As Earth Day approaches, our attention is focused on tangible ways to help protect our environment. One easy and virtually free way for kids to go green is to start a backyard compost bin. Composting is a natural way for organic (previously living) materials to break down, into a nutrient-rich soil that we can use in our garden. Did you know that in the US we make about 4.43 pounds of waste per person each day? (see epa.gov) That is 250 million TONS of trash per day! We make too much garbage and 13.4% of the waste produced in the US in 2010 was yard trimmings, 13.9% was food scraps. We could be composting this waste, recycling it, and returning it to the ground!
Here are reasons why it’s important to compost, instructions on how to do so with kitchen scraps, and resources (books, clips, and games!) to learn about composting at home. Continue reading
I am a strong proponent of getting kids outside, no matter what the temperature. As long as we’re dressed appropriately, I let the kids play in the freezing snow in Chicago, or at the park in 100+° in humid Houston- and I love to help them observe how nature changes with the weather. Last spring we made a duct tape bracelet on a nature hike, gathering treasures along the way. I wanted to display their nature collection this winter (on a visit to Chicago) and we found a great way to do so: ice sun catchers. Winter crafts for kids are more fun when you get the kids outside!
Migration of Monarch Butterflies, image credit: Harald Süpfle, creative commons use
It’s the migration season for 100 million monarch butterflies, as they fly from Canada and the northern US, south to Mexico for the winter. In February, they’ll star their journey back up north. Kids: can you follow their migration path on a map? Why would butterflies (and some birds!) go south for the winter? In Texas this October, we’ve seen the travelers pass through our garden to sip on some of our butterfly weed and lantana. Here are some great resources for teachers and parents to use to teach their kids about the amazing monarch butterflies. Continue reading
My children really enjoy learning about animals. They like to catch and release critters, visit animals at the zoo, do animal science projects like dissecting owl pellets, watch movies like Whale Rider and The Story of the Weeiping Camel, do craft projects like this blue morpho butterfly craft, and read books like these about Australian animals. We are animal lovers! So on a recent visit to the zoo, we learned about ratites: large flightless birds. They share several characteristics, even though they are spread widely among different continents. Many scientists believe that their similarities and distance from each other suggest that the earth’s land masses were once much closer together than they are now. Scientists also believe that flightless birds on islands like Australia and New Zealand evolved because they had little reasons to escape flying because there were few predators. These birds developed short wings, great running or swimming skills, and special defenses like large toe claws. Let’s discover some special characteristics of these unique birds! Continue reading
Do your kids come to you, holding little surprises in their clenched fists? Or shriek that they caught something and want to show you? Though I am not too squeamish, I catch my breath for a second as they uncurl their muddy little fingers, in case their surprise decides to jump or fly away as I lean in. My kids really like to play outside, whether it be in our backyard, nearby parks, or visits to nature preserves. Inevitably, their play will somehow be interrupted by the discovery of “the coolest bug ever,” a frog, a gecko, a baby snake, ants eating a worm, or any other critter. We generally employ a “catch and release” policy, observing the creatures for a bit and then letting them go back into our garden (my daughter says “so they can lay more eggs and we can have even more!”). Here are 4 ways we encourage our budding naturalists to learn about the animals and insects in our environment.
It seems that in our busy life of fast food and convenience, many people have become so disconnected from their food, they don’t know where their food actually comes from (or what it is made of!). This is the first article in a series to help kids understand more about our food system.
Today we’re mapping our fruits and vegetables: with a little research in the supermarket, the kids are discovering where our food was grown and how long it traveled to get here!
Warning: you are about to read (and see graphic pictures!) about a messy and possibly stomach-churning science project that is typical in our house:). If indigestible fur and bones in the form of owl pellets is too much for your morning coffee, stop reading now!
Nothing thrills a parent or teacher more, than hearing your kids get really excited about a project. We recently invited a bunch of friends over to learn about owls, and dissect owl pellets, which my kids said was both gross and cool at the same time. The buzz in the room, that grew exponentially louder the deeper we got, turned into shrieks of excitement as kids made more discoveries. Here’s how we had fun learning about owls. Continue reading
June 8th is World Oceans Day! We need healthy oceans: they give us food and medicine, oceans help to clean the water we drink, help regulate our climate— and who doesn’t enjoy a day at the beach?!
From underwater plants to marine wildlife, our oceans are threatened by over-fishing, contamination, and climate change. According to the Global Partnership for Oceans (see this video), 90% of big fish are gone and 50% of coral reefs are lost.
Photo credit: Agência Brasil 2006, Creative Commons Use.
Wangari Maathai (1 April 1940 – 25 September 2011) grew up in the green highlands of Kenyan. When she returned from studying college in the US she discovered that her lush homeland was being destroyed by deforestation which caused water and food shortages, malnutrition, and disappearing wildlife. She began to educate others to care for the land and re-plant the forests and they called her Mama Miti, “Mother of Trees.” Ms Maathai founded the Green Belt Movement, which empowered woman around Kenya to help take back their land, planting tree by tree.
For her compassion and efforts she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004. She was the first African woman and environmentalist to win a Nobel Peace Prize. Here are resources you can use to teach your children about this inspirational, remarkable woman, and her plight to save her country’s landscape. She shows us that one person truly can save the world! Continue reading
Grab a roll of duct tape and put on some old shoes, we’re going on a nature hike! Continue reading
In 1993, the UN designated today, March 22 as World Water Day in order to emphasize the important of conserving and managing our freshwater resources. The 2011 theme is Water for Cities: Responding to the Urban Challenge. Urban areas around the world are growing rapidly:according to a 2011 study from Yale, by 2030 urban land use around the globe will expand by 590,000 square miles — which is almost equal to the land mass of Mongolia. The study shows that “India, China, and Africa have experienced the highest rates of urban land expansion,” while the largest absolute loss of rural land to cities has occurred in North America.
Whether people move to cities because of money and jobs (GDP growth), or because the population is growing, the result is the same: urban areas and industrialization are rapidly growing, people are competing for water, and the impacted water systems are challenged to keep up. In addition, scarcity of water and droughts affect food supplies around the world.
Here are some excellent activities for kids to do to to learn about our precious water resources. Continue reading