Fairy Garden, Inexpensive and Versatile, Nature

Building Fairy Bridges…

London bridge is falling down… falling down… falling down… London bridge is falling down, my fair lady! 

My toddler started to sing this as I shared the first piece we would make for our fairy garden – a BRIDGE!  My hope, though, is that we don’t end up with a ‘London bridge‘!

Since my toddler is only 3 years old and attention span is limited, I decided to focus on teaching and introducing just two (simple) parts to this project – measuring with a ruler and some simple elements of structural support for our bridge.

Branch Selection:

My toddler was very anxious to get started, so I made the decision on which branches to use.  A great discussion point with an older child or one with a longer attention span would be looking at the diameter, the surface and shapes of the branches and deciding which branches would be best for building.  I personally selected branches that were relatively straight (did not have knots or bends) and close to the same diameter.  In our yard, those branches came from what we believe is a sugar maple tree.

If you wanted to use materials that are exact dimensions, you could also purchase wooden dowels from your local hardware store.  These are relatively in expensive to purchase.

Measuring:

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My toddler marking our first branch. (Of course we had to use a pink tape measure and a pink marker so that they were “pretty marks”. Haha!)

I determined that a two inch width would be wide enough for our fairies.  We started off with finding the two inch mark on the ruler together and then measuring two inches down the first branch by marking them.

She lost interest after two branches but this was not a failure!  Not only was this one of her first introductions to a ruler and measurement, she now pretends to measure all kinds of things around the house with my sewing tape measure.

After she lost interest in our measurement activity, I abandoned measuring and just went straight to cutting and approximating the sizes to cut.  This made the bridge look more “natural”.

To cut, I had my toddler start off with using a miter box and saw.  Unfortunately our small saw was too dull so we changed plans and instead, I ended up using outdoor cutting shears.  Her grip strength was not enough to use the shears herself so I did it.

Construction:

Since our bridge would be arched, we talked briefly during construction about how the bridge would need to be supported on the ends (this would be considered a type of ‘abutment‘) and also underneath (acting as beams).

We ended up using a hot glue gun for attachment.  The reason for this was to keep the attention span of my toddler, since hot glue (especially high temperature hot glue) is great for use on wood but more importantly, it cures within 2 minutes.  If I had an older child, I would go more in depth in material selection – researching glue strength, cure time, melting temperatures, etc.  And we would also talk about other ways to attach the sticks together – perhaps using twine or rope. 

I am curious if the glue we used will be able to with stand warmer temperature in our area next summer.  If not, it will be a great talking point if the bridge fails next summer.

I held the bridge and she put the glue where I instructed.  She loved using the hot glue gun herself.

We used a couple thinner arched twigs as the beams, which also helped form the shape of the arch.  We also added sticks to the ends, underneath each arched twig as the abutments.

Our abutments were not exactly the same diameter on each end so the bridge was tilting to one side.  In order to help it stand straight and not tilted, we added some vertical beams.  These vertical beams  ended up being very cute visually.  My daughter decided that we needed a railing for the fairies safety.  For the railing, I cut off pieces of vine from my honeysuckle.  See below.

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We were able to make a total of two bridges.  One shorter one and one longer one.  I am excited to see how they hold up over the summer next year.  My toddler is equally excited to play with these!

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What do you think of our bridges?  Can you think of other ways to build these bridges or other fun educational aspects to building that I didn’t?  Do you have an idea for a fun element to include in the fairy garden?  Let me know in the comments or at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com.

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Great Things about Space, Inexpensive and Versatile

The $3 Solar System

You don’t need to spend tons of money on toys to integrate a STEM mindset into your child.  In fact, my favorite “toys” have either been free or extremely affordable.  So let’s talk about just one of my inexpensive and versatile STEM finds, where I found it and how we use it!

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Solar System Paper Shapes

I always check out the Target discount bins.  These bins are located in the front of the store and most items are $5, $3 or $1.  Back to school season is the best time to check them out for STEM item steals!  That’s where I found these incredible solar system paper shapes for $3!

We use them at least once a week!  Included inside were satellite images of the Sun, Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupitar, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune.

My toddler and I place them orbiting the Sun (she memorized the order from the sun earlier this year from space books).  While they are orbiting, we pretend we are astronauts that launched into space and work on the International Space Station (ISS).  Most of the time, she teaches me facts about the stars and planets in the solar system.  In a recent conversation, we discussed the weather on planet Earth with the National Weather Station.  I pointed out a hurricane on the paper Earth then I found some YouTube clips to help her understand hurricanes.  Now, she happily points out the hurricane “from space” while playing.  Playing pretend has been a great way to introduce new science topics and professions to her.  Playing is learning!

We also observe the other planets, like Jupiter and its “Great Red Spot”.  This usually leads to other questions, which we look up in books or use the internet together.  This is my subtle way of teaching that when you don’t know the answer, you should research it.

Recently, I gave her a challenge for problem solving and critical thinking development.  I asked her to put the planets in order – largest on the bottom and smallest on the top.

She looked at me a bit perplexed, so we “broke down” the problem into smaller pieces. This was an excellent teaching point that when the problem just seems too big, we break it down into smaller pieces.

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“Sizing up” the planets!

To break it down, I had her pick the two largest first and tell me which was bigger, then the next two largest, and so on, until they were all in four stacks of two.

Then we compared the planet “stacks” to each other and placed them in one stack in the correct order.

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Four stacks of two.

After they were back in orbit circling the sun, I asked which one was the biggest and which one was the smallest again and surprisingly, she remembered!

In the future, I could see us introducing a ruler to measure their size instead of stacking them, scale out how far away they actually are from the Sun (this one would be challenging), investigate why the rings appear different between some planets, perhaps use them to make a solar system mobile, etc.

So, the next time you’re in Target, don’t pass up those bins!

Many of the ways I fostered my child’s interest in space could be mirrored depending on your child’s interests – we played pretend, did research and problem solved together.  As parents, it just takes some research, creativity and being on the look out for the versatile “toys” out there.

If you find a STEM “toy” that is inexpensive and versatile that you’d like to share or highlight, let me know at momgineeringthefuture@gmail.com!

Did you like this article?  Can you think of other uses for our paper solar system?  Would you like to see more like it?  Leave me a note in the comments.

I have no personal relationship with Target other than I am an avid shopper.  All ideas and opinions shared above are my own.

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