My kids are playing in our backyard right now, so it seems natural to post about spring and all its attendant activities. Truly, their favorite thing is to be “nature detectives” – they use binoculars, magnifying glasses, and bug huts and roam the yard looking for interesting bugs, plants, rocks, and sticks. We’ve discovered nuts, seeds, really beautiful beetles, flower buds, and beautiful leaves.
Target has a whole line of outdoor/gardening stuff for kids that is reasonably priced. It’s always near the real gardening area. They’ve got garden tools, butterfly nets, and all the things I mentioned above. This is a great time to start planning a garden – even if you don’t have much room, you can use containers and grow a few different kinds of vegetables and flowers.
We have four garden boxes in our backyard, and last year we made one of them a butterfly garden. I bought a special seed assortment just for that purpose, and sure enough, once the flowers had bloomed we saw all sorts of butterflies. We didn’t catch any of them, but once in awhile we were able to reach out and touch them. The flowers also attracted bumblebees and other bugs. This year I bought a packet of seeds that promises to grow flowers that attract songbirds – we’ll see if that works!
If you’d like to see the butterfly lifecycle up close, this is good time to buy a butterfly kit. You can purchase these lots of places, but they are all similar in that you send in a coupon and get caterpillars which you place inside a butterfly habitat. The kids get to watch the caterpillars built their chrysalises and then hatch. Very fun!
Another nice project is to take a clear drinking bottle (water bottle) and cut off the top. Put an inch of gravel in the bottom and then some soil. Add some seeds (lima beans, grass seeds, and flower seeds work well). Water and place in a sunny area indoors. Kids will be able to see the roots growing down into the soil. You can purchase a root view planter at teacher stores or online, but I think clear bottles work just as well.
Bird watching is always fun, so if you can put a bird feeder near a window at home or at school, this is good time to set that up. For older kids, books about birds will help them begin to identify different species. They may want to start a “life list” – a record of every different kind of bird they’ve seen. People keep these lists over many years and add to them every time they see a new bird – a really neat record for a child to take into adulthood. They may want to customize their “life list” by drawing or tracing a picture of each bird they’ve seen.
While we do specific outdoor activities, such as gardening, I think one of the best things kids can do is just play freely outdoors. Give them some tools for exploration and let them explore. They’ll become little scientists with the outdoor world as their laboratory. I believe that Maria Montessori’s first casa had a door leading to the outside that was always open so kids could freely go in and out. I love that idea! Kids connecting with nature is what it’s all about.