Gardening with kids: How to create fun and educational wildlife habitats at home
Here at Spotty Otter, we’ve always believed that getting outside is the best way for kids to learn something new. Lisa Lyons, from home storage and garden accessories Plastic Box Shop, shows us how you can teach your little nature lovers about your local wildlife with some hands-on learning.
Over the past couple of months, we’ve all been looking for new ways to keep the kids busy at home, particularly when it comes to educational activities. Turning your garden into your own personal nature reserve is a brilliant learning opportunity and will help to instil a love and respect for nature. It’s also a fabulous year-round activity, as it will give your children a place to observe and study wildlife as the seasons change, giving them a better understanding of animal and plant life cycles.
You don’t necessarily need a huge garden to do this, either: anyone with a small outside space or patio can get involved. In this post, I’ll share some tips for attracting wildlife to your garden in a fun and educational way.
Plant a wildflower garden
Pollinators like butterflies and bees are a key part of our garden ecosystems, so why not plant some pollinator-friendly wildflowers? This way, your little ones will get to see all sorts of fascinating insects up close, and you’ll also be doing your bit to help butterflies and bees, which have come under threat in recent years.
This is really quite easy to do, even for beginners: all you need is a bag of mixed wildflower seeds (look for some labelled “pollinator friendly”), as well as a patch of earth or container and some compost to scatter them in. If slugs and snails start to munch on your wildflowers as they grow, don’t resort to using any pesticides on your flowers as they grow, as this can harm pollinators. Instead, you can use this as an opportunity to learn more about slugs and snails in their natural habitat. Wildflowers are fast growing and hardy so, after several weeks, you should have a very pretty garden that’s proving popular with your local pollinators.
To help your kids get the most out of this experience, ask them questions and encourage them to make observations: which different varieties of butterfly can they see visiting their garden? Which flowers are proving the most popular with bees? You could even carry out a survey together, to help them work on their data gathering skills.
Build a hedgehog hideaway
Hedgehogs are fascinating creatures, but they often need a little encouragement to visit our gardens. If your children are old enough, you could ask them to do some research on what sorts of habitats hedgehogs like best, and what they like to eat. Then, get to work designing a hedgehog paradise!
To really increase your chances of welcoming a prickly pal into your outside space, you’ll need a hedgehog house. You can buy these ready-made but, if you fancy taking on a more complex project, you could even build one from scratch: take a look at this guide from The Wildlife Trust to learn more.
Learn about creepy crawlies with a bug hotel
Insects and minibeasts are very beneficial to the overall ecosystem in our gardens: they prey on common garden pests like aphids and provide a source of food for birds. So, it’s definitely a good idea to teach your kids about the vital role they play. One way to do this is by building a bug hotel, where bugs and minibeasts can shelter from predators and hibernate. This way, you can take a look at different kinds of bugs and beasts up close, all while helping them to thrive.
You can build a bug hotel using old stuff that you might have lying around — the RSPB has a great guide that will help you to do this. Once you have some insects visiting your bug hotel, use a magnifying glass to take a look at them without disturbing them. If your little ones can be a bit squeamish about creepy crawlies, this is also a good way to help them learn that they’ve nothing to fear.
Provide a welcoming space for birds
A spot of bird watching is always a great educational activity, and there are plenty of ways you can encourage our feathered friends into your garden. Placing some bird boxes, baths, and feeders around your outside space will help to attract different kinds of birds — for a creative activity, you could even buy a plain wooden bird box and then get the kids to paint it.
To make your bird watching even more educational, encourage little ones to identity which varieties are visiting your garden, and listen out to see what sorts of birdsong they can hear. If you’re lucky enough to get a new resident living in your bird box, then this will provide a great opportunity for your children to follow the life cycle of birds through the seasons.
There are so many ways to get outside and teach your kids about the wildlife that’s all around us, and you don’t even need a large garden to do so. Try some of the fun and educational activities I’ve shared here, and you should have no problem keeping the kids entertained this summer.