Thursday, March 29, 2012

Tips for Finding Nature While on Vacation

This is my third in a series of posts for Nature Rocks, a wonderful movement that encourages families to spend more time outdoors connecting with nature. It's an idea that my family tries to live out each and every day. Next week, I'm their featured ambassador, so Nature Rocks will be posting some of my tips for enjoying time outside with kids, and I'll be posting more detailed posts that correspond with each tip.
Read posts from earlier this week here:

Today's tip is to include nature in your family vacations.

There are some destinations that lend themselves to spending a bulk of your time outside. Hawaii, for instance. But even urban getaways or cold climates offer plenty of outdoor exploration opportunities.

Here are a few reasons we love to spend time outdoors while traveling:
  • It's cheap. You've already spent an arm and a leg to get your family to a particular destination. Add up lodging, dining or other entertainment expenses, and your budget can go up in vacation smoke pretty quickly. But parks, beaches, gardens, etc., are often free or very low cost. And you can usually spend hours enjoying them. Pack a picnic and save on lunch or dinner!
  • It's exciting. You have an opportunity to see animals, plants and landscapes that are unique to the part of the world where you're traveling. I can't take my eyes off the water whenever we visit the ocean or Lake Michigan. Probably because it's not something I get to look at everyday around home.
  • It gets kids moving. We all know that kids, especially young ones, like to be on the move. And it can be exhausting chasing after them and trying to keep them on their best behavior when you're out and about on vacation. The beauty of the great outdoors is that they're free to roam and explore (within reason, of course).
Connecting with nature in Boston: Harbor Islands

Need a few ideas to get you going?
  • Nearby local or state parks. When we visit St. Petersburg, Florida, for example, we naturally spend some time at the beach near our rental property. But we also always plan a visit to Fort DeSoto Park, one of the world's most beautiful and natural beaches. It's fun to show our kids the beach as nature intended it, not populated with high rises and jet skis.
  • Try something new. Visiting a winter climate? Maybe you could try snow shoeing or skiing. Heading to a tropical destination? Snorkeling would be a fun and easy way to more thoroughly explore the ocean. In just about any location, you could go bird watching, geocaching, or hiking.
  • Do a little research. If you're visiting a city, connecting with nature might require a little more homework. But you can almost always find an aboretum, botanical garden, zoo or urban park to put on your list of attractions. And breathing in some fresh air in the middle of a city will do everyone some good. Ask for recommendations, look at blogs, or connect with the tourism bureau.
  • Dine al fresco. My kids are always much happier when they're outside. So whenever possible, we choose restaurants with outdoor patios or seating areas. This typically means less entertaining that the adults have to do. And if our baby does get fussy, one of us can just take him on quick little walk around the block.
  • Camp! I'll be writing more about camping later this week, so check back!
Connecting with nature in Tampa: Lowry Park Zoo
Other Resources:
If you're interested in more ideas about finding nature while on vacation, you might enjoy this article by Colleen of Travel Mamas: Vacation that connect kids with nature

And I wrote this post about Nature on Vacation last year.

How do you include nature in your vacation plans? Please leave a comment!

Next up: Tomorrow I'll be posting about baby and toddler carriers. You might need one for your nature-filled travels!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Tips for Connecting with Nature in Your Neighborhood

This is my second in a series of posts for Nature Rocks, a wonderful movement that encourages families to spend more time outdoors connecting with nature. It's an idea that my family tries to live out each and every day. Next week, I'm their featured ambassador, so Nature Rocks will be posting some of my tips for enjoying time outside with kids, and I'll be posting more detailed posts that correspond with each tip. Read my first post about making backyard play more fun here.

Today's tip is to connect with nature in your backyard and neighborhood.

I'll be the first to admit that when we head outside to play, I often get out the sidewalk chalk or let my oldest son play with his beloved basketball. But I also try to incorporate little nature lessons during our outdoor time whenever possible.

You should also know that I'm by no means a nature expert. I majored in journalism, not botany or biology. I couldn't tell the difference between a sparrow and a chickadee. I only know about 4 types of trees by sight. I'm lost when it comes to identifying flowers. But that doesn't mean there aren't plenty of things I can teach my sons about the natural world.

So here are some ways that even a novice nature lover like myself can help their kids learn more about nature.

Keep your eyes open and be curious. The best nature lesson we ever shared with our son was when a mama bird built a nest in our fern plant. I got the plant down from its hook one night to water it, and I noticed there seemed to be a thinning area of the plant. I took a closer look and saw the nest, full of eggs.
Each night, when my husband got home from work, we would gently take the fern down off its perch and check on the eggs. Soon they began to hatch. I've never seen my son so completely captivated by something. We watched their progress for weeks, until one day the babies were gone. Now whenever we see some birds romping around our yard, my son asks if it's one of the babies all grown up. It was truly so amazing. Had I not been paying attention, the moment could have completely passed us by.

Take a walk and get your neighbors involved. You might be bored with the scene in your own yard, but there's probably different plants and treasures to discover just down the road. If you think they're ready, try ditching the stroller and let your kids explore on their own two feet. Maybe your neighbors will have fun things to share. I'll never forget the night that our neighbors called down to us because they had just found some baby rabbits along their fence.

Notice the change in seasons. This is a great time of year to point out all the changes that spring brings. Each day, my son and I have been counting the blooms on our pussy willow plant, and checking on the daffodils' progress. In the fall, I had him name the colors he saw on the trees, and we talked about why the leaves were piling up on the ground.

Kids love animals. My son could watch the squirrels for hours. We talk about what they eat and where they sleep. And we often find frogs and bugs on our hikes. Even when we're indoors playing, if I notice a rabbit or bird on our porch, we'll check them out through the window (and because they're not as easily scared off by us when we're inside, we often get to observe them for a while this way).

There's always the weather. Sometimes we fill the time it takes us to walk to the playground by chatting about the weather. Is it windy today? Is the sun shining? Are there puddles from the rain earlier? Should we wear our winter jackets, or is a sweatshirt enough to keep us warm?
    My sons are quite young (almost 3 years old, and 4 months), so I would imagine that our nature lessons will get a bit more complex as they get older. Maybe we'll plant a garden. Or I'd love to get their help starting a compost pile in the next year or two. Learning to identify birds would be fun for all of us someday. For now, we keep our nature lessons pretty simple and at their level of understanding.

    How do you and your kids more deeply connect with nature? Please leave a comment!

    Next up: Later this week, I'll be posting about incorporating the great outdoors in your family vacation.

    Sunday, March 25, 2012

    Tips for Making Backyard Play More Fun

    I'm excited to share that next week I'm the featured ambassador for the Nature Rocks organization. Nature Rocks is a wonderful movement that encourages families to spend more time outdoors, connecting with nature. It's an idea that my family tries to live out each and every day. So for the next two weeks, I'll be posting some of my tips for enjoying time outside with kids. Be sure to like Nature Rocks on Facebook and follow them on Twitter, where they'll start sharing my tips beginning next week. If you're new to Arrows Sent Forth, you can read more about my family and I here.

    Today's tip is to make backyard play more fun.

    Seems pretty obvious. Yet I see far too many families (many of whom line my own street) that get stuck in a rut of boring playtime outside. And by July they never venture past their air conditioned doors. So remember to mix it up! Here are a few ideas:

    1. Bring your favorite inside toys outside! Big Arrow loves to bring Lightening McQueen outside and together we play hide and go seek with him. Or he shoots him down our little slide. We've had outdoor picnics with play food. We sometimes color on our patio table. And our paintbrushes and a cup of water often join us in the driveway for some summer time "painting."

    2. Make natural elements toys! Big Arrow often digs with shovels and tractors in a small patch of gravel we have along our house. Instant (and cheap) sandbox. We have pretended to fish with sticks, made towers with rocks, and sprinkled grass like fairy dust.

    3. Get crafty! With the popularity of sites like Pinterest, it's very easy to discover nature-inspired crafts. Not only can you find many of the supplies you'll need right in your own backyard, but you can often assemble your crafts outside as well. That sure makes clean up a lot easier!

           A few I want to try with Big Arrow:
    • Leaving brightly colored rocks around town to brighten a stranger's day.

    • Grow some plants.

    • Make a nature-inspired collage.

    I pin a lot of nature-inspired craft ideas on my Toddler Activities board on Pinterest. If you need more inspiration, you'll find lots of ideas on the Nature Rocks website.

    4. Let them be. Big Arrow tends to have the most fun outdoors when I just let him wander around the yard and use his own imagination. Not only does this mean I get to relax, but it is truly a delight to see what he dreams up to fill his time outdoors. He has dug for buried treasures, gone on "hikes" along our back fence, and pranced along the sidewalk to the music that plays inside every 2-year-old's head.

    About a year ago, I wrote another post about Nature in our Backyard that expands upon some of my thoughts. I'd love to know how you make backyard play more fun. Please leave a comment!

    Next up: On Tuesday I'll be posting about exploring the natural elements in your yard and neighborhood more deeply.

    Thursday, March 22, 2012

    Trip Report: Madeira Beach

    Holy smokes, time flies when you're caring for two little ones all day (especially when a certain 2-year-old somehow gets the flu, despite having had a flu shot, and loses 3 pounds in a week... yeesh.) Anyway, while I have lots of stuff to write about and share, time keeps passing me by.

    So before the specifics of our trip to Madeira Beach, Florida, get even fuzzier, I thought I better sit down and write up our trip report. It's our third time visiting this area of Florida (near Tampa/St. Petersburg), and we did a little mix of our old favorites and new sites.

    Day 1: Arrival in Madeira Beach

    We touched down at the Tampa airport after an uneventful direct flight from Indianapolis in the late afternoon. Once we got close to our rental apartment in Madeira Beach, we noticed that both Arrows were sound asleep in the backseat. So I ducked in the grocery store and stocked up on food, diapers and beach toys for the trip. Then we got settled at our place and headed out to dinner.

    Naturally we wanted to get as close to the beach as possible on our first night there. So we hit up Caddy's on the Beach, a spot we knew was amazing from our last trip to Tampa/St. Petersburg. It was spot on again. Probably our best night of the trip, as we finished eating just in time to watch Big Arrow play on the beach as the sun set.

    Day 2: Fort DeSoto Park

    We headed straight to Fort De Soto Park. We played in the sand at this gorgeous park for several hours. Once we had worked up a sufficient appetite, we headed to Crabby Bills for lunch oceanside. That afternoon, the boys napped while I sat on our deck and read a book. Later, we headed back to the beach, this time directly across the street from our apartment.

    We had totally worn out both Arrows with all that fun in the sun, so we ordered a pizza from DeLosa's Pizza in nearby Johns Pass and ate on our deck. Another relaxing evening.

    Day 3: Downtown St. Petersburg

    We drove to downtown St. Petersburg in the morning to visit the St. Petersburg Saturday Morning Market. It was busy as usual, but we had a wonderful time wandering from stall to stall, sampling treats along the way. Big Arrow loves this market for all the fancy dogs that the locals bring. He even got a balloon dog from the Balloon Guy this year.

    From the market, we took a long walk around downtown St. Petersburg. This is a great little city, situated right along the water with a marina, pier, shops, cafes, etc. We made a couple of quick stops to let Big Arrow run around and feed Little Arrow. We had a quick lunch and then went back to Madeira Beach for naps.

    My husband headed back to the beach with Big Arrow late in the afternoon, while I let Little Arrow rest some more. We ate dinner right next to our apartment at Lisa's Cafe and then took the Arrows on a walk for some ice cream at Johns Pass.

    Day 4: Lowry Park Zoo

    We woke up on our last full day of the trip to cloudy skies and cooler temps. But while a Florida weatherman might think of 65 as "very chilly" (his words, no joke), we Hoosiers certainly do not. So we headed to the Lowry Park Zoo in Tampa. Perfect decision... the cooler temperatures kept the crowds away and it seemed as though we had the entire zoo to ourselves. I'll definitely be writing more about our morning there.

    After a quick lunch at the zoo, we again headed back for naps. That evening, we walked back to Johns Pass for takeout dinner and relaxed in our apartment for our last evening of vacation. It was a great time to do laundry, pack up, and let the Arrows unwind before the flight.

    Day 5: Heading for Home

    My husband took Big Arrow to the beach for one last romp in the sand before our flight home. I let Little Arrow take a nap while I read on the deck. Once we finished packing up, we headed to the Conch Grill for lunch.

    Before we knew it, we were boarding our flight back to Indy.

    This trip was a good introduction to traveling with two little ones. It was a nice mix of sightseeing, beachgoing, and long walks, but with plenty of time for both boys to rest.

    So long, beach! Hope to see you again next year!

    This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby and Friday Daydreaming at R We There Yet Mom.

    Thursday, March 15, 2012

    Barefoot on the Beach

    Is there anything cuter than baby feet on a beach? I *may* have gotten a tad carried away capturing Little Arrow's adorable toes on a trip to Florida a couple of weeks ago. Can you blame me, though?

    Don't you just want to pinch those chubby thighs?

    Not to be outdone by his little brother, here are Big Arrow's feet (in action, of course, like any self-respecting 2-year-old).

    This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.

    Sunday, March 11, 2012

    Chicago Children's Museum

    During our recent weekend trip to Chicago, my husband had a work commitment that I knew meant I'd be exploring on my own one day with a 2-year-old and a 2-month old. What to do that would be manageable for me, comfortable for Little Arrow, and yet still fun for Big Arrow?

    When I realized that the Chicago Children's Museum was only 4 blocks from our hotel (Embassy Suites Downtown-Lakefront), I figured I could walk with the Arrows and spend a morning there, then retreat back to the hotel if it wasn't going well.

    We ended up spending a few hours there, and had such a great time. There is so much to do here that it is almost overwhelming. There are several big exhibits that we never even had a chance to see. Since Little Arrow was strapped to me and slept his way through the museum, I'll let Big Arrow share some of his favorite exhibits with you:
    • Snow Much Fun: I shared pictures from Snow Much Fun on Friday. Big Arrow's favorite was decorating the snowmen.
    • Michael's Museum of Tiny Treasures: Just a little nook off the main hall in the museum, it was full of itty bitty collections of various items, from buttons to keys. Perfect for little hands and eyes to examine (especially with fun magnifying glasses!). If your kids love the I Spy books,* they'd love this exhibit.

    • Dinosaur Expedition: Big Arrow isn't really into dinosaurs, but he loved getting to dig around in the "dirt."

    • Pritzker Playspace: A great spot for really little ones. Tons of sensory things to play with. If we head back to Chicago when Little Arrow starts crawling, this would be a great exhibit for him to explore safely. Hours are limited, however.

    Insider Tips:
    • I'm used to visiting children's museums that are a bit more spacious. This one is jam-packed with exhibits, and so it gets a little chaotic. Or maybe it was just particularly crowded on the day we visited. I would pick a few exhibits to focus on. Dinosaur Expedition and Tiny Treasures were pretty quiet and I think that's why Big Arrow liked them so much.
    • There is no cafeteria in the museum, but it is located on Navy Pier, which has a food court with several quick options, and a few other sit-down restaurants.
    • There is a nursing area in the Kids Town exhibit that I used for Little Arrow. However, this is a very popular exhibit and the nursing station is only separated by a small curtain. So there were lots of kids running in and out of the area, and it was hard to keep Big Arrow contained and in my line of sight. A better spot to nurse a baby would have been the Pritzker Playscape, but because of its limited hours, it wasn't open when Little Arrow was hungry.
    And when our visit was over, we were all ready to relax for the rest of the afternoon in the hotel!

    If You Visit:
    Navy Pier, 700 E. Grand Avenue, Chicago
    Open daily, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. (later on Thursdays and some summer evenings)
    $12 per person

    Speaking of children's museums...
    If you plan to visit a children's museum during your travels, you might also enjoy reading my tips for visiting a children's museum. I also love these rules for parents visiting a children's museum from Travels with Children. (I really wanted to rip the cell phones out of some of the parents' hands who were visiting while we were there. But my polite midwestern self refrained.)

    *Links to my Amazon Affiliate account. A small portion of any sales made through these links will come back to support this blog, but this does not in any way increase the cost of purchase for you.

    Thursday, March 8, 2012

    Snow at the Chicago Children's Museum

    We never really got any decent snow here this winter, which was very unusual. And it's too bad, because for the first time, Big Arrow was actually really excited about the idea of snow. He wanted to try sledding and make snow angels. Alas, the Snow Much Fun exhibit at the Chicago Children's Museum was as close as he got this year.

    He got to dress up some snowmen.

    And take a twirl on the ice rink (he was mostly interested in the cute museum staffer who noticed he was feeling a little shy and offered him a dance).

    And we even marveled at the snow flakes coming down.

    Children's museums are such great places for imaginative play. In fact, I'd much rather watch him play with snow at a museum than shovel my driveway!

    Next week I'll be writing more about our time at the Chicago Children's Museum, so check back!

    This post is a part of Photo Friday at Delicious Baby.