Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Nature in a Coastal City

My kids and I are in San Francisco, CA for a special family event this week, so we've had lots of wonderful family time. Sunday, we also had some wonderful nature time. After three days of rain, Sunday brought bright warm, sunshine, so we walked down to Ocean Beach. This was completely unstructured time. To start, my kids did what any kid would do... race the waves and risk getting their feet wet. They also collected rocks and shells, wrote their names in the sand, and flew a small pocket kite. When my daughter first wanted to purchase a pocket kite at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC I was skeptical that it would fly. But we took it to the National Mall and found it worked as well as any other kite we had flown. Both of my kids now have one and they have been terrific for times like Saturday. All you need is a little open space, a small breeze, and some energetic kids.

In addition to the usual beach glass, seashells, and sand dollars we found on ocean beach, my sister found a fossil. You really cannot predict what you might discover when you pay attention in nature. We think it's a piece of a sand dollar. What do you think?
Sand dollar plus a fossil- possibly from a sand dollar
You don't need to spend lots of money or plan elaborate outings to enjoy nature, spend time with your kids or students, and create lasting memories. All you need is a willingness to get outside with them. One other great benefit: After getting so much exercise, my kids slept like logs.

One San Francisco mom I spoke to on Sunday told me she finds the beach the place she can best expose her kids to the wildness of nature. For my readers who live in the city, how do you keep nature in your kids' lives? What are your favorite places?

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Friday, February 11, 2011

Shurit Ads (Egyptian Lentil Soup)

On Monday, I posted a book you can read with your children or students to teach them a bit about modern Egypt. Today... a recipe! Once upon a time this was practically a staple in our house, but for some reason I stopped making it. With Egypt in the news, I was inspired to make it again. It's perfect for the cold winter nights we've been having here. Both of my kids devoured it.

Shurit Ads (from Global Feast Cookbook edited by Annice Estes)
Yield: 4 servings
2 Tbsp minced onion
2 Tbsp butter
1 cup dried red lentils (Usually available in Natural or International food sections of the grocery store. In a pinch, I've used green lentils).
4 cups chicken stock (vegetarians, substitute veggie stock)
1 medium onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped *
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt*
4 lemon wedges

*In the dead of winter when good, fresh tomatoes are unavailable, I double the recipe and use one 15 1/2 oz can of chopped tomatoes. Leave out the salt if you use canned tomatoes.
  1. Rinse and sort lentils. (This is a great job for kids).
  2. Bring chicken stock to a boil in a large, heavy saucepan. Add lentils, 1 chopped onion, tomato and garlic. Reduce heat.
  3. Simmer, partially covered, for 45 minutes or until lentils are tender.
  4. Meanwhile, saute 2 tablespoons minced onion in one tablespoon butter. Set aside.
  5. Puree soup in a blender or food processor and return to the pot. (This may take several batches, or use a stick blender right in the pot).
  6. Stir in cumin and salt. Simmer for a few minutes. Stir in 1 tablespoon of butter.
  7. Ladle into bowls. Top with reserved sauteed onion. Serve with lemon wedges. (The lemon brightens the flavors).
Will you try this recipe? Let us know if you like it. Do you have an Egyptian recipe to suggest?

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Day of Ahmed's Secret

The Day of Ahmed's Secret
by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gillilan
Illustrated by Ted Lewin
HarperCollins, 1995
ISBN: 0-590-45029-8

With Egypt in the news so much lately, your students or children may be like my son- asking questions. While the political situation is complex, this book offers a simple slice-of-life story that gives readers a window into what life is like in Cairo for one little boy. Both of my children have read it and taken different things from it. My daughter (age 5) simply took in the story while my son (age 8) was able to connect this story to the wider situation in Egypt and the region. We've taken the globe out several times and located Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen as events continue to unfold.

This book reminds me that revolutions are about people. While Ahmend is a fictional character, I can imagine how his life might be affected by current events. Ahmed is like any other kid living in Cairo, working for a better life.

Ted Lewin's art is stunning, as always. My children's understanding of Egypt was equally informed by the art as by the text. While I've never been to Egypt, I have been to Morocco. The two countries share many similarities. As I looked at the illustrations I was transported to North Africa once again.

(Thanks to Mitali Perkins for introducing me to this book on her blog. Through Mitali's blog, I also found this list of other books about Egypt for children through young adults).

Do you know of any other books for children about Egypt? Please share them.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Even More Snow Fun!

Well, more snow is predicted here in the Northeast and over much of the country. Here's a quick and easy investigation you can do with your kids/students while it's snowing.

Materials Needed:
  • Magnifying glass (hand lens)
  • large piece of dark paper (e.g. black or dark blue construction paper)
  • something to support the paper (e.g. a cookie sheet, large book, or clipboard)
Optional Materials:
  • Blank white paper and pencils or colored pencils
  • cotton dish towel, a bathroom terrycloth towel, a scrap of old fabric, or other material or papers
  • small paintbrush (for moving flakes around gently)

  1. Take the construction paper outside. Let some snowflakes fall on the paper.
  2. Ideally, take the paper into a cold garage, covered porch, or other place out of the snow (you can even get into a cold car). If you don't have a covered place, lean over the paper to prevent more flakes from falling on it.
  3. Use the hand lens to examine the flakes. Big fluffy flakes are the easiest to see, but children should still be able to note differences in the flakes. Challenge children to draw the crystal patterns they see.
  4. You could also try out different materials to catch the snowflakes. Try using a cotton dish towel, a bathroom terrycloth towel or a scrap of old fabric. Which material catches and holds the flakes the best? Which makes observations easier?
(Teacher note: This lesson addresses Massachusetts, grades 3-5, Earth and Space Science standard # 7.   If students are able to clearly see the crystals, it also addresses Math standards about symmetry. Certainly, a follow-up math lesson could include making paper snowflakes that have 1, 2, 3, or more lines of symmetry. Students could use a different colored marker or pencil to trace different lines of symmetry).

For a literature connection, try this book:
For some stunning recent photographs of snowflakes, try this book:

For those of you in the snow band, try it out, won't you? And let us know what you discover!