My Health & Safety

Saturday, September 15, 2018

The Health & Safety badge is the most important badge on the website. Topics will include first aid, safety, and the overall well being of the child. Here I will provide learning materials that are relevant to building a strong foundation of self-awareness and safe exploration of their surroundings. Many of these activities will build on one another and foster independence and self-reliance. I will update our Facebook group when new activities are added and I always welcome ideas for new projects to help our children grow and learn.

My Health & Safety: About Me

Link to My Health & Safety Information: Here

Here are some helpful tips on teaching your child to call 911 from a cell phone:

1. The child must locate the phone. 
2Once the phone is found the child might have to unlock it or wake the phone. 
3. Next the child must find the keypad, which may not be up on the screen. 
4. Once finding the keypad and dialing 911 they still need to press call or send.

Practice this activity often with your child and let me know how it went in the comments. 


My Nature Toolkit

Thursday, September 13, 2018

My ultimate goal as Treehouse Magazine progresses, is using this badge to address questions that an Earth Explorer might have when it comes to something, like say, mushroom hunting, or nature journaling, or even how to cook over an open fire. Each aspect of the badge requires in-depth discussion of preparedness and what tool is most appropriate for the job, and where you could find such tools.

Please understand that your idea of My Nature Toolkit might be different than what I have presented here on the website. Geographical conditions, time of year, etc.; even things that might be relevant for your family, will help you make sound decisions based on your experience after you have completed the task a few times and get more comfortable with the subject matter. I will give an overview and present the most pertinent information to help you accomplish the task that you set out to do. I really want this to be a place for the novice to come and find a sort of blueprint to exploring the great outdoors with their children, family and friends.

Above all, I want to build your confidence and see you succeed because you have been offered the tools to do so. I think that many people would love to explore nature with their children, but are sometimes frightened because they don't know where to begin or even know who/how to ask for help. If I've posted something here about a particular subject and you have a stellar tip to pass on to the community, please do so in the comments. When you post a comment, please list it as such:

(Format) ***SUBJECT: Explanation***

(eg.) MUSHROOM HUNTING: If you encounter Laetiporus sulphureus, aka Chicken of the Woods high in a tree, use utility cord to retrieve rather than a ladder; it's much safer.

Keeping tips organized will allow for a more fruitful discussion and top notch organization of useful facts and information. The more knowledge that we share with one another and pass on to our children, the more successful we will be when we set out to complete a task. Let us know how it went in the comments and good luck!

-The Treehouse Family


Mushroom Hunting

Venturing out of your comfort zone and into the forest to find mushrooms with small children, might put some of you on edge. I am a firm believer that we need to educate our children on how to properly identify mushrooms and understand what to do if they happen to encounter a mushroom on the trail or in a play area. We must have an open and honest dialogue with them on the dangers of improper identification in order to keep them safe and aware of their surroundings.

Different times of the year, pose some very different challenges when you're trying to complete a successful hunt with your family. While winter isn't the best time to find mushrooms, spring, summer and fall offer a colorful bounty of beautiful specimens for your child to study and explore. Certain animals and insects that might not be found in Winter and Spring, but are prevalent in the summer and fall months. (Think snakes, mosquitos, bears, cougars, spiders; just to name a few.)

If you go into the forest prepared and ready to take on any challenge that might arise, you are sure to have a much better experience, than a fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants afternoon jaunt, whilst being carried away by 100's of blood thirsty insects looking for their next meal.

Whenever you're going out into the woods during the warmer months, I highly recommend some type of mosquito mesh; whether it be a hat, pants, jacket, stroller/kid carrier, you're going to want to protect the kiddos from having to apply excessive amounts of DEET from insect repellent if you plan on traversing any deep woods with heavy leaf litter. Spraying a waterproof suit with 15% DEET also works well to limit contact with the skin. You might be asking why not a natural insect repellent. Trust me, I've tried this and it just doesn't cut it in deep woods. It will be a miserable experience for your family.

A high waterproof boot does wonders for protecting your child from possible snakes that might be hidden on the ground if they are running through the woods and not watching their surroundings. They also are easy to clean if your child walks/runs through some poison ivy/oak/sumac and you need to clean the urushiol off of their boots with soap and water. Extra socks are like extra clothes; a must if your child plays hard like mine do. Thick gloves offer protection from possible unknown mushroom residue that might happen to be on a cap or poison ivy that could be close to specimens. It's often hard to keep a check on your child when they are lost in the excitement of the forest and the hunt. You want to make the experience fun, but also safe without worrying about extraneous factors that might change a pleasant day into something unforgettable; and not in a good way.

A trekking pole or walking stick will allow for your child to inspect areas where they might want to investigate. Snakes are one of my biggest fears when I'm in the forest with my girls, but if you teach them to go slowly and pay attention to their surroundings, then that might prevent a dangerous encounter with a venomous snake.

I know some of you might be a bit leery about giving a child a knife. You need to consider that if you want your child to be capable and prepared to go into the forest to hunt mushrooms, you will want to get them a good knife. Opinal France makes some really great knives for kids, whether it's for mushroom hunting or for the kitchen, I don't think that you will be disappointed with the quality and timeless designs.

A few other things that you might want to have is a guide for your area, a kids shockproof/waterproof camera, a compass and utility cord. The split-willow creel is my go-to basket for foraging or collecting in the forest. It's better known as a fish basket, but it's got a small square hole in the top where your kiddos can drop all of their finds and forest treasures. It's also hinged and has a stap for carrying cross-body.

If you have some other really useful finds to add to my list, please do so in the comments. It's always so helpful when everyone passes along useful knowledge to one another. It creates a stronger community for our children and makes them more confident in the wilderness. Happy Mushroom Hunting!


The Magical and Mysterious Mushroom

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Transcribed for our international readers:

BLUANCHOR LLC, Treehouse Magazine and its affiliates, are in no way liable for any ingestion, false identification, sickness or death as a result of improper identification of toxic and non-toxic mushroom specimens. Do not attempt to "force" an identification of a description that you might find in the wild. For this reason, we strongly advise that the novice mushroom hunter consult MULTIPLE reliable references or an experienced nature guide that can positively identify the identity of the mushroom in question before it is eaten. Wild mushrooms should NEVER be eaten raw. 

The Magical and Mysterious Mushroom


My earliest experience as a child when it came to wild mushrooms was, "Under no circumstances, should you ever touch or eat a wild mushroom." As I grew older, that stayed with me and I found myself telling my children that same old tired line as well. This was mainly because I hadn't done enough research and had no confidence in the subject matter to lend any other reasonable explanation. Truthfully, I really think that it is because I want to keep them safe if they were alone and encountered something poisonous and they would be safer if they just didn't touch it. *I also didn't want to be the Mom who inadvertently poisoned her children because they handled and accidently ingested an Amanita bisporigera, better known as the Destroying Angel.*

There are no foragers in my family and the only mushrooms that I had ever eaten were the white button, crimini, and portobellos (all different growth stages of the same species, Agaricus bisporus) from the local grocery store. I would often run through the many acres of woods behind my Grandmother's house and jump on puff balls and watch the spores waft across the air, kick mushroom caps off of their stems, and relish in any new discoveries that a fresh fall rain brought. But that changed one day early this year in May when I encountered something totally new and exciting.

The snow was melting here in Wisconsin and I was eager to get back out and start my morning trail runs again after spending most of the winter cooped up doing contract work for KiwiCo, longing for the great outdoors. The cool mornings always gave way to warm sunny days and again to cooler nights. The air smelled earthy and Mother Nature was starting to show her beauty; small shoots were reaching towards the sky from under dead leaf litter and squirrels and chipmunks scurried beneath the forest floor in search of black walnuts. I was always so thankful (even while I winced in pain from being so out of shape) to witness those little changes on a daily basis.

One day, I was photographing a beautiful patch of lily of the valley (toxic/non-edible) that was growing on the hillside, and following them along the steep trail. As I went to put my phone away, I stopped in my tracks. I turn my head and looked down and next to a dead tree, amongst a few dandelions (edible), I encountered a mushroom that I'd never seen before in person, and immediately knew what it was; a Morel (Morchella esculenta). I composed myself and then look up to see about 20 more scattered amongst the wood chips, blending in just enough, to make them inconspicuous to the average passerby. I was stunned. I had stumbled on one of the most choice edibles in the wild and there wasn't another person in sight.

I quickly turned my running jacket into a makeshift carrying sack and pinched each tan stalk, just at the base, right above the wood chips and gave a small shake for spore dispersal. I was euphoric; one and then three more, so many Morels were going into my jacket. I felt like a small child finding easter eggs on a perfect spring morning, so I hurried back to my Jeep Wrangler to call my husband to tell him what I'd found. He was a bit leary and unsure, because he was raised just like I was when it came to wild mushrooms; "You can look, but don't touch, and most certainly not eat." I knew I needed a reference to convince him (as well as myself), so I stopped by the local bookstore on my way home and picked-up Mushrooms of the Upper Midwest by Teresa Marrone and Kathy Yerich. This fantastic book has been my go-to guide for hunting wild mushrooms. The pictures are wonderful and the information is clear and not too technical. Perfect for the novice mushroom hunter like myself.

Scanning the index, I finally found the section on Morels and proceeded to read on and learn why they were so special. Morels are only around for 3, maybe 4 weeks out of the year in the spring. I also learned that coveted Morel hunting grounds are passed down from generation to generation and are a well kept secret within families. Because Morels are mycorrhizal, meaning they often grown in a symbiotic relationship with trees (typically found around trees that have died, especially elm but also cottonwood; sometimes old fruit orchards), they typically come back in the same place season after season. On the open market, Morel mushrooms go for upwards of $35.00 a pound in farmers markets (fresh) or in grocery stores (dehydrated) for $25.00 an ounce.

After I confirmed that my finds were indeed Morels (completely hollow inside) and not Verpas spp. or the toxic False Morel (Gyromitra spp.), I soaked them to remove any bugs or spiders that might have made themselves a home. It has been said that if you water your garden with the water you used to soak the morels in, you might get lucky enough to have a few spores produce Morels the next year. So, I proceeded to water my flower box with the slurry and *fingers crossed* hope for Morels next spring. A girl can dream, amiright?!

That night I cleaned and pan-seared the Morels in butter, salt, and fresh garlic -- all four of us were hooked. The meaty texture was unlike anything my husband and I had ever tasted in our lives. The girls couldn't believe how different they were from the grocery store variety and were fascinated by the almost brain-like pitted texture of the cap, poking their tiny fingers in the holes and giggling with excitement. How many other delicious wild edibles had I avoided over 30+ years of my life because I feared death or just a really upset digestive tract? So, I broke out my Nesco dehydrator, split what we had left over, dehydrated on the lowest setting overnight, and put them in a large Mason jar with food-grade silica gel packs. (I'll occasionally just put my nose in the jar and breathe in the smell; so earthy and wonderful, there is nothing else like it in the universe.)

After that day, I have been on a mission to find out all that I can about wild mushrooms, even the toxic ones. The way I see it is like this, our children look to us for guidance and when they see how passionate we are about whatever in life makes us happy, they naturally want to take part. My girls will now stop and want to know more about the mushroom they are looking at and they are 3 and 5. I've found that they are the perfect size for hunting mushrooms because, naturally, they are just so close to the ground. I'll break out my book and we'll talk about it. I love to see the passion that they have for wild mushrooms when we are on the trail. These moments will stay with me, as treasured memories of their eagerness to connect with something that we share in as a family.

So here we are. I have been researching this issue #5 for the past few months and have learned so much. I decided that it was time to dig deep, put all of my knowledge out there, so other families might want to learn more about the magical and mysterious world of mushrooms. I've extended the deadlines for submission and want everyone to get ready for what fall has to bring. Check out our free Facebook classroom to find out where we're up to and how you can join in the fun!

You will see that I've created an identification sheet for our Facebook group and a spore print template. I do not want to see specimens in the group that not have been thoroughly researched using a trusted method, as well as a spore print.
No guessing or attempting to make your specimen "fit" the description of an edible that you're hoping for. Please understand that this learning process is not about edible mushrooms and how to find them. I want you and your family to learn about all the different types of mushrooms in your area, so you can properly identify specimens when you are out with your children or just by yourself. As the old saying goes, "Live for the Hunt". Tell yourself and children that and you'll stay grounded and focused on finding the answers that you're looking for when attempting to identify an edible species that might actually be a toxic look alike.

Thank you all as always for supporting our small family magazine. It's just me, my husband, and our two girls and we plan on passing all of this awesomeness to them as long as the Interwebs is around. Treehouse will always be a free resource for you and your tribe, and we love having such a fantastic community of like-minded families to share our journey with us!

-The Treehouse Family

Link to PDF for notebook cover: Here
My Mushroom Spore Print PDF: Here

My Mushroom Spore Print -- End Result

Link to Mycelium Experiment PDF: Here

Link to PDF for Mushroom Morphology: Here
Link to PDF for Spore Print: Here
Link to Mushroom Anatomy: Here
Link to Mush-room for Puzzles: Here
Link to explanation and full list of items: Here
Link to Mycologist self-portrait: Here
Link to PDF for Amanita Addition: Here

My Monarch Butterfly Garden

Monday, January 1, 2018
Monarch butterflies are something that I never really considered until I was at the Milwaukee County Zoo with my family.

The Zoo has two very beautiful butterfly gardens full of flowers and native plants. While I was walking around with my girls, I noticed signs for the Monarch Waystation and the Monarch Habitat. I had never seen anything like that before, so I decided to do a little research. It turns out that the Monarch butterfly population has greatly diminished over the last decade. Milkweed and native grasses have been replaced with housing developments and urban sprawl. Monarchs need Milkweed to survive. 

I've included a nature craft activity, My Nature Press which goes with hand in hand with My Butterfly-sun catcher, which will require dried flowers. As for the finish-the-picture activity,
 'My [Monarch] Butterfly Garden', I am going to create a special thread in our Facebook group to showcase everyone's butterfly garden. Really think about the flora and fauna in your area and let that shine in the activity.

Treehouse S.T.E.A.M. -- Gardens / Bugs / Birds Classes

If your child received a Pocket Prairie Garden seed packet, here are instructions from The Ladybird Johnson Wildlife Center on how to go about starting your pocket prairie garden. The seed in this packet is for a 20 x 20 garden or 400 square feet. I'd start these seeds in early winter if you've completed your site preparation to ensure proper seed stratification.  

Site Prep: You'll need an area where weeds have been removed via solarization (recommended) ready to plant 6 weeks after OR herbicide application (recommended only if the weed/seed bank is high).  Soil will be ready to plant with seeds 5 days after application. Bloom times are from spring through fall and heights vary.  

The full list of species in your seed mix is as follows (seed weight varies): 

(A) = Annual (B) = Biennial (P) = Perennial 

Common Name | Botanical Name [link to plants information]

(P) Little Bluestem Grass

(P) Butterfly Milkweed

(P) Common Milkweed

(P) Swamp Milkweed

(P) Blazing Star

(P) Purple Coneflower

(P) Lance Leaved Coreopsis

(P) Black Eyed Susan

(P) Tall Verbena

(P) Autumn Sneezeweed

(P) Snapdragon

(P) Wild Bergamont

(P) Obedient Plant

(P) Royal Catchfly

(P) Cardinal Flower

(P) Indian Blanket Flower

(P) Purple Prairie Clover

(P) Eastern Smooth Beardtongue

(P) Partridge Pea

(P) Mexican Hat

(P) Grey-headed Coneflower

(P) Stiff Goldenrod

(P) Grey Goldenrod

(P) New England Aster

(P) California Poppy

(P) Red Corn Poppy

(B) Purple Phacelia

(B) Parsley

(B) Siberian Wallflower

(B) Sweet William

(B) Common Evening Primrose

(A) Sunflower - Evening Sun Mixed Colors

(A) Baby Blue Eyes

(A) Linaria Fairy Bouquet

(A) Calendula Fancy Mix

(A) Mexican Lupine

(A) Mexican Sunflower

(A) Cosmos

(A) Balsam

(A) Sulphur Cosmos

(A) Borage

(A) Bachelor's Button

(A) Pincushion Flower

(A) Sweet Sultan

(A) Crimson Clover

(A) China Aster

(A) Dill

(A) Rocky Mtn. Bee Plant

(A) Lemon Mint

(A) Bishop's Flower

(A) Sweet Alyssum

To download project sheets and print at home: Right-click the image, download as a JPEG and save to your desktop. Please note that most printers are not borderless, so you might have to cut around the edge to remove that annoying white border. So, print out your project/parent sheets and get outside!

Link: My Monarch Butterfly Garden PDF

Share your pictures with us on instagram: @treehousemagazine
Mention us on Facebook: @treehousekidsmagazine.
Send us a tweet: @mytreehousekids

We would love to know how it went!

The Treehouse Family

Link to PDF: Glossary of Terms

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