• AmandaK

Get Back to Nature

During times of turmoil and uncertainty, I turn to nature. Nature is adaptable yet reliable, flexible yet firm. Nature reminds me that there is a bigger picture, a cycle that connects us all. Nature has seen tragedy and wonder time and time again, and it presses on.

During this time of social distancing, one of the most comforting things I am still allowed to do is get outdoors and explore. While it is important to limit your contact with other people and shared spaces, you are not restricted to your house. If you're anything like me, a brief walk around the block, an easy hike on a nearby trail, or running through an open field can do the soul wonders.

Whether you've got kids who are going stir crazy, or you're going stir crazy yourself, here are some outdoor activities I've been turning to during this strange time. Follow along on Facebook (@SharePaintLLC or @GreatSaltLakeAudubon) for a weekly breakdown of these activities.There, I will describe in further detail why these activities are important, what they can teach you or your kids, and what materials I recommend. In addition, I will post a few printouts that compliment the activities!

1. Birdwatching (for Anyone!)

Birdwatching is absolutely one of my favorite pastimes! It's easy to pick up, works for any budget, and you can do it from anywhere! Is there a better hobby? I don't think so!

The more I learn about birds, the more I want to know. They are fascinating creatures and can tell us so much about the health of our environment and local ecosystem. Although you don't even have to leave your house to watch birds, I encourage you to!

There are numerous books and pamphlets that can teach you about birds in your area, but during this time it may be easier to download a phone app. Some of my favorite apps are:

Audubon (for reading up on specific species and tracking your "life list")

Birding in Utah (for viewing birding "hot spots in Utah)

eBird (for logging birds seen into a global database)

and Merlin Bird ID (for trying to figure out what an unknown bird might be)

While you're at it, take a look at apps that might help with other wildlife and plant identification!

2. Nature Journaling (for Anyone!)

Nature journaling can be done in different ways - the important thing is to record in a sketchbook or notebook what you see around you! These recordings can be in the form of journaling, drawing, painting, and so on.

Journals and sketchbooks can be purchased almost anywhere and range in price and style from dollar store notepads to waterproof multimedia booklets that can hold up to paint or ink.

Not sure what to write or draw about? Start by asking open-ended questions such as: "What is interesting?", "What do I find pretty or strange?", "What kinds of animals or plants share the same space?", or "what are the animals doing?" Look all around you, from the ground to the sky and think about your senses. What do you hear? What do you smell?

Detailed descriptions or sketches of plants and animals can be used to research unknown creatures at another time. Be sure to make note of "field marks" - markings that make it different from other plants or animals (patterns, colors, shape, size, location, etc).

6. Recycle Crafts (for Anyone!)

Sometimes building something with my hands can be just as relaxing and rejuvenating as getting outside. Being limited to our home space and supplies means many of us are having to think outside the box in order to keep ourselves and our kids busy. Reusing and repurposing what you have at home is always a great idea, but may be more important now than ever before.

The list of crafts and activities you can do using recycled items could go on for miles! Some examples are:

  • Using egg cartons as starter pots for your vegetable seeds

  • Using seeds or root ends of "used" fruits and vegetables start new plants (it's amazing what you can plant from parts of foods you already bought and used! Google it!)

  • Have some plates or cups lying around that you were going to donate? Take a sharpie to them and create your own decorative dishes. Bonus points if you draw birds! These make wonderful, personalized gifts, especially if you fill them with some kind of goody.

  • Repurpose empty cereal and other boxes to organize drawers or pantries! If you don't like the cereal-box look, cut these boxes to the appropriate shape and cover them with scrap fabric or paper.

  • Keep your kids busy by handing them empty containers, toilet paper, rolls, egg cartons, and more and see what they come up with!

The list could go on and on!

3. DIY Bird Feeders (for Anyone!)

Speaking of repurposing would-be trash, there are numerous quick, easy DIY bird feeder

ideas online! Sometimes I will look to see what I have lying around, and look up a bird feeder idea I can make with that item! Empty juice carton? DIY juice carton bird feeder! Chipped tea cup? Tea cup feeder!

One of my go-to simple bird feeders is a no-waste, kid friendly version involving pine cones! Find a pinecone, cover it in peanut butter (or sun butter, for a no-nut option), and roll it in peanut butter. These little feeders can be propped on branches, eliminating the need for string that you'll have to collect later. No waste! No trash! If you can't find pine cones, toilet paper rolls can also be used. Just be sure to return for the empty rolls and string after they are cleared off.

4. Flower Dissection and Pollination (for Kids!)

One of the most fascinating things I've recently learned is about the importance of pollinators. Bees and other pollinators can be misunderstood and even feared. It's up to all of us to protect these essential creatures. The good news - children are naturally curious about the world around them. This makes them easy and eager students! I have found most children are also fascinated with plants, especially the edible variety. In my experience, it hasn't been too difficult to get children interested in planting and gardening.

Aside from gardening and discussing pollinator facts (did you know fruit bats are pollinators?), one of my favorite activities to do with my kids is flower dissection. I begin by showing them a diagram of a flower and discussing what the different parts are - where the nectar can be found, where the pollen is, etc. After, I will pull out some cut flowers (partially dead discount flowers from the grocery store, or flowers from my own yard), and allow the kids to dissect them, looking for the parts we discussed. It can be tricky! There is such a wide variety of flowers and I still don't know on most flowers where the stamens or pistils are.

5. Bird Beak Game (for Kids!)

One fun way to get kids interested in birds is by talking about their beaks! Bird beaks can tell you a great deal about what they eat and how they communicate with each other. If showing them pictures and playing sound clips isn't interesting enough for them, give the Bird Beak Game a try!

Begin by gathering an assortment "grabbing" tools: tweezers, chopsticks, small nets, clothes pins - get creative! Then, find "food" items such as rice, toy bugs, gummy worms, seeds, etc. Scatter the "food" on a plate or bowl and let the kids try out different shapes of "beaks". Ask them which beaks worked better for which types of food. Take the game one step further by trying the same activity with dirt or water!

Many of these activities will be broken down further on Facebook over the next several weeks! If you would like to learn more about one or another of these activities, for yourself or a child you know, check back for those descriptions and downloadables!

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