5 Spring Activities For Little Nature Explorers

kid holding bug

As the days grow warmer, the birds are singing, flowers are blooming, trees are budding, and little animals are waking up from the long winter. With the world waking up, it’s the perfect time to explore nature with the children in your life. Here are five terrific spring activities to try today:

1. Underwater Expedition

In the springtime, every pond is packed with creatures big and small. Don’t pass up the opportunity to take a closer look by sifting through the water to observe interesting little animals that live at the bottom of the pond. Snails, crayfish, bugs, and tiny shrimp are just a few of the life forms you’ll discover.

Items you’ll need:

  • 7-inch embroidery hoop
  • Big piece of netting
  • Plastic container filled with pond water
  • Scissors
  • Stapler
  • Plastic container

Directions:

  1. Cut two large octagons or circles from the netting.
  2. Place the embroidery hoop in between the pieces of netting and staple them around the hoop’s edge. It’s important that the netting is tight. If you find it tricky to keep the netting tight, have the kids help by pulling the netting tight while you staple.
  3. Take the kids out to their favorite pond and locate a spot where there’s lots of plant growth. Keep the plastic container nearby. Lower the handmade sifter into the pond until it reaches the soil and slowly sweep it back and forth, and carefully remove it from the water.

Don’t worry if the sifter comes up empty the first few times. It may take several swipes to catch anything. When you do catch something, gently place it into the waiting container. Take turns pointing out all the observations you see caught in the sifter. You may even start a field notebook, for fun. When everyone is done observing, return the creatures to their pond home.

If the kids enjoy pond exploring, consider buying a couple of books for advanced searching tips and more fun ideas. Pond Life (Look Closer), by Barbara Taylor, and Pond, by Donald Silver, are both marvelous choices.

2. Worm Whisperer

Worms sometimes get a bad rap. They may be slimy, but they’re actually very interesting animals. In fact, many people—including both kids and adults—enjoy observing and playing with them. This little project is amazingly simple. If you have a worm watcher, you may just discover some surprising results.

Items you’ll need:

  • Two sticks, each roughly one-foot long

Directions:

  1. Find a patch of dirt that’s slightly moist and loose. The soil underneath a log is a great place to look.
  2. Have one of the kids push the first stick into the ground, about two to three inches. Use the other stick by rubbing it quickly on the other stick in a side-to-side motion, for at least two minutes.

Soon, almost magically, you’ll see worms wriggling out of the ground. Keep your eyes open for baby worm sightings, as they are plentiful during this time of year.

Scientists don’t really know why worms wiggle to the surface in situations like this, but one theory is that when you rub the sticks together, the sound resembles the vibrations made by predators in the ground. Naturally, when worms try to get away, the only way to go is up.

As you embark on this experiment, try to figure out where the most popular worm hideout in the area is. Ask the kids to make predictions, and then test out those hypotheses.

3. Take a Breath

Do plants breathe like we do? Let’s find out! Luckily, you don’t even need a backyard to conduct this experiment about how plants live. A sidewalk or the side of your paved driveway and a small area of grass will do.

Items you’ll need:

● Two empty, clean glass jars

Directions:

  1. On a sunny day, find a patch of grass and place one of the glass jars upside down over the grass. Overturn the other jar on the sidewalk or driveway.
  2. Leave for about an hour (we suggest a game of catch or tag!). When you return to inspect the jars, you’ll see that the inside of the jar on the pavement will be dry, but the inside of the jar on the grass will be covered with water droplets.

Why did that happen? Plants and grass breathe the opposite of us—they take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen, thus generating water vapor. The water vapor in the first jar is heated by the sun and will condense on the glass, which is cooler. The jar sitting over the pavement is dry because there isn’t any breathing to create the water vapor.

4. Track Trap

There are lots of animals you can see right in your backyard throughout the day, including rabbits, squirrels, and birds. But what if you could see the animals that you miss during the night, like skunks or raccoons? A tracking trap is a fun way to allow kids to survey the animals that make their home on your property.

Items you’ll need:

  • A white sheet
  • Bits of food
  • Garden hose
  • Animal tracks book for kids

Directions:

  1. Fold a white sheet in half and put it where you think the most critters will be active. Near a compost pile or hedges are good locations.
  2. In the middle of the sheet, place some bread with peanut butter, hard-boiled eggs, diced fruit, or sliced carrots.
  3. Have the kids spread dirt in a one foot-wide band around the sheet’s border. Take turns wetting down the dirt and the sheet with the garden hose, and let it sit overnight.

The following morning, take the kids outside to inspect your “trap” and find out if any animals had a midnight snack. Using the animal-tracks book, help them identify whom the tracks belong to. Try setting up the “trap” in various places around your yard. You never know what kinds of animals will show up!

5. Bug Hotel

Bugs are fascinating! Set up an optimal place to view them by creating a comfy and cozy bug hotel.

Items you’ll need:

  • A clean, empty, half-gallon ice cream container
  • Scissors
  • A plastic cup, anywhere from five to nine ounces
  • Duct tape

Directions:

  1. At the top of the ice-cream container, cut three or four square openings, each about two inches wide. You’ll want the openings to be sturdy, so wrap duct tape over all the edges.
  2. While you’re doing this, ask the kids to look for a small rock. In your flowerbed or veggie garden, place the plastic cup in the soil until the top of the cup is level with the garden floor. Put the container over the buried cup. This will protect it just in case it rains overnight. Place the rock on top of the container as a weight.

The next morning, go see if your handmade insect sanctuary has any visitors. After the kids have examined the contents of the cup, don’t forget to gently let the bug guests go on their way in your garden. If you’d like to see different insects, try leaving tiny bits of food in the cup.

If you’re having trouble identifying a bug, check out Insect Identification. This website uses a bug’s color, location, and number of legs to identify insects.

There are many more ways to explore nature with the kids this spring. Bird watching and nature hikes are always fun family options. Let the little explorers in your life enjoy learning about their world—outside of the classroom.