Questing and Geocaching with Kids

Child outdoors searching

Treasure hunting, orienteering, puzzle solving, and building community. That’s questing. What a great way to create engaging and educational summer activities for children.

As I’ve been looking for summer activities that can spark a child’s imagination and turn into a child-lead summer project, my model has been the wonderful children’s summer activity book Weslandia.

Mapmaking close to home is great for 3-6 year olds since it focuses on what they know.

Elementary age children, 6-11 years old, may be ready for activities with more planning, investigating, solving, and reporting. Depending on their age and interest, they may even be ready to try such activities on their own.


The Quest Tradition

Questing is a North American version of the British activity Letterboxing, which started in the 19th century. The steps are easy: put a weather-proof box in a public place then spread clues to potential finders. The box usually includes at least a notebook and a stamp. Finders will stamp their own notebooks and leave their personal stamp in the box notebook. It’s a fun way to create a subtle connection with others in or passing through a community.

Letterboxing itself has come to North America and the rest of the world, as have similar activities of geo-caching (using GPS) and questing.

Questing as it has developed is more about a community and sense of place education. The Valley Quest program in Vermont is a beautiful example of community-building and education through this long tradition of hunting for clues and connections. Over two decades, they have built a program that connects history, environment, education, and citizen engagement. It takes a long time and a lot of people to build questing into a community the way they have, but everyone starts small.

Everyone starts questing or letterboxing with a first treasure hunt.


The First Quest

You as the parent may have to set up the first quest or treasure hunt in order to give your child the experience of being the finder, or your child might enjoy creating a quest for others. It may help to have a group of neighbors, a play group, or a circle of friends who are interested in questing with you so you can try out one another’s quests.

Valley Quest have very easy to follow instructions for making a quest, making a simple quest journal (one for the quest box and one for each finder), and making a stamp (one for the box and one for the finder).

If you are ready to embrace questing, one book stands above all other resources: Questing: A Guide to Creating Community Treasure Hunts by Delia Clark and Steven Glazer. The foreword is written by David Sobel, whose Mapmaking with Children I’ve suggested often. Sobel writes about his own ten-year-old son exploring then returning to say:

I’m a good explorer because I really look at all the details, all the little places you can go, all the crannies you can find. I don’t just look at it and go, I spend a lot of time on it, make forts and stuff and traps.

Quests, he writes, are about getting into those crannies.

If your child becomes interested in questing, this could become a local movement. Questing can be a way to build a sense of place and draw closer to local history, environment, and people. Elements of mystery and suspense add to the fun for children, but I think adults appreciate building a community of curious children who love to get outdoors and explore.

Image © Pro777 | Dreamstime.com

Wild Gardens for Busy Parents: Early Harvest

My wild garden at the beginning of August

Late summer brings an early harvest. Suddenly our little garden is growing out of control, giving us small, daily gifts of salad and berries.

August Garden Protecting the Harvest

I’m not the only one who notices raspberries in my garden. The robins seem to find one in ten berries, and I’m fine with that ratio.

I’m not, however, fine with the snails eating my lettuce and kale. Most of my time this past month has been spent on snail patrol.

Because I really am not much of a cultivator, I assumed my garden would go wild. This month is the proof that neglect can still result in an explosion of green. This is why I am convinced that you can grow a garden, too. Other than putting a couple of plants and seeds into the ground, I haven’t done much. Nevertheless, look what abundant my garden brings.

Garden wall of grapes and hops

I love the architectural feel of our garden. The hops are the pillars; the grapes and berries are the canopy; and the tomatoes are the overwhelmingly dominant presence at ground level. They all frame the lettuce and kale, which we are eating regularly.

Harvest so far has given:

  • about 2 dozen raspberries
  • kale for dinner twice
  • 4 big salads

Coming up I see:

  • more raspberries
  • many blackberries starting to develop
  • grape leaves for dolmathes (though, sadly, no grapes again this year)
  • more kale
  • more lettuce, if I can fight off the snails
  • a few dozen tomatoes
  • possibly a few chili peppers

Out of the photo in another very small patch we also have cucumbers, zucchini, and summer squash that are all growing well.

Tomatoes are taking over. They are so heavy that they are pulling down their wire frames. If I were a better gardener, I would probably be keeping them under control, but I’m curious to see what they do on their own. Under that mass of tomato growth I am finally seeing fruit. Tomatoes won’t grow in extreme heat, and much of the past month has been over 100 degree Fahrenheit for us. Our recent cooler weather (80s and 90s) gives the tomatoes the signal to set fruit.

Most important, since this garden is supposed to be about hops, we have little hop flowers. It does look like my husband will have hops this year.

Supports. If you built physical supports for the heaviest of your plants, they may still need more support this month. We’ve continued to guide grapes and hops along the wires we set up for structure.
Goal: adjust to the changing needs of your plants

Pests. Check for pests. I have snails. Rather than leaving snail traps (beer in lids works well, but I don’t want to deal with a beer swimming pool full of dead snails), I just pick them off and toss them far away. Depending on what you find, you can probably find a non-chemical way to either rid your garden of pests or share your garden with them (as I’ve decided to do with the robins).
Goal: find your own balance in sharing the garden space

Total Cost So Far

  • String – $0 (on hand)
  • Tomato cages – $3 for 2
  • Total for August – $0 (nada!)
  • Total for July – $3.00 (supports)
  • Total for June – $16.50 (plants)
  • Total for May – $34.00 (manure, top soil, peat moss)
  • Total for April – $18.00 (hops)
  • Total for the year – $71.50

Total Time So Far

Obviously, gardening takes a lot more time up front than it does during the height of the summer. Right now, the plants are doing all of the work

  • Pest patrol – 20 minutes
  • Building supports – 10 minutes
  • Shopping – 1 hour
  • Digging & planting – 30 minutes
  • Previous time spent (research, prep, building raised bed, digging) – 9 hours
  • Total so far = 11 hours

I cruise my garden daily, but it doesn’t need me much at this point. Most of my garden time is spent on pest control, but your garden may need different care—water, stronger supports, more vigorous pest control. You can probably still get away with a lot less than 30 minutes in the garden this month.

  • Pest control – 20 minutes
  • Harvest – 5 minutes
  • Gaze – 5 minutes

The Tomato Takeover

This is meant to be a hop garden, but the tomatoes are asserting themselves. The tomatoes were added at the last-minute when one of the hops didn’t grow this year. Next year we will have a third hop plant where the tomatoes are now.

Garden growth month by month

Stay Cool Naturally in This Hot, Sticky Mess

Woman outside in hot summer with water

Record summer heat waves have everyone thinking about how to get cool when the temperature soars. You can work with nature rather than against it. You don’t necessarily need to resort to an energy-sucking air conditioner.

My house has air conditioning, but I have used it only a couple of times since moving in 9 years ago. Both the waste of energy and the bill for that wasted energy make me hesitate. So, I have come up with strategies to stay cool naturally in the summer.

Temperatures have hovered between 95 and 105 for the past couple of weeks where I live. I’m hot, no doubt, but I’m not miserable because I’ve been working with my body and my house to cool off.

Work with Your Body

Ways to Sweat
We sweat to cool off. Recognize and work with this, and you can find ways to keep yourself feeling cooler.

If you avoid sweating, you won’t cool off as easily. Just give in. (And, remember the natural deodorant.)

While you are finding ways to sweat, remember that your dog does not sweat. Your dog pants. Avoid exposing your dog to extreme heat, and think of ways to let your pet cool down as you and your children cool down.

Get Wet
Have a cool bath or shower, or take a dip in the wading pool, then don’t dry of. Sit in front of a fan and cool off as the moisture evaporates. A quick technique I learned when I lived in the tropics was to carry a spray bottle of water then mist my face (temples), neck, and wrists. Those are the pulse points where you will feel the cooling the most.

Eat Spicy Food
Really! Super spicy foods with chili peppers make you sweat, and this cools you off. Think about it. People who live in the hottest areas of the planet eat a lot of spicy food. Plus, who doesn’t love spicy foods. I love having light, spicy Thai chicken coconut soup (tom kha gai) for lunch during the summer. My husband makes a big pot of soup on the weekend, and I have it for lunch every day.

Dress Cool
Choose light, loose layers of cotton. This allows air to circulate and sweat to evaporate. Dress your bed the same way. Use cotton sheets to keep yourself cooler.

Fool Yourself
Sometimes you can just give in to the heat, and it doesn’t matter so much. People do live in Tucson, Arizona, with weeks of 100+ temperatures every year. One gets used to it. So, get used to it.

Until you manage to make the shift of perception, how about fooling yourself into feeling cooler. I have been using the Peppermint Headache Stick on my temples over the past week, and I find that the menthol gives me a temporary cool boost. You can adjust your perceptions by cooling your temples and wrists.

Work with Your House

While it might be too late to plant a tree to shade the sunny side of your house for this season, you have plenty of short-term actions you can take to work with nature to keep your house cooler. Each of these suggestions has a small impact, but together they have a big noticeable effect.

Open the Windows
At nighttime, when it is cooler, open the windows to let in a cool breeze. If there is no breeze, help that cooler air circulate by using a fan. I do this every night then close the windows as soon as I wake up each morning. Despite the temperatures outside, most of my house is surprisingly cool—in the morning. This coolness does fade through the afternoon.

Close the Curtains
Keep the sun out to keep the air as cool as possible. On the sunny sides of my house, I keep the blinds and shutters closed all day. This helps a lot.

Fan
If you have allergies, be sure that you damp dust surfaces before you start your fan to prevent as much as possible sending dust or allergens into the air.

I have two fans: a blade fan, and a stand-up fan with a filter. The blade fan doesn’t accumulate dust, but the filter does. I have to clean out the filter every other day or so. To avoid using extra energy when it isn’t needed, I use the fan as my back up for other ways of staying cool.

Light Bulbs
Do your light bulbs give off heat? Regular incandescent bulbs waste energy by giving off a lot of heat. My kitchen was designed with a bunch of hot, very bright bulbs in the ceiling. Since these are set-in lights that won’t take a different type of bulb, changing that will have to wait until I completely remodel my kitchen. In the meantime, in the summer, I avoid as much heat as possible by opening the kitchen blinds and not turning on lights unless I really need them.

The same goes for electronics. I have three computers plus other electronics in my tiny office, and it gets warm faster than any other room in my house. Put your computer to sleep when you leave the room to avoid adding heat (and wasting energy).

Head to the Basement
Because the ground heats slower in the summer and cools slower in the winter, your basement can provide you with the most comfortable temperature in your house during extreme weather.

Heat rises, so the upper floors of your house will get warmer during the day. When I know I need to work in my top floor in the summer, I do that early in the day then head downstairs.

We all go to the basement in the hottest part of the late afternoon when the rest of the house has warmed up. I have a work table set up in the basement, so I can escape my hot office, and my children set up board games near the closet where we keep all of our games.

Save the Laundry
Do your laundry in the evening after you have opened the windows to cooler air. That way, you aren’t adding to the heat during the warmer times of the day.

Stay Cool Naturally!

Drink plenty of water and keep the air circulating. These are keys we found to summer comfort in babywearing, breastfeeding, and cloth diapering. The heat will be gone soon, and we will be talking again about how to stay warm naturally.

Image © Puma330 | Dreamstime.com

Cool Babywearing in Hot Weather

Sakura Bloom baby ring sling

When you are babywearing in hot weather, there are three elements of summer cool.

Fire – Stay out of the Sun!

First step for summer cool, stay in the shade whenever possible. If you have a baby less than six months old, you should avoid sun exposure completely. If you have to be out in the sun, consider making your own shade with a big-brimmed hat or an umbrella (or, more appropriately, a parasol—which means “for sun”). Of course, if you are dealing with humidity as well as heat, the shade might keep you from sunburn but it won’t necessarily keep you cool.

A sun cover, either a sunshade made for the purpose or the long tail of a ring sling, can help keep the sun off you and baby.

Water – Drink Enough!

Stay hydrated. If you are breastfeeding, you will need a lot more water than you did before baby in order to stay hydrated and healthy this summer. Keep drinking water, and keep feeding your baby.

If you feeling too hot while babywearing, stopping in the shade to unwrap and drink could give you the break you need.

Air – Allow a Breeze!

Face it: you are going to sweat. Maybe it’s just Me of the Desert, but this was the most miserable part of summers for me when I lived in a humid, coastal area. Once you just let it happen, you can deal with it. Dealing means seeking a breeze. If nature doesn’t give you a breeze, make your own with a fan or a waving sling tail.

A lighter weight baby carrier will allow some cooling through the fabric itself, so choose the lightest weight carrier that gives you the sturdiness you need. Walking around town you will need less structure than hiking up hills wearing your baby.


Which Baby Carrier Works Well for Summer?

We’ve added two new wraps to bynature.ca that are perfect for the heat. Because we get many cottagers and boaters in our area who are escaping from Toronto for some rest and relaxation, we just had to bring these in.

Wrapsody Breeze Baby Carrier
Wrapsody Bali Breeze Baby Wrap Carrier
Wrapsody Water Wrap Duo
Wrapsody Water Wrap Duo

Though it’s still too soon to tell, we think the Wrapsody Breeze is going to be a best-seller this summer. Parents that have come out to the store to try one on are just loving how light and airy it is. Nature Mom has been a personal fan of Wrapsody’s gorgeous hand-dyed and hand-batiked prints for years.

Wrapsody Bali Stretch Hybrid Wrap
Wrapsody Bali Stretch Baby Wrap
We’re also carrying Wrapsody’s Stretch Hybrid, and, while it isn’t as light and summery as the Breeze, this lighter version provides the same function for parents who love woven wraps. The fabric is buttery soft, lightweight, and perfect for a newborn or toddler alike. In the store, we just love this wrap and it’s amazing fabric. Watch out, though. This wrap might give you baby fever, leaving you wishing for a little tiny newborn to snuggle up in one!
Sakura Bloom
Sakura Bloom baby sling

Sakura Bloom linen slings are a best-seller this time of year, and their colours have recently been updated.

Cool Breastfeeding in Hot Weather

Mother and baby breastfeeding outdoors in summer

Baby’s first summer? When it is hot outside, your baby still needs to breastfeed—probably more often than in cool weather. How can you stay cool while breastfeeding? It’s all about hydration and air flow.

Hydration

When it is hot outside, we sweat more in order to cool off. Because we lose more fluids, we need to take in more fluids.

Breastfeeding is enough to keep your baby hydrated, but a hot, thirsty baby may need to breastfeed more than usual. You may also notice that your baby wants to feed for shorter periods of time, which means more of the thinner foremilk and less of the hindmilk. This gives your baby exactly what is needed during hot weather.

Look for cues that your baby is asking to feed more often. Do not give your baby water or ice cubes. You will probably need to drink a lot more water to meet your needs and your baby’s, but your baby does not need supplemental water even in very hot weather.

If your house is air conditioned, your baby may lose more fluids through the skin, so keep in mind that a cool house doesn’t necessarily mean your baby won’t experience increased fluid needs in warm weather.

Bring your water. Before you sit down to breastfeed, grab your own water. Sip while you feed to keep yourself hydrated.

Air Flow

One of the keys to keeping cool in the summer, whether you are breastfeeding or changing diapers, is maintaining air flow. A breeze helps us feel cooler as it evaporates sweat.

When both you and your baby are hot and sticky, you might not be eager to be skin to skin for hours a day. Your baby might hesitate to feed because of the warmth, so try cooling off before feeding then keep feeding as cool as possible.

Stay Apart. If you lie down to breastfeed, you can put a bit more space between the two of you for air flow.

Cool Off. A quick bath, a dip in the wading pool, or just a splash in the sink and a wipe down can cool off your baby before feeding time. You could also keep a cloth near your diaper changing table and wipe your baby down with each diaper change. If nights are hot and humid with little relief from daytime temperatures, cooling off with water is a good way to calm down and make bedtime more comfortable.

Stay Cool. To keep from warming one another up immediately with skin-to-skin contact, insulate yourselves. Put a cotton prefold or flat diaper between you, or dress your baby in a very lightweight cotton outfit or just a diaper and a T-shirt. If you have a fan or a breeze, make sure that it won’t cool your baby too much during that relaxed, post-feeding state. Don’t sit with your baby directly in front of the fan or air conditioning. Keep the air comfortable.

For more cool tips for hot weather, read about cloth diapering. Next week, Cool Babywearing for Hot Weather.Link to sunscreen for infants

Image © Evgenyatamanenko | Dreamstime.com