Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Fun Family Activities!

Kids and Nature Go Hand in Hand

Stomping in mud puddles, digging in piles of dirt, swinging on a tire swing, catching fireflies, picking vegetable from the garden…… these are all ways kids and nature go hand in hand. The outdoors provides an exciting place for kids to play, explore, observe, discover, and be challenged. Yet, in today’s modern world, kids are increasingly disconnected with nature.  I recently asked a 7-yr. old boy what he liked about nature. He replied, “I don’t know… there isn’t any nature nearby.” Kids believe that nature can only be found in a state park or vacation spot, and not in their backyards and community green spaces. In the past, kids spent hours playing in their yard or running around the neighborhood. Today, kids spend a lot of their time indoors using a variety of modern technologies. Technology can be useful when used appropriately but often these technologies give kids false perceptions of the world. The best way for kids to understand and begin to care about the environment is to get out and enjoy it!

There are many ways to engage kids in nature. First of all, do it yourself! Kids who see adults engaging in nature and enjoying outside activities are more likely to participate too.

Ideas for family play:

1.       Backyard campout – With the bugs and the summer heat gone, this is a great time a year to pitch a tent in the yard. Kids can listen for night sounds and guess what animals are active at night.

2.       Picnic – Kids love to eat outside! Throw a blanket on the grass and enjoy a meal together. Talk about what other animals eat and where they might “picnic”!

3.       Campfire – Cool fall evenings are best spent around a campfire. Roast marshmallows, sing songs, tell stories, and gaze up at the night sky.

4.       Dig in the dirt – Plant colorful mums or a tree in the yard. Dig out the vegetable garden and prepare the area for next season. Use leftover vegetables to start a compost pile.

5.       Nature Hike – Walk around the yard or neighborhood a few times a week to notice new things. Look for different fall colors, squirrels gathering acorns, and what birds are still in the area.

6.       Scavenger hunt – Kids love searching for things! Make lists with words or pictures and see how many different things kids can find in their yard. Kids will discover diversity in their own backyard.

7.       Feed the birds – The fall and winter season is a great time to start feeding birds.  Collect pine cones, cover then with peanut butter, and roll then in bird seed. Hang them up in trees in the yard and watch our feathery friends find a treat!

8.       Visit an apple orchard or pumpkin farm – Talk with kids about harvest time. Kids can help bake treats using apples or pumpkins. Pumpkins can be used for decoration and then added to the compost pile after Halloween.

9.       Rake leaves – Kids will have fun and get lots of exercise raking the leaves. After the leaves are in big piles, let the kids jump in. Talk about why leaves are so important to a tree and why trees lose them in the fall.

10.   Nature journal – Kids like to express themselves with pictures and words. Provide kids a small, booklet of paper and have them find a quiet place in the yard. Kids can record what they hear, see, smell and experience in their journals.

For more ideas on how to connect kids to nature, visit http://www.plt.org/-every-student-learns-outside.

Monday, May 21, 2012

What Kind of Soils Do I Have?

Soil Stories

In this activity, students explore differences in soil types and composition.

Doing the Activity:
Who doesn’t like getting their hands a little dirty? The next time a child in your care decides to dig a hole in the ground, turn it into an educational opportunity. Describe to children that you will conduct an experiment to analyze the soil sample they have just collected. As you dig and collect soil samples, ask:

• What do trees and other plants get from soil? If so, why?

• Do different plants have different soil needs?

• Describe the soil: What color is it? How does it smell? How does it feel?

Have children make a “soil shake” by placing one half cup of soil into a jar with a lid and adding two cups of water. Ask them to predict what will happen if they shake the closed jar and let it settle for a few hours. Then, try it. Over time, soil layers will become visible. Gravel will fall first; then sand, silt, and clay; organic matter (leaves, twigs, stems) will remain floating in the water. Have children draw a picture of the layers formed by their soil shake, or collect and test soil samples from other areas (forest, field, yard) for comparison.

Get permission before taking soil samples. Use plastic jars, if possible.

Visit http://websoilsurvey.nrcs.usda.gov/app/HomePage.htm to find soil types specific to your area

Monday, May 7, 2012

Does the early bird really get the worm??

Birds and Worms

In this activity, students will discover the value of camouflage as they pretend to be birds in search of colored worms.
Many animals are “color coordinated” with their surroundings. Any coloration, body shape, or behavior that helps an animal hide is called camouflage. With the help of a few simple household items, you can take children outside to explore this concept.

Collect equal amounts of small, biodegradable objects in at least three colors that can be used to represent “worms” in an outdoor setting. Consider the tri-colored rotini or spiral pasta noodles, pieces of yarn, or shreds of paper.

Once outside:

• Spread or hide your colored objects (“worms”) in a defined area

• Have children “fly” around as birds and try to find the “worms”

• Make a chart or graph to visually record children’s findings. As the rounds go on, the colors that are not camouflaged will become scarce and the "birds" will have to look harder for their food.

If your first trial was on grass, try the same exercise again on asphalt, or within an area of trees. If you are working with multiple children, construct a relay race to find the scattered “worms.” The winner of the race is the first team to get every child on the team at least one “worm.” Children will most likely find the least camouflaged objects first. After completing the activity, ask:

• What color was easiest to find? What color was hardest to find? Why?

• Was there a pattern to the order in which the different colored “worms” were found?

Monday, April 23, 2012

Trees as Habitats

From their leafy branches to their tangled roots, trees provide a habitat for a host of plants and animals. In this activity, children will inventory the plants and animals that live in, on, and around
trees and discover how plants and animals depend on trees in many ways.

Doing the Activity

Where do you live? A habitat is the place where a plant or animal can get all the things it needs to
survive. The next time you pass by a tree, think of it as a habitat, or living space. While observing a
tree, have children learn about the different ways plants and animals can find food, water, shelter, and
iving space by asking:

• What are some plants and animals that depend on trees?

• What do trees provide for these plants and animals?

• Can you see signs of life on the trunk, branches, roots, and leaves? (Have children look on the

ground around the tree for fallen leaves, twigs, bark, seeds, fruits, or nuts.)

• How is a tree affected by the plants and animals that live on it? (they may benefit, harm, or be neutral to the tree)

If possible, allow children to use hand lenses or binoculars to get a closer look. Ask them to use their
sense of hearing to locate more plants and animals. Finally, compare a tree to your own home, or
habitat. How are they alike or different? Conduct a read-aloud with young children using Goodnight,
Owl! by Pat Hutchins.
Front Cover


Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Let's Celebrate Arbor Day - April 27th!

Great activity for Arbor Day and all-year round!!

Adopt a Tree
In this activity, children “adopt” a tree, deepening their awareness of individual trees over time and encouraging a greater understanding and appreciation of their local environment.

Doing the Activity

The next time you are on a walk in a familiar area, invite children to choose a particular tree to observe. Suggest they become better acquainted with it by using their senses of sight, touch, hearing, and smell to describe the tree. Encourage critical thinking by asking:

Is this tree alive? How do you know?

How is this tree similar to and/or different from other trees around it?

How does this tree help the environment around it?

Complete the Adopt a Tree Journal Entry below. Revisit this tree on a regular basis throughout the year and in a variety of weather conditions. Have children guess reasons for the changes they see and then predict changes for the future.

Adopt a Tree Journal Entry My Adopted Tree



Describe the tree_______________________


What color is the bark?___________________

Why did you choose this tree?_____________


What type of tree is it?___________________

Draw a picture of your tree or use a crayon or pencil to complete a leaf or bark rubbing.

Adapted from Activity 21: Adopt a Tree from Project Learning Tree’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide.

How many seasonal signs can you find?

Bursting buds
Emerging insects
Ice-free lakes
Birds preparing nests
Leaf color change
Fallen leaves
Bird migration
Colder temperatures
Ripe berries
Lightning bugs(fireflies)
Longer days
Bare branches
Animal tracks in the snow
Visible animal homes
Shorter days

Adopt a Tree booklet for kids available. Email jswerczek2@unl.edu and put Tree Booklet in subject line. A template will be sent electronically.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

 We All Need Trees
Children are often surprised to learn how many different products we get from trees. Use this activity to help children learn just how much we depend on trees in our daily lives.

Doing the Activity
Take a walk with children, and bring along a daypack filled with a few tree products, for example, fruit (e.g., apple, orange, mango), a pencil and a journal or a book, sunblock, and chewing gum. Pick up a downed tree branch and ask where it came from (a tree). Eat the fruit, and ask children where it came from (a store? a tree?).

Ask children to think of other items that come from trees. Discuss some unusual tree products, using the samples from your daypack. Ask critical questions, including:
Have you used anything that comes from trees today?

How are tree products alike and how are they different?
What do you like most about trees?

In addition to giving us wood, paper, food, and other products, trees are invaluable assets to our communities. Take a neighborhood walk, and look for newly planted trees and shrubs. How are they protected? Find a place without trees, and compare it with a place with many. Which place do you like best? Why?

For a children’s story about the gifts of trees and our responsibility to care for them, check out -
The Tree Farmer by Chuck Leavell and Nicholas Cravotta, 2005, ISBN: 1893622169.


Adapted from Activity 13: We All Need Trees from Project Learning Tree’s PreK-8 Environmental Education Activity Guide.
Welcome to the new blog for Nebraska Project Learning Tree and Project WET! On this blog, I will share environmental education and outdoor activity ideas to use with kids. Let's get those kids outside!