Gardening With Kids: 5 activities to spark imagination and creativity

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Gardening can be a wonderful activity for children to spend time outdoors, learn about how plants grow, and experience the interconnectedness of nature. With a little bit of planning, gardens can also be a magical place where children can use their imaginations and be inspired by the beauty that surrounds them. Here are some ideas for making a children’s garden that doubles as a place of learning and a place of magic.

  1. Build a sunflower house. Plant sunflowers in a horseshoe shape, and as the flowers grow tall a great hideout is created.
  2. Build a bean tepee. Use long branches and/or small saplings to build a tepee frame. Wrap the tepee with garden twine horizontally. Be sure to leave a side unwrapped and open as an entrance. Plant pole beans around the outside of the tepee. As the beans creep up the trellis, the tepee becomes a fort that also provides a yummy snack.
  3. Create a story-themed garden. Plant a garden that follows the story of a garden from a favorite book. For example, in The Carrot Seed  by Ruth Krauss and Crockett Johnson, a young boy plants a carrot seed and patiently cares for the plant until it becomes a humongous carrot. For your related story garden, plant carrots, watch them grow, and see if they become giant carrots just like what happened in the story. Check out this month’s Garden Nature Book List to find other stories for garden inspiration.
  4. Plant a meal-themed garden. A salad garden could include various types of lettuce, spinach, kale, radish, carrots, and peas. A pizza garden might have tomatoes, basil, spinach, garlic, pepper, and onion growing. A soup garden could be made up of potatoes, garlic, onion, carrot, celery, and kale. Use your culinary imagination to create a fun, meal-themed garden!
  5. Create a fairy garden. Build fairy houses or even a fairy village. Grow flowers and herbs and ferns and other interesting plants in the garden space around the fairy community. Check this out for some amazing fairy garden village inspiration!

7 Outdoor Rainy Day Activities

Let’s face it. Getting outside on a rainy day can be tough. The rain can be cold and damp, and outdoor play isn’t any fun when you’re wet. But with some good rain gear and rain boots, lots of fun can be had outside in the rainy weather. (Rain or Shine Mamma has some great tips for being prepared for rainy day outdoor play.)

Here are 7 outdoor rainy day activities to encourage children to have some fun in the rain and explore nature even when the weather isn’t so perfect.

  1. Listen to the rain. Listen to how it falls on the natural objects around you. Bring a variety of items from the recycling (plastic containers, cardboard boxes, tin cans, etc.) and listen how the sound of the rain changes on each.
  2. Stomp in puddles. Make different sized splashes. Watch the patterns that are created by the different foot movements and splashes.
  3. Build a rain gauge to measure the amount of rainfall. Here is a simple tutorial.
  4. Create a rainstorm with your hands and feet. This activity works best with a large group. It would be a lot of fun to do this as a class. If you listen carefully you can hear the rainstorm move in and then get further away.
  5. Go on a rainy day nature quest. Flip over rocks and logs, and look under leaves to search for bugs and worms. Some creatures love the rain and can easily be found enjoying the extra wet weather, while others are taking shelter from the rain.
  6. Make boats and rafts out of leaves, sticks, and bark. Float them in a puddle or down a stream.
  7. Build a rain shelter. Use sticks and leaves and other objects from the forest floor to build a rain-proof shelter that would keep you completely dry.

And, when you are ready to come in from all that outdoor rainy day fun, cozy up with some of these reads all about rainy weather from the April Nature Book List!

Signs of Spring Nature Walk (free printable!)

Spring is here, and sure enough signs of the season will be found everywhere. I created this fun checklist to bring along on a nature walk in search of signs of spring. Children can bring this colorful handout with them as they explore nature and use their senses to investigate the changes of the season. Not only can they search for the items on the handout, but they can be inspired to search for their own signs of spring as well. Laminate the print-out, and it will stand up to any weather. Use the handout several times throughout the spring season to see how the natural world changes as it gets closer and closer to summer. Are there more flowers? Are the flowers in bloom different? How does the grass change? What happens to the leaves on the trees? Do birds still visit their nests at the end of the season? What happens to the mud?

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CLICK HERE for the Signs of Spring Nature Walk (free printable)

What is the Vernal Equinox & 5 Ways to Celebrate it

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This year the vernal equinox will occur Sunday, March 20 in the northern hemisphere. On the equinox, the sun passes over the celestial equator (the invisible line in the sky above the earth’s equator), making the length of daylight and night nearly equal. The term equinox is derived from a Latin term meaning “equal night”. The nearly equal lengths of day and night on the equinox are a result of the tilt of the earth’s axis being perpendicular to the sun on this day. Earth Sky has good information describing the science of the upcoming vernal equinox, along with a video (about halfway down the page) explaining the seasons.

The vernal equinox also marks the first day of spring. This has long been celebrated as a time of renew. Many cultures mark the arrival of spring around the vernal equinox emphasizing fertility, birth, and growth. Celebrations can take form in a number of ways. Here are a few ideas to connect with nature on this special celestial day, and observe the changing of the season:

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  • Set up a spring nature table. Bring a bit of nature in to display in a beautiful arrangement. Collect rocks, feathers, twigs, and maybe even some flowers from a nature walk. Take cuttings from budding flowering shrubs, place them in a vase of water, and force them to bloom indoors. This small alter for the season provides a place to connect with the natural world even while indoors.
  • Try to balance an egg. There is an old anecdote that asserts an egg can be balanced on end only twice a year (on the equinoxes). Whether or not this is scientifically accurate, it is still a fun activity to try!
  • Go for a nature walk and spot signs of spring. There are many tell-tale changes in nature as spring draws near. Birds become more abundant as many return from their winter habitats and their songs can once again be heard all around. Other animals become more active, like the chipmunks and squirrels who come out of their winter dens. Buds form on trees. Flowers begin to grow, with snowdrops and crocuses being the first flowers to pop up around here. Explore the world around you, and see how many changes you can find.
  • Have a picnic outside. The arrival of spring means warmer weather and more sunlight. Why not celebrate the nicer weather by having a picnic in the fresh air. Set up a blanket in the grass or on a deck or patio and enjoy a simple picnic lunch or snack.
  • Plant seeds. Since spring signals a time of growth, what could be a more fitting activity than to plant and grow seeds? Find a sunny window of your house. Fill some small peat pots with a seed-starting soil. Plant a few sunflower seeds and watch the seedlings grow. When the weather warms up enough, transplant the flowers outside to enjoy through the summer and into the fall. Perhaps, even, use these seedlings to build your own sunflower house.

For some great reads about spring, take a look at this month’s Nature Book List.

And, check out these other links for more spring-welcoming activities:

 

Build a Winter Habitat

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Animals in areas that experience cold climates have several adaptations for survival. Many animals hibernate to survive the winter. Other animals will store food near their habitat to access during the cold winter months. In this activity, students will have the opportunity to build a human-sized winter habitat. This can be done as one large group, or can be completed in smaller groups and the shelters can then be compared. Students will need to consider important qualities for constructing a habitat, such as warmth, protection from weather, access to food and water, safety from predators, etc. After the students have designed their winter survival shelters, they will then have the opportunity to construct them using natural materials from nature. These materials could include sticks, snow, leaves, stumps, and fallen branches. It is important to not damage any living things in the making of these shelters.

Once the dwellings are built have students describe the features of their construction that make for good winter survival. Again, students should consider warmth, protection from weather, access to food and water, safety from predators, etc. Compare the students’ winter habitat designs to those of other animals – where does a bear hibernate? what does a fox den look like in winter? what does a squirrel drey look like? what animals used logs, sticks, branches, dens in snow/ground, leaves, etc.? Make connections between the students’ designs and the designs animals use to survive winter.

For more resources on how animals survive winter, check out the books on this month’s Nature Book List, which is all about animals in wintertime.

Animal Tracking in Winter

Architetto -- tante orma sulla neve by francesco_rollandin

While some animals hibernate or migrate to warmer climates for the winter, many animals continue to be active. With snow on the ground, a great wintertime activity can be tracking these animals that remain out and about. Tracking involves interpreting, following, and identifying animal tracks. Children can be nature detectives as they study the different animal tracks and signs left in the snow. The more time they take searching for clues and making careful observations, the more they will learn about the wild animals of winter. Here are some helpful tips for animal tracking with children:

  • Examine the tracks carefully –
    • Use a ruler to measure the size of the track and the distance between tracks
    • Notice the shape of the track; count the number of toes
    • Based on the pattern of the tracks can you tell how the animal was moving? Was it walking? Was it running? Was it hopping?
  • Notice what is around the animal tracks –
    • Where are they located?
    • Where do the animal tracks go? Follow them for a little bit.
    • Are there other animal signs near the tracks, such as scat or fur or feathers or scratches/claw marks?
  • Bring along kid-friendly animal tracking guides or cards. This is a great resource for children. Here is a handy pocket guide to bring along on your adventure.
  • Take pictures of the different animal tracks you find so you can take another look at what you found back at home or in the classroom.
  • Bring nature journals or clipboards so students can draw their observations and findings.

A Collection of Activities for Learning All About Snowflakes

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A few of Wilson Bentley’s snowflake photographs.

Following up on January’s theme of snow and snowflakes, I wanted to share a few resources I stumbled across about the science and math and art of snowflakes. Snowflakes are pretty amazing in that they are each unique, and their crystal formation is quite beautiful. It might seem hard to believe, but just as Snowflake Bentley captured and photographed snowflakes, you can too. Check out the links below to learn more about snowflake formation, structure, and techniques for preserving as a way to enjoy their natural beauty.

  • The Snow Crystals site has everything you could ever want to know about snowflakes – from photographs of snowflakes to activities for learning about snowflake structure. Check out this link for capturing and preserving snowflakes for observation.
  • The Smithsonian offers a nice lesson plan for observing snowflakes.
  • This short video clip from Discovery Channel discusses how no two snowflakes are alike and follows a scientist as he goes snowflake watching.
  • This one minute clip from the BBC explains how snowflakes are made, and provides amazing imagery of snowflake crystals captured by an electron microscope.
  • How to Grow Your Own Snowflakes

For reading suggestions and activity ideas for learning about snow and snowflakes from Backyard Learning, check out the links below.

Keeping a Snow Journal

Fun with Measuring Snow

January Nature Book List: SNOW

Keeping a Snow Journal

 

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The objective of this activity is for children to learn about a snowy location by keeping a journal about winter weather conditions. If you live in a snowy area, the location could be your own place. Or, you could have the students choose from a list of other places known for their winter weather conditions. For my home state, Mount Washington comes to mind as a place that experiences some extreme winter weather. The Farmers’ Almanac has a list of the worst winter weather cities.  Students could also choose one of these locations (or another wintery region) as a place to compare the snow conditions of their own backyard. Weather Underground is also a good source of weather-related information.

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For each location that is being observed, students should keep a daily snow journal that records:

  • Date
  • Location (can include elevation and latitude)
  • General weather conditions (sunny, cloudy, etc.)
  • Temperature
  • Humidity
  • Barometric Pressure
  • Amount of snowfall
  • Amount of snowpack

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After recording the data in their journal on a daily basis for a set amount of time (a week or two, although more is better), have students examine their results. They could make graphs for temperature, humidity, barometric pressure, and snowfall. Use the following discussion questions to gain a better understanding of what factors affect snowfall:

  • How do temperature, humidity, and pressure affect snowfall? What patterns were observed for your location(s)?
  • Examine the general weather conditions (cloudy, sunny, etc.) and compare this to the amount of snowfall each day. What is the relationship between the general weather conditions and the snowfall?
  • How do latitude and elevation affect snowfall?
  • If you tracked your own place against another location, how did the amount of snowfall for each location compare?  What factors influenced similarities and differences?

Fun with Measuring Snow

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Photo courtesy of publicdomainpictures.net

In my area, we have been a little lacking in the snow department this winter. But, even with just a few inches of snowfall, this math-related snow measurement activity is possible. In this activity, children get to explore the various ways snow can be measured, practice different types of measurement skills, and examine the relationship between snow and liquid water and ice.

Snowflakes by Arvin61r58           beaker by stefg1971             Snowflakes by Arvin61r58

There are several ways to have fun with measuring snow. Here are a few ideas to investigate:

  • Collect 100 mL (or any given volume) of snow. Measure the mass of this volume of snow. Let snow melt. Time how long it takes to melt. Measure the mass of the liquid water. Record the volume of the liquid water. Compare. How did mass change? How did the volume change? How long did it take for the snow to melt?
  • How long does it take 100 mL of fluffy (non-compacted) snow to melt compared to 100 mL of compacted snow?
  • What is the temperature of the snow? Let the snow melt. What is the temperature of the water? Compare results.
  • Explore the above questions, but this time use ice instead of snow. Then compare the results of the ice to the previous measurements.
  • What else? Have students come up with their own ideas for measuring and investigating the snow in different ways.

For further reading about snow, check out my snow-themed nature book list!

Winter Nature Collage: What does winter mean to you?

The lesson below was inspired by an art activity in the book, Art Lab for Kids: 52 Creative Adventures in Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Paper, and Mixed Media-For Budding Artists of All Ages.

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Winter & The Solstice: Art Activity, Lesson time: up to 2 hours, but can be broken up over 2-3 days

What does winter mean to you? This year, winter began on December 21 or 22 (depending on your location), which was the winter solstice. In this activity, children will create a mixed media collage using found nature items and simple art materials to showcase what is special about winter.

  1. Begin by asking the children what winter (the season) means to them? Have them share words that make them think about the season of winter. Brainstorm and share a list of ideas. Try to stay focused on the natural occurrences of the season. Some examples could include: snow, ice, evergreens, pine cones, less daylight, red berries, birds, dead plants, etc.
  2. Keeping the list that the children brainstormed in mind, take them on a nature walk to collect small samples of items that represent the season of winter. Note that since they will be making a collage with these items, snow and ice will be hard to collect, but they can illustrate those on their collage with the various art materials provided, such as paint, tissue paper, felt, etc.
  3. Bring the collected materials back and create away! Have the children share a sentence or two about their creation, and have them (or help them) write it on the bottom of the collage.

This is the final post for the December theme of Winter and the Solstice. Check out the links below to see the other posts from the month

Literacy: Nature Book List: Winter and the Solstice.

Social Studies: Celebrating the Winter Solstice: through history and in your backyard

Integrated Social Studies and Science: Winter Weather Lore Activity

Integrated Science and Math: Tracking Daylight Around the Winter Solstice