What to do in Fall/Winter in Madison

Let’s be honest, in Madison there are two seasons:  Summer and the rest of the year.  

Summer is great!  Festivals, beaches, sun…

As for the rest of the year…

Well, the rest of the year consists of a delightful combination of snow, rain, mud, slush, leaves, humidity, and then more snow.  I tend to hermit myself in the winter, or rather, when the weather is lousy.  It’s too easy to stay inside and veg out reading books for the SIX MONTHS THAT IT’S LIKE THIS instead of going out and doing great things.

So, like  my summer list, I am making a list of things to do to take advantage of our time in this lovely season.

Note: you may notice that this list is longer than my summer list.  This is because I am looking to not go insane for inspiration.


  • Go to Half Pint Resale to get all school clothes!  Woo hoo!
  • Gymnastics lessons for Liam (to work on more gross motor activites)
  • Fall leaves walk at Olbrich Gardens
  • Big birthday party for Liam in October
  • Apple Orchard (we used to go to Eplegaarden, but this one is simpler and easier.  Plus they have hayride events a few times 🙂
  • Hayride
  • Make applesauce together + can it
  • Trick or Treat on State Street
  • Get a great costume for Halloween
  • Have bonfire in backyard and roast marshmallows
  • Make vegan pumpkin pie together
  • Pumpkin picking at Schusters 
  • Rake leaves together and jump into piles
  • Make ginger molasses cookies together
  • Go to last outdoor farmers market
  • Go see Madison Ballet (normally way more expensive) at Kids in the Rotunda on Nov 12
  • Visit farm to get turkey together, see where the turkeys are raised
  • Make local only Thanksgiving for friends and family
  • Go to Winter Farmer’s Market
  • Teach Liam how to ice skate (we did it last year with more fighting than skating)
  • Sled at Olbrich park
  • Snowball fight
  • Decorate playroom with paper snowflakes
  • Make snow angels
  • Make a snow castle
  • Go to Olbrich Conservatory
  • Teach Liam and/or expose him to downhill skiiing
  • Teach Liam how to make a great snowman
  • Go to Christmas tree farm and cut down our own
  • Decorate Tree
  • Make presents for family members
  • Make cookie plates for friends
  • Make cookies for Santa
  • Buy new stockings and add special things to them
  • Make clay ornaments together
  • See Holiday Trains at Olbrich
  • Host New Years Eve Party, if we’re in town
  • Walk on frozen lake Monona
  • Go to Holiday in Lights at Olin Park
  • Long walk to find animal footprints in the snow
  • Build snow fort
  • Go to the Arboretum and discover
  • Make Valentines Day cards for classmates
And when things are getting to that LONG LONG period when there is still winter, but no fun holidays to distract you from the blah-ness of it all:
  • Play board games together
  • Illustrate a snowy day poem
  • Have winter movie marathon (Polar Express, Elf, Happy Feet, etc)
  • Make the whole room a fort
  • See Twinkle Twonkle at Overture Center 
  • Go to Madison Winter Festival
  • Force spring bulbs in jars so you can see the root growth
  • Go bowling
  • Go to Cave of the Mounds, where no matter what temp it is outside it is always 50 degrees inside here
  • Most people make gingerbread houses during the holiday season, I say that we make our after, when things have cooled down and you can go candy crazy!  Look here for a super easy way to make it!
  • Paint your own pottery studio
  • Try climbing for the first time at Boulders Climbing Gym
  •  Book camping trip for the summer
That’s all I’ve got for now… what are your thoughts?  Any winter must dos that I am missing here?

Montessori Inspired Learning Week

So… I admit, I am a nerdy Mom.  And I love it.  I love teaching and creating things that interests my son and drives him to learn and play at the same time.  I am always looking for things for us to do.

I am also a freakishly organized person.  So I list-make.  A lot.

So over the last year I made a calendar of things that my son and I can do throughout the week to learn and grow together.  It offers options when I am feeling uninspired and gives us fun things to do when we’re bored.  It often serves as a stepping stone to more things to do together.

Preface:  My son is “two and three quarters” and a real firecracker.  I love him to bits.  He’s independent and a free spirit.  I am studying to be a Montessori teacher and love the influence of the educational philosophy.  I love that it inspires children to learn for themselves.  It creates self-trust, confidence, community, and a love of learning.

Brief intro to Montessori:  I dig Montessori.  It’s a passion of mine and most people quickly regret asking me what it is because I won’t stop talking.  I’ll talk them through the whole playground play and walk home with them and sit with them as they’re making dinner talking about ALL THE WONDERS of this philosophy.  They’ll be putting their kids to bed and I’d still be talking breathlessly about how great it is.  What can I say?  It’s awesome.  So, I’m going to try to be brief here and explain a little teensy bit about it so you can see where I am coming from…

Montessori teaches the usual math and reading, but they also stress that children must actively learn peace, community, respect, practical life, sensorial activities, and care of self.  The teachers (“guides”) model behavior such as how and when to say excuse me, how to build a sandwich, or how to clean up after oneself.  With these “lessons”, child learns how to be responsible and helpful within their own community.  Sensorial work is important because Montessori saw the importance of the manipulation of objects to aid the child in better understanding his environment. Through the child’s work with Sensorial material, the child is helped to make abstractions, they are helped in making distinctions in his environment, and the child is given the knowledge not through word of mouth, but through his own experiences. Being able to do it themselves (and we’ve all heard “I do it myself” before)  is helpful for the child.  It builds independence and confidence.  It also helps with those moments described as “terrible twos”, often children just want control over their environment.  Just watch the look on their face after they complete such a task.  It’s beautiful 🙂

(You have no IDEA how hard that was.  Expect a thesis next week about my love for Montessori.  RM readers, beware.)

  The Nerdiness:  The Learning Week Worksheet:

I have included sections in my learning week to build skills for caring for one’s community, care of self, sensorial activities, and practical life as well as the usual literacy and math work in this learning week worksheet.

One sheet is for three weeks.  This is so I don’t have to do it every week (saving time) and not so long that it doesn’t accurately follow his development.  I usually sit down with this sheet,  a few children’s learning books or websites, and a glass of wine and create it while I watch the  Bachelorette or something.  It’s fun and super easy to create!

On the bottom of this sheet, I have also detailed things that I want to remember throughout the week:

Reading/telling stories/singing songs and the jobs sections speak for themselves.

I want to model respect in our home, so every night we say what we’re thankful for before we eat dinner.  Usually Liam goes on a long tangent about horses or Buzz and Woody and I alternate between being thankful for my beautiful adorable son or  for the silence that follows bedtime.  😉

The 3 Period Lesson is a teaching strategy that was created by Edouard Seguin and used in Montessori schools.  You begin by naming the object (this is a circle), then when the child has mastered it you being the association of it (Which one is the circle?), then  recalling the new and old knowledge (What is this?  -Circle, What is this? – square) etc.  It is especially important in this developmental stage, when children are sponges (or have the absorbent mind, as Maria Montessori said) and are learning so many words and concepts at once.

I also wanted to actively teach peace.  These examples listed are a few that I noticed my son needs practice on or I wanted him to be really good with.

Notes:  I am an artsy, grammar loving, nerdy Mom.  I am a woman of many talents, but math is not one of them.  I am completely uninspired and useless when it comes to coming up with games or things for us to do.  I started using the IXL site as inspiration for us.  My son does two or three activities a day and when he’s done with each one, he gets a sticker.  I think it’s super helpful and gives me ideas for the rest of the week.  He loves how the ribbons pop up after several right answers and really loves to pick out a sticker when we’re done.

We also do several field trips around town (zoo, pool, visiting cows at UW Vet School, etc) and make crafts to work on (spattering paint around July 4th, glueing parts of sailboat for summer weeks, etc).   This worksheet provides some ideas for us to work with as we go through our week.

So, without further ado…

Here is the Blank Learning Week

And here is our Example of Learning Week

Have Fun with it!

Do you organize your week for learning?  What do you like to do?  Are you a nerdy Mom as well?

Summer Fun List

Inspired by many blogs I found, I created a Liam and Mommy Summer Fun List so that we can have as much fun as we can and take advantage of this great city we have.

The links lead to more information about each one.


Go to a water park

Visit the zoo


Spend the whole day at the beach

Go on a boat ride

Spend the whole day at the arboretum

Visit Door County

Have a picnic

Go to Concerts on the Square

Go to Summer Concert Series at Olbrich Gardens

Go to a baseball game

See a movie

Visit Shedd Aquarium and follow customized Toddler Map 

Get ice cream from the ice cream truck

Eat popsicles on the front porch

Dig for worms

Go to a national park

Go to many farmer’s markets (Capital Square or East Side Farmer’s Market)

Go to the library weekly or biweekly (do reading program)

Go to Bouncy Town

Go to Chuck E Cheese

Visit Cave of the Mounds

Strawberry Picking! 

Water Balloon Fight

Running in the Sprinkler

Have Liam set the table for dinner

Have a puzzle made from a picture

Go to paint your own pottery studio

Learn to ride tricycle

Make smores

Catch fireflies

Visit Chicago

Watch Fireworks at Monona

Go to carnival

La Fete De Marquette

Rent a canoe

Ride carousels

Stay up late and watch the stars come out

Run through a field of wildflowers and pick them

Color scavenger hunt

Paint rocks for garden

Make popsicles

Fly kites

Make a huge fort!

Experiment with different things to make bubbles

Make Lemonade

Walk/Play/Jump in the rain

Learn how to hike, do at least one mile hike

Do some very minor “rock climbing”

Go to the pool as often as we can

Watch a sunrise

Watch a sunset

Make sight words for the house

Make mud pies in the backyard

Go to Union Terrace

This will be amazing.

What about you?  Does your family make a summer list?  What is on yours?

Camping with Toddlers

A few weeks ago, I camped with my two year old son alone for the first time.  It was a very special trip for us.

I think  raising your children to love nature is one of the most important lessons we can give them.  Which leads me to camping.  Camping is so important – to fully immerse yourself in it is the best way to learn anything.  So we went camping together, just the two of us, for 5 days at Devil’s Lake State Park.

My two year old son, Liam, and me

I have many years of camping experience.  I have been camping with my family in Tennessee and all around Michigan, where I grew up.  Some of my best memories are in these trips, so I feel it’s wonderful to share these experiences with my son and teach him how to get dirty, how to play in a river, the fun of finding fish and swimming, throwing rocks and making big splashes, going on long hikes and cuddling up around a fire afterwards…

The following is a list and menu of what we will be making together in our five days.  I want to keep meals simple so we can play and/or be prepared for any 2 year old moments that may require more attention.  😉  We are also lactose intolerant and eat mostly vegan.  I have also learned from experience that cooking with children can be tricky, so keep it simple.  The easier cooking can be when you have children and are camping, the better (and saner) you will be.  And I have limited space.  So meals are easy and there are some repeats in ingredients.

::::::::Menu for camping with a small child::::::

Sun dinner: premade peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and oranges

Mon: breakfast: granola and soymilk lunch: premade macaroni salad with “confetti” diced yellow, green, and red peppers, corn, and broccoli with olive oil/vinegar dressing snack: trail mix and raspberries  dinner: marinating tofu “steaks”, potatoes roasted on campfire, roasted asparagus dessert: smores!

Tues: breakfast: cereal with soymilk and grapes lunch: peanut butter and banana sandwiches, pretzels, sliced peppers snack: blueberries and almonds dinner: precooked spaghetti noodles with homemade vegan marinara sauce with garlic bread cooked over campfire (purchased vegan baguette from store, stuffed with garlic and earth balance vegan butter and parsley)

Wed: breakfast: granola and soymilk with blueberries lunch: leftover pasta salad snack: cliff bars and orangesdinner: tofu dogs roasted over fire, pickles, chips, and homemade potato salad dessert: smores!

Thurs: breakfast: cereal with soymilk and raspberries lunch: peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, chips, pickles, and leftover fruit before hitting the road

:::::::::::checklist of things to bring camping with a toddler::::::::::::

The “Duh” Essential Camping Items:



Extra Stakes



Sleeping bags

Mattress if you want


Stuffed Animals that child is fond of, it will ease any transition of falling asleep in a new place

Bedtime items to make it “special” and not scary

Books for bedtime

Broom to clear tent


Bungee Cords

Rope for hanging wet towels/clothes




Pots/Pans (buy them from a second hand store)


Dish soap/Sponge/Kitchen Towels

Toilet Paper

Paper plates, cups and plastic silverware (I am one of the greenest Moms you’ll find, but I am totally for paper plates with camping.  Time saver = sanity saver)

Paper Towels (see above comment)

Beach Towels and regular towels

Beach blanket(s)

Blanket for picnic table

Can opener

Bottle opener

Knives (wrapped in newspaper to keep them safe)

Cutting Board

Aluminum Foil for cooking

Garbage Bags for dirty laundry and trash

Plastic Bags

Water Jug for brushing teeth and clean drinking water

Water canteen for hiking and walking around

Bug spray

Adult and kid sized camping chairs

Mechanical Things

Cell Phone/Charger


Stereo with batteries

The Toddler Clothes: Pack a little extra because toddlers love mud puddles

sweat shirts/pants




Shoes with good traction

Extra pair of shoes

Sandals for showering

2 Swimsuits

Diapers/Wipes (if you’re still in them)

Swim diapers (if you need them)




Short Sleeved Shirts (at least one for every day)


The Adult Clothes List

Sweat shirt/pants



Short Sleeved Shirts/tank tops




Sandals (for shower)





Bathroom Essentials



Biodegradable soap in container



Sunscreen for Adults

Sunscreen for children


First aid kit with bandaids, tweezers, etc

Asprin/Pain Meds

Hand Sanitizer

Plastic Grocery bags for Diapers or accidents

Special Items/Activities for child:

Bring books about camping to ease them into the idea: Curious George Goes Camping is a good one

Bring a backpack for the kids when hiking or going on walks to collect special items around you – take the time to look at them, identify them, and say why they are special and essential in nature


Bring coloring books or activity books for your child to play with when you are doing things (like cursing under your breath when you’re trying to set up the tent!)

Give them jobs, not just as things to “help” with, but things to really help with.  They are an equal and valued member of the family – they can and should help.  Let them clear the table, collect sticks, set up the tee-pee for the fire, let them unroll the tent, set up their own sleeping bag and pillow.  Or give them their own sized items, like a flashlight and magnifying glass perfect size for their smaller hands so they can explore the area around them

Mason jars to catch fireflies or caterpillars




Simple maps to teach them directions and what a map looks like

Walkie talkies are fun and it can be a fun activity when you are doing something and they are “hiding” in the tent.

Flashlights are also good for shadow play and late night walks to the bathroom

Play I Spy

Find Footprints

Play a camping ABC game – find things that begin with the letter (S is for sleeping bag, U is for Under the Stars)

Connect the dots with constellations

Thoughts before you go:

Liam pretending to camp in the living room

Reeeaaaallllly talk up camping.  Set up the tent in the backyard and sleep in it!  Read books!  Talk about all the fun you’ll have before you go!  Smores, finding bugs and mud puddles, – make it something that they look forward to!

For your first few trips, select a campsite that has activities that match their interests.  Many state parks have lakes, playgrounds, or trails that make it fun and easy.  Also, select a site at the campground that is smart – not too close to the store with busy traffic day and night, not too close to the river so you don’t have panic attacks while you’re setting up the tent by yourself and wondering where your toddler  might be, not too far away from the bathroom because you will be walking with them every time you or they need to go.

Avoid bringing toys or activities that are hard to clean up… a puzzle would be silly.  Also, try to avoid things that distract them from the beauty around them.  I don’t believe in bringing mini-dvd players when you are camping – there is FAR too much to explore!

Give them time to be bored – they will discover more!

Yes, I just said let them be bored, but don’t be an idiot.  When you have to be busy setting up the tent or doing something where you are occupied and more importantly can’t keep the best eye on them have things that they can do.   Coloring books, new game, etc.

Use your trip as a time to get closer with each other… there’s no tv, computer, bills to pay, house to clean, or video games so you have to talk and play games with each other.  You can connect.  Pay attention to the little moments.  Feel lucky for this time.

Make it a teaching trip – one that teaches responsibility, helps the family, and is magical.  There are so many beautiful and amazing experiences you can share as a family.  It’s also a trip where you have to do a lot, but they can also help .  Let them pack a backpack before you leave for a hike.  My son could pack more than Diana Ross… Help your kids understand that whatever they pack (snack, animals, books, toys, rocks, dolls, flashlights, maps, etc) they are responsible for…Because Lord knows we do not need to bring every horse and ball that we own.  You will not carry it, no matter how tired or heavy it is.  They will learn a lot faster that way.  They will also learn what is helpful to bring.

Remember, sometimes camping is hard.  If it’s raining the whole time or your baby is screaming and waking up the whole campground…whatever…don’t let it get you down.  Finish your trip (even if that means packing up in a thunderstorm at 3am), and go home.  Build up and remember the truly amazing moments.  Try again. It’s worth it.

Pump it Up

When you get home, print out any pictures you took during the trip and make a little book of your adventure together that you can read before bedtime or before your next camping trip.  You can make it together with the pictures that you took, the leaves that you found, maybe even a few samples of sand or dirt!  Don’t forget to write stories.  You could write about your process of camping – first we get to the campsite (wow, how nice!), then we set up the tent, etc.  or you can write about what you did (caught fireflies, swam, smores, etc) This will keep the “fun” of camping in their heads.  It will also be a great keepsake 🙂

The Result:

We stayed for all five days!

We went horseback riding, had picnics, made campfires every night, heard raindrops on the tent as we fell asleep, built sandcastles and smores, swam at the beach, and left with beautiful memories.

Liam's first hike!

Building sandcastles

Liam didn’t stop running the whole time, and it was great!  He learned how to build a fire, collect the right sticks for roasting marshmallows,  how to climb and hike, and perfected his technique of getting completely soaked in the mud.  He helped me make sandwiches for our picnic, clear the table and trash, and kept our site clean.  I am so proud of him and so happy that we could go!  I can’t wait for our trip later this summer when we go to the Point Beach State Park in beautiful Door County!

*Pictures by Mallory, Fitzgerald Photography*