It can be difficult to get motivated about maintaining the yard and garden during one of the hottest and driest summer months. There are definite dangers for young children during the most intense temperatures of the day. You can find ways to avoid the heat and spend time together in the garden, but you might have to be a little creative.
The most obvious answer is to either start your day a little earlier or end it a little later by getting out when the temperatures are cooler. Here are a few ways you can experience the garden with your family during these times of day.
Animals, too, suffer from these long stretches of heat. If you have hummingbird feeders, this can be one of their most active times of the day. It can be an excellent opportunity for kids to observe their behaviors. Song birds will also use the early morning hours for lots of communication. There are several good online field guides which feature the bird songs. Combining the songs with a picture is an excellent way to help kids remember the common names. Here is one example of an online audio guide
Insects don’t like extreme temperatures, so mid-morning is a great time for some biological insect control—which really means “hunt and squish”. An easy insect to have younger children look for, and squish, is a squash bug. These brownish-grey insects lay their orange-yellow to brown eggs on the undersides of squash-type plants such as cucumber, zucchini, and pumpkin leaves. These clusters of eggs are easy to identify. With a little direction, children can carefully scrape the eggs from the leaves and destroy them. The adult squash bugs are also easy to catch and are usually found near the soil or base of the plants. The adults are the ones that can kill your plants very quickly so destroying the eggs before they hatch is a great way to keep them controlled without pesticide. Other pests that are easy for kids to find are tomato hornworms, cutworms, and slugs. Have them wear gloves and show them how to dispose of them correctly. In my home, we feed them directly to the chickens; it’s very exciting!
If you’re looking for a quick outdoor learning activity, you won’t have to look very far during dusk. Have your kids predict how long the shadows will stretch before sundown. You’ll need a long tape measure and a glass of cool water while you wait to determine the results. This is a great activity for not only measuring things that are very tall, but also smaller plants and objects. Ask your kids to measure more accurately with a tape measure and also with measurements based upon “big steps” or “body lengths”. It’s a great way to work and learn together.
If you’ve never walked through your garden with your kids at night, you’re missing a special experience. Nighttime, or early evening, is a great time to enjoy a different side of the garden. Spend a quiet hour observing flowers and plants of white or lighter shades of color and smelling fragrant blooms. You’ll need a few minutes to let your eyes adjust to the level of light and then you’ll be amazed at how the light and dark colors of the garden take on a new appearance. There are many plants which only bloom at night such as moonflowers, four-o’clocks, and angels’ trumpets; other flowers use the evening hours to attract night pollinators (moths and bats) through their intense fragrances. Read the book, The Moonflower, by Peter and Jean Loewer, together, by flashlight, and see if you can identify any of the experiences described in the book in your own backyard.
Make these generally inactive times of day something that the whole family can look forward to and use the dog days of summer to experience something worthwhile.