Fun outdoor activities can be free and easy

Living and Learning

By Keri Collins Lewis
MSU Ag Communications

MISSISSIPPI STATE — Exploring the wonders of nature does not have to be time-consuming, expensive or complicated.
June is National Great Outdoors Month and is an ideal time to encourage kids to explore the world around them, said Marina Denny, a research associate with the Mississippi State University Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Aquaculture.

Interesting plants, such as this spike winterhazel, offer children opportunities to observe nature at close range, practice their sketching skills and learn about textures. (Photo courtesy of Marina Denny)

Interesting plants, such as this spike winterhazel, offer children opportunities to observe nature at close range, practice their sketching skills and learn about textures. (Photo courtesy of Marina Denny)

Whether kids calculate the angles on a spider web or draw in a nature notebook, opportunities to study nature and enjoy the great outdoors this summer abound. (Photo courtesy of Marina Denny)

Whether kids calculate the angles on a spider web or draw in a nature notebook, opportunities to study nature and enjoy the great outdoors this summer abound. (Photo courtesy of Marina Denny)

“Many activities kids find interesting can be done in an hour or less and do not require any special equipment,” Denny said. “They can make a notebook out of scrap or recycled paper and use it to record their observations.”
Daytime is a good time to go on a nature treasure hunt.
“Explore the edges of creeks, ponds, rivers, lakes and even the ocean if you live on the coast,” Denny said. “Look for rocks, shells, insects and especially animal tracks. Try to figure out what animals use that body of water and why they use it. Write down or take photos of what you see and keep a nature notebook.”
Denny said kids can collect fallen branches, logs and stones from the yard or neighborhood to build a brush pile shelter for wildlife.
“Wild creatures need places to hide, and by creating backyard habitats with the food, shelter and water they need, you’ll be more likely to attract them to places where you can easily observe them,” she said. “Wear appropriate shoes and clothing when working or exploring outside, and carefully check for hitchhikers like ticks when you come inside.”
Children can use paper and crayons to make art projects based on rubbings of leaves and bark. After the rubbings are made, they can try to identify what kinds of trees the leaves and bark came from, based on their shapes and textures.
Nighttime is a good time for attracting different types of insects.
“Kids can set up a light and a white screen with a sheet or pillowcase to collect insects at night,” said Jessica Tegt, assistant wildlife Extension professor at MSU. “Some insects they may see are beetles, walking sticks, moths, praying mantises, fireflies and green lacewings.
Set up the light source near the white screen and wait about 10 minutes for bugs to land on the screen, where they can be observed up close. Be sure to take precautions for dealing with mosquitoes, such as wearing long sleeves and pants.
“If kids want to observe the insects further, they can collect them with a net and place them in glass or plastic jars with lids. Just remember to punch a few holes in the top for air and release them when observation time is over,” she said.
“You can draw the insects, journal about them, or simply observe their behaviors,” Tegt said. “If you collect fireflies, release them within a few minutes so they will survive being captured.”
Though the sun sets later in the summer, it can be fun to stargaze and watch the moon go through its phases. Keeping a moon journal or simply drawing its shape on an existing calendar will allow children to see how the moon changes over the course of a month. Studying planets and constellations also can be an exciting educational pastime. Free sky maps that show constellations by month are available at http://www.skymaps.com.
Stymied by rain storms? Create an outdoor symphony.
“Take pots and pans outside, or other metal kitchen bowls and muffin tins,” Tegt said. “You can listen to the rain make music and talk about how the different shapes and thicknesses result in different sounds. You can also turn over the bowls to collect rain water for water plants, and to measure how much rain fell during that particular storm.”
June may be National Great Outdoors Month, but Mississippi has so many natural treasures no one could fit it all into four weeks. For information on Mississippi’s state parks, visit http://www.mdwfp.com
For more fun activities to do at home, go to http://www.nwf.org/Kids/Family-Fun/Family-Fun-Search.aspx.