Thursday, September 27, 2012

Animal Habitats

This past summer, I spend countless hours selecting weekly learning themes and researching activities that I could do cheaply and easily with my three boys.  So many of those lessons just never happened in favor of playing with new friends or staying longer at the park or...

Thankfully, teachable moments pop up constantly and allow me to structure our learning around subjects that my kids take an organic interest in.  Throughout this past week, we have been watching the progress of an army of ants as they constructed a rather impressive network of ant hills through the cracks in our concrete driveway.  The boys were later thrilled to find literally thousands of ants living under the bark of an old tree stump in our yard.  My littlest man is terrified of bugs, so I encouraged them to sit back and just watch the ants at work.  Later we came back to find no ants and I explained how they had moved inside or underground for shelter after we had inadvertently knocked the bark off their previous residence.

Then, just yesterday we discovered in the grass a wasp's nest.  After getting over the initial fear factor, we were able to just observe the shape of the nest and talk about how wasps construct their homes hanging from high places they can easily fly into.  This conversation led us to check out the rafters on the roof over our sandbox.  We were delighted to find a bird's nest there giving us another home to observe.

We compared all three.  I asked the boys what each was made of and how each home might have been constructed.  We talked about how each home provides security for the families that live there versus what dangers each home might face.  The ants lived where they could be stepped on.  The wasps where wind could, and probably did, knock down their nest.  And my favorite, the boys went on to wonder for hours just what those birds were thinking building a nest right above their sand box where it was always noisy and dirty!

The important lesson that I wanted my boys to take away was that our backyard, in our noisy, busy suburban neighborhood, is home to lots of wild animals.  Ants, bugs, and birds as well as rabbits, bats, and deer.  Regardless of where you live, you can teach children about animal habitats starting close to home:
  1. Learn about local animals and discover where they live.  Make a list of animals you see on a regular basis and research what they need to stay safe, source food, and have fun.  Talk also about how your local habitats change over the course of the year.  How do animals act differently in the fall and spring, for example.
  2. Create a habitat in your backyard.  Invite beautiful butterflies into your yard by filling a shallow bowl with sugar water or rotting fruit.  Or create this cute butterfly feeder from a paper cup with your kids. You can also build bird houses and bug hotels.  Watch from inside to see who comes by to check out your new habitat.  Be sure to have binoculars or a camera ready and keep your nature journals with colored pencils near the observation window.
  3. Create habitat sensory boxes to explore inside.  Start with a shoe box and some colored rice.  Then add an animal that your child would like to learn about.  Add small toys to represent where the animal lives, what it eats, and what it does all day.  Need some ideas?  Check out!  I love their philosophy of simple, open ended play and Nicole has so many great ideas to explore animals from penguins to tadpoles.
  4. Check out critter cams from National Geographic or the zoo to learn about animals that live in far away habitats like the deep, dark ocean or the Amazon river.
  5. Read books!  We ran to the library and picked up a few that the boys and I have really enjoyed:
 (all are Amazon affiliate links)

What animals fascinate your children?  What animals do you see everyday near your home?

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