Snow Days Outdoors, Of Course!

In New England, today’s another snow day for kids and parents, thanks to the third nor’easter in two weeks! Let your kids slump into a little TV fog or sleep in–it’s fine for a couple of hours. But you know they’ll get grumpy at some point and that means they need to get outdoors.

In my childhood, we children were expected to play outside and entertain themselves for hours. If you got cold or your mittens were wet, you could go inside and change, but then you went back outside. This expectation remained impervious to whining, moaning, and complaining.

That’s when I discovered the wonder of experiencing a storm from under an umbrella on our modest front steps. Not thunder and lightning, of course, but good downpours and snowstorms.

I learned the direction of the wind by turning my face into it. I detected the earthy smell of spring rainstorms and the closed-in, dampened sound of my neighborhood during a snowstorm. Over time, I knew the difference between dry snow and wet snow and which made better snow balls. This small type of experience, repeated over time, cemented part of my understanding of the world and love of science.

Children and adults of all ages learn by experience, especially hands-on experience. That means direct, physical, and sensory experience with objects and environments. Think snowballs, snow angels, snow-men and -women, building igloos, catching snowflakes, or just plumping around in the snow.

All the senses are engaged outdoors. The body breathes in fresh air. The brain is stimulated by fun and play. No one is too old for that, are they?

I urge you to try this today. Get your kids outdoors and see what (device-free!) fun they have.

A Shiver of Sharks

“It’s Shark Week!” The radio voice awakened me with this news, which I thought was an awesome way to start the day.

This tooth is more than an inch long and still quite sharp. (K.Nollet 2015)
This tooth is more than an inch long and still quite sharp. (K.Nollet 2015)

Sharks thrill us with wonder, curiosity, and fear. Once you learn more about sharks, though, the fear usually turns to respect. That’s how I feel when I visit the beach in Venice, Florida.

Notice the different colors. (K.Nollet, 2015)
Notice the different colors. (K.Nollet, 2015)

Prehistoric sharks’ teeth wash up everywhere. One look at these shiny dark triangles and my mind starts organizing a math lesson. Or a science project. Or writing and art. You get the idea.

This summer, why not collect objects from the natural world to bring to your children? It doesn’t matter if they’re from your local park or someplace exotic. Display your finds at a child’s level, add a few books, and watch their curiosity grow.



N.B. Shiver refers to a group of sharks.

Outdoors With Paints

“Were you painting outside?” asked my husband. He knew the answer. IMG_3571And it wasn’t that one of our resident woodchucks had awakened and marched outside dragging paints and a brush.

A rediscovered, unused set of acrylic paints had awakened me. I gathered a handful of brushed and dashed outside to my canvas: the snow.

Flicks of red, arcs of green, drops of blue, inclusive of animal tracks. The brushes were too small to get the effects I wanted. My hands froze without gloves. But it wasn’t the final product that mattered, it was the desire to try something new and enjoy the fun of self-expression.

Most children feel this way, too. They like to enjoy the freedom to express themselves in new ways.IMG_3577
If they paint in the snow, let them see how their art changes with lower temperatures.

Teachers, lead your children to fling around some paint today. Parents or grandparents?  You come, too.*



*Phrase borrowed from The Pasture by Robert Frost (c. 1915)


Columbus’s Mermaids

January doesn’t usually remind us about Christopher Columbus, but on January 9, 1493, he described seeing mermaids swim near the Dominican Republic. (See the History Channel’s “On this Day in History.”)

Photo courtesy of
Photo courtesy of

However, Columbus was mistaken. What he saw were not mermaids swimming, but manatees. These animals are exceptionally lovely. Large and slow-moving mammals, manatees eat plants and swim in shallow water. Their faces hold a kind sweetness. It’s easy to see why Columbus thought they were mermaids.

Teacher reflection had a whole new meaning for me after I met my first manatee.

Introduce your students to manatees.  Not everything we teach our students has to be a huge curriculum unit. Give your students access to pictures, maps, and reading about manatees. Begin conversations about them during quiet moments. A good place for information is at National Geographic, where students can listen to the repertoire of manatee sounds.

And after your students learn about manatees, ask them to think up reasons why Columbus mistook them for mermaids.