Junior Ranger

When the kids were pretty young, we happened upon the Junior Ranger program at one of our National Parks.  We felt like we struck gold!  We found that in each National Park, the kids are invited to attend a short educational program, Ranger Walk or video and complete “Ranger Booklets” which ask them about key aspects of the park.  Questions ranged from asking about their observations of nature to the park’s human and archeological historical significance.  In the end, they met with a Park Ranger to share what they’ve learned and were “sworn in” as official Junior Rangers.

This was such a hit on our first big vacation, that we have sought out National Parks and the Junior Ranger program on almost every vacation since then.

Junior Ranger Books, Certificates, Patches and Badges

We have enjoyed exploring our natural treasures like Yosemite, Muir Redwoods, Wind Cave and the Badlands, as well as historic landmarks like Yorktown, Alcatraz, Lincoln’s Boyhood Home and cities abundant with historic points of interest like Boston and Washington DC.  Being part of the Junior Ranger program has, I feel, given the kids a sense of responsibility for our National Parks while broadening their understanding of and appreciation for the many treasures our nation offers (and that they, as the next generation, must protect).

Junior Ranger "Swearing In" in the Badlands

So far, our favorite Junior Ranger programs have been:

  • Gettysburg (my son loves to re-enact Picketts Charge in the sandbox)
  • Point Reyes National Seashore (we saw pupping elephant seals AND whales plus got to stand on the San Andreas Fault!)
  • Yosemite (need I say more?)

Have you done the Junior Ranger program? What are your favorite National Parks to explore with your Junior Rangers?

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Game of the Week: Blob Tag

Photo Credit: Gargoyle Photo

Group Size: Large group (10 or more)
Age Group: 1st -5th grades
Length of Activity: 10 minutes or more
Developmental Goal: To develop eye-foot coordination and cooperation.
Skills Practiced: Running, physical awareness, and decision making
Equipment Needed: None
Set Up: Designate a playing area large enough to play in

Before You Start:

  • Ask for two volunteers. Assign both of them to be ‘it’. They become ‘The Blob’ and must link elbows.
  • Demonstrate safe tagging:
    • Light touch, like a butterfly wings, on the back or shoulders.
    • Unsafe tags: hard contact that might cause the person being tagged to fall.
  • Demonstrate with volunteers how to move with a partner–working together, moving safely–how to link when you are tagged–at the elbows–and how to separate when there are four people in ‘The Blob’–splitting into two separate groups of two by the two players in the middle releasing elbows.
  • Make sure the students understand the rules, boundaries and the importance of safety.
  • Spread students out within playing area.

How to Play:

  • When play begins, ‘The Blob’ moves together–keeping elbows linked–and tries to tag the rest of the players.
  • When someone is tagged, s/he links elbows with the tagger, becoming part of ‘The Blob.’
  • When a fourth player is tagged, ‘The Blob’ then separates into two separate Blobs.
  • Every time a Blob becomes four players it splits; two players detach creating two separate Blobs.
  • Play continues until all of the players become part of Blobs.
  • If a player runs out of bounds while trying to avoid ‘The Blob’, s/he must then connect with the nearest Blob and continue to play.
  • The last two players can then become the first Blob for the next game.

Variations:

  • If everyone is playing safely, the ‘The Blob’ can stay connected and continue to grow bigger and bigger until all the players are tagged. Challenge the class to stay together when they move.
  • If linking elbows is too challenging, consider linking hands. (Note: some students may prefer the term ‘linking hands’ to ‘holding hands’.)

This week’s Game of the Week was submitted by Coach Tony.  Coach Tony LOVES playing Blob Tag with the students at Siefert Elementary School.

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Lettuce Bloom

Students from Crompond Elementary School in Yorktown in Lettuce Bloom school garden. Picture by Joe Larese, The Journal News

“Yuck! Bug! Someone squish it!” We have all heard children and adults shouting out like this in our classrooms, backyards and even our homes. But when it comes to our gardens it is important that we know which bugs to squish and which ones we should let stay. One of our “Lettuce Bloom” garden rules is: Respect the plants, animals, and insects that live in our garden. In our classrooms we make sure to take the time to study insects and teach the students why some of these bugs are good for our garden and why some are bad for our garden’s growth.

We begin this unit of study by having students brainstorm bugs that they have seen in our garden. We then ask them to describe their favorite bug-this can be hard for some students. Next they draw their bugs and explain why it’s their favorite. We do the same thing with their least favorite bug. This leads into a discussion of why gardeners need to know about insects to have a successful garden. Just because we might not like a bug doesn’t mean we should eliminate it from our garden.

Here are a few of the creepy crawlies that we discuss with our little gardeners. We categorize the following insects as “good bugs” and encourage them to stay in our gardens. Earthworms are considered good-but we make sure they are brown. Bumblebees are big, fat and fuzzy-looking. They’re black and yellow. Bumblebees are related to honeybees and both are important for pollination. Spiders have an undeserved reputation; even though the sight of them freaks me out, we need to make sure that students don’t kill them. These active hunters eliminate many of the harmful insects that appear in our gardens. Butterflies and their larvae (caterpillars) can be very colorful. Caterpillars feed on the leaves of plants and are sometimes considered pests. However, once they turn into butterflies, these bugs will help pollinate plants and are good to have in the back garden. Click the link for more information on and pictures of some good bugs.

It’s important to always teach student to “look but don’t touch” with insects in the garden and if they see any of the following “bad bugs” to let an adult know. We want to keep in mind our rule about respecting insects so that means students should not touch or harm any bug. When it comes to worms, green means bad. All of the green worms that crawl on plants are bad news. They are impressive eaters and can eat whole plants in just a few days. Soil-dwelling grubs, which are mostly white with obvious legs and heads, usually aren’t good news, as they feed on plant roots and crawl to the soil surface at night, where they gnaw on plants. Grasshoppers can eat a bunch of plant flesh when they’re hungry, but these hoppers are usually just passing through the garden; a healthy, local bird population should take care of any hoppers. Click the link for more information on and pictures of bad bugs.

So, bugs are both good and bad, but even the bad ones aren’t usually a real danger to the garden. If we teach our students to understand the difference between good and bad bugs maybe there will be less fear of these garden critters.  They will know when to remain calm and when to take action.

Happy Gardening! ~ Cari

———-

Cari Byrnes is a teacher at Crompond Intermediate School in Yorktown, New York which has the “Lettuce Bloom Garden”.

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Spring Chicken Salad

Now that spring has arrived for the most of the world, it is time to embrace all of the lovely spring foods and produce.

This Spring Chicken Salad is wonderful – it has the bright and light flavors that we love in the spring and is so versatile – serve it over greens, on toasted bread, in a wrap or even mixed into pasta salad! I hear scooping it straight of the bowl with crackers is also delicious…

The inspiration came from Bon Appetit’s Three Pea Chicken Salad – I wouldn’t have thought to add peas to chicken salad on my own, but it was such a wonderful addition. I’m hooked! As an added bonus, this recipe is on the lighter side, without tasting anything like it. Greek yogurt replaces most of the mayonnaise but it isn’t evident at all, in case you live with someone who doesn’t like greek yogurt like me.

Prep Time: 15 min

Cook Time: 5 min

Ingredients (6 servings)

  • 1 small leek
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 Tbsp oil or butter
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 3/4 cup greek yogurt (7 oz)
  • 2 Tbsp mayonnaise
  • 2 tsp dijon mustard
  • salt & pepper
  • 1 lb cooked chicken, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 cup chopped parsley

Instructions
Slice leek in half length-wise.

Rinse out with cold water.

Thinly slice leek and shallot.

Heat oil in pan over medium heat.

Add leek and shallots, sauteing for about 3 minutes.

Add peas and saute another 2-3 minutes.

Remove from heat and set aside.

Whisk together greek yogurt, mayonnaise, mustard and season with salt & pepper.

In a large bowl combine sauce, chicken, leek mixture and parsley.

Chill for at least a half-hour before serving.

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Grow an Easy Sensory Garden with Herbs

Garden ABCs

Herbs are the easiest “sensory” plant to grow in a garden.

Children are amazed these plants can smell so good (or bad!) and impart flavor to our food.  Many enjoy chewing chives or mint sprigs, touching fuzzy sage and frilly dill, and crushing basil and thyme between their fingers and inhaling the aroma.

Pollinators like herbs, too.  Parsley, dill and fennel are favorites of swallowtail butterfly caterpillars.

Many herbs are perennials or biennials, and most thrive from spring to fall. Generally, they taste best before they flower.

Herbs can be tucked into any garden spot, as long as it receives six to eight hours of sun a day.

Here is a fun guessing game to use with the kids.
Crush the leaves of an herb and ask children to guess the smell.  Sometimes students are spot on; other times their answers are a bit more interesting.  Who knew lemon basil smells like Fruit Loops?  Here are some scents they might identify:

•    Lemon – lemon balm, lemon basil, lemon grass
•    Pizza – oregano
•    Pickles – dill
•    Sausage – fennel
•    Gum – peppermint, spearmint
•    Soap – cilantro, lavender

Don’t forget to smell the soil, which has its own unique, damp, “earthy” odor – a scent easy to identify in early spring.

A quick life cycle study.
Cilantro (or coriander) is easy to grow from seed.  Plant an extra row to watch how it quickly moves from leaves to flowers to seeds.  Harvest the dried seeds for planting next season, or start another row of this tasty annual.  Thanks to School Garden Weekly for this awesome idea!

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Putting Chia Seeds to Work in Apple Coffee Cake

Photo Credit: Kim Lutz

Chia seeds are a little powerhouse in this refined-sugar-free coffee cake.  Not only are the chia seeds the egg replacer in this vegan breakfast treat, but they also act as a binder for the gluten-free flour.  Not too shabby for an itty-bitty little guy!

It is the gluten in wheat that holds traditional baked goods together, so it is necessary to add a binder to gluten-free flours to replicate that effect.  Frequently, that binder is xanthan gum or guar gum, but they are not the only options.  When chia seeds are soaked in water they form a gel that not only can take the place of eggs in vegan baking, but the gel is strong enough to hold the gluten-free baked good together.  There are other options, too, like psyllium husks, but I didn’t use that here.

Crunchy Topped Apple Coffee Cake
Ingredients:
1 tablespoon chia seeds
1/4 cup water
1/2 cup pepitas (shelled pumpkin seeds)
3/4 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar, divided
1/2 cup soy-free Earth Balance
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup non-dairy milk beverage (I used rice milk.)
2 cups gluten-free baking flour mix (I used King Arthur Flour brand.)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1 cup 1/2-inch diced, peeled apples
Preparation:
1)  Preheat oven to 350.
2)  Lightly oil an 8-inch-square baking pan.
3)  Combine chia seed and water in a small bowl.  Set aside.
4)  Lightly toast pepitas in a dry skillet for approximately one minute or until lightly golden.
5)  In a food processor, pulse together pepitas, 2 tablespoons coconut palm sugar and 1/4 teaspoon salt.
6)  Cream together Earth Balance, 1/2 cup coconut palm sugar and maple syrup.  (I used my KitchenAid stand mixer.)
7)  Mix in chia seed mixture and non-dairy milk beverage.
8)  In a separate bowl, combine flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon and nutmeg using a whisk.
9)  Mix dry ingredients into wet, one half at a time until well incorporated.
10)  Mix in apples.
11)  Pour batter into prepared pan.  Smooth top with a damp spatula.
12)  Spread pepita mixture over top.
13)  Bake for 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
Try it and tell me what you think!
Happy Cooking!
Kim

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Quick and Creamy Veggie Dip

Photo Credit: Kim Lutz

With many of us heading into spring break – which often includes visitors, entertaining and heading out of doors – I wanted to focus on a dip that throws together in seconds, and makes even picky veggie eaters delighted.  For grown-up tastes add the Sriracha, for kids, leave it out.

A dip can dress up a plate of veggies and turn it into an appetizer or a lunch.

Creamy Sunflower Seed Butter Dip
Makes one generous serving

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon sunflower seed butter
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vanilla-flavored coconut milk yogurt
Sriracha to taste (optional)

Preparation:
Combine all ingredients.
Serve with cut-up fresh vegetables.

Happy Cooking!
Kim

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Game of the Week: Four Corners

Group Size: Any Size
Age Group: 1st -5th grades
Length of Activity: 5-20 minutes

Developmental Goal: To develop decision making capabilities and teach silent movement and strategy
Skills Practiced: Running, physical awareness, decision making and non-verbal communication.

Equipment Needed: None
Set Up: An area with four corners. This can be a classroom, area on the playground, or a living room at home.

Before You Start:

  • Have players split equally among the four corners.
  • Do a practice round with leader in the middle.
  • Let players know they do not have to hide because the counter will have their eyes closed.

How to Play:

  • The player in the middle will close their eyes and count slowly and loudly from 10 to 0.
  • While they are counting, all other players may stay where they are or quietly move to a different corner. When the counter gets to 0, all students must be at a corner (if not they sit down).
  • After counting, the player in the middle points to corner of his/her choice and can only open their eyes after having done so.
  • Any players standing in that corner must sit down.
  • If no one is standing at the chosen corner, all players sitting may stand up and get back into the game.
  • When only one player is left standing, s/he becomes the counter for the next round.

Variations:

  • Change the middle person when one person has been in the middle for 2 minutes.
  • The counter can say that they will point to the loudest corner.
  • Teach this game on the kickball field to help players learn where the different bases are.
  • Instead of having players sit down when their corner is chosen they could do 10 jumping jacks, push ups or some other exercise and immediately begin playing again. This way nobody has to sit out.

This week’s Game of the Week was submitted by Coach Robin.  She really enjoys playing Four Corners with every class in her school regardless of the age or skill level of the students.

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What is an athlete?

How do you see yourself?

An Olympic gold medalist? A weekend warrior with frequent races? A devout gym-goer? Yes, yes, and yes. According to Merriam-Webster an athlete is defined as “a person who is trained or skilled in exercises, sports, or games requiring physical strength, agility, or stamina”. That’s a solid definition, but being an athlete can be so much more than that. It’s a feeling. A mindset. It’s a way of approaching your life with dedication, with drive, and with your health in mind.

I firmly believe that the word athlete doesn’t have to refer only to those competing at the professional or elite level. Maybe you took part in organized sports throughout your childhood or maybe you didn’t discover sports and exercise until you were older. Maybe you compete against others or maybe you prefer to compete against yourself or the clock. Maybe you exercise solely for weight loss or health reasons. Maybe you want to start exercising, even competing, but don’t know where to start. Maybe you’ve watched the Olympics on TV and thought “that’s awesome; I wish I could do that!” Even if it’s been hiding until now, there’s a little bit of an athlete in all of us!

My vision is for Athlete at Heart to be a sharing of dialogue that will provide useful information, ideas, resources, and inspiration that will benefit us all. We’ll discuss topics like training, participation in and competing in events, weight loss, injury, gear, nutrition, and general health topics. I’ll share my journey with you and hope that you’ll share with me. Together we’ll learn to live, exercise, train, and compete better!

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Thoughts Turn to Spring

Annie Farrell - Photo Credit: Teich Garden Systems

Even though there is snow on the ground in many parts of the country, now is the time to plan your garden.  If you had a garden last year, think about what you liked and didn’t like about last year’s garden.  What did your family or school want more of or less of?

If you didn’t have a garden last year, what vegetables and herbs does your family or class enjoy or what would you like to have them try?

Next, draw a map of your garden beds and plot how you want each bed to look.  There are many crops that like cool weather so can be planted earlier such as spinach and arugula and many of the Asian greens such as tatsoi and red mustard.   You should also keep in mind that there are plants that do not grow well next to other plants and there are also plants that enhance other plants when grown together.  For example, potatoes don’t go well with squash and tomatoes and broccoli doesn’t go well with tomatoes either. Beans may impact the growth of onions.  When planning to grow these types of pairs of plants, it may be best to put them in separate beds on opposite sides of the garden.  Here is a helpful link on companion plants.

If you plan to start from seed, you should order flats. 98′s work well for small plants like lettuces and 38s work well for larger plants that will need to stay in the flats longer before planting such as brassicas, tomatoes, eggplant and peppers.  Transplant these larger seedlings to 4″ peat pots after 4 weeks or so, where they live until all going into the ground.

If you have been composting, turn the compost as soon as it defrosts! The more you turn it, the sooner it will be ready.

It is also a great time to start a garden journal to help you keep track of what you are planting, when you started them from seed, when you put the plants into the garden, watering times, when they bloom and other notes that will be helpful for future years’ gardens.

-by Annie Farrell

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