Watching Wildlife With Your Kids: A Fun Way to Get Outside Together
Do your kids love bugs, birds and other critters?
Want to find ways to get them to enjoy the outdoors?
Start watching wildlife with your kids. To learn how to make it fun to observe wildlife in action, I interview David Mizejewski for this episode of the Parenting Adventures podcast.
More About This Show
The Parenting Adventures podcast is a show from My Kids’ Adventures.
It’s for parents (and grandparents) who are looking for creative things to do with their kids.
The show format is on-demand talk radio (also known as podcasting).
He hosted the Animal Planet show Backyard Habitat for four years, where he helped people transform their yards into habitats for birds.
He’s also made TV appearances on the Martha Stewart Show, Good Morning America and many other shows.
David shares ways to make it fun to watch wildlife with your kids.
You’ll discover simple things you can do to get out in nature, whether you find wildlife or you let wildlife find you.
Share your feedback, read the show notes and get the links mentioned in this episode below!
Here are some of the things you’ll discover in this show:
Watching Wildlife With Kids
Where David’s fascination with animals started
A lifelong nature geek, David just celebrated 14 years with the National Wildlife Federation.
As a kid, David spent as much time as he could outside, running around in the woods with his friends, turning over logs, catching frogs and climbing trees. Even though his parents were raised in the city, they knew how important nature was for their kids, and moved their family to the suburbs.
David knew early on that he was interested in wildlife, plants and the environment, and studied ecology at Emory University to become a naturalist. A naturalist is a person who understands the natural world but is not a specialist, like a biologist, zoologist or lepidopterist (a scientist who studies butterflies and moths).
He’s also a communicator: part of a naturalist’s job is to interpret what’s going on in the natural world and explain it to “regular people.”
The goal of a naturalist is to get people engaged in conservation and excited about wildlife, nature and the environment.
Listen to the show to discover other places where naturalists work.
What the National Wildlife Federation does for kids
The magazines are just one way the Federation helps kids get connected to nature.
The organization also offers a variety of programs, including the Be Out There campaign to get 10 million more kids outdoors, and events like the Great American Backyard Campout, where people commit to having an old-fashioned camping experience either in their backyard or community.
Coming up next, David explains, is their fall series of events called Hike and Seek. It’s all about getting families to go for walks in their neighborhoods and make it a point to observe nature.
Listen to the show to hear more about the National Wildlife Federation’s programs.
Why it’s important to explore wildlife
David shares the old saying: “You only protect what you love and you only love what you know.” So kids need to go outside and get to know nature.
The average American schoolkid spends nearly 8 hours almost every day indoors, sedentary, in front of some kind of electronic media.
Plus, David says, by the time children in America go to kindergarten, they’ve already watched 5,000 hours of television. That’s enough to get a college degree.
There are so many things you can do when you’re outside, even if it’s just a walk around the neighborhood, that help you get connected to nature.
Listen to the show to discover what parents can do to lessen their kids’ fear of nature.
Fun ways to explore wildlife
David suggests one easy thing to do is make a bird bath. It’s a fun craft project, as well as a teaching opportunity.
Paint a terra cotta flowerpot and then put it upside down so the pot is the pedestal. Then, take the drainage dish that’s normally underneath and put it on top. Fill it with water, and that’s the basin for the bird bath. It’s simple as that.
It’s a fun way to create an element of habitat in your yard that will attract birds and other wildlife that you and your kids can watch. You can even start a field guide to your own backyard. Print off pictures of the birds you see and create a scrapbook.
You don’t necessarily need a big plan or a lot of time and money to create a great outdoor experience. The lowest of low-tech options is to go on a nature scavenger hunt.
Get a piece of paper and make a checklist of things: a brown rock, a feather, a brightly colored leaf, a blade of grass, whatever you think you might find out there. Then have your kids go out looking for them.
A scavenger hunt reinforces their observation skills, while giving them something to focus on so they don’t whine about being bored. And then they’ll learn about natural things.
Listen to the show to learn about the activity finder on the National Wildlife Federation’s site.
How to make birdwatching enjoyable for kids
David finds that when you turn things into a game or competition, it piques kids’ interest.
If you say, “let’s go outside and look for birds,” kids might think that’s boring. If you say, “let’s see how many blue birds we can spot,” or if there are a couple of kids, say, “whoever spots the most birds will get a prize”—that’s a lot more fun.
Other things you can do to make birdwatching fun: get kid-appropriate binoculars, because a tool like that will get them closer to nature; keep a nature journal; or search online for a checklist of birds you should be able to find in your area, print it out and have the kids check off every bird they see.
Set up a backyard bird station, where there’s a bird bath and a bird feeder. It’ll bring the birds into a specific location on a daily basis, so you and your family can watch and identify them. Then go out into the woods and see if you can find those same species or different ones.
Listen to the show to find other great wildlife to observe.
How to attract wildlife to your backyard
If you want to bring wildlife to you, David recommends you get rid of as much of the lawn as you can and put in native plants. They’re not only beautiful and commonly available at your local garden center, they’re the plants that your local wildlife has co-evolved with and depend upon.
You can really bump up the biodiversity of your own backyard habitat and attract a lot more critters such as birds, butterflies and small animals.
Then go on a backyard safari. That direct contact helps kids create a connection to nature.
Use tech, take pictures and look things up out in the field. Use tech as a way to educate your family about nature.
Listen to the show to find out what you can do if you see something you can’t identify.
Parenting Adventures Tip
My Kids’ Adventures’ Kristin Ammerman and I talk about a fun and easy shallow-water game called Ringer.
Construct a large ring, take it with you to the lake or a shallow pool and try to get objects inside of it. It’s kind of like a basketball game in the water.
Kristin explains how to make a simple ring for the game. Take a pool noodle and duct tape the ends together in a circle. Then tie string on it so when you take it out to the water, you’ll be able to anchor it to a rock. Tape together two noodles if you want a larger hoop.
Once you have your circle, throw rocks or floating balls and aim for the floating target. It’s the perfect activity for a lull in outdoor playtime if you have water nearby.
Listen to the show to learn modifications for playing Ringer in a swimming pool.
Key takeaways mentioned in this episode:
- Discover more about David Mizejewski.
- Connect with David on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram and YouTube.
- Check out the National Wildlife Federation and their resources for kids, including the Activity Finder.
- Connect with Ranger Rick (aka National Wildlife Federation for Kids) on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.
- Listen to our nature podcasts: Project Wild Thing with David Bond and Fun with Dirt with Jennifer Ward.
- Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s field guides and kids’ apps, as well as Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s All About Birds.
- Learn how to play shallow-water games.
Ways to subscribe to the Parenting Adventures podcast:
What do you think? What are your favorite ways to observe wildlife? Please leave your comments below.
Images from iStockPhoto.
I am a dad of three kids, the founder of My Kids' Adventures and the founder of Social Media Examiner. I also host the Parenting Adventures podcast. Other posts by Michael Stelzner »