Tips for Exploring Local Wild Spaces: Ponding with Children

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Heading to the pond!

Do you need a simple outdoor idea for a great activity you can do right in your local town or forested area this summer?  Find a small pond near home and your kids will spend hours of enjoyment outside with a net and a bucket exploring the world of wildlife that exists beneath the surface of a small pond.  The summer is a perfect time to get adventurous and give ponding a try!

Ponding Tips:

All you really need for ponding is a net (fishnets work great) and a bucket.  But speaking from experience teaching many science lessons catching and looking at aquatic invertebrates I can provide some tips for making the experience a little more successful.

1.  Using a white bucket is very helpful for seeing what you have caught!  The perfect ponding bucket is actually a  white dishpan.

2.  Catching technique:  Encourage the kids to swish their net above the surface of the bottom of the pond back and forth quickly three or four times and then pick up their net and look for movement in the net.  Pick out the insects and put them in the white bucket rather than dumping the net with all the leaves etc into the bucket.  This allows you to see what you catch easier.

3.  Bring along a field guide to pond life or your phone or camera so you can snap photos of what you catch and look them up later!  You might be surprised how interesting the larval stage of many common insects appear.  Dragonflys, Damselflys, and beetle larvae are all very common and fun to observe (to name just a few!)

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Larval Dragonfly, Dobsonfly, and salamander sorted in a deviled egg dish from the local dollar store…a white paper underneath the dish helps you see the organisms.

4.  After you catch into a big bucket get an white ice cube tray or deviled egg tray and use spoons to sort and count the types of animals you catch.

5.  Art and Nature Connection: Encourage your kids to use their scientific observation skills and to draw their favorite pond animal after you catch-remind them in scientific drawing to be as accurate as possible!

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After sorting the organisms you can draw your favorite animal!

Science and Inquiry Connections:

1.  For a deeper exploration try ponding in the same place week after week (or every few weeks) as the spring turns to summer and through the summer.  Encourage them to record their findings.  It is a very cool experience to see how the pond life changes as the summer progresses.  Encourage them to predict how they think the pond might change through the season in diversity and total numbers etc.  Have them test their hypothesis by collecting data throughout the season and recording their observations in a nature journal. 

2.  Also studying larval pond life gives you a perfect chance to learn about metamorphosis…show the kids pictures of the larval and then adult stages of the same insects or animals and discuss how they are similar and different and explore the term “life cycle”.

Remember to remind your children to be respectful and careful with the living creatures they catch and to put them back when they are finished!  Have fun exploring the pond this summer in your town or neighborhood!

Art and Nature Project: Simple Any Time of Year Ice Suncatchers

–A Simple Project submitted by our Art and Nature Specialist: Janimarie DeRose

DSC05065Here is a fun idea you can do in the winter or use the freezer in the warmer months.  This activity can stimulate the senses and creates a beautiful, ephemeral end-product.  This activity can be fun with kids of all ages, is free, gets kids outside, takes very little planning, isn’t very messy and is just a lot of fun!

My daughters and I created some “ice tree sun-catchers” during a deep mid-January freeze.  It was a fun activity getting us out of the house to gather some rose hips, old sunflower heads, dried berries, and any little bits of nature’s finery we could spy.

After the outdoor collections we brought our bounty inside and carefully arranged them on plastic plates, though a tin pie plate or any container that can hold a shallow amount of water would work.  We also put a loop of string through the composition of natural materials, weighting it down with cones or heavier berries, with a large loop intended to stay out of the water/ice. This loop later becomes the hanger for the ice ornament.

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We also had fun experimenting with food coloring…one drop goes a long way!

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We transferred the plates to the sub-freezing temps outside and filled them with a shallow covering of water.  If it is warm you can just put the plates in your freezer.

The next day we gently popped the ice out of the plates and hung our suncatchers.  The suncatchers were beautiful!

Inquiry Extension:  In summer it might be fun to hypothesis with kids how fast these would melt if you hung them in sun vs. shade or if you added different materials.  This could make the perfect foundation for a simple inquiry project where the students raise the questions and test their ideas.

Group Extension:  Corie Scribner, one of our other nature families writers, did this activity in winter with her kindergarten class and they hung them in a grove of trees and had a beautiful winter solstice celebration.

Literacy Connection:  The wonderful children’s book The Mitten written by Jan Brett shows pictures of these ice suncatchers in her illustrations.  This is a very common book that could be borrowed at  your local library for free.  It might be fun to read this book with your children when you do this project!

There are so many creative extensions that could be made with this project-have fun!Let us know if you try this activity and how it works for you!

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