Category Archives: Nature Activities

Watermelon Magic Movie

Today we saw a sweet IMAX movie called Watermelon Magic. If you have a young child, and you like gardening or the outdoors or the forest kindergarten movement or like seeing five-year-old children who are empowered and supported in independent play and in pursuing a long-term project, you will like this movie.

Click on the trailer at the top of the post to get a sense of what the movie is like. Our son fell in love with this trailer when he was three years old, and it finally came to Seattle! (It’s at Pacific Science Center IMAX theater now: www.pacificsciencecenter.org/IMAX/watermelon-magic)

Audience: This is a movie aimed at the under 7 crowd. My son is four, and loved it. I talked to the mom of a two year old who enjoyed it though his mom said he was squirmy. The other 5 people in the theater were grandparents and an aunt… It was not high entertainment for the adults, but not annoying like some kid movies. It was an easy, relaxing, gentle and sweet movie.

Plot: It is a very simple story. The brief plot is: 5 year old Sylvia plants watermelon seeds, tends the garden, and sells them at a farmer’s market. There’s a little more to it than that, but that’s the big picture.There’s also very little dialogue – it’s show… not tell.

The parts I liked best were: Sylvia has a magic wand at the beginning and uses it to play some harmless tricks – it’s a fun little bit of fantasy at the start of the movie. Later, after the watermelon have begun to grow, her little brother keeps accidentally tromping on them, so she has the idea to build a fence. She gets the saw out, saws the bamboo, sets the bamboo posts, and ties the cross-beams on. By herself. Remember, this a 5-year-old who is doing the work. (Yes, I’m sure she had supervision, and had help when the camera wasn’t filming, but there’s no reason to think a 5-year-old couldn’t be taught to handle this project safely.)  She staffs her own stand at the farmer’s market and collects the money herself.

Mood: it’s sweet, gentle and slow-paced. Kind of like spending time outdoors in a garden.

Film: This is shot in time-lapse photography style. There’s lots of very cool scenes of plants growing, including close-ups of sprouts pushing up out of the soil. There’s some fun sunrise and sunset time-lapses and rainstorms. These are all pretty fabulous. But… my only complaint about the movie is that the whole thing is time-lapsed, and frankly it gets a little tiring to see the “stuttering” quality of that throughout the whole movie. There were times when Sylvia was talking with her mom where they slowed down the frame speed and would hold the image of each of them for longer… I liked that better. And although the time-lapse helped the movie feel “magical”, I wished some portions had just been done as video.

Possible activities you could do with your child before or after this movie, to extend the learning:

  • watch other time-lapse videos. there’s LOTS on YouTube
  • make a time-lapse video. We may try doing this… I don’t have the patience to do it with a growing plant, so I’m thinking it would be something that changes more quickly… maybe water beads going from their dried up form to fully grown, or the “Magic Grow Capsules” – those capsules where you put them in water, and the foam inside grows into a dinosaur or whatever. These changes happen over 8 – 20 hours, so my son is familiar with that process, and if we time-lapsed it and then played the video in 20 seconds, he’d get a better grasp of time-lapse, and then we could talk more about how the plants didn’t really grow as fast in reality as they did in the movie
  • you could plant watermelon seeds and tend them till you have watermelon (I say “you” because I know I’m not likely to do that… I’m not a gardener)
  • the next time we eat watermelon, we’ll talk about this movie
  • If you live somewhere watermelon grows, you may be able to find a you-pick watermelon farm
  • help your child come up with a big long-term project they would like to try

If you see the movie, let me know what you think!

Nature Connection Pyramid

pyramidi like this infographic from the Nature Kids’ Institute, which gives “recommended daily allowances” style of recommendations for getting your child outside. (They have a free five part series of short videos on “Let’s Bring Childhood Back Outside.”)

They talk about free, unstructured outdoor play once a day. This is about the little stuff, like finding some tree stumps in your neighborhood to climb and jump off of, or stopping at a local plant nursery, going on an autumn leaf hunt or a scavenger hunt in your neighborhood, or walking to the store, or playing in the backyard, or weeding the garden or digging in a sandbox. In the video, they say the best thing is an empty outdoor space with no toys or obvious activities so children get creative and invent their own play.

They suggest that once a week, you make a plan for a nature outing, like a trip to the dog park (whether or not you have a dog), a visit to a farm park or petting zoo, a hike to search for wildlife. You could even just visit the same woods or park every week, and make friends with a tree. At this time of year, try the pumpkin patch.

Once a month, check out a regional, state or national park. Here are some new favorites we found this summer. And once a year, go somewhere wild.

If you find yourself making excuses for why you “just can’t go outside today”, check out my post on overcoming the barriers to outside play.

Why do this? There are so many benefits to outdoor play! Increased creativity and self-direction, decrease in ADHD symptoms, large motor development, lower obesity rates, better vision, and more… As winter sets in, you’ll often feel like your child is “bouncing off the walls” inside. Bundle them up, take them outside, and let them play!

Have you gotten your recommended dose of nature today?

Time to go wading!

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What could be better on a hot day than wading in a cool creek?
It’s cool, the sound of the water is relaxing, it’s building big motor skills (staying balanced on uneven ground), small motor skills (picking up pebbles to throw), caution and limits (don’t go to the deep area), entomology (water bugs!), mud-ology  (check out this great post on the benefits of mud play http://rightfromthestart.wordpress.com/2012/08/30/build-a-mud-kitchen-why-playing-with-mud-is-good-for-children/) fluid dynamics (water moves much faster over the waterfall than on the flat), mama’s limits (you can’t play near the waterfall!)
Lots of great stuff!
Do be aware of safety. Watch for broken glass in the water if you’re wading barefoot. It’s great if you know drowning rescue and CPR just in case. And it’s best to go with friends to help keep an eye out for everyone. Shower or bathe when you get home to wash off any buggies…

Wading at Everest park in Kirkland, WA

Wading at Everest park in Kirkland, WA

These pictures were taken at Everest park in Kirkland, WA. Plan to park in the lot north of the ball-fields. The creek is between parking and fields / playground. I was surprised to find we were the only ones in the creek on this hot hot day, but this park is never crowded… It is one of those almost- undiscovered gems.  http://parksofkirkland.com/everest-park/

Note: You do need to closely supervise here… the middle picture above shows the waterfall at the edge of this little pond area.

 

Cheap Dates with Toddlers: Nature’s Playgrounds

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Peter Kirk Park, Kirkland, WA. Click to enlarge photos

Sometimes, parks have to take out trees – they’re old, they’re damaged by insects or lightning or whatever. That’s always sad. But, when you’re really lucky, the park does this! At Peter Kirk Park in downtown Kirkland, when they took out a tree (or cluster of trees?) recently, they left the stumps behind, in a perfect toddler and kid playground adventure!

My three year old loves playing on these, but so do kids of all ages. Unlike modern playgrounds, they’re not standardized sizes and shapes, with the exact measured distance between objects and a scientifically designed surface beneath. They’re just four stumps, of different heights that you can climb up, perch on, jump off. Fabulous!

If you live in the area, come check them out (but be sure to park on the street or at the library – the shopping center says they’ll tow park users). If you’re not local look for similar lucky finds in your neighborhood!

We also found a great set of stumps at Bridle Trails Park in Bellevue, next to the arena.

Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, WA

Bridle Trails State Park, Bellevue, WA

To learn more about kids and nature, just click on ‘nature activities’ in the right hand side bar.