How to Make Hot Chocolate Outside!

Winter and hot chocolate go together.
This year, enjoy hot chocolate while you’re playing outside.
We cook outside during the summer so why not winter?
There is nothing better and your kids will remember it forever.

It’s easy and fun.


You will need: images
1. Portable Coleman Stove or similar with fuel
2. Pan for water
3. Cups
4. Lighter or matches
5. Cocoa mix
6. Water
7. Spoons
8. Towels/rags to clean up spills (optional)

You can buy small gas stoves at REI, Dicks, Target or any outdoor supply store for about $30. Portable stoves are easy to use and you’ll have hot water within minutes. Propane stoves like the one shown are great because you don’t have the mess of fuel.

DSC00093Put all your supplies into a plastic bin to transport to your event. If there isn’t a picnic table handy, search for a flat rock or create a place in the snow for your stove. The kids can make a spot for you. When you’re ready, fire up the stove and serve. I always recommend that you let the kids work up a sweat first before enjoying the drink. They’ll appreciate it more and they’ll be warm enough to stand around for a few minutes.

If you’re worried about your hands getting cold, just pop a hand warmer in your pocket. You can buy 6 pair for about $10 or individual packs for $1. Why suffer with cold hands when there’s an easy solution?

By creating wonderful outdoor experiences, kids are more likely to get off the couch and into the outdoors. Watch this video of two young people enjoying their first outdoor hot cocoa. You can tell that they’re having a blast and you can bet that more people will come on the next trip.

You can find Diane planning for her next trip at Christ the Solid Rock Baptist Church on Madison’s east side. 

10 Wonder-filled Summer Activities for Kids

firefliesby Diane Schwartz, Get Kids Outside

Summertime flies by so fast. Before you know it, back-to-school ads will start.

Enjoy the summer by giving your kids wonder-filled activities that will delight and engage them.

1. Catch a firefly or two or three in a jar: No insect says summer like the firefly. These gentle insects light up the night and the imaginations of kids. Male and female fireflies blink
on and off as a way of attracting each other for mating. Different species have different blinking patterns. To see this, capture some fireflies in a jar and count the gap between flashes and look for patterns. Gently release them and try with another set of fireflies. If they have different flash patterns, then it’s a different species.


Cicada exoskeleton and fully morphed cicada.

2. Catch a cicada larvae and watch it morph overnight into a gorgeous flying machine. Cicadas usually start appearing in late July and early August. Their high-pitched singing ushers in the dog days of summer. Look for cicada larvae at the base of trees in the early evening. Gently place the larvae in a well-ventilated container with a few sticks or bark. In the morning, you will have a fully morphed cicada. Notice the exoskeleton left by the molting insect. Pretty cool. Observe this beautiful insect and then let it go. Later, listen for and try to find one sitting in a tree. They are very loud so you may have to hold your ears. They are the only insect capable of making such loud noises.

3. Make homemade ice cream in a bag. There is nothing better than eating something that you make from scratch. All it takes is ice, sugar, heavy cream, vanilla, rock salt and your favorite fruit or candy. The best part is you don’t have to crank and the kids can make a mess outside and toss the baggies. I like the recipe at For the scientific approach go to I love it when kids learn while they’re having fun.

4. Make a backyard water park with sprinklers, plastic tarps and buckets. Set up a sprinkler or two to make a water park in your backyard. A plastic tarp can make a great slip and slide and water balloons are always a hit. Get the entire neighborhood together to make this simple pleasure a real extravaganza.

5. Play outside at night. Too many kids do not get to experience the joy of playing outside at night. How else are you going to catch those fireflies? Be sure to let your kids experience the joy of summer at night. Have a campfire or cookout, take an evening stroll, catch fireflies, or play hide-and-seek. The summer lasts longer when you play outside at night.

6. Have a campfire. Whether in your backyard or at a campground, having a campfire is essential. Campfires are relaxing and cozy. Your kids will remember the stories that are shared around a campfire for a lifetime and they’ll really remember the food. Everything tasted better when it’s cooked on a fire outside.

images-47. Eat a s’more: A s’more is the quintessential campfire treat. Just cook a marshmallow or two over a fire and sandwich them between two graham crackers and a piece of chocolate for a delicious campfire snack. Pudgy Pies are another favorite. To make one you need giant pie irons. We called them Tonka Toasters growing up and you can buy them at most outdoor stores. A Pudgy Pie is essentially a grilled cheese sandwich, only it’s cooked between the pie irons. Fillings vary. Pie filling was our favorite, just don’t put too much in the middle or the bread will break. You may burn one or two before getting it right, but that’s part of the fun.

8. Go swimming in an old-fashioned swimming hole where you can use inner tubes and floaties. Bring along the noodles, inner tubes and floaties for old-fashioned fun at the beach. Devil’s Lake is a great place to swim because the water is clean and you can enjoy inner tubes. You can also chase minnows and find interesting rocks on the beach. While there is no life-guard on duty at many of these parks, the water is shallow enough so that you don’t have to worry too much. Plus, you can always swim with your kids. They will love you for it.

images9. Go to a Fair:  Every county in Wisconsin, and most states, holds a fair between July and September every year. The year ends with a huge state fair. You can see animals, go on rides, play games or just walk around. I go just to see that donut machine that automatically drops the dough into a river of hot oil and flips them when they reach golden-brown perfection. It’s an engineering marvel and makes my day. True, this event is not free and food alone can rack up the costs. However, if you save up, you can manage a visit to the fair once a year. See for a list of all the Fairs in Wisconsin.

10. Look for shooting stars: City folks will have to find a spot outside the city lights for this one, or just find a spot shielded from big lights. Lay down a blanket and stare up into the night sky. Imagine the galaxies and planets and the vastness of the universe. Tell stories and look for constellations like the big dipper. If you don’t know the constellations, then invent your own. But most of all just marvel at the beauty of the night sky and before you know it you’ll be saying, “Look, there’s a shooting star. Did you see it?”

Don’t forget to make a wish and relish your time with your kids this summer.

What summer activities are on your top 10 list?  

Diane Schwartz is the founder of Get Kids Outside. She is passionate about getting kids outdoors and has taught more than 300 kids and their families the joys of biking, hiking and skiing. She is especially interested in increasing racial diversity in our parks and trails. In addition, she founded the Madison Area Women’s Outdoor Group in 2012. The group has over 300 members and has completed 128 outings. 

Firefly Hike at Indian Lake County Park

firefliesJoin Get Kids Outside on Friday, July 11 at 7:30 p.m. for a magical Fireflyhike at Indian Lake County Park, 8183 Hwy 19, Cross Plains, WI.
We’ll take an easy one-mile hike around the lake and then, as the sun sets, we’ll start to see hundreds of fireflies. Why do they blink? What makes them glow? We may even catch a few. If there’s interest, we’ll build a fire and cook some marshmallows. Firefly Information
Time: 7:30 pm – 9:30 p.m. Meet in the parking lot at Indian Lake at 7:30 p.m. If you arrive late, go the ‘warming shelter’ by the sledding hill.
Cost: $10/family suggested donation or donate what you can. We will pass the hat to cover leader expenses.
Location: Indian Lake County Park, 8183 Hwy 19, Cross Plains WI 53528. Take Hwy 12 west to Hwy 19 west toward Mazomanie. The entrance to the park is off of 19 about 3 miles from hwy 12.
Bring water, bug dope, a flashlight and a clear container for catching bugs-check the recycling bin for glass jars. I will have bug dope for those who don’t have it and a few containers.
Dogs: Well-behaved dogs okay on a leash are okay.
Transportation: On your own. Meet at the park.
Waiver: Adults/Parents will be asked to sign a waiver when we get to the park. All children must be accompanied by a parent/adult.
RSVP so that I know that you’re coming 24 hours in advance. Cell phone coverage is spotty at Indian Lake so I will not be able to get messages at the park.  
Cancellation Policy: In case of bad weather, I will send out an email to those who said yes to the hike by 6 pm. I will also post on my Facebook page. 

Hope to see you there.


“Go Play Outside” – Easy Tips for busy parents to get their kids outside

go-outside-cartoon“Go play outside.”

It’s so simple you would think that all parents would do it.

But they don’t.

As parents, you have the most influence on your child.

Here are few tips to encourage outdoor play that do not take much time, energy or money.

1. Tell you Your Kids to “Go Play Outside”
Yes, it’s that simple. Today, you may have to turn off the computer or television and make it a mandate. If you’re afraid to let your kids play outside because of bullies or other dangers, then you will need to find ways to help you child get outside. Ask yourself if the fear is real or perceived. Many cities are safer today than ever before, but it doesn’t feel that way because of exaggerated media coverage of crime. I don’t mean to undermine truly dangerous situations, but from what I’ve seen, many parents lock their kids inside for no reason. And yes, you can teach your child how to be safe. Go to Free Range Kids for tips on how other parents faced their fear and let their children go.

2. Show enthusiasm: If you’re driving down the road, encourage your kids to look for hawks and other birds on the electric wires and sign posts. If you spot a large bird or animal, pull over and check it out (if you have time). Show them that you’re excited about the animal and open up a conversation. Don’t worry if you’re not sure what it is. You can always look it up later. If you’ve got a camera handy, take a snap shot and post it on Facebook or take it to school. You’re sure to get others to help you with identification.

3. Be curious: If you show curiosity about the natural world, so will your kids. Ask questions like, “What under that log? Why do you think they live there? How does a bird fly? Can you find a worm? A beetle? Where do animals go in the winter?  Pose questions and encourage your children to search for the answers. Focus on the search and not on getting the correct answer. Make it a game.

4. Encourage imagination: One of my favorite things to do as a kid was to play with ants. I imagined myself as a tiny person running among the ants. I imagined my world getting turned upside down in an instant by the rain or the wind. I marveled at how quickly the ants rebuilt their homes after destruction. Lead by example by showing imagination for the natural world. Imagine that you’re a bird, raccoon or squirrel. What would that be like? Talk with your kids about this. They will love it.

5. Keep a magnifying lens handy: Even the most ordinary of things looks really neat when enlarged. Magnify a seed, a blade of grass, or show your kids how to light a fire from the sun (if appropriate). There are countless things you can do with a magnifying lens. Also keep a few small boxes on hand for placing specimens and objects found outside.

6. Use binoculars:  Want to get a better view of a bird or that squirrel that visits the backyard or playground?  You can get an inexpensive pair of binoculars for your kids that lets them see things closer. This will entice them to learn more.

7. Plant a garden:  Dig up a small patch of ground and let your child plant a few seed. If you rent, ask the landlord of you can do this. It doesn’t need to be a large patch. Just enough to grow a few beans or flowers. Your child can water, weed and enjoy the garden all summer.

8. Use child size tools:  In snow country, get your child a pint-sized shovel so that they can help with snow removal. Kids love to help and this is a great way to spend time with your child. You can also get pint-sized shovels and hand tools or just use old spoons to dig in the ground.

These are just few ideas for getting your kids outside that don’t need a lot of your time. Encourage them to explore on their own and they’ll become independent kids who are not afraid of the world.

What do you do to encourage your kids to get outside? 


Birding Tips for Families
Operation Deer Watch
Bald Eagle Watching in Wisconsin
Eagle Watching in Prairie du Chien, WI
The Children and Nature Network
Free Range Kids

You can find Diane

5 Tips for Making Going Outside a Habit

Guest Post by Rachel Thomas

ImageSince my children were very small we have made it a habit to spend as much time outside as possible, but it’s not always easy.

Our schedules are hectic and technology is such that most of us hardly even think about going outside. It seems our attention is either on our computers, our phones, or the television when we are home. Our children’s health and our health as a country is deteriorating and we really need to start making it a habit to spend more time out-of-doors as a family. Here are few ideas that for getting your kids outside that have worked for me.

1. Play Outside Every Day When my kids were small, we made a point of playing in the yard every day. We would swing, play catch, or they would ride around the driveway on their tricycles or get some sidewalk chalk and do some art work. I even taught them the art of making mud pies which was one of my favorite pastimes when I was small. Momma would set me on a towel and we would dig up some dirt, mix it with water, and make pretend pies in mom’s old pie tins. Sometimes we had an old box that we used as an oven and baked our pies for supper. Momma was always thinking of ways to get us involved in outdoor activities and since I loved to help her in the kitchen she knew I would enjoy this activity.

2. Plant a garden
Every year we would plant a garden and momma would let us pick out one vegetable we wanted to grow. It was so much fun planting and watering our vegetable and even more fun when it grew and started producing. It is a wondrous thing for a young child to watch plants as they grow. Even if you have never gardened, it is still something you and your kids can have fun learning together. I will never forget my first vegetable, which was corn; I planted it and watched it grow so tall and strong. There is nothing like eating something that you grew yourself. My children wanted to grow their own trees so that is what we started with. We planted a peach, pear and a kumquat tree and the children were so thrilled when their trees started to fruit. This takes a bit longer than a vegetable garden but it is very rewarding when the trees fruit and you actually get to taste it.

3. Ride a bike or take a walk 
Many days when my kids get home from school and have a quick snack we take a walk or ride our bikes. After school is a great time to get into the habit of going outdoors before everyone gets settled in front of video games, television, or computers. We either walk or ride to the local park or to the bayou to look for tadpoles. My children love to hike and look for interesting leaves, rocks, plants, moss, and trees. My mom bought my son a small blunt axe so he could chop up the dead logs we found. He really thought he was all grown up using that axe. We’d bring home our finds and use them for craft projects later. I also found that doing craft projects outside makes it easier when it is time to clean up as well.

4. Play with your kids
Doing things as a family is the easiest way to get your children active and outdoors, when the kids see mom and dad getting out and having fun it makes it fun for them as well. If it becomes a lifestyle for the entire family then it usually becomes a lifestyle that sticks. We have a badminton net set up in the yard, and even though my daughter sometimes doesn’t want to play, she always has a great time after she gets going. I have found that even less active children can get excited about being active if the adult with them makes it fun. Just being out-of-doors in the sunshine is a step in the right direction.

5. Go Camping 
Going camping was a new adventure for me when my kids were young, I was a little hesitant, but I knew that my children would love it. We started out camping in the back yard. After that my kids wanted to go to a real camping park. There are so many state parks around the country so it is easy to find one not too far away. Most state parks have lakes for swimming and fishing and trails for hiking. Plus, they are safe for families. I remember the first park we went to in Texas. We were setting up camp and my son wanted to go see the lake so I let my daughter take him. Within a few minutes, they were back and my daughter had a panicked look on her face. She told me that there were alligators on the banks of the lake! We talked to the rangers and they assured us that if we did not mess with the alligators they would not mess with us. I was just glad we did not pick one of the campsites that were on the bank of the lake!

It was such an adventure for the kids to sleep in a tent. We saw so much wildlife that we would not have seen at home. We learned quickly that you cannot leave food outside or inside the tent. One night a bag of cookies got inside the tent and was up underneath a sleeping bag near the edge of the tent – but no one knew how, of course. All night long something was scratching at the tent, even after I ran outside and tried to scare it off. In the morning we had a tiny hole in the tent and found the cookies. The next night we made sure there was no food in the tent and we had a better night sleep!

The whole family benefits from getting into the habit of getting active outside. I have found that it really clears the mind and helps the attitude when we all get off of the technology and do something active.

Rachel is an ex-babysitting pro as well as a professional writer and blogger. She is a graduate from Iowa State University and writes for She welcomes questions/comments at

Where are we going? Learning to read a map


Where are we going?

Hiking is a great way to teach map reading skills. In the photo, I am showing a student the map at Cherokee Marsh. Map reading teaches spatial awareness and boosts confidence. Kids always ask, “How far have we hiked? Have we hike a mile yet?” Showing them a map and then hiking the trail is the best way to learn this skill.

The Stick: Now available at a woods near you!


Kira rocks out with her microphone-stick.

You can’t keep a good stick down.

In an instant, kids will transform the humble stick into just about anything and you should let them:

  • Walking stick
  • Crutch
  • Stir Stick
  • Microphone
  • Magic wand
  • Eating tool
  • Fishing pole
  • Drawing tool
  • Building material
  • Flag for a sand castle
  • Digging tool and lots more…

What’s not to love about sticks?

Sticks are free.
Sticks are everywhere.
Sticks are the ultimate creativity booster. Continue reading

Top 10 Fall Adventures with Kids in Wisconsin

It’s autumn in Wisconsin and nothing is better than that. Get outside with your kids this fall and create memories to last a lifetime.  Here are a few of my favorite fall outings with links to help you create your own memorable adventures. Have fun and write to let me know your own favorites.

images-11. Hayrides: Kids love hayrides and so do adults. They are fun, relaxing and old fashioned. In our fast paced world, it’s delightful to slow down and take a ride in a tractor or horse drawn wagon. Contact your local parks department for hayrides or search the internet. Many are free or very low cost. The City of Madison offers low cost Hayrides and your town may as well. Many organizations host haunted hayrides like MacKenzie Environmental Education Center and Schumacher Farm Park. Halloween events in Wisconsin are everywhere.

images-62. Corn Mazes: Get lost and then found in a corn maze. Go to Wisconsin Corn Mazes to find a corn maze near you. I’m going to Mayr Corn Maze in a few weeks so I can let you know about that one. It’s haunted so that will fun. Many, like Treinen Farm’s Corn Maze and Pumpkin Patch, also offer other activities such as pumpkin picking, petting zoos and food. The Keep Wisconsin Warm Cool Fund’s Corn Maze in Fitchburg serves as a fundraiser. So, if you’re looking to help keep people warm this winter, attend this maze.   Continue reading

Tips on Fishing with Kids: Plus 6 Midwest Fishing Hotspots

images-1By Joe Laing, guest author

Looking to reel the kids out of the house? Fishing is a great way to get them away from the computer and bond with them in the great outdoors. The Midwest is full of incredible spots for your family to cast their lines. Here are some tips and places to check out that will get your children hooked in no time.

1) Keep your hooks sharp
A dull hook can mean a dull day on the water. Nothing will make your kids enjoy fishing more than experiencing the thrill of the catch, and nothing will turn them away from it faster than the repeated frustration of losing fish after fish. You can test to see if your hook is sharp enough by dragging it across your fingernail. If it doesn’t scratch it, you need to sharpen or replace your hook. Make sure your children are careful handling the hooks and don’t catch their finger instead of a fish. Always have a first aid kit, just in case.

2) Be sure about your lure
You have five different types of lures to choose from: spinnerbaits, crankbaits, plastics, topwaters and jigs. Spinnerbaits and crankbaits are good if you’re going to be moving around a lot or if the bottom is rocky. Topwaters are best for shallow water. For jigs and plastics, you move the rod tip to retrieve the bait instead of reeling in like all other lures.

3) Know where to look
If you’re fishing in a river or lake, find where the water turns from shallow to deep as well as mossy areas. Fish tend to gather in these areas to look for food. Make sure the kids don’t splash around too much. You don’t want to scare away your potential catches!

Places to fish

Beautiful Lake Mendota offers great urban fishing.

Beautiful Lake Mendota offers great urban fishing.

Lake Mendota- Wisconsin
Of the four lakes near Madison, this is the largest. Almost 10,000 acres of water reach depths of up to 83 feet, which is pretty deep by Wisconsin lake standards. It’s one of the best places in Wisconsin to catch walleye fish, since the Department of Natural Resources has been heavily stocking the species. There is a minimum size of 18 inches and a daily catch limit of three fish. Other fish that are abundant here include smallmouth bass and northern pike.

Saint Germain Lake- Wisconsin
This 1,617-square acre lake in Vilas County is full of largemouth bass, smallmouth bass, muskellunge, northern pike, and walleye. You’ll most likely be catching a lot of muskies, and big ones at that — Saint German Lake is known for its trophy-class muskies. The Bayview Resort is a great place to stay nearby to keep the kids entertained, with a game room, boats, canoes and a swim raft.

Lake Jacksonville-Illinois
There’s no better place in Illinois to fish for bass than Lake Jacksonville. The nearly 500-acre lake in Morgan County has garnered attention from the likes of Field and Stream magazine and it doesn’t take long to figure out why — it’s not uncommon to hook 15-inch bass (and larger). Keep in mind, there is a three-fish daily creel limit for Lake Jacksonville. If you plan to stay for a weekend or a few days, there is excellent camping nearby at the Buena Vista Resort and at the Crazy Horse Campground, which includes its own stocked fishing ponds and a disc golf course.

Trout Run Creek-Minnesota
Trout Run Creek is 12 miles of fish bliss riddled with pools, pockets and, of course, trout! The large brown trout are abundant and it’s a great spot for fly fishing. An important state regulation to be aware of is that all trout from 12″-16″ must be released right away. This gorgeous location in Lanesboro is a long-time favorite and a productive place to teach children the ropes of casting a fly line. The creek runs through Whitewater State Park, which features 47 sites with full electric RV hook-ups.

Buckeye Lake in Ohio offers great fishing.

Buckeye Lake in Ohio offers great fishing.

Buckeye Lake- Ohio
3,600 acres of water that’s only about 120 miles from Cincinnati and Cleveland makes Buckeye Lake one of Ohio’s most popular fishing destinations. You’re bound to catch a healthy haul of crappie – use jigs cast around docks to catch them. The best time of day for catching crappie is high noon, so make sure you put plenty of sun block on the little ones. For campers that like all of the amenities, the 40-acre Buckeye Lake KOA campground has plenty of room to spread out and settle down for a week.

Ackerman Lake- Michigan
Being the state with the most fresh water access, Michigan is filled with great fishing. Salmon are abundant in the state and Ackerman Lake in Alger County is no exception. In the spring, however, the fish are constantly on the move because of changing water temperatures, although finding a honey hole during summer can be very productive.

When fishing with kids, remember that removing the hook can get ugly if a fish swallows the bat, so don’t do it in front of your kids if they are younger. Seeing even a bit of fish flesh removed with the hook can scare children away from the fish fry you’d been planning for dinner.

Fishing with the family can be a memorable dream vacation or daytrip for both parents and children. Do you have any suggestions for taking the kids out on the water?

Need help get getting started? 
Here are some links to Angler Education Programs in Wisconsin, Minnesota, Michigan, Ohio and Illinois. Not see your state? Just Google the DNR in your state.

About the Author

Joe Laing is the Marketing Director for El Monte RV, your nationwide source for RV rentals. El Monte RV also sells used motorhomes through eight different locations across the United States.

Is Physical Inactivity the New Normal?

  • Do you walk less than you used to? 
  • Do you watch more television? 
  • Do you spend more time at the computer?
  • Are you getting older and moving less?*
  • Do you drive your kids to school even though they could walk or ride their bikes? 
  • Is your job more sedentary than it used to be? 
  • Do you keep your kids inside because you don’t feel safe letting them play outside?
  • Do your kids prefer being inside so much that you have to force them outside?
Dr. Jane Greenberg

Dr. Jane Greenberg

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then you are part of a scary international trend toward less activity. Since 1970, physical activity has dropped 32 percent in the United States and this trend is happening all over the world. For example, in 1969, 40% of students walked or biked to school. By 2001 only 13% of children walked or biked to school. Couple that with increasing use of computers and gadgets and it’s no surprise that some kids are gaining weight. According to the Center for Disease Control, childhood obesity has more than doubled in children and tripled in adolescents in the past 30 years.

In my day, there was usually one child in a classroom that was overweight, now it’s common.** The health ramifications of this are huge, especially in minority populations. Kids are at risk of heart disease, diabetes and other preventable diseases at earlier and earlier ages. 

Dr. Jane Greenberg, the District Director of Physical Education and Health Literacy for Miami-Dade County Public Schools, shared these statistics at the Healthy Living Summit.

Students learn to sail in the Miami-Dade School District as part of physical education classes.

To address this problem, Dr. Greenberg has transformed how physical education looks in Miami Dade public schools. In addition to the usual menu of track, volleyball and soccer, students can choose from kayaking, sailing, snowshoeing on the beach, dance revolution, yoga, and lessons in nutrition. Some schools have exercise equipment where kids use technology to get fit. Since schools have no money, Greenberg created corporate partnerships to fund the programs.

I love this and the kids do too.

We have to engage kids where they are at and come up with new solutions to get kids moving. While I truly believe that getting outside is the best form of exercise, it is unrealistic to think that this will work for all kids. Integrating technology with exercise makes a lot of sense.

We need to recognize that our culture makes it harder to be active. And, we need to realize that getting kids active is only part of the problem.  Parents also need help. Dr. Greenberg said that kids with active parents are 5 times more likely to be active as adults. Adults have a responsibility to their kids and need to get healthy themselves.

*Lest you get too depressed about these statistics, do keep in mind that much of the decrease in activity is due to our aging population. However, that still doesn’t excuse us from what’s happening to our kids.
** There is an upside to the obesity problem; Kids are less likely to get teased for their weight when more kids have the same issue.

You can find Diane gearing up for Bike for Life at the Goodman Community Center. What are you doing to reverse this trend?