Tuesday, March 27, 2012

How to Enjoy Hummingbirds With Kids – Quality Time and Practical Learning Opportunity

How to Attract Hummingbirds © Katrena
As April approaches, you can probably find me checking my cabinets to see that I have plenty of granulated sugar. The sweet stuff is not for me, it is for the birds. Literally.

I love to feed and attract hummingbirds. When I check migration maps and see that ruby-throated hummingbirds have been seen near where I live, I want to be ready! Feeding hummingbirds can be a great learning opportunity for the kids, and I have found that feeding wildlife can be a fun family activity.

Easy Clean Hummingbird Feeder © Katrena
Choosing a Hummingbird Feeder

When choosing a feeder, I found that it is easier to pick one with a wide top that will come completely apart for cleaning. Sugar water can quickly mold, especially in the hot summer weather in North Carolina. Cleaning feeders is my least favorite part of the project, but when doing it together with the kids, you can teach them about the importance of protecting the birds' safety. Regularly cleaning the feeders and changing the food frequently is recommended.

I have a friend who has so many hummers that her husband ended up refilling the feeders every 15 minutes at one point last summer. She said that her birds particularly like the feeders that sort of look like test tubes. They are a little harder to clean but may be worth the effort if you are looking to attract large numbers.

How to Make Hummingbird Food

Recipe for Hummer Food © Katrena
I make my own hummingbird food. I know it is fresh and without dyes. I use four parts water to one part granulated sugar. I boil the water first, take it off the heat, and add the sugar, stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Here's a quick chart for varying amounts of hummer food:

1/2 cup
2 cups
1 cup
4 cups
2 cups
8 cups

This can be a great opportunity for the kids to learn a little math. My four-year-old may help count the number of cups. I might ask the older kids questions like "If I'm boiling 12 cups of water, how many cups of sugar do I need?" after giving them the ratio. This can be a fun way to practice graphing. I particularly like the Kids' Zone Create a Graph web site. You can also graph bird sightings by day or hour.

After making the hummingbird sugar water, I let it cool before transferring to my feeders. The kids can help with this – it is easier to pour outside if spilling is likely. My kids love to use the funnel when putting the rest in a jug for later use.

How to Store Hummingbird Nectar © Katrena
 How to Store Hummingbird Nectar

Store hummingbird food in the refrigerator. The How to Enjoy Hummingbirds web site lists recommendations for cleaning feeders and the frequency of changing the food in the feeders and states that excess nectar can be stored in the refrigerator for two weeks. My friends who attract large numbers of birds say that changing the nectar frequently is the key to great success. Hummingbird sugar water can even mold in the refrigerator. Don't ask me how I know that interesting tidbit of information.

Hummer food storage gets a little tricky at my house because we tend to use a 2-liter bottle if we are making the 2/8 ratio above. The leftover amount typically fits nicely into the 2-liter, but more than once a family member has been known to pour a big glass and take a nice swig of the sweet stuff!

Label Hummingbird Food to Avoid Drinking It! © Katrena
How to Avoid Drinking Hummingbird Sugar Water

An easy solution to the accidental hummer food drinking is to make a bright label. The kids can get creative with this! I use wide packing tape and completely cover the label with the clear tape so I do not have to make a new one every time I wash the storage container.

I love to plant flowers and this can also be a wonderful opportunity to teach the kids gardening skills while planting flowers that attract hummers the natural way.

Watching Hummingbirds - Great Way to Connect With Kids © Katrena
Enjoy Watching Hummingbirds With the Kids

Finally, the favorite part! Watching the hummingbirds can be quite a treat. Yes, it can be a lesson in patience as they typically do not magically appear at the beginning of the season as soon as the feeders are hung unless your neighbor happens to be an avid birder.

My girls and I love to sit on the porch in a big swing and watch the birds as they feed and interact. They sometimes giggle and say how silly the birds are to fight when there is plenty for all of them...ah, that's another article altogether and perhaps another lesson in life!

Check out the Wildflower Bouquets site map for more articles about connecting with kids, scavenger hunt clues, printables, and more!

Monday, March 26, 2012

How to Plan an Easter Egg Hunt Without a Brawl

Family East Egg Hunt © Katrena
Ah...Spring is in the air and the Easter season is fast approaching. Many churches, schools, community recreation programs, gyms, and others may be offering egg hunts.

I remember Easter egg hunts well when I was a kid. We lived very near the elementary school, and the whole school class would come over toting milk jug Easter baskets filled with green plastic grass. Everyone would have a blast hunting eggs in our yard. Mom loves to tell the story of the little boy who said he was done hunting eggs long before the others. Upon further probing, he said "I can't eat any more!" That was before plastic eggs became the norm for hunts!

Tips for a Fun Egg Hunt © Katrena
A mom of three children, I've been to my share of hunts. I've seen a lot of pushing, shoving, hair-pulling, ear-biting, foot-stomping, nose-tweaking, name-calling, and worse at hunts....and that's not even mentioning the behavior of the kids. Sometimes my kids have emerged from an egg hunt looking like they participated in a heated hockey game with about four and a half plastic eggs, a chipped tooth, and holes in both knees of their pants. Well, perhaps I am exaggerating just a bit, but some hunts have been anything but enjoyable.

Egg hunts can be as simple as hiding several plastic eggs in the living room or as extravagant as dropping 1,000 eggs from a helicopter or hiding glow-in-the-dark eggs in a swimming pool after dark. Any egg hunt can be fun and entertaining, but they can also be disastrous and even dangerous.

How to Plan an Easter Egg Hunt © Katrena
Before the Hunt

It helps to have plenty of eggs for the anticipated crowd as well as supplies for any related programs such as crafts, refreshments, educational program, story time, photo opportunities, etc. If separating the hunting areas by age, mark boundaries and hide the eggs according to developmental levels.

Decide whether or not you wish to hide surprises in the eggs...one of my favorites when I was a kid was the local American Legion hunt where each egg had a quarter inside. A preschool teacher wrote each child's name on two eggs and they had an extra small hunt in which they could only pick up the eggs with their names – that was a great, unique way to encourage newly developed reading skills. Some churches may place various symbols inside plastic eggs to help kids to learn about Jesus' death and resurrection.

Be careful if placing edible treats in the Easter eggs – many children have food allergies or sensitivities and some foods may be a choking hazard for the youngest kids. It can be a real drag for the kids to have lots of treats that they cannot eat, and it can be a disaster to have to rush a child to the emergency department that is experiencing a severe allergic reaction to a particular treat. An alternative might be to place notes, verses, or stickers inside the eggs.

Have extra bags or baskets available for any children who arrive without one. Ensure that restrooms are adequately stocked and in good working order and that plenty of trash receptacles and bags are available. Inspect all areas to ensure they are clean and free of any hazards.

If advertising the hunt, ensure that all information is correct and complete. Is the hunt accessible for children with special needs or handicaps? If so, that is good information to place in an advertisement.

How to Enjoy an Easter Egg Hunt Without the Drama © Katrena
During the Hunt

Many problems with egg hunts occur when everyone simply lines up and the race begins as soon as the person in charge says "Go!" That style basically calls for survival of the fittest, fastest, and often the rudest. Decide what type of rules you plan to have for the hunt and ensure that everyone is aware of the expectations before beginning, being careful not to turn the directions into something of a dissertation that completely sucks all the excitement out of the moment.

Separating hunting areas for different age groups will at least give the youngest kids a better chance to at least find some eggs without being trampled. Younger children who are timid may be more comfortable if a caregiver can walk with them. Children who tend to be aggressive may be a bit more subdued if accompanied by a helpful adult. If allowing adults to accompany the children, it may be helpful to remind them to let the kids discover the hiding places before starting.

Sometimes Easter egg hunts seem to be over in about five minutes. There are many ways to make the hunt a bit more challenging and to extend the fun of the hunt. You might combine a hunt with school-related skills in which the kids have to answer questions in order to earn a certain number or color of eggs. Adding a scavenger hunt component can challenge kids to use problem-solving skills.

Have a back-up plan. If the hunt was intended to be outdoors, is there a way to move the hunt indoors? Our local library does a great job with an indoor Easter egg hunt in the library. If more children appear than expected, consider limiting the number of eggs that each child can pick up so that everyone has a chance to find some.

Egg Hunt That is Fun for Everyone © Katrena
After the Hunt

When I do a simple hunt at the house, I try to count all the eggs before hiding them to ensure that we haven't left any behind when we gather them at the end. If not, I usually find one when I mow or do a major cleaning project in the house. For larger hunts, it is helpful to recruit volunteers to assist with clean up at the end.

Afterwards, it can be helpful to step back and evaluate what went well and what might be improved for next year. Some ideas may work better than others depending on the ages and size of the group, but with careful planning hopefully everyone will go home with great memories of the Easter egg hunt.

You may also wish to check out my easier Easter Scavenger Hunt With Rhyming Clues to my more challenging Easter Egg Scavenger Hunt that will challenge some of the older kids while providing an opportunity to learn more about the biblical account of Easter. Find more of my articles, including printables and scavenger hunt clues, at the Wildflower Bouquets site map.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gardening: Great Way to Connect With Kids

Gardening Together as a Family © Katrena
Today is Vernal Equinox, a heralding of spring in my neck of the woods, and one of the greatest pleasures of this season for me is to enjoy the plethora of natural beauty around me. And getting a little dirty. Well, sometimes just getting downright grungy with the grubs in the flower garden, if I'm telling the whole truth.

Gardening with the Kids © Katrena
Teach Kids About the Family Tree Through Flowers

Gardening with the kids can be a fun way to connect generations. From an early age, my kids are learning that the lavender iris and pink roses that smell like perfume came from Maw. So did the black-eyed susans, daffodils, lariope, and many other dots of color and texture that make our yard unique. And the awesome red hot pokers that look like candy corn came from Aunt Cyndi. The rocks lining the gardens? Delivered by Maw and Granddad from one of their many trips to Virginia. Planting flowers is a great way to pass the shears from one generation to the next.

Teach Family Tree in Creative Ways © Katrena
This can be a great opportunity to tell the children something of one's own roots. A memory book that uses dirt as its canvas. A motley scrapbook that is ever changing and always growing with the seasons.

Practical Gardening With Kids © Katrena
I remember a wonderful couple named Hal and Della Paris who lived about a half mile from my childhood home. They gave all sorts of tips on how to get a start from a rose bush and how to make wonderful creamed corn. They also had a bird that could whistle Yankee Doodle. What fun memories...ones that I like to share when I would see Mom's snowball bush in full bloom.

How to Enjoy Quality Family Time © Katrena
Involving the Kids With Gardening

If you put my kids in a lovely playground full of fancy slides, swings, and other equipment, it is not unusual to see them sitting on the ground with sticks, digging in the dirt. I get excited about a truckload of soil, so I guess it's in the genes.

Family History in the Flower Garden © Katrena
Gardening can serve as a great hands-on and hands-in classroom providing the kids with an opportunity to learn about a nice variety of topics such as:
  • Plant options (starts from families/friends, seeds from store, etc.)
  • How to prepare soil and make compost (also a lesson in recycling)
  • Names of different gardening tools and how to care for and store them
  • Good body mechanics, a topic they may appreciate more in later years
  • Selecting the best location for plants and how to design a garden
  • Learning about the various zones
  • How to use flowers to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, etc.
  • Beneficial animals for gardeners, such as worms and ladybugs
  • Proper care of the flower garden
  • How to recycle water
  • The difference between perennials and annuals
  • How to identify weeds, plants, flowers
  • Safety tips, such as identifying poison ivy, what to do if you see a snake in the garden, protecting skin from sunburn, etc.
Teach Kids Patience Through Gardening © Katrena
Oh yes, gardening can also teach a bit about patience.

Kids Have Great Ideas for Flower Garden Designs © Katrena
Gardening can also show my kids how very human I am. When I let an interesting plant grow thinking it was a flower when in fact it was just a huge bunch of weeds that had transplanted themselves from the neighbor's yard, my kids saw me make a clean slate for the next planting season. The kids' enthusiasm more than makes up for the mistakes.

How to Connect With Kids © Katrena
My gardens might not be featured on the front of a magazine, but I have learned that flowers often grow bigger when planted near the septic tank, and if they grow well on the side of the interstate, they will probably have a decent chance to grow in my yard!

Enjoy Nature With the Family © Katrena
It's ok...not all gardeners are perfect. Not every effort will be met with success. Sometimes animals will eat the tulip bulbs, a hail storm will ruin the prettiest flowers, or the plants never come up.

Flower Garden Lessons © Katrena
After many unsuccessful efforts at planting 4 o'clocks, I poured the entire seed packet into a rather small hole, hoping that just one plant would grow. Yep...you guessed it. I think they all came up. Actually I think I have some other time zones in there too.

Wildflowers Can Add Color to Garden for Free © Katrena
Some of my favorite flowers are those that simply volunteer themselves in the yard in the form of violets or dandelions. They make great bouquets and can add loads of color for free!

Encourage Creativity in Kids © Katrena
My kids love to pick out seed packets from a nearby dollar store. It is interesting to see their different personalities coming out as they carefully choose what flowers look most appealing to them. If I don't already know the name of the flowers, we can learn them together. One of their favorite computer games that I created is called "Name This Flower" with lots of shots of various flowers native to this area.

Using a Garden as a Classroom © Katrena
Those who plant a vegetable garden or herb garden can get the added benefits of enjoying wonderful home-cooked meals with the harvest. Many children today do not realize where those vegetables in the store originate or how to identify the most basic vegetables and herbs as they appear in the garden. Even those who have very small yards can encourage the kids with a small container garden indoors or outdoors.

Encouraging the Kids to Learn About Plants and Flowers © Katrena
Gardening Together as a Family

Gardening has been a part of my life for many years, a way of life that I hope will continue with my kids. Perhaps some day they will be knocking at my door, asking for a start of some of my own flowers...and maybe, just maybe, the story that goes with them!

Visit the Wildflower Bouquets site map to find more great articles on connecting generations, spending quality time with the kids, and much more!

Bond With the Kids Through Gardening © Katrena

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Doing the Right Thing Because it is the Right Thing to Do

Helping Others to Build Character © Katrena
I am routinely awed by a group of people who come to my senior group exercise classes. Many of them have exercised on a regular basis for years, maybe even decades. They don't expect a t-shirt, name on the board, points, or other prizes. They tend to be gracious with instructors, schedules, and the facility itself. They are simply there for their health and want to do what they can to continue to function physically. These participants may apologize to me if they have to miss a class because of a doctor's appointment or some other important engagement. Some may shake with Parkinson's or walk with a limp while others may have just lost a spouse or have just completed rehab after a fall. They come regardless...because they feel that it is the right thing to do.

The Sliding Slope of Being Slack

Somewhere down the line, that mentality seems to be eroding. One of my kids looked at me after I asked her to do something and said, "So, what are you going to give me if I do it?" Her school offers rewards for good behavior. My response of "A big hug and a kiss!" didn't seem particularly appealing to her, so I met her eyes and simply said, "Because I want you to learn how to do the right thing because it is the right thing to do." That reward was not her first choice, but perhaps it will be more lasting.

Sure, rewards have their place, and I feel that it is very important to notice when someone makes the extra effort or good choices. But is the carrot always necessary? Are we setting up future generations for failure and disappointment? Very few employers regularly honor the employee that has faithfully served for fifteen years...on the contrary, a newly hired inexperienced co-worker who only stays a few months might enjoy a higher starting salary than the veteran employee's salary after many years of service. Families probably won't offer a standing ovation if you serve a healthy meal and wash the dishes. Choosing not to cheat on an online class might result in a much lower grade than another student who looked up all the answers.

The government, employers, and school system can only go so far. Someone can always find a loophole for lax behavior, and rules are often made to favor special interests. Just ask my sister, who was recently bitten by a neighbor's dog that was not vaccinated. People get away with abuse every day because they know they can blackmail others and work the system. Those who are internally motivated to do the job correctly the first time may never be fully rewarded externally...but I do see glimmers of hope.

Work Ethic Passed Down Through Generations - Photo by Tom Stefanac at Wikimedia Commons
Perhaps a Glimmer of Hope?

I posted group project grades this week for one of my online classes. Many of the grades were probably lower than students expected. I noticed a student name in my email inbox the day after posting those grades and opened it with a bit of dread. The student thanked me for the detailed critique and mentioned planning to use that learning experience to improve efforts for future assignments and classes. The student had nothing to gain from that email...other than my respect.

I have much respect for an entire generation of folks who tend to work hard, be very stoic and responsible, take on responsibilities when others may shirk them, and value honesty. Many of these people know what a chamber pot is and know how to pick cotton. They could probably live for ten years on the same amount of money that some others waste in a single year.

Older Generation Has Much to Offer to Younger Generation © Katrena
My dad used to grin at me and say "It builds character, Katrena" when I was challenged by roadblocks in my life. That phrase used to irk me so much as a child, but I guess it is starting to become a bit more palatable to me now. May each of us learn to develop a powerful work ethic and satisfaction of a clear conscious that we can do our very best even when no one is looking...and encourage those character traits in those around us.

Find more of my articles in the Wildflower Bouquets site map.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Free Printable St. Patrick's Day Scavenger Hunt

Scavenger Hunt for St. Patrick's Day
St. Patrick's Day has some interesting history and I thought it might be fun to create some St. Patrick's Day scavenger hunt questions and clues. I have ten questions and answers as well as printable prizes to find for each correct question. This scavenger hunt may be used inside or outside and can be adapted for the classroom or home, large or small groups. It also offers practice in writing and learning names as well as cooperation and teamwork for groups.

Provide some background information about St. Patrick's Day, making sure that the kids know they will be doing a scavenger hunt to test their memories! A good resource for learning about St. Patrick's Day is on the History Channel. I also added a few clues about colors, so you might want to review mixing colors, the rainbow, etc. Generally speaking, the even numbered clues are a little more challenging than the odd numbered clues.

Supplies you'll need
  • Questions and answers below.
  • One sheet of printable prizes for each child. Click on the image below to enlarge and select "File - Print."
  • Ten bags - these can be as simple as plastic ziplock bags or you might use small themed bags or decorate your own paper bags. Another fun option would be ten small pots, as in pots of gold.
 Directions for the St. Patrick's Day Scavenger Hunt
  1. Print one sheet of ten prizes for each child.
  2. Have the children to write their name on each prize (total of 10 times) and cut out each one. If you have limited time, skip having the children to write names on each one and simply have them cut out each prize.
  3. Collect each prize separately, matching the pictures, and place in a bag (total of ten numbered bags with matching prizes in each bag).
  4. When the kids are not in the area, hide each bag and make a notation where each one is located. 

  1. When the kids come back, divide them into ten groups. For groups with less then ten children, divide them into five groups, two groups or one group, depending on number of children, ages, and abilities.
  2. Ask the entire group each question and wait for someone to say the correct answer. Give hints if needed.
  3. Once the correct answer is offered, send the first group to search for bag #1. Give clues for where to find the bag if time is limited or simply have them search the entire area within certain parameters.
  4. Once they have found the bag, have that group pass out the prizes to each student per the name on each prize. If you skipped adding names, simply have this group to pass out one prize to each child - they might want to decorate them later or perhaps write notations about the holiday on each.
  5. Continue in a similar fashion for #2 through #10 (alternating groups if you have less than ten) until all prizes have been delivered.
Scavenger Hunt Questions

1. What two colors can you mix to get the color green?
2. What type of plant is associated with St. Patrick's Day?
3. In what country did St. Patrick's Day originate?
4. According to legend, St. Patrick used a shamrock to demonstrate what?
5. What is the middle color of a rainbow? Can you name the other colors of the rainbow too?
6. Where was the first St. Patrick's Day parade held?
7. What were cranky little souls responsible for mending shoes of other fairies in Celtic folklore?
8. Irish soda bread uses what leavening agent rather than yeast?
9. On what date is St. Patrick's Day typically celebrated?
10. What are two traditional St. Patrick's Day foods?

Scavenger Hunt Answers

1. Yellow and Blue
2. Shamrock or Irish Clover
3. Ireland
4. The Trinity (Father, Son, Holy Spirit)
5. Green - Red, Orange Yellow, Blue, Indigo, Violet
6. New York City, United States
7. Leprechaun
8. Baking Soda
9. March 17
10. Corned Beef and Cabbage


Click on the image below to enlarge before printing.
Prizes for Free St. Patrick's Day Scavenger Hunt

Visit the Wildflower Bouquets site map for more great resources and ideas!