1. Take a family hike to the same spot in a local ravine or green space four times each year and take a digital photo. Post the pictures with date and location on the refrigerator door. Your young kids will see first-hand how the natural environment and vegetation change from spring to summer to fall to winter.
2. Call the local zoo (or a local farmer) and find out if any animals will soon give birth. Arrange two visits: one while the mother is pregnant, and another after the offspring is (or are, there could be multiples!) born. Your child will get a sense of biological life rhythms and perhaps open the door to that all-important first chat about the "birds and the bees."
3. Contact your local public works or recreation department and ask if they have a tree-planting program. You could choose a young sapling, and plant it with your kids in a nearby park (or perhaps more than one tree, though there may be restrictions). Encourage your children to make frequent visits to "their" tree. The sight of a bare maple tree in winter, followed by the appearance of buds on the tree in spring, and the bursting forth of beautiful green leaves in summer, ending with an explosion of beautiful red, orange and yellow leaves in the fall will be a natural science lesson in itself – minus the homework!
Page 1 of 4 - Learn more fun and fabulous ways to make nature a part of your family's life on page 2. 4. Camp overnight in the backyard. Don't worry if you've no time or resources for an extended camping trip: initiate your children into camping and nature-observation by spending a night in the backyard. Together, your little ones will experience such things as the nightly drop in temperature and hear nocturnal animals forage for food. In the morning, maybe you'll find dew on the tent in the morning and be greeted by the chirping of birds. You can ask the kids about the sounds they've heard, and why. Stargazing could be an added bonus.
5. Plant a garden – even if it's in a planter on the driveway or in a bucket on the balcony. Watching a bean or tomato plant grow is a hands-on lesson in botany. Start a bean seed or baby tomato plant indoors in a jar in late spring, and transfer the little seedling into a container with soil and fertilizer outside. Your child can watch the plant grow, learn when to water and prune, and see first-hand how the seedling responds to sun – or too much sun. Then, the big payoff: they get to pick and eat what they've grown. You can then discuss the other foods on your kitchen table, where they came from, how everything was nurtured.
6. Play a Saturday morning "spot the birds" four times each year. Choose a corner of your backyard or your children's favourite area in the local park, and visit that same spot every four months (summer, fall, winter, spring) and observe the birds you see each time. Your children will be excited to identify the blue jay in winter and the robin in spring.
7. Discover hidden treasures and pleasures of geocaching for the entire family! Get Dad's GPS out and arrange some energetic outdoor treasure hunting. The geocaches (i.e., the treasures) can be hidden in parks or along hiking trails and exercise routes in natural crevices created by rocks, trees or stumps. This can be particularly inviting to the older kids and teens.
Page 2 of 4 - Learn how to make a backyard watering hole on Page 3.
8. Visit an urban heritage farm. There are numerous functioning farms right within city limits across Canada, from Riverdale Farm in Toronto to London Heritage Farm in Richmond, British Columbia, where kids can see chickens, horses, and cows in an authentic setting. Watching staff collect eggs or feed the cows is an interesting and fun way to teach your children about nature and food production. They can also wander the many flower and vegetable gardens.
9. Head out to a conservation area for a Saturday afternoon. Do some quick research in advance to see if your local conservation authority offers any nature programs. Will you be able to spot deer tracks or see a beaver dam? Perhaps your children will sit and watch a bird built a nest in late autumn. Stroll beaches, dunes and wetlands, making note of the different vegetation and wildlife. Best of all, many conservation centres have amazing natural swimming areas. Check with your local conservation authority.
10. Make an insect watering hole.Bugs aren't so bad, really. Your kids will discover beetles, bees, spiders and other insects – as well as butterflies – looking for a drink of water. Fill a shallow tray with flat stones and add some water – but ensure the water doesn't cover the stones (some insects will want a dry landing pad). On hot days, your watering hole will become a hive of activity. Placing the easy-to-make watering hole near flowering plants will attract visitors even more quickly. Note: Butterflies tend to drink from mud puddles so consider putting some soil in your watering hole. Be careful that all the water doesn't evaporate on hotter days! It's important to refresh the water every few days to discourage a breeding ground of stagnant water for mosquitoes. That's one visitor you can do without.
11. Lie on the ground to look up at the clouds – and predict weather! With the help of some meteorological resources, you can help teach your kids about the three different kinds of clouds and the accompanying weather they foretell: High clouds (cirrus, cirrostratus, cirrocumulus), low clouds (cumulus, stratocumulus, stratus) and rain clouds (nimbostratus, cumulonimbus). Check the Environment Canada website for details.
Page 3 of 4 - Look for more great nature tips for children on the next page.
12. Take a trip to a countryside farm. Inquire if any of your acquaintances has a relative or a friend who makes their living as a farmer. Arrange to stop by for a visit, preferably in small groups, at a dairy farm during milking time (typically early morning or late afternoon/early evening), or tour a cash-crop farm during harvest season (late summer, early fall) to see how grain, hay or corn (for example) are harvested. When you return home, open the kitchen cupboards or refrigerator door with your kids and encourage them to identify what food products were produced by the crops and/or animals you visited that day.
13. Make a game to find the most birds. Invite the neighbourhood children into a fair-feathered competition with your kids. At the beginning of the year (or perhaps on the first day of spring), print out a checklist of birds that live in Canada (www.birdlist.org/canada.htm is a good resource). Check off each time you spot a species, and see who can spot the most bird visitors to Canada. The winners get an outing to a nature centre or environmental activity of their choice.
14. Plan an eco-friendly birthday activity for your son or daughter. When you host a daytime party for your child and about 10 of his or her best friends, why not include a friendly "clean up the neighbourhood" activity as part of the festivities. Break the kids up into groups of two or three, give each a recyclable bag and see which "Green Team" can collect the most litter off the neighbourhood streets within 15 minutes. This not only teaches children about pollution and taking care of nature, but also helps burn off some of that hyper energy!
15. Enjoy a Sunday hike with a local hiking club. Get your kids to plant their feet in nature. Not only will they appreciate the changes in vegetation that accompany changes in terrain, but they'll also get great exercise. Organizations such as the Bruce Trail Club offer family-friendly hikes suitable for children.
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