Wildlife Gardening for Kids
During the School Holidays, what better way to entertain the children than getting them outside and into the garden. Gardening encourages children to understand and interact with nature, and wildlife-friendly gardening teaches them all about the life cycles happening in their own back yards and how they can impact this. It’s an incredibly satisfactory and often quite awe-inspiring hobby for them to get into, as they can often see the rewards of their hard work and care quite quickly. Plus, they love getting muddy and wet at the same time!
Here are our top ideas for wildlife-friendly gardening activities for kids, or take a look at our Minibugs Bobby's Bug Box to keep them entertained all season.
Build a log pile
Children love mess! And building a log pile is a free, fun activity which they can do with minimum supervision – just watch them with the heavier logs! You don’t need to build a huge bonfire-sized pile, unless you want to. A few twigs and sticks will offer some shady respite or a comfortable snug space for bugs and beetles.
If you can, it’s best to start by digging a couple of shallow holes in the ground in which to place the bottom logs of the pile. This gives more stability to the pile, but it also aids with decomposition of the logs. Something which the beetles and bugs love to munch on, thereby attracting even more residents.
The added bonus of building your log pile, is that the creatures which live in it become a tasty morsel for hedgehogs, frogs and birds. So, you are helping to encourage other wildlife into your garden at the same time. You could even be lucky enough to see stag beetles emerging!
Learn about solitary bees
The world of solitary bees is a fascinating one. If you don’t know anything about them, solitary bees make up 250 of the bee species in Britain. Compared to the 24 species of bumblebee and just one species of honeybee. This means you are highly likely to be able to spot them in your garden. Their solitary name means that they do not live in hives as sociable groups. This also means, because they have no hive to defend, they are very non-aggressive and don’t sting. So, they’re safe around children. Instead, they build individual nests of single egg larvae in long tubes separated by circles of leaf or little patches of mud.
You might notice them burrowing into the ground, or into small holes in the mortar between your house bricks or an old tree stump. You can attempt to identify them with our BugLife Field Guide. Or if you are more of a Bumblebee fan this new App from the Bumblebee Conservation Trust is fantastic. You can also provide an additional home for solitary bees in which to nest. Our Interactive Solitary Bee House even allows you to see inside the secret world of their nesting habitat. Lifting the lid reveals a Perspex layer over the top of their tubes.
Find out about our educational Interactive Solitary Bee Hive from our Ambassador, Simon King here:
Do some wildlife ID
We all love discovering what’s visiting our garden, but we often struggle to identify it. If we do know what we’re looking at, then our data can be used for one of the many citizen science projects which are often run by conservation charities across the country. This is a great way for children to learn but also contribute to wildlife conservation. During July, The Butterfly Conservations run the Big Butterfly Count and you can download their app to identify and then record butterflies in your garden. But year round, you want to check out iNaturalist. A joint citizen science initiative between the California Academy of Sciences and the National Geographic Society. So far they have collated almost 75 million observations covering 342,000 species, all with the help of amateur recorders like us.
Plant wildflower seeds
This takes a little longer to – quite literally – reap what you sow, but it’s an easy task for children to do and gives them something to nurture for a few months before the wildflowers begin to emerge. You can choose wildflower seeds dependent on what you would most like to encourage into your garden. There are specific seeds for birds, bats, and bees. It’s best to sow wildflower seeds in the spring or autumn. Firstly, prepare the ground by raking it over and removing large stones and weeds. Then sprinkle the seeds and cover with a fine dusting of soil. Don’t use any fertiliser or compost, wildflowers prefer low quality soil. However, they’re best grown in an open, sunny position, away from shade and will need to be regularly watered – although this gives the children another regular job to do!
Stay up late to watch hedgehogs in the garden
Sorry for suggesting this one! But watching a hedgehog snuffling around your garden is quite a magical experience for children and adults alike! It’s incredibly exciting and you can often feel a bit like an outsider in your own garden – discovering what happens after hours when you should be tucked up in bed! To do this, you need to be sure that hedgehogs are visiting your garden. You can work this out by looking out for signs of their poo, or noticing whether any tracks have appeared in your lawn. If you’re struggling to attract hedgehogs, then (after checking with your neighbours!) you can make a hedgehog highway by cutting small holes in your fences and gates to give them access, and leaving out hedgehog food in a hedgehog house that’s safe from neighbouring cats. If you are lucky enough to have prickly visitors, then grab yourself a chair and some hot chocolate and if you sit quietly enough you should hear their snuffles and see them bumbling about your garden in the late evening just after sunset.
Rise and shine for the dawn chorus
Another apology from us for suggesting an early morning after a late night! But listening to the dawn chorus can be one of the most relaxing ways to start your day and introduce your children to the sound of bird song. The RSPB has a fantastic online resource for learning to identify bird song. So you can spend the days leading up to your early morning wake up, trying to hear the differences between each of the typical garden visitor calls and attempting to remember each one. You could even make a checklist and tick them off in the morning as you identify them.
Make a small wildlife pond
If there is one thing you can do in your garden to attract wildlife, it’s to build a pond. A small body of water will very quickly attract life and pond dipping is a great activity for kids to take part in. You don’t need to build a big lined pond. It can be as small as a washing up bowl or old sink dug into the ground. What’s important is that wildlife can both get in, and out of the pond. So always add some stones, rocks or big logs to enable smaller wildlife like pollinators to take a drink. You can follow this guide from The Wildlife Trusts and start building with just a few tools. Remember to add some plants. You could even add one of our Frogilos to offer some shelter and shade for any frogs which decide to visit! We must add, please do be cautious with small children and garden ponds. You can build a low fence around the pond with large enough gaps between the steaks to allow wildlife in and out, and to keep younger children safe.
Learn about bats
Summer is the perfect time for bat watching! This is when they are most active, as they have come out of hibernation to hunt for insects and raise their young. You’re best off waiting for a warm summer’s evening around dusk and bringing or borrowing a bat detector to hear the high frequency clicks they make. If you don’t get bats around your garden, you can either encourage them in by trying to grow the sort of plants and wildflowers which attract moths and other insects for them to forage on, or The Wildlife Trusts lists some great places you can visit.
Feed the birds
This is one of the quickest and simplest ways to see wildlife visiting your garden. And it’s a great way to teach children about caring for birds and beginning to identify them. If you struggle to attract birds to your garden, then look at introducing some water, shelter in the form of trees, bushes, hedges or plants and a couple of feeders. You can make your own feeders and the CBeebies website has loads of ideas which are appealing to children. Or you can buy lots of different styles of feeder from our website.
But it’s not just about sticking up a feeder. Feeding the garden birds gives children a regular daily tasks to keep them entertained and give them a sense of responsibility for the visiting birds. Each feeder will need to be filled every morning, maybe even twice a day during busy periods. They will also need any droppings to be removed from them and any clumps of uneaten bird seed removed from the floor. Then we recommend properly cleaning your feeders with hot soapy water (use an eco-friendly washing up liquid if possible) once a week, before thoroughly drying them and refilling them. Onithologist, Dan Rouse’s new book How to Attract Birds to Your Garden teaches children loads about this and gives tonnes of ideas for children and adults alike.
Start a compost heap
Let’s be honest, children love dirt! And this gives them a daily job to keep on top of and helps you out in the kitchen. A compost heap is not only good for getting rid of your kitchen scraps, it also provides a home and food pile for wildlife, including hedgehogs, slow worms, beetles, birds and pollinators. And a few months later, provides rich compost to use on your garden. You can build or buy a container for your compost (ensure there is no bottom to it, so that what you throw in will be touching the ground beneath). Choose a sheltered spot for it, and pop a few logs or twigs in first to aerate the compost. Compost heaps need a mixture of grass cuttings, weeds, prunnings, kitchen scraps, dead leaves and shredded newspaper. And they need to be aerated once a week or so by turning and mixing up the contents. Be careful when sticking a fork into a compost heap though, you don’t know what might be living there, especially near the bottom where hedgehogs could be sheltering.
Make nettle soup
This one always elicits some nervous laughter from children. Especially as most kids remember a time they fell in the nettles! It’s best to wear gloves for picking nettles and ideally you want to choose them early in the season, around May time before they flower, or later in the season. Pick the young leaves from the tops and once the nettles have wilted, they can no longer sting you, so you and your children will be fine to cook with them. They do need to be cooked though, you shouldn’t eat them raw. Search for nettle soup recipes online or even nettle and potato fritters, nettle risotto or nettle pesto for pasta.
Whenever foraging for food, it’s best to instil the idea in your children to only take what you need. Nettles are a vital food source for caterpillars - which we need if we want lots of butterflies visiting our gardens. You can even buy seeds and nettle plants to grow in your own garden if you would like to.
Your children may be too young to go for a run, but plogging is a new trend for joggers and runners to spend time picking up litter as they explore the countryside in trainers. The idea of plogging started in Sweden and the word is a combination of jogging and ‘plocka upp’ or Swedish for ‘to pick up’. So why not instil this new craze in your children? If you’re going out for a family walk, or even a short run together, take along a plastic bag and either some gloves or a little picker. Set your children a challenge to pick up at least ten items of rubbish and dispose of it responsibly on your way back home. It teaches children about the impact that discarded crisp packets, fizzy drinks bottles and take away food wrappers has on our local wildlife. In fact, the RSPCA says it receives around 14 calls a day about animals affected by litter, usually wild birds.
Design a miniature garden
If you would rather keep the gardening to yourself, what about challenging your children to design a miniature garden instead? It can often help to spark ideas for your own garden too. They could research the elements of a wildlife-friendly garden first, trying to include a water source, log pile, wildflowers, lawn, mud pile, trees and bushes. Encourage them to design it first, by drawing their ideas onto a piece of A4 paper. Then you’ll need to provide them with an old baking tray or plastic drawer. Something in which to build the garden. Fill it with soil and start creating. They can use small stones for a pond, mini twigs for the log pile, moss and tiny sticks to make trees and bushes. It’s a lovely creative task to get them and you thinking about the bigger picture of wildlife friendly gardening and how each element can work together even in a small space.
Bark and leaf rubbings
A lovely hands-on way for your children to start exploring your garden or local green spaces, especially towards the end of the summer as the leaves start to fall. All you need is some white paper and crayons or coloured pencils. Hold the paper against the tree, or on top of the leaf (bring a clipboard if you want) and rub! You can then record the name of the tree and begin a scrapbook of observations.
Wildlife Gardening for Adults!
If you've been inspired by what your kids have been up to and would like to do some wildlife gardening of your own, have a watch of our video with Fiona, our local wildlife gardener. She has lots of general tips and advice for attracting more wildlife into your garden via the methods and ethos you have.