Hands-On Gardening and Nature Projects

Get your green thumb dirty with these outdoor experiments and activities.



Hands-On Gardening and Nature Projects

Gardening and simple science projects show your child the way things work and teach responsibility, environmental awareness, and even how to handle disappointment, when that carefully planted bulb refuses to sprout. Here are some easy ways to have fun outdoors this spring:

  • Set up a backyard weather station. To measure the rainfall, gather the drops. Any tall glass jar, beaker, or old vase will do. (Something in your recycling bin is probably perfect; mark it at quarter-inch intervals.) Install an outdoor thermometer by a window you see each morning, or plug in an electronic indoor thermometer that sits by the window and shows what the outside temperature is. To measure the wind, you don't need any special equipment — just look at the way umbrellas act and the tree branches sway.
  • Plant your next jack-o'-lantern. The clever names of many pumpkin varieties make it lots of fun: Ghost Rider, Baby Boo, Munchkin, Spooktacular, Big Max, Cinderella, Lumina (a white pumpkin), Jack Be Little, and Orange Smoothie, just to spotlight a few. Your child will be a successful gardener, because they are so easy to grow. Pumpkins need plenty of space and sunshine, and take a long time to grow. If you start them indoors in early May or put them in the ground in late May after the danger of frost is past, you should have pumpkins to carve for Halloween.

    Pumpkins grow in almost any soil, but they don't like wet feet, so avoid damp areas (and overzealous watering). They prefer six hours of sun a day, but don't let that stop you from planting the seeds; pumpkins are vigorous and aren't easily deterred.
  • Make a dandelion salad. Go on a hunt for dandelion greens. You have to do this before the yellow flowers blossom, or else the greens will be too tough and bitter to eat. Pick in a pristine area, away from auto exhaust and animals. Show your child how to dig up the dandelion plant with a bit of root attached, so the leaves don't wilt before you're ready to use them. Remove the ribs on each leaf, and then wash the greens in a salad spinner.

    Toss the greens with vinaigrette. Top with sliced hard boiled eggs and croutons, and serve with some crusty bread and butter!
  • Pound a posy. Spring's bright-green leaves, flowers, and herbs are as pretty as can be. To transfer their images onto cloth or paper, lay your specimen between two clean white handkerchiefs or two pieces of white paper. Using a meat mallet, pound the paper or cloth. A pile of newspapers makes a good "desk" to pound on. Tape the finished transfer to a window so the light shines through.
  • Open a nest-supply store. Help birds build their homes by sharing building materials. Decorate your bushes with finger-length (less than six inches) pieces of yarn or string, dried grass, moss, flower petals, and lint from the dryer (no fabric softener!). Or, stuff these materials into a net bag or suet container that the birds can pick from. Don't offer anything made of nylon or plastic, including fishing line, as you don't want the nestlings to strangle. Instead, think soft, warm, and cuddly. Look for the baby birds when they hatch!
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