Public school kids are awesome!


This gallery contains 11 photos.

School is out but I just had to share some photos I took at a local public school during their spring planting days. In addition to planting seeds and seedlings, the kids also made garden markers, created fairy gardens, decorated … Continue reading

It’s Raining Seeds!


The wind brought down a shower of maple seedpods yesterday.

When I was a kid, we called then “helicopters” and I collected them, shelled them, and pretended to make “bean” soup with the seeds. Guess who likes to do the same thing? My kid! (It’s funny how these things seem to be genetic.) So, when my son asked if we could put off doing homework so we could go outside and collect helicopters, how could I resist?

Helicopters are the seedpods of maple trees. Depending on where you live, in late winter or early spring, maple trees “flower.” Bunches of tiny flowers will begin to appear—clinging to branches all over the tree. With the help of the wind the blooms are pollinated and later produce seedpods.

Some seedpods drop to the ground with the rain and winds of spring. These early helicopters are usually green, but some may start to dry up and take on a beige appearance. Many of the seeds will hang in there and continue to develop through the summer. Then, in the fall, another batch of seeds will drop to the ground.

A bounty of maple tree seadpods

A bounty of maple tree seadpods

The twirl of the pods helps disperse the seeds further than the area immediately under the parent tree. Each tree can drop hundreds of thousands of seedpods between spring and fall. In an urban setting, just a fraction of those seeds will be lucky enough to actually become fixed into the soil long enough to begin life as a maple tree.

While most of the seedpods will get swept away by brooms and street cleaners, some may actually end up in a salad. No joke! Maple seeds are edible. Who knew? I personally haven’t tried them (and, of course children need to check with their parents before doing so), but it’s nice to know that I could eat them if I was stranded in a forest preserve and ran out of granola bars.

I’m sure you can come up with some fun ways to use the helicopters that land in your neighborhood, but just in case you need inspiration, check out Pinterest for 1,000+ things to do with maple seeds.

Happy collecting!

Homework Break

The boy in action, collecting snails from under a rock.

Bored? Flip Over a Rock

We were getting a little antsy while doing homework, so we took a quick break. We stepped outside and did some exploring right in front of our house.

Teeny-tiny snails



My son flipped over a few rocks. The first rock revealed some teeny tiny snails.

Rock #2 – Ants

The second rock we flipped over was a bit of a shocker. We weren’t expecting to find a lively crowd of ants, citronella ants as it turns out.

Check out our video of the citronella ant discovery.

I did some research and learned that the winged ants are not actually exclusively female. The winged ants are called “reproductives” and can be male or female.

Next time you need a quick break, step outside and see what you can spot in front of your home.

Parenting an Urban Naturalist

boy in lake michigan

I was delighted to have the opportunity to submit a post for publication on the City Creatures blog on Center for Humans and Nature website.

I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.

Parenting an Urban Naturalist




Happy Winter Solstice! Plus, 5 Outdoor Activities to Try This Winter.


Boy with orange sled

Even though we’ve been experiencing some pretty brutal winter weather for that last few weeks here in the Midwest, today marks the official first day of winter, also known as the Winter Solstice.

Today is also a special day in our household because it’s both my birthday and my husband’s birthday!

Growing up, it was always a bit of a bummer having a birthday so close to Christmas. Birthday gifts are usually wrapped in Christmas paper, not to mention the “two-for-one” gifts. Try having a birthday party in December. If you can find people who aren’t already busy with holiday activities, you cross your fingers and hope for good weather so people don’t have to dig themselves out of snow to get to your party.

But, there are plusses, too. I love snow, even if it means I have to shovel it, and I love watching little four-legged critters dig up those peanuts they buried earlier in the year.

Winter brings with it a whole new landscape to enjoy. Here are a few other outdoor activities to try this winter.

1. Go on a winter photo shoot. Make it a point to stop and enjoy the ways in which your landscape changes in the winter.

Leaf frozen in ice

2. Freeze some bubbles. Yes, bubble freeze when it’s cold outside! Check out this and other winter science experiments here.

Frozen bubble

3. Hit the beach. Beaches aren’t just for summer. Bundle up and get out there! There are a lot of cool sights to see when the water freezes. (It goes without saying, never walk on frozen lakes.)

Ice blocks on the beachimg_4544

4. Hunt for animal tracks. One great thing about snow is that you can see what’s crawling around outside your door. We found these raccoon and bird tracks, plus some bunny tracks, in our yard. There are evan apps and websites to help you identify animal tracks.

Animal footprints in the snowbird tracks in the snow

5. Go birdwatching. While some birds fly south for the winter, many birds hang around and enjoy the weather. We spotted these seagulls at the beach and the cardinals in a nearby park.

Seagulls in the wintercardinals in the winterTake a break from the bustle of the holidays and have some fun outside. We’d love to hear from you. Tell us about some of your favorite winter activities in the comments below.