Thursday, March 31, 2011

Woolapalooza! The intersection of nature and art.

This past weekend we took the little one to our first Woolapalooza. It was also our first visit to a farm this season and an amazing experience. We learned about the path wool follows, "from shearing to sweater." It was an interdisciplinary lesson in science, social studies and art.

The city crowds surrounded this man and sheep, as he laboriously sheared lane by lane, with strength, skill and patience.

We admired the initial product, digging our hands into the soft and unaltered wool.

The girls observed carefully as a woman with seamless effort spun the wool into yarn. She explained it takes years to master that skill.

We learned that wool could be dyed naturally, by using plants, vegetables, seeds and even mushrooms. Some of their samples had been dyed with black walnut, goldenrod and beets!

The little one got to pick and spin two colors into this beautiful bracelet. She also kept some in her pocket to later leave in the woods for a bird to use to build its nest.

We even witnessed with amazement how this border collie herded the sheep, in an incredible dance between human, dog and sheep.

The visit ended with colorful displays of yarn and the work of many artisans and their beautiful works of art to buy or just dream of.

Today, the little one took a trip to the Arburetum to leave the yarn for the birds. They picked a tree to leave it by and went for a walk. When they returned the yarn was gone!

Many farms are opening their doors to visitors. You may get to see some of the newer additions to the animals' families or maybe some sheep shearing. On May 1st, Codman Farm, in Lincoln MA will have its own Sheep Shearing Day.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Bringing Spring In!

We've been itching for some spring flowers, so I couldn't resist bringing these Narcissus home from the grocery store. I put them on the kitchen table and invited Lucia to draw them. Her first response was "I don't know how!" So with a little encouragement, talking about color, shape and the properties of the stems and flowers, this is what she drew:

Most of our art projects are process based, but I have to recognize that I occasionally rejoice in some product aspects. In this case, I just love the simplicity of the drawing and the attention to detail. She carefully counted the petals and gave each flower six, with their own little pile of dirt. While she worked, she was quiet, focused and observant.

Our latest indoors nature activity has been planting grass. We were inspired by an article I read in a magazine at a friend's house. I knew it would be great to grow some green in our home, but also it would be an opportunity for Lucia to get her hands in the soil. (In a recent trip to the zoo she spent the whole time digging in the pots instead of looking at the animals!)

So we put some dirt in a container.

Evened out the soil.

Spread some seeds and added water.

"Plants need soil, sun and water to grow," she stated. So we added water. Lots of water!

Then it was time to PLAY! So we brought over the little plastic animals, the rocks and some bowls and pie pans. The little one went to town and played for a long time, narrating, exploring, patting, digging, baking and distributing... You know, what little kids do when they are left to just be. It was the best part!

Once we were done she confessed liking better the dry soil than the wet soil. With the remaining soil, I decided to make a second grass garden, just in case the first one had a little too much water. Now we are waiting for the grass to grow!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Time, Nature and Creativity

One of our commitments as a family has been to spend time in nature. During the cold months it has saved our sanity and as spring begins to unfold we are filled with excitement and expectation. There is nothing like the inebriating scent of soil after the snow has given the stage back to rain.

This past weekend we were gifted with one of those scarce, early warm days when Young Spring has won one of the first battles against Old Winter. Ecstatic about the 55 degree weather we spent every minute we could outdoors. We are lucky to have the Arnold Arboretum around the corner from our city apartment. As we walked through the familiar gates, I found the adults in the group holding on to their city walk, an I-need-to-get-somewhere-quickly sort of walk, while the girls were stopping from puddle to puddle, looking for sticks to poke around in a I-have-no-where-to-be-but-here kind of non-walk. It was lovely to see the dance, between the adults needing to pull forward and the children digging their heels in the mud (literally) and saving us from our own insanity. 

Time is what childhood brings back as a gift to rushing adults, especially if we are wise enough to offer the right space: Nature.

Yet the gifts Nature brings to children outweigh most gifts we, the adults, may offer children. 

Presence: In Nature children can be in the moment, connecting with themselves, their bodies and the environment, exercising mindfulness, improving attention capacities and promoting wellbeing and mental health.

Intellect:  Time in Nature promotes abstract thinking. Children have access to understanding concepts in concrete natural environments that translate into abstract and symbolic thinking. (Concepts of distance and measurements, reading maps…) Nature also promotes problem solving skills, through the immensity of possibilities presented while working with the physical environment: comparing and contrasting sticks long enough to reach a destination or rocks to throw into a pond, collaborating with others to build a structure or carry a heavy log, calculating the distance and effort needed to reach the next step while climbing a tree. 

Freedom: When children spend time in Nature with no or limited adult supervision they have to make decisions, take responsibility for their decisions, individually or as a group.

Creativity: If we are fortunate enough to observe children play in Nature we will hear endless stories. A log will become a bus or a pirate boat. The will transform the world around them endlessly through thought or action, constructing and reconstructing what they now, while exploring reality and fantasy.

Spending time in nature can begin with our own back doors. Bring your children outdoors as often as possible and if you can, let go of their hand, they will thank you.

Some books to get you started:

Links to get you outdoors: