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Let’s Go On A BUG HUNT!

Warmer weather is here for many of us, and for those of you “up North”, the days will soon turn balmy for you as well (I promise!).  With warmer weather we get to enjoy budding plants, more outside playtime, and (our favorite) BUGS!

Exploring the world around us should be an integral part of growing up and learning.  Studying nature and the outside world allows children the opportunity to learn more about how we, as humans, work and live with and in the environment, taking care of our planet and the inhabitants thereof.  Through nature, children can explore patterns and solve problems.  They can learn to make decisions based on how that decision affects others around them, and they can observe life cycles of other creatures to learn more about themselves.  And, nature is simply COOL.  Bugs included!  Just ask any child what a worm or a beetle is, and they can certainly tell you!

WonderBrains offers a variety of products to promote observation of living creatures in a safe way – safe for children as well as the creatures!  Products, such as the Bug Explorer, are perfect for safely “catching” a variety of insects and observe them in a non-threatening way.  And, the insects can be released back into their natural habitat.  Or, look into products such as an ant farm or ladybug farm to bring insects that might be more difficult to capture into a safe observation area.  One of our favorite insect-toys in our family is the butterfly habitat.  With it, my boys can send off for caterpillars that the boys then watch as they grow and metamophosize into beautiful butterflies.  We then release them in our own back yard, where they can be spotted for quite some time afterward. 

Whether using store-bought product or making your own collection system (jars with holes in the lids, plastic containers, nets), bugs can be easily observed and recorded.  Even little tikes love to draw pictures of what they see.  Simply stapling a few sheets of paper together to make a journal or record book can open up many doors and opportunities to learn.  Encourage your child to ask questions, to look for answers, and to write or draw what they see.  Keep a journal of types of bugs found in your backyard, and encourage your child to keep track of the numbers of each kind they see and find.  Take photos of different insects to use as a reference when looking for more information at your local library or online.

As with any type of creature, teach your child some safety tips when handling living things.  Try not to touch any creature so as not to harm the animal (or have the animal harm your child!).  Always ask an adult before attempting to capture an animal/insect in order to make sure that the child is being safe and aware of the surroundings.  Try not to disturb the animal’s habitat, and be sure to release the animal back at the same place it was found so as not to confuse it.

Bugs can offer a multitude of learning opportunities and adventures!

Patterns In Nature: A Mathematical Lesson

Our natural world is the perfect classroom on so many levels.  The world is full of color, vibrancy, life, science, history.  It is an inspiration for art, writing, music and dance.  And, our world is so mathematical. 

Not exactly what you were expecting?

But, it is.  The natural world is FULL of symmetry, geometry, functionality, balance, and patterns.  And, because children love the outdoors, what better place to feed their sometimes insatiable desire to learn than outside?

Teaching young children about patterns is a natural part of our world.  Begin by looking at simple, man-made structures, such as fences, bridges, architecture, even sidewalks.  Find patterns in brickwork, woodwork, painting and even in everyday things such as the parking lot of a store or the windows on a building.

Once a child understands the basic concept of a pattern (a sequence that repeats itself over and over), look for examples in nature.  Many plants actually grow in a patterned state.  The Vitex (also known as a Texas Lavender) puts off flowers in plumes grouped in threes on each branch.  Look at the petals of flowers – do all the flowers have the same number of petals?  What about trees?  Do the leaves grow in some sort of organized pattern? 

Look for small bugs and other critters that exhibit patterns, such as ladybugs and butterflies.  These animals also lend themselves well to teaching SYMMETRY (mirror imaging).  Larger animals, such as horses, can be observed for patterns in the way they walk or run.  The “sound” of galloping is a great auditory pattern.  Listen for patterns with crickets and birds as well.

Take advantage of the warmer, sunnier days and enjoy the scenery with a child.  You never know what they might learn in the process!

Bird Feeders For Little Ones

Spring is right around the corner – trees are budding, snow is melting, flowers are starting to peek through the ground in anticipation of warmer weather and longer days.  So, now is the perfect time to sit down with your favorite kiddo and make something to celebrate nature.  Make a bird feeder and welcome our feathered friends back home!  And, gone are the days of the pine cone feeder – here are some great new ways to treat the birds.

The best bird feeders are ones that are edible.  Try coating a bagel half with peanut butter and roll it in bird seed.  Then, use some twine to tie it to a tree.  Everything that is used to create this feeder is a gift to the birds – seed, peanut butter, bagel – and the twine is excellent nest-building material!  Another great idea is to use an ice cream cone.  A cone can either be coated like the bagel, or it can be filled with seed and hung from a tree like a cup of seed (tie the string around the rim, about a 1/2 inch down, and then make a double hanger – strap on either side – to tie around a tree branch).

For a slightly less traditional bird feeder, string cereal on a piece of yarn and tie to the tree (Cheerios work well for this).  The birds will appreciate the healthy snack, and again, the yarn will make excellent nest-building material.  Cookie cutter feeders are also fun; find your favorite cookie cutter and cut the shape from a piece of bread.  Press seed into the cut out, then poke a hole through the top with a straw.  String it to a tree! 

Not all feeders need to be edible.  Using recycled materials, such as empty egg cartons, pie tins, and even empty milk cartons, you can make a simple feeders for your back yard guests.  Turn any empty container into a feeder by making twine hangers to tie to a tree branch.  Just remember to soften any edges that might pose a danger to birds.

Make a feeder this weekend with your child.  Then, sit back and watch the birds arrive, marveling in their newfound treat!

Cool Craft Ideas For January

Gone are the warm summery days of July, the green grass and lush gardens.  In most areas of North America, we’re enduring chilly temperatures, dormant plants, snow and ice.  The outdoors can still be a great opportunity to explore, play and create with kids, though, even in the middle of winter.

Bundle up and take a nature walk.  See what is changing in your neighborhood.  Are there leaves still on the ground?  Are they crunchy or soft?  What will happen to the leaves?  This is a great time to teach children about the natural process of mulching and fertilization.  Or, if you still have a few choice leaves in your area, collect them and bring them home to make leaf creatures.  Glue the leaves on paper to make people, animals, or even to invent your own creature.  Collect sticks and think of ways you can use them.  Make a windchime or a mobile using small sticks, or if you find a large stick, create a walking stick.  Decorate a stick for the season a lead a parade.  Use glitter and ribbons, get other children involved and let them parade around the area.

If you live in an area where snow is commonplace, make your own popsicles outdoors.  Pour Kool Aid into cups and set outside.  After a couple of hours, check on them and add popsicle sticks when the mixture is slushy.  You can create popsicles in a variety of containers, experimenting with shape and color.  Make a layered popsicle by freezing each layer individually.  Make ice lanterns with your children by putting water in a large bucket, then floating a smaller container in the water.  Fill the smaller container with sand or rocks to weigh it down and force it to “sink” somewhat into the larger container.  Once the mold is created, place a votive in the indentation and light your ice lantern.  A safer method is to turn the lantern over like an igloo and drill a hole through the top.  Light the candle and cover with the lantern. 

Collect rocks and have a blast with a new building medium.  Create a snow fort replica indoors with small pebbles glued together.  Or, make a pet rock.  Decorate your rock with markers and other “extras” you have around the house, small ribbon, pipe cleaners, buttons – whatever you can find to add to your rock.  Create a place for your rock to “live” by decorating a small box or container.

In our temperate climate, we have plenty of animals that still hang around through the winter months.  We love to make bird feeders for our feathered friends.  The traditional peanut butter – bird seed  feeder is simple and easy, and there are lots of different objects you can use to set it up.  Try pine cones, bagels or toast, even small sticks that can be tied to a branch.  Birds aren’t picky, but you do have to be sure that your feeder isn’t going to harm them either.

What are some great ways you can think of to keep your child occupied during the short winter days?  Post your ideas in our comments section and share!

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