Thursday, 7 June 2012

10 Great Ideas for Father's Day

No more ties!
Do you remember making endless construction paper ties for Father's Day as a kid? Are you stuck for an idea for something better, or at least different? You may want to try some of these. I've included five traditional gift ideas, and five of the "more memorable" variety. Enjoy!

Tried and True:

  1. Dad t-shirts and/or baseball caps: personalize these with hand prints, foot prints and other kid-style art
  2.  Dad mugs: you can custom decorate a ceramic mug using special ceramic paint (for the outside only)
  3.  Pencil & pen holders: you can make these from washed-out jars etc.; hot-glue on decorative features such as glass half-marbles, colourful rocks & gems, and/or use puffy paint to draw on details *these are more appropriate for dads who work in an office than, say, in construction 
  4.  Find a suitable photograph of child(ren) + dad & make a custom frame for it
  5.  Make homemade soap-on-a-rope rope

Less Traditional:

  1. Tie-dye a shirt, towel, etc. for dad
  2.  Make homemade ice cream for dad be sure to add lots of topping options to suit dad's preferences
  3.  Candy shirt: find an old shirt especially suited to the occasion; gather wrapped candy of varieties especially enjoyed by dad; hot glue these (on low temp. setting) to the shirt; give dad a running start before the kids give chase to grab the candies off the shirt Note: I take no responsibility for the results if you choose this activity! 
  4. Have the kids create a treasure hunt complete with clues etc. for dad; have a gift at the end, smaller gifts along the way, or you can have the end destination as the gift (restaurant, mini-putt, favourite fishing hole, etc.) Click here for tips on how to create a scavenger hunt
  5. Take our the old family photos & movies and put together a video specifically for dad; you can use Windows Movie Maker or try here for more Widows-based free software: Mac users can do a quick internet search for Mac software

Monday, 4 June 2012

Ask Your Teacher To Take You Outside

measuring claws
I have a t-shirt I wear often at this time of year. The front of it reads "Ask your teacher to take you outside today".

My oldest son attends a Sr. Public school, which means that there are only grade 7 and 8 classes there. In his first year, there was a grand total of one day of outdoor education. It was part of a science unit about food chains. On that day, the kids were piled into school buses and driven to a dedicated outdoor centre about 20 minutes away. It was a beautiful location, but the species we saw (I volunteered as a parent) could all be found within a 10-15 minute walk from the school. In grade 8, the was no trip; there was absolutely no outdoor education at all.

Now, this school has also won some environmental awards, mainly based on the efforts of a group of students to maximize recycling and composting during nutrition breaks. Some students have also worked to try and get some trees planted on the barren property, and others have suggested plans to build an outdoor classroom in the future. Would this classroom be used, were it to be built? Would demand slacken once the weather turned cold? What about kids who don't have adequate winter clothing, how could they take advantage of such an opportunity? Who would maintain it? How could it be used best?

Kids who play and learn outside tend to be calmer, more physically fit, and are less likely to be deficient in vitamin D.

When the teachers do not see the connections between nature and the subjects they teach, then they are unable to help the students make these connections. When the students rarely experience nature, they are not likely to make these connections on their own either.

In a world threatened by climate change, alarming rates of species loss, vast deforestation, explosive human population, ocean acidification, food security issues, and lack of clean water (more people have access to a cell phone than to a toilet), the lack of connection we have with nature is downright terrifying.

I could start quoting Richard Louv, but it would be much better if you were to read his books. The point I am making here is that our very educational system is missing one of the most crucial fields of study and our society is suffering as a result.

The sad fact is that children are better able to name brand logos than they are to name or in other ways identify plant and animal species found in their own back yard. Kids may go years without ever seeing any wild nature at all, let alone learn how to relate to it, understand it and learn from it. This reflects our obsession with things instead of life and place. Is this really the value system we want to pass on to our children?

I am fortunate to live in an urban area with easy access to natural areas. Yet the kids of neighbouring families still do not use these places, for reasons I can only guess at--safety, over-scheduling, or maybe because they fail to see the value in these places.

When we pare down our needs to the basics: food, clean water, clean air, shelter, and some might argue, companionship, it becomes clear that we are a part of the natural world. The rest is just static that we've created along the way. We are a busy, restless species, and this static can help us sometimes, but it is not a need, and it often gets in the way of our understanding of our place within the larger natural system.

Camping is a wonderful way to connect with nature. The less you bring along from home, the stronger your connection can be. Part of the trick is to relax and listen. Nature is not quiet, at least not in terms of actual sound; in fact it can be quite loud at times! But it has a rhythm and calmness to it that bring to it a different sort of qualitative "quietness" to it. Nature doesn't have "should's" or "ought to's" about it; it just is. For the keen observer, such as a child at play, there is much to be learned.

Do you remember that kid who never wore a coat when it was cold out, who spent more time outside than in, played outside even in the rain, and was daring enough to even sample the mud pies (you know, way back when kids actually used to make mud pies)? Do you remember how the adults used to say that he'd catch his death of cold etc., yet he never got sick? There are reasons for this that we are only now beginning to understand.

Last autumn my family and I went on a canoe trip down the Obabika River in Temagami (Ontario). This trip was a couple of days longer than our usual trip, there was rain through part of it, and a creek with what we called "quickmud" rather than water. We became wet, and slogged harder and further than on previous trips. When we returned home, we found the house unbearably warm, despite the fact that the thermostat read 18 C. During the trip our bodies had acclimatized to the weather without our noticing. This is something we don't often allow to happen, at least not in the western world, and yet it could be so very useful. I have to wonder, what other natural qualities have we lost along the way?