimens from outer space among them to get you frustrated like in some other books!

Glow-in-the-Dark Constellations, a Field Guide for Young Stargazers - by C.E. Thompson - My plan was to study a few constellations with the kids during that antsy waiting period at dusk, just before our night hikes. This book is a beauty. Simply presented and appealing to kids this age (4-6+). Our problem was that heavy cloud cover all week long prevented us from seeing anything other than the North Star - and grandma taught us how to find that one "ages ago!"

A Child's Introduction to The Night Sky - by Michael Driscoll - This one's far more detailed, with sections on the planets, the moon, asteroids, makes me want to invest in a telescope for next year! There's a sturdy "star finder" included too - a compass-like device to line up with the North Star so you really know what you're looking at! Saving this one for next year; it's suitable for kids of any age, myself included!

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Grandma Camping - Part 3 - Nature Hunters!

Nature holds a wonderland of wealth for a grandmother and her lively little campers - there's lots of it, it's free, and kids cannot be any happier exploring it.

Each of my grandkids has an inviting section of woods in their own backyards; one even has a beautifully thriving pond. But for some reason, it's grandma's quarter acre that consistently appeals to them. And maybe that's because things "out-of-the-ordinary" sometimes occur back there! Like zombie invasions, you know. And hunts for monsters, or candy and toy packed dinosaur eggs at the end of a winding scavenger trail. But there are "normal" things going on back there, too. And this time, we agreed to team up to investigate them all!

But, first things first!

Sociology 101. Chapter one. Page one. Human beings form groups based on common interests. Once those units are established, they seek symbols - totems, coats of arms, emblems - to separate and identify themselves. Hey! That's us, too! So we chose tribal walking sticks to bond us together for our week long grandma camping adventure. These made it easier to maneuver wooded slopes and allowed us to stake finds of interest to return to and share with other members of our clan. And besides, they transformed our woods into an exotic jungle-like venue that had us really feeling that whole "goin'-on-safari" thing!

Rich in color, symmetry and pattern is the culture of the American Indian. We examined some art book examples, noting fierce faces and animal themes. Rattles, masks, campers were fascinated, and very anxious to get started on their own interpretations!

Ask any one of them, and be told that grandma will buy anything they point to at the toy store. Anything. Not this time though! We harvested our own walking sticks - and dragged 'em home by ourselves - exactly the way you see little Jungle Jane doing right here!

(Oh dear! Somebody's eyes were a little bit too big for their body size! Grandpa took care of that problem with a few strokes of his hand saw, though!)

We know that traditional Indian art was fashioned from carved wood, or gourds or earthy clay, but our heads are made of instant paper mache. It mixes with water to become a malleable medium perfectly suitable for the task at hand. The CelluClay brand I prefer is here, on page 12 of my Amazon gift shop. Hobby Lobby may also have it; in that case, be sure to use your coupon for the best price!

Here's how they look once they've been sculpted.
I like the Stonehenge-y look!

Back on the sticks they go, set out to dry. After a couple of warm breezy days, depending on the thickness, they're ready to paint.

Hmmm....kinda spooky! I might have to revisit this for Halloween. Imagine a trail through the woods of these ambiguous skeletal faces, up-lighted eerily with flashlight lenses covered in green clear plastic. Oooooooo!!!!! Yep! Making some for sure!

(and then sending grandpa out there to search for my "lost cat!" he he he!)

I adore watching the kids paint their projects.

Use acrylic paint, then offer an array of beads and feathers for finishing touches.

Bree's project began as a monkey. Then she saw the pink paint. And the feathers. We're not exactly sure what it is today, but we're delighted with its perky personality!

Now we're ready to gather up our totems and explore the woods as a fearless, indigenous tribe of nature hunters! We made some interesting discoveries out there during the course of the week. Those are coming up next, in Part 4 of Grandma Camping 2015!