I am crazy for bird watching. Silly as it may sound, growing up a city girl with pigeons, crows and seagulls, the rare event of seeing a beautiful Wood Duck or peculiar Crossbill, speaks to me. This is why I have involved my kids in three outdoor hobbies that help them to watch and learn about the world around them.
I use Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast as my guide. It is a simple, color coded book with good illustrations. Every time our family encounters a new bird, we check it off in the “bird book”. My kids fight about who gets to check off the latest addition to our collection and love to watch the birds through the binoculars. I regularly take them to a nearby bird sanctuary where they can see species that they might not otherwise be exposed to.
My other interest in mushrooms. I love to try to identify all of the different kinds – I don’t eat any, and I have taught my children not to eat any. In addition, I have taught them that some varieties of mushrooms have toxins on their surface. In the autumn, our family goes on mushroom walks with our Audubon Mushroom Book. Since we live in a particularly rainy part of the world, we have a great amount of species to observe and check off. Pictured with this article is the beautiful, but poisonous Amanita muscaria; my favorite mushroom to look at. I once had a Biology teacher who studied squirrels in a particular region and found that they had been eating the white dots off of all the Amanita’s in the area. The white substance is hallucinogenic/deadly. Not a fungus that I would mess with, but those must have been some trippin squirrels!
On occasion, when we are out and about, we make a point of taking a sample of an unknown plant home to try to find out what it is. This both teaches our children to do research online and helps them get to know their environment a bit more. We also emphasize the importance of environmental stewardship. These values came to the surface when we discovered an infestation of gigantic ants in our house. I had been on an ant killing spree for several days, and felt enough shame that I didn’t want my kids to see me killing bugs. When they discovered the ants on their own, a massive cup and paper operation began. They trapped the ants with their plastic cups, slid paper underneath and released the lucky ants outdoors. I think they rescued about 20 ants. This may seem a bit extreme, but we also name the spiders we find in our house. Clarisse was with us for several months, living on top of our pantry shelf.
One of the projects set to begin is to number the snails in our yard and track their movements. We plan to put a mark on their shells with a felt pen and make a point of looking for them when we are outside. We can see how long they live, where they go in the garden and how they change over time.
Fossils are also of great interest in me. We happened to be lucky enough to live near a river that was an abundant source of fossils. Any given summer day would have my little ones playing in the shallow calm of a riverbed, while I nearby, examined rocks for fossils. I was never disappointed. Most of the finds were ammonites, clams and mussels, but what a great springboard for teaching! I had them looking for fossils with me, and they were more interested in discovering a great find than in splashing around the river.
No matter what the season, you can find an enjoyable activity outdoors: in the autumn and winter; mushroom hunting, late winter/early spring is great for water fowl, in our part of the world. Summer time is a good time for looking at song birds and hummingbirds. If you like to camp, you can listen for owls and bats. Bats come out at dusk to hunt mosquitos, and chances are, if you think you see a bird at dusk, you are probably seeing a bat.
The point of all of this; even if you live in a big city, there are ways you can discover nature with your kids that will help them in their learning and nature is never far away.