Nature is the best classroom

Nature is the best classroom

Attending a forest school or bush kindy isn’t always in reach for everyone but there are plenty of ways to explore the outdoors with children, connecting them to our natural world as you do. 

It is often the simplest experiences that give us the most satisfaction, as well as providing ‘teachable moments’ for parents and their children. Ducking under a tree to get out of the rain may provide a child with an awe-inspiring experience on the way home from the shops, as the drops splash all around and some big ones make it through the branches. Putting out seed for wild birds – and then seeing them actually come to eat it – can be incredibly rewarding, and give children a new appreciation for the animals in their world.

For city dwellers or those short on time, the backyard can lend magical nature moments too. Here’s a few ways to help make your backyard and surrounding neighbourhood more exciting for budding wildlife viewers and environmentalists.

Get crafty with one of these DIY projects

These projects are a great weekend project and will help make your yard a better habitat for birds and bugs.
  • Make a bug hotel. This simple project will provide much needed habitats for bugs in your garden, which will in turn help pollinate your plants and provide natural feed for birds.
  • Build a bird bath. Even an old, chipped bowl placed on a log (up high, and out of the reach of predators) will catch the rain and help thirsty birds in the warmer months, while also providing good bird watching opportunities.
  • Create a fruit feeding platform. This can be as simple as nailing a flat piece of wood to a post. It’s helpful if you have something to prevent the fruit from falling off, such as some lead free nails and timber edging. 

Observe and collect data as a citizen scientist

Do some action research and take note of your findings with these ideas for budding backyard scientists.
  • Place different types of food on your feeder and record who comes to visit over the space of a week. Some might prefer the mealworms, while some have a sweet beak and prefer fruit, or vegetable-fat-based Energy Food and seed. Others may only visit for a drink from the nectar feeder. Research which feeds are bad for birds, such as apple seeds and bread.
  • Mark out a square metre of your garden and take your magnifying glass to investigate the bug life in this sample of your yard. Tally up the findings. If you have a bug hotel, see if this is boosting your bug count over the coming months.
  • Do a five-minute bird count and watch for changes in bird activity over the seasons. Is there more chirping in spring? Can you hear baby birds or are the tūī having more disagreements over territory? This can be a great opportunity for a silent moment as you sit and take notice. 

Explore beyond the front gate

To expand your experiences, try branching out into different environments for your walkabouts. Wetlands provide amazing opportunities for bird watching and observing nesting habits, as well as lots of chances to identify native plants. Beaches and rivers can provide new sightings too, as can local bush walks or reserves.
  • Take a silent moment where you take in all that your senses can tell you about the surrounding environment. What can you smell, hear, feel and see?
  • Use a bird identification app like NZBirdAtlas to see if you can name any birds you spot (NZBirdAtlas is also an awesome citizen science tool!)
  • Bird Bingo – create a grid of images of common local birds (try the NZ Garden Bird Survey tools as a starting point) and check them off once sighted or heard.
Remember, there’s no bad weather, only bad clothing! Rainy or windy days can give new experiences and provide different wildlife sightings too. Ducks are especially active when it rains! Taking the time to venture out and explore in all weathers and in a variety of settings will help your children gain confidence in their abilities, as well as helping them appreciate our wonderful, wild world.


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