I raised three wonderful children and two of them are now raising children of their own. I know how tough it is to amuse kids when times are normal, but during this Covid crisis, I can appreciate it’s much harder! I thought I’d share some ideas about how to engage your kids and perhaps amuse yourself, with a focus on nature-themed activities. So here goes …
We are fortunate to live in a rural area where ponds are plentiful and kids can skate as I did when I was a child many years ago. I believe municipal rinks are closed now but perhaps skaters could skate on one of the nearby lakes or ponds or build your own rink. There are kits and supplies online to build a great rink. But if you do choose to skate on a pond or lake, please be careful to make sure the ice is sufficiently solid and thick to support the activity, and respond to the latest restrictions limiting numbers together. We all know snowfall accumulates, then melts and then it snows again. Over time, it eventually stops snowing, but what if we tracked the progress? So, starting on a nice day after a fresh snowfall, carefully measure the depth of the snow (in inches or cm) using a marked stick, you leave in one place, stuck in the snow so you can check it daily. Every day at noon check the outdoor temperature and check the snow depth. Is it getting shallower as the temperature changes daily? Does it ever get shallower even when the temperature stays below freezing? Did it snow and if so how much was added? How much did it change in a week or a month? When did it all melt? Keep track of your observations, and maybe ask your parents to help make a graph to show the changes over the weeks.
What about trying to see how long it takes snow to melt under varying conditions. For the experiment above, get two measuring sticks and place one in an area that gets lots of sunshine and another that is mostly shaded … compare the results. You’ll be amazed how different the results will be!
Why not have a winter picnic? You can do this in your own backyard or a nearby park. Dress warmly and brings thermoses of hot chocolate or hot soup. While you’re outside, every now and again stop talking and watch and listen. You might be surprised to see a rabbit hopping by or birds searching the trees for a snack. Maybe your parents will even build a small campfire for you (not in a nearby park of course).
Take a walk in the woods, take bird seed with you and put it on the ground. The birds may not come right away but they will come eventually. the food will not be wasted. If things go well, they will come while you are there and sometimes they will eat right out of your hand! Identify the birds you see. Did you see animal tracks? Could you identify them? (Spoiler alert: I will write more about animal tracks in my next column.)
Why not make a bird feeder with your mom or dad and hang it outside so the birds and squirrels can enjoy it. You will be surprised how quickly birds find these feeders. They don’t have to be elaborate, but they must have some form of perch and a place to put the seed, so the birds can reach in and grab what they want. Place it in a spot where it is visible from your house and don’t forget to keep feeding the birds once you start!
Outdoor astronomy can be fun! Winter skies are clear and stars seem to shine more brightly than in summer. Go online and search ‘constellations’ and you will find several apps which will explain what constellations are in view, where you are. Maybe keep track of where they are in the sky because, over time, their position relative to the earth changes.
What you learn now will last a lifetime – so enjoy every minute of it!
Geoff Carpentier is a published author, expedition guide and environmental consultant. Visit Geoff on-line at www.avocetnatureservices.com and on LinkedIn and Facebook.