At Modern Kids Design, we love brainstorming ways to get our kids to talk about environmental topics. As we mentioned in our last Eco 101 post, we know it’s not always easy to explain concepts like ecosystems to kids and to show them how our choices can effect the environment. That’s why this time we’re sharing fun ways to explore ecosystems. If you missed the last post, click here.
When we think of ecosystems, we think of vast expanses of wilderness, but in reality it’s easy to have an ecosystem adventure without going far from your front door – whether you live in the country, the city, or the suburbs.
One of the best ways to get your child interested in taking care of the environment is to simply take him or her outside for some first-hand exploration and observation. It’s a fun part of the learning process! And it’s easy to use a nearby park, playground, or even a swath of landscaping to teach your child about nature.
Here’s one way to easily explore a nearby ecosystem with just the following simple tools:
- Something to mark out a small space: a hula hoop is a good size, or you can simply mark out a 4 foot square using a measuring tape, string and sticks, or stakes.
- Observational tools: a magnifying glass or simply a sharp pair of eyes will do the trick. Curiosity helps too—something all kids have lots of!
- A notebook and a pen or pencil for recording what you see. Colored pencils or markers are a good addition. Here’s a great article on how to make your own field journal.
This activity is all about looking closely to observe and learn about the natural world. Encourage your kids to use their curiosity and get as up-close and personal with their natural area as possible.
- To start, mark out a small zone in a park, patch of yard, planter box, or other natural area. Explain that you are going to be detectives, using your eyes and magnifying glasses to learn as much about the local ecosystem as possible. What animals might live here? How do they get the food and shelter they need to survive? Is there evidence of other animals passing through?
- Prepare your notebook to record what you see by making categories, such as Plants, Animals, and Nonliving Things (like rocks and dirt).
- Have your child spend 10 to 15 minutes observing and recording everything he or she sees in their area, from little rocks to blades of grass to tiny insects that they might have to use their magnifying glass to see. Is there anything living under rocks or pieces of bark?
- For each thing that he or she identifies, encourage him or her to describe it as thoroughly as possible. Kids can draw pictures of what they find and write vivid descriptions. If they see an ant, how many legs does that ant have? What is it doing? Is there anything nearby that it might eat? Where does it live?
- Once your kids are done observing, encourage them to think about the connections between the things they saw. What parts of the ecosystem make food for the others? If they found animals in the ecosystem, where might those animals find the food, water, and shelter they need to survive?
- Finally, talk with your kid(s) about how the things he or she observed in her small area are connected to the bigger world. Are there nearby birds or butterflies that might find food in that small ecosystem? Is there a big tree that provides shade over the area? What would happen if those things went away? What would happen if something new was added, like a man-made object or a big animal such as a dog?
Once your child or kids starts a field journal, encourage them to keep using it to record their observations of flowers, birds, insects, and other creatures they see when they venture out into the natural world.
For more fun, ecosystem-related activities, you may also want to visit the U.S. Forest Service’s website. It’s quite interesting!
If you liked this post, please share it with your family and friends. And if you’d like to share your ideas or suggestions for a future Eco 101 topic, we’d love to hear from you. Please reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!