It’s Earth Month, part of our April Activity Calendar, and we are helping kids learn to care for our planet and all creatures, big and small.
Picking out plants that support the pollinators in your area is a great family activity, and you can help kids understand how important the pollinators are, how many of them are in danger, and that we can all help give them what they need.
If you don't yet have your free copy of the April Activity calendar, download it here.
Step 1: Set the context.
Read books about pollinators. One of our favorites is “Please Please the Bees” by Gerald Kelley. Watch a read-aloud here.
Let kids know that bees, butterflies and flies (among other animals) help plants flower, grow and thrive, and we rely on them to do that—otherwise, we wouldn’t have beautiful flowers and all of the fruits that come with them. You can also let kids know that these animals are called “pollinators” — and they are struggling since so many of the plants they feed on are not available to them.
But we can help! We can fill a planter, windowbox or garden with plants that the pollinators near us love to eat.
Step 2: Research.
Find out which plants are ideal for pollinators in your area. You find lists of pollinator-friendly plants by region here and here, and a beautifully illustrated guide here, from the U.S. Forest Service.
Make a list of the types of plants you’d like to include and any other things you’ll need (potting soil, shovel, pots, etc.). Draw a map of where you’ll place each plant, or just create as you go.
Step 3: Gather Materials.
Make an outing of shopping for seeds, seedlings or plants and whatever tools you need. Want to save a trip to the store? Many bee friendly plants, like fuchsias, mints, penstemons and rosemary grow well from cuttings and clumps of bedding plants can easily be divided up, with no harm to the plant. Swap cuttings or divide clips with friends and neighbors. Contact your local city council or conservation organization to see what is available, too. Many local councils provide seeds or plants at low or no cost as a part of their mission to diversify biodiversity in the area. And don't forget to save those seeds from your pollinating plants so you can plant them again next year!
Step 4: Plant!
Create your garden. Be sure to give your seeds or new plants a really good drink of water and make it a family project to make sure they are cared for. Get ready to see if your pollinators start to visit once things warm up and the flowers open!
Older kids can help with the planting, while younger ones can play in the soil alongside you.
Why is this activity great for kids?
Planting in the spring is great for kids, and focusing on pollinators helps them develop compassionate empathy—the ability to put empathy into action in the service of others.
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Tinkergarten for Teachers
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The oldest and simplest definition, “student of plants and animals,” dates back to 1600. The term has evolved over time, it's importance changing as the values of dominant culture have changed. 400 years after that old definition, Howard Gardner, the paradigm-shifting education theorist, added “naturalist” to his list of “multiple intelligences.” Gardner challenged the notion that intelligence is a single entity that results from a single capability. Instead, he recognizes eight types of intelligence, all of which enable individuals to think, solve problems or to create things of value. To Gardner, the Naturalist intelligence enables human beings to recognize, categorize and draw upon certain features of the environment.
A true naturalist has not simply Googled and learned the names of plants, animals, rocks, etc. Rather, he or she has had direct experience with them, coming to know about them and using all senses to develop this intelligence. A naturalist also has a reverence for nature, valuing and caring for living things from the smallest mite to the tallest tree. A naturalist comes to not only knowing the creatures and features of his or her environment, but treasuring them in thought and action.
Why does it matter?
In the process of becoming a naturalist, children become stewards of nature, a connection that is associated with a range of benefits, including greater emotional well-being, physical health and sensory development (not to mention the benefits to nature itself!). In a world in which primary experience of nature is being replaced by the limited, directed stimulation of electronic media, kids senses are being dulled and many believe their depth of both their interest in and capacity to understand complicated phenomena are being eroded. To contrast, the naturalist learns about the key features of their natural environment by using all of his senses and be interpreting open-ended and ever-changing stimuli.
What is Sensory Development?
Although some scientists classify as many as 20 senses, when childhood educators talk about "developing the senses," we typically mean developing the five standard senses: sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste. In addition to honing these senses, educators care about sensory integration, which is the ability to take in, sort out, process and make use of information gathered from the world around us via the senses.
Why does it matter?
The better kids are able to tune and integrate their senses, the more they can learn. First, if their senses are sharper, the information kids can gather should be of greater quantity and quality, making their understanding of the world more sophisticated. Further, until the lower levels of the brain can efficiently and accurately sort out information gathered through the senses, the higher levels cannot begin to develop thinking and organization skills kids need to succeed. Senses also have a powerful connection to memory. Children (and adults) often retain new learning when the senses are an active part of the learning.
So, if kids have more sensory experiences, they will learn more, retain better and be better able to think at a higher level. Makes the days they get all wet and dirty in the sandbox seem better, doesn't it?