Where there are plants, there are wildlife creatures living and feeding among them. Where there are sources of water, there are wildlife creatures drinking or bathing. Of course, the type of garden, the specific region, and the variety of plants offered determines the wildlife creatures that may be present.
Hands-on activities keep kids entertained as they learn. Go through resource books and identify local wildlife creatures. Encourage the kids to explore the garden armed with a magnifying glass, a clear container or jar, a notebook and pencil (or crayons). Make sure to supervise them during these explorations. Have them look for wildlife creatures and watch their activity, from various insects, bees, and butterflies to birds, and other small animals. Tell them to record their findings through words and pictures.
Ask them compare the habitats of various wildlife species. Have them carefully turn over stones or logs in the garden, where they’ll find a number of insects like ants, slugs, or beetles. Have the kids count the number of birds or butterflies that visit and draw them for later identification. Teach them to ‘bee’ still, freezing whenever bees and other stinging insects come near.
Give them a small trowel to dig up worms. They could even create a mini wormery with a clear container, such as a plastic bottle. Cut off the top and poke small holes in the bottom for drainage. Then let the kids fill their bottle with layers of soil and leaf litter, adding a small amount of water to keep it moist. Drop in a few worms and cover the top with a piece of cloth, secured with a rubber band or tape. Place the mini wormery in a dark area and allow the kids to monitor their activity over a one-week period before releasing them back into the garden. The kids could also benefit from collecting soil samples with their jar. Using the magnifying glass, they can examine the soil for signs of life. Likewise, you could visit a nearby pond or stream and let them dip their jar in the water for further studying.
Creating Wildlife Habitats
Discuss wildlife habitats, their feeding habits, and life cycles. Invite a variety of wildlife creatures to the garden by mimicking their habitats and offering their favourite foods. Don’t forget water. Whether it’s in the form of a small pond, bog-like area, or even a birdbath, water features provide a great source for studying wildlife.
Gardens are great places to observe bees, butterflies, and other insects in action. Bees and butterflies are important for pollination too. Numerous bees can be found, including honeybees and bumblebees, which kids seem to enjoy the most. There are a wide variety of butterflies as well. From bright coloured ones (like peacock and red admiral) to shiny, metallic-looking species (such as the small copper) and others like skippers and brimstones. Attract these insects by planting a variety of native flowers, especially those with fragrant, bright colours.
Native plants, shrubs, and trees offer shelter and food to numerous insect species, including hoverflies. These insects get their name from their ability to hover in the air as their wings make humming sounds, which mimic the sound of bees and wasps. They do this in order to avoid predators. Hoverflies make fascinating specimens for kids to study. Piled up stones, logs, and brush create good habitats for insects as well as for birds and small animals, like toads and frogs. Native plantings along with supplemental food and water will also appeal to a variety of bird species.
Most wildlife animals that visit the garden do so at night, with exception to squirrels and rabbits, which are active during the day. Nonetheless, you can encourage kids to become detectives and search for clues as to their presence in the garden. Look for footprints (tracks), burrows, pathways, chewing marks, feathers and droppings. Moles spend most of their time tunnelling underground. They are often viewed as pests, however, they feed on harmful insects and their tunnels help aerate the soil. Challenge kids to spot these raised tunnels in the garden.
Hedgehogs may be found perusing the garden in search of food as well. These small, spiny creatures typically feed on beetles, worms, slugs, and caterpillars. However, you can also lure them to the garden with dog biscuits or peanuts and by keeping water close by. Encourage the kids to look for their tracks.