After a long winter, spring may seem slow to arrive. But with more sunlight and warming soil, plants sprout and animals awaken from their slumber. A show of color, scent, and song fills the air. For many, spring is a hopeful time, a promise of warmer days kept in earnest after a cold winter. We sense spring’s energy in the fresh colors that burst forth on bird feathers, tree buds, and colorful blooms. Spring is a time to plant seeds, smell the flowers, watch for the return of migrating animals, and observe new life that surrounds us.
by Monica Wiedel-Lubinski
Warm earth warms up little seeds
That have waited through the cold.
Tiny sprouts unfurl their leaves with
Winter secrets to be told.
Buds cupped tightly, ready now,
As petals stretch for sun.
Fragrant blossoms on the bough
Tell winged friends the time has come.
Sweet flowers whisper it is spring,
To every leaf and paw and wing.
Frogs and birds begin to sing,
Spring breathes life back into being.
Go outside on a windy day to investigate which way the wind blows. Begin by closing your eyes. Feel the wind on your skin and notice how it blows your hair. Which direction does it seem to be blowing from? Open your eyes and look around. Is the wind blowing objects nearby? Is the wind moving through grasses or rustling the leaves?
Note: Wind is the movement of air created by pressure in the atmosphere, which is caused by uneven heating of the Earth’s surface (such as when warm and cool air collide).
Ride the wind with a homemade kite!
〉 2 thin, sturdy sticks with outer bark peeled off (one stick should be slightly longer than the other)
〉 Pocket knife
〉 Recycled newspaper or gift tissue paper in a large sheet
1. Form a T with the two sticks to make a frame.
2. Notch the longer stick about a quarter of the way down where the crossbar (shorter stick) will attach.
3. Tie the sticks in place with twine and finish with a double knot.
4. Lay the frame onto your paper; trace and cut out the sail.
5. Use twine to tie the paper sail to the frame on all four corners of the frame.
6. Tie a smaller secondary piece of twine onto each side of the crossbar, leaving enough slack to attach the longer kite string (see picture).
7. Tie the end of the kite string onto the lower portion of the longer main part of the frame. Then lift up the secondary piece of twine and tie the kite string to the center of the secondary piece of twine. The result will be a kind of twine pyramid that will help you guide your kite when flying (see picture).
8. Attach a ribbon for a tail to help balance the weight of the kite.
9. Head out on a windy day and see how it flies!
Many animals are on the wing in spring. Use your Natural Events Calendar (see here) to note when you spot the first migrating birds and butterflies in your region.
A wind sock or even a ribbon on the breeze can point you in the right direction if you’d like to know which way the wind blows. Use a pocket compass or phone app to determine the direction of the wind.
Take a closer look at the tips of branches on nearby trees and shrubs. What do you notice? Are fat buds about to burst open? Are tiny, sun-catching leaves catching your eye in shades of bright yellow-green? Explore the forest to find sprouts and fresh, young blossoms. What scents are present? What colors are popping? Bring along your nature journal to record the bloom times of plants you discover or to make sketches of interesting plants you find.
You can grow plants in eggshells and transplant them into your garden. It’s up to you what to grow! Fruits, vegetables, herbs, and wildflowers are all great choices.
〉 Cardboard egg carton with the top removed and stacked underneath
〉 12 eggshells (shells should be intact enough to put soil inside)
〉 Potting soil
〉 Compost (optional)
〉 Dish towel
Note: If you don’t have eggshells, you can put soil directly into the egg carton. When you’re ready to transplant seedlings, just cut each section of the carton and plant it directly into soil.
1. Place eggshells in each section of the egg carton.
2. Fill each eggshell with potting soil; amend the soil to enrich with compost, if you have it.
3. Sow seeds in the eggshells and gently cover with soil as indicated on the seed package.
4. Find a sunny windowsill for your egg carton.
5. Fold a dish towel and place it on the windowsill, then place the egg carton planter on top.
6. Lightly water the seeds. Let the soil dry completely between each watering to prevent too much moisture.
7. Watch seeds sprout and grow! Use the Seedling Growth Chart found in chapter 7 (shown here) if you’d like to track growth.
Note: Seeds need different amounts of light, soil, and nutrients depending on the plant. Many seeds also need a cold spell to “harden” before sprouting, which simulates what happens in winter. Read about the conditions your seeds need before you plant them.
Flowering plants like garlic mustard (Alliaria petiolata) and dandelions (Taraxacum officinale) are prolific and easy to find in spring. The young leaves of either plant are also tasty in spring salads.
Gather and plant a range of tree seeds to see which ones will grow. Acorns, maple seeds, beechnuts, walnuts, and even pinecones can sprout and eventually become trees.
Spring is a wonderful time to feel the rain. Whether it is a gentle passing shower or steady rainfall, you are sure to be energized by this sensory experience! Gear up and explore the glistening landscape. Touch wet leaves and grass. Search for dry patches protected by foliage. If you were a bird or bee, where might you hide? Can you spy worms that have emerged from the saturated soil? Follow the watery paths of intermittent streams made by the rain. Where does the water go? Which direction does it flow?
Like to get messy? Then try your hand at making mud pies!
〉 Pail, beach bucket, or clean recycled containers
〉 Shovel, spoon, or stick for digging
〉 Flat cooking sheet, muffin tin, or pie pan (optional)
1. Find a muddy patch of ground where you have permission to dig.
2. Scoop and dig mud to your delight.
3. Fill the pail with mud and rain. Mix in any other natural objects you’d like for your “pie.”
4. Roll and pat mud into mud pies or other muddy treats.
5. “Bake” and serve mud pies!
The water cycle is fascinating. Select a puddle and observe it over several days as the water evaporates in dry conditions. Where does the water go?
Make a mud pie café! All you need is a muddy place to dig and some repurposed kitchen items such as bowls and spoons. If you have stumps, logs, or crates, you can build tables for making and serving creations from your muddy menu.
Take a nature walk or visit a natural area where you are likely to find fungi. As you explore, look around the base of trees, on fallen logs, and in moist soil for these interesting organisms. What do you wonder about fungi and moss you find? (Although moss and fungi can be found any time of year, spring usually yields the perfect growing conditions.)
While playing among the mushrooms, mind your step so as not to harm them. You may even find a fairy ring! What do you notice about the habitat where fungi and moss are found? The feel of moss is soft, velvety, and wonderful. Gently explore moss with your fingers and toes. How do you think nearby animals might rely on mushrooms, lichens, or moss? What animal clues can you find nearby?
After a woodland wander to locate mushrooms and moss, you can collect some for printmaking. Delicately harvest only a few bits of moss and/or fungi that are pleasing to you. Make your own paint and then have fun creating your nature prints!
〉 1 cup (150 g) flour
〉 1 cup (150 g) salt
〉 1 cup (250 ml) warm water
〉 Food coloring or liquid watercolors
〉 Harvested moss, mushrooms, lichen
〉 Thick paper (such as watercolor paper or card stock)
1. Make the paint by mixing flour, salt, and water until smooth. Add more water as needed to achieve a smooth, paint-like consistency. Mix in a few drops of color. Now your paint is ready.
2. Gently dip mushrooms or moss into your paint and press them onto paper like a stamp.
Try the mushrooms gill-side down, or if it is small enough, dip the entire mushroom. Have fun experimenting!
3. Try making various colors of paint, matching them to your fungi and moss. You can store extra paint in the refrigerator for up to 1 week. When you’re finished, return the natural materials back to the earth outside.
Many mushrooms are not good for humans to eat and some are even poisonous. On the other hand, most fungi provide an important food source for animals. To protect fungi and moss, only collect a few samples where they are plentiful. To protect yourself, do not eat anything that you cannot identify with certainty!
Consider using leaves, acorn caps, evergreen needles, tree bark, or other fallen nature treasures to make your nature prints. As a process-based art experience, emphasis should be on experimentation with the paint and textures of the materials, not on creating a perfect final product.
Visit a pond or stream to discover what lives there. Where is the water moving fast or barely at all? Are any creatures visible at first glance? Gently turn over a rock to see if anything clings to the underside or swims away. Are there jelly-like eggs on the water? Do you hear frogs splashing to safety in the leaves at the bottom of the pond? Notice the diversity of life found in this aquatic habitat. What plants are unique to the water’s edge? How do they differ from other plants on higher ground?
This engineering challenge is harder than you think! Experiment with the weight of items used to make your boat (mud, leaf, and twig), then float your boat in a nearby stream or pond.
〉 Lump of mud, clay, or play dough
1. Crack the walnuts and remove the nut inside. Use hollow half of each walnut to make a boat.
2. Roll mud or clay into a ball and press inside each walnut half.
3. Tear a small hole at top and bottom of a leaf, then insert a twig through the leaf to make a sail.
4. Place the twig with its leaf sail upright in the mud inside the boat.
5. See how far you can float your boat!
Whether you explore on land or in the water, make sure you only leave footprints behind.
There are several aquatic species like dolphins, eels, sharks, and salmon that return to the same waterways each year to mate and feed (another form of migration). Plan a special canoe trip or stream search at a local nature center to learn more about the amazing aquatic native animals near you.
Find a favorite outdoor setting to sit and listen to the sounds of spring. Edge habitats (where brushy areas meet open fields or forests) are good places to start because they provide food and shelter for birds. Sit as still as you can and listen closely for a few moments. What sounds do you hear? How do the sounds change the longer you quietly sit? Could any of these sounds be harsh warning calls? Do you hear whistles, trills, or flute-like songs as animals call for mates? Try mimicking the calls and songs!
This game will help hone your listening skills which is not only fun, but also useful as you learn to identify birds by sound.
〉 3 toilet paper tubes, cut in half to make 6 shakers
〉 Repurposed gift tissue paper
〉 12 rubber bands
〉 Assorted objects such as pebbles, seeds, and bottle caps
1. Cut the tissue paper into 3-by-3-inch (8 by 8 cm) squares. You’ll need twelve.
2. Place a tissue paper square onto one end of all six paper tubes and secure with a rubber band. Repeat for all six tubes.
3. Fill one tube with a few pebbles. Cover the open end with another paper square and securely wrap with a rubber band. Test how it sounds. Repeat with a second tube so that both shakers sound alike.
4. Repeat with remaining tubes until you have three pairs of shakers, each with matching sounds.
Note: You can double up the tissue paper to be sure that the objects don’t rip the paper when you shake them.
Arrange the shakers randomly. The first player chooses a shaker, listens, and then selects another shaker. If the second shaker isn’t a match, both shakers are returned to their original position. The next player chooses a shaker, listens, and tries to make a match. When one player makes a match, it's the next player’s turn. Continue until all of the matches have been discovered. You can make the game more challenging by adding more sounds. This is a wonderful parallel to the way many animals rely on sound to find their mates.
Share your love of birds with others! Invite elders in your family, neighborhood, or local retirement community to watch and listen to the birds with you.
As birdwatching interest grows, try to identify animals you hear by sound as well as by sight. You can learn identifying features of birds and frogs by using a field guide.
At long last, plants unfurl tender buds and reveal lovely petals and fresh new leaves. Given the bounty of spring plants as producers of food, hungry consumers (animals that are omnivores, herbivores, and carnivores) take advantage of delicious new food sources. Hunting goes hand in hand with foraging as animals seek nourishment after a lean winter, dormancy, or migration. Animals are also looking to feed their young, so although spring is a time of plentiful food, foraging animals must remain on high alert. There are others ready to spring into action.
Frolic and play outdoors as you explore spring growth. What clues indicate that animals are awake and feeding on tasty flowers and leaves? Is there evidence of insects such as ants nibbling at flower buds? Do you notice flies, beetles, or bees visiting nearby flowers? Are there signs that rabbits or deer have foraged in your yard or park?
Some flowers are beautiful to look at and to eat! Make this delicious spring jam from foraged violets.
〉 2–3 cups (680–1020 grams) violets
〉 2 1/2 cups (570 ml) water
〉 Cheesecloth or paper towel
〉 1 lemon
〉 4 (4-ounce [120 ml]) canning jars
〉 1 (1.75-ounce [50 g]) standard package Sure-Jell fruit pectin
〉 3 cups (600 g) sugar, more or less to taste
(you can use as little as 2 cups [400 g] or as much as 4 cups [800 g])
1. Go on a wander to gather violets where they are plentiful. (You can pick whole blossoms, but you won’t need the stems.)
2. Place the violet flowers in a large, heat-safe mixing bowl. Rinse them and set aside.
3. Bring 21/2 cups (570 ml) of water to a boil (a tea kettle is ideal).
4. Pour the boiling water over the violets.
5. Let the violets steep in the water until the color turns blue-violet. You can use the mixture as soon as the water is cool, or you can let it sit covered for up to 24 hours.
6. Strain the liquid through a colander lined with cheesecloth or paper towel, or strain through a mesh sieve to remove the flowers.
7. Squeeze the lemon. You should have about
1/4 cup (60 ml) of juice. Add the juice to the strained liquid. (Note: The color of the mixture has an instant reaction with the acid of the lemon juice when you pour it in—it’s fun to see!)
8. Sterilize the canning jars if you are processing for canning. Set them aside.
9. Follow the directions on the Sure-Jell package to make the jelly.
10. Whisk the pectin jam with the violet tea/lemon liquid. Stir over medium heat until it reaches a rolling boil.
11. Add the sugar while stirring constantly. Return to a boil and boil for 1 to 2 minutes to ensure ingredients are fully mixed.
12. Remove the jelly from the heat, skim off the foam, and ladle or pour into jars. If canning, place in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. Let the jelly sit for 24 hours to ensure it is set and the flavor is infused throughout before serving.
People aren’t the only ones excited about delicious food sprouting up! When you forage, take only what you need and use everything you take. Never forage where herbicides or pesticides are applied.
Discover spring wild edibles in your region with an experienced naturalist or botanist. Your local nature center or botanical garden may offer free walks for families. Try foraging a green salad full of dandelion leaves, chickweed, violets, wood sorrel, blueberries, and spruce bud tips—whatever is plentiful near you.
Many animals are masterful engineers, not least of all birds! Take a spring walk to observe birds making nests. See if you can spy any of these scenarios:
• a bird carrying grass
• a bird carrying sticks or twigs
• a bird carrying mud
• a bird carrying a feather
• a bird pair working on a nest
• a bird flying in and out of a tree cavity
• a bird pair feeding babies in a nest
What else are the birds doing? Did this give you any clues about the birds that live here?
We can help birds prepare for their young by offering a small supply of nesting materials.
〉 Repurposed mesh produce bag
〉 Assortment of nesting materials such as wool, dried grass clippings, dried bark, pine needles, fluffy plant down, moss, animal fur, yarn scraps
1. Fill your mesh produce bag with assorted natural materials.
2. Pull a few of the materials through the mesh to make it easier for birds to quickly grab them
3. Hang the nest helper with twine where you can observe birds at work!
Only offer natural fiber nesting materials. Don’t offer dryer lint, plastics, or aluminum foil.
Many birds will use birdhouses or hollow gourds to make their nests. Hang birdhouses to welcome them to your yard! Learn more about bird conservation efforts and volunteer to help with bird banding or citizen science projects that monitor local bird populations.