Category: Backyard & Outdoors

Fun science activities you can do outside in your backyard, or in the great outdoors.

Fun game to learn how to find north using your senses, the sun, and a compass!

Finding North - Hiking Science Game for kids

We love hiking in our family (or bush-walking as we tend to call it here in Australia). It’s such a fun way to combine our love of nature, exercise and family-time!

Recently Bumble Bee gave Jewel a compass for her 9th birthday, so we decided to bring it along on our next hike to try it out – and we invented a game called Finding North.

 

Suitable for

This is a fun outdoor activity for younger or middle primary / elementary school aged kids. Jewel was 9 and Bumble Bee was 6.5 years old here.

Read More Finding North: a fun hiking game for kids

How (and why) spiny leaf phasmid insects make fun, easy and educational pets for young kids. They’re a great way to encourage an interest in entomology and a love of nature.

Phasmid Camouflage Insects - why they make great pets and how to care for them

We’ve had pet spiny leaf phasmids (a type of camouflage or stick insect) for about 4 years now. They make awesome pets! Let me share with you why I think they’re awesome pets for kids, and how to look after them easily (and cheaply).

Suitable for

Spiny leaf insects are a great pet option for kids of all ages.

Babies and toddlers can safely watch them inside the enclosure, which can be brought down to their level, and then put back out of reach again. Once they are able to be gentle, they can stroke them or let them walk on their clothing or arm. (My youngest daughter was about 1.5 years old when we first brought phasmids home. She loved them then, and still does now!)

Phasmids are also great for preschoolers. I’ve brought phasmids in to visit preschool on several occasions. The kids can study them through the enclosure, and those brave enough can take turns handling them (with close supervision).

Phasmids make great pets for older kids too – who might take on more of the responsibility of caring for them. My eldest daughter is 7 years old now, and she still loves showing off her pet insects to her friends (although she hasn’t quite taken on the responsibility part yet!)

Toddler holding a spiny leaf phasmid

Having phasmids as pets is a great way to expose kids to biology (the study of living organisms) and entomology (the study of insects) in a caring and nurturing way. They’re safe for little kids to touch, as they don’t bite or sting. Plus, did I mention they’re easy to look after?

But first, in case you’re wondering what on earth phasmids are?

Phasmids are insects that eat leaves, and resemble leaves or sticks for camouflage. There are about 3000 species of phasmid worldwide. Many are referred to as stick insects, stick-bugs or walking sticks. The ones we have are spiny leaf phasmids (also known as Macleay’s Spectre).

Male spiny leaf phasmid nymph

I can show you how to set up a DIY portable phasmid enclosure, for just a few dollars! But before we get into how to look after them, let me tell you a little bit about them – they’re really cool!

adult male spiny leaf phasmid

The {Fascinating} Life Cycle of a Spiny Leaf Phasmid

Spiny leaf phasmids go though an incomplete metamorphosis – that is they have only three stages of their life cycle: egg, nymph and adult. But there’s two really cool things about spiny leaf phasmids: the relationship they have with the ants, and how they can clone themselves! Let me explain….

Egg:

Adult females lay a single egg, about once a day or so. These eggs have a sweet knob on one end. In the ‘wild’, eggs fall to the ground, where they are picked up by ants, and carried back to their nest. The ants eat the sweet knob (yum!), and leave the rest of the egg in their nest, thus offering the egg protection from predators who might be leery of an ant bite. Ant nests are also sandy, which provides the eggs with the dry environment they need to hatch. Baby nymphs look, and act, very similar to red-headed black ants (but with curlier tails) which is their first form of camouflage.

This relationship with ants is called a “symbiotic relationship”. Both species benefit – the ants gets a free meal, and the phasmids gain protection, an appropriate egg-hatching environment, and initial camouflage.

Four year old holding a spiny leaf phasmid insect egg

Nymph:

Nymph spiny leaf phasmids leave the ants nest and quickly climb a tree, where they’ll spend the rest of their lives. They eat leaves, and drink rain drops or dew. They first molt (shed their outer skin or exoskeleton) when they are a just few days old, and change from looking like an ant, to looking like a dried up old leaf. If scared, they sway, to look like a leaf blowing in the breeze. They continue to grow and molt until they reach adult size.

Baby nymph spiny leaf phasmid insect

Female spiny leaf phasmid nymph

Molted exoskeletons of male and female spiny leaf phasmid insects

Adult:

Spiny leaf insects change in appearance quite significantly with their last molt. The adult males are dark grey/brown colour, with thin straight bodies and long wings. They can fly short distances. The females are much larger, with thick clay coloured bodies with spiky lumps along their backs, a curled tail and very small wings, which are ineffective, as the females can’t fly. But here’s another cool bit. Adult females lay about an egg a day, but they don’t need a male to fertilise them necessarily, because they’re able to clone themselves, in a process called parthenogenesis. (So cool!) With spiny leaf phasmids, only female offspring can be produced through parthenogenesis. (Fertilised eggs on the other hand, can produce either male or female offspring).

Adult spiny leaf insect (phasmid)

Adult female spiny leaf phasmid insect

But what makes spiny leaf phasmids such great pets?

I’m glad you asked!

One reason they’re great as pets is because they’re safe for little kids to handle. They don’t bite or sting. Their whole defence mechanism is camouflage – so if they get scared, they just sway trying to look like a leaf in the breeze.

Why spiny leaf phasmids make great insect pets, and how to make an easy DIY enclosure

The only tricky thing is that they are rather fragile. You have to teach kids not to use their fingers to pick phasmids up (lest they squish them or tear off a leg), but rather to let the phasmid walk on themselves.

A preschool girl and her pet spiny leaf phasmid insect (adult male)

Phasmids instinctively want to move forwards and upwards, so if you just put your hand (or any other object) slightly above and in front of them, they’ll generally step up of their own accord. And they are very good at hanging on, actually preferring to be vertical or upside down.

Some kids don’t like the feeling of phasmids walking on their skin – it can feel like a tickle (for younger nymphs and males) or feel a bit prickly (for the adult females). Many kids might prefer to just look, tough gently with their finger, or let the phasmids walk on their clothes instead of directly on their skin. If a leg does get torn off (eep!), phasmids can actually regrow their lost limbs (which is kinda cool in an unfortunate way.)

Spiny leaf phasmids make great pets for toddlers

Another reason spiny leaf insects make great pets is that they don’t need much day-to-day care. Once you have your enclosure set up, it takes about 20 minutes, 2-3 times a week to replace their leaves and clean out their enclosure, plus a few seconds a day to give them a quick water spray to drink.

A third reason, is that looking after phasmids encourages kids to love nature! These insects are a great gateway to learning about habitats, life cycles, metamorphosis, the food chain, parthenogenesis, insect body structure, camouflage, and much more!

Spiny leaf phasmids make great insect pets for kids

A fourth reason, is that its really easy to make a light-weight and portable enclosure. Our enclosure is light enough that my 4 year old can hold it on her lap in the car. This means you can take your phasmids with you to visit preschool! It also means you can take your phasmids to a friend’s house for them to pet-sit while you’re on holidays (or you could even take your phasmids on vacation with you.)

How to set up an easy, portable (and affordable) phasmid insect enclosure

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We’ve tried out several different phasmid insect enclosure designs over the past few years, and below is the type we’ve found to be the most effective. This design lets you keep the phasmids indoors, gives easy access to replace the leaves, allows lots of air flow, and is light-weight and portable.

New DIY insect enclosure

You’ll need:

  • A mesh waste paper bin / wastebasket (like this black one – or if you’d prefer fashionable pets, you might prefer to buy one in pink, silver, red, or white!)
  • Basic insect screen mesh (similar to this) and a large rubber band (like these)
  • an upcycled jam jar with a narrow opening (or make a narrow opening by hammering a hole in the centre of the lid)
  • sticky tack (like this)
  • basic water spray bottle (like this)
  • secateurs or pruning shears (like these) and a nearby eucalyptus tree with healthy low-hanging leaves
  • A plastic container partially filled with river sand (or vermiculite), with air holes punched into the lid (optional – only needed if you have adult females and wish to collect eggs)

You’ll probably have many of these items at home already. The only things we had to buy were the a wastebasket and a piece of fly screen mesh, which we picked up from our local hardware store for under $10. Not a bad price for a new pet enclosure, don’t you think?

Before we set our enclosure up, I first hammered a hole in the jar lid (making sure not to leave any sharp edges), so that we’d have a hole large enough to put branches in easily, but not too large that the nymphs might drown. If you want to skip this step, try to find a jar that has a narrow opening at the top.

To make your enclosure:

Fill the jar with water, screw on the lid (if using), and tack the jar to the bottom of the wastebasket. Add fresh branches of leaves.

New phasmid enclosure set up

Cut a large circle of insect screen mesh and secure to the top of the wastebasket with a large elastic band.

Double check that there is enough vertical space in your enclosure for your phasmids to hang freely from a branch while they molt. And then add your insects! The mesh makes it easy for them to climb all over the enclosure, and it enables lots of fresh air.

You’ll need to spray your enclosure with water several times a day. I set my spray bottle to mist setting, and spray straight through the mesh. The phasmids drink the tiny droplet as if they were dew. (Please make sure you use a new or clean water spray bottle – that is, not one that might have had any previous cleaning products inside, or you might poison them!)

Also, speaking of poisoning, remember to not use insect spray anywhere near your enclosure!

Change the leaves every 3 days or so (although you can leave it longer at a pinch), and replenish water in the jar to keep the leaves fresh.

Regularly clean up the phasmid poo (which look like little brown pellets). If you have adult females, you can also collect eggs.  Store the eggs in a plastic container with river sand (or vermiculite, as we use). Add holes to the lid of your container to allow air flow. In spring, leave the container on a windowsill in the sunshine, and spray gently with water every few days, and you might get some nymphs hatching next spring! (Be patient though – some eggs can take up to 2 years to hatch…)

Sorting through phasmid poo for eggs

Spiny leaf phasmid eggs amongst poo pellets (scat)

Phasmid eggs in vermiculite

Female spiny leaf phasmid insect

Face of an adult female spiny leaf phasmid insect

For more information:

  • The two articles Care of Stick Insects and Leaf and Stick Insects: Order Phasmatodea by The Australian Museum are a great information source for keeping phasmids in a home or classroom environment.
  • ABC’s Creature Features has a Spiny Leaf Insects page with a quick summary on caring for pet phasmids for kids.
  • We received our spiny leaf insects from two friends, both of whom have successfully bred them in their home enclosures. According to the internet you can buy some online here. I’ve also seen some for sale in our local pet stores!

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Not all ladybirds are red & spotty! Learn about metamorphosis and the life cycle of this cool yellow & black ladybird beetle. Fun spring nature study craft for kids.

Paperplate lifecycle of the fungus-eating ladybird (ladybug)- fun nature study activity for preschoolers and up!

This spring we’ve been inundated with ladybirds (or ladybugs or ladybeetles as you might call them). Except that our ladybirds are not red, and they aren’t spotty!

The ladybirds in our backyard are always yellow and black, and they have a cool mask / zigzag pattern on their back instead of spots.

Fungus-eating ladybird - yellow and zigzaged, instead of red and spotty!

My 4 year old daughter Bumble Bee is obsessed with insects and entomology. So of course, these yellow and black ladybirds presented the perfect opportunity to learn more!

 

Suitable for

Try this nature study activity with preschoolers or kindergarteners. Bumble Bee had just turned 4 years old when we did this.

But first – can I tell you the most adorable thing? I just found out that a group of ladybirds is called a “loveliness of ladybirds” or a “loveliness of ladybugs”. Isn’t that so sweet! We have a loveliness of ladybirds in our backyard. 🙂

fungus-eating ladybird

Anyway, back to our story. Turns out that the yellow and black zig-zag ladybirds in our backyard are actually called Fungus-eating Ladybirds (illeis galbula), and they feed on tiny spots of black mould that grow on the underside of leaves (and, as I discovered, on the underside of our dog kennel). And here I was thinking all ladybirds ate aphids!

This particular ladybird is actually native to New Zealand, but seems to have infiltrated much of Sydney. Sydney’s a very humid city in spring and summer, so it makes sense that black mould and fungus-eating ladybirds would both thrive here.

Lifecycle of the fungus-eating ladybird eggs, larva, pupa and adult

Ladybirds undergo a complete metamorphosis, just like a butterfly, changing from an egg to larva to pupa to ladybird.

We found lots of ladybird larvae all over our backyard – they’re super speedy, running around all over the place! The pupa took a little more searching as they seek a secluded place to undergo their transformation. I found many stuck to the underneath of our dog kennel, where they (normally) wouldn’t be disturbed. Once the metamorphosis process is complete, they break through the pupal casing and emerge as a beautiful yellow and black ladybird, complete with wings!

larva and pupa of the fungus-eating ladybirdPupal case of the fungus-eating ladybird

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fungus-eating ladybird Life Cycle craft

Bumble Bee and I decided to create a fungus-eating ladybird life cycle craft, that tracks all the stages that this ladybird goes through, from egg to metamorphosis.

We used:

 

We did one life cycle plate each, crafting alongside each other, as we like to do. It’s a two-way learning experience – Bee copied from me and I copy from her, as we both learn about this fascinating insect together.

We also spent a lot of time referring to the live specimens in our backyard, making sure that we were getting as many of the details as accurate as possible. Lots of nature study going on!

Studying a fungus-eating ladybird

Fungus-eating ladybird adult and larva

Our first step was to divide our paper plates into quarters.

Drawing quarters

We painted yellow eggs in one quarter, using the stem of a gum leaf to create tiny little dots. (We couldn’t find any actual eggs in our backyard, so we Google searched to find out what fungus-eating ladybird eggs look like.)

Painting ladybird eggs with a leaf

We mixed yellow and white paint to make a pale yellow, which we used to create the body of a larva and a pupa. We used a brighter yellow colour to paint the head of the larva, and the ladybird.

Painting the pupa and larva body

We waited a few minutes for it to dry (paint dries quickly in the Australian heat), then we added all the extra details using black permanent markers.

Drawing a ladybird lifecycle

We noticed that the larvae have 6 legs (but no wings). You can’t see any legs on the pupa at all, as the ladybird is inside the pupal casing. Once the ladybirds emerge, they have 6 legs and 2 antennae. They also have wings underneath their shell. Sometimes, if you are lucky, you can find a ladybird that has just landed, and see its wings quickly before it folds them away. The wings are about double the length of the shell when they’re unfolded.

Bumble Bee decided to draw wings coming out from underneath the shell of her ladybird, so everyone would know that they were there.

I wrote labels on mine, which caused Bumble Bee a bit of angst, because she doesn’t know how to write. She didn’t want me to write on her project, as she wanted to do it all by herself. I suggested that perhaps I could write labels on another paper plate, and she could cut them out and glue them on. She was happy with that idea.

Sticking labels onto her paperplate ladybird lifecycle

And here’s her finished project!

Paper plate lifecycle of the fungus-eating ladybird - nature study activity for kids.

While we were crafting, a teeny little ladybird larva decided to walk on Bee’s project! I thought this would be a good chance to show you how small they are, as you can use the plate for scale.

Fungus-eating ladybird larva

Of course, being the snap happy blogger that I am, I took hundreds of photos of ladybirds. They’re so cute! Here’s just a few of the best ones…

Collage of photos of the fungus-eating ladybird, including adult, pupa and larva images.Fungus-eating ladybird

Fun Science Fact

Ladybirds are also known as ladybugs or ladybeetles. There are over 100 species of ladybirds in Australia.

Ladybirds are an insect that goes through complete metamorphosis, which means that they go through a four stage life cycle: eggs, larvae, pupa and adult ladybirds.

One species of ladybird is the fungus-eating ladybird (or its scientific name is illeis galbula). Both adults and larvae feed on mildew fungus, so fungus-eating ladybirds are very welcome in most gardens to help with this problem!

The adult fungus-eating ladybird are bright yellow with two black zigzag markings on their back. Female ladybirds lay small groups of white eggs on the underside of leaves infested with powdery mildew.

These eggs hatch into pale-yellow larvae, with rows of tiny black dots on the back. The larvae are very active, and shed their skin as they grow.

When the larvae are fully grown, they attach themselves to a sheltered place and moult into a pupa, which remains attached by one end.

Adults hatch from the pupa and mate, to start the life cycle over again.

You can find more detailed information on the fungus-eating ladybird here.

Ladybird life cycle craft - learn about metamorphosis, and that not all ladybugs are red and spotty!

For more nature study ideas, you might like to check out our Nature Study Projects for Kids page, including:

 

You might also like to follow our Go Science Kids and Nature Study Activities for Kids boards on Pinterest.

 

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How to make a cool Christmas tree bubble wand – and learn about bubble physics though play. Fun Christmas STEM activity for kids!

Make a cool Christmas Tree Bubble Wand and explore bubble physics through play

We’ve been playing with bubbles a lot this year. We’ve worked how to make quick and easy DIY bubble wands, so we can theme our wands to match the occasion!

Each time we’ve made our own bubble wands, we’ve had a chance to learn a little more about bubble physics, and what makes them take a particular shape.

Plus, bubbles are fun!

Related: We’ve also made geometric shapes bubble wands, Easter egg bubble wands and heart bubble wands….

Suitable for

Bubbles are fun for any age! Babies and younger toddlers are usually entranced with catching bubbles, rather than the implement used to make them, so this activity is probably best for the preschooler and kindergarten / early primary school age group. Bumble Bee was 4 and Jewel was 6 when we did this.

Christmas tree bubble play

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How to make a DIY Christmas Tree Bubble Wand

You need:

We used two different types of pipe cleaners – a sparkly one and a furry one – to make a two different looking trees. They work equally well (although aesthetically I think the girls preferred the sparkly one).

Here’s how to make them:

  1. Fold the pipe cleaner in half. This middle point will become the top of your Christmas tree.
  2. Bend into a Christmas tree shape, with both ends joining in the middle of the base of the tree.
  3. Weave the remaining pipe cleaner around the end of chopstick.
  4. Wrap tape to secure.
  5. Pour bubble mix into a cup.
  6. Ask your child to guess what shape bubbles your bubble wand will make.
  7. Dip your bubble wand, and blow!

Bubble physics - what shape bubbles does a Christmas tree bubble wand make

Four year old Bumble Bee initially thought the bubbles would be Christmas tree shape, and then quickly revised her hypothesis when she saw that they were round. She discovered that after blowing a few bubbles into the air, she could then use the bubble wand to catch the bubbles again and study them!

Christmas tree shaped bubbles - bubble physics

Studying bubble shapes

Make a Christmas tree shaped bubble wand

We talked about how bubbles are made up of both bubble mixture and air.

The bubble shape is called a sphere, and the outside of the sphere is the bubble mixture, and the inside is the air that she blew.

When her older sister Jewel (6 years old) came out to join us, we took the bubble physics explanation a little further.

Bubble fun with DIY Christmas tree bubble wands

We talked about how there is air all around us, even though you can’t see it. When a bubble floats through the air, the air that is inside the bubble pushes out, and the air outside the bubble pushes in. That’s why it is a round shape. If there were pointy bits (like if it were still Christmas tree shaped), then the inside air forces and the outside air forces wouldn’t balance each other out. The outside air forces would push on it until the bubble was round again.

Jewel noticed that the bubble changes shape if it lands on the (very wet & soapy) table.

“It’s a semi-sphere!”, she cried.

Semi-spherical bubble

We talked about how the table acts as another force, and that whilst the part of the bubble against the table is flat, the part of the bubble that is pushing up against the outside air is still round.

Jewel wanted to see what would happen if she added another bubble to this first one.

We noticed that the parts of the bubble that were touching something else (like another bubble, or the table) were flat, but the parts that were exposed to the air remained curved.

We talked about how, if you had a bunch of bubbles joined together on each side, you could create a middle bubble that was flat on all sides, like a cube.

Next Jewel tried to see how big a bubble structure she could make. Her record was eight bubbles. It’s not easy though, as the bubbles refused to stack, and sometimes when she added a new bubble, the existing bubbles would join together and make one big one!

Making bubble domes

I love how we’ve done this activity a few times now, and we’ve been able to revisit our prior knowledge, and expand upon it, each time. Bee is still quite a way off understanding about forces just yet, but it seems that Jewel is starting to ‘get’ it.

Fun Science

Our (store-bought) bubble mix is made up of (mostly) soap and water. The soap makes the surface tension of water weaker than normal, and also forms a very thin skin (or film) that is flexible, perfect for making bubbles.

Bubbles are actually a film of soapy water with air trapped inside. There are two forces occurring here: the air inside the bubble is pushing out, whilst at the same time, the soapy film and the outside air, are pushing in. To balance these forces, the soapy film assumes the smallest surface area it can, and that shape (in the absence of other forces) just happens to be a sphere.

Therefore, in the absence of other forces, bubbles that float in air are always round, regardless of the shape of the bubble wand used.

I wonder what shape a bubble would be in space???

How to make a Christmas tree bubble wand and kids can learn bubble physics through play

For more Christmas-themed fun, check out our Christmas Science page, including:

For more physics fun, check out our Physics Experiments for Kids page, including:

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Corroboree frog nature craft idea, to help kids learn about biology, conservation and environmental science.

Cutest mini corroboree frog made from a leaf! Fun (and educational) nature craft idea for kids, to get them interested in the environment, biology and science

Have you heard about the corroboree frogs? The northern corroboree frog and the southern corroboree frog are two tiny Australian amphibians with striking yellow and black markings.

We’ve been learning about these fascinating animals recently, partly because they are so awesome, partly because of the conservation efforts to save them (see below), and partly because of another project.

When I spied some bright yellow leaves in our backyard, I came up with a cool corroboree frog nature craft idea.

But first, let me tell you about these amazing animals.

Cutest mini corroboree frogs, made from leaves! Great way to learn about two endangered species. ~ Go Science Kids

About Corroboree Frogs

  • There are two species of corroboree frog – the Southern Corroboree Frog and the Northern Corroboree Frog.
  • Both frogs are tiny (2.5-3cm long), with bright yellow and black markings. Of the two, the southern corroboree frog is slightly larger, with brighter markings.
  • Their skin is poisonous! They are the only frogs to produce their own poison, rather than obtaining it through their diet. This poison is secreted from the skin as a defence. The bright colours warn potential predators.
  • They live in, and around, seasonal wetlands in the Australian alps. They are only active in the warmer months.
  • They walk, rather than jump. And they make a squelch noise, rather than a croak. You can hear a recording of their call here.
  • They eat ants and other small insects.
  • The northern corroboree frog and southern corroboree frog are listed as endangered and critically endangered. Recently there were fewer than 200 southern corroboree frogs left in the wild.
  • Their rapid decline is due to a disease caused by the amphibian chytrid fungus, hindering the ability of the frogs to breathe through their skins. Without intervention, there is a real risk these frogs would become extinct.
  • Captive breeding colonies of corroboree frogs are being successfully maintained at the Amphibian Research Centre, Taronga Zoo, Melbourne Zoo, Healesville Sanctuary and Tidbinbilla Nature Reserve.
  • Over 2,000 southern corroboree frog eggs have been released to Kosciusko National Park, and over 2000 northern corroboree frog eggs have been released to the Brindabella Ranges bordering the ACT and NSW. This program aims to maintain frog populations long enough for scientists to develop a cure and/or allow enough time for potential evolution of resilience to this disease.
  • It’s not just corroboree frogs that are affected by this fungus – it’s associated with widespread amphibian decline around the world. The Corroboree Frog Recovery Program contributes valuable knowledge to similar programs around the world, with the hope of finding a global solution.
  • You can find out more about Corroboree Frogs and conservation efforts here.

Corroboree frog leaf craft

How to make a Corroboree Frog leaf craft

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We used:

 

What to do

  1. Find bright yellow and greenish-yellow leaves in your garden.
  2. Cut out a tiny frog shape. Make the bright yellow leaf frog about 3cm (for the southern corroboree frog), and the greenish-yellow leaf frog about 2.5cm (for the northern corroboree frog).
  3. Paint on black eyes (or draw on with the fine-tipped marker)
  4. Paint black lines from head to the tail. (Leave more yellow space between the lines on the southern corroboree frog). Let dry.
  5. Coat with sealer (optional).

Cutting out a northern corroboree frog leaf

I made the northern corroboree frog first, cutting it out from a small yellowish leaf. Cutting something this small is tricky!

Adding stripes to the northern corroboree frog leaf

Initially I tried drawing on the black stripes, until I realised that my fine tipped permanent marker was out of ink! Doh! So instead, I dipped the tip into black acrylic paint and carefully painted on the stripes. (You could use anything with a fine tip, like a toothpick, as your painting tool.)

Adding stripes to the northern corroboree frog leaf

Next I cut out the southern corroboree frog from a larger, brighter yellow leaf. I painted on the eyes, and then some stripes.

Adding stripes to the northern corroboree frog leaf

Once they were dry, I added a coat of mod podge sealer, just to protect it a little from small hands, as I knew the kids would want to play with them when they got home from school. As they dried, they curled a little bit, as leaves tend to do.

Southern corroboree frog leaf craft

Tiny leaf southern corroboree frog craft

I think they look quite realistic! It’s not til you turn it over and see the underside that it’s obvious they are made from a leaf.

Back of the southern corroborree frog leaf craft

Suitable for

This craft requires advanced fine motor skills. Older kids (7+ year olds) may be able to do it for themselves. Younger kids will likely need an adult to help, especially with cutting the leaves.

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Sensory play meets explorative science with this nature-based backyard science experiment.

What lives in dirt - outdoor explorative science for preschoolers

Science experiments don’t have to be complicated! Sometimes the simplest things can enthrall young kids. My 3.5 year old daughter Bumble Bee loved this backyard dirt observation activity so much that we’ve done it several times now, and it’s been interesting to notice how the results have varied each time.

My daughter’s interest in the scientific method has been recently kindled by the book 11 Science Experiments That Failed, and so we followed the scientific method for this backyard dirt experiment too, which of course, makes it feel extra science-y. 🙂

Playing in the dirt - a science experiment

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Question:
What lives in the dirt in our backyard?

Hypothesis:
Worms live in dirt.

What You Need:

Invitation to investigate what lives in dirt

What To Do:
1. Dig dirt with spade.
2. Put dirt on sheet.
3. Sort through dirt to see if there are any living creatures. Study them with magnifying glass.
4. Record (or ask an adult to record) findings.
5. Dig more dirt and repeat.
5. Tally results at end of the dirt play experiment. Compare with previous results.

What happened:
When soil was moist, many (dozens and dozens) of worms and one slater (aka woodlice, roly poly or pill bug) were found. When soil was dry, few worms were found, and no other insects.

Digging up and investigating dirt

What lives in dirt

Honestly, I can’t emphasis enough how much Bumble Bee loved this activity. “What lives in dirt?” might seem like an obvious question to us, but Bumble Bee loved being able to verify her hypothesis (that worms live in dirt) for herself. She did sometimes ask for help with the digging part (perhaps our spade was a little big for her), but she really loved sorting methodically through the dirt to see if there were any worms in that particular load. When our sheet was too full of dirt, we emptied the ‘old’ dirt back into the same patch of garden and started digging again.

What lives in dirt - explorative backyard science for preschoolers

Finding a worm

finding a worm

We found many, many worms. We talked about what sort of things worms would need in their habitat. We talked about how worms need food, water, and shelter (dirt and leaf litter) to protect them from the birds. We talked about how they wouldn’t be able to live outside of the dirt for long. We decided to rehome a few into our worm farm, and carrying worms back and forth from the garden to the worm farm became part of the play.

Investigating dirt

We also found one slater (which, depending on where you live in the world, are also called roly polys, pill bugs, woodlice or potato bugs). Bee wasn’t expecting to find anything other than worms, and so she was pleasantly surprised. (I, on the other hand, was surprised at the lack of insect diversity in our soil!) We duly recorded it, and then put it (all rolled up) into her specimen tray, along with a few of the smaller worms. Every time Bee turned around, one of her specimens escaped. One of the challenges of field science!

Slater or roly poly insect

Using a magnifying glass

We repeated this experiment again several weeks later, after a particularly dry spell, and that time we hardly found any worms at all. We hypothesised that this may be because the habitat in our backyard top soil no longer catered to what worms need, and that all the worms had moved to a wetter part of the soil that was better suited to their requirements.

Preschool science - what lives in dirt

This would make a great Earth Day science experiment. In fact, we actually did it just before Earth Day, and then used the same soil to make our Planet Earth craft, except I hadn’t a chance to write it up until now… (Sorry – been busy and all that!)

What lives in dirt - explorative backyard science experiment for preschoolers

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