Many parents who are at home with their kids during these unforeseen times may be wondering how to keep them occupied (and learning). Luckily, getting outside is one of the activities that we can still enjoy — just in time for spring! If you have kids, there are endless opportunities for engagement with nature.
If you are relieved by our suggestion, but aren’t sure how to structure that time with your kids, here are some ways:
• Nature scavenger hunts
• Land art
• Homemade bird feeders
• Nature crafts
Nature scavenger hunts can be done in your own yard, or in a public park, so long as physical distances from others are respected. Depending on your child’s age, they may even be able to do this on their own in your yard, while you work from home. There are plenty of online scavenger hunts out there to pick from, and you can also easily make your own with a simple checklist. One online resource with endless possibilities for all ages includes twindragonflydesigns.com/20-nature-scavenger-hunt-ideas/.
If you choose to make your own checklist, here are some ideas for themes and types of things to look for, which are sure to keep the possibility of new scavenger hunts going for days. Each day you can focus on a different species or category such as trees, plants, fungi, birds, insects, and mammals, along with colors, patterns, and shapes, just to name a few options. Be sure to focus on the senses of hearing, touch, and smell, as well as sight. For instance, if the theme is trees, you can include a brown tree, a gray tree, a tall tree, a thick tree, a smooth tree, and a bumpy tree. When leaves appear on trees, you can rub them to see what kind of smell they emit, if any.
You need not be an expert on any one type of animal or plant to be able to guide a scavenger hunt. You don’t need to know the difference between a chickadee and a nuthatch — you can simply include, “a bird with black on its chest,” or, “a bird with white on its chest.” Other bird items to check off may include a bird flying high and in circles, a bird who repeats its call, a bird carrying a stick, a red bird, a yellow bird, or a camouflaged bird. When searching for these characteristics, your kids will not just be checking off boxes, but also making observations and asking thoughtful questions.
Land art is a form of sculpture created in nature, with items found from nature, made famous by Andy Goldsworthy. You don’t have to be an artist for this activity — anyone can participate! Go to artfulparent.com/richard-shilling-on-land-art-for-kids/ to find out more. It’s a great challenge for the creative type, and it doesn’t require buying any materials since you simply use sticks, leaves, rocks, and more, to compose shapes and patterns.
There are birdfeeder recipes galore on the internet — all made with items you may already have at home. See www.craftsonsea.co.uk/easy-bird-feeders-kids-can-make/ for more details. The beauty of these activities is that you can secretly build in some math through measuring. When observing birds at your feeders, you can tally and chart the number and species that you see for an additional math skill. For our last tip for keeping your sanity and occupying your kids, visit www.thecrafttrain.com/nature-art-bugs/. This website is similar to the one for land art but focuses on bugs. Since some kids treat all creepy crawly insects as bad, using imagination to fashion a bug from leaves and sticks may lead to an appreciation for the beneficial ones in our world.
Before you start, please think about the following:
• If you venture out to a local park, please refrain from collecting any materials in order to keep nature in nature.
• Be aware that due to COVID-19, many parks have closed restrooms and nature centers so plan accordingly.
• Remember-leaves of three leave me be! Be familiar with all the forms of poison ivy.
• Have fun while practicing physical distancing and hand washing, even in your own backyard.
Nature provides us with ample opportunity to stay busy, keep our minds sharp, and our hands occupied. While our offices are temporarily closed due to COVID-19, we welcome emailed requests for more outdoor educational activities. Contact Erin Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Erin Wolfe is outreach coordinator of the Delaware Soil & Water Conservation District. She can be reached at email@example.com.