Shannon has a M.S. in Geology, is a teacher in a Waldorf School and has background as a children's yoga teacher.

She is passionate about connecting children to themselves and to the natural world.

About Backyard Mama

Backyard Mama's mission is for every child to spend time outside every day.

The intention of this blog is to offer inspiration to do that. Take this tips and tools and use them, or contact me and I can run a program at your center.

Our programs take many forms:
* classes in your school or childcare center
* classes for camps or nature centers
* professional development through conferences and workshops
* professional development designed for your staff
* community workshops at libraries and agencies

We're always excited to design something special just for you!


Red Currant Berries


As a child, my mother would take us to pick red currant berries, then we would make a jam that tasted bitter yet sweet. For me, the smell marks the beginning of summer.

To my great delight, our currant bush started producing prolifically just a few days ago, and here we go, it’s summertime!

What’s on your list of things to do this summer?

Happy New Year

I must say, one of my resolutions is to spend more time here. When I was writing regularly, I developed a wonderful community of thoughtful people to engage with and learn from. It took bravery to write each day, to keep up with the greater nature community and to share my ideas.

Months have passed since I came here and delved into my thoughts, ideas and inspiration. I want this again this year. Here’s to more time with all of you.

My son and I had a wonderful holiday break. We head back to school tomorrow, clothed for time in nature, ready to brace for cold weather, wind, and yes please, dear Father Winter, send us some snow.

Jeremiah had a chance to talk with Santa just before Christmas. My boy’s growing up. In case you miss his sweet face, here he is with the man from the north pole.

Happy New Year to all and to all a good night…..

Ways to Spend Time Enjoying Fall

Three years ago when Backyard Mama come into being, this was a favored post among my few readers. I enjoy bringing it back each year. These are still fun activities and I like to notice how much more I love these activities with each new year of motherhood. This year, I’ve added two new items to the list! Do you know which they are?

Have an awesome Fall!

Here are a few ways to share this season with the children we love.

1) Make Pumpkin Muffins; here’s a healthy recipe from The Waldorf Kindergarten Snack Book:

Dry Ingredients:
2 c. unbleached white flour
1 1/2 c. whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 tsp. sea salt
2 Tbs. baking powder
Wet Ingredients:
1/2 c. corn oil
1 c. maple syrup
1/2 c. soymilk
1 c. apple juice
1 c. pumpkin or butternut squash (cooked)

  • Cut pumpkin or squash and dice into medium sized pieces. Cook in a small amount of water.
  • Using a food processor, puree the pumpkin or squash (make sure it’s not too wet) set aside.
  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Oil the muffin pans with corn oil or set paper muffin cups in the pan.
  • In alarge bowl, combine all the dry ingredients and mix well with a whisk. Set aside.
  • In a separate bowl, combine all the wet ingredients and mix well with a whisk.
  • Pour the wet mixture into the dry mixture. Using a whisk, stir them until just mixed. Do not over mix.
  • Fill the muffin cups and bake for 50 minute to 1 hour, or until the edges of the muffins are golden brown.

(Shared by Diane Prusha Great Barrington Rudolf Steiner School, Mass.)

2) Roll down a big leaf covered hill!

3) Make Leaf Prints

  • Collect a variety of colorful leaves.
  • Cut two pieces of wax paper.
  • Place leaves artistically between the two pieces of wax paper.
  • Gently place the “wax paper leaf sandwich” into a folded towel.
  • Iron the towel (with the leaf print inside) to melt the wax paper.
  • These make wonderful window decorations!

4) Go on a scavenger hunt for:

  • Maple leaves
  • Oak leaves
  • Acorns
  • Pinecones
  • wildflower seeds
  • Deer Tracks
  • Kindling (for an autumn bonfire!)
  • Puddles
  • Any thing else you are excited to look for!

5) Take a walk early evening of the full moon watch the moon rise!

6) Make leaf maze, or spiral, and walk it, then run it…. rake the leaves again and make a new one!

7) Feed the birds.

  • Make a backyard feeding station by covering pinecones with suet and birdseed, hang with strings or light weight wire from a tree.
  • Use a pie pan (or bottom from a flower pot) and place on a stump or rock, fill with bird seed and watch the birds enjoy!
  • Take a square(ish) piece of wood (1 foot by 1 foot piece of plywood is perfect) drill holes at each corner; using sturdy twine hang the board from a tree limb. Sprinkle bird seed on the “bird plate” each day.
  • Buy a window bird feeder and attach to the outside of a window.

8) Find an orchard near to home, go apple picking. Come home and make apple sauce, apple butter or just slice ‘em and enjoy.

Outside Circle time (for young kids) sing this song to the tune of “Here we go around the mulberry bush” – at the end fall down like leaves from the trees!

“The leaves are green and the nuts are brown.
They hang so high, and will not come down.
Leave them alone till the frosty weather
Then they will all come down together.” (Author unknown)

9) Rake leaves together; save ‘em for the garden. Be playful- have a leaf “fight” or play hide and seek. (Remember there might be ticks in the leaves- so do a tick check when you’re done!)

10) Find a special place in nature. Take some time each week to sit and observe the sounds, what you see and hear, the temperature, or which animals visit the spot. Take a picture of your special place each time you visit. Make a nature journal and place the pictures in it with the dates visited. Keep this record as a special way to remember this season.

11) Hike to the top of the highest mountain in your area. From this birds-eye-view, look out and enjoy all the colors of the leaves.

12) How many different kids of trees can you spy from your house? (hint: different trees have different color leaves!)

Please share your ideas! Maybe we can get to 100 things to do in the Fall.


Learning with Fire


Fire has a lot of practical applications; it can be dangerous when out of control- but it’s useful to cook food, keep warm, or bring light into darkness. Yet, most kids are kept safely away from fire, flames, matches, lighters etc. This is in part just practical, but it’s really not serving children well all the time. Caution is a good tool and so is fire.

My son lights the dinner candles with some help, but this is one of his jobs and has been for a while; he knows to use matches cautiously and wisely.

He has been my assistant in attending to a burn pile. (See picture). He spent most of his day playing in the mud created by the running hose. But he did learn that keeping water near a fire is a good idea!

Roasting marshmallows over the open fire is now a favored past time. Through playing with the placement of the roasting stick he has learned how the flames become cooler further away and hotter closer to the source. He has learned the difference between the flame and the hot air around the flame.

In the winter, he regularly helped me stoke the fire with new logs. And he always reminds me to use the fire glove. So his experiences have subconsciously (and consciously) given him the awareness about the power and heat of a flame/ fire.

And he’s four. There are age appropriate times to allow children the freedom to take on these tasks and if adults give children the chance to practice under closely supervised situations, then when a child actually really needs to use fire as a tool with independence, he (or she- don’t rob our girls from this experience!) will be able to do so cautiously.

As we head into Fourth of July and a weekend of FIREWORKS, take note of your own attitude towards teaching children about fire… not just using scare tactics, but really educating them so when the time is right- use of fire can be done safely.

Good luck and make sure to check back here soon and please comment!

Teaching with Wonder


Last week the YMCA Schools Out program offered “Vacation Days” programing for kids on school break. Field trips included a trip to the zoo, a baseball game and to a local nature preserve.

A week later in our regular after school program, I was so excited when a couple of the boys were reflecting on the field trips of last week and exclaimed gleefully “the best was when we went for the hike and got to run around and climb trees! It was so awesome!”

This field trip went well because we allowed them to discover for themselves in a safe but free environment of the woods.

Here are some tips to make these kids of programs successful:

Set Clear Boundaries Although we allowed for freedom, it was with some guidance and supervision. When these guidelines were outlined with clear expectations, it gave us a teachers the confidence to give the student participants more freedom.

Allow Time for Exploration We set out on a 45 minute hike but had 2 hours of time to meander. This meant that we were not crunched, or watching the clock, instead we were able to enjoy out time on the hike.

Teach with Wonder Everyone was overjoyed when I pointed out a birds nest with total excitement and fascination. I experienced the joy and wonder of discovery and my enthusiasm infected those around me. All the teachers did this and it opened the door for the children to be in awe of their discoveries.

Don’t Know Everything When kids ask questions be a guide, not a know it all.  Probably the single best way to get kids more interested in something is to tell them you don’t know and then assist in figuring out the problem. Through this process students are given permission to discover and share tools for how to solve problems.

Joy, excitement, and enthusiasm, are infectious and sharing this with kids and families can plant the seeds of a lifetime of hunger for inquiry and discovery.

Even after a long week of “Vacation Days” challenged by rain and lots of kids, we still managed to “pull off” the last field trip. And because we used some of these tools, the kids had the best time.

Hats off to more time outside, discovering the wonder of nature.


Happy Earth Day

Wishing everyone a happy, peaceful, natural Earth Day.
Now sure what to do to celebrate?
Be Thankful
Be Conscious
Be Giving

If you can get outside to do something to serve the Earth and your community then do it.
Or just light a candle or pick up some trash.

I’m tired now from a day of outdoor play.
See you outside!

More things to do for Earth Day

perennial garden filling in

Recycle old art- instead of throwing out all those kids projects use them to create Easter or Mother’s Day cards.
Go for a trash scavenger hunt- try and find items such as: something big, something small, pink items, white items, clear items, things that make noise, and add more…
Eat leftovers - instead of having a pot luck of fresh cooked goodies, have a “recycled” food party, mix new things together and create a special Earth Day menu.
Walk and ride bikes (or just stay home)- take a day off from driving and when you find you do need something, find a substitute or walk to the store.
Unplug - spend a day with family off the grid with lights, computers, TV’s, microwaves unplugged, experiment by checking your meter at morning and night on a “normal” day then on an “unplugged” day- how much energy did you save? If you did this 4 times a year how much would you save? Can you translate that to $$?
What else could we do? Share your ideas!
Check out our other posts in the Count Down to Earth Day

Tomorrow is our weekly wrap for Countdown to Earth Day.. check back to see what we’ve got cooking!

Painting with Nature

Today I taught a class at a local Waldorf School. The topic was geology and painting. I decided to teach about subduction zones, it seemed appropriate with all the going ons in Japan.

We used water color paints, wet paints on dry paper.

Now, I am a good geologist, but not the best painter. So with a little practice and planning I put together this painting.

subduction zone painting

The scale is far from perfect, but I like the overall composition.

I got to thinking about how wonderful it is to teach science through art and as I watched these 6th graders compose their own subduction zones, I realized that with each brush stroke they solidified their personal relationship with this tectonic process.

For Earth Day perhaps painting about the process of recycling or decomposition, would allow children to relate on a kinesthetic and artistic basis to the importance of celebrating the Earth.

And hey, it’s fun.

Stockmar paints are non-toxic water color paints and are available to purchase at Bella Luna Toys.

Another fun project is:
Modeling with bees wax.


Feature blog of the day is: Caro and Co.: Engaging kids with nature, outdoors and food.

Tomorrow will have more on our Count Down to Earth Day!

Now get outside and ….. paint!

Earth Day Rhode Island (and a trip to the UK)

Day Two: Count Down to Earth Day

Enjoy Earth Day whether by strolling through the woods with your family (or alone) or participating in an event like those listed below.

And please remember to come back here and tell us about it!

Event Listings:

What Grows on in Rhode Island has a database of Earth Day Events.

ecoRI published a wonderful list of events in Rhode Island.

Specific Events:

The Matunuck Oyster Bar and 94 HJY have teamed up for a beach and salt marsh clean up on April 22nd followed by fun at the Oyster Bar.

The Mystic Aquarium is organizing a beach clean up in eastern CT on April 16th and is having an Earth Day Celebration at the aquarium on the 22nd.

You can celebrate Earth Day with a relaxing family hike at the Denison Pequotsepos Nature Center in Mystic, CT on April 23rd  at 3 pm.

Kettle Pond Visiter Center in Charlestown, RI is hosting Family Yoga and a Family Scavenger Hunt on April 16th, 2011 at 10 am and 11 am respectively – Let’s G.O. Rhode Island!


Featured Blog of Today is: I am a teacher, get me OUTSIDE here! Juliet is such a thoughtful writer and has ample information on using nature as a learning tool. Enjoy!


Please remember to check out and do some of our activities listed in Count Down to Earth Day.

Now, go outside and plant a garden!

Count Down to Earth Day

apple blossoms

Today I am launching a Count Down to Earth Day.

Earth Day started in 1970 as a way to increase awareness about environmental issues- today perhaps the biggest threat to our environment is the lack of children playing outside.

Here are 10 ways to celebrate Earth Day with the children of the World.

1) Lay on the ground, look up at the sky and count the clouds, notice the shapes in the clouds can you find an animal shape? Tell a story about it.

2) Set out bird food- make three holes in a pie tin and hang it from a tree, fill with bird food. How many different varieties of birds come to visit?

3) Collect leaves and make collage. You can use paper or just lay your leaves on the ground and investigate how they look, feel, and smell. How many different shapes can you find?

4) Plant grass seed (Easter Grass). Here’s how to.

5) Read about the History of Earth Day. The first Earth Day was held in 1970 and lead to creation of the Environmental Protection Agency and formation of National Parks. Celebrate in a Park!

6) Press flowers- pick flowers (and always leave plenty behind) place between two sturdy pieces of cardboard and weigh down the rocks or bricks. When the flowers dry, use them on cards.

7) Clean up the garbage at a local park or playground. Make it extra fun by bringing friends.

8) Visit a farmers market and purchase locally grown vegetables for an Earth Day dinner.

9) Make grape vine wreaths by weaving the vines, then decorate with nature items for an Earth Day crown.

10) Purchase foods in bulk to eliminate (or reduce at least) waist associated with packaging.

As part of my count down to Earth Day I am going to feature one nature-filled blog a day.

Today’s Featured Blog: let the children play check it out and be inspired!

Check back tomorrow for more fun activities!

Now head outside and play!

" Nature Blog Network Outdoors & Nature blogs