This matching egg game is perfect for Easter and into spring and it has multiple levels of learning in it, but they'll never know! Colour identification, fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, patterns, counting and matching are all at work here. Bonus: Makes an awesome quiet time activity!
No matter where you live in Halifax, you're never far away from trees and wildlife. Behind our house is a greenbelt filled with trees, and not far away is a park so we are blessed to live in an area abundant with wildlife. The morning after the first big snowfall this year we saw deer tracks going around our house and into our backyard which made us think of our Itsy Bitsy Book Club book,The Snow Knows, with the high stepping deer, however this activity can be done with, or without, snow, any time of year.
To start, have the children do some research about what animals in your region eat. You can get some nonfiction books about this or just surf the web for ideas. We made pine cone feeders this week, and in the past we've also made no-bake treats and a pretty frozen wreath bird feeder.
You will need pine cones (most craft stores sell these), string or yarn, peanut butter or lard, craft sticks and some coating for the feeders, such as birdseed, nuts and fruit. Put some peanut butter and craft sticks in one bowl, and then mix up some chopped fruit, nuts and seeds for another. Tie a string to the stem of the pine cone before you get started.
Use the craft sticks to smear the peanut butter or lard all over the pine cones, pushing it into all the nooks and crannies. The more on it, the more coating will stick to it. Both Miss M (5yo) and Mr M (3yo) were able to do this independently; the hardest part was making sure they didn't lick the treats from their fingers or the pine cone!
Once it is coated to the children's satisfaction, roll it all around in the other mixture, using a craft stick to wedge the bits inside.
We put ours in the fridge to firm it up a bit, but it's not necessary. When you're ready to go, place the pine cones in a bucket or bag so they won't get jostled or damaged too much during the walk.
During our walk we were excited to spot some more deer tracks and followed them to find beds they had made in the snow!
Find a tree and help the children hang the feeders to it. Place them at varying heights so the birds can enjoy them up high away from their predators.
Any extra coating and fruit can be scattered around the bottom of the tree.
A fun follow-up activity is to go back a day or two later to see if the animals have found the treats yet. When we went back everything was gone but the stem and the string: I'd say they were a hit!
Each year we like to leave some treats out for the birds and others critters that live in the woods around our house. We see lots of varieties of birds as well as pheasants, foxes, squirrels, raccoons, rabbits, and the occasional deer or two. This year we decided to make an ice wreath as it was something the little ones could get involved with creating.
It feels like we’ve been stuck in an endless winter here in Nova Scotia. We’ve been getting hit with snowstorm after snowstorm and, as a result, many of us have crawled into our little house cocoons and are just crossing days off the calendar until spring.
Outside our living room window we keep a couple bird feeders and both children (Miss M - age 3.5 - and Mr. M - age 17 months) love watching the birds flit from feeder to feeder having their breakfast. I’m terrible at identifying birds but Miss M has learned much from her grandparents and is becoming quite the little ornithologist. We have a bird information station by the front window that includes a bird identification book and homemade flashcards. We also like to get non-fiction children’s books about birds from the library from time to time to add to the selection as well. All of these items inspire word recognition and a chance to read together to learn about our feathered friends.
The flashcards were made by my mother and were very simple to make. She took photos of each bird (or you could print them from the internet) and glued them to a piece of card stock. Then she wrote the name of the bird on the back. Done! (Is it any surprise that she is a former teacher and librarian?)
Last week, after yet another storm Miss M commented that the birdseed was running low in our feeder and we considered how the birds were faring with this snowy weather while foraging for food. Our suet holder had been long emptied and we certainly weren’t going to venture out into the storm to get more suet. After some googling I found most recipes required using a stove to melt lard or suet and I wanted something toddler friendly. I finally concocted my own recipe using things we had in the house and we decided to try our hand at making a simple and quick treat for the birds (if you have older children you can essentially do the same but melt the lard first and then mix it all up and set it to harden - this will make it much more durable than these ones).
Homemade Bird Treats
(makes 3-4 large suet cakes)
1 cup of birdseed (any kind)
½-1 cup lard
Add-ins (blueberries, corn, cranberries, apple, grapes, etc.) – cut up small if they’re larger pieces
Large cookie cutters (or an upside down wide mouthed glass)
Straws and scissors
We poured the birdseed in the bowl first and then added a few scoops of lard and started mixing. It was a bit hard to get everything stuck together at first but as we worked it started forming into a large lump. In hindsight using our hands would have probably worked better. If you have kids who like to get messy this would be great fun – just make sure they don’t eat it!
We kept adding more lard until we had all the birdseed and lard stuck together. Then we folded in our add-ins (we used frozen blueberries) and mixed it all up.
We laid one piece of wax paper on the counter and one on a cookie tray. We got out the cookie cutters (we used a pumpkin shape to make a round one and a gingerbread man shape). I smushed the mixture onto the wax paper on the counter to about half inch thick and the children cut out shapes. I used a spatula to slip under the shapes to scoop them up and lay them on the cookie tray. We then squished any extra suet back together and pressed it out again (just like you would with cut-out cookies) and made shapes until it was all gone.
We cut the straws into inch long pieces and pushed them through the suet cakes so that there would be a hole for the ribbon when they were ready. Then we popped them in the fridge and left them for about a day to firm up/dry out a bit (if you have a bigger freezer than I, that would significantly freeze up the firming process).
Once they were firm we took them out of the fridge and removed the straws. Then we laced the ribbon* through the holes and tied it in a knot.
We hung the round treat in a tree and put the gingerbread man one in our suet holder, as he was not as stable as the round ones. If they don't firm up enough or it's warmer weather you will need to put these in suet holders/cages as they soften up outside. As we were in a deep freeze they stayed hanging on the tree for about a week until the treat fell off the ribbon (as the birds had been eating around it). After that they happily perched on the snow and ate it from the ground.
The next morning the birds showed up and were thrilled with the new item on the Birdie Breakfast Buffet! As they dined Miss M looked through her cards to find the matching bird on it and then we flipped it over so she could see what the word looked like. If you look close at the photos below you can see we had a Chickadee and a Woodpecker join us this morning!
An everyday task like filling up the bird feeder ended up becoming a great opportunity to not only help out our friends in natures, but to work on letter and word recognition at the same time. My kind of storm activity!
*In the springtime have the children take special note of the ribbon you use as once the treat is all gone, the leftover ribbon could very well end up woven into a nest nearby!
Have you ever taken a daily task or chore and turned it into a reading opportunity? I'd love to hear how in the comments below!