Go Take a Hike- 8 Tips for Raising Outdoor Adventurers

I think when many parents think of hiking with their children, they imagine a seemingly never ending drudge as children stop every ten feet to complain of needing to be carried and repeatedly ask “Are we done yet?”

A couple of weeks ago, Kellen inquired as to when we could go for a walk in the desert.  I got to wondering why he loves to go for walks now, when he started out as one of those “when will this be over” kids.  Over many hikes, I’ve picked up a few tips to making the trails more fun for kids, which of course makes it more enjoyable for everyone.  Here are eight tips to get your little one loving the outdoors and ready for adventure.

  1.  Have a scavenger hunt.  Create a simple list of ten or so items that can be found on a hiking trail.  Some of our favorites are triangle or heart-shaped rocks, a stick in the shape of a Y, a bug, a small leaf, a trail sign, and a map.  You could also do a five senses hunt- the sound of a bird, touch a smooth rock, sip from a water fountain at a trail head.  If your child can’t read yet, you can draw simple figures or use an image shirt to create a list of pictures.  Of course, it is more fun if you have a prize for when the list is completed- a small magnifying glass is a great one, but my boys love lollipops too.

Kellen completing his list.

2.  Assign jobs.  I have two boys.  When we hike, one is the trail leader.  The other is the trip photographer.  You could have someone in charge of the snacks and water.  Perhaps a navigator that looks for maps and signs.  Kids love having specific jobs that make them feel integral to the adventure.

Photos by Liam, our trip photographer

3. Think of cool trail names and destinations.  We frequently walk a trail titled “Desert Classic.”  But my boys know it as the trail to the Cookie Rocks.  One day, I said “Look at those rocks.  They look like huge chocolate cookies.  Let’s call them the Cookie Rocks.”  The name stuck and now when I ask if they want to hike, they’ll often respond “Can we go to the Cookie Rocks?”  Fun names make things, you guessed it, more FUN!

Sitting on the Cookie Rocks with Liam

4. Create a hiking journal- Kids are going to want to pick up treasures along the way.  Interesting rocks and sticks, pieces of glass, small parts of a bike- they all make their way into their pockets.  We tape or glue them into a journal along with a small note of the date, where we were hiking, and who we were with.  The boys are always wanting to create a new page.


5. Treat their treasures like treasures.  Along the same lines as the hiking journal, we create special jars to showcase their found items.  I know for parents it can seem like “great, you found yet another rock.”  But these items are important to your kids.  Making memory jars is a beautiful way to save those memories without finding rocks and sticks on every counter top.


Treasure jars with feathers, rocks, bones, sticks, and more.


A favorite treasure jar, containing items from hikes, vacations, and other adventures

6. Bring out your gadgets.  Kids love playing with a compass or looking through binoculars.  Just when they start to get bored, take a break and have fun making something far away look up close.

Taking turns with binoculars on a group hike

7.  Prepare for frequent stops.  A one mile hike with a preschooler can take an hour.  The goal is not to go far or fast- simply enjoy being together and get them comfortable with the idea that hiking is a fun activity.  We take a lot of snack breaks, stop to sit on many rocks, and spend a lot of time stopped on the trail writing our names in the sand.

8.  Turn around before they get tired. Hopefully with all these fun activities, your kids are going to fall in love with hiking.  But their little bodies are still getting used to the activity.  Be cautious as they cry “We want to go further!”  They want to keep seeing and doing more and might not be prepared for getting back.  Better to start slow and figure out where that threshold is.

Of course, always wear sunscreen and hats, take a simple first aid kit, and plenty of water.  Happy hiking!


Light and Dark- Crafts that Glow

In one short week, the school year will end.  For many kids, that means summer camp.  I teach science and art camps for children during school breaks, so I have been hard at work planning my summer session of Kat Camp.  This year the theme is “Light and Dark.”  I love that this theme can be concrete, like learning about how blocking light produces shadow.  But it can also be abstract, like drawing to music that might be termed light or dark.

I’ve been playing around with different ideas, and thought I would pass on a few, in case you want to explore your own Light and Dark theme at home.

1.  Plastic Cup Suncatchers

I saw this post that produced a gorgeous rainbow suncatcher from melted plastic cups.


While the result is incredible, it is a bit more involved than I can do with a group of young children in a camp.  I decided to modify to a single strand.  If children want to produce more than one stand and put them together as a mobile at home, they would have that option.

I found plastic cups a the dollar store, but they were not the type 6 recycling plastic recommended in the post.  I gave them a shot anyway.

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They did not produce the perfectly rounded bubble as seen in the original post, but I think they look really cool!  I love how the irregular shapes- to me they look like interesting glass.  I also layered the cups to get different colors- putting a blue cup over a green cup to get turquoise.  I felt bad throwing out the bottom of the cups, so instead, I melted those too.  I especially liked when I layered the bottom of two cups- it created a neat bubble effect.


I attempted punching holes in the cups, but noticed that when these cups melted, the hole got covered.  Instead, I drilled holes after all the cups were melted.

On camp day, the kids will thread the pieces to make their suncatchers.  Easy, beautiful project- great for fine motor skills, and can be a vocabulary booster when you define words like transparent and illuminate.  If you do not like the look of the string, you could opt for fishing line.


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2.  Glow lanterns

For camp, we are going to make glow in the dark bouncy balls.  You can find the recipe here:


But I couldn’t wait to try out the glow in the dark paint, so Kellen and I made glow lanterns.

I saw this craft where the artist painted tiny dots of glow in the dark paint on a mason jar to create a starry lantern.


Another beautiful project, but my four year old is not precise and dedicated enough to paint all those dots just yet.  We opted for another version.

We squirted the glow in the dark paint inside of plastic bottles so that it would run down and stripe the sides.  In my experience, children enjoy squeezing the paint more than just about any other aspect of the project- I think because it is generally something they are not allowed to do.  We also added some glitter paint and regular glitter to the mix.



We sealed the bottle with cute tape, and then got to shaking up all the contents inside.

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The finished project was super cute, and really glowed!

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3.  Making Rainbows

No lesson on light and dark would be complete without making rainbows.  The class is going to do two experiments to learn how rainbows are made.


When I was a kid, I always wanted a prism because I thought they were so beautiful.  I really wanted to give each camper a rainbow maker to take home.  I contacted a friend who is a jewelry maker, and asked if she knew where I could get inexpensive, high quality crystals.  She directed me to a couple of websites for chandelier parts.



I was able to get huge, high quality crystals that make tons of rainbows for about $0.70 each! This one is a bit covered in dust because we were already playing with  it, spinnning it on the ground. I can’t wait to give them to the kids!



I’ve got more light and dark crafts for my campers, so be on the lookout for part two.  But hopefully these crafts will get you started on your exploration of light and dark.


DIY Building Sets- Big Fun, Small Cost

“I don’t know how you come up with this stuff.”

Over lunch with a friend, she commented on some activity I did with my children, seemingly astounded by my creativity.  I am going to let you in on a secret- I’m not so much creative as I am cheap.  I appreciated the compliment, but the truth is I just really hate to pay for something that I’m unsure will get used.  We all know what it feels like to spend your hard earned dollars on some sort of toy or gadget, thinking your kids are going to do back flips when they see it, only to have it tossed in the corner after five minutes of play.

I have been looking for a new building set.  My kids are Lego fanatics.  I paid for two sets of Magna-Tiles (an unheard splurge.)  But beyond that, we haven’t had much luck with building toys.  Tinker Toys were quickly forgotten.  Crystal climbers- not much interest.  Qubits- a big snore.  That set with the magnetic balls and rods- well, I just got annoyed with my floors getting covered in marbles.

Here are a few ideas to utilize your kids’ problem solving skills without breaking the bank.

1.  Pipes, pipe fittings, and zip ties- I have been on the lookout for a set of pipes for quite sometime.  If you have gone a children’s museum in recent years, chances are you have played with some sort of pipe building system.  I’ve seen them at the OMSI in Portland in Oregon, where you try to build a water way.  In Mesa, AZ, at the Natural History Museum, you build them to get a ping pong ball into the mouth of a baby pteradactyl.  I looked into buying a set of play pipes from Lakeshore but didn’t want to pay $25 for a small set, when I didn’t now if my kids would like it and/or need multiple sets to build things they really enjoyed.


I found a huge box of white PVC pipes and fittings at a thrift store for $10.  My husband had zip ties in the garage.  We were ready to go!  I gave the kids instructions to build a lawn waterer that had to reach from our pool fence to the grass. I had to assist them a bit, but I was very impressed with their engineering.  At one point, I put a fitting on the a pipe, my four year old looked at it and said “that’s not going to work.”  He was right- I had lined up the pipe with a fitting that was blocked instead of hallow.


I can’t wait to see what we build next with these.

2.  Card stock and tape- I perform the most simple volunteering task in the world by cutting out things for Kellen’s preschool class.  The teacher tucks the sheets in his backpack, I cut them out and return them.  I cut out something on neon card stock that left a huge amount of scrap.  I couldn’t stand to throw all that good material away!  I cut it up to save for another day.

This past week, I cut the card stock into squares, and taped them into triangles and cubes.  Liam noticed what I was doing, and started to tape shapes of his own.  I asked if he could build with the shapes.  He started to put them together, but the shapes were flimsy.  I asked him what he could do to accommodate for the flexibility.  He began stacking them to provide support, and taping them together to make them extra sturdy.  Great opportunity to problem solve, and every item was on hand.

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3.  Bottles and boxes- I know this is going to seem like a “duh” moment.  Of course you can build with bottles and boxes.  But I think most of us find it annoying to save those materials that should be in the recycling bin (I know my husband does.)  They are worth saving! Sure, you could buy a set of cardboard blocks for $25-40, but it costs a lot less to use what you have on hand.


My children have gotten VERY into the Wild Kratts games on pbskids.org.  I try to capitolize on their interest by creating activities that incorporate the Wild Kratts but get them off the computer.  One of the games involves a rhino charging and knocking through tree stumps and rocks.  I decided to help them create our own obstacles to charge through.

We stacked empty boxes and plastic bottles to create trees and rocks to charge through.  After each charge, I asked them if they could build the next obstacle higher than the last one.  The activity was a perfect combination of problem solving and physical play.

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Ok, maybe I’m a garbage hoarder.  I’ve been called worse.  But why spend your money on expensive building sets when you can make them at home.  That’s cutting into your wine budget, and nobody wants that.

Drawing Journals- The Gift That Keeps on Giving

I never thought I would be the woman who became a blubbering mess when her kids went to school, but that’s exactly what happened.  I’m not talking the first day.  All parents cry on the first day.  But for weeks, I had a difficult time letting go.  It wasn’t that I had nothing to do.  On the contrary, I had plenty of projects to fill my time.  It was that I couldn’t help feeling like I was missing out on their day.  I wondered what experiences they were having that I would never know about.

One day, I picked up a Sharpie and started to doodle.  I didn’t plan to draw anything.  I just let my mind and my pen wander.  I found peace in the flow of the shapes and the act of creating them.  I started to leave a notebook open on the counter, and just doodle whenever I felt inclined.


My boys began to ask if they could draw with me, and I said sure.  I got them special notebooks we called drawing journals.  About once a day, I would say, “Do you want to draw in your journals?”  Most times, they happily responded yes and went to gather their markers.

I loved seeing how their drawings progressed.  Kellen’s journal can be especially profound because he literally started off scribbling, and I can track the day he drew his first “thing”- a picture of a tree.


Journals became our go-to gift for birthday parties.  A friend told me after I gave her daughter a drawing journal for her fifth birthday, she made an exceptionally sweet entry.  She had her dad write “Today is my birthday.  I had a party with all my friends.  I am happy,” or something equally adorable.

We now have guest journals at our house.  If you come over for dinner, you better expect to do some drawing before dessert.


But the journals keep giving.  When you need cool, unique gifts, you simply photograph or scan the pictures to create one of a kind items.  This year for Christmas, we made coaster sets featuring drawings created by the boys.  They became conversation pieces.  The boys titled each drawing, so when we sat down to dinner, one would ask “what coaster do you have?”

“Oh, I have ‘Two Pandas Swimming in the Ocean.'”

“I have ‘Pumpkin Man with Visor.'”

I had the coasters made at walgreens.com, but I have used redbubble.com to make t-shirts, and notecards, as well.  I’ve even started selling works in my redbubble shop.


Drawing journals have endless possibilities.  And are a heck of a lot easier to keep track of than all of the random drawings that come home in the back pack each day.

7 Ways to Extend the Play Life of Toys

Kids love new toys.  Doesn’t matter if it is a dollar store piece of garbage that’s going to break after the first use, or an expensive set of Magna Tiles.  If it is new, it rules.  But most parents are not keen on daily trips to Toy R Us. Our hopes of being the cool mom or dad were crushed the first time we uttered “You have plenty of toys.  Play with the ones you’ve got!”

There are tons of ways to make old toys new again.  Here are seven tips to get your children looking at their toys in a new light.

1.  Rotate- We never have all of our toys out at once.  I fill a few bins of toys and put them in the closet.  When the boys start to get bored with their available assortment, I pull down one of the bins from the closet.  It’s like they’ve never seen them before.

2.  Freeze- Want to stage an icy rescue for your favorite super hero?  Fill a small plastic container with water, plop in an action figure and freeze it.  Let your kids explore ways to get the figure out of the ice quickly.  Use water, different kinds of salt, and toy hammers.  Great opportunity for sensory play and even a little science.

3.  Draw- Have your child select a toy to draw.  Improve vocabulary by talking about terms such as perspective and still life.

4.  Present- As any great chef will tell you, presentation is key.  Parents want toys out of the way, which usually means tossed into bins and boxes.  Not very inspiring.  Leave a play invitation by simply placing toys in an attractive setup and wait for your child to find them.


5. Paint- Let your child paint the toys.  No, I haven’t lost my mind.  I’m not talking about that super expensive remote control car.  Give them an assortment of inexpensive, random figures and allow them to paint them.  They just might become some of their favorites.


6.  Wash- One of our community programs used to have a monthly messy play session.  One of the stations was simply to wash a bear.  They would fill a tub with soap and water and provide sponges and brushes to give the bears a bath.  I have used this countless times to help my boys remember the fun of an old toy.

7.  Hide- Who doesn’t love a game of hide and go seek?  Wondering what to do with that mountain of stuffed animals that grows every birthday and holiday?  Hide them and have your kids find them.  Add a pair of binoculars made out of toilet paper rolls, and you’ve got an animal expedition.

How do you breathe life into old toys?

Kat Camp- Using a Hot Glue Gun to Make Recycled Material Robots

So happy to have my son, Liam, helping me with this video.  He is an expert with the hot glue gun!

Children can use a hot glue gun, if they are able to follow a few simple rules.

1.  Never use a hot glue gun without an adult present.

2.  Do not touch the glue until it is dry.

3.  Do not touch the metal end of the hot glue gun.

Hot glue is a great material to work with for kids, because it dries instantly.  They do not have to wait to play with their creations.

Here is our video.  Make sure to send us your photos of the creations you made with hot glue and recycled materials!

Kat Camp- Butterflies

I teach extracurricular arts and science camps for young children.  Most of my camps are held during school breaks, so I will not see some students for a couple of months at a time.   A couple of very sweet girls saw a video of my singing on facebook, and told their mothers “I want another video of Miss Kat.” (Talk about an ego boost!)  So I decided to make a series of short videos for children to demonstrate crafts, sing songs, and engage in other activities they might enjoy.  One of the little girls I mentioned sent me a video of her dancing like a butterfly.  I made this first video with a butterfly craft and lullaby with her in mind.