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Quick Family Activities

Fun Activities to Do Inside or Outside

Birds of Prey Crossword Puzzle

Education staff created a fun crossword puzzle (PDF) to test your birds of prey knowledge. You can also visit our species lists for a little extra help. There is a word bank -- it is upside down -- on the bottom of the crossword puzzle page.

PBS Cyberchase: Green It Up!

PBS's Cyberchase is on a Green It Up kick. And the Cyberchase Green It UP: Kids Can Help! poster has a lot of easy things young families can work on to improve their local environment, from thinking about food waste and gardening ideas, to helping pollinators like butterflies and bees, to remembering to recycle and reuse paper as much as possible. You can learn more about the Green It Up program.

Making Wildlife Habitats

  • Ever want to help amphibians? Welcome Wildlife, a site for creating backyard wildlife habitat, and you can make a Toad Abode! (leaves DEC website)
  • Pennsylvania Game Commission has a selection of woodcrafting for wildlife plans on their website. They are PDF plans and are organized by habitat type, and towards the bottom there is a plan for a predator guard, entrance hole sizes for specific boxes, and nest box hanging techniques. (leaves DEC website)

Watershed Sleuth Challenge

A series of activities and lessons to learn more about the watershed you live in. Note: Watershed is an area of land that "sheds" or drains water down into one common body of water. And depending on what scale you look at, it can be small, like the tiny creek in your backyard, or it can be huge, like the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that empties into the Atlantic Ocean in Washington, DC, but starts outside of Cooperstown, NY. Cool, huh?!

Google Earth Scavenger Hunt

Sierra Club created a simple Google Earth (Month) Scavenger Hunt for Earth Month. Add your own scavenger hunt items such as different types of forests (rainforest: did you know we have a rain forest in the continential USA?!), where all American Eels go to reproduce (hint: it's a sea), or even where is Jane Goodall (who celebrated a birthday on April 3rd) spending her quarantine? (leaves DEC website)

A Rainy Day Sound Experience

Have you ever noticed that noise seems to sound crisper on a rainy day? Does the noise of a nearby train, car or airplane just seem so much louder, than on a clear day? There are several reasons for this, and you may have learned in class that the world is made of molecules and that sound travels in a wave. You may also remember that sound travels faster in denser material, or more tightly packed molecules, i.e. a solid is denser than a gas. Now that your brain juices are pumping, why you do think you can hear sounds so much better when it rains? It almost feels like you have super hearing!

Great to: 1) build mindfulness; 2) help with calming youth down; and 3) separate children with a solitary activity for 10 or so minutes.

What to Do

  1. Find a somewhat quiet spot, open your window or sit out on your porch, close your eyes and just listen.
  2. Listen to what you can hear just where you are. What do you hear?
  3. Then try to stretch your hearing down the road or the next street over. What sounds can you hear? Can you even further?
  4. Listen to the sound of rain carefully, and try to pick up the different sounds it makes, if you were to write sound effects what would they be? Is it always "drip-drip" or is it something else?

You may even notice that the birds are kind of noisier than usual. They're so musical! But who is singing? You can visit Cornell Lab of Ornithology's All About Birds (leaves DEC website) to learn the different songs birds sing. Then you can make a list of birds that you hear, and congrats! You just completed a bird survey of your neighborhood!

See if you can hear some of these common birds chattering away: American Robin; Blue Jay; Northern Cardinal; House Sparrow; Song Sparrow; European starling; Crow; Raven; Chickadee; Tufted Titmouse; Mourning dove; and House Finch.

Fun fact: Have you ever noticed the unique smell of rain? It's called petrichor. I'll leave it up to you to find out where the word comes from and what you actually smell!

Extensions:

  1. Feeling adventurous? Pull out a rain jacket and go on a rainy day walk or hike. Watch a few wriggling worms, see how many animals are still running about, and examine how the plants catch the rain.
  2. Play Cornell Lab of Ornithology's Bird Song Hero (computer game to learn bird songs and match birds with their songs) (leaves DEC website)

Leaf-y Critters

*Modified from Project Learning Tree's Early Childhood Guide and for more inspiration, visit San Diego Zoo Kids Activities Leafy Animal Craft (leaves DEC website)

Materials: markers; old leaves; glue (optional)

Great to: 1) build imagination; 2) decorate a fridge or door; and 3) connect art, literacy, and math skills in young learners.

What to Do

  1. Take a walk outside and collect some old leaves on the ground. Try to find a few different shapes! (If leaves are wet, you will need to let them dry out.)
  2. Using just one leaf, try using the shape of the leaf as the body of your creature, then use a marker to draw a face on it.
  3. Using multiple leaves, create another creature. Maybe one leave as the head, another shape as the body. Does it have leave arms? You can draw a face on one for the head.
  4. You can glue the creatures on to paper and draw habitats for them or just leave them loose and come back and create new creatures later.

Extension: Make it a contest to see how many different creatures can be created out of 1, 3, or 5 leaves.

Reading Connection: Lios Ehlert's Leaf Man book is a perfect children's book to read with this activity. And, caregivers, if you are looking for inspiration, check out Morteza Sohi's Look What I Did with a Leaf!

Exploring MicroNature: Taking a Finger Safari

*Modified From Childhood By Nature's Becoming a MicroNature-ist (leaves DEC website) and a variation of Project Learning Tree's Are Vacant Lots Vacant?

Fun Fact: in one square inch of soil live over 4 billion organisms, including one-celled bacteria, algae, fungi, and protozoa, to the more complex nematodes and micro-arthropods.

Micronature is simply nature in small enough doses to take in and to study. By observing micronature, your child can actually try to notice every detail of a natural area. Micronature is an excellent way for your child to "claim" a little piece of the outdoors and get to know it intimately through observation. They will focus deeply into one contained spot, as large as 1 foot by 1 foot in area, or as small as a square inch.

Remember: it doesn't have to be on the ground! Youth can explore the bark of a tree, the area of a bush or shrub, or even a 12" crack in the sidewalk. They can use their fingers to walk through their new world, going on a finger safari. Even if they are in the grass: how many different shaped leaves are in the "grass"?

Great to: 1) help with calming youth down and 2) separate children with a solitary activity for 10 or so minutes.

Materials: Clipboard; Paper or Nature Journal; Pencil; Colored pencils or crayons; Magnifying glass; Handheld miroscope (optional); String or hula-hoop (optional to help limit area of exploration)

What to Do

  1. How to observe micronature: Start with a general spot. A tree. A log. A patch of dirt. Then draw a mental radius around the site, or use the string or hulahoop to help limit the area of exploring. Try to keep the spot 12 inches in diameter or smaller. Your child should scan the site for signs of life: plant, insect, bird, mammal, fungus. They can make notes (descriptor words, drawings) in their nature journal of what they see at the macro level. It's helpful to draw pictures, noting colors and using other adjectives to describe what they see. (John Muir Laws has a great, free, nature journaling curriculum (leaves DEC website).)
  2. Now your child should choose a section to zoom into: it's time to go micro! Using a magnifying glass or a handheld microscope, inspect the site carefully for micronature. Turn over woodchips and leaves. Look under bark on trees. Get a close up view of the scales of a pinecone, or the leaves in the leaf litter. Make notes of spots on leaves (often mold), spores, lichens, chew marks on acorns, ants hiding in bark, beetles in a ball. There's no hard and fast rule for observing micronature. Your child should just follow their curiosity!
  3. Some ideas for micronature to notice: Zoom in on a spiderweb. Notice its patterns. How water droplets cling to it. How it responds to vibrations. If there are any prey wrapped up in it. Focus on a flower. Notice the shape of its petals. How many there are. What pattern they are shaped in. The colors. Where are the parts of the flower. Notice as much detail as possible.

Extension: Make sure that you and your child return to the site the following week. Ask them to note what has changed. Any new natural objects? Anything missing? Any new buds growing? New insects? New signs of life?

Paper Bag Nature Journal

*Modified from an activity by Arkansas Project Learning Tree and similar to PBSKids Wild Kratts Wildlife Journal

Materials: two lunch-size paper bags; yarn or string; blank paper (computer or construction); scissors; tape; hole punch

What to Do

  1. Take two small lunch bags: one is the front cover, the other the back.
  2. Punch two holes along the same LONG side of the lunch bag that will be the back cover. These holes will be your template for the rest of your journal.
  3. Take 5 sheets of your paper (computer or construction) and fold each one in half along the long edge (the long edge should now be the shorter edge) and then cut them down the fold. You should now have 10 sheets of paper. (You can do more if you want, or less, depends on what you have and how much you want to put in.)
  4. Line up 5 of your papers with the long edges all flush and put the hole-punched back cover over them and put an "X" where the holes are then take the back cover off and punch the holes. (Or you can just hole punch through the holes.) NOTE: make sure you keep a firm grip on the paper, so the holes all line up.
  5. Take the last 5 papers and do the same thing as above.
  6. Now take the front cover lunch paper bag and line the template up to punch holes in it.
  7. Assembling the journal! Stack the pieces in the following order: On the table, put the back cover, then all the paper, then the front cover. Remember! Make sure all the holes are on the same side and line up.
  8. Using the yarn or string, tie the booklet together. You can use two small pieces and tie a bow (or double knot) at each hole BUT be careful that you do not tighten the first knot all the way, leave it loose so the pages can turn! OR you can thread a larger piece down through the top hole, over to the bottom hole, up through the bottom hole, and tie the two ends together on the top of the journal so you fold the cover and the sheets over the knot.
  9. Now for the fun part! Get out your crayons, colored pencils, watercolor paints, craft tape and have fun decorating the cover of your nature journal!

Alternative

  1. If you don't have paper lunch bags but do have one large paper grocery bag (with or without handles). Cut the front & back large panels out of the bag, recycling the sides and bottom of the bag.
  2. With one of the large side panels you just cut out from the large paper grocery bag, using the computer/construction paper you just cut in half, FOLD the bottom of the large panel up towards the top of the panel, making sure the grocery bag panel covers all of the paper and goes about a ½ inch past the loose paper.
  3. Once you have where the fold should be, remove the loose paper and crease the paper bag.
  4. Tape only the two side edges to make a pocket.
  5. Now repeat these steps for the second large panel from the grocery paper bag so you have a second pocket that will be the back cover.
  6. Punch two holes in one of these pockets, as this will be your template for the rest of your journal.
  7. Now return to the original "What to Do" at Step # 4 and continue to make your nature journal.

Additions

  • Adding a sturdy writing surface to your journal: a) use a clipboard, or B) add a piece of cardboard from a shipping box to the back of your journal, just inside your back cover by using your loose paper as a template cut out a piece about ¼ inch larger on each side, then line up the holes and tie it in.
  • If you use a binder or bag clip on the top of the front pocket, things like pencils, crayons, erasers, won't fall out if you fold the top of the pocket over and clip it closed.

Exploring Temperature

Temperature is the measure of the thermal energy that is stored in an object and we feel it as heat. Heat is the flow of thermal energy. Heat flows from hot to cold. You can observe this as a hot drink becomes cold or a cold drink becomes room temperature.
We measure thermal energy every day using our senses or with instruments, in both instances we are comparing it to a known or something familiar. For example, when you touch an object or go outside, you may say it is "cold", "warm", "hot", or "none of the above", what are we comparing it to? We are comparing it our body temperature.

Temperature can be measured with different scales or units such as: Fahrenheit (F); Celsius (C); Kelvin (K).

Sometimes in science, you will need to change a temperature into another unit. Practice your math skills by using the equations below to convert temperatures between temperature scales.

  • Temp in Celsius = 5/9 x (Temp in Fahrenheit - 32)
  • Temp in Kelvin = Temp in Celsius + 273.15

You can use a thermometer, run an internet search, or look in recipe books or at food prep packaging. Note: Be aware that if you choose to use a thermometer, these tools have special ranges that it is designed to measure, always check to see what temperature range your thermometer is designed to measure. Cooking thermometers are best for food related temperatures, a basic window or aquarium thermometer will work well for environment testing, and a medical thermometer should only be used for measuring body temperature.

Fun Fact: Some internet sources may use the word "melting point"; this is the temperature in which a material melts.

Find the temperature of the following things

  1. What is your body temperature?
  2. What is the outside temperature?
  3. What temperature does water boil or freeze?
  4. What temperature do you think the freezer is at?
  5. What temperature settings are on the oven?
  6. What temperature would you use to bake your favorite cookie or cake?
  7. What temperature would you use to bake a pizza?

Using the internet, see if you can find the answers to the following questions

  1. Glass is cool to the touch, glass is made of silica sand, how hot does sand need to be to make glass?
  2. Find a USA 25-cent quarter. USA quarters are metal and used to be made of silver, but if you check the side now, you can see two layers: now they are made of copper and nickel. Predict which has the highest and lowest melting point: nickel, copper, or silver? Then research to see if your predication were correct.
  3. The sun is a great ball of fire! How hot is it?
  4. Lightening is fast, but is it hotter than the sun?

Extensions:

  1. Build a straw thermometer!
  2. Heat flows from hot to cold, but what direction does it move in? Check out this video and science experiment! How would you use this information to keep your house cool in the summer?

Curated List of Activities from Other Sources

Little Pine Learners created a list of 100 Low Prep (low materials) Activities Families Can Do In Their Backyard (leaves DEC website)