Activities for Children in the Garden


Collecting and observing caterpillars will introduce children to the metamorphic lifecycle of moths and butterflies. It will foster children’s interest in the natural world and increase their awareness of their local environment.

How long will it take?
20 to 30 minutes to set up.

What you will need

· glass jar
· some caterpillars
· plant for food
· magnifying glass

 

Step-by-step guide

· Help your children to look carefully around your garden, in the park or countryside near you for some caterpillars. Damaged leaves provide clues to where they might be. When they find some, they need to put them in a glass jar. It is very important that they put some of the plant where they found the caterpillars into the jar as well. Most caterpillars only like one sort of food – they are very fussy! Your children need to keep checking each day that the caterpillars have enough food and that it is nice and fresh.
· They will not need to put any air holes in the lid of the jar, especially if they take the lid off once a day. Now they just need to watch and wait . . . and wait. . and wait. Their caterpillars should get bigger, and might even shed their skin. After a while, they will turn into a chrysalis. They will look as if they are dead, but wait patiently.
· One day each chrysalis will hatch into a butterfly or a moth. Now your children can let them out into the garden.

 

Tips and advice

· Be wary of hairy caterpillars, as their hairs can sometimes irritate the skin.
· Sometimes the caterpillar will not pupate, but will turn into a mass of ‘worms’. These are actually the larvae of parasitic insects, such as ichneumon flies, which inject their eggs into moth and butterfly caterpillars. This is an ideal opportunity to discuss the complex, interrelated web of life that exists in the natural world.
· Your pupae may be from a species that needs other conditions to metamorphose and so may not hatch out; some need soil to complete their lifecycle, others may need a whole winter in the pupa stage.
· The distinction between moths and butterflies is not clearly defined scientifically. In general, butterflies have clubbed antennae, and moths have hair-like or feathery ones.
· Why not do some butterfly paintings with your children? Fold a piece of paper in half and ask them to paint one side of a butterfly on one half of the paper. Then fold the paper and open it and you will have a whole butterfly!
· Butterflies also make great subjects for colorful masks and mobiles.

 

Watch Worms at Work
This project will show children how worms turn plant waste into soil, introduce them to ‘recycling’ and ‘useful waste’, and encourage them to look closely at worms and other garden wildlife.

How long will it take?
Half an hour to set up and several weeks of observation.

What you will need

· a large, clean, glass jar
· moist soil
· sand
· earthworms
· old leaves
· vegetable peelings, tea leaves, overripe grapes
· some black paper and a cool, dark cupboard

 

Step-by-step guide

· Ask your children to cover their work surface with newspaper. They will need to wash their large jar carefully so that it doesn’t smash. You may want to help younger children with this
· Help your child to put a layer of sand at the bottom of the jar, about 1cm (0.4in) deep. Add a thick layer of soil, and then add another thin layer of sand, then another thick layer of soil. Ensure there is about 5cm (2in) of space at the top
· Now for the fun part! Ask your children to go and find some worms. Before they put them in their jar, ensure they have a good look at them. Can they tell which end is which? How? Can they guess how a worm moves? Can they see the hairs on the worm’s skin?
· They need to put the worms in their jar, and then add some old leaves, vegetable peelings, tea leaves and overripe fruit if you have any. Then they can put the lid on – with a couple of holes in the top – place black paper around the jar and put it into a cool, dark cupboard. Leave it for about a couple of weeks and then observe what the worms are doing. What has happened to the vegetable peelings? What patterns have the worms made in the earth?

 

Tips and advice

· Your children are likely to find this project much easier to do than you are! Do try to overcome any squeamishness, as worms are so vitally important for the gardener. Not only do they aerate the soil and improve its condition by breaking down rotting plant waste in the soil, they will also produce even higher quality compost in your compost heap, eating their way through quantities of kitchen waste at the same time. When children are collecting and observing the worms, they need to be aware that worms do not like to be in the dry or the light for any length of time. They could try holding them on wet hands, or looking at them on black paper (not as easy to see them), or using several, each one just for a few minutes.
· Always ensure the contents of the jar are moist, not too wet and definitely not too dry. Worms ‘breathe’ through their skin, which must be damp for this to happen. The jar should not be put anywhere too cold.
· There is no danger with this project, apart from when handling the soil, and your children should be vaccinated against tetanus already. Worms do not bite or produce any skin irritant.
· Charles Darwin studied worms for 39 years, and concluded that life on earth would not be possible without them. Mainly because they increase soil fertility so efficiently, but also because they reduce quantities of plant waste.
· Earthworms are what you will find if you dig in your garden; tiger worms are what you will find in your compost or manure heap, or you can sometimes buy them in an angling shop. Use one or the other.

 

What are flowers made of?
Take a flower to pieces to show children the names of each part and explain its role in reproduction.

How long will it take?
This should take about 40 minutes, depending on how much information you give them at the same time.

What you will need
· plain postcard
· pencil and coloring crayons
· double-sided sticky tape
· a flower
· tweezers

Step-by-step guide

· Ask your children to write their name on one side of the card, and draw a careful picture of the flower they have chosen.
· Then they need to stick a length of double-sided sticky tape across the other side of the card and remove the protective covering. They must take the flower apart very carefully. Tell them to start with the petals, pulling very gently and trying not to tear them. As they pull them off, they can put them gently on to the sticky tape.
· Next, they can stick on the green bits that were outside the petals. These are the sepals. They can use the tweezers to pull off the smaller pieces in the middle. Tell your children to look carefully, and they might find two different sorts! There should be stamens with pollen, and a pistil with a sticky end.
· Ask them to look at what they’ve stuck on their card. Can they count how many petals there are? Did they find lots of stamens – or were there too many to count?

 

Tips and advice

· Flowers are not very strong – encourage your children to work very gently!
· There are many different sorts of flowers and they don’t all fit into the simple flower structure by any means. Indeed, plants are classified into different groups by the structure of their flowers. Try one from this list as a starter: tulip, crocus, primula, pansy, lily, geranium, mallow, poppy, dog rose, clematis, nasturtium, buttercup, St John’s wort, and crocosmia.
· You may like to repeat this activity on several different occasions; use the simple structure several times before branching out on to others – unless your children’s curiosity takes you in other directions first