Nature-Based Activities for Kids You Can Do from Home
School is canceled in many parts of our nation, and parents are home with their children. In today’s post, Adventure Publications author and editor Brett Ortler is sharing the first in a series of nature-based activities for kids you can do from home.
We at Adventure Publications hope all of our readers and their loved ones remain healthy and safe. Without intending to trivialize the current crisis, we will continue to post positive stories in hopes of bringing some joy into your home as a welcome distraction during these trying times.
In addition to the overall stress of this situation—which, let’s be real, is pretty wild—there’s a much more basic question: how will you keep your kids occupied without melting their brains due to too much screen time?
Well, as a nonfiction editor at Adventure Publications who’s also an author, a nature nerd, and the parent of two kids ages 5 and 7, I’m definitely facing the same question. That’s why I’m coming up with ideas to keep kids busy, inquisitive, and educated. I’ll often, but not always, be basing the activities on the books we produce here at AdventureKEEN; that said, the activities themselves don’t require you to have any of our books.
Essentially, I’m going to treat quarantine as a staycation, and that’s where the good news comes in: even here in Minnesota, spring is approaching, and with it comes a whole host of nature-based activities that you can do from the safety of your home, yard, or apartment window.
Activity #1: Conduct a Backyard Bird Count
This activity is deceptively simple, but it can teach you quite a bit about birds, including how to recognize their calls and when and where to look. Plus, bird migration is well under way—even here in Minnesota, where the red-winged blackbirds, sure signs of spring, have started returning—so you never know what species you might spot. It’s great fun for adults as well as kids.
What to Do
To conduct your count, give each participant a notebook, and pick a 15-minute time slot to look for birds. (Cheap binoculars and a phone camera aren’t a bad idea either.) Go to your backyard and quietly look for birds. Look near feeders, if you have them; see if you can spy birds flitting about in cover or perched in trees; and look for birds soaring overhead. When someone spots a bird, point it out—again, quietly—and try to snag a zoomed-in shot. (It doesn’t have to be perfect, just enough to help with identification.) Then record the birds if you recognize them, how many birds you spotted, and what they were doing. If you don’t recognize a bird, sketch out a quick drawing or make notes on its appearance, color, and size; then consult a field guide or photos online to find it.
If you heard a bird but didn’t see it—and this will happen more than you’d think—mark it down if you recognize the call, and add it to your count. If you don’t know the call (again, this will happen pretty often), head online after your count to a site like All About Birds, and listen to recordings of birds that could help you figure it out.
After you’re done counting birds for 15 minutes, combine all of your finds into a list, and then consider setting up an account on a citizen science site such as eBird. There, you can create a “life list” of species spotted over time, and you’ll also contribute to science—the resulting maps help create a snapshot of birdlife over time.
Tips: This is a fun activity to repeat at different times of day. Ask your kids to predict when they think they’ll see the most birds. In the morning? At noon? In the evening?
If you live in an apartment, you can conduct a bird count from your window or balcony, an outside courtyard space, or a nearby park. However, in this time of contagion, adhere to your local health department’s regulations. Avoid close contact with others, and wash, wash, wash those hands!
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