The Benefits of Gratitude

November is National Gratitude Month and what better time to think about being thankful than the weeks leading up to our national holiday of Thanksgiving? Even in a year as crazy as 2020, the mental-health benefits of gratitude are there for the taking.

Being grateful takes little time and no money, but can enhance mental health, improve sleep, contribute to better physical health, and enrich social connections. Amy Morin, in a recent Forbes article, shares 7 scientifically proven benefits of gratitude: improved physical health, improved psychological health, better relationships, enhanced empathy, better sleep, improved self-esteem, and increased mental strength.

With so many good reasons to be grateful, here are some time-proven ways to increase your gratitude quotient, not just during the Thanksgiving holiday, but all year long.

                        “Gratitude is a powerful catalyst for happiness. It’s the spark that lights a fire of joy in your soul.” 

 -Amy Collette, author of the Gratitude Connection

Slow down

When we are in a hurry, our bodies respond by increasing the production of stress chemicals to help us keep up. These chemicals, which stimulate our ‘fight or flight’ response, increase anxiety. It’s hard to be grateful when we’re anxious. Slowing down, just enough to reduce the anxious response in our bodies, opens the door for gratitude. Reducing stress hormones also improves our physical and mental health. Win, win!

Be mindful

Like slowing down, being mindful helps us be more consciously aware of our environment, those people and things around us. When we pause and notice, we create space for gratitude. Our gratitude doesn’t have to dwell on just big and wonderful things. Noticing our small daily successes and being grateful for them brings the same benefits as celebrating big wins. Opportunities for gratitude can also encompass lessons learned in coping with difficulties. Have you learned new things, or gained new coping skills, through a hard situation? Celebrate that growth with gratitude.

Appreciate the little things

Like gratitude found in personal growth, there is gratitude to be found in the every day as well. Yesterday the rain let up just as I left the house to walk the dog. The next downpour held off until after I was back inside. Finding gratitude in that small win improved my mood for the rest of the afternoon. When we take time to notice the little things in our life that we have to be thankful for, it helps develop a practice of gratitude that contributes to our well being.

Look for happiness

Sometimes we have to work a little harder to find gratitude and happiness. Not feeling particularly happy about our social isolation? Me either. But over these last few months, I’ve spent some time with a hobby that had been packed away for lack of time. I am happy to have the knitting needles back in my hands. And for that I am grateful. Happiness in one area can spill over and help us feel gratitude in other areas of our life. Have you picked up a new hobby this year?

There has been a lot to be anxious about this year. Acknowledging our anxiety is important to our mental health. Acknowledging our emotional responses to all of the hard things we are experiencing builds resilience and improves mental health. On the other side of that emotion, gratitude can help balance the scales. 

When we are faced with a day where it feels like everything has gone wrong, taking a little time to also acknowledge what’s gone right – even if it’s the tiniest of moments – can help us feel just a tiny bit happier. 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Nurturing Wonder

Wonder. That emotion which is part admiration, part surprise, part curiosity, part awe. We wonder how something is possible. We look with wonder at the endless rolling waves at the shore. We feel wonder-full when we achieve a long-held goal. 

Wonder is an every day experience for young children as they make connections between something new and the things they already know. With a little forethought and planning, parents and caregivers can encourage and nurture a sense of wonder in our young children.

 

How do we nurture wonder?

It’s easy for us as adults to focus on efficiently moving through the day. Our busy schedules, the need to focus on work

 demands, and balancing the needs of all the people in our family sometimes makes it difficult to slow down and notice. But it is by taking the time to notice the environment around us, and our children’s interest in it, that we can help nurture that sense of wonder in the world around them.

Observing our children and the things that interest them can help us to see what draws their attention. When we know what interests them, we can look for opportunities to provide more experiences like that. 

As you watch your toddler scooping water from a puddle, you might notice his interest in the effect of the water on the dry ground. The earth changes color, the water seems to disappear. Offering opportunities to explore what happens when other materials get wet nurtures his sense of wonder and lays a foundation for learning as he grows. 

Another way to nurture wonder is by participating in learning with our children. Toddlers are masters of observation. Join them in observing the earthworm wriggling across the sidewalk. Use questions to invite curiosity and talk about what you see with them. Don’t worry about having the answers to their questions. We don’t need to know it all. A simple, ‘That’s a great question!” followed by rephrasing is sufficient. Working together to find the answer (online or at the library) is always an option as well.

Finally, create an environment that encourages exploration and cultivates opportunities to engage in all the aspects of learning – science, technology, reading, engineering, art, and math (STREAM). A walk outdoors invites children to notice nature, collect treasures, and wonder at the mysteries of our natural world. Back inside, the collected treasures can be used to sort and count (math), examine (science), build with (engineering), paint on (art), and read about (reading).

Indoors, create a science area (or even a basket that is kept on an accessible shelf) for encouraging exploration. Consider how you can incorporate the STREAM domains in the activities you enjoy together. Read a book about the changing seasons, then use gathered autumn leaves for an art project. Did you gather some stones during today’s walk? Invite the children to try stacking them. What happens? Talk about what you observe together.

Nurturing Wonder Workshop

Interested in exploring the idea of designing engaging experiences to positively support development in all six STEAM areas for young children? You are invited to come explore how to create strong learning communities for children, teachers, families, and friends. Our Nurturing Wonder workshop will be held online this Wednesday, November 4, from 6:30pm-8:30pm. 

To sign up or for more information contact Lucy Poe, poel@linnbenton.edu, or 541-917-4899.

10 Fun Fall Activities for Families

10 Fun Fall Activities for Families

 

The temperature is lower, the air is crisper, and the leaves are turning colorful yellows, oranges, and reds. Autumn has arrived in the Willamette Valley. There are so many fun things to do this time of year. Pumpkin patches, apple pressing, playing in piles of leaves. We’ve rounded up a collection of 10 fun fall activities for your family to enjoy in this season of cooler weather.

1. Collect and press colorful leaves

Take the kids on a walk around the neighborhood to collect the prettiest fallen leaves. Help them choose leaves of many different shapes and colors. Back at home, set your iron to its lowest heat setting. Invite the kids to lay their leaves between two sheets of wax paper. Using an old utility towel between the wax paper and the iron, iron the leaves until the wax has melted and fused the two sheets together, encasing the leaves. Let cool, then hang them up or use them for fun placemats at the dinner table.

2. Cook stone soup together

Read the story of caring and sharing together, or watch an animated Stone Soup video. Then gather together in your kitchen to create your own ‘stone soup.’ Let the children choose which vegetables to add from staples already in your kitchen and see what deliciousness results. You can contribute herbs and spices and some soup stock to punch up the flavor.

3. Take a walk in the woods

Enjoy our cool (and wet) fall weather with a walk in the woods. Listen for the sounds of birds, check the creeks to see if they look different now than they did in mid-summer, smell the earthiness of the wet trees and path. Be sure to dress for the weather and have rainboots handy even it it isn’t raining, just in case you find a puddle worth stomping in.

4. Make some easy spooky crafts

Tissue ghosts require only a box of tissues and some string or thread. (Or even an elastic.) Wad a tissue up into a ball. Place it in the middle of a second tissue. Wrap the ball in the outer tissue and tie it together. Glue on some black construction paper eyes and a mouth, then use string to hang your ghosts for a festive decoration

Construction paper cats: Draw the outline of a sitting cat on a large piece of black construction paper. Let the kids cut along the drawn line. Then tape your black cat silhouette to the bottom of a window, Need some inspiration? Check here.

Paper plate Jack-o-lanterns: Using a paper plate and some black construction paper, invite the kids to color or paint the paper plate orange. (Or tear up orange construction paper and let them glue the pieces, mosaic style, to their paper plate to transform the white plate to orange.) Invite them to cut out circles and triangles, and glue them on the plate, jack-o-lantern style.

5. Bob for apples

 Have a family Halloween party. Who says you have to invite people over to have a party? Decorate one room of your house for the party, then enjoy familiar Halloween party games. Get dressed up in your favorite Halloween costumes, bob for apples, pin the hat on the witch, and enjoy cider and donuts. Make some Halloween themed bingo cards and enjoy a family game of bingo. (Don’t have the bandwidth to make the boards yourself? Print some here.

6. Pop some corn

And watch a “spooky” movie together. For younger kids pick something silly and fun rather than creepy or scary.

7. Paint some pinecones

Gather a few pinecones. Make them colorful with non-toxic paint. Hang them up for a colorful autumn decoration. Or fill a decorative bowl with them for a table centerpiece.6 Nature-Inspired "Boredom Buster" Crafts to do at home - Random Acts of  Green

8. Make a hanging bird feeder

Feed the birds with homemade birdseed ornaments to hang in the yard. Or stuff some pinecones with suet or peanut butter and then roll them in birdseed. Hang them in your yard to share with our feathered friends. (Bonus tip: hang them where kids can see them from a window and spend some time watching who comes to visit your new bird feeders.)

9. Make a scarecrow

Get as basic or extravagant as you want. Grab a worn out pair of pants and a long sleeve shirt. Tie the ends of the pant legs and shirt sleeves closed, then stuff them with leaves. Stuff the shirt tails into the waist of the pants and prop your scarecrow up against a tree, or sit him in a chair. Add a pumpkin head, or prop a cowboy hat over the neck of the shirt so it looks like his head is slumped in sleep. If you want him to stand, run a broomstick from the neck of the shirt down through the bottom of the pant leg. Tape construction paper features on the broom to make a face. 

10. Enjoy “spooky” stories around the firepit

Have a firepit in your yard? Build a fire, roast some marshmallows, and tell some age-appropriate ‘ghost’ stories while you enjoy sitting around the campfire.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Nurturing Creativity

Our ability to be creative helps us be more flexible, adaptable, and better problem solvers. Creativity also helps people take advantage of new opportunities and adapt to changing technology. It also contributes to well-being.

As a problem-solving skill, creativity is as important in business, math, and science as it is in the arts, music, and theatre. Anna Powers, in a 2018 Forbes article, asserts, “Creativity is the skill of the future.” 

So what exactly is creativity? According to Dictionary.com, it is “the ability to transcend traditional ideas, rules, patterns, relationships, or the like, and to create meaningful new ideas, forms, methods, interpretations, etc.” 

Says American neurologist Alice Flaherty, “A creative idea will be defined simply as one that is both novel and useful (or influential) in a particular social setting.” (Creativity Workshop)

Where does creativity come from?

Children are born naturally curious and develop their creativity and problem-solving skills through play. Parents and caregivers can support a child’s natural inclination to experiment and be creative by providing an environment that encourages exploration. This might include materials for open-ended and unstructured activity and the time and space to allow their imaginations free reign.

 

But creativity is not just something you either are born with or not.  It is a skill that can be nurtured and developed, throughout a lifetime. Creativity can be cultivated in children and adults alike. 

 

On October 7th, Dr. Aoife Magee will host a virtual workshop for parents and caregivers that delves into all aspects of nurturing creativity. Attendees will learn how to support the development of imagination and creativity in their children and how to nurture their own creativity at the same time.

Is creativity a skill that can be developed?

It is! Parents and caregivers can model the creative process for young children by being life-long learners themselves. Explore a new activity and follow your curiosity. Support the creative process in children by asking questions and Inviting them to talk about their exploratory play.  

Displaying the results of creative activities further encourages creativity in children. When we hang that painting on the wall or use the clay bowl they made, we are demonstrating that we value the creativity and effort that went into making it.

Creating an environment for play that encourages creativity is another way to support children’s creative development. Provide unstructured time without any planned activities in an environment that allows for child-led play with things that can be used many different ways. In the backyard or on the playground this might include logs, leaves, pinecones, pebbles, stones, chalk, dirt, digging tools, buckets and cups.  Indoors, bins of loose parts might include blocks, cars, animals, paper tubes, spools, popsicle sticks, pouring and measuring cups and spoons, sponges, paints and brushes.

What to learn more?

For a deeper dive into nurturing creativity, in our children and ourselves, join Dr. Aoife McGee on Wednesday, October 7th for a virtual workshop on Nurturing Creativity. Participants will explore the characteristics of creative people (adults and children alike), and learn how to encourage creativity and critical thinking to improve problem-solving skills. A combination of large group presentation and small group hands-on activities and discussion, participants will come away with tools to help flex those creativity muscles. 

Coaching for Parents: Support for Parenting

Parenting is an adventure that can feel like your favorite roller coaster, full of amazing highs and stressful lows. Even in the best of times parenting is a huge job as we make decisions large and small, help our kids through everyday transitions, and deal with stressful moments. Add a global pandemic and local wildfires, and it all just gets harder.

With or without a pandemic, parenting coaches come alongside parents on the journey. “Coaching is about providing the tools to raise and educate children to the best of your ability. It rests on the basis that the ability and potential to be a great parent is already inside you.” (Life Coach Directory

“The first step is to understand that you are allowed to ask for help. Being a parent is a very big, important role that we are rarely prepared for. Parent coaching works on the idea that you have the answers. The job of the coach is to simply help you realise your potential and be confident in yourself.”

A parenting coach provides support that helps you gain confidence and develop your parenting skills. Some of the areas where parenting coaches often help include:

  • Parenting Style
  • Life Events
  • Work/life balance
  • Stress Management

Parenting Style

We all have a parenting style that is most comfortable to us. When co-parenting, we can sometimes find ourselves with different parenting styles that send conflicting messages to our kids. Even when solo parenting, our preferred parenting style may not be the best fit for our unique child. A parenting coach can help evaluate and calibrate parenting styles and the unique people in your family.

Life Events

A major life event can rock the equilibrium in any family. Parenting coaches can help you navigate the emotions and impact of a major life event.

Work/life Balance

Every family’s work/life balance has been challenged this year. Navigating school and work and social distancing is a stress on us all. Parenting coaches can help identify strategies to cope with these challenges.

Stress Management

Sometimes it’s not just one thing, but a whole lot of little (or big!) things that make parenting a challenge. Parenting coaches come alongside you, listening and offering new ways of managing the stressors in your family.

Richard Halpern, parenting coach at Coach4Parents in Portland, OR, sees the role as akin to a consultant. 

Says Richard, “The emphasis [of parenting coaching] is on real-time situations, enjoying life, harmony at home, and seeing parenting as an amazing adventure. Anyone can benefit from an outside perspective. We work together to explore new ways of communicating with our children in caring, safe, and non-judgemental ways.” 

“Promoting positive parent-child relationships is a lot like exercising, and increasing your family’s strengths (like working out) can be built upon. Creating a deeper connection with your children and helping them to build skills based on their age and stage of development is a great starting point.”

Richard finds that parents often reach out regarding specific struggles like bedtime battles, teeth brushing (or not), doing homework, following directions, low self esteem, too much screen time, or struggles making friends. Richard works with them to help develop tools to support their kids through these challenges.

But, Richard reminds us, there doesn’t need to be a struggle to benefit from talking to a parenting coach.  Everyone can benefit from a listening ear and another perspective.

The Parenting Success Network has partnered with Richard to provide free parent coaching to families in Benton, Lincoln and Linn Counties. Sessions are held over the phone or via Zoom teleconferencing. 

Parents in Linn, Benton, or Lincoln counties can schedule a time with Richard at Coach4Parents here. Be sure to answer YES on sign up to let him know you were referred by the Parenting Success Network (PSN).

Coaching is something that has value for every parent at all stages of the parenting journey. Parents don’t need to have a major problem to benefit from a session with a parenting coach. 

How goes my parenting? A parenting coach can help you answer that question.

The Importance of Routines (especially now)

In Benton, Lincoln, and Linn County, Labor Day is where the summer schedule ends and the school year begins as school starts this week. After the free flow of July and August, settling back into a regular routine is comforting and reassuring. But this year has been anything but routine. Moving from summer to September in 2020 is no exception. Nothing has been routine about 2020.

Many of us will be starting the school year from home, just like we ended things last year. Will the habits we’ve formed being at home since March be difficult to overcome when school starts? A regular bedtime? What’s that? Rousing my three teens before lunchtime? Hasn’t happened in months.

And yet, we know the value of routines for children both big and little. Routine provides children with predictability and familiarity, helping them feel safe and confident. Especially in anxious times such as these, knowing what comes next and being able to count on that reassures our children.

A routine is simply a predictable pattern of activity. As adults we often structure our routines by the clock. We set an alarm for a certain time, we allow a set number of minutes for each task. We make appointments at specific times and allot a certain number of hours for various activities.

But for young children, more important than ‘what time’ is ‘what’s next.’ Following the same pattern of activity as we go about our days is more important than scheduling by the clock. For example, a simple morning routine might be: when we get up we use the bathroom, eat our breakfast, and then get dressed. Then we brush our teeth. Doing these tasks in the same order each day lets the child know that breakfast comes before dressing, reducing power struggles that can arise over something as simple as getting dressed. 

Another family may choose to dress first, then eat breakfast. And that’s the beauty of routines. You get to decide what works best for you and your kiddos. The importance of the routine is that once you decide, you stick with it. Even pre-verbal children can gain self-confidence and feel assured when their activities follow a predictable pattern. For older children, the habits formed in following a routine reduces conflict and builds independence.

As our children reach adolescence, routines can grow and change to prepare them for the independent living of adulthood. With much joy I noticed late last month that a routine at our house, established at least two years ago, has finally taken hold of my youngest. 

At some point in 2018 I resigned from my job as family laundress. I invited the kids, who were 10, 12, and 15 at the time, to take over washing their own clothes. My oldest, who was already in high school at the time, had no trouble doing her laundry each week. I never needed to mention it to her again.

My son and youngest daughter needed pretty regular reminders at first. But sometime in the last year, my son’s laundry started showing up in the washer and dryer without any reminders. And in this last month, the youngest, now almost 13, has not needed any prompting to take care of her dirty clothes. Not only do we have a working routine, but they have the confidence of knowing in this one small aspect, they are prepared for adulthood and living independently.

I’m looking forward to the start of school, even though they’ll be doing school from home. With school added to the schedule, we will establish some new routines. Maybe one that includes getting up before noon.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Making Music with Kids

In schools and childcare centers, teachers use music to support and engage children in the learning process. Research suggests music helps ignite cognition and memory, deepens language learning, and supports both fine and gross motor skills. 

At home, parents can also use music to support their child’s development,  help lower stress, and bring joy. Here are a few ways to incorporate a little music into your everyday routine.

Listen to Music

Add a little background music to your day by dialing into a radio station or creating a playlist and streaming it to a speaker.  Listening to classical music can lower tension and help calm anxiety.  Says Jane Collingswold at PsychCentral, “Listening to music can have a tremendously relaxing effect on our minds and bodies, especially slow, quiet classical music. 

This type of music can have a beneficial effect on our physiological functions, slowing the pulse and heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and decreasing the levels of stress hormones.”

For children who need help settling into rest time, a quiet, gentle series of lullabies can set the mood and encourage sleep.  My all-time favorite rest time CD is the Bejing Angelic Choir’s Chinese Lullabies.

Sing Songs

Take a break from the normal routine and enjoy a sing-along. Toddlers delight in circle time, which can include silly songs with lots of body movement.  Some of my favorites are “If You’re Happy and You Know It”, “The Itsy Bitsy Spider”, and “The Bear Went Over the Mountain”.  You can also incorporate singing into other family activities.  Riding in the car? Start a sing-along, complete with hand motions and silly faces

Make Instruments

Take it a step further and add instruments to your family sing-a-long. Create your own family band with instruments made from found objects. From simple storage container shakers to pan flutes and cereal box guitars,  Red Tricycle has put together a collection of 21 instruments you can make from things you have at home.

Have a Dance Party

Once the music is flowing, combine gross motor activity and music through dance. Turn up some rhythmic dance music and get moving. Or enjoy an acapella version of the Hokie Pokie for family fun that will have you all smiling.

Take a Deeper Dive

Have older kids? Help them explore the life and discography of a favorite composer or band. Check out your local library for materials, or search for information on the internet.  Add the composer’s music to a playlist and incorporate it into your family music listening (and dancing!).  You can also choose a period in history and see what you can find out about music and musical instruments of that time period.  Or explore the music of a particular region or country.  Invite your kids to compare the music you find in your explorations to the music your family typically listens to.  How are they different?  What is similar about them? 

Learn to Play an Instrument

For the truly adventurous and dedicated, learning to play an instrument can provide a lifetime of musical enjoyment. It also builds confidence and improves patience.  Says classicfm.com, “Learning to play an instrument stimulates the brain, improving functions like memory and abstract reasoning skills, which are essential for maths and science.”  Learning a musical instrument takes time and commitment, but can bring joy that lasts a lifetime.

 

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

Gardening with kids

Gardening is the perfect family activity this summer, with many of us having more time at home together. Growing things together has so many benefits. In addition to the bonding that comes from shared activity, children who participate in growing vegetables eat healthier and are more receptive to trying new foods. Gardening can also help teach children how to relax and calm down. Being outside and tending to growing things increases levels of Vitamin D and helps reduce the stress hormone cortisol. 

You don’t need a big yard to enjoy the benefits of caring for vegetable plants or flowers. Even a patio planter in a sunny corner will work.

A garden gives you the opportunity to engage all the senses – the taste of a tomato fresh off the vine, the smell of rosemary, the sound of bamboo rustling in the breeze, the soft fuzz of a green bean pulled from the bush, and the beauty of a sunflower following the arc of the sun across the sky. 

Gardening teaches responsibility and patience, with visible results when plants are well cared for through regular watering. 

When getting started with gardening together, choose things to grow based on family favorites. For younger children, choose plants that are quick to sprout and easy to harvest. Two of our favorites are sugar snap peas and green string beans. Snap peas like cool weather and plenty of water, so are a perfect first crop in the late Spring. They will need a trellis, which is easy to make with three long poles tied together at the top, tee-pee style, and some twine. Snap peas can be eaten right off the vine – a favorite activity for toddlers and preschoolers. 

It’s not too late to sow some green beans this summer. Green beans come in both bush and pole varieties. Last week we replaced the sugar snap peas in our garden with green beans and expect to start harvesting by the end of August.

Kale and Swiss chard are other easy growers in the Willamette Valley. These, too, can be started now and will continue to grow as summer gives way to autumn. Kale will often overwinter in the Willamette Valley. 

We use lots of kale hidden in blueberry smoothies at our house. We also love it sauteed with some onions and bacon, or pounded raw into some olive oil and Italian seasoning as a salad.

Sunflowers are a fun option for family gardening. Although they require patience through their long growing season, they will provide lots of happy color once they bloom. Harvesting the seeds from the head of the sunflower is a perfect autumn activity. As the weather cools, the harvested seeds can be shared in bird feeders with our feathered friends.

If you are looking for options that come back year after year, consider a strawberry patch or adding a few blueberry bushes along a fence. Both of these perennial fruits are kid-friendly favorites for picking and eating.

Even the youngest toddler will enjoy helping prepare the soil for planting. Small trowels in a raised bed are perfect for this activity. Counting can be practiced as seeds are planted, and older children can practice math skills as they figure out how many seeds will fit in the space you’ve allotted. 

Green bean planting is perfect for this activity, as they are planted one seed at a time, four inches apart. Invite your elementary students to determine how many seeds will fit in your row. They can also help decide how much garden space to devote to each crop. If each plant will produce six string beans at a time, how many plants do we need to be able to pick enough for everyone at dinner?

Watering is a task that is vital to the healthy growth of the vegetable garden. Toddlers love anything that involves water, and will happily water the garden with you. Be sure to provide a watering can that is the right size for your small child. 

The necessity of watering throughout the summer here in the Willamette Valley helps build responsibility and self-confidence. With regular attention and a degree of patience, eventually the fruits of your effort will be ready to pick and taste. Children can take pride in their contribution to the family table.

And if you’ve included flowers in your garden, invite your children to pick enough to make a beautiful bouquet for the dinner table. Bon appetit!

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.

LBCC Live & Learn Classes – Registration opens August 3rd!

Enjoy new songs, games and activities with your child.  Meet other parents and children in your community.  Learn how to support your child’s amazing development   Families can join at anytime if space is available.

In Live and Learn classes parents and their young children (birth – 5) learn and grow together.  There are several versions including Live and Learn with Your Baby, Live and Learn with Your Wobbler, Live and Learn with Your Toddler, Parents and Toddlers Together, Live and Learn with Two-Year-Old, Live and Learn with Your Preschooler and Live and Learn with Your Children. LEARN MORE >>

Fun for the whole family: Backyard Birding

Looking for something fun while staying close to home this summer? The whole family can enjoy backyard birding together with these quick tips. 

1-Make your backyard bird-friendly.  Install a birdbath and hang a bird feeder or two in your yard.  Even better if they are all visible through a window of your house. Be sure to keep them clean and filled. Helping with this task is something even the littlest can do.  Birds will feel safer with bushes, trees, or even a pile of branches nearby to protect them from predators. Be sure to choose a location that your pets don’t frequent. 

2-Find some pictures of birds that live in the area. Books, such as bird guidebooks, are a great place to start to put pictures with the names of the birds that live in your neighborhood. The local library has many wonderful bird books designed especially for children. Online resources can also provide photos and descriptions of local bird species. Start by learning the names of just a few, then head outside and see if you can find them in nearby trees.

3-Learn to identify birds by sound. Bird sounds are classified as calls, which are usually just one or two notes, and songs, which are longer and contain many notes and tones. Birds use calls and songs for different reasons. There are many online resources for hearing the sounds different birds make.  Or you can ask Alexa and Google Assistant to help you learn common bird calls and songs. One of the most distinctive bird sounds is the chickadee, which is abundant in the Willamette Valley. If you already know a few birds by sight, listen to recordings of their calls and songs, then head outside and see if you can hear any of these birds in your backyard. Take a walk through the neighborhood and listen for the bird calls you have learned. When you hear one you know, see if you can locate the bird with your eyes. 

4-Be curious!  When you see a bird, watch what it does.  Can you figure out why it is behaving that way? Which sound is it making – a call or a song?  Can you figure out why?

5-Keep a log.  Keeping a record of the birds you’ve observed can be a fun way to track the different birds that come and go in your neighborhood.  Do you see different birds out and about in the morning? Do you see more or fewer birds in the evening? A log can help you see patterns and make observations about the birds in your neighborhood. Invite your older kids to make the entries in your family’s bird log.  They can even draw a picture of the birds that you see.

6-Play games. There are many games that can be adapted to bird watching. For example, create a bingo grid, with each square containing the name or picture of a common Oregon bird. Use markers (coins, small squares of paper, or even crayon to color in the square) to indicate which birds you see. Find five in a row? Bingo!

7-Expand your viewing with online live streams. Check out some of the many webcams that stream views of bird nests around the country.  For example, check out the Decorah (Iowa) eagles or look in on sea birds at the Oregon Coast Aquarium.  For more options, check out this collection of live stream feeds.

On the go, or close to home, enjoy some bird watching as a sweet addition to your next trip outside.

Lynne Brown is a freelance writer, former Montessori teacher, and mom to seven amazing kids, some of whom now have kids of their own. She loves writing on parenting and early childhood education. You can learn more about her at: www.lynnebrownwriting.com.