Almost Time?

Last night on Facebook, a friend commented on one of my nature photos, "Almost time..." Today, I got a frantic call from a different friend. "I'm calling about the frogs. I just heard peepers. Did we miss them?"

What were they talking about? Wood frog migration! Around here, in some circles anyway, I'm known as the resident wood frog expert. I've written many picture book manuscripts over the years. One of the manuscripts I'm most proud of, FROG FRENZY, is about this very phenomenon. I spent four springs the watching migration unfold, taking notes, and getting the details just right for that manuscript. I'm still hopeful it will find a home with the right publisher. 

I've been taking my kids and any other families I can round up to see wood frog migration since my kids were young. Before the days of Facebook, friends would wait for a call or text announcing that migration had started and when they could meet me to head out. Now, I often make a quick FB invitation to alert as many people as possible.

In 2012, migration happened on March 8th, but last year it didn't happen until April 22! (Remember that banner year for snow we had here in the northeast? Wood frogs were buried beneath it, frozen solid until April!)

Well, I've been watching the weather, and it looks like this might be the week wood frogs migrate. I never know for sure, but the conditions seem right; peepers were heard (that usually falls a day or two before I see wood frogs), it's going to rain, and it's going to be warm.

In case you're new here and don't know quite what I'm talking about, my kids made videos for you. (Turn up the sound on the first one. You can hear the frogs kwaking). Enjoy!


Unless you've been away from all media recently, you know the northeast has been buried in snow these past couple of weeks. It's snowing again today.

One day, after all the snow was cleared from our driveway and walks, my son and I went out snowshoeing.


Some cross country skiers had been down the trail before us.

Some cross country skiers had been down the trail before us.

we went straight to one of my favorite places.

we went straight to one of my favorite places.

The Lake was frozen so we walked out a little ways. But we'd had enough recent warm days so we didn't want to venture too far. We couldn't tell how deep the ice was under the snow.

Of course, my son had dragged his sled out, so there was sledding..

Then is was time to head home.

I find this trail so peaceful. For my regular readers... "my" wood frogs are frozen solid, hiding under leaves and logs all through these woods.

I find this trail so peaceful. For my regular readers... "my" wood frogs are frozen solid, hiding under leaves and logs all through these woods.

We found some "snow urchins."

It's really bundles of white pine needles that landed at just the right angle to resemble an urchin.

It's really bundles of white pine needles that landed at just the right angle to resemble an urchin.

We studied shadows cast by beech leaves clinging to trees.

And tracked some animals.

A deer left tracks, then the wind blew leaves into the tracks.

A deer left tracks, then the wind blew leaves into the tracks.


When's the last time you had fun outdoors?

Are you  in the Northeast? If yes, your kids are probably home again today. Head outside for some snow play. Then share what you did in the comments.

Warm weather friends, I don't want to hear about it.  He he. Just kidding. Please share your adventures, too. 

What nature fun is  happening in your part of the world?

Play Outside!

My sister and my 2 1/2-year-old niece are visiting from San Francisco this week. On her first morning here, my neice couldn't wait to get outside. My sister and I were still both a little sleepy and didn't really want to go outside then.

But she kept saying, "I want to go outside."

So I slipped on my shoes, grabbed my cup of coffee and trailed her out into the yard. She didn't even wait long enough to put on her shoes- she just went right out into the autumn morning in her bare feet.

I had forgotten how much my children used to ask to go outside when they were her age. I think the main difference with my children now is that they're older so they don't need me to go outside.

They might say, "Mom I'm going out," or "I'm going to ride my bike," and then they head out the door.  But my niece isn't old enough to be running around the yard by herself. Especially since she doesn't know my yard and we live on a busy street.

My niece spent maybe 10 minutes outside. She ran in the grass, dug in the sandbox, and played on the climber. Then she decided she was hungry and went back inside. That little outside stint was enough to satisfy her. Later, once my kids were home from school (her "big cousins") she chased them around the yard and jumped in our monster leaf pile with them.

The outside fun with her cousins continued yesterday with an investigation of what's left of our garden. When my sister went out to check on them, they were huddled around a rosemary plant picking and eating the leaves. They also tasted some alpine strawberries, fennel seeds, and garlic chives. Later, over dinner, my niece said, "You have a nice garden."

So today, I have no particular suggestions... Just a reminder that kids need unstructured outside time. If you have a yard, just let your kids go explore. If not, try to take them to an outdoor a space like a public park. Have no agenda.  Let them wander aimlessly, watch the clouds go by, or explore as they wish.

When did your kids last enjoy unstructured time in nature? How can you provide more opportunities for them?

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Seeking Guest Bloggers

Beginning next week, Travel Tuesdays will go on hiatus. That's when I'll begin hosting guest bloggers here at Polliwog.

Polliwog recently passed the 20,000 hits mark. Now I’m hoping to expand my readership even further. In the process, I hope to help others do the same by hosting guest bloggers for the first time. You don't need any special credentials to be a guest blogger- just an interest in the focus of this blog. In fact, I encourage you to get in touch with me even if you don't think of yourself as a writer. I want to bring many voices into the conversation. You can pitch me an idea and I'll help you frame it, if you feel you need guidance.

Things to keep in mind:
  1. This blog has a very specific focus on nature and culture. Please familiarize yourself with my focus before contacting me. If you're not a regular reader, poke around and get a feel for the kind of posts I write. You might start with the "Popular Posts" on my side bar.
  2. All guest posts will include a bio of the author (to be provided by the author).
  3. You may link to your blog or website, etc. Any links MUST be kid friendly. This is non-negotiable.
  4. No hard selling. You’re welcome to link to your sites or to mention your books. Any links to other sites, however, must be related to your post. Read some of my posts to get a sense of the kind of links I provide. DO NOT contact me if your sole purpose is to try to sell your products on this blog. I will ignore your email.
  5. I encourage you to include photographs, as appropriate. All photos must be copyright free. (That is, you cannot find an image on the internet and use it in your post unless you found it on a site that clearly offers free usage or you paid for its usage). When in doubt, use your own photographs.
  6. Posts should be about 500 words at the most (less is fine). If you feel you have a great idea and want to write something longer, pitch me. (Some of my most popular posts have been over 600 words, so I'm open to a great idea).
  7. Posts should be edited for proper grammar, spelling, mechanics,etc. If you feel you're weak in this area, ask someone else to proofread for you. I'll also do a final edit before posting.
  8. Ultimately, I control the content on this blog. I reserve the right to reject a submission even if we agreed to an idea. (I would only do this if your post violates my requirements, especially #3, 4, or 5). If I have concerns, however, I'll contact you first to see if we can work them out.

Some possible posts:
  •  Description of your favorite natural place.
  • Ways you and your children (students) interact with nature.
  • Review/ description of your favorite book set in a natural place.
  • Review/ description of your favorite book set in another country/with a protagonist from another culture.
  • Lessons you (your children/students) have learned from interacting with people of different backgrounds.
  •  Others? Pitch me!

 If you’re interested in guest blogging, please email me. michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com

I look forward to hearing from you.

Do you want to read a post on a particular topic? Leave it in the comments I'll try to address it in a future post.

KidLit for Japan Meets Story Walk

Long time readers of my blog may remember that I participated in the KidLit for Japan fundraiser last spring following the devastating earthquake. I donated a field class  for up to 25 students. On Monday, I finally facilitated that class for the Sandwich Partnerships for Families. We negotiated a change in the original plan and I facilitated a Story Walk instead of the more open-ended class I had originally envisioned.

The StoryWalk® Project was created by Anne Ferguson of Montpelier, VT and developed in collaboration with the Vermont Bicycle & Pedestrian Coalition and the Kellogg Hubbard Library. The basic idea was to combine stories and walking.

To set one up, you purchase two copies of a book. You disassemble the books, mount the pages on posterboard and laminate them. Then you mount them to stakes/ signs and set them out along a predetermined trail or path. While the original StoryWalk idea didn't necessarily connect the story to the environment in which it would be read, I chose to read a book that would be enriched by our location.

I facilitated this walk on Monday afternoon with Early Childhood Specialist Christina Hallas. It was the first day of school vacation week here in Massachusetts and a hot sunny one at that. Sandwich Partnerships for Families had advertised the event well, so we had a big turn out.

I had chosen Swirl by Swirl: Spirals in Nature written by Joyce Sidman and illustrated by Beth Krommes as our book. Springtime brings lots of spiraling new growth and the program was to be run in a seaside town where children can easily find swirly seashells, so this book seemed a perfect match. The short, poetic form was also perfect for the young (aged 2-5) participants.

The youngest children enjoyed walking ahead along the trail in Shawme-Crowell State Forest to find the next posted pages of the book while older children helped us locate spirals along the way- young plants poking out of the ground, beech leaves unfurling, spiraling log homes, swirly pinecones, and orb spider webs.
Photos by Christina Hallas
Once the walk was completed, we gathered for a snack and then children used crayons and markers to make their own spiraling artwork. As they worked, we shared examples of other spirals they might find in their town such as a bird nest, a butterfly proboscis, a moon snail shell and whelk shells. We also shared a giant nautilus shell (a highlight in the art on one page) and a basket to demonstrate how humans use items in nature as models for items they design.

Even though the organized event is over, the signs will remain along the trail for a week unless terrible weather is predicted- that way families can enjoy the story at their leisure if they weren't able to attend on Monday. One mother even said she planned to come back so she and her children could read it again and enjoy it without the crowd.

As a naturalist, educator, and writer, I think StoryWalks are a great idea! They combine so many things that I love. I've already been in touch with my local library about facilitating a StoryWalk in my home town.

Have you ever participated in or facilitated a StoryWalk? Please share.

2011: A Year in Review

Happy New Year everyone! Thank you for reading Polliwog this year. 

Today I'll recap some of my favorite posts 2011. 

Travel Tuesdays

Wordless Wednesday

On Nature

This and That
  • Drum to the Beat A wonderful drumming experience for children. My family has been drumming away on our new Djembe.
  • Hive Detectives A fantastic non-fiction book for older elementary students.
  • Happy Earth Day 2011 The post that got me started with Travel Tuesdays. Several readers asked me to share more travel stories after seeing this post.
  • RACE-Are we so Different? An important traveling and on-line exhibit.
  • Shurit Ads (Egyptian Lentil Soup) I posted this during the Egyptian Revolution. Google Analytics showed that the day Mubarek left Egypt, a reader in Cairo spent 11 minutes on my blog reading this plus 5 other posts. I just thought that was so cool- I was watching history in the making in their country and they were reading my blog.

Thanks again for reading. I'll be back with a Travel Tuesdays post this week.

In the meantime, please drop me an email at michelle(at)michellecusolito(dot)com or leave a comment to let me know which kinds of posts you enjoy or find useful. I'm hoping to build my blog community this year so I want to know what works for you. If you have particular content you'd like to see me include, please let me know.

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Nature Photography With Kids

I've been getting more and more into taking photos of nature- especially close-ups of flowers and insects. To help me in my quest for great photos, my husband recently got me a fancy new camera with a zoom lens. The next day, I set out  in our yard to try it out.
Here are some of my photos:
 Bleeding heart

Fiddleheads (ferns as they emerge from the ground)

Our "non-lawn" with our house in the background
One benefit I hadn't considered was how a new camera might impact my kids. When I picked up my new camera, my daughter asked if she could use our old camera to take pictures (a digitial "point and shoot" model). I had previously let her take a photo here or there, but I confess I hadn't really encouraged her to go out on a photo shoot of her own. Usually I was the one with the camera in hand trying to get that great shot.

Here she is working:

The fun thing about this is that her interests are different from mine, so she took different kinds of photos. Sure, she shadowed me a bit and took some photos similar to mine, like this one:
But, not surprisingly, she also took lots of photos of little things, or things on the ground that I might ignore. (She is a lot closer to it than I am, after all).

Hosta in my garden

Weed in my garden- I think it's beautful in her photo.
Violet in my garden

And here's something adults would almost never photograph-- her shadow in the grass. Yet, kids her age are fascinated by their shadows.

And the final one I'll share. Any guesses as to what this is?
Ok, that was a bit of a trick question because it's not a nature photo. It's my car's headlight. I never would have photographed any part of my car, yet I find this photo very appealing. How about you?

Have you ever given your child control of the camera? What were the results? If you've never tried this, will you? What benefits can you see from an activity like this?