Saturday, October 15, 2011

2011: International Year of Forests Fun, Easy Outdoor Activities for Kids

Hurry!  Before winter arrives!  

Get your kids outside for some fun, easy activities that will get them better acquainted with the forest.   These would also be excellent activities for Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts—or for a teacher to do with his or her class.

Take them on a micro-hike!  They’ll discover the tiny world that lies just beneath their feet.  Be prepared for their hands and knees to get dirty!  This activity can be done in the forest or right in your backyard.  You’ll need: 20-30 feet of string for each child, magnifying glasses, pens, journal paper, plant and insect field guides (optional).  Have the kids each stretch their string across an area--it doesn’t have to be straight.  It can run along fallen logs, over stumps, around tree trunks or rocks, through a shallow creek, or along it.  Now they can get down on their hands and knees, starting at one end of the string, and slowly move along the string, examining everything in its path with a magnifying glass. Be careful with the magnifying glasses.  Especially on sunny days the magnifying glasses can intensify sun light to the point where fires can be started.

Have them look for different types of plants, including mosses and fallen leaves.  Look for fungi and lichens of different forms.  If they move any fallen leaves, rocks, logs, or fallen branches, be sure to tell them to do it gently and to return them where they found them.  They are sure to find insects and other invertebrates.  When they’re done, they can write down what they’ve seen, and compare with each other.  They can also take turns showing each other the things they found to be most interesting on their hike.

Smell some leaves!  On your next walk or hike through the forest, have the kids help you collect some leaves from trees (don’t forget evergreen trees!), shrubs, small plants and grasses.  When you arrive home, have them gather at the table and prepare for leaf sniffing time!  If you have a tree or plant field guide, see if they can identify some of them or at least separate them into different categories.  Then one at a time, rub a leaf in your hand and have them each smell it.  Let them each write down or say out loud what they think it smells like.  Some leaves smell musty, others smell sweet, spicy, fresh or sharp.  If the leaf is from a black birch tree, when crushed it will smell like root beer!  Sassafras crushed leaves are said to have a “pleasing medicinal scent,” whereas black walnut leaves have a spicy scent.

What Lives in a Tree?  To find out you’ll need: a tree with an easy to reach branch, a white bed sheet, and a magnifying glass.  Once you’ve found a tree, have two people stretch the white sheet under the tree branch, getting as close to the branch as possible.  Shake the branch vigorously for about one minute.  Lay the sheet on the ground and have the kids observe what has fallen.  Did the tree drop any seeds, nuts or fruits?  Help them to identify some of the insects using a field guide.  There may also be spiders and caterpillars! 

Next try this again with a different tree.  Are there differences in what is found among deciduous and coniferous trees?  Explain that to be deciduous, the tree or shrub has leaves that change color in the autumn and are dropped before the winter (depending on where you live).  Most coniferous trees and shrubs have long, thin, needle-like leaves.  Most keep these year round and are often called evergreen. 

The World Bird Sanctuary has several trails through our oak-hickory forest where we invite you to try these fun activities with your kids and their friends!

Submitted by Sara Oliver, World Bird Sanctuary Naturalist

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