Project Nature 2018-03-08T01:43:49+00:00

Project Nature: 
Activities to Inspire You and Your Children to Go Out Into Nature

Begin a Tree Study Book:

Materials: A small 5.5 x 8.5 Sketchbook, colored pencils, India ink pen, pencil, eraser, field guide for your local trees

Take weekly walks and when you arrive at a tree that intrigues your children, stop. Have them look at and touch the bark and describe the color and texture. Have them closely observe the leaves.  Pick up one of the leaves, lay it on their open sketch book, and have them trace around it. They may choose to color it as accurately as possible. If the tree is in flower or seed, then have them sketch a picture of the flower or seed next to the leaf. They may also write small notes about the bark and trunk, as well as the size of the tree. After closely observing the leaf, the seed or flower, and the bark, try to identify the species of tree, all together, using your field guide. Then have them label their page with the name of the tree.

To take this project a step further, your children may want to observe the tree closely and make notes of all creatures that live in that tree. A tree can be an elaborate habitat in and of itself.

If you do this as a family for one year, you will be rewarded with knowing the names of most of the trees in your area. I cannot explain how satisfying it is to be able to know our friends in nature by name, whether it be a bird, insect, tree, or flower.

Begin a Bird Study Book:

Materials: A small 5.5 x 8.5 inch sketchbook, colored pencils, pencil, eraser, India ink pen, binoculars, local bird field guide

Go on weekly walks with your children all the while taking particular notice of the birds in the area. To make it interesting you might want to break it up into habitats. For example, for a month go to forests or state parks and observe the birds you see in those habitats. Another month visit ponds (if possible) and study the water birds. Other ideas include marshlands, wetlands, or the seashore. If you live in the city and rarely are able to get out, you may observe the many birds that visit the city as well as city parks.

When your child sees a bird, ask them to note as many traits as they can before the bird flies away. This will teach them to notice details which, in turn, will help them to identify the bird as well as simply marvel in their beauty. Then, using your field guide, help your children identify the bird. After identifying the bird, or while observing it, have your children open their sketchbooks and sketch a picture of the bird. Explain to them that this activity is not an art project. The intention is not to make a beautiful picture, but rather to record what they see and learn about the bird by sketching it. Then they may color their sketch or write notes about the color. They may want to take notes about the bird’s behavior or the sound of its song or call.

If your children spend a year doing this project, at the end of the year they will have a record of all the birds they have studied in their region and, even more rewarding, they will be able to refer to birds they see by name.

Witness the Life Cycle of a Frog:

Materials: net, jar, small fish tank at home, tadpole food

In early spring visit small ponds and look inside for tadpoles. When you find some, fill your jar with water from the pond, add a few sticks covered in algae to your jar as this will be the tadpoles’ main source of food, and then scoop up some tadpoles with your net and gently place them in your jar. When the water calms it will look quite beautiful with the natural pond water, algae covered sticks, and small tadpoles swimming around. Take them home and put the water, sticks, and tadpoles in a small fish tank that has a breathable lid (so that when they develop their legs they don’t escape). Add a rock or something that reaches out of the water so that when the tadpoles’ lungs develop, they have a place to sit and breathe. Observe them daily. Watch as they grow little hind legs, then front legs, and finally lose their tail. When they are fully developed they will need to be returned to the very spot that you collected them from. Please do not release them anywhere else. Their exact habitat is very important to their survival and the balance of their ecosystem. Releasing them in a different place could also upset that little ecosystem. At this stage they will be needing to catch live food such as insects and so you will need to release them very shortly after they are fully developed.

Tips to take this a step further: Keep a log of your tadpoles progress. Include drawings and written observations.

Looking at Aquatic Invertebrates to Learn about Water Quality:

Macroinvertebrate Identification KeyMaterials: small net, bucket, small flat tub, printout of invertebrates, magnifying glass

This activity is really exciting and teaches children a lot about being a scientist. Go to a spot that has fresh water. This can be a creek, pond, or lake. Collect samples of water with the bucket and pour them into the tub. Search the water for small invertebrates and try to identify them on the printout to the right. With tally marks, keep count of how many invertebrates you found that indicate that the water is clean or polluted. Then, with the net, collect a bunch of muck from the pond’s or creek’s edge, such as leaves, algae, and mud. Add this to the bucket and swish it around a bit to expose all the invertebrates hiding. Then try to identify them and see if the collection of invertebrates indicate that the water quality is poor or good.

This activity is also exciting because it exposes us to so many invertebrates that we most likely have never seen before. This also offers a perfect opportunity to have a very important discussion with our children about water quality and the things that pollute our waters, the way that pollution might affect the entire food chain of the habitat, and ways we can prevent pollution.

Be an Insect Detective:

Materials: notebook, pencil, magnifying glass, insect identification guide

Insects are all around us all the time and yet we most often only notice them when they are being pests. Insects come in all sizes and colors and many of them are stunningly beautiful.

Take your children on a walk and tell them they are going to be insect detectives who are on a mission to see how many insects they can discover on this walk. Tell them they can look anywhere; under rock, in trees, in the grasses, near the water, above the water, or in flowers. Hand them magnifying glasses and an insect identification guide and set them free. Tell them the only thing they need to do is identify the insect, write it down in their notebook and add tally marks next to the species’ names to keep track of what and how many they find. Save their score cards for fun. When they get home ask them which insect was their favorite and  ask them if they would like to draw the insect.

Learn About Tracking Animals:

Check out books from the library about how to track animals. Use the printable here to take into the s-e-mi-forestanimaltracks2field. Take a sketchbook and go out on the trails quietly looking for tracks. When you find some, have your children sketch them in their sketchbooks. Encourage them to draw them in actual size. They can even bring a ruler to measure as kids love tools. This can be such an exciting activity that can really excite the interest of almost any child.

Tree Identification Through Leaves:

Desktop6Print these free leaf identification cards. Then, go on a walk, either on a trail or in your neighborhood, and collect leaves. Bring them home and spread them and the cards out on the kitchen table. Try to identify the leaves. Next time you go on a walk, see if your children can remember the names of the trees by looking at their leaves. Spend a month or so with this and, soon enough, your children will experience the joy of being able to call the trees by their names.

Create a Nature Learning Area in Your Home:

Make a bit of room for a low bookshelf and the wall space behind it. Create a little naturalist’s museum by allowing your children to display little treasures picked up on nature walks and purchased from science museums. Have your children identify and label their finds. Use the wall space behind to display nature identification posters. Add a student microscope and some field guides and the space is a learning area. You might even regularly check out books from the library about rotating topics, such as trees, insects, or birds, and have them displayed on the bookshelf for your children to read at their leisure. Creating a small home naturalist’s museum is a wonderful activity that your children will feel proud of.

Become a Nature Photographer:

Ask your children if they would like to become nature photographers. Give them an old camera that you aren;t using any more (or a new one if they are careful) and take them out on a trail or for a neighborhood walk. There are many options as to how you might go about this. You might allow them to explore and take pictures of anything that intrigues them. It might also be exciting to give them a challenge. Below is a list of exciting challenges.

Take pictures of as many different bird species as you can.
Photograph every wildflower you come across that is in bloom and then try to identify them.
Try photographing landscapes.
Try photographing waters.
Photograph as many cloud shapes as you can.

The possibilities are endless and photography can be a great way to get kids out in nature and playing close attention to beauty.