By Jennifer Pitterle
Where I live, in the Upper Midwest, winter lasts at least half the year—it’s not unusual for us to have snow on the ground from October through March, April, or even May.
And living in a place with relentless winter, we look forward to spring with the very core of our beings. We teach our children to look for the signs: A robin, returning from warmer climes; a tiny brown bud on a branch; a puddle of snowmelt where there once was ice; the warmth of the sun on upturned faces.
It’s no wonder that cultures around the world have celebrated spring from the beginning of human history.
This year, as the equinox passes on March 20, check out some of my favorite unusual traditions for welcoming spring with your little ones. When we observe and mark the changing of the seasons, we get connected again to the earth and all of its gifts—especially the ones emerging from under a blanket of snow.
Start a Children’s Nature Journal
As soon as your toddler or preschooler shows an interest in drawing, they’re ready for a nature journal! The prep couldn’t be easier—just find a notebook and writing utensil. Here are my tips for setting your little naturalist up for success:
- Use a spiral-bound or lay-flat notebook style so your child doesn’t have to hold the pages open while they write or draw.
- Offer the writing utensils they’re already familiar with; maybe that’s crayons, or a preschool-scaled pencil (a favorite of my kids).
- Introduce spot-sitting, where you choose a spot to sit for a while (as long as their tiny attention spans can handle!) and observe what’s happening around you. Then, if your child needs a jumpstart, have them choose one thing they saw, heard, smelled, or felt and write and/or draw about it.
- Have them practice writing the date at the top of their pages. Older kids might also like to note elements like the weather or the angle of the sun.
- Revisit the same spot—or the same tree or flower or nest—over the course of several days or weeks, and encourage your child to note what’s changing.
Make Natural Egg Dye
If your family colors Easter eggs, embrace your inner granola this year and introduce your kiddos to the magic of homemade dyes, using earth-friendly kitchen scraps. Who knows? Maybe they’ll be inspired to try fabric dyestuffs to mark the changing of the next season when summer rolls around.
For the following colors, add your dye matter to 1 cup of water. The resulting color will depend on whether you use white or brown eggs.
- 1 cup chopped purple cabbage (blue or green)
- 1 cup red onion skins (light purple or red)
- 1 cup yellow onion skins (orange or brown)
- 1 cup shredded beets (pink or maroon)
- 2 tablespoons ground turmeric (yellow)
Start with hard-boiled eggs. Add your water and dye matter to a pot (scale up the amounts above to make more dye). Bring it to a boil. Turn down the heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes. When the dye looks a few shades darker than you want for your eggs, it’s ready; you can check it by putting a few drops on a white plate.
Remove the dye from the heat and cool to room temperature. Strain it to remove the matter. Stir in 1 Tbsp. of white vinegar per cup of strained dye.
Pour the dye over the eggs, in a single layer in a dish. Submerge the eggs completely. Chill them in the fridge until you reach your desired color. Multiple soaks will deepen the colors (vs. total duration of the soak).
Dry the eggs, and rub a little bit of vegetable oil onto each one to polish it.
Keep a Stock of Spring Read-Alouds
I can’t let any occasion pass without a story to go with it, and the arrival of spring is one of my favorites. My family sets up a seasonal spot on top of our bookcase, where my kids can keep nature treasures they find on hikes and I keep a fresh selection of books (rotated once a week or so) that are displayed covers out (instead of spines out) to encourage grabbing one as you walk by.
Here are a few of my favorite titles to start your spring picture book collection:
Spring Story by Jill Barklem
Bloom Boom! by April Pulley Sayre
Spring by Gerda Muller
Goodbye Winter, Hello Spring by Kenard Pak
The Story of the Root Children by Sibylle von Offers
Miss Rumphius by Barbara Cooney
Flower Garden by Eve Bunting
The Ugly Vegetables by Grace Lin
Norway and Sweden observe vaffeldagen (“waffle day”) on March 25 and mark it by making and eating traditional vaffler with cream and jam. March 25 is the Christian Feast of the Annunciation (the observance of the day the archangel Gabriel appeared to Mary and told her she would be Christ’s mother). In Sweden, the word is vårfrudagen (“our lady’s day”). Can you see where this is going? Vårfrudagen sounds like vaffeldagen, so people started calling it “waffle day,” and a new tradition was born.
My family loves this Norwegian waffle recipe from chef Andreas Viestad; even better if you can get your hands on a traditional heart-shaped Scandinavian waffle maker. And don’t forget the lingonberries!
Sour Cream Waffles
2 1/2 cups of sour cream, plus more for serving
2/3 cup of water
1 1/4 cups of flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 Tbsp. sugar
Lingonberries, fresh berries, or jam for serving
Stir together the sour cream and water. Mix all the other ingredients and sift gradually into the sour cream mixture while whisking. The aim is a thick batter. Leave to rise for at least 20 minutes. Heat your waffle iron, brush it with butter, and cook the waffles until golden brown and crispy. Serve with fruit or jam and a bit of sour cream. As we say in Norwegian: vær så god!
Jennifer Pitterle is a Minneapolis-based writer and editor. Pre-parenthood, she was a longtime editor for a lifestyle magazine group. She writes about parenting, nature, children's literacy, and more. She's always working with her children to bring a sense of natural enchantment to their suburban home and backyard.