Skip to content

Looking for low cost ideas to add some STEAM to your week? How about bird safaris, plant identification chalk art, and/or making a permanent record of the animals and plants in your neighborhood?

Idea 1:  Birdwatching Safari

Have you seen people putting stuffed animals in their windows or yards? Those are part of Teddy bear scavenger hunts for children. Take the idea to the next level:  walk, bike or drive through the neighborhood looking for birds.

Virtually every neighborhood has birds perching, singing, flying, swimming, and feeding. See how many birds you can spot. Write down what you see or record using voice recognition on your phone.

For more bird-related lessons and activity ideas, visit:

Extensions:  If birds aren't your thing, consider an insect safari.

Idea 2:  Sidewalk Chalk Plant Identification

On the same vein, have you seen driveways and sidewalks decorated with chalk artwork and inspirational/positive messages?  Wouldn't it be cool to take those ideas and incorporate a little science? Leave chalk notes about plants you see.

Butterflies love desert marigolds.

In England, "rogue" botanists are using chalk to identify common plants along sidewalks (Guardian article gives details). As they emphasize, when people learn the name of plants they can find out more about them, such as how they provide nectar for pollinators or are food for butterflies.

 

Note:  Make sure you have permission before applying chalk to sidewalks.

Idea 3:  Make a Nature Notebook or Journal

A nature journal is a physical record of your observations.

Below, children's science author Loree Griffin Burns shares a wonderful nature notebook that her children made when they were younger. She explains what they learned and gives suggestions for making your own.

 

Notice that they used both photographs and drawings.

Curved-bill thrasher and grackle

You can choose either or a combination. Be sure to jot down your observations and date every entry, as well.

Suggestions for starting a nature journal

Idea 4:  Start a Nature Blog

If you are more comfortable with the digital world, then keep you journal as a blog that you can share with friends and family. Some platforms -- like Blogger and WordPress.com -- can be free.

From the start of this blog in April 2008, the Bug of the Week has been a photographic record of the insects and plants I've encountered, mostly in my own neighborhood. Why might this be useful?

Firstly, it helps me remember the names of insects, especially those that I don't see often. There are more than a million species of insects, so even experts need help.

Blogs can also be a record of life cycles, for example our recent discovery of lady beetles on brittle bush and two weeks later we found lady beetle larvae.

Because I show the insects I've photographed that day or within a few days, it is also an archive of seasonality of insect appearance.  For example, this week I noticed two damselflies in the back yard.

This mainly brown one perched on the rim of an old flower pot.

Every minute or so it would launch into the air and grab a gnat. Can you see the gnat snack in its mouth?

About two feet away a bluer version perched on some radish flowers.

With a quick search, in years past I had seen damselflies in August and September.

It is fun to look back over the posts and see what was happening.

Which ideas do you find appealing? Be sure to let us know if you try one or if you have other ideas to suggest.

 

What's happening in the garden today?

The cilantro plants are flowering.

Some people might say the plants are finished and pull them out.

On the other hand, there are several reasons to leave them be.

First of all, cilantro has lovely lacy white flowers. It is a pretty plant.

cilantro seeds
Plus, if you let the plant mature, it will produce seeds that you can save for next year or share with fellow gardeners.

An additional benefit is that the flowers are food for pollinators, like this honey bee.

Or this flower fly.

Pollinators are important to help many different food and wild plants produce seeds. Allowing a few plants to make flowers can help them survive.

Beauty, seeds, pollinators. Letting cilantro go to seed is win-win.

Have you ever grown cilantro? Do you let it go to flower/set seeds? 

Interested in learning more about how to attract and help preserve pollinators? Check out:

 

 

In another in our series of STEM story times, let's explore insect-themed books, learning centers, and activities.

First I read Waiting for Wings by Lois Ehlert.

The children had a blast looking for insects in the illustrations. They were fully engaged in the story.

Check out our growing list of butterfly and moth books for more options.

After reading and discussing, they visited the STEM Stations.

STEM Activity Station 1. Insect Versus Not Insect

Prepare a sign or explain:

Insects have three body parts, six legs, and two antennae.

Gather:

  • plastic insect models
  • plastic spiders, scorpions, centipedes etc.  (often cheap and available at party stores around Halloween)

Have the children sort insect from non-insect.

Also presented live earthworms, sowbugs, and snails.

The living animals were a huge hit.

The rest of the stations I arranged roughly by insect order (groups).

STEM Activity Station 2. Chirp like a Cricket

Gather:

      • Craft sticks
      • Small plastic combs
      • Eric Carle's The Very Quiet Cricket board book (version that chirps when last page is opened)
      • Photographs of crickets
      • Cricket life cycle image (optional)

Crickets chirp by rubbing their wings together. Rub a craft stick across the comb to make a sound.

Although I didn't get any for this day, live crickets are available in many pet supply stores. They are easy to care for (see previous post).

STEM Activity Station 3:  Lady Beetles

Gather:

  • Lady beetle photographs and/or models
  • Lady beetle anatomy diagram (available in previous post).
  • Photographs of aphids
  • Diagrams of lady beetle life cycles
  • Model of lady beetle life cycle (optional)

STEM Activity Station 4:  Ants, Bees and Wasps

Gather:

  • Photographs and illustrations of ants, bees, and wasps
  • Board books
  • Models of honey bee comb
  • Ant life cycle diagram (Ask a Biologist)
  • Honey bee life stages diagrams

STEM Activity Station 5:  Cicadas

Gather:

  • Cicada exoskeletons (collect and save during summer)
  • Cicada models
  • Cicada life cycle diagram (Super Coloring has an amazing assortment of realistic life cycle diagrams)
  • Clicker to replicate cicada buzzing

STEM Activity Station 6:  Butterfly and moth life cycles

Gather:

  • Butterfly life cycle models and illustrations
  • Silkworm cocoons (raised previously and saved)
  • Silkworm eggs (raised previously and saved)
  • Silkworm life cycle diagrams (also from Super Coloring)

 

Also provided assorted crafts and crayon-rubbing templates.

Note:  At this age the templates slid around too much. Consider taping them down with painter's tape to help hold in place.

Also, fingerprint insects are fun, but I didn't have any washable ink stamp pads at home. Need to pick up some for next time.

We finished with We Dig Worms by Kevin McCloskey, which is what the children chose.

Soon they were counting all the earthworms on each page. It was a great way to end the class.

Visit our Pinterest Board for more insect science activity and craft ideas.

pin code insect activities