I love the way the seasons are defined and displayed in central Alabama. We enjoy autumn and winter, but spring begins to tickle our senses of sight, taste, touch, smell and hearing. What a truly beautiful way for you to engage your child as we embark into spring of 2023.
March is recognized as “Strolling into Spring Month.” I have been digging into my teacher resources — as well as past Classroom Observer ideas — for tips to share with you and your children to enjoy the simple spring pleasures right in your backyard. With the local schools having spring breaks over the next few weeks, families can truly spend time “taking in” the beginning of spring.
The past few days, we have experienced a lot of wind as March blows in. This is a great time to make or purchase a kite. Kite-flying adventures contribute to so many wonderful childhood lessons and memories. For many years, while I was living in Mobile as an early childhood teacher, our classes would make kites and go fly them on the grassy field in front the USS Alabama, one of the historical state spots. Young children would jump up and down with joy as gusts of wind from the bay blew our kites up so high. The environment in Lee County also provides wonderful areas and parks to go fly kites, and there are lakes and streams in the area where families can catch winds off the water to fly kites.
March 12 is “National Plant a Flower Day.” The community is so blessed to have beautiful, breathtaking flowers to celebrate the arrival of the spring season as we leave winter behind. For a simple lesson, have children group the flowers according to color as they look at them. They can also smell spring flowers on a nature field trip just around the yard. A wonderful intergenerational activity is to plant flowers or other plants with the young and elderly. You can take them on a fun field trip to the store or garden nursery to choose the flowers, a bag of soil and whatever else is needed. The sights, scents and textures delight children and are likely to bring back many good memories to seniors.
In the spring, we see butterflies flying everywhere. A science project that my class enjoyed every year was ordering butterfly kits, which allowed us to observe the life cycle of the butterfly. These kits are not expensive, and they are well worth it as you and your child observe the different stages in the life cycle of the butterfly: egg, larva, pupa and adult.
Another insect that provides so many valuable life lessons is the ant. We do have to practice common-sense safety while interacting with ants. Young children need to understand that they are only to observe the ant colonies. Purchasing inexpensive magnifying glasses at the dollar store is a real plus. Consider also putting out small crumbs of sandwich meat to invite the ants to come out and work hard to get the food back to their colony. Point out to children that ants are insects with six legs and three body segments. Show them that the large ant is the queen ant. Talk about how the tunnels the ants are making are like rooms in their homes. Compare the different jobs the ants are doing to jobs or responsibilities children can do in their family.
The character traits that children learn from observing ants are spelled out in the Bible, in Proverbs 6:6-8. Ants work hard. Children feel more secure and confident if they are on a schedule or routine as they engage in projects and activities they enjoy. Ants are self-starters, and so are children. Ants work busily, and they cooperate with each other. What a wonderful lesson to point out in teaching your children to get along with others. Ants work so very hard in the summer as they prepare for the winter. They also provide a lesson on how to plan ahead for getting chores done.
Doodlebugs are a spring favorite for children to observe as well. In the soil, look for clearly defined circles where we know that doodlebugs reside. They are called doodlebugs because they make a track that zigzags in every direction as it crawls across the dry sand looking for a place to dig its pit. This is one of my favorite activities to do with young children during recess time in the spring. Look carefully for one of these defined holes, then carefully slip down a long piece of pine straw into the hole, keep it down in the hole for a few minutes and gently pull the pine straw up. It’s like going fishing. You will be pleasantly surprised to see a little doodlebug curled up at the end. After taking a few minutes to observe, use the pine straw to gently lower the doodlebug back down into its hole. This is fascinating to little ones, and even to grownups. This is a wonderful science activity for the whole family.
Another spring creature to observe is the snail. Children can get a close-up view of a snail as it slowly moves around, leaving a thick trail of slime that protects it from getting hurt. Because of the suction created by the slime, snails can actually crawl upside down. Snails don’t see well. They strongly depend on the senses of touch and smell.
Young children are so fascinated by roly-poly bugs — especially by the way these small crustaceans can roll their bodies into a ball resembling a small pill. We need to respect the lives of these little creatures when handling.
Let’s grab a clean bucket and head to a nearby pond or stream to safely gather some tadpoles. I remember like it was yesterday being a young child in Opelika. One of our favorite places to gather tadpoles was in the streams at Monkey Park. Caring for tadpoles at school and at home and watching them turn into frogs — a process called metamorphosis — is a fascinating and rewarding experience for the young and old alike. When setting up a temporary home for tadpoles, I have found it better to put them in a container that is shorter and wider as opposed to one that is tall and narrow. It is just easier to take care of them and observe them. Be sure the water is really clean. When you know that you are going to get tadpoles, be sure to get your water ready before you bring them home. It is like setting up an aquarium for fish. Tadpoles breathe with gills, which is why it is important to have clean water. When keeping tadpoles in my classroom and at home, I have usually fed them clean little pieces of lettuce (but not iceberg lettuce). Feed them small quantities frequently.
After spring rains, it is so much fun to go on a walk and listen to the little frogs called “peepers.” Even while driving around in your car, so many times you can see little white forms jumping up after a shower.
I hope these suggestions give families with young children plenty of good, fun, springtime activities.