By Brittnay Haag
Get your kids or grandkids digging, growing, and exploring outside this fall! While so much emphasis is put on the use of technology, many kids today are missing the practical, hands-on experience right outside their doors.
Gardening can offer kids fun, hands-on activities even when it is cold outside. Here are a few ideas to get their hands dirty and appreciating nature while they are at home.
Grow your own grass head, then snip or style the “hair” as it grows. The grass will germinate and grow quickly to create a lush, green head. Materials needed: an 8-ounce paper cup, potting soil, grass seed (my favorite is wheatgrass seeds), colored pencils, or crayons. Start by poking three or four small holes in the bottom of the cup for drainage. Next, draw a face on the paper cup with colored pencils or crayons. Fill the cup with soil, saving one tablespoon to put on top of the seeds. Plant wheatgrass seeds, cover with 1/4 inch of soil, and water well. After planting, water every few days and watch your head grow hair! Now it’s time to get creative with your “hair” styles!
Make your garden more butterfly-friendly with a drinking puddle. Shallow water sources provide the necessary salt and amino acids for our fluttering friends. Start with a shallow container that can hold water, Iike a saucer or pie pan. Fill the container with sand, level it off, and create an indention in the center to collect water. Lightly sprinkle soil, compost or salt over the sand to provide nutrition (avoid inert potting soil). Next spring, add water to the container and place it in your garden amongst your plants. Replace the water in the container as needed. Flat stones can also be placed on top of the sand for butterflies to land. Get ready to sit back and enjoy watching these colorful creatures gather! Talk about the life cycle of the butterfly when making this project.
Scavenger hunts are the perfect way to get kids to explore a garden or nature place while also learning and practicing their observation skills. Create simple challenges encouraging kids to use all their senses in the garden. Find items for each letter in the alphabet or several different shapes, look for different seeds in the garden that birds may enjoy this winter, or even look for signs of wildlife around your yard. The possibilities are endless! Exploring can take place in your backyard, at a park, or in a public garden.
Get outside, play in the dirt, grow some plants, explore around you, and enjoy nature!
Brittnay Haag is a University of Illinois Extension horticulture educator.