Get your preschooler thinking about wildlife – while staying at home!

This is a guest post, kindly written by Katrina Kelly, a mother of two under fives and head of community engagement for the University of Bath. Katrina recently founded an ambitious project to Co-forest the United Kingdom, see https://coforest.co.uk/ and join the movement! 


So many of us are facing spring and potentially summer too at home, unable to get out to clubs and groups with our young children, and unable to send them to their usual preschools or nurseries. There are lists and lists and lists of ideas for activities you can do at home with your children at this time, but here we thought we would focus on some specifically for preschoolers which focus on learning about and understanding the wildlife they can find in their own back garden, with a nod to early years foundational stage skills.

Plant a wildflower garden

It doesn’t matter how big this is – it could be one pot, a small bed, or your whole lawn! Wildflower seeds are available from many online retailers, and while autumn is the best time for planting them, it definitely isn’t too late in the year to get a good number of colourful wildflowers.

Encourage your child to help choose a location – using describing words to find somewhere with some sun, and where the seeds won’t get trodden on. They can help to clear the area – hold the rake together or even try using a kitchen fork as a mini-rake! Scatter seeds – it takes little hands a lot of concentration and coordination to scatter them rather than dump them in a heap – you can practice over a tray first if you want. Gently rake them over and show children how to water the seeds carefully, talking about the time it will take them to grow. You can make a plan to water your seeds together every day.


Introduce a new species

One of the Early Years Foundational Stage skills focuses on understanding that things are different around the world. This activity allows you to talk about animals and where they are from on the planet. This is a great way to play with that idea, adding a bit of humour.

Talk about the animals you might find in your British back garden – you could make a list, draw them, or make them with play doh! Then, using a smart phone, google ‘tiger’. In the search result there will be an option to ‘see a life size tiger up close’. Click this button* to open a virtual reality tiger. You can show your child the tiger in their own garden, they can use the phone to ‘walk around’ it, exploring it from different angles as it moves and growls! This is a chance to talk about why we don’t see tigers in our gardens, about where they are from, and about other animals your children know that they wouldn’t find in Britain. There are lots of other animals you can try too – we really liked meeting an Emperor Penguin on our patio!


Trace your shadow

Choose a sunny day, get some patio chalks out, and find a hard service. Start early in the morning, and try to find an area which gets sun throughout the day. Stand your preschooler on a spot and draw around their shadow – or you can stand while they draw around yours! Mark the time on their outline. Now go back to the same spot every hour throughout the day and draw around their shadow each time. You can talk about how their shadow is getting shorter, and moving around them, until there is eventually very little shadow at all at midday. Then they can watch it get longer again throughout the afternoon. This is a great way to introduce a concept of time, and the movement of the planet and the sun. You can also talk about the places in your garden that get more or less sun as it moves, and how this effects the plants that grow.

A shadow on the ground with an outline around it

Make a nature map

Draw an outline of your garden on cardboard and add any main structures or shapes to your map. Then go around the garden with your child, looking for interesting nature to record on it. They could do this using paints, writing, drawing, using play doh, etc. If you can, encourage them to describe what they’re seeing. For example ‘Look a leaf – it’s red, pointy, shiny and dry!’ You might need to do this yourself first so they get the idea. Try to add items from different categories, and see if they can split items into those categories. So which items go under ‘plant’, which items go under ‘animal’, etc. You could continue to add to your map over a few days, and display it somewhere they can see regularly to encourage ongoing conversation.


Do a bird watch

The RSPB’s Big Garden Bird Watch takes place in January – but they keep the resources online all year around, so why not do your own right now? You need to create a space in your garden where you can watch the birds without disturbing them. You could set up a feeder to attract birds into your garden, or just wait and see who comes along. Before you start, you could find pictures of different types of British garden bird, and ask your preschooler to help you cut them out and stick them to a piece of paper. Do your bird watch for an hour (or for as long as your preschooler will concentrate!) and only count birds that land in your garden, not those flying over. Each time you see one of the birds on your paper, make a note of it. Encourage children to count up how many of each species they have seen, and how many birds in total they’ve seen. This is a chance to practice counting and adding. You could do your birdwatch a few times and see whether different birds come to your garden on different days!

*See list of eligible devices here: https://developers.google.com/ar/discover/supported-devices


Written by Katrina Kelly




Laura Turner
Author: Laura Turner

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