COVID-19 UPDATE: The Harris Center has canceled or postponed all in-person programs and events through at least June 15. The Harris Center building will also be closed to visitors until June 15. Our trails and grounds remain open.
With schools closed, outside time will be critical for mental and physical health — especially for kids and families. In the coming weeks, we’ll be sharing ideas for activities that kids can do as a break from screen-based remote learning. We’ll be updating this page regularly, so keep checking back for more!
Being aware of the wind can be helpful if you are planning to spend time outside watching wildlife, hiking, boating, or swimming. The Beaufort Scale measures wind speed based on what you can see happening in the world around you. It was originally created in the 1800’s for navy ships and later adapted for other uses. Our teacher-naturalists created this wind scale based on the Beaufort Scale. Go outside or look out the window and see if you can use the wind scale to tell how fast the wind is blowing. Can you see the leaves rustling? Are tree trunks swaying? Keep track of the wind for a week. How has it changed?
Nature has many voices. One of the most vocal backyard voices belongs to the Eastern chipmunk. Chipmunks make a variety of calls: for instance, they “chip” when they’re defending their territory or feel threatened by a land-based predator, and they “chuck” or “cluck” when they notice a hawk or other aerial threat. This National Geographic video highlights the chipmunk’s many sounds.
Sit outside for a bit and listen for chipmunks. If you hear one, look around and try to figure out why it’s calling. Do you notice a predator — or perhaps you are the the reason the chipmunk is sounding the alarm?
Mancala is an ancient game that is played all over the world. In order to play, you need to create a mancala board — which is made up of 2 rows, each with 6 pits. You can use chalk to create the board (pictured), dig pits in the sand or dirt, or even use an egg carton. Next, gather 48 rocks, seeds, or other small items. Now you are ready to play!
All organisms have adaptations that help them survive in their habitat. Adaptations can be structural (a part of the animal or plant’s body) or behavioral (things that they do). Be a wildlife biologist and see if you can observe an animal and discover its adaptations!
- Gather your materials. First, find a small container (such as a yogurt cup, takeout container, or jar) that you can use to hold a small animal while you observe it. Grab a pencil and some paper, too.
- Find a study organism. Look around your yard or your house for a small animal. Some ideas include worms, pillbugs, ladybugs, centipedes, beetles, or spiders.
- Observe your animal closely. Gently pick up the animal and put it in the container. Take some time to look carefully at it.
- Sketch your animal. What do you notice? What are some of the characteristics that might help your animal to survive? Point out these adaptations in your drawing or use this worksheet to answer questions about your animal.
- Return your animal. When you are done, carefully put your animal back where you found it.
Build a Bird Nest
You may notice birds carrying grass and other nesting materials in their beaks right now as they build nests around your neighborhood. Become a bird and build your own bird nest! Make it small like a sparrow or big like a bald eagle. Find inspiration from this online guide to common nesting birds from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s NestWatch project. Gather materials, find a nice flat spot to build, and get started. After you build your nest, test its strength by gently blowing on it, placing an egg inside of it, or — if you made a big nest — sitting in it. Does it stay together?
Spy on a Pollinator
A pollinator is an animal that helps move pollen from one plant to another. This helps those plants make fruit or seeds. Now that dandelions and other flowers are blooming, it’s a great time to search for pollinators. Many different insect pollinators visit flowers to drink the nectar, especially bumblebees during springtime.
If you are patient, you may just be able to see an insect in action. Find a flower to spy on. Stay still and be quiet for a few minutes. Did anyone visit your flower?
Rotting Log Investigation
Rotting logs are a very important part of the forest. Many things live under, inside, and on top of them. Not only do they provide habitat for salamanders, insects, and other creatures, but as they decompose they also become a nursery for new plants to grow. Find a rotting log in the nearby woods and use this tally sheet to keep track of what you find. (If you can’t find a rotting log, see “Create a Coverboard,” below.) Here is how to begin your rotting log exploration:
- Inspect the outside of your log. First, inspect the outside of your log for all kinds of living things such as moss, lichen, fungus, ants, and spiders.
- Gently roll the log. Then, gently roll your log so you can see what is underneath. Use both hands to protect the structure of your log as you roll it. There are likely many small creatures living under and in the log. Carefully look for movement and little animals that live in the dark. There might be holes, like caves, in your log where something lives. Take your time.
- Take a closer look at soil critters. Holding your hand open and close to the log, put a little soil in that hand. Gently lift a critter onto the soil. What do you notice? What do you wonder? Then gently put the critter back where you found it.
- Carefully place the log back where you found it. When you are finished observing your log, gently roll it back in place and replace the leaves or soil you moved so it looks like no one ever turned it over.
Create a Coverboard
If you are not near a forest, you can place many different kinds of materials on the ground for a couple of weeks, to function as “coverboards” — objects that can provide shelter from light or dryness or cold for many small critters who would otherwise live under logs or rocks. You might use a doormat, a flowerpot, a brick, a piece of wood, cardboard, or newspaper with a rock on top to keep it from blowing away. Leave your coverboard outside and undisturbed for a couple of weeks to give time for small living things like mushrooms, worms, or ants to settle there. Then, follow the same directions as the Rotting Log Investigation (above) to explore who is living under your coverboard.
Learning to recognize bark pattern and texture is an important part of learning to identify trees. Visit an area that has a few different types of trees, and look for tree trunks that have different textures. Can you find a tree with smooth bark, shaggy bark, scaly bark, or peeling bark? What do you notice?
Create bark rubbings to help you remember your trees. Peel the paper off of a crayon, or a few different crayons if you want to get creative. Hold a piece of paper up to the bark of a tree and rub the side of the crayon along the paper until the bark pattern shows through. Make art with your rubbing or turn it into a scavenger hunt by trading your bark rubbing with someone else. Can they find your tree using the bark’s texture as a clue?
Woolly Bear Hunt
Woolly bear caterpillars spend the winter curled up in the leaf litter or another sheltered spot. Now they are back on the move, eating green leaves as they prepare for metamorphosis. The insects will emerge from their cocoon in a couple of weeks as Isabella tiger moths. Learn more about these fuzzy animals from Northern Woodlands magazine. If you’re local to the Monadnock Region, you can even adopt one from our friends at The Caterpillar Lab in Marlborough! If you want to find your own, search outside right now before they wrap themselves in their cocoons.
Can you find a woolly bear? Where do you think you should look for one? If you find one, don’t be afraid to pick it up to get a closer look. Just make sure you put it back where you found it. Happy hunting!
Celebrate the Full Moon
This Thursday (May 7) is the full moon. Go for a family full moon walk around the neighborhood or on a familiar trail. How does the landscape look different under the moonlight? What colors can you see? If you can’t get outdoors, enjoy the view from your window. Sketch the moon in your journal or try to look at the moon through binoculars if they are available.
With or without binoculars, the full moon is a beautiful sight!
Make a New Friend
Gather natural items such as leaves, needles, rocks, sticks, and grass. Use whatever you find to make a face or bring your found objects inside and try to glue or tape them on paper. You’ve made a new friend!
Make a friend during different times of spring and summer. Do they look the same? What kinds of materials did you use? How many colors do you see in your friend’s face?
Pick a spot outside or near a window where you can get a good view of the sky. If you are outside, lay on the ground and look up. What do you see? How much of the sky is covered with clouds? What color are the clouds? Can you imagine what it would be like to be a bird flying in the clouds? Do you see any shapes or characters in the clouds? Make up a story and sketch your cloud character.
Getting to know clouds can also help you predict changes in weather. Here is a great resource from NOAA to help you get started.
Rainy Day Adventure
Don’t let the rain keep you indoors! Here are some fun things to do outside on a rainy day:
- Jump over or splash in puddles.
- Make music by putting metal bowls, cans, or other items under the eaves of your house.
- Make a mud pie or stone soup.
- Use a measuring cup to measure the rainfall.
- Notice the rhythm of the raindrops on the trees or roof. Does it change or stay the same?
- Build a dam.
Map making helps tune up your observation skills and understanding of where you are in relation to the world around you. Instead of simply drawing a map of your yard, make a 3D map using items from outside or inside your house. Use small pebbles to make a rock wall or pine needles to make grass. You could also create a map of your house with blocks, legos, or recyclables. Be creative!
Stuffed Animal Camouflage
Most animals rely on some sort of camouflage to survive. Blending in with their environment helps predators hunt food and helps prey hide from those that want to eat them. To play stuffed animal camouflage, pick out a few stuffed animals and hide them around your yard or your house. Pick a place where they blend in well with their environment, but don’t forget where you put them! Challenge someone in your family to find them and then trade places. Were some animals easier to find then others? Why?
I Spy Evaporation
Take a walk in the rain or right after the rain stops, and take note of where puddles form. After the rain stops, use chalk to draw an outline around a puddle. Is the puddle still there a few hours later? Did your puddle shrink? If so, you are witnessing evaporation!
If you are unable to go outside, do a similar experiment by filling a cup with water. Place the cup near a window and check it out a few days later. Is the water still at the same level? Learn more about evaporation and the water cycle by visiting NASA’s Climate Kids website.
This classic environmental education game gets its name from Rudyard Kipling’s book Kim. The activity works best with a partner and involves seeing and memorizing natural objects. Collects item from nature such as rocks, pine cones, sticks, and leaves. Place the objects under a blanket or towel. Then, lift the blanket and let your partner look for several seconds with the purpose of memorizing the objects and their locations. Replace the cover, and challenge your partner to find and recreate the hidden objects. If you don’t have a partner, try it yourself. Set up your group of objects, cover them with a blanket, and try to do it again without looking.
Birds are everywhere! Look and listen for birds in your neighborhood. Can you find evidence of birds and their habitat? Use this scavenger hunt to help guide your exploration. If you don’t have a printer, make your own list and check off what you find.
After you are done exploring, find a spot to sit and listen. The longer that you sit, the more likely that you will hear and see some feathered friends. Try to listen for birds throughout the day. When do you hear the most birds singing?
Phenology is the study of the timing of biological events, like the migration of birds or when plants flower. Scientists are interested in keeping track of when natural events occur in order to better understand how climate change is affecting plants and animals. You can help out by participating in Project Budburst, a citizen science project of the Chicago Botanic Garden. Our friends at Hubbard Brook Experimental Forest in Woodstock, NH, put together some information on how you can get involved with Project Budburst. Check out their resources and then get started by finding two trees of the same species near your house. Step outside and join folks from around the country by sharing your observations.
Dandelion Life Cycle
Dandelions are making an appearance, and they seem to grow everywhere! If you look carefully, you can find the different stages of the dandelion’s life cycle. Watch this time lapse video to get a closer look and then go outside and see if you can find:
- a closed bud
- an open yellow flower
- a closed flower
- a puffball (Make a wish!)
- a puffball that has lost most of its seeds
Try again later in the spring. Can you find more or less?
Have some fun with shadows on a sunny day! Play shadow tag with someone or jump on as many shadows as you can during a walk. Use sidewalk chalk and a partner to investigate how shadows change throughout the day. Stand in a spot that will remain sunny for at least a few hours. Have your partner trace your shoes and then trace the outline of your shadow. Come back a bit later and stand in the same spot. Has your shadow moved? How does it look different?
One Small Space
Find a spot to get low to the ground. Look closely…really closely. What do you see? Use your nature journal to draw a close up picture of your small square. Do a small space scavenger hunt. Try to find the following things:
- a seed
- an ant
- shredded leaves
- a baby plant
The longer that you look, the more you may discover. Revisit your spot in a week. Has it changed?
Make Friends with a Tree
Pick out a special tree and watch that tree throughout the year. Draw or write about it in your journal. Here are some things to think about:
- How do the buds change?
- When does it leaf out?
- Do the leaves change color over the season?
- Is the tree growing in the sun or in the shade?
- Does anything eat the leaves?
Bird Nesting Materials
This is the time of year when many birds are building nests. Help out your backyard birds by offering gifts of bird nesting materials. Gather dried leaves, birch bark strips, pet fur or cattail fluff and stash it in concentrated spots around your yard. Place items in a mesh bag or suet feeder to hang nearby. You can also leave some on the branch of a nearby tree or in piles around the yard. Learn more from the Cornell Lab about what materials you should provide and which you should avoid. Keep an eye out for nesting birds!
A mandala represents the universe in Hindu and Buddhist symbolism. Create your own mandala by gathering natural objects from around your yard or during a walk. Pick a starting point and work your way out from the center. Take some time to notice the textures and smells of the items you are arranging. Use this opportunity to slow down, create a beautiful work of art, and remember that we are also a part of the circle.
Go into your backyard, sit on your front step, or look out the window. Choose one natural item that you see and write a descriptive paragraph about it without naming it. Be very detailed. Give your description to someone else and see if they can pick out the object that you described.
Cut different shapes out of paper. Can you find all of these shapes in nature? How many of each can you find? Look for circles, squares, rectangles, diamonds, stars, and any other shapes that come to mind.
Look out your window or go outside every night and try to find the moon. Draw the moon when you see it or use this template to color the phase of the moon. Does the moon rise at the same time every night? Is it getting bigger or smaller?
Sink or Float
Don’t let the rain stop you from exploring! Find a puddle, gather some natural objects, and see which of those items sink or float. What can you use to make a boat? Where do puddles form around your house?
Search in the soil for earthworms. How many can you find? Measure them and find the largest and smallest in your area. Can you tell which side is the head?
Use an empty egg carton to create your own rock collection. Look carefully to find just the right rocks. Try to find rocks that fit into each compartment, and put only one rock in each compartment. For an added challenge, try to find the following:
- a smooth rock
- a striped rock
- a rough bumpy rock
- a spotted rock
- a flat rock
- a rock as small as a grain of sand
- a round (ball-shaped) rock
- a rock that feels good in the palm of your hand
(categories taken from the book Small Wonders: Nature Education for Young Children)
Now that the snow has melted, search your yard for chipmunk holes. They are about the size of a clementine orange and are found in grass, yards, or often near stone walls. When you find one, look carefully around to see if you can find more. Chipmunks often have several holes, some that are even fake holes. Once you’ve found them, then you can spy on a chipmunk. Can you see it pop up from its hole, scamper down a hole, or sit by its hole and clean its whiskers? Keep a spy log on your neighborhood chipmunk.
How many colors can you find? You can try to search for a rainbow, or even pick some crayons out of a hat and try to find those colors in nature. You can also try inside each room of your house. This is a great way to test your observation skills.
Tie grass, pine needles, or other evergreen leaves around a stick. You can use yarn or a rubber band to keep them tied tight. Then, use the natural paintbrushes to paint a picture.
If you do not have paint, try painting with water on a sidewalk. Do all of the brushes paint the same? How do the textures look different?
A good scout is quiet and stealthy. Practice your scouting skills by trying to sneak up on an animal. See how close you can get to a robin or squirrel. Sit by a bird feeder and see how close the chickadees come. Will a chickadee eat seed from your hand? If you have a dog or cat, you can even try to sneak up on your pet.
Sitting and moving quietly takes practice, but these skills can greatly improve your chances of hearing and seeing wildlife.
With all the mud in early spring, now is a perfect time to search for animal tracks. What footprints can you find in and around your yard and neighborhood? Sketch what you see or take a picture with a camera. To help you figure out who’s been in your yard, try using NH Fish and Game’s pocket guide to wildlife tracks.
Since the deciduous trees still lack leaves, now is a great time to search for bird nests! Some birds have begun building nests for this season, but you may also see last season’s nests.
Where is the nest and what is it made of? These questions may help you figure out who built a nest. A field guide or this page from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology can also help with nest detective work.
Imagine that you are the size of an ant. Tie yarn or string into a loop and use the string to create the border of a very special miniature park.
- What would you name your park?
- What are the park’s special features?
- Where would you put a trail?
While on a walk, try to find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Try to do this in ABC order. You can also challenge yourself to do this inside or in your backyard.
Search around your home for acorn pieces. You might find some that have been nibbled from the top down or others that have been peeled like halves of an orange.
Collect the shells of the acorns that have been eaten and sort them into groups of shells that look alike. Look closely to see if there are any teeth marks on the shell or on any acorn pieces left in the shell.
Which animals do you think might have eaten the acorns and why do you think that?
Pick a spot in your backyard or nearby to sit everyday. Twenty minutes or more is ideal, but even ten minutes is a good start for kids. Don’t have a yard? Do it on the front steps or balcony… anything that gets you outside for a few minutes of quiet. Not only is it good for the spirit, but it is a great chance to begin noticing the natural world around us.
Just sitting is fine, but here are some other ideas for things to do during a sit spot:
- Make a sound map. Use a piece of paper or journal and mark your spot with an x. Create a symbol for each sound that you hear around you, and create a map of those sounds.
- Do a bird sit. This is similar to a sound map, but instead focused on birds. It’s okay if you don’t know the types of birds you’re hearing or seeing. This is an opportunity to really start noticing what the birds are doing. Are they moving from place to place? Calling from the tree tops? The longer you sit still, the more likely you’ll start hearing and seeing bird activity. Keep a journal or just enjoy the moment.
- Change your timing. Sit at the same spot during different times of the day, or even better at night.
- Stare at one small spot. We often focus on looking all around us. Instead, try picking a small area of the ground or a tree and just focus on that small spot. What do you notice?
- Lay down and look at the tree tops. Are you in the shade or the sunshine? Are the trees swaying or sitting still? It is a refreshing change to have a different perspective on a familiar place.
Blindfolded String Walk
Have a family member use some string or yarn to create a trail somewhere outside or in your house. Put on a blindfold and follow the string trail. What do you notice? How does the experience of not seeing affect your other senses?
Animal Signs Scavenger Hunt
Wildlife is everywhere! Use this scavenger hunt to look for animal evidence in your backyard, neighborhood park, or even when you are walking around the block. Use the blank squares to draw interesting things that you find along the way.
Make a little person (2-3″ tall) out of a stick. You might find an acorn top to glue on top for a hat.
Build a house for your “peep” out of stuff you find outside. You might make a little mailbox out of bark or a tin can. Now you can send your peep a secret message!
Next, create a trail for your peep to explore.
Use sticks, rocks, and other things that you find outside to make a trail going down a hill. Try to include two curves and a jump. Roll a ball down your course. Were you successful? Keep trying until your ball makes it down the hill.
Draw a simple map of your yard. Hide a penny, mark it on your map, and see if someone else can find it.
Hang your map on a wall and keep track of cool nature discoveries.
Sit outside — or at a window — and draw what you see as spring comes to New Hampshire. Write down questions you have about what you’ve noticed. Which answers can you find out on your own?
Early Spring Scavenger Hunt
Head to your nearest trail or conservation land (or even your backyard), and see how many of these you can find! While you’re out there, remember to keep your distance from anyone else you encounter on the trail.
- buds on different kinds of trees
- 5 shades of green
- a new bird sound
- an early spring insect
- a sprout of grass
- a place that could provide shelter for a bird
- a warm place and a cool place
- something you’ve never seen before
For more information, please contact teacher-naturalist Karen Rent by email.