By Bev Bryant, Wehr Interpretative Naturalist
Spring! Even the word is full of energy. I have to admit that spring has always been my favorite time of year. Something about the bright color of fresh green, the abundance of wildflowers and the sweet sounds of birds and frogs calling makes Spring THE TIME to fall in love with nature.
One of the most glorious things about spring (although underappreciated by adults) is the amazing amount of MUD! Mud from snow melting, mud from spring rains, mud in puddles, mud in the garden! There is simply no excuse for any child to stay clean with such an abundance of fresh dirt! So here are a few simple ideas for encouraging your child to enjoy spring in your own yard or during a visit to Wehr Nature Center. Remember- if their hands aren’t dirty, they haven’t been having enough FUN!
Make a Mud Pie- Do you remember making concoctions from stuff you found in the yard? The back porch is the kitchen and all of nature the grocery store with some mud and imagination. You’ll need some basic tools: a trowel, old pie tins, bowls and pans that will stay outside, a source of water (buckets or water cans work well), a source of dirt (clay is great), and an area to collect natural materials. I always leave the dead plant material in my gardens to overwinter, so there is plenty of old flower heads, stalks and twigs in spring. Later in spring there are catkins, flower petals, and grass to add. Wood chips and pebbles round out the list of basic backyard cookery ingredients. If your yard doesn’t have these things, it is time to rethink your landscaping. Sandboxes can hold sand and rocks, a rain barrel provides an easy source of water for little hands, and planting native flowers, shrubs and trees will attract wildlife and backyard cooks. You can purchase ready to plant native flowers and grasses this spring through the Friends of Wehr Annual Native Plant Sale. Pre-order potted wildflowers and more and pick them up curbside on June 6 & 7. Find the pre-order form here. Looking for more inspiration? The classic book Mud Pies and Other Recipes: A Cookbook for Dolls by Marjorie Winslow is full of ideas for a backyard restaurant. With creations like “Dandelion Souffle” and “Rock Roast” it is a must read for little cooks and their grow-ups.
Visit our YouTube channel to watch a series of videos about the how-tos and joy of making mud pies!
Plant a Garden: Want your children to develop a true relationship to the earth? Then plant a garden! A garden they can eat from is best, but flowers are great as well. It doesn’t have to be big- even a pot on the porch of your apartment is a start. Let your child help pick out the plant or seeds, help dig up the garden or fill the planter, and push the seeds into the ground. Give them the job of watering their garden and encourage them to visit the new plants often to see how they grow. They will be thrilled to harvest the veggies and celebrate the blossoms of their green charges.
Interested in planting a garden but don’t know where to start? Wehr is offering Virtual Planning Your Pollinator Garden Series April 15, 22, and 29 from 7-8 pm via Zoom. For more info and to register. Pollinator gardens are an excellent addition to your yard and will provide you and your children hours of natural entertainment as you observe butterflies, bumble bees, beetles, and other pollinators. (And the flowers that pollinators love also are great materials for mud pies!)
Take Time to Smell the Wildflowers Take a family wildflower walk to discover the native wildflowers that abound in woods, wetlands and fields. You can create a game by seeing who can find the most colors, the biggest flower, the smallest flower or the flower with the most petals. Have your child take a close look at each flower and ask them to give it a name. If your children are older, take along a field guide and work together to identify the flowers that interest you. The key is to FOCUS on the details you see in the flower. Take along a hand lens if you have one or download one of the many magnifier apps to your mobile phone. A magnifier opens up a whole new world and really allows a child to observe. Take along a notebook and try sketching the flowers you see. You could even turn your walk into opportunity to teach photography by letting your children use your phone or camera to take pictures of what you find. During our building closure we will post a weekly list of what is blooming at Wehr on our Blog page, but when we reopen make sure to stop in the Visitor Center and check out our “What’s In Bloom” display for help in identifying the flowers you see. Always remind your little ones that the flowers need to stay outside for the pollinators and other animals to enjoy, so please don’t pick them.
Celebrate Dandelions- No plant inspires so much affection in children and so much angst in adults as the dandelion. Dandelions are technically not native wildflowers since they were introduced here from Europe. However, they are not invasive in our natural areas and really do no harm in our lawns. I treasure them in my yard in early Spring since they offer pollinators an early food source. It is mostly our attitudes that have turned them into pests. So please try to see the dandelion as your child does– a pretty, sturdy flower that is fun to play with. Make dandelion chains and crowns; see how far you can “pop” them with your thumb, pound the flowers onto pavement or fabric with a rock and create a yellow impression. Blow them, kick them, make wishes on the seeds and even snack on the fresh leaves! But don’t play with them if you spray them or use Weed n Feed on your yard; poison is poison and it is not healthy for children, pollinators, or flowers.
Go Frog Hunting- Nothing says spring as sweetly as the sounds of frogs singing. Make a point to visit Wehr or another natural area at night in April and May and listen for the peeping, creeking and croaking of frogs. Kids will be thrilled to be out after dark and will remember the experience all their lives! Join us a Virtual Frog Frolic on April 18 to learn where to look and what to listen for. Visit the Wisconsin DNR’s website http://wiatri.net/inventory/frogtoadsurvey/WIfrogs/ to learn more about our local frogs and the sounds they make.