10 May 2011

Grooming a Tree-Hugger: Introducing the Outdoors

I am exceptionally fortunate to have a Summer Baby. Why? Because the initial steps of self-actualization coincide with spring, right around 9 months. I have a blossoming mind in my charge, and while his self-ness is blossoming internally, I am excited to nurture is self-ness-to-others and self-ness-to-the-world (reference Hegel). I think Summer Babies (like myself!) have it great - learning to walk outside in nice weather, becoming aware when there is so much diversity to become aware of. This spring and summer should be wonderful as Koko is introduced to the wide world around him, particularly the outdoors, which until now, have been foreign, frigid, and mysterious. The following are some of my plans for helping him become familiar with and enjoy the outdoors!

Welcome to the May Carnival of Natural Parenting: Growing in the Outdoors
This post was written for inclusion in the monthly Carnival of Natural Parenting hosted by Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama. This month our participants have shared how they encourage their children to connect with nature and dig in the dirt. Please read to the end to find a list of links to the other carnival participants.

Spring is here and in full force. It is unfortunately quite rainy here in Cleveland, OH, but we have had a couple of decent days (or portions of). It's a time for planting, landscaping, renewing, becoming familiar again with the Great Outdoors, which for months have been blanketed in a frigid, snowy, salted drear. I'm planning and researching activities and events for summer. I can hardly contain myself or fathom how we'll fit it all in. I plan on introducing Koko to all four elements, and then some. I've generally been considered, at least mildly, to be somewhat of a tree-hugger. It would only be a natural progression that I instill some of my tree-hug-gy-ness into my son.  Here's how...

Farmers Markets & CSAs
Spring means Farmers Markets! The North Union Farmers Market at Shaker Square is our local market, open April through December outdoors on the square and indoors through the winter. I've been a few times in the past, but as I become evermore educated on the benefits of eating local and fresh, I suspect we'll be spending more time there this summer. My sister and I are also going to participate in the City Fresh CSA service, making sure we have great, local produce to eat throughout the summer, also helping to save on our grocery bills. With Koko becoming a more proficient eater, it will be very nice to be able to serve him fresh, local produce and deposit throughout the next few years the importance of the local food scene and also the importance of supporting our local farmers and economy.

Feed Me Local!

Last summer, I had a modest vegetable garden that I unfortunately let fall by the wayside as I became more and more pregnant and less and less inclined to tend to it. Once I had Koko, it was over. I picked my beans occasionally. My tomatoes fell and recycled into the Earth. This year, we are expanding the garden by double, from about 5' by 5' to 10' by 5'. In addition to my potted herbs, I am planting herbs throughout my flower beds and in a dedicated herb garden and expanding the selection. I plan on drying as much as possible for winter to save on buying herbs (I cook *everything* we eat with a lot of spices and herbs!) and will benefit from eating about as local as it comes!

Hanging in the Garden

Composting & Vermiculture
Although this year will not be ideal for explaining the life/death/recycle philosophies of composting and worm-farming, I can set the stages for next year. I have a very small compost pile already started, which will hopefully expand into a relatively competent, fully-fledged compost pile soon with usable compost by next summer. I am also starting a worm bin to supplement my compost and more efficaciously recycle kitchen waste. Both will be invaluable tools to teach life cycle science to my sure-to-be budding scientist and excellently practical for me to tend to and utilize.

I have a poor, neglected bicycle. This year, I'm buying the baby seat (I decided on the iBert), and we will bicycle to the grocery store and Target instead of driving the extraordinarily short distance (it is, however, too far to walk and lug items back home). Bicycle-riding is great! Not only will it provide excellent (and much needed!) exercise for me, it will give Koko an exceptional view of the neighborhood and a chance to let the wind blow through his hair and enjoy the sweet, fresh air!

We are fortunate to live in a suburb that provides ample recreational options for its constituents. The community swimming pool is only a short bicycle ride away, and pricing is very reasonable for a season pass. I don't know that I will sign up for a Mama & Me Swim Class, but I look forward to taking him to the pool, regardless, to cool off and let him become familiar with much more water than he has seen to date. A few of my family members and friends have pools, too, which will be nice to visit when we do not want to be in the middle of the hustle and bustle of the community pool. I don't think this summer will be ideal for local, natural water swimming, but I'm entertaining the idea of a picnic or two at Grand River - Harpersfield Metropark, one of my favorite picnic-ing and summer-fun spots from my childhood, complete with small pools in the river that could be appropriate for some wading.

With so many parks and park systems so close, we are truly blessed in our location. We live walking distance from Cain Park, in Cleveland Heights, which offers a beautiful grassy knoll, an impressive plot of trees, and a large, open-air amphitheater which showcases many wonderful summer concerts and programs. Forest Hills Park is huge and expansive, and we could spend many weekends exploring various portions, spanning numerous suburbs. South Euclid boasts Euclid Creek Reservation, with a walking/biking trail and a few hiking trails, a huge stream with many banks to access it, and a few picnic areas and play areas. Our options to explore the suburban wilderness are endless, and I cannot wait to take Koko for lazy strolls and arduous hikes, alike, in the sprawling nature at our backdoor.

Helping with the Planters

Providing Tools
Children, especially very small ones, really do not need too many toys. I believe that a lot of toys are marketed to parents to buy for their children, although there are some that are fun to have for playing outside. Koko is already kind of spoiled... Second great-grandchild on my father's side, First on my mother's; First grandchild for my parents; First nephew for my siblings; First baby for me... He gets showered with all sorts of gifts. For his First Easter, this held true. My parents got him a swimming/wading pool and some pool toys for the summer; my siblings purchased a sandbox for him with accompanying sandbox-accessories, like a bucket and dump truck; and from me, he got a little Fisher Price Garden Cart/Wheel Barrow, with little plastic tools and a 99c pack of plastic dinosaurs (one of my personal favorites from childhood). Will he *need* all this? No. Undoubtedly, however, all of these toys will last him years to come, giving him tools appropriate for him to play outside and mimic what he observes.

Tree-Huggers Unite!

Individual Terms
I think that the most important part of introducing the outdoors and letting Koko come to terms with the world around him is to let him familiarize himself with his surroundings on his own terms. The few nice days we have had already have been spent outside, with my baby in shorts, barefoot, having been given free range to explore, feel, taste, smell, and listen to the backyard. With a bath waiting on call for our return inside, he was limitless in his options to take it in. Tiny fistfuls of dirt made it in his mouth; he blew raspberries in the grass; he hit the ground and tried to follow the quick movements of squirrels and birds; he helped me start seedlings, even trying to plant a dinosaur or two. We each have a personal relationship with nature and the outdoors, and I'd like him to develop his as organically as possible through exploration guided by his whim and experiences as he sees fit. Maybe he'll discover the great feeling of physically hugging and knowing trees sooner that I originally anticipated.

It's all a bunch of tree-hugging-hippie-crap. Eric Cartman.

How are you connected to nature? How have you helped your children connect? Leave a  comments or share on the FaceBook!
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Carnival of Natural Parenting -- Hobo Mama and Code Name: Mama
Visit Code Name: Mama and Hobo Mama to find out how you can participate in the next Carnival of Natural Parenting!

Please take time to read the submissions by the other carnival participants:

(This list will be live and updated by afternoon May 10 with all the carnival links.)

  • Get Out!Momma Jorje gives reasons she doesn't think she gets outside enough and asks for your suggestions on making time for the outdoors.

  • How Does Your Garden Grow?The ArtsyMama shares her love of nature photography.

  • We Go Outside — Amy at Peace 4 Parents describes her family's simple, experiential approach to encouraging appreciation of nature.

  • My Not-So-Green Thumb — Wolfmother confesses to her lack of gardening skills but expresses hope in learning alongside her son at Fabulous Mama Chronicles.

  • Enjoying Outdoors — Isil at Smiling like Sunshine describes how her children enjoy the nature.

  • Five Ideas to Encourage the Reluctant Junior Gardener — For the rare little ones who don't like to get their hands dirty, Dionna at Code Name: Mama offers tips for encouraging an early love of dirt (despite the mess).

  • Connecting to NatureMamapoekie shares how growing your own vegetable patch connects your child to nature and urges them to not take anything for granted.

  • The Farmer's Market Classroom — Jenn at Monkey Butt Junction shares how the Farmer's Market has become her son's classroom.

  • Seeds — Kat at Loving {Almost} Every Moment's hubby Ken shares his perspective on why gardening with their kiddos is so important . . . and enjoyable!

  • Toddlers in the Garden — Laura at A Pug in the Kitchen shares her excitement as she continues to introduce her toddler and new baby to the joys of fresh veggies, straight from the garden.

  • Nature's Weave — MJ at Wander Wonder Discover explains how nature weaves its way into our lives naturally, magnetically, experientially, and spiritually.

  • Becoming Green — Kristina at Hey Red celebrates and nurtures her daughter's blossoming love of the outdoors.

  • Little Gardener — Rosemary at Rosmarinus Officinalis looks forward to introducing her baby girl to gardening and exploring home grown foods for the first time.

  • Cultivating Abundance — You can never be poor if you have a garden! Lucy at Dreaming Aloud reflects on what she cultivates in her garden . . . and finds it's a lot more than seeds!

  • Growing in the Outdoors: Plants and People — Luschka at Diary of a First Child reflects on how she is growing while teaching her daughter to appreciate nature, the origins of food, and the many benefits of eating home-grown.

  • How Not to Grow — Anna at Wild Parenting discusses why growing vegetables fills her with fear.

  • A Garden Made of Straw — Kelly at Becoming Crunchy shares tips on making a straw bale garden.

  • The Tradition of Gardening — Carrie at Love Notes Mama reflects on the gifts that come with the tradition of gardening.

  • Gardening Smells Like Home — Bethy at Bounce Me to the Moon hopes that her son will associate home grown food and lovely flowers with home.

  • The New Normal — Patti at Jazzy Mama writes about how she hopes that growing vegetables in a big city will become totally normal for her children's generation.

  • Outside, With You — Amy at Anktangle writes a letter to her son, a snapshot of a moment in the garden together.

  • Farmer Boy — Abbie at Farmer's Daughter shares how her son Joshua helps to grow and raise their family's food.

  • Growing Kids in the Garden — Lisa at Granola Catholic shares easy ways to get your kids involved in the garden.

  • Growing Food Without a Garden — Don't have a garden? "You can still grow food!" says Mrs Green of Little Green Blog. Whatever the size of your plot, she shows you how.

  • Growing Things — Liz at Garden Variety Mama shares her reasons for gardening with her kids, even though she has no idea what she's doing.

  • MomentsUK Mummy Blogger explains how the great outdoors provides a backdrop for her family to reconnect.

  • Condo Kid Turns Composter and Plastic Police — Jessica from Cloth Diapering Mama has discovered that her young son is a true earth lover despite living in a condo with no land to call their own.

  • Gardening with Baby — Sheila at A Gift Universe shows us how her garden and her son are growing.

  • Why to Choose Your Local Farmer's MarketNaturally Nena shares why she believes it's important to teach our children the value of local farmers.

  • Unfolding into Nature — At Crunchy-Chewy Mama, Jessica Claire shares her desire to cultivate a reverence for nature through gardening, buying local food, and just looking out the window.

  • Urban Gardening with Kids — Lauren at Hobo Mama shares her strategies for urban gardening with kids — without a yard but with a whole lot of enthusiasm.

  • Mama Doesn't Garden — Laura at Our Messy Messy Life is glad her husband is there to instill the joys of gardening in their children, while all she has to do is sit back and eat homegrown tomato sandwiches.

  • Why We Make this Organic Garden Grow — Brenna at Almost All The Truth shares her reasons for gardening with her three small children.

  • 5 Ways to Help Your Baby Develop a Love of the Natural World — Charise at I Thought I Knew Mama believes it's never too early to foster a love of the natural world in your little one.

  • April Showers Bring May PRODUCE — Erika at NaMammaSte discusses her plans for raising a little gardener.

  • Growing Outside — Seonaid at The Practical Dilettante discovers how to get her kids outside after weeks of spring rain.

  • Eating Healthier — Chante at My Natural Motherhood Journey talks about how she learns to eat healthier and encourages her children to do the same.

  • The Beauty of Earth and Heavens — Inspired by Charlotte Mason, Erica at ChildOrganics discovers nature in her own front yard.

  • Seeing the Garden Through the Weeds — Amanda at Let's Take the Metro talks about the challenges of gardening with two small children.

  • Creating a Living Playhouse: Our Bean Teepee! — Kristin at Intrepid Murmurings shares how her family creates a living playhouse "bean teepee" and includes tips of how to involve kids in gardening projects.

  • Grooming a Tree-Hugger: Introducing the Outdoors — Ana at Pandamoly shares some of her planned strategies for making this spring and summer memorable and productive for her pre-toddler in the Outdoors.

  • Sowing Seeds of Life and Love — Suzannah at ShoutLaughLove celebrates the simple joys of baby chicks, community gardening, and a semi-charmed country life.

  • Experiencing Nature and Growing Plants Outdoors Without a Garden — Deb Chitwood at Living Montessori Now shares some of her favorite ways her family discovered to fully experience nature wherever they lived.

  • Garden Day — Melissa at The New Mommy Files is thankful to be part of community of families, some of whom can even garden!

  • Teaching Garden Ettiquette to the Locusts — Tashmica from Mother Flippin' (guest posting at Natural Parents Network) allows her children to ravage her garden every year in the hopes of teaching them a greater lesson about how to treat the world.

  • Why I Play with Worms. — Megan of Megadoula, Megamom and Megatired shares why growing a garden and raising her children go hand in hand.

    1. What sweet photos! I love your plans for helping your son truly experience and enjoy nature. Your love of nature is a great example, and your attitude of encouraging exploration outdoors is awesome! Deb @ LivingMontessoriNow.com

    2. I totally want to do vermiculture! I'm just not sure I'm brave enough in our second-floor condo. It sounds so cool, though.

      You've given so many great ideas here. We have a front-mounted bike seat and we both love the closeness and excitement of bicycling together. And I love your final point especially, of just letting Koko get into nature on his own terms.

    3. Thank you, Deb! I'm really hoping I rub off on him a little : )

    4. Lauren, they sell small containers to do indoor worm farming - here's a great tutorial from Louisiana's state site... http://www.deq.state.la.us/portal/default.aspx?tabid=2101
      You can use a container as small as a plastic shoe box and get away with it or if you look around some specialty shops sell table top rubbermaid-trashcan style setups (they have one at our Natural History Museum). You might be surprised at just how easy it can be. Plus vermiculture sounds so cool : )

    5. What a cutie!! We are experimenting with growing herbs and gardening, though I"m not always successful. We also started composting, that is a learning process too. I'm learning and taking the kids along with me. I agree about the farmers market 100%! I look forward to them being open again every year. The kids love it too, they know mama is a little more free with her money there, ha!
      I love the hippie quote!

    6. i am so excited for our farmers' market to open! just a few weeks:)

      love the pics of your boy-babe outside.

    7. I like to hug trees too :) When I was child, my mom would pet bumble bees. Everything you are doing sounds so exciting, I want to move to OH! haha :) Your son has an awesome mama! :)

    8. You have amazing ideas here. I wish we had two working bikes - and had started biking with Kieran. I know he would love it, and it is such incredible exercise. Thank you for sharing!!

    9. He is adorable! :)

      It looks like you have a lot of great plans for an awesome summer - I think I may be stealing some of your ideas! :) I really liked your paragraph about summer babies too - I never really thought about it but it's true! Makes me even more excited for my Bean's summer this year (she's really close in age to yours).

      I just wanted to add - we are currently in a mommy and baby swim class and I kinda wish I hadn't paid for it...it's mostly stuff I could have done with her quite easily on my own! You may just want to check to see exactly what they teach first or even observe a class if you can...just fyi :)

    10. I love all your plans and ideas. Natural learning and exploring is best I believe :). Yay for vermiculture! We have a vermiculture farm here and they do classes and tours for kids. My daughter still talks about getting her own worms. We almost went ahead, but our house is on the market so we are holding off. All the best with your plans!!

    11. What a lot of great plans! We do a lot of the things on your list, and they are great. Your parks and swimming pool sounds great! I wish I could get out and bike more -- it's just not feasible for me at this stage (unless I go solo or on the weekends). Someday, perhaps!

      I am jealous you are getting such nice weather, too! Bring on the SUNSHINE!