Connecting Children through Nature with Parent Me in the Park

IMG_4149Crisp autumn leaves crunch beneath our feet. The morning is crisp yet fresh, as we move along the wooded trail exploring. The kids are playing peek a boo amongst the trees, peeking out from behind tree trunks or hiding ‘obviously’ within the twigs. The pace is relaxed, amiable, and comfortable as we explore the natural world together.

This is how we spend our Thursday mornings at Parent Me in the Park. Exploring the beauty and wonder of Edworthy Park with other parents and children. Enjoying all that nature has to offer as the season changes and shifts, learning and discovering new things each week.

IMG_4150I love this program. It is one that is close to my heart as I am an outdoor enthusiast myself and believe strongly in the power of teaching and bonding with children in nature. I also believe there is huge value in connecting children to their natural environment at a young age. “More and more research is highlighting the benefits of spending time in nature. Rain, shine or snow… (Parent Me in the Park) a morning of fun and discoveries.” If they use that childhood wonder and curiosity to learn and appreciate the planet through the outdoors, then they will take good care of it as they grow up.

Lead by Nancy Richard, a certified PCI Coach and Early Childhood Educator, Parent Me in the Park is a wonderful program that does just that. Through exploration, songs and stories, she not only connects the children with nature but teaches us, as parents, to connect with our children as well, creating a bond with them, like no other.

IMG_4130I discovered this program when I was at Angel’s Cappuccino and Ice Cream Cafe earlier this Fall (which was also a wonderful new discovery) parousing the bulletin board and saw a poster for the program. I was intrigued and excited, so we went the first week to find out what it was about.

Now our first week was actually in Griffith Woods, which is located in southwest Calgary in the community of Discovery Ridge. Due to our whacky snow storm that hit in early September, Edworthy Park had been closed due to all the damage and fallen trees from the snow. The location didn’t matter though, Nancy weaved her magic with all the children quickly and easily.

IMG_4131Luke and Chloe were engaged right from the start with Nancy’s calm and easy going manner, and Chloe’s new ‘job’ pulling the wagon full of all our supplies for our morning. The layout of the program is similar each week with a short circle of songs and games, then a walk (or meander) through the park pausing and discovering along the way. We choose a path and go and explore, finding sticks, pine cones, rocks, etc. along the way. Nancy goes with the flow, finding those teachable moments, whether it be about berries or pine cones, as our walk progresses.

After our walk, we enjoy a fantastic snack of fresh bread and apple butter, with yummy cloudberry herbal tea. For some, this is the best part, enjoying this delicious and nutritious snack together in the outdoors. Once snack is completed we sit on the blanket together for a short story, which Nancy tells with the use of hand puppets. All in all a very relaxing, very enjoyable morning.

IMG_4151Both Luke and Chloe love it, as I never have trouble getting either of them ready or out the door. In fact, Luke who is sometimes hard to move, always jumps up after breakfast and gets dressed, standing at the door waiting. I think it’s fantastic!

And I love going to Edworthy Park as well. Looking forward to discovering a new area each week. My favorite so far being the Douglas Fir Trail; considered one of Calgary’s finest hiking trails with some of the most easterly Douglas Fir trees on the plains. It is a beautifully treed trail that leads along the cliff above Edworthy Park.

I was also pleased to discover there is a lot of Calgary history around Edworthy Park, which I always find interesting and fascinating to learn. Nancy will share tidbits she is familiar with, but there are also signs throughout the park describing the history of the area and how the park served Calgary in its growth and development.

IMG_4152Another benefit of course, is the friendships that are forming between the parents, as we come together each week with our children. Finding out about each other, things we like to do, places we like to go and the challenges we also face as parents. Creating another opportunity for support in our parenting journey.

IMG_4155It is a beautiful morning, one that provides many benefits for the adults and children alike. We always leave feeling happy, satisfied and full, ready for whatever comes with the rest of our day. I would highly recommend Parent Me in the Park to any parents with young children between baby to 4 years old. It is an experience you’ll never forget and a bond that you won’t create anyway else.

For more information on this program and to register contact Nancy Richard or find Parent Me in the Park on Meetup.com.

Gingerbread Cookies – A Holiday Favorite (& sugar free!)

sugar free gingerbread cookies

Gingerbread is a favorite and common Christmas recipe in most households during the holiday season. It’s fun to make, fun to decorate and of course delicious!

When we went sugar free I was unsure how to make sugar free gingerbread cookies, as it seemed silly to make and decorate them, then not eat them. I had found a website with sugar free recipes that offered an alternative but when I tried it though it was edible, it was not the same and I decided that I would not make it again. Matthew though really liked them, which I thought was interesting.

This past summer, I started using barley malt and coconut sugar more. Barley malt is a great substitute for molasses and coconut sugar for brown sugar. I made a delicious baked bean recipe when we went camping using the barley malt in place of the molasses, oh it was yummy!

Once I discovered these substitutions and that they worked well, I took a look at my original gingerbread recipe and realized that I now had the appropriate substitutions to adjust this recipe. I was very excited!

So I tried it out last week for the first time. I got out all my Christmas cookie cutters, which I have many, big and small and all different shapes. The kids love to use the cookie cutters and enjoy making the shapes. We made Santas, reindeer, angels and bells. Hollies and wreaths, snowmen and tin soldiers. Luke and Chloe were very excited and once we had them in the oven, asked to have the oven light on so they could see the cookies.

They did not eat much for lunch that day as they were waiting for cookies! (but I also used it an incentive to finish their lunch 🙂 They gobbled them up and of course wanted more, but after a few I said we would wait until later, as I actually had to bake the rest.

In adjusting the recipe I found that I would increase the spices a little, so though I have posted the recipe with the spice amounts as is, I would recommend increasing the ginger and maybe the cinnamon by 1/4 tsp. each, but it depends on your personal preference. I like my gingerbread cookies to be a bit more gingery than they turned out, though they were still very good.

We did not ice them this time around as we enjoyed them straight from the oven, but you could ice them with the recipe that I have included below. It is a basic sugar free icing recipe, which you can color using food coloring if you like. (Though food coloring is not good for us due to all the processing and effects it has on our body. You can buy natural food coloring in the store, I have seen it at Community Natural Foods here in Calgary, but you can also make your own. My sister has been experimenting with beets, spinach and other foods to color her icing for her cookies. More on that coming…)

Sugar Free Gingerbread Cookies

2 1/2 c. flour

sugar free gingerbread cookies1/2 c. shortening

1/2 c. coconut sugar

1/2 c. barley malt

1 egg, beaten

1 tsp. ginger

1/4 tsp. cinnamon

1/8 tsp. cloves

1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 tbsp. hot water

1 tsp. vinegar

Sift flour, measure, resift. Cream shortening, blend in coconut sugar and add barley malt and beaten egg. Beat well. Mix spices with baking soda and blend until smooth with hot water and vinegar. Stir into creamed mixture. Add flour and mix.

Roll out dough on a well floured surface to 1/4″ thick. Dough may be quite sticky. Use cookie cutters to make desired shapes. Put on cookie sheet. Bake at 375 F for 10 minutes.

Cookies may be iced after fully cooled.

Simple Buttercream Icing 

1 c. Powdered Sugar Replacement (see recipe below)

1/2 c. Earth Balance Vegan Spread

1/2 c. Rice Milk or Almond Milk

Put all ingredients in a bowl and mix together until smooth. Proportions can be adjusted to make icing thicker or thinner as desired. Add food coloring if desired, ice cookies.

Sugar Free Powdered Sugar (replacement for regular icing sugar)

1 cup nonfat dry milk (for dairy free use powdered coconut milk)

1 cup cornstarch

2/3 cup Krisda Stevia for baking

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor or blender and whip until blended and powdered. Store in an airtight container.

This replacement can be used in any recipe calling for icing sugar.