Can you feel it in the air? I can! Even after a surprise snowfall this past weekend, the first signs of spring are definitely showing up in my neighborhood. I can see some bulbs sprouting their pale green leaves in my garden box, and a certain turtle dove keeps hanging around our bird feeder, looking feverishly (I think) for a mate.
Children are likely even more keenly aware than adults of the many changes going on around us in the fresh quality of the air and the colors of nature. Why not celebrate springtime with one of these activities?
Go Fly A Kite
Springtime tends to have some wonderfully windy days. Holding the string of a kite and feeling the wind’s pull on it lets children experience the power of natural elements. This activity opens up the possibility of talking with children about wind power and how many nations are considering harnessing this to provide electricity for people.
If a windy day comes up and you don’t have a ready-made kit on hand, a simple paper lunch bag with a hole punched in (use tape to reinforce the hole) and a string tied on makes a pretty good makeshift kite that is sure to delight a small child.
A Busy Time For Birds
Every February, a pair of scrub jays builds its nest in the same spot in my hedge. Standing at my kitchen window, I can watch them grabbing grass, breaking twigs off trees and collecting other weaving materials from the neighborhood. If you discover a nest-building site near your classroom, this is a fabulous thing to share with children. To appropriately watch a nest, please take the following precautions:
Never touch the nest.
Stand back at least 5-6 feet from it.
Approach the nest and leave it by different paths to avoid drawing the attention of predator animals with a scent trail.
Be quiet while watching the nest.
If the parent birds begin expressing distress with shrill cries, it is time to walk quietly away.
If you have the opportunity of watching an active nest, soon the eggs will hatch and with careful, safe observation, you will be able to see and hear the pink baby birds. Within a few weeks, they’ll have feathers and start flying about with their parents in search of food.
Put out some feeders and the birds will come to you and may start viewing your property as good prospective real estate! Set out a pair of binoculars (or several) near the windows of your classroom, and add a book or two about bird watching. If you’re really serious about increasing your bird knowledge, this gorgeous book from Dorling Kindersley might be worth your while. It catches my eye every time I’m at the bookstore, and sometime soon I’m sure I’ll give in and buy it.
If you haven’t managed to discover a nest near the school or home, a field trip to a local park may be the answer. Remember, different birds build nests at different heights – some on the ground, some in hedges, some in trees, some on the tops of telephone poles! The trick is to look for a solid clump of matter. In suburban and metropolitan areas, some birds build nests on ledges or in the eaves of buildings.
Birds are everywhere and are among the chief players in the health of the planet. Bird watching lends itself naturally to discussions about migration, habitat and conservation.
Start A Nature Journal
A nature journal is a wonderful way for kids to record their outdoor adventures. Lots of things can go into a journal, including sketches of birds, trees, and animals; pressed and dried flowers and leaves; little notes and thoughts about things observed in the wild; and photos of nature.
Any small notebook can become a nature journal, but I personally prefer an art notebook with a spiral binding (for ease of use) and thick pages. Children will probably enjoy using quality art pencils to draw and write in their notebooks. Bring them with on field trips so they’ll have a place to record the things they see.
Upon a friend’s recent recommendation, I purchased Keeping a Nature Journal by Clare Walker Leslie. This lovely book contains all sorts of ideas for what to include in a journal, as well as the author’s sketches of animals and plants. I also bought these incredible take-along nature guides on topics like birds, eggs, and nests and berries, nuts, and seeds. I’ve had a chance to browse through them, and they’re filled with all sorts of useful, easy-to-use facts about nature.
Come Into The Garden, Kids
Those new to gardening may get the mistaken impression that all bulbs get planted in the fall. Not so! Gladiolus, ixias, sparaxis, dahlias, amaryllis and calla lilies are just a few of the beautiful summer-blooming, spring-planted bulbs children can grow.
Annual and perennial flowers of all kinds can be planted in the spring for months of gorgeous color. Even if you’ve only got a small outdoor space, a pot of velvety pansies, pretty primroses or shade-loving impatiens will wow a child with vibrant hues and interesting forms.
Best of all, spring is the time to grow food. Children who are allowed to farm alongside their parents or teachers learn invaluable lessons in self-sustainability, and even if your garden is no more than a zucchini in the corner or a tomato plant in a barrel, the fruits of self-grown produce beat anything you can buy for money when it comes to flavor and nutrition.
Decorate the Learning Environment For Spring
Tissue paper flowers, dyed eggs, watercolor paintings of springtime scenes, construction paper butterflies that open and close their wings, fresh bouquets and a trove of other found treasures and traditional symbols will beautify the environment for both kids and adults and make an important statement about our appreciation for the coming of spring.
Craft ideas can come to us from many cultures, as nearly all civilizations have heralded spring with ceremonies and festivities for thousands of years. Write a poem, sing a song, dance around a maypole!