Get Moving in 2018 with These Videos

By: Mary Gordon

2018 is here. Many of us have resolved to exercise, lose weight or make healthier food choices. But have you made the same resolutions for your kids? It’s hard to get outside as much on these freezing (and record breaking!) cold days. Getting kids quality exercise running around the playground isn’t an option during some winter days. So what do you do?

At Evergreen, we’ve committed to giving kids 30 minutes of large muscle activity each day. Sometimes that includes dancing, balance beams, playing with a parachute, having a parade or simply going for a walk in the building.

While most pediatricians do recommend limiting screen time, there are still some ways to use technology to your child’s advantage during these days we are stuck inside.

Below is a list of websites that will help get you and your child moving. It was put together by staff member Calliope Gray who is working on her doctorial capstone project this winter at Evergreen. Teachers at Evergreen are now using some of these videos with their classes, so kids should be familiar with the activities. We hope you will try out your dance moves at home to stay active during this deep freeze.

This website has a lot of videos with motion, and includes learning about other topics as well in the songs:

Action song list:


Big kids zumba videos:

Big kids workout:

New Award and Commitment to Playing Outside

By: Mary Gordon

40 years and counting… Evergreen’s commitment to getting kids outdoors continues to grow. Earlier this month, the center was honored as a Best in Ohio Connect to Nature site. We’re the first in Greene County to receive the award, which is sponsored by The Miami Valley Leave No Child Inside organization and Five Rivers MetroParks.

So how did we earn this award? Most of the requirements were things we were already doing with the kids- lots of playing outside! You’ll notice our parent bulletin board at the bottom of the steps at the entrance. That’s just part of the new initiative as well, getting you to connect to nature at home. We also encourage you to take your kids outside with many of our family forest activities and past blog suggestions. The teachers at Evergreen put great effort into their lesson plans to include lots of time outdoors and often find ways to bring nature into the classroom through art and science experiments as well.

“A commitment to facilitating kid-friendly natural experiences also is a commitment to cultivating happier, healthier kids,” wrote Doug Horvath, Five Rivers MetroParks education coordinator and MVLNCI executive board member ahead of the award ceremony. “Organizations that receive this certification have made that commitment and taken actual steps to provide nature-based opportunities for children in their communities.”

It’s an exciting new step forward for Evergreen as we become trailblazers for the Connect to Nature awards: We are just one of 20 places in the entire state to have the designation! Playing outside is what we do best, and it feels great to be honored for something so simple that has a huge impact on kids’ well-being and education. So grab the rain boots or hat and mittens, and let’s head into the forest to play and make memories to last a lifetime.


40 Years of Playing Outside

By: Mary Gordon

It seems like just yesterday when I was painting the square in the garage at Evergreen to mark my 12th birthday and last days at Evergreen as a student. The square painting is an honored tradition among the oldest kids as many say goodbye to a staple of their youth. For years, the garage has been filling up with paint, love and memories.

Evergreen recently celebrated 40 years in business. To mark the occasion staff members, current families, some former families and former staff members got together for an evening at the Boonshoft Museum of Discovery. It was such a great chance to see just how many lives Evergreen has touched over the years.

Full Disclosure- I’m biased in my opinion of Evergreen since my entire life has been connected to it. Not only did I attend here as a child, I volunteered during high school; worked a couple summers in college; and now in my 30’s I have the good fortune of working with many of the staff members who were once my teachers.

Among the many things that make Evergreen special are the times spent playing outside. I remember my summers at Evergreen as some of my best summers ever. I remember how my brother and I begged our mother to bring us in on her day off for track and field day. The times spent playing freeze tag in the field or the times spent in the forest playing capture the flag helped build friendships that remain even today.

When I asked my mother, Jill Gordon about the anniversary and what she’s seen change in 40 years we talked about the exposure to outdoors. She says kids’ access to nature seems to be more limited than it was years ago. However, it’s a trend she’s hoping disappears soon as many new families at Evergreen are enrolling because of the center’s strong connection to the outdoors. Parents are starting to see it as a priority to help balance the digital world we now live in she said.

So what’s ahead for the next 40 years? Jill says she would like to see even more programs and curriculum focused on nature. She hopes the family atmosphere continues and the center continues to offer lots of choices to parents to help accommodate all our busy lives. Whatever lies ahead, here’s hoping it brings lots of outdoor adventures and fresh air.

Getting out into nature doesn’t mean traveling far. You can explore in the forest just outside of Evergreen.

New School Year, New Healthy Changes

By: Mary Gordon

A new school year always means new changes. This year, that includes making some healthier choices both on the menu and for physical activity. But it’s not just teachers making the changes; we are also issuing a challenge to parents.

First, the menu- We have added the option each day to serve fruit slices, such as apples or oranges, with morning snack. This will help eliminate juice as a food group. We are hearing from more parents who are avoiding serving juice at home as well. The high sugar content of juice (even 100% fruit juice) has many medical professionals advocating for limiting the beverage. This school year, the change at Evergreen means the youngest group never gets juice, but are always served milk or water. The older classes will often see fruit slices instead of juice too. I like the change because we are able to present a larger variety to the children instead of them becoming accustomed to just crackers and juice. The more foods they see, the more foods they are willing to try and eat.

Our second change this school year includes going outside more often. Our exciting news- Evergreen is now accredited as a Connect to Nature site through Miami Valley Leave No Child Inside organization. This means, our aim each day is to go outside. Obviously, unsafe weather will keep us indoors, but a light drizzle or cold temperatures will still give a chance for children to get some fresh air. We are also building up our supply of large muscle activities for the children to stay active on days when severe weather does strike.

And now our challenge to you. We made a small, but hopefully significant change, to our party day sheet sign ups. For Breakfast with Santa, we ask parents to bring a snack to share with other parents. Before, this was always listed as a coffee cake. We changed it to just a snack. We may think of giving our children healthy food but sometimes around the holidays neglect our own diet. We ask that you think of items like muffins, bagels or fruit as alternatives to donuts and coffee cakes.

We are heading into our third year as an Ohio Healthy Program at Evergreen Children’s Center. We will continue to push forward with better choices on the plate. We will continue to find new ways to stay active. And we hope to continue our partnership with parents to help children learn how to make healthy choices on their own.

Staying Active with Ecology

Staying active and helping the outside world often go hand and hand. The more you do outside, the more you are exercising without even meaning to. This summer, one of our volunteers  worked on a list of ways you can give back to the environment each month which also helps create a fun activity you can do with your children.Monthly Nature Focus Ideas- By: Thomas Gill

January: Purchase reusable cloth bags able to be used all year for groceries and other things. It can take over a thousand years for both paper and plastic bags to degrade.

February: Investigate other methods of transportations to reduce car emissions. Now that spring is coming, it is a great time to break out the bicycles and skateboards.

March: Feed birds. Birds need food now more than ever because most of their food sources have perished due to winter. On average, birds eat their body weight in food each day.

April: Pull invasive garlic mustard out, and other invasive species, before it makes seeds and spreads. Invasive and nonnative species, like Garlic Mustard, take valuable resources away from other plants and hurt the ecosystem.

May: Put out nesting supplies for the birds (yarn/wool/etc.) to help them build a home before it is time to migrate again.

June: Start a compost pile for your fresh fruit and vegetable scraps. Compost is a great, easy way to cut down on waste so landfills do not overfill. Plus it is a great additive to your yearly garden. Compost is also a main food source for worms.

July:  Pick up litter. Litter is harmful to all plants and animals because to animals it is easily mistaken for food. Beaches are one of the most popular areas for litter, so be sure to keep your eyes open when on vacation. Also, make sure to pop helium balloons so they do not float away into the ocean. Balloons often float to the ocean where their color is corroded away. After the balloons become clear, they are easily mistaken as food by sea creatures. Most importantly, be sure to cut six-pack rings before an animal gets to them.

August: Conserve water. By shortening your shower time by one minute, you could save over 200 gallons of water per month. Also, water plants in the morning before it is hot so the water does not evaporate before the plant can use it. Collect rainwater to use to water your plants.

September: Plant trees. Trees are a necessity to all ecosystems and provide homes and food to numerous animals. Plant trees to cover your house so in the summer months you can cut down on air conditioning costs.

Enjoying the shade of a tree planted many years ago.


October: Rake leaves and use for compost or mulch in your yard.

November: Plant milkweed for the spring. Milkweed is the primary food source to the Monarch Butterfly.

December: Use your old Christmas tree for animal cover or plant protection. Close vents and doors in unused rooms to conserve heat.

Get Outside: Exploring Ohio’s Natural Habitats

By: Mary Gordon

There’s just something about Ohio. For this buckeye state native, I’ve long thought Ohio one of the most interesting places to be when it comes to nature. I’m sure others would argue for the mountains of Tennessee, the lakes of Michigan, or the beaches of Southern California. And in the end, I suppose we are all entitled to our opinion but I will continue to advocate for O-H-I-O. From bogs to caverns, from creeks to forests, we don’t have to travel far to get out in nature. The diversity in the landscape gives us many places to explore and the opportunity to teach children about the different natural beauties each season brings.  Exploring Ohio’s natural habitats is a great family activity and an easy way to get outside and stay active.

First, the day trips.

Wegerzyn MetroPark

Five Rivers MetroParks is made up of 25 facilities, in which 90% is natural habitat, according to the organization’s website. Explore the forests at Taylorsville, Sugarcreek, or Englewood MetroParks with a morning of hiking. The Beaver Creek Wetlands Association is another good exploration area scattered throughout Greene County. You will likely see birds of all kinds and keep your eyes open for turtles, snakes and muskrats. We are also fortunate that Clifton Gorge is right in our backyard. Hike through the 268-acre preserve and see how a glacier once cut away at the earth. Charleston Falls can provide some winter interest. It’s one of the best local places to see frozen waterfalls and cave habitats. Learn all about the areas’ river life by climbing into a canoe on the Mad River in Springfield. (29 turtles spotted on my last trip.) The Little Miami River in Oregonia also makes for great fun on the water through use of Morgan’s Canoe Livery. Or if you’d rather get onto a bike, hit the Brookville Rail Trail and you’ll be pedaling through pastures and meadows in no time.

Seibenthaler Fen in Beavercreek


Now it’s time to travel a bit farther away.

As we travel outside the Miami Valley, we open exploration to giant caves, bigger rivers, the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains and a Great Lake. You don’t usually think of islands when it comes to Ohio. But head north to lake country and make a stop at Kelley’s Island State Park. The limestone grooves present on the island not only teach kids about a natural phenomenon, but it’s a great history lesson as well. In southern Ohio, Hocking Hills State Park offers trails of all skill level and interest. You’ll find rock formations and caves will make your family feel like you are heading straight into Lord of the Rings. Come fall, head to



Mohican State Park. The forests surrounding Amish country in Ashland County are filled with bright red, orange and yellow. Be sure to check out the Clear Fork Gorge there which is more than one-thousand feet wide. The Magee Marsh Wildlife Refuge is a popular stop in both spring and fall for migrating birds. How exciting for kids to be able to spot a bald eagle when hiking this Lake Erie western basin. Drive now through the hills of Southeastern Ohio where you can tell different species of wildlife are just inches away from you. Make a stop near Athens at Lake Hope State Park and participate in a free opportunity to feed the hummingbirds from your hand. Be sure to enjoy the beach at the park’s 3,000 acre lake too.

You certainly can’t say Ohio is a dull place to live. There is simply too

much nature to explore. With more than 70 state parks to choose from and several national forests to boost as well, Ohio like its motto suggests really is at the heart of it all.  Now, it’s time to plan that next weekend getaway….

Getting out into nature doesn’t mean traveling far. You can explore in the forest just outside of Evergreen.

A Camping We Will Go…

By: Mary Gordon

Jim Gaffigan has a great joke about camping, “My wife says ‘camping’s a tradition in my family.’ Well it was a tradition in everyone’s family till we invited the house.”  Camping is definitely not an easy-going vacation for most people. Packing all the right supplies takes a lot of planning ahead. The sleeping arrangements do not always allow for maximum shut-eye. And the bathrooms are never an easy commute. So why do it?

Camping is one of the best ways to connect with nature and to have an experience children will never forget. Think about your own experiences camping as a kid. Good or bad, it was still very memorable. You never know what wildlife you may see. You get to spend lots of time telling stories with family and friends over a campfire. And don’t forget those yummy, gooey s’mores!

The National Wildlife Federation hosts the Great American Campout on June 17 this year. You can make a pledge to camp this summer on its website and win some prizes too. It’s all part of an effort to get more families outside and stay active in nature. So to help you get the inspiration to pitch your tent this summer, Evergreen staff members are making their campground picks.

Diane Kinney’s pick: Cowen Lake State Park in Wilmington. The best time to go camping here is the weekend near Halloween. Campers will decorate their campsites and hand out candy to kids as a trick or treat takes place on the campgrounds. There are also a lot of great hiking trails and a nice lake, said Diane.

MaryAnn Hart’s pick: Houston Woods State Park near Oxford. “We always liked camping at Houston Woods,” said Mary Ann. She said she hasn’t been there in a while, but the memories remain. The trails are very easy to follow with a family. There is a nature center and naturalist available for rainy days too.

Jill Gordon’s pick: Brookville Lake in Brookville, Indiana. This is a great place to spend the day on the lake boating or fishing and then make a campfire for dinner in the evening. Jill said what stands out about this campground is the availability for large groups to camp, up to 30 people can share sites!

Robin Curry’s pick: Indian Lake State Park in Logan County. You can camp right beside the lake to really connect with nature and listen to the sounds of water all night at this campground. Go near the end of September, if you are able, for the fall festival. It has everything apple and pumpkin to eat, plus lots of crafts and entertainment too.

Jan Domer-Shank’s pick: McCormick’s Creek State Park in Spencer, Indiana. This is the oldest state park in Indiana and offers some diverse natural features as well. The park is home to caves, sink holes, and a big waterfall. Even if you can’t ‘rough it’ in a tent, a lodge with a huge swimming pool is available as well.

Mary Gordon’s pick: Alum Creek State Park near Columbus. Driving to this Delaware County park, you may not believe there is actually a campground surrounded by all the shopping centers. The campsites are quiet and there is lots of shade. You can also go swimming at the beach area and enjoy a playground during the day too.

Lisa Hoelle’s pick: My backyard. Not a big fan of traveling? Your backyard lets you give camping a try without investing much time and money. It is close to a shower and bathrooms, but still gets you outdoors.

Sharla Dunham’s pick: Caeser Creek in Wilmington. Sharla said she enjoys setting up a tent by the lake and enjoying the view of the water. There is plenty of hiking opportunities. Caeser Creek State Park also has a nature center and old pioneer cabins to check out.

For more information:

Exploring Natural Waterways

By: Mary Gordon

A sure sign of summer: the opening of pools across the Miami Valley. Here at Evergreen, we make sure to plan field trips to splash pads, as well as Cardinal Hill pool weekly for the oldest kids. While pools are fun, we are also looking for ways to connect kids to nature. One great way to do that is through playing in natural waterways.

With the Dayton area situated on five major rivers, there are lots of bodies of water to visit across the area. Activities can include walking in the water, rock throwing, looking for minnows and bugs, and spotting lots of aquatic animals. I’ve put together a list of my favorite waterways and asked several Evergreen staff members for their take on the wonderful world of water and the play possibilities it provides.

  1. Mad River in Springfield. For the older kids who can help paddle, this is a must do! You can rent a canoe from Mad River Adventures on Lower Valley Pike and hit the river for a 3 mile canoe ride. Longer rides are available too but there are more rapids in the longer trips. Turtles, blue herons, and lots of fish are usually spotted throughout the summer. This trip is best to take on hot summer days because the river is fed from an underground spring and chilly. It’s always on my summer to do list.
  2. Rotary Park in Beavercreek. After you pass Owen’s Place on the left, the creek is close to the picnic shelter. It’s not very deep, so kids at any age can make play in the water. Just make sure to bring extra shoes.
  3. Eastwood MetroPark. What a great place to teach kids about fishing. You can hike along the lake’s edge and count boats or bring your pole if you so desire. The lake off Harshman Road is open 24/7 from April until the end of October for fishing. Children under 16 do not need a fishing license.
  4. McGee Park in Bellbrook. Robin Curry picked this park as a great summer stop and it wasn’t just for its shady trees. Beyond the play area, a creek full of rocks and discovery make great adventures for the young at heart. It’s an easy walk and not too deep but definitely pack extra shoes because you will want to get into the water and search for all sorts of bugs and creatures.
  5. Charleston Falls in Tipp City. Maryann Hart recommended this trip for those heading to the north side of town. There are lots of rocks in the stream that give different opportunities for play. Make sure to check out the 37-foot waterfall too!
  6. John Bryan State Park in Yellow Springs. Rock climbing, waterfalls, hiking, and lots of opportunity to connect with nature here said Diane Kinney in her recommendation. The gorge is cut out by the Little Miami River, which has been designated as a State and National Scenic River. Pack a picnic here because there is so much to see and do.
  7. Stillwater River in West Milton. A bit of a drive from Greene County but a great place to start introducing kids to canoeing and other water sports. The river is very slow moving so you don’t have to worry about tipping the boat. You can rent canoes from Barefoot Canoe rental. There are plenty of places to stop along the way for a picnic or to swim.
  8. Thomas Cloud Park in Huber Heights. This park is Jill Gordon’s pick for walking in the creek bed. Over the years, many kids have spent summer hours wading through the waterway that runs to the south of the park. Take a net and look for minnows and crawdads before you stop and visit the nearby splash pad.
  9. Buck Creek State Park in Springfield. Hit the beach at this 2,000 square-foot lake in Clark County. Look for rocks along the shoreline, watch for boats, or venture out into the water for a swim too.
  10. Sugarcreek MetroPark in Bellbrook. Located along the Sugar Creek, the park has hiking trails for all levels that allow you to simply enjoy hearing the rushing waters. Leave the trail and splash for a bit in the waters before visiting the natural play area at the park’s entrance.

A Tale of Two Chilis

By: Mary Gordon

“Since soup mainly involves tossing everything in a pot and waiting, it’s one of my better dishes.”

–Suzanne Collins, The Hunger Games

I love soup. Soup is a great choice for kids for many reasons. The first is mentioned above. It’s so easy to make as time does most of the work for you. Second, it often contains a lot of vegetables. Kids aren’t always aware that they are eating the vegetables they once rejected in raw form. Soup also offers a lot of variety. From broccoli cheese soup to chicken and noodles, most people can find a soup they like. Finally, a pot of soup can feed a lot of people. It’s a great choice for big families or for lots of small friends at Evergreen.

Two of my favorite soups to make at Evergreen are chilis. I make a veggie chili during the school year for meatless Mondays. During the summer, I switch it up with turkey chili. I hope you’ll spend some time simmering over these recipes and cook up your own batch of soup at home!

Vegetable Chili

1 large onion, diced
½ cup salsa
1 large can of diced tomatoes (do not drain)
1 Tablespoon chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons salt
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 medium yellow squash, diced or cubed
2 medium zucchini, diced or cubed
2 15 oz. cans of black beans, drained

In a large pot, saute the onion in a tablespoon of oil on medium heat. After about 5 minutes, add salsa, tomatoes, chili powder, cumin and salt. Cover and let cook for about 10 minutes. Add pepper, squash, zucchini and beans. Reduce heat, cover and let simmer for about 50 minutes to an hour. There is no broth or water in this soup but you can add some at any time if you want.
Turkey Chili

1 bag of frozen onion & pepper mix, chopped a little if needed
1 Tablespoon of minced garlic
1 pound of cooked lean ground turkey
2 teaspoons cumin
4 Tablespoons chili powder (or less if less spice is desired)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 large can of diced tomatoes with juice
1.5 cups broth
2 cans dark red kidney beans (drained)
1 can sweet corn (drained)

In a large soup pot, saute onion and pepper mix with garlic for 5-7 minutes. Add in cooked turkey and spices, cook 2 minutes on medium heat
Add in tomatoes, broth, kidney beans and corn. Bring to a boil then reduce heat & simmer for 30-45 minutes or until chili thickens.

20 Easy Activities to Help Kids Play Outside

By: Mary Gordon

Play outside. It sounds like a simple concept, but for some families it’s not as easy as just stepping out their front door. Keeping a child entertained in the outdoors still takes effort. I recently asked a school ager, what did you do this weekend? Did you play outside? She replied, “What am I supposed to do outside?”

At Evergreen, it’s easy because we have the right tools for the job. We’ve created play areas and activities for the outdoors. We also have the adjacent forest which gives all sorts of possibilities to play and explore. Most importantly, the peer group helps provide the entertainment.

So how can you get your kids outside at your own home without making major landscaping changes or spending lots of money? I took this question to the teachers at Evergreen to get their top 20 recommendations.

  • 1) Paint with water. A brush and a bucket are all you need.
  • 2) Hang up bird feeders. Every time you go outside, you can tell the kids to fill the feeders.
  • 3) Color with sidewalk chalk.
  • 4) Make pictures out of natural materials. Collect leaves, twigs, flowers, etc. and make them into a design.
  • 5) Take toys outside with you. Cars, balls, dolls and building toys can all be used in the grass too.
  • 6) Have a picnic outside. Make older kids set it up too.
  • 7) Play “I spy.” A toddler’s favorite at Evergreen as we never tire of looking for airplanes, certain color cars, or just trees and flowers.
  • 8) Put sand in a bucket or tub. Pick up a small bag of sand from any hardware/home improvement store. Rocks are also fun if they can avoid the lawn mower.
  • 9) Bubbles, bubbles and more bubbles.
  • 10) Nature scavenger hunts. Put together a list of things you know can be found outside such as rocks, sticks that look like the letter A, ants, dandelions, etc. Just do a search on Google or Pinterest for premade list.

    Mrs. Kinney’s class went on a bug hunt.
  • 11) Build a fairy house. Search the yard for natural building materials like pine branches, leaves, sticks and rocks.
  • 12) Make bark rubbings. A crayon, piece of paper and some nearby trees are all you need.
  • 13) Go for a belly hike. Look for worms and bugs in the grass and dirt.
  • 14) Water plants or clean the outside of the house with a squirt bottle.
  • 15) Cloud watching. Lay out a beach towel, look up, and use your imagination.
  • 16) Take a listening walk. See how many different sounds you can hear in the neighborhood.
  • 17) Create an obstacle course. Using a stop watch or app, time the child and ask them to try to beat their time.
  • 18) Take the ipad outside to take pictures of nature.
  • 19) Sun prints. You will need to buy sun art paper for this but the results are pretty neat. You can also try black construction paper too.
  • 20) Create instruments. Use two sticks to keep the beat with music from your phone.