Adams County Master Gardener
"Look deep into Nature, and then you will understand everything better." Albert Einstein
(8/29) How do you draw those fixated on their tech toys out of the house and into the natural world? Maybe you remember a parent or grandparent instructing you in planting a simple vegetable garden. You may have only
carried the water or the tray of plants, but you shared the joy of bringing tomatoes, onions, or other vegetables to the family table. You were proud of your accomplishment and looked forward each spring to claim a little more responsibility for the fresh harvest.
If you are fortunate enough to have a space for planting – call it "garden" or "backyard" – you can invite little ones to help and easily arouse the curiosity of children. Even if it’s only a small corner which gets some sun and some shade, you can plant herbs or seeds (like sunflowers) that grow quickly. Kids will like seeing sunflowers follow the
sun, how large they get (some the size of dinner plates!), and how the seeds are sought out by birds. Containers on a porch or balcony can be used in the same way. The essential factor is that kids have a role in the outcome of the activity. There may be space to hang a birdfeeder or a bird house, where children can watch to see what species are drawn to them.
Long ago, my family excitedly noted the first flock of geese flying north or south. There was something special in the sounds they made as they communicated with each other in flight and their obvious cooperation as they crossed the sky overhead in their distinctive "vee" formation. This
fascinating sight showed how determined they were to arrive at their destination. Not until years later did I learn some of their "rules" regarding leadership and navigation.
In a lawn or in a park, you may designate a small area in which the children observe all the plants and creatures that inhabit it. How many can they identify? Which ones play a role in a healthy environment, and why?
When exploring your backyard or a nearby park, children will encounter all sorts of creatures. While children may consider baby animals "cute," they should be cautioned about handling miniature wild creatures that need to be with their mothers. Wild mothers can be dangerous and aggressive if their nest or their young ones are interfered with. In
addition, snakes, bugs, mice and spiders may not appeal to everyone, but some children are fascinated by them while others are frightened. "Look but don’t touch" is a wise rule to follow until kids learn the proper way to handle these wild critters.
Without a doubt, our children need to learn about the declining populations of amphibians and bees. When bees are seen on flowers you have a perfect chance to mention their importance as pollinators. The bee’s buzz is nature’s warning signal – you do not reach out and grab a honey bee; nor do you step on one – although it can be an adventure to
"pet" a bumblebee by stroking its "fur"!
Why do bees go from flower to flower? While collecting nectar, which will eventually become honey, bees are also carrying the pollen necessary for plants to multiply and spread. If children have never tried honey, let them spread some on toast or pour it over cereal. What a sweet lesson!
Frogs and toads are decreasing in alarming numbers. A wet spot in the backyard may attract a toad to eat the garden pests. A flat dish filled with water will help it weather the dry spells. You may even place a "toad house" in the vicinity of the damp area. Watch the inhabitant hop toward insects that invade his territory, or observe his "walk"
when he isn’t hurrying. It is hilarious! On a rainy evening, you will discover free, delightful entertainment.
Some of these simple suggestions may help you find a new way of encouraging kids to explore nature, and to develop both interest in and respect for the fascinating world outside.
"We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children" Native American proverb.
Read other articles by Linda Knox
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