Look, nature!

easy nature ideas with kids

Today is the first day of school! All the kids and grownups in my house are pretty excited that the kids will get to go to a school two days a week. Of course, 7-2 = 5, so we've still got some good quality time to spend together. Here are few fun and easy nature ideas for kids that we've loved recently that might also work for your family or class.

  • We have been following along with Lessons to Grow By! This is a monthly set of themed activities, and September is all about pollinators. Last week we made our own flowers! (These are pictured above.) Everyone, including me, got really into it. (We left them outside overnight on accident and then the raccoons or squirrels really got into them too.) But you should sign up too, it's been really fun.
  • nature ideas for kids
    "Today we saw turtles"

    Observing nature at the community garden, in our yard, or on a walk in the woods has been a huge hit. Of course just taking mental notes is fun, but we've started bringing notebooks and pens along with us and it's so fun to see what they want to write about. One of my kids writes what they see and the other will draw. (If they do this at the garden it gives me a little bit of extra time!) The title of this blog comes from something my 5-year old said watching a bumblebee in the sedum at our house: "Look, nature! Let me get my notebook."

  • Learning the names of our local wildflowers has been a goal of mine for a long time, and the kids have gotten into it too. I bought a guide specific to our area and the kids love it. We tend to take photos of cool flowers while we're out and then take turns flipping through the guide when we get home. And then the next time we see something while we're out, I might give a little quiz. If you're not into flowers, you could do trees, mushrooms, scat/tracks, or even birds. When kids (and adults!) can give name to something they are more likely to care about it.

Summer Photo Contest

summer photo contest

Our summer photo contest is underway! This is such a fun celebration of kids in the garden. We have four categories to enter, perfect for any type of gardener.

  • Kid Gardeners - Photos of kids gardening outdoors or indoors.
  • Kid Garden Activity or Lesson - Pressing flowers? Making seed balls? Show us a garden activity or lesson in or out of the garden.
  • Garden Photos Taken by Kids (age 10 and under) - Giant vegetables? Cool critters? Garden selfies? This is for kids behind the camera.
  • Garden Photos Taken by Kids (age 11-18) - For older kids behind the camera.

And what’s a contest without prizes?! Each of the category winners will receive a $50 gift card to Gardener’s Supply Company. We will also select 10 honorable mentions to receive a Botanical Interest seed collection.

We can’t wait to see what your kids are doing or observing in the garden. Check out the gallery of entries to get inspired! (Click on View Gallery above the entry form to see all the entries so far.)

We’ve got some great photography tips (for kids and adults) as well as a photo safari and bug hunt activities, plus a more in depth look at photographing shapes and pattens that could make this contest even more fun for the kids in your life.

Don’t delay! The summer photo contest closes August 18.

(header image, Garden toes!, submitted by Alea)

Dilly the Swallowtail Caterpillar

swallowtail caterpillar

"Mommy we have a new pet!" Recently my kids came home from an afternoon at their grandparents' house with a tiny caterpillar. It was called Dilly, as they were found in Gram's dill, and brought to our house because my youngest child was very interested in having a bug as a pet and my mom knew I'd be into that sort of thing. And so began our journey into the world of raising a swallowtail caterpillar!

We put Dilly on some sprigs of fennel and dill, which were placed in a mason jar full of water. We quickly realized we needed a cardboard box underneath, as Dilly was basically a caterpillar poop machine. We put Dilly right where we'd place a vase of flowers, and everyone in the family enjoyed watching them munch their way through the fennel. (See the picture above for Dilly's funny backbend way of eating!)

After about 2 days, Dilly got really still, and stayed that way for about 12 hours. I was a little worried they were dead! But Dilly was just shedding their skin. And then they ate the skin. Waste not, want not, I suppose. The newer and improved Dilly continued their munching for a few more days. Then one afternoon my spouse pulled me into the kitchen and whispers, "DILLY IS MISSING!" It turns out swallowtail caterpillars are very content to stay on their food source– until it's time to form a chrysalis. And then they go a little wild, and start crawling all over to find the right place. We searched all around, and Dilly had actually escaped to our porch through a little crack in the screen door. We scooped it back up, and I went about creating a makeshift habitat.

swallowtail caterpillar
Makeshift swallowtail habitat

Reader, I have never felt so crafty as when I created this home for Dilly. I ran outside and grabbed a few small sticks my kids had collected. I found a small box to anchor the sticks. And then I grabbed a meshy reusable produce bag to keep Dilly in one place. I used a little duct tape to keep the bag in place.

Dilly crawled manically all around the habitat. A few hours later, they settled into one spot, and stayed there for about 24 hours. One night, before I sent to bed, I went to check on them. Dilly was doing some strange wiggling motions, almost as if it looked like it was going to throw up. Then, Dilly started using it's legs to shed it's skin, revealing the chrysalis. It was so fascinating, and honestly, a tiny bit gross!

Dilly the chrysalis stayed that way for about 10 days, and then one morning the chrysalis looked much darker. Hatching time was near! I moved Dilly's habitat right next to my computer so I could see them hatch. At one point I looked up from my work, didn't see the chrysalis, and there was Dilly the black swallowtail butterfly!

swallowtail caterpillar
Dilly the black swallowtail butterfly

It was time to return Dilly to the wild. I removed the mesh produce bag, put them on the porch, and after a few hours, off flew Dilly the butterfly. There are lots of sites on how to raise swallowtail butterflies, and I encourage you to read more if you want to do this at home. But really, it was great fun, and everyone in our family immensely enjoyed the up-close view of Dilly's transformation.

For videos of Dilly as both a caterpillar and a freshly hatched butterfly, check out our Instagram!

Do you want to attract swallowtails to your garden? We've got a growing guide to attract swallowtails!

Rainbow Garden

rainbow garden

My eight year old recently planted her first garden! She’s always been an enthusiastic helper in our family garden plot, but this time it’s all her design. It all started when I started pulling out some blue pansies to make way for some more summer-y plants in our backyard planters. She asked if she could have them for her very own garden. UM YES OF COURSE. She has been reading Gardening With Emma: A Kid-to-Kid Guide this spring, and I told her to look through it to get some ideas if she was interested in expanding her garden. And she landed on a rainbow garden! I can’t even tell you how perfect this is for her. Isn’t that what’s so great about gardening?!

It would have been great fun to take her to the garden center and let her choose the plants for her rainbow garden, but our area is asking kids to stay away from retail establishments as much as possible. So, armed with her list, off I went! I knew the most important thing was hitting all the colors of the rainbow. We ended up with red snapdragons, orange marigolds, yellow calendula, green gladiolas, the aforementioned blue pansies, purple basil, and some magenta flowers that I can’t remember.

rainbow garden
Princess Harriet Pepperbone

And she planted them all by herself! She learned a new vocabulary word (rootbound) and how to make sure plants could make the transition to their new home a little easier. (Interested in container gardening with kids? We’ve got great tips!)

We also planted some edibles of her choosing, including a lunch box pepper (which she named Princess Harriet Pepperbone after a character in her favorite book), the Chioggia beets she became enamored with from Emma’s book, nasturtium because she thinks they’re yummy, and her very own purple carrots.

Ambitious? Perhaps! It’s been about a week, and so far she’s been great about remembering to water. She loves playing with the hose, so that helps. She’ll be spending just about all summer in our backyard, so it’s great for her to have her own little territory. I'll be sure to check back in once the full rainbow is in bloom.

Garden Together At Home

Garden Together At Home

April is Kids Garden Month! This year we're inviting you to share how you #GardenTogetherAtHome. You don't need a garden to participate. Just share how you're bringing gardening into your at-home life, from reading about or drawing gardens, to planting seeds, or sharing garden-related lessons with your students. As always with Kids Garden Month, creativity is encouraged!

We invite you to use Kids Garden Month as an opportunity for all of you, who love gardening with kids, to share the fun things you're up to, as well as get ideas from one another. You can follow along with the hashtag #GardenTogetherAtHome on Instagram, or check out the awesome gallery of entries. (You can read the entry description by clicking on the image.) We have already gotten so many great entries!

As incentive to join in, we're giving away lots of prizes this year. You can win an AcuRite weather station, hand tools from Corona tools, seeds from Botanical Interest, or a seed starting kit from CowPots! Winners will be selected randomly from eligible entries at the time of the drawing. Prize drawings will be held on April 7, April 14, April 21, April 28, and May 5. While multiple entries per family or educator are allowed and encouraged, once you have won a prize you will not be eligible for future prizes.

Learn more about our Kids Garden Month contest. We can't wait to see how you #GardenTogetherAtHome.

Plant a Seed Day

plant a seed day

Y'all - spring is SO CLOSE. I know it's 80 degrees in some parts of the country, but here in Vermont it is ... not that temperature. Regardless of temperature, the first day of spring is just a few weeks away. If you're looking for a meaningful, and garden-related way to celebrate, consider taking part in Plant a Seed Day, hosted by our friends at Big Green.

On March 19, you can join a massive day of action that rallies people to stand up and take action to build a better food system. In our country, there are 40 million people who don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.

It's simple - pledge to plant a seed, with your family, students, co-workers, or whoever you consider your people. And then, on March 19, the first day of spring, get planting! I already told you about my flower garden dreams for this summer, but now I'm also thinking about all the tomatoes and eggplants and peppers and brassicas that I will start from seed. Together, my family will weed, water, and care for those plants until we harvest and eat them. I am so grateful that we are able to feed ourselves this way.

Flower Garden Dreaming

flower garden

We have eleven hundred inches of snow on the ground here in Vermont and so naturally I'm thinking about this summer's flower garden. Last year I made an effort to grow even more flowers than in years past, and hardly any of them did well. The dahlias were attacked by slugs, the zinnias we started indoors from seed were pokier to grow then if I'd just tossed the seeds in the ground, and the sweet peas didn't flower. I dreamed of vases of flowers in every room and settled for child-picked wilted dandelions on the dining room table. (Which of course is charming in it's own way.)

Like all gardeners, this year I believe it will go better! I want to have an abundance of flowers so the kids can pick what they like to create bouquets for themselves, friends, and neighbors. And maybe they'll cut some for me, too? A parent can dream. Maybe we'll even try this flower arranging activity!

flower garden
A mix of seeds from a butterfly friendly flower packet.

One thing that is really fun about planting flowers is how varied all the seeds are! From tiny poppy seeds to big round sweet peas, or the miniature broom shape of a bachelor button, seed shapes can be fun to explore with your young gardeners. One of the things that I had great luck with last year was a "Bring Home the Butterflies" flower mix . (The header picture is my little pocket garden in bloom with this mix.) But the seeds are all varied, and it can be a fun guessing game to try to guess which seeds will grow into which plants. Maybe an expert gardener can help out here (that would not be me).

This year I'm planning on a combination of starts from the garden center (lots of snapdragons, as well as coleus and cosmos) plus I'm trying 5-6 types of flowers that can be sowed before the average last frost. Here in Vermont, our growing season is short and this can help with getting flowers in bloom before it gets too cold. Oh and this year I'll just direct sow my zinnias. One thing I will start from seed under grow lights, next to my tomatoes, is this very lovely anniversary aster from our friends at Botanical Interests. These look amazing! Huge white blooms that will either be stunning alone, or mixed in with other cut flowers. Did you know that Botanical Interest will donate $1 for each packet of these asters sold to KidsGardening? We're so honored to be partnering with them, and this will truly be a stand-out addition to your garden. Although eek, will I let my kids just pick these?! Or will those be just for me? Luckily I have many months to figure that out. You can buy these online, or from your local garden retailer.

flower garden

Red Cabbage pH Experiment

My family recently visited one of our favorite science museums, and my kids got to do a very cool hands-on experiment with red cabbage that I couldn't wait to tell you about. After my last time writing about red cabbage (the time I accidentally made fart paint), I thought this was a good way to redeem one of my favorite vegetables.

This experiment would be fun to do with kids of any age. My 4-year old has no idea what pH means, but it didn't stop her from having fun using a medicine dropper. So, if your kid has the dexterity to work a dropper, they would likely enjoy it.

Here's the basic gist:

  • Cut up about 1/4 red cabbage, and boil it in a few cups of water. Pull out the cabbage and reserve the cabbage water. Let it cool and pour into a container. It will be purple.
  • Gather a few things from your house that are acidic, basic, or neutral. (Within reason, don't choose anything unsafe!) Here are a few ideas: aspirin, baking soda, detergent powder, lemon juice, vinegar, ammonia, sugar, salt. Write the name of each substance down on a piece of paper.
  • Have kids scoop a small amount (like, 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon) of each of the gathered substances into small bowls or ramekins. A plastic paint tray would work really well. Make sure you label which substance is which!
  • Using a medicine dropper or pipette, put a dropper-full of cabbage water on the substance. What color does it turn? Record the color results on your paper listing all the substances you are trying.
  • Interpret your results. If it stays the same (purple), your substance is pH neutral. If it turns pink, it's an acid. If it turns blue, it's a base. The stronger the color, the higher (or lower) the pH of the substance.

As I said, we did this experiment at a museum, but it would be a great hands-on activity for studying pH, or to use up some questionable cabbage. This activity is also mentioned in GrowLab: Activities, along with more discussion on plant acids, and the effects of acid rain. Check it out if you want to dive deeper on pH!

 

 

New Newsletter Offerings

One of the things we pride ourselves on here at KidsGardening is our original educational content. From growing guides to lesson plans, and activities to gardening basics, we are thrilled to share new resources with you each month through our newsletter, KidsGarden News. Do you get this email? If you have friends or colleagues who would benefit from receiving that information, please encourage them to sign up.

Understanding that there may be many of you who are specifically interested in our activities, we started an Activity E-Kit a few months back, and I hope you'll give it a try! It's a few simple, seasonal activities that you can do with the kids in your life with just a few materials, many of which you may already have on hand. We send it once a month. We hope you will give it a try!

We also now offer a monthly round-up of our grants and contests, so you'll never miss a deadline. Learn what's available now, if your program is eligible, and get quick links to the applications. We hope it will make it easier to track all of the available opportunities.

 

Apple Taste Test

apple taste test

As stick season quickly approaches, we're trying to soak up every last bit of fall here in Vermont. And what's more quintessentially autumn than fresh apples?

apple taste test
The heirloom apples at City Market in Burlington, VT

Earlier this week, my 4-year old and I couldn't resist the amazing heirloom apple selection at City Market, our local co-op. I mean, could you?! We decided to stick with small apples, because miniature things are cute, and chose six varieties for an apple taste test.

I was inspired to try this activity from the latest KidsGardening newsletter offer, the Activity E-Kit. Have you seen it? Each month, KidsGardening will send seasonal activities with a list of items to gather to complete the activities, and you and the kids in your life are set for a few fun activities! (Hint hint, you can sign up to get the Activity E-kit here.)

Since time is always scarce at our house, we incorporated our apple taste test into dinner earlier this week. In addition to apple slices, I offered a baguette, cheddar cheese, mustard, kale chips, roasted almonds, and a few other random leftovers from the fridge that rounded out the meal. Do you ever do dinners like this? I just started, and they are always a huge hit.

Of our six apples, we had four that everyone loved, one that everyone disliked, and one that was ok. We learned that our whole family likes apples with rough skin. While the kiddos (age 4 and 8) mostly gave tasting notes such as "yum," "crunchy!," or "tastes like bananas," the grown-ups were able to be a little more distinctive with words like mild, tart, tannic, floral. The biggest hit with the kids was the Hidden Rose - it's pink on the inside! The adults liked the Ananas Reinette. I'm looking forward to trying a few more in the next couple of weeks.

If you also want a fun snack / dinner / escape from all the Halloween candy, check out the Celebrating Apples activity. Let us know your favorites!