11 Ways to Transform Your Backyard into a Learning Space for Kids
Providing our children with the opportunity to learn and explore within natural spaces at an early age can be one of the greatest gifts we can give in terms of child development. Sensory learning in the outdoors not only teaches kids to respect their environment but it also equips them with problem-solving techniques and motor skills that they otherwise might not have the chance to exercise in a traditional classroom. That’s why we reached out to the experts in youth outdoor education from Toronto to Sacramento to provide you with a few creative ideas for transforming your backyard into a learning space for your kids where your kids can continue to learn and grow with nature.
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The Gear Revolution and Why it Matters
Shipping Fees: Update
As the prices of shipping increase, so must ours.
While we hate to raise the rates; we don't want to shut our doors because we paid too much in shipping - and right now, our numbers are making our accountant's heads spin - they're not good. We ship carefully, but shipping costs are steep no matter how you send something.
Effective immediately, our US standard shipping fee has been raised to $8 flat rate.
Gear for Outdoor School: The List with Links
School outdoors? Yes!
Here is our list and tips for gearing up for school in all weather, outdoor classrooms.
Want help? Fill out this form and we'll get you set with everything you need.
First up, the basics: three layers that will get your child through a great year of all weather play. See more on this set up HERE.
Shop the 1-2-3 setup:
1. Baselayers in Polyester or Wool
2. Quilted Thermals (prefect for dry day play or layered under waterproofs on cold, wet, or windy days) or Fleece
3. Waterproof Outerwear
Find your child's size here.
Below are some other things to look at that will help make your child's school year smooth. Click the title links to see each item in our shop.
Here's the most popular gear outdoor school families return for year after year:
- Waterproof over mittens - for spring and fall, waterproof over mittens are perfect for playing in damp or wet conditions in spring, fall, and mild winter.
- Magic mitts/gloves - available in both cotton and wool blends, these are like socks for hands - super handy, wash up easily, and they tend to get really dirty. Stash them in a pocket or bag and always have them ready.
- Waterproof winter mittens - We recommend mittens as opposed to gloves for children 5 and under so they can easily self dress. They will figure out dexterity like astronauts - and little fingers will stay warmer too.
- Winter Hats
- Tube Scarves and Balaclavas
- Cotton Beanies - for spring and fall when it's not cold enough for the winter hats, our kids ro ck these soft hats in the woods, on hikes, and everyday. They are an extra level of bug protection too!
- Wool Socks and Tights and Fleece Socks
- Rainboots or Wellies for puddle stomping fun,
- Neoprene boots for all weather and daily outdoor play, and
- Flexible soled indoor shoes or slippers for wearing inside (without tracking in all the mud!)
- Waterbottles - our favorite insulated, leak proof, clip-able waterbottles. Add a name label and you're good to go! We recommend the larger 27oz for kids 5 and up so they can avoid constant refills.
Feeling overwhelmed? Remember these are all the add ons - you've got the main needs covered with your rainsuit, mid, and base layer combo. You've got this!
- Instead of searching through to find your size in stock, fill out this form and we'll create an order and work with you to find the perfect set up.
- Want a quick overview to read or share? Find our blog post here.
- Looking for info on how to care for your waterproofs? https://www.biddleandbop.com/pages/gear-warranty-and-care (One addendum here: do not spray your waterproof gear with permethrin tick and bug protection. It will not bond with the fabric.)
The Javitts Center: From ToyFair to Field Hospital
Just when all this growing from a whisper in the public mind, February 22-25, I was at the Javits Center in NYC along with 26000 others. We gathered from around the country and the world for ToyFair - an industry event showcasing the newest products in the toy world.
To those on our front lines, we see you, and we are holding space for you.
How A Menstrual Cup Changed My Outdoor Life
Winter Adventures with Villervalla and Tips for Enjoying Cold Weather Play
Winter Adventures with Villervalla and Tips for Enjoying Cold Weather Play
When you picture winter play, do you picture a kid with 10 layers whose arms stick straight out and who has to pee as soon as that last layer is in place? Fast forward - we're good now. Not only can your kid dress themselves in our fantastic outerwear, but they can move about like kids are meant to move! So much better!
Designed in Sweden and tested in Scandinavian winters, our gear is designed for active kids. Waterproof, breathable, with reinforced seams and reflective patches for safety. When kids feel free to move, they're happier in their clothes. When they can stay dry and warm, they stay out longer.
Ready to go? Get outside fast with gear that's easy to wear. Velcro adjust cuffs and sturdy zippers help kids gear up easily. Boot straps and snow stop sleeve cuffs with thumb holes keep things in place.
Winter play is beautiful - the woods are calm and quiet. We plan for slower hikes and more in-depth play - sliding across frozen puddles, stomping ice, playing house beneath branches. Plan for extra time in one spot - but remember, the kids won't be still - they'll be actively engaged in play. Giving kids space for uninterrupted play is important! Just keep in mind that adults watching or younger toddlers and babies will need more layers than active kids. Our Janus wool collection provides great base layer and accessory options for all ages, including adults.
We get so much use out of our winter gear because the kids go out almost every day. When the world is snow covered, even the mundane and normal becomes a magical place to explore - and with the right gear, kids can stay at play.
A top tip from our own home? Make outdoor play a right: an option that doesn't get taken away for behavior and isn't dependent on weather. Send the kids out even when you don't want to go out yourself - don't let your hesitancy wear off on them! If there's a hard bit, it's getting out there.
Where will you adventure this winter? Tag us in your photos on Instagram #biddleandbopkids and follow us at @biddleandbop
How to Give the Gift of Play - for Free
How to Give the Gift of Play - for Free
Feeling guilt over "boring days"? Here are 5 tips to help see the calm, unstructured times with delight:
- Remember that downtime is a necessity: "mental breaks increase productivity, replenish attention, solidify memories and encourage creativity." (read more)
- Grow their independence: Stepping back brings bold new achievements and pride for children learning to handle ups and downs on their own. Home, a safe and familiar environment where you are just a shout away, is the perfect place to practice.
- Lead in secret: Setting the stage can help encourage hesitant children into new levels of play, or help them find new ways to play with old or forgotten toys. Set up an invitation to play at night when they are asleep, and let them find it in the morning. (find more inspiration)
- Set an example: Children copy what they see. Inspect your own habits and make small changes to model happy, carefree play and interest. Use phrases like, "this is challenging, I will come back later," and "I'm really enjoying this!" even if what you are enjoying is carefully stirring milk into your coffee.
- Allow for wonder: the less is more principle - on a hike, children are drawn to sticks and pinecones and rocks. They are happy to find a bridge and toss things over, watching them float by beneath their feet. Stars and clouds, when we give time to lay and look up, are magical. Budget time for these endlessly valuable practices.
Sleep with Airplanes: Taking Kids to EAA "Oshkosh" Airventure
Tips for Attending EAA Airventure "Oshkosh" with Kids
*this article contains affiliate links which provide us a small return for our referral at no extra cost to you.**
If you've ever been a part of the aviation community, you have probably heard of EAA's fly in, Airventure, in Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Held yearly, Airventure - or "Oshkosh" as it is fondly known by most - is the biggest fly-in of it's kind, boasting over 10,000 aircraft, around 3,000 show planes, and an estimated 200-300,000 person attendance. It's a little insane and a whole lot of fun.
It's also some of the safest and best festival camping for families you could dream up... so regardless of how much you know about airplanes, consider putting this adventure on your list!
Camping at Oshkosh is the best way to experience the show. Camp Scholler is a pop up camp (only open for Airventure) full of every time of camper, tent, RV, campervans, and hammock you can imagine. It boasts grocery stores, wifi hotspots, shower/bath houses, and plenty of well maintained port-a-johns.
You'll need to stay a minimum of 3 days and at least one person will need to be an EAA member - but you'll want to stay the whole week, so go big and start with at least a day one arrival. If you can swing it, arriving a day or two early allows you more choices of spots - first come, first serve - however, last year we were way out in the quickly built overflow section, and we couldn't have been happier. In fact, it's likely a bit quieter and more low key further out, and with buses continually running to provide optional transit to the grounds and around camp, it's not a big deal.
No matter where you end up, you'll likely find friendly neighbors willing to either give you space or invite you to the campfire, as you prefer, and you'll wake up to the sound of aircraft overhead.
Riding solo with kids? While things are always easier with an extra hand, we did great last year. I roadtripped out and back and stayed the full week at Airventure with my three girls, then ages 2.5, 5.5, and 8.5 (those half a year bits make a big difference in how they handle situations and how much they can do on their own!)
Here's our tips for making the most of Oshkosh with kids!
This deserves a post of its own but in brief: Kidventure is Airventure's program designed to immerse kids in aeronautics and aviation - the main program is split into A&P and Flight. A&P stands for Airframe and Powerplant, or the hands on mechanics of aircraft and flight. Here kids will do everything from riveting and sewing to learning the parts of the engine, troubleshooting, and safety wiring. In the flight section, young attendees learn and practice air travel control, complete preflight inspections, and get their hands on the controls of a simulator. Older kids who put in the time can earn flight simulator and A&P credit. All kids who complete the required amounts of activities can earn a pin or badge and, while supplies last, a real tool kit and flight bag! Not to be missed is the Space section where kids can do all kinds of cool things which include pouring molten metal and taking a quick trip in a replica of the Mercury 7 space ship. And there's more ... from Ham radio to Tuskegee Airmen to simulated Mars landings... most adults could spend all week here making their childhood dreams come true.
There's also bathrooms, water, food stands, and a bus to and from the main grounds.
The crew at Kidventure really pour their hearts into it and it shows - they're great with all ages - while our then 8 and 5 year old needed varying amounts of extra help through activities, and our 2 year old napped or explored or colored balsa wood aircraft, I watched tweens and older teens work hard to complete the same activities at their level, some clearly confident old hats and some new comers, unsure if they'd even be into it at first but quickly swept up. It's impossible not to fall for the appeal of aviation while at Kidventure, which is exactly the point. Don't miss it.
Be prepared for weather: some years it's glorious perfection - just the right temps, no mud, little rain. But other years have seen thunderstorms, lots of mud, or extreme heat or cold. We prepared for all of it without overdoing it - there's always the option to drive out and grab something in town if needed. Keep in mind prices at local big box stores often reflect the tourist season demand, and hotel rooms are at a premium and typically booked early - so don't count on just grabbing one if storms come in fast! We rented a Ford Explorer which, with carseats jumbled in the front, allowed us to jump in the back on top of a foam pad and sleep through one night of harder storms. We could have lasted in the tent but with anxious little ones, the option to camp in the car was a good safety for us. With that in mind, bring good stakes!
Blankets, light sweaters, and rain jackets are all must haves - it gets cold in the wee hours of the morning even in warmer years. We brought our raingear sets for the kids in case any adventures warranted it.
You can cook on a camp stove or build a fire at your campsite, but because campsites are small it's often a nice win to build in the middle of a few campsites. Check with your potential neighbors as you scout spots or just ask once you're there. We ended up with a shared spot and it was used both for communal evening fires and individually as folks needed.
Remember that getting around takes time - and even more so with kids. We spent very little time at the campsite, and the bigger blocks of time were preplanned to spend with new friends for dinner or mornings we opted to hang out longer because everyone was happy doing just that. Most nights by the time we hit the tent and got changed, the kids were out cold.
Bathing & Potty
There are plenty of well maintained porta johns and older kids will quickly get the routine. For hand sanitizing, we use a kid-friendly alcohol free spray which seems to hold up better in the heat (and in toddler hands) then gels.
The bathhouses see lighter traffic further from the airshow entrance - and we aim for that, but you can also quickly see when high traffic times are and adjust accordingly. Bring a bag for clothes and toiletries, and use open sandals like Keens that do double duty around camp and in the bath house.
Essentials to Pack
- Headsets and earplugs - hearing protection is critical at airshows - it gets loud and not just during daily and night time airshows. Shop our collection of youth and infant headsets here, but if you arrive without, you can purchase both kids and adult hearing protection at the official merchandise stores on airshow grounds.
- Rain Jackets - lighter weight is better for hauling, but we didn't take our rain jackets daily. With the exception of a dry bag for keys, camera, and cell phone, we risked it unless we knew storms were coming and kept our jackets at camp. The EAA app and text alerts are available to give you the best heads up on incoming weather. You never know what Oshkosh week will bring, but there seems to be a storm or two just about every year - so be prepared! Shop our selection of rain jackets here.
- Lights - Pick your own assortment, just make sure you have something for late night port-a-john runs! We brought headlamps and extra batteries, but if buying new, look for newer USB rechargeable headlamp like this one. We also used these lights inside the tent or vehicle, which also happen to hang perfectly on the toilet door chain.
- Hydration Packs - Hydration packs help give kids responsibility for their own bodies, but also help lighten your load. Pick a brand but stay hydrated. Fill these up each day on the way to and from the show grounds. There are water fill stations at the bath houses and stores, and you can grab the bus nearby if you wish! If you're shopping en route (and there are lots of shops in the city of Oshkosh) a women's cycling hydration pack is a good bet for smaller kids (5 and up).
- Wagon and Umbrella - with miles of ground to cover and lots to haul, a wagon was our go-to. Could you use a stroller? Sure, but the wagon held everything we needed, allowed even the biggest kid to nap if needed, and fairly easily folded for trips on the bus. We were also comfortable leaving it in places if needed. We wound battery powered lights around our wagon for visibility returning to our campsite at night.
- Chair - Full size camp chairs are perfect back at camp (be sure to secure them so they don't blow away while you're gone!). For hauling each day and airshow watching, go with something lightweight and portable like this backpacking chair.
- Toys for Airshow Waits - night airshows get packed quickly as everyone nabs a spot on the grass with blankets, chairs, and food. Waiting for the airshow might be a nice break for tired adult legs, but little ones enjoy having something on hand for "in place" play. We packed a small pile of our WayToPlay roads which doubled as airstrips, a few cars, and for a special nights - glowsticks. Kids came over constantly to play with our WaytoPlay road setup! We always discuss glowstick etiquette before unboxing - once the show starts, glow sticks stay down low so everyone can enjoy the show!
- Charger - There are stations where you can turn your electronics in for charging and pickup by the end of the day (not the end of the night airshow), however, it's a lot easier to have the ability to charge your own device and then just leave the battery pack or power bank at the station to recharge. Not a necessity but a bonus!
- Hats / UV Protection - Sun damage is real and with little to block the sun, you're going to be out in it a lot. We usually take two hats per kid - a baseball type cap and a wide brim - so they have choices. Keep in mind sun coverage and consider two wide brimmed hats if you want to lessen sunscreen dependency! Don't forget sunglasses, preferably with a band to keep them from blowing away or getting left behind.
- Soft Structured Carrier - Little legs tire fast, and crowds are tough. Night airshows run well past preschooler bedtimes. Boarding buses with tired kids is tricky. Need more reasons? Just bring the carrier, you'll be glad you did. Shoulder rides are cool, but if you are there for a week, you're going to be doing a lot of hauling. Make it easier on yourself with a well fitted carrier - we love both Tula and Beco brand carriers in both Infant/Standard and Toddler sizes, which hold up to 60lbs or more and prevent feet-dragging, over-tired kiddos. Look for summer mesh versions for a cooler and quicker drying option.
- Wipes - Pack wipes even if you're past the wipe stage - they always come in handy camping, especially since treats tend to happen (here's looking at you, free donuts...) Oh yeah, there's sometimes free donuts if you hit the camp store right at closing time. You're welcome. Which brings us to...
We did not eat as much as or in the same way as I anticipated at Oshkosh. I had envisioned meals of hot-dogs and beans around the campfire nightly followed by the ultimate cool-mom treat of s'mores... but what actually happened was a bit different: if we dilly dallied, it was in the morning. Once we left camp, we typically didn't come back until late, the kids would change and crawl in bed and by the time I got in the tent, they'd be out cold. Yes, folks, it's that easy!
What we did eat: nut butter & jelly sandwiches, snack food and granola bars - basically anything that would last in the heat. We packed a snack container with sandwich halves each morning and if we ran out of all of our packed snacks, we just winged it from there - either planning an early return to camp and a big dinner or grabbing food out at the show. While airshow food can certainly blow your budget fast, there are some great options that work perfectly as an add-on to your "pack it in" plan.
We made plans to eat out twice. First, at the ultralight night show and STOL competition. This one is all the way down the field and options are limited. Your EAA membership (required for camping anyway) will help score you a deal with the "members meal", and between generous servings and good distractions, kids can easily share. Our second planned eating out was at the sea plane base. Absolutely worth the bus trip ($3 cash per person, kids on laps tend to be given a smile and free passage) and time off the main sight, the sea plane base is a calmer, small scale version of Oshkosh on water. If your child is over 30lbs (and able to wear a Coast Guard approved child's life vest) you can enjoy a free boat tour of the many sea planes docked at Oshkosh. There's a food service venue on site.
You can plug things in at the bathrooms, right outside under a little overhang. It's perfect, and if you leave your cell phone there for an hour before it registers that you've left it there... you're kid can run back solo and find it still sitting there, which is testimony to the atmosphere that makes Camp Scholler a pretty amazing place. Not that this happened to us, of course....
On show grounds, you can also plug in around various buildings - you'll see folks hanging out around outlets, so pull up a chair and join the conversation - or you can drop electronics at the charging hut for pickup later.
Planning Your Day
Plan to not plan. There's no way to hit everything, even in a week, unless you're really pushing. Go at your pace and take in everything where you end up. Hit the airshows. Talk to people when you're waiting around. Listen to stories and laugh a bit.
Aim to hit these things and fill in around with hanging out and casual exploring:
* Two days at Kidventure with possible return for airshows or special events (older kids may want more time here)
* Half day at seaplane base
* Both night airshows and one ultralight night show
* Camp fire night / smores
If you can keep your schedule flexible you'll be able to work with new found interests and new friends or spur of the moment campground hangouts as they come! For older kids or families with extra hands, there are courses and classes and volunteer opportunities to consider too!
Lots of walking. Late nights. Noise. Kids who learn to watch the sky for smoke smiles and anxious readers who excitedly sound out sky writing all day long. Airplane everything. And helicopters. Tired kids. Dirty feet. And the best week ever.
What do you think? Is EAA Airventure on your list? Have you already been or are you headed there this year? Tell us in the comments below!
Keen Shoes: What we love about this reliable footwear brand
Keen shoes are seen everywhere now - in stores, on feet, on social media, in adventure races... no doubt, you've seen them if not owned a few pair! We love the durability of Keen shoes - our kids don't wear through them in a season, and second hand use is a real possibility - plus, adult shoes easily last through tons of adventures. Keen's commitment to sustainability is clear and they are constantly learning - a trait we really admire!
July 2019 coupon code for Keen below! Please note links may be affliate links - if you use our link, we get a little bit back and your cost stays the same!
Here are some of our favorites:
For tots and young kids: Keen Seacamp - this lighter weight version of the best known Keen sandal is a bit more flexible with a bit thinner sole, giving little feet more flexibility. These shoes are perfect for in and out of water and mud, they stay on the foot and don't mind getting dirty. They wash up easily, though we usually just take a romp in the river or spray with a hose to wash up during the heavy use summer months!
For the inbetweens: we love the Waterproof Kootenay for keeping feet dry and warm in the 4-7 ages. Perfect for kids that like cushy, comfy shoes but also want to romp through whatever they find out there - these boots have one big velcro close so they're super easy to get on and off, but they stay on well and provide lots of waterproof cushion.
For bigger kids:
For kids who don't love the feel of sandals or don't like dirt and sand coming into the shoe, a waterproof hiking shoe may be a good answer! Keep in mind for serious, long distance hiking, waterproof shoes may be a poor choice as they also tend to keep moisture in more than a non-waterproof shoe... but for the casual or mid distance hiker or everyday fun, we love the Keen Terradora or Chandler WP shoes.
For the classic Keen protection in sandal form, you can't beat the Newport! It's sturdy with a thick, durable sole and hard working uppers to outlast whatever you can throw at it.
Newport - the classic hard working sandal - plus, the kids love when we match on adventures!
Targhee Vent - stability and super grip treads with the added bonus of vents for warmer conditions. Perfect for long hikes or playground chases. The stability of a full hiking shoe is a plus especially when babywearing or toddlerwearing on trails.
Terradora Waterproof Mid - extra cusion in a waterproof shoe!
Take $10 off your next order from KEEN with promo code JULY10DOLLARS. Save now! Coupon Code: JULY10DOLLARS
motherhood: a series of goodbyes
Motherhood is a series of goodbyes.
Goodbye to the growth of bulbous self, goodbye to dry tops and the schedule you thought was human norm,
Then goodbye to nursing bras and bottle parts and special pillows and worries about first steps
Goodbye to diapers, goodbye to the teething drops once stored in duplicates in every cabinet and the glove box and each bag that might leave the house, suddenly forgotten and no longer needed, goodbye to one size shoe and then another, even the ones so laughably big they'd never grow into
Goodbye the screeching stage and the clinging stage and the early bedtimes and the scribbled indiscernible pictures full of heartfelt meaning that you must not throw away
Goodbye to first days and first goodbyes, to teeth and to temper tantrums over silly things that make you puff your checks and raise your eyebrows with futile attempts to curb a laugh
Goodbye to carseats and stools to reach the faucet and constant requests for help with bread and jam.
Motherhood is a serious of goodbyes unspoken, already overtaken by the next moment which seems to never end
Toddler Hiking Inspiration: Helping Little Ones Enjoy the Trail
Being two or three years old on hikes is tough - those little legs can't keep up with adults or even big kids and they tire easily. Looking for ways to help your toddler engage in hiking and have fun on the trail? Here is some inspiration from our own hikes and forest time:
- Bring a Toy
- Pack Snacks
- Make small goals
- Allow for Discovery
Familiar toys bring an element of comfort to new places. Kids also learn to look at their toys in new ways, and to play out of the box, creatively.
Although toting around something extra may surely end in another thing for you to carry, it's worth it to build responsibility - just remember, it happens slowly! Shared responsibility means when you are their caretaker you help them care for their things. Don't leave their toy in the woods because they set it down and wondered away. They'll learn to care for it as you do.
One of our favorites for toddler hikers:
candylab cars (minis are the perfect size for their pockets, and the full size cars are still light enough to be carried in a small pack - though we've found they don't leave hands until our little ones are tired out! These wooden cars will ride just fine in on fallen trees and hard dirt, though we recommend keeping them out of the muck.
Pack some snacks to help keep up blood sugar, energy, and motivation! Just like most grown ups ("if I get out early, I'lll have time to grab coffee") toddlers are very food motivated. That's okay! Nutrition is important and staying fed on the trail (when you're busy burning calories) can be fun!
Make your own - nuts, trail mix, carrots and celery are all great, easy trail food - or check out our list of prepackaged trail and trip favorites!
Make small goals.
It's okay if you aren't hiking as far as you can. Or even as far as they can. Sometimes our goal needs to be visable for little ones - and that's quite short! As they grow and gain experience on the trail and in the outdoors, they will not only be able to walk for longer but they will just take off! You'll know when they are ready.
Allow for Discovery
Small goals help them grow and also allow room for discovering their world. When reaching for a new and maybe difficult goal, put a reward at the end - a walk to the river means a place to toss small stones, you like tossing stones, remember? A hike over the bridge will bring us back to our car, but we will stop at the bridge and watch leaf boats go under. I love watching leaf boats with you.
Speak the love of the outdoors into their adventures and they will copy.
See you out there!