Bird House Gourds!

The seeds that grow into birdhouse gourds are funky looking and amazing. One of the kids said they looked like space ships. Last year we planted some so we could make bird houses. It’s a long process, but a few days ago, we got to finish our houses.
Plant your birdhouse gourd seeds in the spring. They take several months to make fully mature gourds. Each vine will grow several. We planted two plants and ended up with about 30 or so, but according to my research, that is not the traditional yield. The vines need a sturdy trellis and they grow about 15 feet. When the gourds turn from green to brown on the outside, you can cut them off the vine and store them for drying. They need plenty of ventilation as they cure. We laid ours out in the grass and left them in the weather all winter long.
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After they dry for about 6 months, you can soak them in water and scrub the remaining skins off. You can leave them the natural color or paint them. The natural color is tan but they have spots that look kind of like mold. If you paint them, you need to use a paint that will not wash off. You can use house paint, acrylics, oil paints, or we used spray paint because that is what we had.
The gourds are enjoyed by purple martins. They like a 1 ¾ inch hole. I used the drill bit I had. I drilled a hole for the door and smaller holes on top to add a hanger. I made our doors just a little shy of the middle closer to the bottom so rain wouldn’t pour in the holes. You can also drill drain holes in the bottom if you think water might get in.
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After you drill the holes, you can work on getting the membranes and seeds out so the birds will have room to make a nest inside. The kids really enjoyed that part of our project. We shook them into a bucket so we could try to grow them again.
Next I gave the kids acrylic paint pens to decorate their gourds with. If you are trying to attract purple martins, you should paint your gourds white. After they decorated them, I gave them a pipe cleaner to string through the top holes so they can hang them up at home.
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The kids LOVED this project. It took a year, but it was really fun and I’m sure there is a bird out there somewhere that will appreciate each child’s efforts.
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I don’t know if the seeds we harvested will germinate or not, but if you want to try it, send me a message at kckamp@sbcglobal.net and I’ll send you a few to try in the spring!

Open Ended Play….What Gives?

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What is open ended play and why does it matter? Open ended play is any activity that allows children to create unlimited scenarios on their own. If you give a child a stick or a cardboard box, they can create a variety of activities on their own that allow them to express themselves.
What are some resources for open ended play? A variety of art supplies could be used, boxes, sticks, rocks, sand, water, anything that doesn’t have to be used in a prescribed way such as a toy that has one certain purpose. It could be most anything. All types of play are important for the child’s development, but open ended play offers some very important benefits. Open ended play fosters creativity. With music and art no longer being seen as academic in schools, and the fast paced curriculum taught in schools, open ended play is sadly becoming a thing of the past. This is detrimental to a child’s development.
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Think about that teacher who makes all of the children create art that looks just the same. Are the children learning from that project? They are learning that the teacher doesn’t think they are talented or smart. Open ended play builds self-esteem and problem solving skills in children as well allows them to share their feelings, and sometimes even provides them a way to ask for help. Children need to be creative and allowed to make a project or activity their own. Self-expression helps children cope with their feelings and a tuned in teacher can learn about what the child is thinking and feeling through it.
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Creativity fosters mental growth in children by giving them the chance to try out new ideas and solve problems. Activities that are open ended celebrate uniqueness and diversity in each child and helps us focus on each child as an individual. Using their imagination is important for children to allow them to invent, grow, take chances, experiment, make mistakes in a safe environment and have fun. It develops life skills, innovation, and gives children a sense of achievement. Developmentally inappropriate practice at an early age such as flash cards and drills is even linked to mental illnesses. I want my children to have the very best chance for success and I know that comes from lots and lots of PLAY!
Creativity is one of the top factors in career success. Employers see it as an employable benefit. Everyone has the ability to be creative. It’s important that we give children the opportunity to express themselves and be creative in every day play. So throw out some open ended supplies and let your children teach you today!

Summer Time!

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School’s out for summer! At Little Sprouts that means some of my little kids leave for the summer and my school age kids are here every day. Obviously it takes a different finesse to teach and entertain a 10 or 11 year old than it does a 2 year old, right? Over the years of keeping older kids in the summer, I have tried every different strategy I could think of. But I always know the number one thing I have to do is my golden rule for child care of any age child. Keep them busy or they will keep you busy, and I don’t mean good busy. Basically you can give the kids something to do, or they will find mischief to get into, hard and fast rule of nature like the law of gravity. It’s going to happen. Now after 19+ years in child care, I have not had one single day go by where a problem of some sort didn’t arise. That’s just life, into each day some rain must fall, right? The kids are here for 10 hours a day, that’s a lot of time to fill. But here are a few tried and true things that we do here that help us!
Summer programs. I see all of these summer activities for kids, so I decided to make up some of my own. My husband is a personal fitness trainer and on Mondays he goes into work at noon, so we have physical education class every Monday morning. He teaches the kids sports techniques for football, basketball, soccer, and baseball. They think it’s fun. At the end of summer, we give out awards. We also made up our own summer reading program. The library had one, so we made our own and we have incentives for the big kids to help the little kids reach their goals by reading to them. It improves their reading skills, gives them confidence and teaches their younger counterparts. It’s a win-win. We give awards for that as well. Last year I had a couple of boys who were interested in outdoor survival techniques so we did a 10 week survivalism training program. I don’t have any expertise in that, so I bought some books. Then I divided up the info into 10 segments and every week I taught the kids how to do something to improve their safety. For DHS regulation purposes I skipped teaching them to use knives and make fire, but we all learned a lot. At the end of the summer I had them bring old back packs from home and I filled them with ponchos, flashlights, whistles and other things for surviving in the wilderness. You could do your own vacation Bible school, movie club, scout camp, or art camp. There is plenty of information available to help you teach the kids yourself, and you will have a great summer!
You can invite people to your home to do activities with the kids such as library story time. A police car, a fire truck, or an ambulance could be brought. Someone could bring an animal to teach the kids about. The OSU extension, health department and Cherokee Nation has programs in my area they can bring such as healthy eating, dental hygiene, exercise, Cherokee traditions, etc. We have had many special visitors here and the kids love it!
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Obviously our gardening takes up a lot of our time in the summer, so that helps a lot. Even when we are not “gardening” as a group, the kids like to explore and look around the garden. They might want to look for bugs, measure the tiny fruits on a plant, or even use a camera to do some photography. Some kids just like to sit in the garden and think because it’s so peaceful.
We always have a loose structure for the activities of the day. This year we have PE on Mondays, gardening on Tuesdays, art on Wednesdays, science on Thursdays, and games on Fridays. We plan water parties on a few days. The kids wear their bathing suits and run through the sprinkler or slide down a “water” slide we make with the hose. We also have other special events such as show and tell, art parties, or pajama days where they can bring sleeping bags or pillows and have an all-day “sleepover” atmosphere. We do a lot of cooking as well. Kids LOVE to cook! Another great idea is to let the kids plan an open house of some kind for their parents. They spend a lot of time preparing and they get so excited. We are having a garden open house this summer. The kids LOVED having it last summer and were so excited when their parents came to see what they had done!
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At the end of school or the beginning of summer, I always ask the older kids for ideas of things they are interested in doing and I try to plan how we could do them. This year we are trying an idea I have used before where the kids pick activities, and I write them on calendar squares so we get all their ideas in. My oldest wants to teach the younger kids the activities we chose, so he is going to. It makes the summer more exciting for him and the little kids love it to. Let your older kids take the lead on some of your summer plans, they are more interested in it if they are invested in it. Plan a lot and then be flexible with how your plans turn out. If you’ve been working with kids for any time at all, you KNOW that nothing ever turns out exactly as you planned it. But that’s okay! Happy Summer Ya’ll!
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Why Garden with Kids?

The excitement of harvesting!

The excitement of harvesting!

At Little Sprouts, we spend a lot of time in the garden. What’s the point? Why go to all the trouble? Well, for me, the main reason is that it’s fun. But there are so many other important reasons. I believe that our food supply is getting way too scary. Our grocery store food is so full of chemicals, pesticides, and so genetically modified that our dinner is more like a science experiment than a meal. And what is that doing to our children’s bodies? I don’t even want to think about it. But how can I serve food I feel is safe? The best way is to grow it myself.
A big harvest!

A big harvest!


Obesity is running rampant in our country with childhood obesity rates climbing in epic proportions. And we know exercise and plenty of fruits and vegetables in our diet helps control obesity, right? The garden is just that, a place full of healthy things to eat and lots of opportunity for movement. Other diseases are on the rise for children as well and it’s been proven in study after study that a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables helps reduce the risk for many illnesses such as obesity, high blood pressure, diabetes, cancer and heart problems. But it’s not always easy to get children to eat fruits and vegetables. For me, this is especially true if I have a day care child that eats mostly highly processed foods at home. Processed foods are not only full of chemicals, but they are very high in salt and sugar which dull the taste buds of the people who consume them. So fruits and vegetables may not taste strongly enough for those children to enjoy eating them. But children are 80% more likely to try a food they grew themselves. And they are even more likely to want to try something they helped prepare or cook. So growing our own food and letting the kids help cook it is the best way to get kids to try something new they wouldn’t otherwise. Hands on is the best way for people to learn anything, so it makes sense that the more hands on the kid’s meals are, the more they will be interested in them.
Another reason growing food with the kids will help improve their diet is the flavor. The flavor of freshly picked produce far exceeds that of produce that was picked across the country or world and shipped to our grocery stores. The time it sits in boxes in the truck traveling is time that it’s loosing nutrition and flavor. In addition, the kinds of veggies and fruits that will ship well aren’t always the variety that is tastiest. Here, we don’t have to worry how our heirloom tomatoes will ship, we just have to worry about carrying them into the kitchen 50 feet away.
I have seen kids each year we’ve been growing food come in as a new student in the fall and not eat much of anything I serve, but by Christmas time they are trying many new things. And usually by the time they leave here they eat far more variety of healthy choices. You have to be patient with them and let them try at their own pace though. Don’t badger them to try it, just offer it and see what happens. A new food must be introduced 11 times before it is no longer new, so be prepared to continue to offer it and don’t give up. Their good health is worth it!
So besides making their bodies healthier when they eat healthy produce and get the physical activity working in the garden provides, what other benefits are there to gardening with kids? The garden is an amazing place full of learning for all of us. I could never list them all. There are a myriad of sensory experiences in the garden. Think about the way a tomato plant smells, or a fresh cantaloupe. Obviously there are a diversity of flavors that come from the garden. The feel of a prickly okra plant or a soft leaf of an herb. Listening in the garden brings a multitude of amazing sounds. You can hear birds chirping, the wind blowing through the leaves and stems of the plants. It’s almost overwhelming to think of all the colors, shapes, and interesting things there are to see in the garden. The more our senses are stimulated the more we learn, even as adults.
We learn math in the garden. We count seeds, and veggies, we measure how tall our plants are, or how much water they need. We measure how close together seeds need to be or how deep they should be planted. We sort seeds by size and color and shape. We count how many peas are in a pod or seeds in a tomato. We read seed packets, make garden markers and learn a plethora of vocabulary including entomology, botany, germination, metamorphosis, life cycle, and the list goes on and on. The science in the garden is immeasurable. We learn how a seed germinates, how strong a seedling can be, how insects and wind pollinate. And we watch caterpillars hatch and grow and change into butterflies, we learn about beneficial and harmful insects. We learn about what animals do in the garden. We learn about animal and insect habitats and life cycles.
Yummy peas!

Yummy peas!


I am amazed every day at what I personally learn in the garden, and teaching the kids these things is one of my greatest pleasures. Plus I know I am teaching them skills they can use throughout life. I have heard countless stories from my day care parents about how the kids were identifying butterfly species for them at home or how they showed them which plants should be planted with other plants to keep bugs away from their crops, or how they identified a beneficial insect in the garden. It’s a great feeling to know I am teaching whole families and a future generations these things. And everything we do is 100% organic in our garden, so those organic methods are being shared as well.
It would certainly be easier to grow the garden without the kids. Things would look neater, and be more precise, but taking the time to teach them how to do it correctly is so worth the time. I’ve learned a lot of patience throughout the process and I can even see the older kids learning patience as they see the younger kids doing things that frustrate them. But we are all learning together and it’s making the world a better place.
If you work with kids in any way, I encourage you to try growing something with them. Even if you just have a five gallon bucket with a tomato plant growing in it, you will be surprised at how much you can learn and teach with just that. It is worth your time and effort, I promise!