Coming up with ways to keep the kids engaged, entertained and interested in learning at home can be overwhelming. Luckily, nature provides plenty of opportunities to educate your kids without them even realising. Here are some projects where nature has done the hard work and you can sit back while the kids explore:
Adopt some Spiny Leaf Insects
Officially known as Extatosoma tiaratum or Macleay's Spectre, these little critters are cheap, low maintenance and super interesting. You can buy eggs or small nymphs then watch as they shed (and eat) their exoskeletons. Because they're so easy to handle, you can look at the anatomy of them up close and check out their passive (hanging like a leaf) and active (swaying if there is a breeze) camouflage. They'll eventually reproduce too which is where things get interesting: if you have a pair, things will go as you'd expect but if you only have a female, she'll still lay her eggs with every baby being a clone of herself! So these little creatures can lead to discussions on life-cycles, reproduction, camouflage, the environment and even cloning.
To keep them, you need a terrarium or tank with a mesh lid and access to fresh eucalyptus leaves. If you're based in Canberra, you can order insects here.
There are thirteen frog species which have been identified in Canberra and these little amphibious friends are the perfect way to learn about metamorphosis. It's illegal in the ACT to take them home but the good news is there are plenty of places in Canberra where you can get out into the fresh air and find some to watch, take pictures of or draw. Being mindful of distancing rules, if there's a pond, creek or catchment near your daily exercise path, you could do a daily or weekly 'field trip' and watch as they move through the various stages of development. For more information, check out Frogwatch.
This has to be the best home science project because, like magic, you get to turn scraps into food! You can try sprouting garlic, onions, carrots, green onions, celery, lettuce and many more! All you need is the vegetable scrap and some water (or a pot of soil). While most of these don't re-grow the entire vegetable, you can use the sprouted greens to create some delicious dishes. Use this kitchen science experiment to discuss waste, reuse, propagation and cooking. For instructions, click here.
These plants are the rock stars of the indoor plant world. With their wild looks, vivid colours and penchant for gobbling up anything that comes along, they're a fantastic learning tool too. The other positive is that they are fairly easy to keep. They need to be wet at all times so you can't over water them and they just need a sunny space in a window. Depending on which type you choose, they'll snap their prey in traps, get them stuck or lure them into pitchers. The plants have adapted to catch prey because their natural soils are nutrient-poor so they create the opportunity to talk about soils, habitats, adaptations and evolution. There is a huge range at the Heritage Nursery in Yarralumla.
There's something about getting outside that is almost universally loved by kids so these projects are a great way to give yourself a break and let them learn with the help of mother nature.