I was happy to find this post from Nicole at the Kavanaugh Report with ideas for Montessori materials and activities for a four year old. Lillian is so close to turning 4!
Thinking even further ahead to the fall, I am considering these Autumn Guides from Whole Family Rhythms. “The Guides are designed to help you plan, create and animate a gentle, balanced and holistic rhythm in your home, flowing between structured, adult-led activities and child-led, imaginative free play.”
Check out this amazing new place for kids called The Muse Gowns that just opened in Brooklyn! How fun! Trapeze classes? Sign me up, please!
We recently visited Teatown as a family and had a wonderful time there. Teatown is a little less than a 1.5 hour drive from Brooklyn. We drove and parked in their parking lot for a $5 charge as non-members.
First, we visited their nature center which had some local animals on display: turtles, snakes and a salamander.
We tried one of their easier hikes first, the Twin Lakes Loop to the Waterfall Trail and arrived at a beautiful waterfall where we enjoyed our picnic lunch. We hiked back via a different trail, the Hilltop Trail. The first two trails were quite easy hikes, perfect for young children. The hike back via the Hilltop Trail was more challenging but we made it! All in all the hiking time was 3.5 hours. Ethan, 5.5 years old was great on the trail and completed the full hike happily! I carried, Lillian who will be 4 next month, in the toddler carrier for about 30-40 minutes along the Hilltop Trail. Other than that she hiked along happily. I’d definitely recommend this hike for families with young children!
Something that I think helped keep the crankies away on this long hike was this book…
The kids each had a copy and LOVED it! I thought we’d pick one page to focus on such as “leaves” or “insects” but they seriously found every single nature item in the book. This is probably why the hike took so long, since we stopped to check our book and identify mushrooms, leaves, insects, frogs and tracks. But it was wonderful to watch them be such careful observers of nature.
Ethan’s favorite part was finding a frog and climbing near the waterfall area!
Lillian loved finding lily pads and lillies floating in the water!
The farm is open to the public from April to November. This urban farm provides thousands of pounds of produce to local elementary schools and local homeless shelters. The mission of the farm is “to engage students, residents, and visitors in sustainable farming techniques, the joys of tasting new foods, and the value of urban farming in the evolving story of this historic public park.”
It was truly amazing to see a functioning farm in the middle of our big, bustling city!
Their field trip was so well organized. From the ease of the online registration, to the friendliness of the staff, to the multiple hands-on experiences the kids rotated through, the entire day was full of learning and fun. We even got to taste some of the vegetables they grow!
While you are there you can also check out the Sea Glass Carousel, a very beautiful and unique carousel. You can also spend time near the water watching the boats or hop on the Staten Island Ferry. There are many beautiful gardens to stroll through, bike paths to ride, and even a labyrinth to walk through. There is so much for kids to enjoy in this small area of NYC.
I feel like a lot of parents in NYC have most likely been to the American Museum of Natural History (AMNH). But have you checked out the Discovery Room? I hadn’t until I organized a homeschool field trip there last year. This year I learned anyone can visit the Discovery Room, even if you are not part of an organized group with a scheduled time. Apologies if this is common knowledge. It was news to me! My kids visited again recently with their grandparents and had an awesome time!
Setting up the field trip was very easy, I simply sent an email and then got a response rather quickly. While I thought the room might be booked through the school year, it was not and I got our first choice of dates.
First, the staff who was working the day of our trip was just FANTASTIC. Not only were they knowledgeable and had planned an interesting schedule for our time there but it was obvious they really loved children. Sadly, this is not always the case when visiting places, even places intended for children. They moved our group of 4 year olds through several hands-on and engaging activities.
My son’s favorite part of the field trip and his recent trip there was their “paleontology field site.” The museum fills a pit with plaster every so often to cover up dinosaur bones on the bottom. Kids use real archaeological tools to uncover the bones.
He also loved the magnetic dinosaur bones which you can attach to a frame to recreate a dinosaur skeleton.
There are also live animals in the room along with several other artifacts and specimens to explore.
The field trip was very inexpensive as far as NYC field trips go, $75 for your group which includes museum admission for the kids and chaperones. The museum had no problem with a large number of chaperones as each child’s mom accompanied them. I’ve organized other homeschool field trips where places have not been able to accommodate that many adults. The discovery room is a large and homeschool friendly place!
But again, even if you’re not part of a group, you can head to the Discovery Room while you are visiting the museum. You will either be allowed to enter right then or invited back at later time the same day if if’s too crowded at the moment. It’s worth the wait.
The Alley Pond Environmental Center (APEC) is an environmental educational center in Queens, NYC dedicated to preserving nature in an urban setting. At APEC there are nature trails, salt marshes, forests and meadows. APEC is open to the public and also offers weekly classes, a nursery school program, after school care, vacation programs, family and adult programs as well as teacher trainings.
APEC also hosts amazing homeschool classes for kids age 4 and up!Ethan took a class here in the fall.We drove from Brooklyn and depending on the NYC traffic, it was anywhere from a 35 minute to 2 hour commute.Most often 35 minutes though!When we arrived on the first day, we were greeted by this sign…
I almost cried.Never, have I ever, seen a sign like that anywhere in NYC!It was so exciting.And were we ever welcome! Each week Ethan spent an hour with his class of other 4 and 5 year olds.The teacher read books, sang songs and led the kids through hands-on experiments and games. Each week they learned about another animal that lives at Alley Pond and they got to meet a live animal right in the classroom!At the end of each class, the kids took a hike with their teacher around the nature preserve.It was a great class and I’d highly recommend it!Ethan’s teacher was warm, friendly and knowledgeable (about children and nature).He really liked her.
While Ethan was in class, Lillian and I were free to explore APEC or spend time in one of the classrooms that was not in use.She really loved this.She got to play with the toys, look at the books and at the end we were careful to put everything back right where we found it.There are also lots of live animals inside the class building at APEC that Lillian loved to visit.
Definitely consider APEC if you are a homeschooler in NYC!
One of our favorite places to visit in Prospect Park is the Zucker Natural Exploration Area. It is often referred to as “the natural playground.”
The Prospect Park Alliance created this space using trees from the park that were downed during Hurricane Sandy. These trees and other other elements of nature such as a large sand area, tree stumps of varying heights and a water pump feature form a natural playground for children.
walking on the tree stump path
large, natural sand pit
playing in a downed tree
My kids can spend hours there. We usually only bring a bucket and shovel and the rest of the time they play only with the natural materials in the area. While there, my kids are immersed in sensory, imaginative and unstructured play, all outside. What a gift for city kids!
I think it is interesting to note that there are many, many traditional playgrounds in NYC. We have been to a lot of them! My kids do not have as much fun and do not have lengthy sustained play sessions like they do at the natural playground. My kids, like others, definitely prefer to interact with nature.
My kids love Zucker because they have so much fun there. I love Zucker for many other reasons! There are so many opportunities for my children’s health and development simply by being at a natural playground. I feel lucky that we have this amazing place to play, so close to home.
At a natural playground like Zucker, children have the opportunity for risky play; something that has been all but eliminated from traditional playgrounds which are covered in rubber padding and where jumping off the swings or climbing up the slides is prohibited.
Wait, isn’t risky play dangerous? Yes, but it is also vitally important to a child’s development and it is sadly being eliminated from modern day playtime. How can anyone begin to know their own limits if they haven’t been allowed to independently test them?
Angela Hanscom, pediatric occupational therapist, forest school owner and author of the book Balanced and Barefoot, explains that a child’s neurological system was designed to “seek out the sensory input it needs on its own in order to reach the next developmental level.” Whether it’s rules on the playground, the disappearance of recess or overly anxious helicopter parenting, you can see how modern times are getting in the way of natural human development. Risky play is an important part of building confidence and self-esteem. It allows a child to experience frustration and learn coping skills.
Below is a picture of my son, perched atop a rather large log, really wanting to jump, but not sure if he should. He is practicing self-reflection and regulation all in this peaceful pause. He may or may not have started to scream in frustration because he really wanted to jump but he was scared. He’s learning his own physical limits and how to accept them. He didn’t jump, for the record. Maybe one day in the future, he will.
There is also much more room for creativity in a natural playground than in a traditional playground. The logs can quickly become sharks or ships, or anything children can pretend. At a traditional playground, the structures are more fixed, making this type of imaginative and dramatic play more difficult.
There is also far more physical activity and exertion happening at a natural playground. At a natural playground kids can climb trees and logs, carry buckets full of sand and water, move heavy logs and rocks, roll down hills and run in green space. At a traditional playground, these opportunities are simply not present. A natural playground provides greater opportunities to expand gross motor skills.
Lillian lifting a heavy branch
At a natural playground, children are immersed in natural sensory experiences. They can take off their shoes to feel the grass, sand and mud between their toes, hear the leaves rustling, cover themselves in mud, “cook” with dirt, splash in water and smell flowers. While they are surrounded by sensory input, none of it is overwhelming as it is all naturally created. There are no overstimulating colors, bright lights, loud music or voices reverberating against the walls that you might find at an indoor playspace.
Another aspect unique to a natural playground are loose parts. Loose parts have been popularized as part of the Reggio Emilia philosophy of education. This term was coined by the architect, Simon Nicholson, who observed that when children have access to loose parts (simply materials that can be moved around), there are more opportunities for interaction, engagement and tinkering. When children have access to loose parts, their creativity can really take flight! They also create natural learning opportunities for counting, pattern making, geometry, problem solving and fine motor skills. Loose parts abound at Zucker in the form of rocks, sticks, leaves and flowers.
While at Zucker (or I imagine, another natural playground), children have the opportunity to engineer and build. My children have moved huge sticks around both independently and cooperatively with friends to build a wigwam and to create an imaginary bonfire. Again, these incredible opportunities are unique to natural playgrounds.
As an added bonus, in the summer, the Prospect Park Alliance brings in goats to eat the invasive plant species that grow near Zucker. The goats are kept in a fenced in area but are clearly visible to the kids. My kids love to watch the goats!
Do you still need more reasons to believe why natural playgrounds like Zucker are better than traditional ones? In How to Raise a Wild Child, author Scott D. Sampson cites studies which prove that bullying and aggressive behavior are greatly decreased at a natural playground vs. a traditional. He details that real estate prices in one neighborhood spiked by 20% one year after the city of Toronto’s first natural playground was installed there. The incidence of broken bones at a natural playground are a fraction of what they are at traditional playgrounds. I could go on and on!
Do you have a natural playground in your area? Have you been to Zucker? I’d love to hear from you in the comments!
Oh, how I love Tinkergaten.For those of you who know me in real life, you know I actually can’t.stop.talking.about.it.I knew it would have to be the first local spotlight on the blog.Fittingly, it was also the first class my kids and I took when we moved to Brooklyn.
In NYC classes for babies and toddlers are a big business.Some families pack their kids days with music, gymnastics, dance, art, sports, etc.There are so many to choose from without having to walk far from our home at all and there were even more when we lived in Manhattan.And there is a real social pressure to have your kids enrolled in as many activities as possible.But, that is the subject for another post!
I’m not even sure how I stumbled upon Tinkergarten, but it was probably through Google.What is Tinkergarten, you ask?
“Tinkergarten is on a mission to elevate childhood.Each class becomes a tight-knit group of children and adults who learn together through well-designed, outdoor, play based activities.We help kids develop a host of important capabilities including empathy, collaboration, creativity, persistence and problem solving.Our expert-designed classes and activities help kids aged 18 months-8 years develop core life skills while enjoying healthy, fun and engaging experiences in the physical freedom of local green spaces.”
Why do we love it?
One of my favorite parts of Tinkergarten is that it is fully outside, in all kinds of weather.We’ve done Tinkergarten on a warm sunny day, a pouring rain day and a snowy day.It’s been lovely getting to know our “outdoor classroom” in all seasons.
We love the mixed age grouping. Our classes have been for kids aged 0-8. It’s a truly beautiful thing to watch the older kids and younger kids work and play together. Also, if you are a homeschooler in NYC, these classes are a great place for kids age 3.5 and up who often “age out” of daytime class offerings when everyone else goes to UPK.
Tinkergarten classes are designed so everyone can participate in a way that works for them. From babies, to older kids who might find their own exploring more interesting than the teacher’s planned lesson, everyone feels welcome, included and happy. My daughter took her first class as an 11 month old. I thought she’d just be tagging along with her older brother but she got right in there and joined in on everything! At a recent class, the kids found a huge tree branch that had fallen off a tree. Instead of eating snack on the class tarp as we usually do, our teacher encouraged the class to stay in the tree and eat their snack there!
We love the Tinkergarten teachers! We’ve taken classes with 3 different teachers and they have all been truly wonderful. This is not something I have experienced with many other kid’s classes – that you love ALL of the teachers you’ve met.
These classes are truly developmentally appropriate. I once ran screaming from a kid’s music class that involved an electric guitar plugged into an amp, a disco ball AND bubbles. Cue the extreme overstimulation from sensory overload. Tinkergarten is just what kids need – peaceful time in nature, sensory and play based experiences led by a loving teacher. In my opinion, it doesn’t get any better.
Each week you get a follow-up email with photos and information detailing the skills (empathy, perseverance, etc.) the kids worked on in the previous session.
Often part of the class includes the teacher reading a book out loud. Every book we’ve read has been great! It’s a source of inspiration of books for us to read in our own home.
To be honest, Tinkergarten has changed, fundamentally, the way we play as a family and the way we structure our homeschool. It has almost, in a sense, given me permission to play outside, get messy and get out there in all kinds of weather with my kids. I never would have been led down the path to forest schooling without Tinkergarten.
So, thank you, Tinkergarten!
Do you have a Tinkergarten near you?Have you tried one?I’m curious if anyone is as Tinkergarten crazy as I am.Let me know in the comments!