Birds chirping, flowers blooming, temperatures rising—springtime is a smorgasbord for the senses. The frigid winter months now just a distant memory, it’s time to turn off the TV, peel your little couch potatoes from the sofa and explore the great outdoors.
Here are five family-friendly activities to get you started.
Unless the lawnmower is on the blink, your backyard probably isn’t exactly the great plains where the deer and the antelope play. Still, there are plenty of curious critters crawling about your neighborhood—and all you’ll need to see them are a magnifying glass and a little patience. We’re talking about bugs here, and while they may not carry the cuteness factor of a sleepy-eyed koala bear or a backstroking otter, insects are an interesting bunch—especially when examined closely.
So break out the safari wear and take a tour of your back yard or local park. Bring along an insect field guide, a magnifying glass, a camera and a pencil and paper to document your journey. And, most important, watch where you step!
Use flower power to make a name for yourself—literally. Start by purchasing packets of seeds for flowers that grow quickly and vigorously in your region. Next, have your child write her name in the garden soil with a large stick. Following packet directions, drop the flower seeds into the dirt lines. Cover the seeds with dirt, and water them according to packet directions. Pretty soon, a flower garden will grow in the shape of your child’s name!
The darlings of insect society, butterflies have won many admirers with their fancifully colored wings and docile nature. Invite these winged fairies to your backyard by building a butterfly feeder. Start by taking a paper or plastic bowl (a dish with sloping sides will work, too), and suspend it from a tree branch using fishing line or flower pot hangers. Next, you’ll need to whip up some snacks (or nectar) for your butterfly guests. Simply mix 1 part sugar to 9 parts water, and boil this solution for a few minutes. Pour the cooled mixture into your butterfly feeder; store the rest in the refrigerator.
To better your chances of attracting butterflies, plant flowers that they find desirable. Some butterfly favorites include black-eyed Susan, lilacs, marigolds, goldenrod, daylilies and lavender. To learn more about these elegant insects, check out the official North American Butterfly Association website.
Pizza doesn’t grow on trees—it grows in gardens! Teach your children valuable lessons about seeds, soil, roots and the importance of sunlight by planting a pizza garden. What’s a pizza garden? It’s a patch of soil where you plant and grow an assortment of scrumptious herbs and veggies that can be used to make a delicious (and nutritious) pizza: tomatoes, peppers, mushrooms, basil, onions and so forth. If you enjoy cheese on your pizza pie—and who doesn’t?—a quick trip to the grocery store is essential. This step, of course, doesn’t apply to those lucky few who have stumbled upon the elusive “cheese plant”. You know who you are.
Lay the groundwork for your pizza garden by selecting a size-appropriate plot with rich soil and exposure to plenty of sunlight. Prepare the soil by turning it with a hoe, trowel or hand rake, and then fertilize the area with compost or manure. Take the vegetable seeds you’ve purchased and place them in the soil according to the instructions on the packet.
Label the areas where you've placed the different varieties of seeds (you can do this by attaching index cards with the name of each vegetable to small stakes or twigs, and then place the stakes in the appropriate area of the garden). Be sure to water your garden according to the instructions on the seed packets. Have your children keep a journal where they can record the garden’s progress and draw pictures of the budding plants. When the garden begins to flourish—this will take a couple of months—celebrate by selecting the ripe vegetables and using them to make a tasty pizza with your kids. Remember that kids are more likely to try foods they’ve had a hand in making, a great bit of news for parents with veggie-snubbing kids.
Pine Cone Bird Feeder
You’ll see plenty of action with this popular easy-to-make craft that is guaranteed to transform your backyard into a burgeoning bird bistro. Satisfy flocks of famished feathered friends with an assortment of pine cone bird feeders, which are easily hung from the trees in your neighborhood. Just don’t expect these on-the-fly diners to leave much of a tip.
Start by mixing together the cornmeal with the shortening (you can also use bacon fat or melted suet). Spread the cornmeal mixture over the entire pine cone, making sure that the crevices are also filled with the cornmeal mixture. Cover the bottom of a shallow pan or dish with the bird seed. Dip and roll the pine cone in the bird seed until it is completely covered. Place the bird seed-coated pine cone on a plate, and let it harden overnight.
The next morning, tie a piece of string or yarn to the top of the pine cone, looping the string under the topmost leaves of the pine cone, and then tie a knot in the top. Your pine cone should now resemble a Christmas ornament. Hang your completed pine cone feeder from a tree branch in your yard. Then sit back and wait for the crowds to arrive.
Updated August 2012