Gardening with Kids, part 3: Celebrating Backyard Wildlife
Today I want to talk about a surefire way to get your kids interested in the garden: finding all the neat wildlife out there!
By the way, this post is part of a series I’m doing, on gardening with kids. In case you missed the first 2, here are some handy links:
Ok, back to the topic at hand: the wildlife in your backyard. It is delightful to find small creatures in your yard. Less delightful if they’re eating up your plants or otherwise causing damage, but your kids will probably still like them!
Unless you are already good at identifying them, I would buy or check out some books from the library to help. It’s especially fun to notice an animal, bird, or bug, then find it in the guide book. After that you can remind each other what it is whenever you see it, until you just know.
Of course, the baby animals are absolutely the cutest.
Here’s a list of the wildlife we saw in our Eastern Washington backyard:
Birds: sparrows, crows, magpies, owls, pheasant, quail; many other common birds
Insects: praying mantis, shield bugs, carpenter ants, bees & wasps, roly-polies
Raise a Caterpillar in a Jar
I have fond memories of finding monarch caterpillars, as a kid, and putting them in a jar with leaves to eat. We would watch them form a chrysalis, which eventually turned black, then almost clear, and a beautiful butterfly emerged. We would carry them on our fingers outside and gently flap them up and down. We thought we were teaching them how to fly. :) Of course, after the butterfly was ready it would fly off on its own. We always thought the ones we saw in the garden were “our” butterflies, too. It was magical!
You can re-create this experience with your kiddos—whether or not you have milkweed and monarchs around. In fact, one year in Washington the kids and I raised some cabbage white butterflies in a jar. Normally I don’t recommend raising pest caterpillars, but against my better judgement, we did. One survived of the two. I was done with the broccoli that year anyway.
Okay, so here’s what you need to do:
Prepare a clean mason jar by punching holes in the metal lid. Make sure the holes are smaller than your caterpillar can crawl through!
Find a caterpillar, and pick it up, along with some of the leaves it was eating when you found it. It would probably be good to identify it first. You know—make sure it isn’t toxic or a really bad pest.
Put the caterpillar and leaves in the jar.
You can clean out frass (caterpillar poop) as frequently as you like. Replace the leaves with fresh ones every day or two. Watch and be amazed as it forms a chrysalis and later emerges! Release it outside.
Some other fun things to do:
Put up a birdfeeder or a bird bath.
Make a toad house. For instructions, get a copy of “Toad Cottages and Shooting Stars” by Sharon Lovejoy.
Do a scavenger hunt to see how many animals or different types of bugs you can find.
Go on a sound scavenger hunt. Record as many different bird calls as you can from your backyard.
Take pictures and identify what you find.
Start a Wildlife Journal. Draw pictures of the species in your yard, or take photos. Observe their habitat and behaviors and make notes.
Make a bug hotel, or put up a set of nesting tubes for bees.