By Beth Pinyerd
Happy Spring Break to the children, families and educators of Lee County. Our communities offer us a gift of beautiful nature opportunities for young children to engage in and explore to meet their observation, learning and interest needs. Our community has beautiful blooming flowers, nature trails, lakes, parks, streams, animals and insects all around.
With spring break taking place for Auburn this week and Opelika next week, nature vacation and lessons are right at your front door. I’d like to share a few activities with you that have been favorites with my early childhood students. Let’s go explore. You and your child will have the excitement of learning together.
Spring brings out a lot of nature’s creatures for the smallest of little nature lovers to enjoy. Safely and carefully looking in the soil, under logs, fallen leaves or inside special bumps on plants can help you discover so many spring creatures. Play with doodlebugs! When I have taken my class of little folks out to the playground, we look for little clearly defined circles where we know doodlebugs reside. They are called doodlebugs because this little animal makes a track that zigzags in every direction as it crawls across the dry sand looking for a place to dig its pit.
With your child, 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 is like going fishing. At the of the pine straw, you will be pleasantly surprised to see a little doodlebug curled up at the end of the pine straw. After observing the cute little doodlebug, gently lower the insect back into its hole on the piece of pine straw.
During this spring break, you and your child can safely observe the busy activities of ants. We are seeing ant beds everywhere right now. Your young child can become a budding little scientist as they observe the habits of ants with the bare eye or a magnifying glass.
Point out to your child that ants are insects with six legs and three body parts: the head, thorax and abdomen. Share with them that the queen ant is the largest ant. Let your child tell you what they see or let them draw what they see.
Children love to point out butterflies flitting about. In our county, we have so many different species to observe. One simple experiment you can conduct is setting up little pots or a window box with different spring flowers such as zinnias, pansies or marigolds. Buy the flowers and place a saucer or shallow bowl with stones and freshwater for the butterflies to light on.
I have done this observation experiment right outside my classroom window for young students to observe the comings and goings of brilliantly-colored butterflies. ou can do this from a child’s favorite window at home. Too, we can make this an intergenerational project by placing flowers in pots or window boxes for residents in a nursing or assisted home facility to observe butterflies flitting about during the day.
Another inexpensive project that my early childhood classes have enjoyed is ordering a butterfly kit so the children can observe the complete metamorphosis of a butterfly’s life from egg to larva to pupa to butterfly. A butterfly release party is a wonderful learning lesson and memory maker. These kits can be found online for you to choose from and order.
March is known for its March winds. Beautiful colored pinwheels can be found in dollar stores or you can make simple pinwheels with squares of paper, pins and straws. Simply attach beautiful colored crepe paper streamers to toilet tissue rolls for another way to make a wind catcher.
Going out and holding up a pinwheel when the wind is blowing provides hours of joyful delight as the wind blows the pinwheel around and around and the windcatcher shows the direction the wind is blowing from. Again, this is can be used as an intergenerational project where the old and young can come together and experience the sensory enrichment of winds blowing on their faces, arms, pinwheels and wind catchers. Wind chimes, too, make for a musical wind song that we all love to listen to.
I love the poem by Christina Rosette, “Who Has Seen The Wind?” From this poem, young children learn we can see the wind passing by when we look at the leaves and the trees. Too, with a young child, just wetting their pointing finger and sticking it up in the air to feel the wind can teach them to tell you which direction the wind is blowing from. Observing cloud formations and seeing how the wind blows the clouds is another wonderful observation project for young children.
Let’s not forget the free-flowing little creeks we find near our homes or in the parks. Of course, safety is the number one consideration. Placing little toy boats, plastic bottles or even leaves into a creek is a good way for your child to learn about how water flows.
Be sure to pick up these items after your child is done playing. This responsibility teaches them not to be a “litterbug” and recycle. We want to keep God’s world beautiful. This is a time too, that your child may observe fish, tadpoles and other creek life.
Including your child in outdoor gardening is such a wonderful learning experience. Include your young little ones in helping to dig holes by providing small shovels, trowels or even spoons to plant seeds or bulbs. This can be done outside in the yard or in pots. Explain to your child that the seeds will take time to grow and that they are to observe their gardens and look for green leaves and flowers to pop up. I love to plant ryegrass seed in either milk cartons or Styrofoam cups with children.
Make sure you safely punch holes in the bottom of the cartons or cups so the water can properly drain. The ryegrass grows quickly and it makes a good little garden for Easter crafts and projects.
Setting up seed germination projects with large dry lima beans placed on a lightly wet paper towel in a sandwich bag then taping the bag to a window where the sun can shine on the bag enables a young child to see how plants grow from the seed. You and your child can record what you see each day.
Closely observing birds can be done by hanging up an inexpensive bird feeder close to a window where you and your child can see your feathery friends come and go to enjoy the seed, small pieces of bread or crackers that you have placed in the feeder. This is a good lesson on observing the different colors of birds. Pointing out that a nest is their home is something you can carefully observe on a walking field trip around your home, apartment or neighborhood.
Our local libraries are outstanding in providing good age-appropriate books for young children to look at pictures of spring life. As a teacher, I love to go to the library to check out books for my preschoolers to look at. On those rainy spring days, this is an excellent avenue to engage in nature.
I hope these few teacher-tried tips will nurture families to enjoy nature and to explore the beautiful place we live. On a sunny beautiful day go to one of our local parks and enjoy a simple family picnic. God has given us a beautiful and lively world to fully enjoy. Happy Spring Break!