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!

“Growing Paperwhites”: A Winter Nature Journal Project

Project Created and Written by: Janimarie Lester DeRose

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Using watercolor to capture the Paperwhites in the nature journal.

A few years ago I spent two winters in interior Alaska. For several months of deepest winter we had only four hours of a dusky-rose sky, and the rest of our days and nights were spent living by reflected starlight on the snow. I desperately missed growing green life. It was during this time that I developed a tradition of growing Paper Whites or Narcissus, and recording their growth through a watercolor field journal.

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“Hope for a Bloom”

This is a perfect antidote to the long colorless scapes that fill our winter months, and a great activity to get your young ones and yourself to really observe the changes in growth carefully. Drawing what you observe, measuring the height with a ruler, and watering the living plant every few days really drives home the amazing metamorphosis taking place!

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Full Bloom

Narcissus are a common bulb that you can find at most garden stores during the winter months. These flowers amazingly grow in even a small amount of sunlight, as long as you keep them amply supplied with water.

Place the bulbs in a small pot with only rocks and water for the roots to cling to.

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Growing the Bulbs

The water should be kept at the base of the roots where they emerge from the bulb and no higher. If the water touches the bulb too much it will begin to decompose.

You will need to check the water every few days and more when they start to grow.

Give them a good two weeks in a sunny window (or a bit longer if you live with little light) before you will start seeing growth.

As they grow, measure, and sketch the plant at different stages of their growth and development.

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A page from the author’s nature journal

Enjoy the process and have fun adding some life to your winter days!

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The flowers in bloom!