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Book Review: Fifteen Minutes Outside-365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect With Your Kids

All those years ago when our family started implementing the idea to go outside for just fifteen minutes at a time, we could never have imagined all the things we would find to learn about and enjoy as we spent just a little time each day together in our own backyard.

Rebecca Cohen has written a gem of a book, Fifteen Minutes Outside: 365 Ways to Get Out of the House and Connect with Your Kids, which explores this idea even more as she made a promise to herself to get outside for at least fifteen minutes each day for an entire year…no matter the weather.

By month and season, Rebecca Cohen gives the reader a  comprehensive list of things to actually do outdoors during those fifteen minutes outside, providing suggestions to make it more enjoyable.

“Going outside with my family every day has changed my life. Instead of frantically running from task to task, I have learned to use the spaces in my schedule to look around, breathe deeply, and live in the moment.”
Rebecca Cohen – 15 Minutes Outside

These monthly lists form the heart of this book and will inspire families for many years…no more wondering what to do outside or how to entice your children into stepping outdoors with you. You can keep this book handy and reference it on those days where you just don’t feel like going outside but know that once you do you will be refreshed.

As a family, we are naturally happier when we are outside, learning and active together. It doesn’t feel like a chore.”
Rebecca Cohen – 15 Minutes Outside

Don’t miss the opportunity to give these ideas a try. Currently the price of this book on is $10.19…..what a bargain. She has a free download list of  “50 Outdoor Activities for Busy Families” that you can use to get you started.

My copy of this book has found a spot on my nature shelf and its pages are marked and highlighted with things I want to try with my boys. Although the book is aimed at younger children, I found quite a few ideas to explore with my teens.

Rebecca aimed to keep the activities in this book simple, little or no cost, and to be enjoyed every day of the year. I think she hit the mark and this book will help nature loving families to enrich their time outdoors without much extra effort. Thanks Rebecca!

Along with the book, she has a wonderful product that I know you are going to love! She has created Curiosity Cards for you to use as starting points for conversations that can take place anywhere. These laminated cards on a ring can be stowed easily in a purse, backpack, or hooked to a stroller. I recently took these on a day trip with my family and we made use of the cards as a way to stimulate meaningful conversations about thoughts, emotions, dreams for the future, and just plain getting to know each other better.

  • What would you like do more of every day?
  • Find two things that feel different from each other.
  • Look for animal tracks or signs of animals.
  • What game could we make up right now?

These Curiosity Cards are a gem and I give them a big thumbs up for my fellow nature loving families. You will use these for a long time in your family.

Don’t miss Rebecca’s website: Rebecca Plants. Here you will find lots of encouragement for getting outdoors with your family, including a whole series of videos to watch.

Rebecca has generously offered to supply a copy of the 15 Minutes Outside book to one of my readers. Use the Rafflecopter gadget to enter a random drawing for one copy of this exciting book. Hurry and enter the giveaway before midnight 7/27/12 and I will announce the winner over the weekend.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Please note that I was not paid for this review but I did receive the book and Curiosity Cards for free in exchange for my honest opinion.

Rebecca’s products are a perfect compliment to the 
Outdoor Hour Challenge!

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Birdcage Press Wild Cards- Review

Birdcage Press Backyard Birds
Birdcage Press Wild Cards – Cards, Activities, and Instructional Booklet

Wild Cards – Backyard Birds is a great learning tool for nature study loving families! They are beautiful to look at and full of information that has helped us get to know our backyard birds a little better. The quality of the cards, the images, and the informational booklet has impressed me!

Wild Cards – Backyard Birds
For a bird-loving family like ours, this set of cards and accompanying book is a perfect fit! We have had more fun quizzing each other with these colorful and informative cards.

  • This set of 36 cards with clear and beautiful images introduces six types of birds: Tricksters, Songbirds, Woodpeckers, Hummers, Little Chirpers, and Waterbirds.
  • The 32 page booklet not only gives more details for each bird in the set but it actually teaches you how to identify birds by looking at different attributes.
  • The combination of cards and booklet will give beginning birders as well as experts a fun way to learn more by using them to play games with your family (instructions included).
  • The booklet also gives additional ideas for online learning with your cards.

Big thumbs up from our family for Birdcage Press Wild Cards! 
We are going to purchase more of these sets to have on our nature shelf, in our nature pack, and with our card game collection. Fun and learning go hand in hand with this product from Birdcage Press. The Backyard Birds set is only one of thirteen sets available on Birdcage Press. You can click over and see more for yourself: Birdcage Press Wildlife and Nature Products.

Giveaway and Free Shipping Offer

If you would like to order from the Birdcage Press website, you can use the free shipping code until 3/31/12. Shipping code is good for purchase of ANY item on their website.
Free Shipping Code: IN12

More Reviews and Giveaway Opportunities for Birdcage Press Products: 
Spell Outloud — Choice of Egyptian Art Cards or Battle Cards-Military Jets
Finding Joy — Choice of Wild Cards – North American Birds or Art Ditto Game.
Jimmie’s Collage –Choice of Impressionist or Renaissance Art Game
Mama’s Learning Corner — Renaissance Art Game
Harmony Art Mom — Choice of Go Fish for Art or Art Close-Up Cards
The Curriculum Choice — Art Ditto Memory Game
Hodgepodge — Go Fish for Wildlife – Sea Creatures
The Traveling Praters — Choice of Go Fish for Van Gogh and Friends or 52 Amazing Places-National Parks
Get Along Home — Choice of Wild Cards, Backyard Birds or Renaissance Art Game

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Crowe’s Nest Media: Your Backyard: Monarch Butterfly Review and Giveaway

Your Backyard DVD Monarch Butterfly
Your Backyard:  
The Life and Journey of the Amazing Monarch Butterfly
From Crowe’s Nest Media

You all know our family LOVES nature study. We are inspired by the colors, the patterns, the design of the many amazing things around us. The family oriented DVD, The Life and Journey of the Amazing Monarch Butterfly, feeds our passions. It is a feast for the eyes as well as the heart.

Even for families that have already studied monarchs and have raised them from caterpillars, you will learn so many awesome details that you will not look at a monarch butterfly the same…ever.

  • Have you seen a female actually lay an egg and know how she picks a milkweed to deposit it on?
  • Have you watched the caterpillar shed its final skin and eyes?
  • Do you have a picture in your mind of where the monarchs migrate to in Mexico and why we should care about their forests?
  • Do you truly understand why we should not view milkweed as weeds and remove it from our gardens?
  • Did you know you could tell a male from a female quite easily once you know what to look for?

This DVD will take you deeper and farther than your normal butterfly study could ever dream of doing. You will be encouraged to tell others about the wonder of God’s design and wisdom. You will be determined to nurture milkweed in your neighborhood. You will ignite a desire in your children to be a part of citizen science through the Monarch Watch and tagging program. This DVD will reach your heart.

Features I love about this DVD:

  • Remarkable video and images of each stage of the monarch’s life cycle: egg, caterpillar, chrysalis, and adult. You will see footage of things humans rarely get to see and your children are going to be amazed at the incredible close-ups that show the intricate workings of this butterfly.
  • The information is interesting to all ages. After watching this DVD, I heard little monarch facts being sharing among family members and with friends as well. There is enough detail for older children yet the animation and “story” make it appropriate for younger ones as well..
  • I was impressed with the creation focus done on a clearly scientific topic, just the way I try to present nature study in our family. Details from scientists, direct observations, and experts draw attention to the amazing design of the monarch.
  • This DVD is fairly long (approximately 60 minutes) but I appreciate that we can watch one segment at a time if we want to go back and rewatch a topic of interest using the buttons from the menu. This will aid us in using the study guide (see below for more information on the study guide.)
  • In addition, I appreciate that this DVD was a family production including all ages and abilities. The Crowe family provides a great example to other homeschooling families with their diligence.

Other information you may find helpful:

  • 60 minutes long. In addition, approximately 45 minutes of bonus features. $19.95 (see special offer below).
  • Watch the DVD trailer on YouTube: Your Backyard: Amazing Monarch Butterfly
  • The bonus features are not to be missed. You will learn how to raise your own backyard monarchs, use extra websites for research, complete a fun follow-up quiz, and see behind the scenes information your family will find inspirational.
  • With the companion study guide this DVD could be the basis of a whole unit study for homeschoolers.
Companion Study Guide Coming Mid-Spring!

Companion Study Guide:
The Crowe family is in the process of writing a complete companion study guide to go along with this DVD. This downloadable guide will include: content review, discussion questions, diagrams to label, sketching suggestions, essay questions, copy work and coloring pages for a variety of ages, and ideas for further research. I know our family will be looking forward to using this as part of our nature study this spring and summer as the opportunity arises. The study guide is scheduled to be released mid-spring and will cost $8.95.

Special Offer: 
As part of this review, I am thrilled to offer you the chance to purchase this DVD with a coupon code to receive the downloadable companion study guide FREE! Also, with the coupon code, you will receive the DVD at a discounted price of $18.95. This offer ends on February 3, 2012.

Read to purchase now? You can click over and enter your coupon code to receive your copy of this amazing DVD at a discounted price AND get a code to receive the companion study guide when it is available. The coupon code is: NatureStudy

Please note: I received this DVD and the giveaway copy in exchange for a review. I always give my honest opinion and share our family’s experiences when reviewing a product. I also will receive a small affiliate commission if you purchase the DVD using the coupon code listed above.

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Morning Circle Time – Nature Study

October’s Party
October gave a party; the leaves by hundreds came,
The Chestnuts, Oaks, and Maples, and leaves of every name.
The Chestnuts came in yellow, the Oaks in crimson dressed,
The lovely Misses Maple, in scarlet looked their best.
-Unknown Author

Many families already implement the idea of a morning circle time. Even in our family with high school age children (and above) we meet together each morning for our version of “circle time” because it has been our established routine for many, many years. Circle time is a great time to include some nature study themes and activities. Here are some ideas to get you started and that will tie into your Outdoor Hour Challenge time.

Image from PreKinders
  • The morning is the perfect time to share daily weather and changes in the trees or plants outdoors. Each day your child can go outside briefly or look out the window to give the morning “nature report”. Younger children can share with their words or use pre-made pictorial cards, then progress to keeping a daily weather/nature journal, and finally older students can record temperatures, wind direction, cloud types, and changes in plants, animals, and birds.  (PreKinders has weather themed printables for your circle time activities.)
  • Memorize a seasonal poem or a stanza from a poem like the one quoted at the top of this blog entry.
  • If you already include a “color of the week”, why not ask what things in nature are that particular color? Try to get them to dig deeper than the ordinary by building on your outdoor time. You can give them hints to get started by reminding them of subjects you observed outdoors. What did we see yesterday in the garden that was yellow? Can you remember the name of a yellow bird? What yellow object did you sketch in your nature journal last week?
  • If you have a “number of the week”, ask them to list objects they have learned about as part of their nature study? Can you name four birds? What are five garden flowers? Can you think of six mammals?
  • You can use this time to work on your verbal skills by having an object from your nature table to pass to each child. They take turns describing the object using as many adjectives as they can.

Gently work into your circle time some references to your nature study and it will make some important connections as your children get in the routine of observing and learning about their very own backyard.

Circle Time - Kendra Fletcher

If you haven’t had a chance to read about circle time on Kendra’s Preschoolers and Peace blog, I highly recommend you pop over and take a look.

Circle Time- Plan The Best Part of Your Day: Kendra has an ebook outlining ideas for circle time and she has generously offered to share a copy with one of my readers. To enter the giveaway, leave a comment here on this entry (one comment per person please). Each comment will have a chance in the random drawing of names on Friday, October 14, 2011 8 AM (EST).
Thanks Kendra.

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Review: Observing Nature-A Journal Sketching Guide to Discovering Your Natural Environment

Observing Nature – A Journal Sketching Guide to Discovering Your Natural Environment

The moment I printed this plan out and put it into a binder, I knew I was going to like the approach taken to help teach children (and adults) how to tap into their observation skills and translate them into their nature journals. This is a wonderful plan for homeschoolers to use on their own or through a co-op. If you are interested in learning how to help your children learn how to create wonderful nature journal entries…read on!

There are two parts to this review.
Observing Nature Teacher's Manual
Observing Nature-Teacher’s Manual

This 18 page teacher’s manual is very well put together and gives enough detail that you would feel confident to teach a whole group of students about sketching and journaling. The targeted age group is 8 years old and up but I did not feel it was too easy for my high school age boys.

Here is a link to the Course Objectives and example of a completed journal page.

Valuable aspects of the Teacher’s Manual:

  • Directions for gathering and displaying observation trays.
  • Supply checklists.
  • Thorough instructions for teaching the three student projects, see LINK.
  • A class plan with suggested time values if you are going to be teaching this course to a group of students. Also a plan for an assistant if you are so lucky to have one in your co-op. The author suggests teaching the entire workshop in one session but after that you can practice the skills over a period of time.
  • Template to print out for making collection or observation boxes…very handy.
  • $24.95 as a PDF download.

Observing Nature Guide
Observing Nature Student Guide

  • This workbook style guide will work alongside the activities suggested in the teacher’s manual.
  • There are exercises right in the guide that will help your child become better observers and as a result, better at recording their observations in a nature journal. (SAMPLE)
  • There are plenty of examples to view and in the back of the workbook there are reference drawings for plants, insects, reptiles, birds, mammals (SAMPLE) and tracks.
  • My favorite part of the guide is the Question Page. This page gives your child lots of journal prompts to make the nature journal entries come alive with their own words.
  • There are blank journal pages in the guide for your child to use in getting started with their own sketching. We were able to glean some fresh ideas from these pages for our own personal journals.
  • Once you buy the student workbook you can print as many copies as you need for your family or co-op.
  • $24.95 for PDF download.

I would give this plan a big thumbs up as far as value, content, and organization. These may be the plans your family needs to jumpstart your nature journals and/or breathe some fresh air into some nature journals that are becoming ho-hum.

Please note:
I received these ebooks in exchange for a fair and honest review. I only review items I have personally used and would recommend to my readers.  Also, I am not affiliated with Nature Works Press and I will not receive any compensation if you purchase these ebooks. My sole motivation for writing this review is to share another valuable tool with families that might like this sort of guide to use personally or in a co-op setting.

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Your Backyard Feeder Bird DVD – Review

It is my joy and privilege to write a review of this wonderful new product. I received a copy of the new DVD titled Your Backyard a few weeks ago and I think it is a perfect start to birding for families.

This DVD, presented with a Christian point of view, introduces 18 common feeder birds of the Eastern and Central U.S. Even though I live in California, I found this DVD extremely helpful and full of information that I can use in my area.

Features I love about this DVD:

  • Wonderful, clear video of each featured bird, organized by colors of birds
  • Just enough audio and repetition to be able to learn how to identify birds by their songs and calls
  • Tips for attracting birds to your yard and instructions to make your own feeders
  • Ability to use this video with even young children but still be interesting for older children

Other information you may find helpful:

  • 58 minutes long
  • Bonus features like a range maps, quiz, additional images

Would you like to see a sample? Here is the trailer for the video!

I am going to be giving a copy of this DVD away to one family as part of tomorrow’s Autumn 2010 Outdoor Hour Challenge. Please make sure to read the bird challenge and see how you can participate to have a chance to receive your own copy of this video.

At $19.95, this DVD is affordable for all families and your children will want to watch it over and over. What a great way to introduce a love of birds in your family!

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My Favorite Little Binoculars

Per request, here is information on the binoculars I carry in my purse….yes they are that small but they are mighty powerful as well. They are easy to use and lightweight. I can very easily carry them in a jacket pocket or around my neck when we are hiking. You can see me wearing them in the photo above from our trip last week to the desert. Can you guess where we are?

Big clue in the background.

You can read more at Eagle Optics-Energy.

They come in a variety of colors too so you can pick your favorite.

Eagle Optics Energy Binoculars
I have the green pair. They come with a pouch and the pouch can clip onto your belt if you like to carry things that way.

This is an affiliate link…love and own this product.

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Winter Wildflowers: Violets

This week as part of the Winter Wildflower blog-a-thon at Wildflower Morning, we were asked to come up with some literary connection to wildflowers. I remembered that I had just the thing for this entry.
I recently read a really interesting book about flowers. 100 Flowers and How They Got Their Names by Diana Wells was a quick, fun read and was packed full of interesting tidbits about how both garden and wildflowers got their names.
According to the author about the violet:
Common Names: Violet, pansy, heart’s-ease, Johnny-jump-up, love in idleness
Botanical Name: Viola

She also relates the story of how violets became associated with love. Let’s just say it has something to do with the Greek gods Zeus, Hera, and a heifer.

She includes literary connections to violets by referring to works that violets play a part in like Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. She also relates a story about violets that has to do with Napoleon.

“When Napoleon was banished to Elba, he said he would ‘return with the violets.’ When he did return, Josephine was dead, and he picked violets from her grave before being exiled again to St. Helena. They were found in a locket, along with a lock of hair, when he died.”

We are going to keep this little book handy as we enter the spring term and our study of garden flowers. Each flower has a small illustration at the beginning of the chapter. I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in short accounts for many common flowers. I got my book on but you can find it used on for less than a dollar.

Some other flowers included in the book: dahlia, daffodil, daylily