Category Archives: Nature

Lulav Chain garland for Sukkot (a re-purpose)

Lulav Chain garland

Lulav Chain garland

Here’s a nifty way to re-purpose your now superfluous lulav after Sukkot: a Lulav Chain for next year’s sukkah.  All-natural, thematic, respectful (to a ritual object) and genuinely pretty.  No staples, no glue.  I find it strangely soothing to assemble the links as fast as possible, but taken at a leisurely pace, even older kids can join in and help “re-cycle.” Continue reading

Teaching the Shofar: horn vs. antler

shofar, so not

shofar, so not

In my shofar classes (Kindergarten—3rd) I mentioned why shofars are made from horns, not antlers. My K-3 explanation is that horns are hollow and antlers are solid. Horns Continue reading

Gyotaku Fish-Printing in Adar (for Purim)

who can forget?

a blue Bluegill

Fish is a symbol of the Jewish month of Adar, the month in which we 1) celebrate Purim and 2) freak out that Passover is so close.  Why fish?  From the astrological sign, Pisces.  I’ve always thought it seemed a bit fishy that astrology gives us a kosher Jewish symbol, but Pisces is right there on the calendar.  It’s legit.   Continue reading

Tu B’Shevat Almond Tree art: eat, glue, learn

to see and eat during art

“every almond used to be a pink blossom”

I wouldn’t ordinarily write about a holiday project that’s been done (and done, and done), but I’m posting this to prove a point: that with just a smidge of “extra”—just a few props to provide context—even a quick, conventional activity can be more meaningful and memorable. Continue reading

Tu B’Shevat Tree Products Display & Activities

TreeProducts1214

A Tree Products Display for Tu B’Shevat can be an easy, effective way to show All The Things That Trees Give Us.*  The display in our school lobby is a magnet: grownups and kids can’t help but fiddle with the hanukkah gelt, glue sticks and pinecones and such.  Creating a display can be as quick or as protracted an activity as you wish.  You learn, the kid working with you learns, and whomever sees your collection learns.

TreeProductdisplay

half “natural,” half “processed”

WHY collect a bunch of stuff that comes from trees?  It’s an active, hands-on way to honor trees for Tu B’Shevat, to explore how important trees are to our daily lives, and to instill a desire to protect trees and grow new ones.   Continue reading

Havdalah Garden in a tub

fresh, Fall planting

fresh, Fall planting

Havdalah is a lovely, quick, slightly spooky service that marks the distinction between the end of Shabbat and the beginning of the work week.  Each Saturday night morphs from Sacred Time to Ordinary Time whether we mark it or not.  But to mark it with Havdalah can be fun, memorable and oh-so-kid-friendly (especially in the winter when sundown happens earlier in relation to bedtimes).

The traditional ceremony requires just a few Continue reading

Etrog Besamim for Havdalah

Etrog3

10 year-old etrog pomander and a fresh one, awaiting puncture

Sukkot’s over.  Did you buy an etrog?  Or did your school or synagogue buy one?  If so, don’t pitch it on the compost pile.  You and your kid can repurpose it into a nifty spice pomander for Havdalah.  It’s a nice way to extend Sukkot (and the  harvest’s bounty) to a Jewish service/ceremony that happens every single week.  The spices of Havdalah—called besamim—are supposed to be natural materials that smell lovely enough to console us for the loss of Shabbat and to kickstart a good week ahead.  A clove-studded etrog can Continue reading

Nature work: a Mitzvah Birdbath

Mitzvah Project—The Tza’ar ba’aley Chayim Birdbath—a quick or slow nature project for home or school.

DSC01388

So subtle, I had to add an arrow

Until yesterday, my synagogue didn’t have a bird bath or any other water source for animals.  I haven’t seen one in the 20 years I’ve been a member. Our courtyard is a perfect place for informal birdwatching: surrounded by classroom windows on two sides, and the Internet Cafe and school entrance on the third. I’m a Volunteer Tennessee Naturalist. I think about this sort of thing alot.  It would have been so easy to buy and install a birdbath by myself in less than an hour, and bingo: water for wildlife.  Or, I could make it a Mitzvah Project in a slow way, a participatory way, a way that makes for several active lesson plans, and that can foster a student’s sense of investment, stewardship, community and empowerment. Continue reading

Tu B’Shevat almond “Sow and Tell,” home or school

faith in a seed

faith in a seed

For Tu B’Shevat with my First Grade class, I wanted something hands-on, but not paper-based. Something thematic that links the Land of Israel with our own community,  something the kids could make or do to gain a concrete reference point to a Jewish Spring holiday in the midst of a Nashville Winter.  We’d already done nearly instant-gratification Tu B’Shevat gardening (eggshell garden), and I didn’t think they’d mind a project that required patience and uncertainty. Continue reading

Tu B’Shevat garden-in-an-eggshell

lentils starting to put down roots...

lentils starting to put down roots…

Here’s a supplementary indoor gardening project for Tu B’Shevat.  I swear by the Eat a Fruit, Plant the Seed project, and my version of the traditional Plant Tu B’Shevat Parsley for Passover project, of course.  Both are hands-on and at the heart of the holiday.  But, if you can program additional growy activities with your favorite kids, try this one, too.  The nearly instant gratification is a contrast to the slow and iffy germination rates of parsley and fruit seeds.

What: Kids grow a nearly-instant, indoor, mini “garden” in an eggshell.
Why: to connect with Tu B’Shevat; to demonstrate the everyday miracle of seed germination; to grow food for us, for wildlife and for the earth. Continue reading

Tu B’Shevat stuff: indoor gardening, edible bowls, sugar overload and birdfeeders

Here’s a quick list of links to my earlier posts for Tu B’Shevat.  New ones coming soon…

pear seedlings from our snack

pear seedlings from our snack

Eat a Fruit, Plant the Seeds:  So easy.  Cut open a fruit with your kid. Eat it, plant the seed.  Of course, I mention a few Jewish-y choices of trees, but the important take-away is that THIS is where trees come from. Can’t get more thematic.

How (and Why) to Let Kids Plant Tu B’Shevat Parsley.  Detailed how-tos here. I’ve a method that works without compromising hands-on learning or enthusiasm. Continue reading

Easy Family Project: a Jewish Backyard

through a Jewish lens

InterFaithFamily.com published my article about converting your own backyard (or school or synagogue) into a certified wildlife habitat via a Jewish lens.  My other kid-nature posts thus far haven’t been “Jewish” specifically, although we all know that everything is Jewish if you look through a Jewy “lens.” I put “lens” in quotes because I hear it ad nauseum.  A useful term, although overused. I’m pasting the article below, but do go over to the link at InterfaithFamily.com so they know someone is reading it.  My point is to show that the project is easy, fun, good for the earth, good for your family, and of course, gut fir di yidn:* Continue reading

Turning a Schoolyard into Certified Wildlife Habitat: the Preschool edition

Summary:  an account of how a suburban preschool got certified as a National Wildlife Federation “Backyard Wildlife Habitat.” 
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our new birdfeeders in the perennial bed

Look at the summer camp themes at my son’s preschool: organic gardening, healthy living, and nature work. Beautiful, right? No danger of Nature Deficit Disorder here. The themes, I noticed, overlap with my own studies in the Tennesssee Naturalist Program. Why not combine the two for a short, volunteer experiment? I could merge our respective curricula for a day or two, giving Montessori teaching philosophy and my work with habitat renewal some good, common ground. Just days before summer camp began, I discovered an ideal way to implement this plan: the National Wildlife Federation’s Certified Backyard Wildlife Habitat program. Continue reading

Feed the birds: easy little-kid plan for home or school

feeding the birds

How and why I feed birds with little kids. Expect lasting effects built upon fleeting moments of fun. ————

It’s mid-May and Spring has already started to look like Summer.  There is no lack of natural foodstuff for birds on the ground, in the air, on leaves and trees.  But twice a week, I take a bag of black oil sunflower to my son’s preschool.  It might seem odd that I keep shelling out the big bucks for top-quality black-oil sunflower seed despite the seasonal plenty at hand (at beak).  But then again, Spring migration only just peaked, and Nashville has visitors who have come a long, long way, Continue reading

Nature’s classroom: blow bubbles with flowers


cross vine, spring bloomer

At breakfast, we looked out the window and discovered that the wild crossvine had bloomed (Bignonia capreolata). Every spring it crawls up through the evil winter creeper (a euonymous that would encase the house if I let it) and over the redneck wire fence that divides our property from the neighbors’.  We abandoned our gluten-free, Marmite-covered toast and ran outside to see it. Continue reading

The Best Bedtime Sh’ma Book

best bedtime Shema book, even though it isn't a Shema book...

best bedtime Shema book, even though it isn’t about the Shema at all…

Traditional Jews recite the Sh’ma three times in a regular day, including at bedtime. Lately, Jewish parents of all flavors have begun adding a bedtime Sh’ma to their routine. Reciting the Sh’ma right before bed is a sweet way to inject Jewishness into a kid’s life. It may seem a small step, but the timing makes it a big one. Bedtime is the vulnerable transition when kids are tired but receptive. They move from from waking to sleep, from together to alone, from light to Continue reading

Happy Birthday to the Trees, Goodbye to the Naps

Photo: 322 acres of old-growth forest in Nashville. Friends of Warner Parks are trying to raise money to buy it, and are about 1.6 million short.

Tu B’Shevat is tomorrow: the Fifteenth of the month of Shevat.1 It is one of the harder Jewish holidays to pronounce, even for grown-ups. The Toddler blurbles something like “Shot.” Thanks to the PJ Library —long may it prosper— he’s been reading a board book about Tu B’Shevat, so he already knows it is a day to plant trees.  He’s got a small acorn and a big acorn ready to go.   Continue reading