Winter is a perfect season for an often overlooked family activity – exploring the sky at night. With winter’s early darkness and often crisp, clear weather, the stars take on a special brightness that is nothing short of breathtaking.
January and February are perfect months to view one of the most striking and unforgettable of all the constellations – Orion, the Hunter. Rising in the southeastern sky in early evening, Orion travels (like the sun) from east to west across the winter sky as the earth turns and night progresses, to finally set in the west before morning. Orion is easy to find, by facing south and looking for the three stars in a row that make up his belt. His shoulder and knee are two of our brightest stars, Betelgeuse and Rigel. Just below and beside him is Sirius, the dog star – Orion’s faithful friend.
Indigenous storytellers also saw a human-like figure in this unique combination of stars. The Ojibwe know him as Biboonkeonini – the Wintermaker. Wintermaker stretches out his long arms to beckon the cold and winds of winter. He also ushers in the traditional storytelling season of winter.
Early on a crisp, cloudless winter night, pack up the family, bring a thermos of hot chocolate and go out stargazing. Turn out the house and yard lights for better viewing, or travel to a park or open area with few lights. Look for patterns in the stars and make your own stories. If you’re lucky, you may even see a shooting star! What an awesome reminder of the wonders around us every day.
Star watching connects with Landmarks 1, 3, 6, 11, 14, 17, 25.
Summer Report Highlights
We’ve had some super ideas from families and other groups this summer. Some of our favourites include:
- The James family learned how to geocache with their 10-year old boys
- The Nature Ninjas tried lots of new outdoor activities! They built an obstacle course in their backyard, and the kids challenged the parents to see who was fastest completing the course; they tried making paints using soil and crushed plants, and made pictures with all-natural materials
- Babbling Brook Daycare visited Jackson Park, and in one day, they saw a monarch butterfly, a grasshopper, a cardinal, as well as fish and geese in the pond and creek; they also made beautiful corn husk dolls when the corn was ripe
- The Warrens visit their favourite donkey on weekends, and feed her delicious treats
- The Chickadees researched edible plants in their own yard and created their own field guide; they also created clothes made from flower petals to dress up sketches of people
So many great ideas! Why not send us yours?
Bird of the Month: Black-capped Chickadee
While so many birds are flying to warmer places to spend the winter, the hardy little Black-capped Chickadee is preparing to stay with us all winter.
Chickadees are cheerful little birds that travel in flocks and seem to be always on the move. They have a black cap and bib, with white cheeks. They’re one of the easiest birds to attract to a winter bird feeder – a feast of black oil sunflower seeds will keep them happily visiting you all winter. You can hear their ‘chick-a-dee-dee-dee’ call all year ‘round, but on warmer days in winter, their slower ‘Dee dee’ song sounds like they’re saying ‘Honey!’ or ‘Hey, sweetie!’ That call shows that they’re feeling frisky, and thinking of warmer days and the breeding season.
Black-capped Chickadees are very friendly, curious little birds, and with a bit of patience and standing very still, you can often entice them to come and take a seed from your outstretched hand. What a memorable moment, especially for children, to be visited by these lighter-than-air feathered friends! If you’re working on Landmark 12 with young children (learn 5 birds in your neighbourhood), the Black-capped Chickadee is sure to be one of your neighbours.
Squirrel Nest Game
Eastern Grey Squirrels are the common tree squirrels found in many areas of southern Ontario, and are more often black than grey. What do they do in winter? They need to construct a well-insulated nest in tree branches or tree cavities for protection from the harsh weather.
Can you build a nest that will keep a tiny squirrel warm? This game is a great fall activity for families or school groups.
For this game, every player will need a small container with lid that will be their ‘squirrel.’ Pill bottles, old film canisters or baby food jars are all ideal. Just be sure that every player’s container is the same size (kids can work in teams for larger groups). Everyone can decorate their ‘squirrel’ if they like – just make sure you can still remove and reseal the lid. You will also need a small thermometer and some warm water – set all these aside while you prepare your nest.
- Take all the players outside to find natural materials for building a nest. These could be leaves, branches, shreds of bark or paper, ‘fluff’ from seeds like milkweed, or anything you can find that you think would make a good home for your squirrel.
- Each player builds their squirrel nest in a protected place that they can find again.
- A teacher or parent heats a pot of water to body temperature (warm water from the tap is fine too). Tip for teachers: having warm water ready in a thermos can be handy for larger groups.
- Everyone checks the temperature of the water in the pot (or thermos). Write down or remember the starting temperature!
- Find your own squirrel and bring it to the pot of water. Quickly fill your ‘squirrel’ with the warm water, put the lid on snugly, and take the squirrel to the nest you have built. Carefully place it in the nest, and snuggle the nest materials around it.
- Leave your ‘squirrel’ in its nest for 30 minutes. This is a good time for a nature walk, or an autumn scavenger hunt, while you’re waiting for your ‘squirrel’ to settle in its nest.
- After 30 minutes, come back to each nest with the thermometer. Carefully remove each lid, and take the temperature of the water inside. Whose squirrel stayed the warmest? Which cooled down the most? What kinds of materials were best for keeping the squirrels warm?
- You can play this game as often as you like, trying different decorations on your ‘squirrels’, making the most creative nest, and using different materials to keep the squirrel warm.
Hope you stay warm this winter too! Staying cozy outdoors in cold weather depends on having several layers of insulation and a good windbreak. Squirrels use the same tricks!
Family Cycling Adventures
Here’s a great idea for being active and spending time with those you love, even during social distancing in the pandemic.
The Ernsting family meet up for family cycling adventures on nearby trails. Kids, parents and grandparents can all join in. Pack a delicious lunch or snack as an added enticement for the trip! Make sure everyone brings water to drink, uses sunscreen and wears a helmet.
Going exploring on bikes relates to several of the Pathway Landmarks:
- LANDMARK 4 – Visit a favourite outdoor place every week (Age 4-5 years)
- LANDMARK 9 – Visit an outdoor place that is special to you (Age 6-7 years)
- LANDMARK 13 – Travel by yourself or with a friend on a familiar route (Age 8-9 years); Let the children help plan the route if you’re working on Landmark 13
- LANDMARK 14 – Try several kinds of outdoor recreation that don’t need gasoline or electricity (Age 8-9 years)
If you live in the Peterborough region, we’re blessed with wonderful trail systems, both in town and in the county. We also have great cycling support services. Get started close to home with the City of Peterborough Trails Map. Peterborough and the Kawarthas also have some great cycling route maps and other info for keen cyclists.
Keep trips short if you’re travelling with young children, and lengthen the trip as kids build strength and confidence. Try cycling to a place where kids can explore and play, to break up the trip and give kids a rest. Sharpen your eyes and ears while you’re travelling to listen for new sounds or look for interesting bugs, birds or animals along the way.
If you need help with repairing or finding a bike, or some guidance on how to cycle safely, contact BIKE, Peterborough’s community bike shop.
BIKE and GreenUP have changed-up their Pedal Power program, normally offered to schools in June. This year, it’s Pedal Power from Home and is available to families online. While the available prizes wrap up at the end of June, the excellent cycling workshops are available throughout the summer. They’re filled with fun activities, bike drills and information focused on road safety and bike handling skills that families can do from home.
Bird of the Month:
Meet the Yellow Warbler!
Summer is a perfect time to go searching for new feathered friends. This perky ray of sunshine is quite common in our area in spring and summer. Incredibly, the tiny Yellow Warbler flies all the way from South and Central America every spring to find places to breed in North America. Look for reddish streaks on the breast (males), a black beak and sweet black eyes in an unmarked face. Listen for its song – it sounds like it’s saying “Sweet, sweet, I’m so sweet…”
Yellow warblers feed mostly on insects, and can be found around woodland edges, streamsides and brushy areas. Look for them in late spring and early summer, as they often start their long migration south during the month of August. To learn the yellow warbler’s song, check out the Cornell birding website, ‘All About Birds.’ Getting to know the birds around you is part of LANDMARK 12 (Who Else Lives in Your Neighbourhood?).
Don’t be fooled by another common yellow bird – the American Goldfinch. Male goldfinches are also bright yellow in the summer, but they have a black cap and black wings. Goldfinches stay here for the winter, and are commonly seen all year at bird feeders.
For a bigger challenge for older children and youth, try reporting your bird sightings to eBird to help track trends in bird populations worldwide. This is LANDMARK 22 (Become a Citizen Scientist). Check out the Merlin website to help you learn to identify the birds you see. Watching birds is great fun, and a good focus for walks outdoors.
Photo by Kyle Dueck
Early Years (0-3)
- Look for little things to explore that are within reach and eyesight – an ant hill, a worm, a flower budding, interesting tree bark, or a patch of grass. Draw your child’s attention to some detail like “the bark feels bumpy”, “the grass tickles”. See if they can notice something as well. It’s helpful if your child can actively participate, like digging in a patch of dirt or “hugging” a tree. Make a little rhyme for the life you are noticing like “my big tree is bigger than me” or “squirmy squirmy wormy worm” that you can recall later. Try to revisit that spot once a week for several weeks to look for changes/similarities.
- Go for a walk in a variety of weathers – rainy (look for puddles), hot (look for shade), cold (run to stay warm) etc.
Ages 4-5 years
- Make a poem about all the things you notice this week outside and pin it on your fridge. Use a pattern starter, for instance, “I like” X 3, or “I hear”, “I smell”
- For example: I like (the lilacs), I like (the wind), I like (the ants)
- Gather some loose natural material and create a design on the grass or sidewalk using cut grass, pinecones, pebbles, sand, etc. Take a picture and share with a friend. See if your friend can make something to send to you!
Ages 8-9 years
- Make a list of different ways you can go up and down your street by yourself – walking, running, hopping, etc. Predict how long each method will take and then record the actual time. Challenge a friend to try your ways and have them think of one more. Keep the game going as long as you can. How many ways did you think of together? What was the fastest way? What was the slowest? Which one did you feel most proud of? Why?
Ages 10-11 years
- Choose one natural area you have been to. Research an animal, a plant, and a tree that grows there. Make a video that highlights what you love about this place, and some cool facts you know about at least 3 things that live there – an info-mercial!
- If it is a provincial or national park, be sure to send them an email to tell them what you have made, and share it if possible. If it is a neighbourhood place, share with a neighbour and ask them what they love about that space. Maybe you can do a neighbourhood survey to see if 10 people all love the same thing!
Expanded Support from the Ontario Trillium Foundation
We have received very good news that we’re delighted to share. The Ontario Trillium Foundation has approved significant funding for a three year expansion of the Pathway Project! That means we’ll be able to support our goal that every young person in our region can experience the 30 Landmarks outlined in our Pathway Guidebook. We can continue to work together to nurture the stewards of tomorrow!
Now that we’ve completed our pilot phase, we’re ready to expand our reach in a big way! While we’ll be focusing most of our supports in the Peterborough region, anyone can participate, and work through the Landmark activities as their children/students learn and grow.
The 30 Landmarks are a great place to start for anyone who doesn’t already spend a lot of time outdoors, and for those who do, we’re setting up lots of ways to share ideas – by reports submitted to the website, through social media, newsletters, magazine articles and through the regional workshops we’ll be hosting for teachers and parents.
The Pathway Project is a collective of many regional partners, directed by Camp Kawartha. The Trillium funding will help many of these agencies provide guidance and support to schools and families as we build a culture that nurtures stewardship and kinship in every child. We can now help with the cost of schoolyard projects, art materials, ‘loose parts’ play materials, bus subsidies and expert visits, as long as they help children with Landmark experiences. More details soon, as we ramp up the expanded project. It’s all very exciting!
Especially after spending so much time indoors and with limited contact with others during the pandemic, our kids need the Pathway’s Landmarks now more than ever. Opportunities to explore and treasure the outdoors, and build meaningful and supportive relationships with others in the community, will be important steps in restoring wellbeing in our children and youth, as well as the adults who care about them! We hope you and the children in your life will travel the Pathway with us.
Getting to Know Your Local Birds!
Did you know that the average child recognizes hundreds of corporate logos but fewer than 10 local plants or animals? Getting to know your ‘neighbourwood’ is an important first step in connecting with the natural world.
While some local birds fly south for the winter, many stay around, and can be a focus for lots of winter sleuthing, especially if there’s a birdfeeder nearby. Here’s an activity that exercises the memory and observation skills, in preparation for going outdoors in winter, especially with Grade 1-2 children working on Landmark 12 (Getting to Know Local Plants and Animals). Older children and adults can play too.
Winter Birds Memory Game
This idea is inspired by a Christmas gift of a game of birds from around the world, where the goal is to find matches of males and females of the same species. This version has a simpler, more local focus, based on common winter birds in the Peterborough area.
Find pictures online of any of the following birds:
- Black-capped chickadee
- White-breasted nuthatch
- Northern Cardinal
- Blue Jay
- Hairy Woodpecker
- House Sparrow
- Red-breasted nuthatch
- Rock Pigeon
- European Starling
(if you know of others in your area, include them too)
Paste the pictures into a template of squares (2.5” to 3” are ideal), and make sure you have two copies of each picture. Use card stock or bristleboard if possible, so you can’t see through the paper when they’re placed face-down. Write the name of each bird on each square.
Turn all the squares face-down on a table or other flat surface. Every player turns over two cards, saying the names of the birds on each card, then turning the cards face-down again. The goal of the game is to remember the location of each card that was turned over, so you can turn up a matched pair when it’s your turn. If you find a matched pair, you take them off the table and keep them. Whenever you find a pair, you get an extra turn. This game can be played by various numbers of people, but 2 to 5 people are best, so you don’t have to wait too long for your turn.
To make the game more permanent, you can laminate the cards so they’ll last through many games. For older children, you could make sets of local flowers, animals, insects or trees. The memory challenge of the game is a great mental workout for all ages!