Identifying Wildlife With Kids: Teach Children About Wildlife In Your Garden

Identifying Wildlife With Kids: Teach Children About Wildlife In Your Garden

By: Tonya Barnett, (Author of FRESHCUTKY)

Growing a garden is a great way to get children excited about eating fresh produce. However, lessons within the home garden can extend far beyond planting and harvesting. The creation of a small backyard ecosystem is an excellent way to begin teaching kids about wildlife. By planning a garden that is attractive to various native species, children will be inspired to question, explore, and interact with the outdoor space in a whole new way.

Identifying Wildlife with Kids

Wildlife in the garden will vary depending upon the habitat created. Throughout the planning stages, ask children for feedback regarding the types of animals they would like to attract (within reason, of course). This helps encourage engagement in the process.

Creating an attractive garden will include a variety of native perennial plantings, evergreens, shrubs, and wildflowers. Do keep in mind, however, that when you teach children about wildlife, it should not be limited to the plants found in the garden but also other elements like rocks, statues, bird houses, and water features. These all serve as a source of shelter for wildlife living within the growing space.

Teaching kids about wildlife in the garden allows for active, hands-on learning. Further, identifying wildlife with kids allows children to take accountability for their own learning as they explore through their own senses. Carefully observing, taking notes, and researching each garden species will allow children to establish and hone scientific skills, aiding in the development of basic reasoning and critical thinking.

Beyond forming a strong connection to nature and the world that surrounds them, wildlife lessons help kids develop skills which translate directly into the classroom curriculum. By collecting data and information related to real-life experiences, many children will be eager to relay gained knowledge to others through writing and speaking.

Completion of tasks based on real world learning can be especially helpful for kids that struggle with motivation or those having various learning disabilities.

Wildlife in the garden can open a whole new door to learning. From bees, butterflies and other pollinators to toads, squirrels, birds and even deer, there’s sure to be something educational that stems from their visits in the garden.

Wildlife Lesson Activities

As your kids explore the garden, there are other ways to teach them about wildlife through hands-on activities and discussions. Some of these may include:

  • Study animal tracks – With this science and discovery activity, children can look at pictures of different animal tracks and learn which animal makes them. Make some type of flashcard or note that has the animal tracks on it and whenever they find tracks outside in the garden (birds, rabbits, opossums, deer, etc.), they can use their notepads to match it to the animal. This is a great one to revisit in winter when there’s snow on the ground.
  • Talk about plants that feed wildlife. Discuss what animals might eat in the garden. Are those growing in your garden? Have your child look for plants for bees or butterflies. Talk about seeds and berries that attract birds. Get younger kids involved by sensory exploring corn kernels and talk about which animals eat corn (deer, turkey, squirrel). Take a stroll through the veggie patch and look for plants rabbits might like, such as carrots and lettuce.
  • Make comparisons to plants. Is there a plant in the garden with an animal name? Why might this be? Is it a particular characteristic, like the soft plumes of bunny tail grass, or a favorite food associated with particular wildlife, like bee balm or butterfly weed? Make garden labels for animal plant names. Create a matching game, matching the name to a picture of the plant and include an image of the animal too.
  • Take a nature walk. Look for different kinds of wildlife, or hide stuff animals or other toys around the garden and look for “wildlife” that way.

These are just ideas. Use your imagination. Better yet, let your children guide you – most are filled with questions.

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Read more about Children's Gardens

Many different types of animals may be found in the garden. Each animal has particular characteristics which enable us to place it in a group. When classifying an animal you first have to decide whether it is a vertebrate (an animal with a backbone) or an invertebrate (an animal without a backbone). The invertebrates are by far the most numerous creatures in any habitat these are the mini-beasts which include insects, worms, spiders, slugs, woodlice, centipedes and millipedes.

Vertebrate animals are divided into 5 main groups:-

  • Mammals warm-blooded with hair or fur. Young are fed on milk. e.g. fox, hedgehog, mouse, squirrel.
  • Birds warm-blooded with feathers. Young hatch from eggs incubated by parents. e.g. blackbird, robin, blue tit, tawny owl.
  • Reptiles cold-blooded with hard, scaly skin. Eggs laid on land. Live mainly on dry land. e.g. grass snake, common lizard, slow worm.
  • Amphibians cold-blooded with soft, thin skin. Eggs laid in water. Adults can live on land or in water. e.g. frog, toad, newt
  • Fish cold-blooded with soft scales. Can only live in water. Breathe through gills. e.g. stickleback

To which group do these animals belong? In which of the garden habitats would you find them living?

In a well-balanced garden the plants and animals are all interconnected. Green plants are essential for the life of all animals, either directly or indirectly. Some animals, known as herbivores, eat only plants. Herbivorous animals are in turn eaten by carnivores – meat eaters. Carnivorous animals are often referred to as predators and the animals they eat as their prey. The prey animal is usually smaller than the predator. The sequence of feeding is known as a food chain.

Leaf --------> earthworm --------> blackbird --------> sparrowhawk

In reality, the feeding relationships within a habitat are much more complicated than a simple chain. The blackbird eats many types of invertebrates, not only earthworms, and the sparrowhawk preys on different species of birds. Any living material may be part of many food chains and together the chains join to form a food web. Here is a simple food web involving plant material and a few animals you may find living in your garden:-

Notice that the sparrowhawk and the fox are not preyed upon – they are known as top carnivores. When they die, however, their bodies will be eaten by invertebrates such as fly larvae and beetles, and the remains acted on by decomposers, the resulting nutrients being used by living parts.

A food pyramid is sometimes used to represent the overall picture of food chains within a habitat. A pyramid also gives an idea of the build-up in numbers of animals within the food chain. There are always more animals at the bottom of the chains than at the top. This is because these animals are small in size and a larger predator needs to eat many of them in order to survive. Here is an example of a garden food pyramid:-

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Animal Observations: Tips for Teaching Kids to Focus & Listen

When kids are outside -- exploring the backyard or the woods -- they are more likely to stop and listen to sounds they hear and to watch animals scurrying about the area. You'll often hear "Mom, what was that!" or "Did you see the animal in the trees?" as they head off in search of where it went next.

Today's activity is part of our Explore the Forest series -- observing from afar! We've included affiliate links to a few of the items we refer to for this activity.

If you missed our earlier posts, be sure to visit:

Animal observations are a wonderful way to help kids work on their focus and attention.

So many children love to watch animals! I can't tell you how many times we've stopped a hike or bike ride to see what's going on with one of our wildlife friends.

And let's face it, if we're going to practice increasing our attention span, it's a lot more fun to focus on animals outdoors where kids can move around and use a number of their senses.

It's an amazing resource that shares TONS of details -- where to find wildlife, science & outdoor activities kids can do and "little-known facts" about each of the critters. Whether your kids are fans of insects, birds, reptiles or furry friends, they will find some of their favorite (along with a few lesser known) animals in this book!

And I love the title -- "The Secret Life of Animals" -- which is why we need to be animal detectives in order to observe and learn all the secrets!

For this activity, we created afree printable Animal Observation Log!

Kids can choose an animal, print a copy of the free animal observation sheet and head outside to track down their friend. This will require them to practice their listening skills and also hone their "I spy" skills since many animals use camouflage to blend into their surroundings.

Bring along a pencil/pen and grab a pair of Kids' Binoculars too (they are an excellent early-learning science tool!).

Once you've tracked down your animal, stop and watch them -- what are they doing?

Kids can use the Animal Observation log in their own backyard, on a visit to the zoo or a National Park or anywhere you might run into wildlife!

We have frequent encounters -- the owl that lived in our backyard when we visited Colorado, the bison at a few of our park visits, the butterfly we raised on summer and our favorite is always watching the penguins swim at the zoo.

The journal page encourages kids to draw a picture (or take a photo) of the animal in their habitat, observe a few of those "little known facts" and write any special notes or observations. I love that you can use the journal page over and over -- kids can create their own nature book by observing all of their favorite wildlife friends :)

We decided to see if our neighborhood cardinals were back in 'town' yet! They always set up a nest in one of our backyard bushes.

A few "little known facts" we learned about the cardinal:

√ Both the male & female birds sing (which is rare in the 'bird world' -- usually it's only the male that sings)

√ Baby cardinals have dark beaks that turn bright red-orange by Fall

After spending a little time in the yard and searching the trees, we realized there were quite a few squirrels getting ready for the colder weather, a woodpecker finding food (we could hear him loud & clear ) but no sign of the cardinals yet. But they should be coming 'home' any day now!

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