Monthly Archives: July 2014

Discovering Nature on a Summer Walk

photo_1[1]  Photos by Julie Blackwell, Winter Park, FL

Almost every summer there are reports about how important it is to get kids outside for a healthy life.

Unstructured free play time is essential, but a summer walk can turn into an artful experience. We normally ZOOM through our daily life, but taking a little time to notice small details can enhance our awareness of the beauty around us. Have you ever noticed the pattern of cracks in the sidewalk make? Stripes in the road? Have you noticed how many different colors of green there are in the lawn? We often identify trees by their shape; how would you describe the shape of a weeping willow, a palm tree, an oak? What shapes do shadows on buildings make? Think of all the ways you can use your body to become these shapes.

Georgia O’Keeffe’s goal in her flower paintings was to make them so large that even busy New Yorkers would stop and look at them. That meant she really had to notice details like the shape of the petals. How many petals were there? Were there any contrasting colors? She had to notice all these things before she painted. Chances are your digital phone has a camera in it and that your child knows how to use it. Susan walked around the neighborhood and took close up photographs of flowers. Even the drops of water were visible in the photograph, and she had not noticed those when she was “just looking.” Blackwell

Grandparents would love to receive the kind of thank-you card that Julie Blackwell makes. She takes close-up shots of flowers and other interesting things she finds on her walks and then turns them into note cards.  The contrast of the strong vertical line of the railing and the horizontal lines of the steps really grab you. What shapes will you find that captivate you?

Blackwell stairs

Look at trees from a new perspective. We usually see them straight on as we drive by. Think about looking from a bird’s eye or worm’s eye view. Georgia O’Keeffe painted The Lawrence Tree as if she were lying underneath a starry sky looking up at it. Robert Berlind paints the crooks of trees and maybe only a few branches. His point of view is more like what a bird sitting on a branch would see.

Many adults have done bark and leaf rubbings or pressed flowers between waxed paper, but have your children? You can make cool bookmarks by putting pressed flowers or drawings between two sheets of laminating paper. Collect a few things from the yard and make a nature collage.

Leaves and blossom            Plant collage

Take a collecting basket with you and toss in things like rocks, shells, or even simple sticks.  (These were courtesy of an active squirrel that was fun to watch).

mirror image sticks

Jasper Johns explored ideas of mirroring in Corpse and Mirror, 1976 (Museum of Modern Art, New York) and the sticks seemed to be begging to be used in a similar way.   A little thinking is involved here!(

Pause on your nature walk and be super sensitive to your senses. For one minute focus on all the sounds you hear and then write them down. For another minute, become aware of texture, then colors, etc. You’ll be amazed at how powers of observation sharpen awhile you help to make sure that summer days don’t turn into a bored summer daze.

Mary and Susan

P.S.  You might want to have your camera handy.  Photos of what you see on your walk are a great reminder of the whole experience.  Gather your photos in a journal to help your child remember and talk about what you have experienced.


SOUNDS of SUMMER – especially for the younger set

It’s summer! Time to enjoy being outside and taking in the sights and sounds of our world. An early morning walk through the neighborhood provides a great opportunity to expand appreciation of sound. The intermingling songs of the birds are the background music for the walk. Careful listening reveals the variety of unique songs sung by birds. Listen for the back and forth conversations. Does a woodpecker always make a burst of seven sounds? As the rest of the world awakens, other sounds join the chorus. Listen for voices, dogs barking, cats meowing. Find other sounds of nature such as water running and man-made sounds such as passing cars or trucks. Walk near a lake and listen for insects, frogs, fish jumping, and ducking quacking. A busy farmer’s market or even a shopping mall provide completely different sound experiences. The sounds around us are often just a backdrop; a Sound Walk provides a time to zoom in on sounds of our environment.

E-000966-20111017.jpg American 19th century artist, Village by the River, late 19th century, National Gallery, Washington, D.C.     Suggestion: Talk about sounds that might  be heard if you could step into this painting.  Compare these with what you heard on your Sound Walk.

Take time to listen, discuss, and perhaps locate the sources of sounds that you hear. Use your voices to imitate sounds. Extend this exploration of sound by creating simple sound-makers. Place a small handful of dried beans, rice, or pennies into small plastic containers (old-fashioned film canisters are perfect) with tight-fitting (or glued shut) lids to eliminate a chocking hazard. Talk about the sounds. What makes louder sounds? What is causing the sound? How are they different from each other? For younger children, make two of each type of sound-maker so that children can “match” the sounds. This game focuses and develops listening skills. Get out the pots, pans and various strikers, such as a wooden spoon and a metal spoon. How does the choice of a striker affect the sound? How long can you hear the sound after striking the pan lid? Such questions not only promote conversation, they help children attend to what they are hearing.

Hannah imitating cat sounds

Suggestion:  Encourage your child to imitate the sounds made animals, cars, rain, thunder…

If possible, share some traditional instruments with your children. Play instruments to accompany singing or to play a beat for marching. Try having the children shut their eyes while you play a sound on one of the instruments. A child then selects the instrument heard. Connecting sounds to their sources becomes a game. A variation on this is to have the children shut their eyes while you play a sound from different locations in the room. Listeners point to the location from which the sound was made. This engagement with sounds deepens interest in sound sources and sound production.

In many communities, summer is a time for free, outdoor concerts. This is a great opportunity for the whole family. Younger children are free to dance, move or even conduct the ensemble with or without a parent/grandparent’s help. Recently, Mary’s 21 month-old grandson was absolutely spellbound by street performers; he was glued to the scene for 45 minutes. When he got home, he “converted” his toy guitar into a violin in order to continue his new choice in music! Keep the interest building by playing more violin music to build those listening skills. Yes, music helps to increase children’s attention spans and expand their horizons.

Henry Violin July 2014

Early experiences with music and sound build a love of music that can contribute to expanded brain development. Through Boston Children’s Hospital, Nadine Gaab and her team of Harvard University researchers have just released results of a preliminary study of musicians and non-musicians (ages 9-12 and ages18-35) related to their development of “executive skills,” especially cognitive flexibility, working memory and processing speed. Neurological mapping of their brains showed that the musicians won.  Continue reading