Fall Foliage: Simple Ways to Nurture Children’s Connections to Nature


Helping children tune into the natural beauty around us is one way to nourish future stewards of the earth. This time of year we are supplied with an array of natural treasures. We gather golden, ruby, emerald and topaz colored leaves from neighborhood walks. Then we use these precious jewels for a variety of activities:


  • Stringing leaf necklaces (using hole punch).
  • Matching leaves (similar color, shape & size).
  • Attaching leaves to easel paper and painting on top of them.
  • Crayon leaf rubbings.
  • Collecting leaves during neighborhood walks.

We add challenges to encourage children to look closely and celebrate the majesty that’s at their fingertips and feet. We search for the tiniest leaves. We find leaves that have a rainbow of colors within one single surface. And we choose a few favorites to keep and gift to friends.  


Later, when we encounter a dead bird and get ready to bury it in our play yard, children are eager to select some precious leaves to add to it’s grave. They have a respect for the bird and a relationship with these natural treasures. As part of our farewell, a few children drop leaves into the hole next to this sweet bird. 



Marching for Climate Action

 “Indigenous peoples have been on the frontlines of the climate crisis, and we know how to live in balance with the Earth. And so, when we’re talking about solutions, we have to include indigenous peoples in the conversation. So, let’s protect our indigenous peoples, their rights, their communities, their way of life, because that’s what we’re going to need when we go into this battle.” – Tokata Iron Eyes

This past Friday, millions of protesters around the world joined their voices together to demand action on climate change. Parents and children of the Hawthorne Playschool were inspired to see so many people taking action together for a better planet.

Big topics like climate change can be scary to young minds, so teacher Susan engaged the children in a lighter way: with an invitation to consider ways we care for animals, people and places we love. We talked about how each of us can help take care of the Earth. Children shared their ideas to take care of the Earth, like growing food with fewer chemicals, protecting animals and recycling.

We used the family share for parents to have individual conversations with their child about protecting our Earth. Children learned the following about Greta Thunberg, the young activist and organizer at the heart of the climate protests: “Greta is a 16 year-old-girl – a big kid – who is a hero. She is called a climate activist. That means Greta tells everyone she knows that it’s important to take care of our planet Earth. She is angry that some people don’t take care of our trees, animals, air and water. Greta uses her words to remind people how important it is to take care of the Earth and all of us who live on it.”


Families were invited to sign their names if they agree with Greta and children were invited to share one favorite animal they want to protect. Later, in the classroom, children  made their own signs for a march around the neighborhood, sharing their message to protect animals, clean water and access to healthy food. This week we’ll revisit the climate march, inviting children to chant at circle and sharing photos of young activists who protested in downtown Portland last Friday. 

“B was so excited to show me how she learned to march at school today! She was proud and I was too! Her favorite things about this week at HFP were marching and learning how to care for animals. Her favorite part about marching is fighting for how she believes. Looks like we’ve got a little activist on our hands!”
– Liz, HFP parent

“With a background in social work and my own activism that flourished in college, I naturally have wanted to teach my own children ways to be change agents in our community. Last year, I brought my 4-year-old son, A, to a rally at the Oregon State Capital. He witnessed people chanting and holding signs which sparked a lot of curiosity. Upon hearing that Teacher Susan would be talking about climate activist Greta Thunberg, I used this as an opportunity to show A Greta’s Instagram page and talk to him about how she is mobilizing people all over the world. He was intrigued that such a young person was motivating so many people and he was eager to see all of her photos. He wanted to know why these marches are happening and I told him because people are not loving our planet and that she is trying to communicate to people that we need to take better care of our mother earth. I have brought this full circle by growing our own food and intentionally involving A in that process- to the planting of the seeds, the watering, and the harvesting. When we get food from our garden and eat it, we often thank the plants for bestowing us with wonderful gifts. I believe that one of the most accessible ways we can start teaching our littlest ones about activism is found in the simplicity of planting seeds and growing food. For when there is a connection to the earth, there is a connection that expands to all plants, animals, and humans, and an interconnectedness that fosters more love, kindness, and gratitude.”
– Cyan, HFP parent

“Young people of color have been doing the work to fight climate change for hundreds of years. It’s something that we are born into. We’ve lived in an extractive economy our entire lives; we come from a generation of families that have to live through this extraction and we know what it is, we know how it affects us, and we know what kind of change we want to see.”- Nyiesha Mallet, an 18-year-old artist and activist from Brooklyn, N.Y.

Check out’s catchy music video featuring a range of youth: “We’re Gonna Strike For You. Will You Strike For Us?”

Check out Raffi’s music video “Young People Marching” celebrating this recent wave of social activism in protection of our Earth.

7 Teen Activists Of Color You Need To Know Who Are Leading The Fight Against Climate Change

Meet the young activists of color who are leading the charge against climate disaster

More Info on Youth Climate Activists


Increasing Interest in Insects

By Mike Russell (parent at Hawthorne Family Playschool)

Forget the superhuman antics of the summer blockbusters. Insects possess enough supernatural capabilities—when extrapolated to the human scale—to supersede all of the comic book franchise characters’ abilities, and then some. To wit:

  • Meadow froghoppers can jump 100 times its height.
  • To survive winter’s cold, many insects replace their body water with glycerol, which acts as an “antifreeze.”
  • The horned dung beetle can pull 1,141 times its body weight. That’s like a 150 lbs. human pulling more than 170,000 lbs.

Love ‘em or loathe ‘em, insects need our help. And we need them. An estimated 99.5% of pollinating species are invertebrates. In addition to facilitating our agricultural ecosystems, they serve as a foundational layer of the food chain. They are prey for other animals. Looking at the next step in the food cycle, decomposers clean up Nature’s mess.

What can you do to help? Impart some sense of awe for insects in the small children in your life; not with the jaw-dropping facts above, but with the backyard opportunities described below.


These accessible beauties are a perfect way to begin a trip into a state of awe. Consider how the butterfly becomes. As a caterpillar, she encloses herself in a chrysalis, turns to goop, and then somehow rearranges herself into a flying flower. Next, we’ll consider the butterfly’s better-organized cousin, the honey bee.

Honey Bees

On a warm summer’s day in most of Portland’s neighborhoods, you can probably count the number of steps on two hands between your front door and your first opportunity to encounter a honey bee. Follow an individual from flower to flower on a patch of clover, and ponder how she manages to keep afloat with such small wings for her body size. And then there’s the whole honey-from-flower-pollen miracle.

If you’re really lucky, you may encounter a swarm—half of a hive newly divided—seeking a new home. Report the swarm to Portland Urban Beekeepers, you might meet a local apiarist who’s come out in response; a learning opportunity you’ll revisit for many summers to come. Last, and lower, but just as diligent; the humble ant.


Ants can carry more than fifty times their own weight, and yet they don’t seem to show the least bit of strain. They just trod on, following a trail of pheromones laid down by their comrades. They clean up dead bugs, fallen food and other detritus. If only they could be trained to tidy up discarded toys…

Get to the thorax of the matter

Each of these insect ambassadors can help you around your garden, and offer an interesting complement to any gardening (LINK TO GARDENING BLOG POST) activities you might undertake with the littles in your home. For more ideas on how to help, and increase interest in, insects follow these links:

  1. A natural gardening expert builds his case for insects and worms on a local news segment.
  2. Metro’s suggestions for aiding pollinators
  3. Cultivating backyard habitat for local species (very much including insects)
  4. Butterfly Gardening – Using Butterfly Garden Plants
  5. How to Grow a Bug-Friendly Garden Absolutely Anywhere


“Dinosaur Poop Doesn’t Stink!” Rock Talk Excitement

One great thing about our learning community is the range of knowledge and resources within it. J’s grandpa is a retired teacher and geologist so we made plans for Grandpa Tom to share his love of rocks with each of our classes. Part of the plan included gifting each child a rock collection.

In anticipation of our collection, each child decorated their “rock box.”  Inside each lid, J’s mom included a key of the 6 type of stones we would soon learn about. The key included a “polished mystery rock” and an online source to try identify it.


Children were mesmerized as “Granpda Tom” led our circle, sharing stories and a wide range of rocks, fossils and geo stones. Tom’s grandson assumed the honored assistant role, as we did a sink or float experiment. We guessed which rocks would dive down to the bottom of the giant jar and which would buoy up to the top. 


Tom’s story of a man first discovering the hidden beauty of a rock impressed the wide-eyed listeners.The man wanted a cow to get out of his way and the cow wouldn’t budge. So the man did something unfriendly and tossed an ordinary looking rock at the cow. He missed the cow and instead, the rock landed hard on the ground, breaking open. As the man approached the split rock, he found a geode inside! (And the cow got to graze on at its own pace without injury). 

Tom also shared fossilized dinosaur poop (coprolite) which fascinated the captive audience. Tom named that it was real dino poop that had changed over time and then passed the coprolite around the circle for each child to handle. The first child held it with both hands, looked closely at it with a furrowed brow, and then brought it up to their nose to sniff, discovering, “Dinosaur poop doesn’t stink!” 

Here’s a clip of children sorting their stones to match the corresponding key:

Following snack, we checked out a variety of stones outside. Children used their newly acquired pocket magnifiers to take a closer look. They observed similarities and differences among stones and shared myriad questions with Tom who welcomed their enthusiasm and encouraged ongoing inquiry.



Thanks to J’s family for supporting HFP’s commitment to loving and preserving the earth– one rock at a time.

Check out Mount Hood Rock Club for more info

Rock Identification website 


Spring Trees

We continue our Spring focus, noticing the natural world waking up. We shift our attention from eggs to trees. We note the new growth — both foliage and flowers — and we consider the life that trees support — starting with eggs! We laminate the children’s individual eggs from the prior class period and invite them to cut them out. The eggs are now shiny and most children welcome the challenge of cutting the thicker material.

We revisit the Family Share in which children consider a creature that hatches from an egg. Children reflect on their knowledge of hatching critters as they cut.

We decide to make a giant nest for our eggs. A few children team up to draw and cut out construction paper twigs, then glue them onto a large paper. Their collective investment builds as each child adds their egg to the giant collaged nest. 

We center Maya Christina Gonzalez’s stunning book to ground some of our exploration. The colorful illustrations, integrated use of Spanish, inclusion of characters with a variety of skin tones, and gender-neutral references makes this book one of my favorites. No matter how little or deeply children connect with the book, they are taking in life-affirming images, words and messages.

Image result for call me treeImage result for call me tree

At circle, we recite a part of the book and create a movement activity as seeds in the tierra (earth), sprout, grow and reach toward the cielo (sky). Offering this kinesthetic invitation deepens children’s investment in the story and brings the book to life. 


Making Leaf Necklaces

We gather the leaves from a nearby Camelia tree. Children use hole punchers to create holes in the leaves. They add those, along with pieces of clear straw “spacers,” and colored netting (from produce bags) to create leaf/flower necklaces. We venture outside wearing our new tree jewelry to get a closer look at the nesting robins. The nest is tucked among rhododendron leaves just outside our play yard. We bring a stepladder and children take turns climbing the rungs to take a peek at the robins. When we go on a neighborhood rain walk, we peer into the tree to see if the robins are home. When we scooter-board down the sidewalk, some look to see if they can catch a glimpse of our feathery friends. We’ll continue to monitor the nest over the next few weeks– witnessing the vibrancy of spring in its branches: Baby robins may hatch and those rhoddies will soon produce giant hot pink blossoms.