Farmers' Markets Are for Families

School is out and our children are now on summer vacation – or are they? As a parent of three young girls, my wife and I find ourselves signing up the kids for various summer activities such as swimming, drama camp, dance classes and music, to name a few. However, beyond organized classes and camps, summer is also a great time to involve your kids in engaging outdoor activities in new learning environments to stimulate their growth.

Hummingbirds: Tiny Travelers

Salvias, bee balm, cardinal flower, trumpet vine… plant some of these nectar-rich bloomers in your youth garden and students can become participants in the incredible journey of hummingbirds. These tiny creatures, about the size of an adult thumb, can travel thousands of miles a year, using nectar, insects, and safe spots to rest and refuel along the way.

A "Life-Changing" Hummingbird Observation

Every spring, approximately 600 children visit the bird-banding site at Fort Morgan, Alabama, a peninsula between Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, to learn how specially trained and permitted volunteers capture hummingbirds and apply teensy aluminum bands to their legs to gather data that can help researchers understand their life cycle. Some of the children even get to hold a hummer in their hands before it flies away.

Creating a Family Butterfly Garden

One of the most interesting theme gardens you can plant with your children is a butterfly garden. A butterfly garden provides a colorful array of nectar-producing plants that not only attract butterflies and hummingbirds, but can also draw your children to explore the intricate relationships of plants and animals. With the appropriate plantings, your garden provides opportunities to educate your children about the life cycle of a butterfly and allows them to view each stage of growth.

Make Your Own Hummingbird Feeder

Overview: Based on what they know about hummingbirds, students will design and create their own feeder using everyday materials.

Subject Areas: science, visual arts, math

Key Concepts: physical adaptations

Skills: problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork/cooperative learning, artistic expression, observation, investigation

Location: indoors and outdoors

Design a Hummingbird Flower

Overview: In this activity, students design and create a flower adapted for pollination by hummingbirds.

Subject Areas: science, visual arts, language arts

Key Concepts: physical adaptations, pollination, competition

Skills: problem solving, creative thinking, teamwork/cooperative learning, artistic expression, oral communication; observation (if real flowers are examined)

Location: indoors

Estimated time: 1 hour+

Territorial Tactics

Overview: Territorial Tactics is an energetic tag game in which students simulate the territorial behavior and survival strategies of hummingbirds. It is designed to teach students tactics used by dominant territorial hummingbirds to guard a feeder or patch of nectar plants, and tactics used by other hummingbirds to try to feed from that protected food source. (The game is like Capture the Flag with a few adaptations.)

Subject areas: science, physical education

Key concepts: behavioral adaptations, intra-species competition

Plant of the Month: The Gourd

Many of your students may have seen gourds at "work": as autumn porch and table decorations, as bath sponges, or as birdhouses. But are they aware that people have used gourds for millennia, and for lots of different purposes? Explore history, social studies, botany, and art in the school garden with these versatile vines. But be careful -- growing and crafting with gourds can be habit-forming!

Growing a Musical Instrument

I approached the principal of Sprague Elementary School (K-2) in Lincolnshire, IL with an idea for growing gourds with the students and using them to create Native American rattles. The second grade classrooms at Sprague participate in an extensive Native American Study Unit and I felt that gourd rattles were an effective hands-on way to teach students about the beliefs and culture of Native Americans. After receiving approval I began a two-year artist-in-residence program.

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Last updated on 04/23/2014
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