Building the Tree House


I put off building a tree house for my son because I didn’t want to damage the  beautiful maple tree in the backyard by hammering nails. (Nails in trees are an entry point for fungi and other diseases.) Then it occurred to me that I could support the framing for the deck in the Y of the tree and not put any nails into the tree itself.

Building the Tree House. Photo 2.

I wanted to build the tree house with my son and not for him so that I could teach him about basic construction. Growing up, I was always working with my father on carpentry or shop projects or gardening with my mother because like most children up until a generation or two ago, I was expected to be productive from an early age and to learn useful skills all the time. Continue reading “Building the Tree House”

Painting Rocks


I spend afternoons with my son, and now that the summer heat is here in full force, it makes doing things outdoors during our time less than ideal. Fortunately, I remembered that I had a box of studio-grade acrylic paints that I had saved from years ago, and I knew that my son liked finding rocks, seeds, and other materials outside . So I proposed that we find and paint rocks, and he thought it was a great idea.

It was a great idea. The student-grade paint didn’t contain toxic cadmium oxides like my studio stuff, and we could do the painting in the relative cool of his mother’s garage.  And like any activity, there were many opportunities for teaching basic life and work skills if I paid attention. Continue reading “Painting Rocks”

Acorn Adventures

Acorn Adventures

I wanted to teach my son about oak trees because I grew up learning about the outdoors constantly from my father and great uncles, who always pointed out different trees, plants, insects, animals, what animals ate, where things grew, if it migrated, was it native, etc.

It was easy for me to take all that in as a boy because I loved it, and I didn’t have video games and Youtube constantly competing for my time the way my son does.

I chose oaks as a starting point because they were something that was available in Decatur and didn’t require driving, and because the leaves and acorns of different species are distinctive and easy to learn. Continue reading “Acorn Adventures”

Planting the Three Sisters


My son had to teach a lesson in third grade, some activity he was good at, and when I heard him propose something about video games, I immediately suggested planting the three sisters and pushed the idea hard. I didn’t give my son time to suggest other ideas and come up with his own, which is how the assignment was supposed to be.

I hate that I did that, but I did it because I was afraid his mother might let him get away with some easy but dull idea because he had to pick an idea that night and was wanting to play video games rather than think about it. I also wanted to make sure that most of his time for the lesson preparation wasn’t spent shopping for craft materials aimed at children and buying an idea.

I couldn’t stand the thought of that opportunity being wasted when it could be used to show the children something real that might literally change some of their lives, possibly plant a lifelong passion or interest in someone.

But who knows, maybe he and his mother would have come up with making a healthy salad or something equally important for him and the other kids to learn.

I felt so guilty about railroading the planting idea on my son that I wrote up why I thought it was important to have this as a lesson. Continue reading “Planting the Three Sisters”