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Nature all around you

Children on a youth group tour learning the value of native plants.
Children from an Austin chapter of 4-H Capital Program understand the value of native plants.

With school in session, kids will have less of an opportunity to be outdoors. At the Wildflower Center, we encourage communities and families to find ways to keep kids and nature connected year-round. "It's easier than you might think," says the Center's Education Manager Alice Nance. "Parks, botanic gardens and nurseries are great resources for nature activities. Spending time in nature also satisfies a growing body's need for fresh air and physical activity."

Nance offers the following ideas for keeping kids connected with nature after school starts.

  • Take a hike! Explore your backyard, neighborhood, park or botanic garden by taking a hike. Some parks have trails short enough to accomplish in a half hour in the late afternoon when parents and kids are free to explore together. Create and take a hike checklist to record things you may see on your hike such as a pond, gardener, sweet smelling or prickly plant, butterfly or a seed pod. Then compare the two lists to see where you found more nature objects and consider why. Here is a sample observation sheet.
  • Plant a native plant. Buy a native plant at a local nursery and plant it in your garden. Record the common and scientific name of the plant and the date it was planted. Keep track of how much it grows and how long it takes to reach its full size by charting its growth rate. You also can make notes about how your plant changes over time. Make your own simple chart or use this helpful template.
  • Go on a wildflower hunt. Find a wildflower you would like to learn more about. It can be big or small or blue or yellow. Use this observation sheet to investigate your special wildflower and then write down what you discover. What does your wildflower look, smell and feel like? How long is it? Where is it growing? Use the clues to identify it with a wildflower identification guide.
Fall Plant Sale & Gardening Festival
Available at the Spring and Fall Plant Sale & Gardening Festival is autumn sage (pink flowers at front).
  • Scavenge for Insects. Look for beetles, ants, flies and other insect creatures on a scavenger hunt. Think about all the possible insects you might encounter outside and write them down on a checklist. Explore your backyard or neighborhood to see if you can find the insects on your list. Be sure to take notes about the insects you find. Take it a step further by identifying unknown bugs online.
  • When you can't get outdoors, read about nature. Choose nature books from the library to learn about everything from wildflowers to hummingbirds. Imaginative tales about animals and where they live are fun to read too. Check out these books for a natural read; "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak, "The Grouchy Ladybug" by Eric Carle, "Hummingbirds: Facts and Folklore from the Americas" by Jeanette Larson and Adrienne Yorinks. You also can write and illustrate your own stories about your favorite wild critters and wildflowers.
In addition to www.wildflower.org, the following websites offer information about kids and nature:

Children & Nature Network
Definitive resource for children and nature information, get-outside ideas and current research.
www.childrenandnature.org

National Wildlife Federation Green Hour
Activities and resources for connecting kids to nature plus articles, kids and nature blogs and more.
www.greenhour.org

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