April 22, 2020 – This year, more than ever, our connections to nature are important. With social distancing and home schooling, now is a wonderful time to take your family on a hike, bike ride or excursion to a near-by park or forest. Our own backyards are also great places to explore the out-of-doors. The following are easy, quick ideas to help kids explore our natural areas. Studies show that youngsters can concentrate better, understand science concepts better, are more self-confident, and are more creative after a walk in the park or outdoor lessons.

In Nevada County, we are incredibly lucky to have our forests, meadows, rivers and mountains close by. Let’s take time during Earth Week to celebrate these areas and the joy, peace and serenity that nature can bring into our lives.

These ideas were also compiled during this time of financial unease to help our local media. We have much to be thankful for including our media that provide us all with information and connectivity. So if your circumstances allow, local media can use your financial support.

Connecting Kids with Nature

  1. Sound of Silence – When out in your backyard, park or trail, take a few minutes to find a nice place to sit and close your eyes. Be very quiet. Just listen. Enjoy the sounds – relax into them. What do you hear? Write (or remember) 10 things you hear.
  1. Scavenger Hunt – Make a list of 20 things for kids to find outside (acorn, pointed leaf, insect, pinecone, etc).
  1. What’s New – While on a walk, have kids examine their surroundings – look high, look low. Carefully explore. Then each person picks out the two things they have not seen before or that captures their attention. At the end of the walk, have one person share what they saw. The next person shares what they saw plus repeats what the first one saw. The third person shares what they saw, then what the the previous two saw. Go around until everyone has shared their two favorite items.
  1. Mini Backyard Safari (for younger kids) — In an outside area where kids can sit down and explore, have them make a picture frame out of a piece of paper. Fold an 8 1/2 by 11 piece of paper in half. Carefully tear out the inside leaving just the outer edge in tact. Open up the paper to display a frame. Have the kids place the frame on the ground and then look for everything within the frame – living and nonliving. Write down what they find. Count the items. How does each item need its neighbors to survive?
  1. Tree Cookie Exploration – If you have access to a cross-section of a tree, have the kids count the rings (a dark ring and a light ring make up one year’s growth). Have them start in the middle and count until they reach their age. Put in a thumb tack. Have them count until they reach Mom and Dad’s ages and put in a thumb tack. Have them count until they reach Grandma and Grandpa’s ages. Then count all the way to the edge. How old is the tree?
  1. Where’s Wild-O – Have kids search their yard or trail for a fist size rock. When home, explain that they are going to create a new species of rock animal – one that blends in with their surroundings (camouflage) and can hide in plain sight. Have them paint their rock animal. Once dry, ask them to place it in its habitat so that it is hidden in plain sight. Then ask – Where’s Wild-O and see who can find each other’s animals.
  1. Animal House – Be a scientist for a week. Search your backyard for animals or evidence of animals living there. What bugs, birds, or bats can you find? Even if you can’t see the animal, what evidence did it leave so you know it was there? Draw a map of their location and include when you see them. Be careful not to reach under rocks or in dark places as you explore.
  1. Stream Explorations – Nevada County is known for its rivers, streams and ditches. Specially adapted insects live in or on top of the water. Next time you visit a stream or pond, see what bugs you can find. Can you research where your drinking water comes from?
  1. Bats – We have a variety of bats that live in our forests and around our homes. During the evening, look up. Bats can often be seen flying at twilight. For information on local bats and bat rescue see – NorCal Batshttp://norcalbats.org
  1. Birds– Birds are our most visible forms of wildlife. You can find them on the ground, in the trees and in the sky. One way to observe birds is to put up a bird feeder, birdbath, or birdhouse. Find plans to build your own birdhouse: https://nestwatch.org/learn/all-about-birdhouses/ . Or purchase bird house kits or ready made bird houses from Wild Birds Unlimited in Grass Valley.

For additional activities to learn about birds:

Cornell Lab of Ornithology – Free E-Bird Lessons – Grades K – 12 – https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/free-ebird-lessons/ or https://www.birds.cornell.edu/k12/nature-connection/

Audubon Society –https://www.audubon.org/get-outside/activities/audubon-for-kids

  1. All About Trees – In the foothills, trees surround us. Four important species in Nevada County include: Ponderosa Pine, Douglas-fir, Incense Cedar, and Black Oak. On your next hike, can you find one of each?
  • Ponderosa Pine – A large evergreen tree found throughout the county.The needles are 4 to 8 inches long, with three needles to a bundle. The bark looks like jig-saw puzzle pieces on larger trees. The cones are prickly when you pick one up. The tree is valuable for timber and the lumber is used for doors, window frames, interior paneling and exterior siding. Quail, squirrels, chipmunks and other wildlife eat the seeds.
  • Douglas-fir – A large to very large tree with short needles in rows. The cones are 2-3 inches long and egg-shaped. It is one of the most important timber trees. The lumber is valuable for building construction, doors and sometimes furniture and cabinets. The foliage is consumed by deer, elk and grouse. Birds and small mammals eat the seeds.
  • Incense Cedar – A large tree with evergreen foliage that looks scalelike and is very aromatic. The cones are very small and when dry act like whirligigs as they fall from the tree. Incense cedar is the leading wood for making pencils, as it can be sharpened easily. It also is used for fencing, siding for houses and for cedar chests, as the wood is aromatic.
  • Black Oak – The Black Oak tree has large branches and a rounded shape, growing to a height of 80 feet. The leaves are 3 to 8 inches long and fall in the Autumn. The acorns are important to wildlife including deer and squirrels. It makes very strong lumber and is an important tree for furniture construction. Locally, it is considered a premium firewood source. Fun learning ideas from the Arbor Day Foundation – https://www.arborday.org/kids/

Other Fun Nature Resources:

  • Bear Yuba Land Trust – Virtual Youth Environmental Summit – April 20-24 – https://www.bylt.org
  • Wildlife Rehabilitation and Release – They care for injured or orphaned wildlife including small mammals, songbirds, and raptors and will give you advice (530- 432-5522). See cawildlife911.org for more information.

These Earth Day activities were put together by Tahoe National Forest Retirees.

Pictures courtesy Nevada County Camera Club and others.