Turning off the TV: Fun nature activities for city kids

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The great thing about kids is that they believe anything you tell them. Although my 3-year-old is in constant terror of the Abominable Snow Man (and yes, we do live in Southern California where something like the chupacabra should be a more serious threat), I have been able to convince her that the army of ants that marches through our yard is there to protect her from this escaped Arctic rogue now terrorizing the urban neighborhoods of Los Angeles.

Now, rather than being oblivious to the tiny alien world ants exist in, we spend hours laying together in the grass inventing stories for their busy lives and their relationships with the other creatures they interact with.

While the whole Abominable situation has been somewhat of a pain – like the other night when she crawled, fully clothed, into the shower with me because she heard him scratching at her window – it has opened up a whole new world of wonder that most people take little notice of unless it involves some kind of poison. My daughter’s life is richer. She asks questions about why bugs do what they do. We’ve now raised earthworms we released into the wild (our vegetable garden) and butterflies from caterpillars.

As a mother who would like to pass on a wonder of nature to her children, living in an urban jungle does pose its challenges. But with a little creativity and a lot of excitement, kids can be swept up in the mysteries of the natural world in any corner of the city.

Nature's drama in our urban lives: How to turn your outdoor space into a wildlife haven


1. Creepy, crawly creatures are cool

OK, maybe not as cool as tracking endangered jaguars through the jungles of the Amazon, but the goal here is to raise little people equipped with an intrinsic curiosity and love of all Life – the kind of people who actually do the hard work to preserve diversity on this planet.

The Nature Pavilion sells all kinds of kits to get you and your kids started on broadening their perception of insects beyond the splashed black dots that litter your windshield after a road trip.

You can choose from raising butterflies, tadpoles, earthworms, praying mantis or ants. Don’t forget to read up yourself or get a book to read with your kids about the role each of these species plays in the environment. Your family gets to plan its own release program when the creatures are old enough to fend for themselves in the wild.


2. Birds aren’t just for the birds

We’ve looked down. Now let’s look up! A simple Google search for “bird watching for kids” will turn up thousands of great sites. A Home for Wild Birds is one of the great sites that offers ideas on building bird feeders and houses out of simple household items.

Kids will love gearing up for a bird watching adventure by picking out binoculars, a field guide, a camera and even drawing the birds they see. Local and national bird counts are also a great way to trick kids into learning while they are having a blast. The Great Backyard Bird Count allows kids to count birds and identify their species when they enter their results at the Web site.

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Birds are one of the best animals to get your kids addicted to science and nature. They are descendents of the dinosaurs and are among the most intelligent creatures we share the planet with. Crows are a personal favorite as we now know they make and use intricate tools more prolifically than any other species besides humans. And they love to snowboard!

Turning your kids on to the world of birds and bugs is something that can be enjoyed and fostered almost anywhere. Despite all our best efforts, these two groups of fellow earthlings persist in their daily efforts to carve out a place for themselves to do the same thing we’re doing: live their lives.

We can fight them, or we can embrace them and enrich our children’s lives to actually see the world for what it is – a thriving melting pot of life.

Kids are naturally curious and will be excited about whatever you get excited about. Releasing earth worms is as exciting as you make it. Science is cool. And, it’s a lot cheaper than a trip to Disneyland.

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