Nature Pal Exchange: Collecting Found Materials on our Nature Walks in New York, NY to share with our Pal's in Kansas City, KN!
Late on a Friday night I saw the post on Instagram announcing the Fall Nature Pal Exchange. Pen pals but with items found on nature walks?!? What a fabulous idea!
First, a HUGE THANK YOU to all of the organizers at Nature Pal Exchange for not only imagining what is made possible when we step outside to share our worlds with others far away but also for organizing all of the logistics of this amazing project! I can only imagine the spreadsheets and organizational foresight necessary to pair all of the hopeful participants.
Once I knew about this I immediately began a Pinterest Board to catalog potential ideas. Then, as things go, my plans changed again and again (all in good ways!).
At first I thought I would travel upstate to gather items from nature at my Mom’s farm. Then I began to think more realistically. Being an administrator in a preschool means the fall is REALLY busy. It just was not going to happen. But that was a good thing.
I then began to really notice all of the urban nature New York City affords! As Little Miss F and I traveled to different parks we spent time wandering and enjoying nature in the city. At first I organized all of the materials according to the different parks from which we collected but then I began to realize that that really wouldn't make sense nature pals. I then organized specific materials together.
We collected our first natural materials in at the Hamilton Grange, a US Historic site and part of the National Park Service. There was a large oak tree limb that had broken and fallen offering lots of acorns and branches. It seemed fitting since nothing seems to scream New York like Hamilton (#yayhamlet!--we are all Hamilton crazed and know that soundtrack by heart!) In fact, I could hear the refrain, “Look around, look around. How lucky we are to be alive right now!” in the back of my mind throughout our nature explorations.
I then decided to organize things according to categories:
Being a New Yorker and I DIY craft enthusiast there were a few other items I found necessary to include. A subway map is a must. As well as metro cards. I love The many potential crafts metro cards afford. And they are a free recycled material!
I was so excited to find a few metrocards had writing on them. I usually mark my metrocards to help distinguish between my unlimited card and my cash card to help me make sure I am using the correct card at the right time! I also loved that I found all sorts of different kinds of metrocards - from single use, to bus transfers, to special rides. There are so many literacy & organizational potentials.
I disinfected, washed, and/or baked all of the materials we included in our exchange box.
I learned some lessons too! Dry out your collected materials as soon as possible! I made the huge mistake of not drying out my collected acorns and leaving them in open bags in a closet. Big mistake! I noticed the condensation on the bags & hoped since they were open they would dry out on their own. Nope. Mold formed. I was so disappointed & it was totally my fault. I felt so bad-the acorns could have been tasty meals for squirrels. :( Learning my lesson I quickly decided to dry out all of the items in the oven. My post about how to dry natural materials in the oven is coming out later next week. Stay tuned. :)
Organizing the materials, I decided I wanted to reuse materials as much as possible. I gathered a variety of collected items including: egg cartons, Brussels sprouts containers, take out sushi box, nettings from veggies & fruits, a take out salad bowl, cardboard bushel basket, & ice cream container tops. In the end I did end up using a few parchment paper bags for the velvety seeds & the moss.
Little Miss F LOVED exploring the different materials as I organized. The sweet gum tree seeds were her favorite -- and mine too!
I also decided to include one of my favorite scavenger hunt strategies--paint chips! While I’ve seen this on Pinterest a lot, while participating in the ERIC Monarch Teacher Network’s Voices of the Land workshop I was first experienced this this activity. The plan is really simple. Give your child a few paint chip cards the next time you go for a nature walk. Then, look around you...do you see the colors around you in your environment?
Little Miss F. assisted in the packing of our box, and of course testing out all of the materials, too!
We LOVED receiving our Nature Pal's special delivery! The Box was so thoughtfully organized and detailed by Chelsea MacPherson and her son, Silas. Little Miss F. carries around the materials with her everywhere. We've actually kept the shipping box for now too because she knows it was her special mail delivery! Check out Silas and Chelsea's amazingly creative, fun, and informative work on Instagram! Thank you Nature Pals!
Safety Reminders: Adult supervision is highly recommended for all of the activities, ideas, and materials featured on this blog. As parents, guardians, and caregivers, you know your children best and your own comfort level with the different suggested activities. Littleredbarn is not responsible for any injury or damage from reproducing the activities, materials, or ideas from this blog.