Let’s Take It Outside


By: Angy Talbot (ECFE Blog Writer)

One of the great advantages of our ECFE program is the Nature Explore Center at Handke.  It is a wondrous outdoor environment where children can experience the great outdoors first hand to explore and use their senses in a safe location.  Children and families can come and discover this natural wonderland of flowers, plants, and nature tools to play and learn in the fresh air and earthly abundance.  Living in Minnesota, we have numerous lakes, trails, forests and parks with nature all around us.   If you take a good look outside, you can find nature everywhere from a plant growing in a crack on the side walk, a bird flying in the sky, or a bug crawling in the grass.  We don’t have to go very far to experience nature and the outdoors with our children.  Here are a few tips to help get you started to exploring the great outdoors:

  • Go on a Nature Walk/Hike: You can find and observe different birds, insects, plants, animals, or water sources while looking at the sky, ground and all that is around you.  Bring a backpack on your walk to collect small treasures from rocks, leaves, acorns, or pinecones.  You can also take pictures of things you see and later make a picture book identifying or researching what was found.
  • Go on a Nature Scavenger Hunt: Look for different items in nature and check off all the different items you can find. http://thebirdfeednyc.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Scavenger-Hunt-Nature-Walk.pdf
  • Nature Study: Take some time to study and research about different leaves, trees, bugs, or whatever interests your child.   Give your child a magnifying glass or binoculars and have them find something they would like to explore and learn more about.   If they find a worm on the sidewalk, this can be a great opportunity to learn about worms.
  • Nature Journal (Observe and Draw): Have a nature journal for your child. It could be a notebook or construction paper stapled together.  Have colored pencils or crayons available for your child to draw pictures of what they see or feel.  Children can also do tree or leaf rubbings and tape findings to the journal pages.
  • Sit, Watch and Listen: Take some time to go outside and just relax.  Lay or sit still in silence for 5 minutes or so helping your child to take in all they can see, hear or feel.  Then after, talk about the experience sharing and asking questions about these moments and what was witnessed, felt, smelt, or heard.
  • Play Outside: You can do almost anything outside!   You can read a book, do art projects, have a picnic, watch clouds, play a game, ride bikes, blow bubbles, fly a kite, plant a garden, search for bugs, run through the sprinkler, sing songs, dance to music, swing, bird watch, play ball, or take a nap!

Playing outdoors gives children the opportunity to explore and take risk.  It exposes children to nature and helps them to learn about the world.  It let’s children be kids by running, rolling, jumping and climbing.   It gets them off the coach and the devices and guides them to use their bodies, mind and soul.   “I sincerely believe that for the child, and for the parent seeking to guide him, it is not half so important to know as to feel when introducing a young child to the natural world. If facts are the seeds that later produce knowledge and wisdom, then the emotions and the impressions of the senses are the fertile soil in which the seeds must grow. The years of early childhood are the time to prepare the soil.”  -Rachel Carson, A Sense of Wonder

Below are some great outdoor fun resources:

NAEYC for Families:



Outside activities to do with your children:



Getting outside in nature:

Sherburne County Wildlife Refuge



Sherburne County Parks and Recreation Attractions


Minnesota State Parks


Nature Explore Classrooms



By: Beth Thorson (Early Childhood Educator)


Dinnertime is a crazy time for families with small children.  How do we keep them safe and occupied while getting a healthy meal on the table that the kids will actually eat?  My best advice to parents is, train your little sous chefs to be your right hand in the kitchen!

Young children are curious and creative.  They love nothing more than to spend time with the special adults in their lives.  Turn this to your advantage.

  • Before meals, ask children to help with menu planning.  There are many great cookbooks with beautiful photos of the recipes that will allow children to choose wisely.  Begin with a couple of choices and you’ll soon have a great repertoire of sure-fire hits.
  • During meal prep, give your child the job of washing veggies, cutting soft veggies with a butter knife, setting the table, etc.  This is the time when your mise en place (everything in its place) will come in handy.  Have a plan!
  • Serve meals family style.  Allow children to choose how much will go on their plates and to serve themselves more when they’ve finished.  Children love the control this gives them and are more likely to try new things when the power is theirs.
  • Encourage children to critique the meal with more than a thumbs up or down.  Was it too spicy?  Did the texture throw them off? Did it need more salt?  A little lemon juice?  Everyone has food preferences.  Respect your child’s right to not like something, though that doesn’t mean it won’t be served now and then.
  • Recruit help with cleanup as well!  Have your child scrape plates, bring them to the dishwasher or sink.  Really little ones can sort the clean silverware into the drawer and wipe the table.


One of the biggest hits from my Winter Cooking class is a broccoli pasta salad.

Boulders, Trees and Trunks

Adapted from LANA

Approximately 8 servings

½  pound uncooked pasta, cooked

2-cups broccoli florets

1-cup cherry tomatoes, halved

1 cup cubed semi-soft cheese, like Monterey Jack, Mozzarella or Muenster

¼ c olive oil

¼ c vinegar (cider or balsamic)

Italian seasoning

Place ingredients in individual bowls with tongs.  Give each child a quart size baggies. Children will take a pinch each of pasta, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, and cheese cubes. They can add a pipette of oil and one of vinegar, then a sprinkle of seasoning.  Children then seal the bags and shake vigorously.




By: Angy Talbot (ECFE Blog Writer/Discovery Learning Teacher)

I love making lists and a bucket list is especially fun. Each month I make a list of ideas for the season. I get lots of inspiration from Pinterest and fun activities that we have done as a family each year. Here is a fun filled Bucket List for Fall:

• Go on a hayride
• Go to a pumpkin patch
• Make an apple or pumpkin pie
• Have a campfire
• Go to an apple orchard
• Stay up until dark and watch the stars and moon
• Drink apple cider hot or cold (depending on the weather)
• Make a pile of leaves and jump in it
• Go to your local high school football game
• Go through a corn maze
• Collect acorns and leaves
• Watch Halloween kids movies – My favorite is, “It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown”
• Leaf rubbings with crayons
• Break out the fall wardrobe and jackets
• Fly a kite
• Run/walk a mini-marathon
• Go to the farmers market
• Decorate the house in fall colors and window decals
• Make homemade soup with the kids
• Go trick or treating
• Roast pumpkin seeds
• Carve pumpkins
• Make pinecone bird feeders
• Host a Halloween party
• Make a costume from scratch
• Send homemade Halloween cards
• Bob for apple
• Make Carmel apples
• Plant a tree
• Take family photos outside
• Visit a farm
• Go to a fall festival
• Take a hike
• Go on a leaf drive during the leaf color peak
• Read outside
• Picnic in the park
• Take a flashlight walk at night
• Plant fall flowers
• Make S’mores
• Ride Bikes
• Make a gratitude jar
• Photo shot in Halloween costumes
• Play outdoors whenever possible
• Go to the zoo
• Donate to the food bank
• Enjoy the weather!

What’s on your Fall Bucket List?

Family Connections



By: Angy Talbot (ECFE Blog Writer)

In our fast paced world it can be difficult to stay engaged and linked with our families. With technology at our fingertips, extra curricular activities and over loaded schedules, families are so busy that dedicated family time has become a challenge. Listed below are some tips and suggestions that you can do with your family to increase that bonding time with your loved ones:

  1. Family Meals: Dinnertime is a wonderful opportunity to stay connected and promotes togetherness. By sharing a meal, you also share conversations. It is also a good time to model table manners and mealtime rules. You can involve the children in the preparation of the meal and the clean up. Even if you can’t have dinner together every night, try to plan a few meals a week were everyone can attend.
  2. Family Movies: Rent a movie and watch it before bed, go out to a movie or watch movies that the family made. Make a big bowl of popcorn or a traditional family treat.
  3. Family Game Night: Board games to cards can be great fun. Each family member could have an opportunity to pick a game the family will play each week. You can share and teach new games or play traditional family favorites.
  4. Family Walk Or Bike Ride: Even if it’s a short brisk around the block or a hike in the woods, walking and biking promotes exercise and gets the family together.
  5. Volunteering: Volunteer as a family. There are so many organizations that could greatly use some extra hands. It can be a lot of fun packing food for those in need or helping shovel a neighbor’s driveway.
  6. Art and Crafts: Decorate mugs, paint or color together.
  7. Read A Book: Each night before bed cuddle up with a story. When your children get older, you can all sit next to each other under the covers reading your own book.
  8. Bake Or Cook: This can be an opportunity to share family recipes, teach basic cooking skills and create new dishes together. Children can also help look up new recipes to try. You can later make a cookbook of all the families favorite recipes.
  9. Go Somewhere: Go to a museum, zoo, bowling or roller-skating. There are many family public outings to enjoy from the arts to sport events.
  10. Family Meetings: Set a time in the week when the family gets together and meets to discuss upcoming events, family decisions and discussions while giving each family member an opportunity to share.

There are many ways you can incorporate family time into your weekly schedule. When it comes to family time, the most important element is to do activities that the whole family will take pleasure in and to plan that time where you can all just enjoy each others company. “Time to turn off the iPad, put away the smart phone and just enjoy being where you are when you are with your family!”


The Importance of Family Time


familyBy: Ms. Angy, ECFE Blog Writer

Today, many families struggle to find quality time to spend with their families because of the demands of work and home.   There just seems to never be enough time.  Families want positive and meaningful moments with their families that will produce happy memories for the future.  In history, families naturally spent time together.   Historically, families would work, harvest, celebrate, grieve, play and rest together.   The process was natural life experiences.  Our society today is very focused on measuring time by the clock and technology.   Many parents want to re-create the family time that they had as a child and pass along family traditions while creating their own.  The main goal for these parents in regards to family time is to create positive childhood memories.    I still remember camping trips, family dinners, days at the park and long bike rides with my family as a child.  I try to give my daughter some of the same, wonderful experiences that I had as a child while intertwining her father’s childhood experiences and creating our own family experiences.

Another aspect of family time is togetherness.  By spending time together as a family, promotes interactions, supports communication and fosters bonding time with one another, thus, building trust and connections.   Penn State has designed packets called, Family Time – Strengthening Your Family, broken into age groups from ages 2 – 3 through ages 7 – 8 and are categorized by the season:  summer, fall, winter, and spring.  These packets give parents many ideas and examples of family time activities as well as suggestions on how to strengthen family connections.   They can be found and downloaded for free online at: http://pubs.cas.psu.edu/PubTitle.asp?varTitle=family+time.

Many parents (including myself) are trying to find the balance between the demands of living in a fast pace world and trying to find quality time to spend with our family.  By making an effort to set time aside for the family (eating meals together, planning family meetings or a game night), is a necessity for strengthening and nourishing family unity.