Activities, Stories and Science for Kids
Feeling stuck inside? Why not bring the outdoors in and explore the exciting world of nature through crafts, experiments, games and stories? Or take a look through your window, a step into your backyard or onto your balcony, or a stroll* through your neighbourhood to discover some signs of spring.
* In the context of this unique spring, please practice safe social distancing and keep all neighbourhood excursions brief.
LYNDE SHORES CONSERVATION AREA
Kid's Birding Checklist
Print and fold to create your birding pocket booklet for Lynde Shores Conservation Area. How many birds can you identify? How many of each can you find? Please remember to only feed the songbirds only seeds. Also, please take home any extra seeds, because the birds are amazing at finding everything they need in nature!
NATURE IN YOUR NEIGHBOURHOOD
Story time! Share in young Taylor's delight in welcoming the returning migratory birds by reading 'Taylor's Phoebes'. The Eastern Phoebe, as Taylor will later explain, is named after its "Fee-be? Fee-be!" song. This story, written by Patricia Lowe from Central Lake Ontario Conservation, was created especially for this unique spring and includes a 'Your Turn' activity section at the end of each chapter.
Source: Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Chapter 1: Arrival
“The Phoebes are back, they're back,” she cried to her mother Lily, while the rest of the world slumbered, still covered in the gauzy light of dawn. Lily greeted her daughter at the bottom of the stairs, “They must have arrived late last night, while we were dreaming. I just heard them sing 'hello' when you did, so it looks like they slept in a little, not unlike yourself,” she added.
Draw a picture of the town where the family lives and what that might look like during what is referred to as the “panic", but what you really know is called a “pandemic”.
Illustration courtesy of our colleague Brian Joyce, an artist, a teacher, a biologist, a naturalist and lover of birds.
Chapter 2: Hello
Chapter 3: Home
Once she was dressed, her best friend Bunny tucked into her pocket, Taylor asked if it would be all right to place more hair and yarn outside with the other nesting supplies on the trellis. She wanted to make the chore of building the nest a little easier for the returning Phoebe family. She also wondered if the birds would have to spend two weeks in “ice lake” (isolation) like their neighbours Jan and Steve, because they just came back from another country. After all, the Phoebes had been out of the country too. Lily confirmed that it was not necessary, the birds were not affected the way humans were.
Phoebes like to nest in eaves, rafters or under bridges, preferably with an overhang. Take a walk around your house to see if you can find a spot that would be suitable for a Phoebe nest. Draw the nest in this chapte
r with the baby Phoebes being fed by their father. Note how long and rounded his tail is. More about the Phoebes tail in Chapter 9.
Chapter 4: Journeys
Ivy, Taylor’s other mother who works at the nursing home, slept and took her meals in the guest house at the back of their garden. She was “ice laking” (isolating) because of “covid”. She came home very late last night, so would probably not have heard the birds singing 'hello' this morning. Ivy loved the Phoebes, maybe even more than Taylor did. She knew so much about them. She knew they were the first ones back from their winter home and the last ones to leave each autumn when bare-leaved trees gracefully reached to the sky. She showed Taylor detailed migration maps and showed her something she called their “winter range” in Mexico and Florida. “See, they are very much like us in the winter, except we hibernate, they migrate,” she informed Taylor. Phoebes, Taylor knew, went somewhere warm because that was where they could find insects, their main food source. In Canada, in the winter, there are no insects out and about.
Here is a range map of where Phoebes breed (orange) migrate (yellow) and overwinter (blue). There is also a place in the mid-United States where the Phoebes stay year-round (purple). Do some research to determine which states the Phoebes live year-round. Can you draw a range map for yourself before COVID 19? Start with the place you live, your school, shops, library and all the places you like to visit.
Range Map courtesy of the Cornell Lab of Ornithology
Chapter 5: Tradition
Her grandmother, Ivy’s mother, told Taylor the story about how when she was a little girl, she and her brother would travel to her grandparent’s cottage on an island in the middle of a lake. Every spring they would take the ferry there and always, always the Phoebes would be there. Already with their nest up in the eaves of the cottage, eggs laid and sometimes the babies already hatched. One year they went earlier than usual and watched the Phoebes actually make their nest. They noticed the birds had taken some yarn from her doll’s hair and pieces of hair from their dog Tyler’s frequent brushings. Ever since then, her Grandmother said, it was a family tradition to leave scraps of yarn, dog hair and hair from their hairbrushes outside for the birds to use. She said, “We liked to give them a break after their long migration; make things a little easier.” Taylor always thought that was so generous.
Your TurnCan you find some hair in your hairbrush or your pet’s grooming brush? How about some knitting or crochet project scraps, or even some string in the kitchen drawer or garden shed? Find a place where you can begin to leave these things for a Phoebe or other bird that might nest around where you live.
Chapter 6: Safe Home
She knew why the Phoebes were here in their neighbourhood because her grandmother said, they needed humans as much as humans needed Phoebes. The birds liked the way people built things that would allow them to find hidden places to build their nest and lay their eggs. The ledge above Taylor’s back door was not ideal in size, but it did them well last spring, so she had her fingers and toes crossed. Even Bunny’s were crossed, so they may consider it again.
Her grandfather, Lily’s dad, offered to make her a Phoebe bird box. “Just the right size and placed at just the right height,” he said. “It could be our little project together.” He had made hundreds of nesting boxes in his day and put them all over the countryside around their town. It was a big project, designed by many volunteers and ornithologists to help a specific bird that was in severe decline, the Bluebird. It had been impacted by humans, who used a very powerful chemical called “the DDT”. It was a pesticide, her grandfather said, that humans used on their plants to get rid of pests in their gardens and on their farms. Her grandfather said it worked; it killed the insects just like it was supposed to. What happened next was surprising to lots of people, but not her grandfather. He said when the Bluebirds ate the insects with the pesticide, it made them sick and too tired to lay eggs or raise their young. It did not matter whether they were on their home range or their winter range, all the insects were poisoned by “the DDT.” There was no where to escape and so their populations declined.
Humans don’t use DDT anymore he told me, but the number of Bluebirds will never be the same. Each spring he travels many roads, cleaning out the boxes, counting the nestlings and writing notes about when the birds leave the box. It was a way for him to give back to nature, work alongside friends, and enjoy the peace and quiet of the country roads he travelled. He says he cannot keep up anymore and he has trained a younger man to take over his routes. But he said he’s still able to make and put up a Phoebe box; Taylor just needed to give him the word.
So far, she liked the idea of the birds finding their best place to nest, without a box. Taylor also thought it might attract other birds and intimate or intimidate—she was never sure which was the right word to describe when something or someone frightens something or someone else. Which word is it? You decide.
Your TurnYou play a game called ‘Snowperson’, using the words from this chapter. First, grab some scrap paper out of your recycle box. Choose a word and make small short dashes for each letter in the word. Your opponent then suggests letters and you place them on the appropriate dash. Eventually they might get a letter that is not in your word, and you can draw the parts of a snowperson. If they complete the word before you draw the complete snowperson, they win. If you draw a complete snowperson before they get the word, you win.
Chapter 7: Uninvited
There is a bird called a Brown-headed Cowbird that is lazy when it comes to nesting and raising its own offspring. You see, it doesn’t know how to make a nest, nor how to sit gently on its eggs to incubate them, so they do something Ivy called “parasitize” the nest. Ivy helped Taylor learn to say the word parasitize, by breaking it down into syllables, just like she did at school. First, she said the word “para” – then the word “sit”– then the word ‘ize”, which sounded like eyes we use to see things. Although it was now easy to say, she was not clear on how it applied to her Phoebes.
Then, one day last June when she and Ivy did a photo inspection of their nest, she came to a full understanding of that word. They waited until the female bird left the nest, then Ivy reached up with her phone and snapped the photos. They were very surprised as they sat quietly on the bench by the back door to look at the nest photos. They discovered four white eggs and one larger white egg with lots of brown speckles, like freckles. It was twice the size of the Phoebe eggs. Ivy said the female Brown-headed Cowbird had laid that egg and might have laid many more in nests around our neighbourhood. The baby Brown-headed Cowbird, because it’s so much bigger than the other birds when they hatch, takes all the food the parents bring to the nest. That means the Phoebe nestlings do not get enough food and parish. Taylor surmised and Ivy confirmed that the word parish is a nice way to say the birds would die. Ivy said if the Phoebe did not eject or build over the uninvited egg in two days, they would have to decide to either let nature take her course or remove the Brown-headed Cowbird egg themselves.
Low and behold on Friday morning, there was a large broken white egg with brown speckles underneath the nest at the back door. The mother Phoebe was a no-nonsense mom, just like my moms, thought Phoebe. This would guarantee the Phoebe nestlings (that was the word her grandfather used, and she used it, too), had a chance at living their best life, and uninvited visitors would not be taking up space in her nest any time soon.
What would you do if the Phoebe in the story did not know enough to eject or rebuild the nest over the uninvited egg? Write or share your thoughts by looking at the pros and cons of removing the egg or leaving the egg in the nest. Research more about the Brown-headed Cowbird to see if you think that the bird has a good strategy for ensuring the survival of its species?
Chapter 8: Sharing
One of the things Taylor loved most about the Phoebes, aside from the fact that they sang their name, is that while only the female bird sat on the eggs, keeping them warm as they developed into nestlings, both the male and the female tended them. That meant non-stop hunting for live insects, which they presented to the nestlings like an all-day buffet. It was marvelous to watch them work like a team and hear the tiny peeps from the nest when the parents brought food. As soon as one parent left, the other was at the ready with the next tasty morsel. This went on from dawn til dusk, rain or shine, warm or cold.
When it was nighttime and the birds were sleeping, her grandfather often read to her out of his Princeton Field Guide on Nests, Eggs and Nestlings of North American Birds, one of his favourite reference books. He said he could use the Internet, but there was something rewarding to him about flipping the pages of words and drawings, and making new discoveries. She especially loved studying the book plates with him, the pages with pictures rather than words. The pictures he said were hand-painted and showed every egg one could ever imagine. Her favourite plate was Plate 38, the one with all the drawings of shorebird eggs. She also liked to look at Plate 10 and 11, as those had drawings of the nestlings— they were so cute with their big feet and fluffy feathers. There was no plate for her Phoebes, but she could not complain, the birds never failed to share with her their eggs, nests, nestlings and themselves, literally at her back door.
See if you have a reference book about birds. If not, why don’t you head to your local library online, with your parent’s permission of course, and search their bird reference books or check out the Audobon's Guide to North American Birds. Pick your top three favourites. Better still, pick your favourite bird and do your own research. Write your own scientific reference about your favourite bird. Here are some questions to get you started. Is it found around your home? Where would you have to travel to see your favourite bird in the winter?
Chapter 9: Quirky
The Phoebes had stollen Taylor’s heart the moment she heard them, but the clincher was watching the male and female bob their tails up and down and all around, “Like they were stirring up some oatmeal,” her grandmother said. They would sit on the slimmest of branches, saying their name and stirring their tails. Grandma said they were very helpful to us humans, eating up insects that would make us miserable when we did our outside chores. The adults like to hang out in the bird bath, too, drinking and bathing, so they kept the water fresh when the weather got warmer, changing it every couple of days. Grandma also told Taylor the nest would be spotless when the nestlings became fledglings. Their feces, the waste material that comes out of their bottoms, is contained in a clear sac. The parents then take that sac and either drop it somewhere in our garden or eat it. Full of nutrients, Taylor’s grandmother says. “It would be like eating your diaper, Taylor. I would do anything for you, but I would draw the line at eating your diaper,” Lily would say. “So I guess Phoebes are a little bit quirky,” Taylor would say, “But that’s the way I like them.”
Well it is your turn—time to write chapter 10 of the story. Where did the Phoebes decide to nested and what happened in spring 2020? Use what you have learned about Phoebes in this story, researched online or in a reference book, and make sure to include your drawings, too.
Let us know if you would like us to write more chapter books about nature in your neighbourhood by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Stay safe, stay healthy and (if possible) stay home.
Early Years and Young Elementary
Take a walk around your neighbourhood and look for signs of spring. Choose somewhere to stop and listen.
Make 'deer ears' by cupping your hands behind your ears to help you hear better. How many different sounds can you hear? Remove your deer ears and see if you can still hear the same number of sounds.
Did you know that deer have excellent hearing and can even turn their ears to hear sounds behind them? Can you wiggle your ears? Is your neighbourhood quieter than usual (fewer cars, fewer airplanes)? What is your favourite sound?
A SNACK FOR YOU AND THE BIRDS
Make a biodegradable bird feeder by cutting an orange in half and eating the inside of the orange with a spoon. Carve out the remaining bits to create a smooth bowl. Poke three holes in the sides of the half orange around the top. Tie a string through each hole and join the strings above the half orange. Fill with bird seed and hang from a tree that you can see from inside your home.
Don't have oranges? Create a bird feeder by recycling a plastic pop bottle with Ontario EcoSchools.
Source: Ontario EcoSchools
'MY SNAIL' SCAVENGER HUNT
Colour in your snail as you explore your neighbourhood. Can you find a sign of a worm? Something soft? An anthill?
Source: Toronto District School Board, Outdoor Education Schools
WATER AND ME
If you had to choose a favourite thing, what would it be? Did you know that clean water is the most important thing we need?! How do you use water? What is the water cycle? What animals live in the water? Find out through this Water and Me Activity Book!
Source: California Department of Water Resources
When is your birthday? Most wild animals have their birthday in the spring! Some baby animals look very similar to their parents (only cuter), while others are like transformers and go through big changes called metamorphosis. What do you think you will look like when you grow up? Birds, butterflies and frogs all start as eggs. Can you colour, cut out the pictures and place them in order? Ask an adult to help you create a flip book for each animal.
Source: Sheri Amsel, exploringnature.org
Although, none of Ontario's fish fly, there is a fish called the Silver Carp that has come to live in Ontario. This fish eats the food of Ontario's fish, which is bad, but it does have the ability to fly! When boat motors make vibrations, they can jump up to three meters out of the water! Try making some flying fish of your own. What else in nature flies? Can plants fly?
Source: Mini Eco
MUD, STICKS, PUDDLES, & WORMS
Join the Harwood Nature School in wiggling, crouching, measuring, and collecting in nature.
Source: Harwood Nature School - Homeschool Support
PIPE CLEANER POLLINATION
Many plants need help getting powdery pollen on their flowers' sticky stigmas to make seeds.
Sometimes the wind helps, but sometimes it's pollinators. Pollinators are animals (mostly insects like bees and butterflies, but bats and hummingbirds count, too) that accidentally help flowers get pollen on their stigmas.
Pollinators visit plants because of their beautiful flowers, tasty, sweet nectar and pollen hidden inside. As these pollinators travel from flower to flower, pollen hitches on for a ride. The pollen hopes to get stuck to the sticky stigma of one of the next flowers so the plant can make seeds!
Explore how this works by making your own pipe cleaner pollinators!
Materials: Pipe cleaners, disposable cups, scissors, tape, several different powders (e.g., flour, cornstarch, icing sugar, crushed chalk, drink crystals, jello powder, hot chocolate powder, spices)
Make Pollinators: Bend and twist pipe cleaners into the shapes of your favourite pollinators.
Make Flowers: Ask an adult to help you poke a hole in the bottom of your cups (flowers). Stick a pipe cleaner (stigma) through the holes, tape it in place and attach a wad of sticky-side-out tape to the top of it. Sprinkle powder (pollen) in the bottom of each cup (different for each flower).
Pollinate: Fly your pollinators in and out of the flowers, touching the powder.
Did any pollen stick on the stigma's of your flowers?
Pretend to be a pollinator and go on a hunt for real pollen. Look inside a flower and see if you can find the sticky stigma(s) and powdery pollen. Will the pollen stick to your finger?
Source: Learning for a Sustainable Future, Resources for Rethinking, Adapted from "Nature's Partners - Pollination, Plants and You" by Richard Ponzio and Ella Madsen (2007)
NESTS AND EGGS
Explore Week 3 of The Cornell Lab's "Science & Nature Activities for Cooped Up Kids" by building a bird nest, designing an egg, performing an egg dissection and trying out some egg-xperiments!
Check out their other bird related activities. Content available for Grades K-2,
3-5 and 6-8.
Source: The Cornell Lab of Ornithology
IT'S RAINING, IT'S POURING!
On a rainy day, put on your boots and raincoat and take a paper plate and food colouring outside.
Have an adult help you place a few food colouring drops on the plate. As the rain hits the plate, it splashes and moves the colour around to make a beautiful abstract painting. When you decide it’s done, bring it inside and let it dry.
You can cut away at the ridge of the plate and cut out hearts to hang in your window. Poke a hole in the top of the heart and make a mobile or stick them directly on your window with tape. The hearts will surely encourage your neighbours who may be walking by or looking across the street from their home where they are self-isolating.
Find a branch that makes a 'V' in your backyard or on a neighbourhood walk. Tie some string around one side of the V to secure it, and wind it across to the side of the V, back and forth to make a loom. Find some yarn, string, long, dried-out grasses and weave them in and out of the string to create a beautiful piece of art!
Add nature items like leaves, berries, seeds and pieces of bark or seashells you might have brought home from a trip to a beach. Hang it up inside or outside, and add to it as you take future nature walks.
Remember, only take what is on the ground and unattached items. Don’t pick plant leaves and living items to add. You have four seasons to decorate your branch, so be patient.
Middle and Older Elementary
'GET OUTSIDE' FOLDABLE BOOKLET
Learn how to cut and fold a single piece of paper into a pocket-sized booklet and head outside for some time in nature.
Source: Toronto District School Board, Outdoor Education Schools
SHAPES IN THE SHADOWS
Just before bed, set up a lamp to shine on your wall and try your hand at shadow puppetry. How many different animals can you make? Brainstorm some wildlife that lives in your neighbourhood. Can you recreate any of them as shadows on your wall? Invite a sibling or parent to join you and perform a hand-shadow puppet show.
Source: Hand Shadow Puppetry ClipArt Etc.
Go for a night walk with your family, leaving your flashlights and cell phones at home. On a clear night you might glimpse the moon. What phase (shape) is it? Is it full, quarter or crescent? Venus, a planet, is very clear in the western horizon right now; it's one of the brightest things you will see. Can you find the big and little dipper?
When you return home, look at the calendar to see if you guessed the moon phase right. If you go on more night hikes, consider charting the phases of the moon on a calendar with a small sketch to determine if it is waxing (getting larger) or waning (getting smaller). Can you predict when we will have the next full moon?
Sometimes you can see the moon in the daytime. Why is it in different spot from where it was in the evening? Why does the moon have different phases? Do some research on our night skies and share three interesting facts at dinner.
Have you heard the frogs singing yet? Usually the first one to sing is the spring peeper. Male frogs and toads sing in the spring and each species can be identified by their unique song. Green frogs sound like a plucked rubber band, while wood frogs sound like ducks! Frogs, salamanders, newts and toads are all amphibians. Do you know the names of any amphibians that live in Ontario?
Frogs and toads have a metamorphosis life cycle, which means they go through some big changes as they grow from an egg to a tadpole, to a sub-adult to an adult. Use the guide links above to help you with Peter Mills' Amphibians of Ontario Quiz. Name either the life stage or the species.
If you are interested in frog songs, have a listen to the Cable Natural History Museum's animation of eight common frogs and the timelines of when they sing. It's quite the chorus! Also, consider learning more about the Toronto Zoo's FrogWatch Ontario program where you can become a citizen scientist and collect information on frogs in your neighbourhood.
Sources: Peter Mills Ontario's Amphibians at all Stages of Development; Toronto Zoo
Did you know that by April, Great Horned Owls have already finished incubating (sitting) on their eggs and the downy, hungry owlets (baby owls) have hatched? As the migrating birds return, they too will be looking for the perfect spot to build a nest and raise some young.
Some birds like ducklings are ready to go when they hatch. They are covered in tiny feathers called down and can move around on their own. These ready-to-go chicks are also known as precocial.
Other birds hatch helpless and pink, and are completely dependent on their parents for a while. These helpless nestlings are called altricial. Altricial nestlings become fledglings or teenagers when they leave the nest. As teenagers, they have their flight feathers, but may not know how to use them yet. Even though they are out of the nest, their parents continue to feed them until they can take care of themselves.
If you find one of these fledglings, the best thing to do is to leave it alone and keep your cats inside and your dogs on a leash. Its parents know where it is, and will return soon with a delicious meal.
Usually fledgling chicks are more camouflaged than their parents to help keep them hidden while they learn to fly. See if you can match these teenagers with their mothers. Some of their fathers look very different from their mothers. Why?
What else can you learn about baby birds?
If you are interested in nesting birds, consider joining Bird Studies Canada in their Project NestWatch program by collecting information on a nest over time and reporting your observations online and and become a citizen scientist by collecting information on a nest. Scientists will use the information you collect to learn more about birds.
THE EXCITING WORLD OF BIRDS
Check out the bird activities posted on our blog where you can try your hand at a virtual owl pellet dissection, listen to a story about the many purposes of feathers, make some chalk out of egg shells, learn the science behind flight, find out who is the true bird feeder bully and more...
ANISHINAABE: THE FIRST PEOPLE
Learn some Ojibwemowin words by using the Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission's Anishinaabe Colouring and Activity Book. There is a language guide on the last page, but don't peek at the activity answers until you've tried them yourself!
Source: Great Lakes Indian Fish & Wildlife Commission
Did you know that some of the plants and animals you find in nature are actually invaders? They haven't always lived in Ontario. Join the Superhero Invader Raiders in their quest to find and report invasive plants, animals and insects through the Ontario Invasive Plant Council's Activity Book. Then colour in all the native plants on the Canadian Wildlife Federation's "Copy Nature and Support Wildlife" page. Our wildlife need native plants!
Sources: Ontario Invasive Plant Council; Canadian Wildlife Federation
WHICH NEST IS BEST?
If you were a bird, where would you build a nest? Some birds prefer ledges, others platforms, the side of a cliff, or even the ground. Some birds also nest in holes in trees. These are called cavity-nesting birds. To a cavity-nesting bird, a birdhouse is the same as a hole in a tree, so they are quite happy to build a nest in a birdhouse. Can you tell the difference between a good birdhouse and a bad birdhouse? How many differences can you find between these birdhouses? Which one is a good birdhouse and why? Check your answers here.
Check out the Cornell Lab of Ornithology’s “Features of a Good Birdhouse” infographic to learn more about great bird houses. If you’re interested in building your own birdhouse, use their “Right Bird, Right House” interactive to search for designs that would work well in your region and habitat. If you already have a birdhouse and want to learn more, visit their “All About Birdhouses” page.
If you don’t have a birdhouse, colour in all the things that make this backyard a great place for birds. Remember, birds need, food, water, and shelter!
Sources: Cornell Lab of Ornithology; Canadian Wildlife Federation
BIRDS WITH HATS
While many birds are migrating back to your neighbourhood from a warm winter in the south, a few stayed around all winter. One of these tough guys is the black-capped chickadee. So how did they do it? One of the coolest things chickadees do to survive the winter is grow bigger brains! Like squirrels, chickadees store away food in the fall to prepare for winter and their bigger brain helps them remember where all their hiding spots are.
Chickadees have 15 different calls but are named after their “Chickadee-dee-dee” call which is often used to alert other chickadees to danger. How scary are you? The more “dees” they add to the end of their call, the greater the threat.
In the spring the males are often loudly heard singing their “cheese-burger” whistle. (“Cheese” is whistled high and then “burger” is whistled a little lower.) They mostly use this song to advertise their territory and attract a female. Females don’t only care about the song through, they are looking for males who are dressed their best with bright white feathers and shiny ultraviolet dark feathers. Check out the Royal Botanical Gardens’ “Looking for Chickadees” page to learn a few more of their calls and their “Chickadee Food Scavenger Hunt” to see how hospitable your backyard is to chickadees.