Nature Discovery Mud Pie
Our blog post today takes us outside for a fun activity that can be completed no matter the fall weather at your home. Disclosure : some of the links are affiliate links, meaning that at no cost to you, if you choose to purchase those items, you will be supporting the KrisbeeMama blog and her family. We hope you are enjoying all of the fun fall activities so far.
We all have our moments struggling to get our kids outdoors to enjoy or learn about nature. Studies show that kids who spend more time outside are more likely to help protect the natural world as adults. I don’t know about you, but I would love for my boys to grow up with a deep love and respect for our world.
Here is a fun learning activity I’ve called the Nature Discovery Mud Pie that works at any age to scavenger hunt for items in nature and teach your child(ren) about how plants, animals and bugs interact in your ecosystem. You can modify the activity in many ways depending on the season, climate, and your child’s age.
If you are interested, I have another scavenger hunt activity here with a free printable!
Please note that the images were taken doing this activity with my toddler. He had a ton of fun scavenger hunting for “nature treasures” (his words, not mine). I tried to let him do as much as possible by himself, though I directed him a bit to illustrate a couple of the suggested activities.
What Your Child Will Learn
The goal is to let your kids get their hands dirty (*gasp*), creating either a pie tin full of items from nature that animals eat or live on (think about things like leaves, flowers, sticks, and rocks) or teaching about each item in nature. Think of your mud pie as a sort of three-dimensional clipboard for learning outside.
What You Will Need
Ultimately, all you will need is a pie tin (check the dollar store!), though a flower pot or something that can hold dirt will also work (whatever you have around). I’ve thrown in some suggestions on other items you can add to further the learning experience in the activities later. If you want, you can use garden gloves and small shovels.
It is your choice if you want to use dry dirt (as my son and I did) or make actual mud pie for a different, tactile experience (if so, you will need water).
To aid in your nature exploration, it’s always nice to have a magnifying glass (I use these plastic ones that I shared with some mom friends) to look at the smaller details.
If you want to look at bugs, you can find bug catching kits at the dollar store (though I have this one) to gently capture your bugs.
What You Can Do
First, get your child excited to go on a scavenger hunt outside! Everyone, including you, wants to have fun, right?
Then take your pie tin outside (with optional gloves and shovel) somewhere you can find numerous items. If your backyard has dirt, plants, rocks, leaves, sticks, flowers and the like, great! If not, maybe try to find a local park or forest.
If you head out on the road, make sure you go somewhere that is ok with you taking nature items! Be respectful of the rules. This is not something you have to take home with you (except for your tin), but read on for how it can be a long term activity.
When you reach a good location, fill the pie tin with dirt. What comes next is up to you and the age of your child. While I have not outlined actual lesson plans, you can do a quick Google search to get some talking points for the lesson of your choosing. Here are some ideas on what you can do with your mud (dirt) pie:
Learn About Dirt
Dirt is awesome! A lot of kids will love to learn amazing facts about everything that dirt does for our world. Toddlers can learn about how plants grow with some basic information on decay leading to food for plants and animals. Older kids can discover fun facts about what is contained in dirt (either organisms or all the way down to chemistry). Here are some basic prompts:
- What do you think dirt does?
- Did you know it takes about 500 years for an inch of topsoil?
- What grows in dirt?
- What lives in dirt?
- What do we do every day that needs dirt?
- What foods do we eat that need soil to grow?
Learn About Plants
Much like learning about dirt, showing a child the roots of a plant and how the earth plays a part in their health and growth (in addition to water and the sun).
To learn about plants, you can either purchase a plant or respectfully use one from nature (if allowed where you are). Have your child transplant a plant of their choosing into your tin of soil. As you go through the steps of planting show the roots, the leaves, the flowers (if applicable) and stem to describe the basic anatomy of a plant. Here are some questions to ask your child:
- What is your favorite plant?
- How do you think plants grow?
- Did you know some flowers turn into fruit that we eat?
- What kind of bugs do you think like flowers? (tie in with bees, butterflies, caterpillars, etc)
- Did you know that plants breath through their leaves? (photosynthesis tie in)
- The bigger the plant, the more nutrients and water it needs. Does this plant need more or less nutrients than (point out a different plant)?
- Did you know that pollen is actually seeds to grow other plants? (tie in with bees or butterflies)
Learning about plants can be a short- or long-term project. You can put the plant back after doing your activity or keep the plant for your child to care for(also teaches responsibility and what may happen if it’s not watered or given enough food (fertilizer) – decay to create more soil and help other plants!). You can also plant some seeds in your mud pie to teach the entire cycle of a plant’s life.
Learn About Creatures
From animals to bugs, all creatures have a unique role to play in nature. Some aerate the soil, some pollinate plants, some eat plants (while also pollinating through…poop) and so many other jobs it’s almost impossible to list them all.
In this activity, there are a few different ways you can teach an interactive lesson about nature. Here are some ideas:
- Take some plastic animals with you and find things in nature to build a good habitat for the animal (if it’s a squirrel, get a branch with leaves or needles on it for a tree, seeds for the squirrel to eat and maybe use a plastic baggie to create a pool of water in the dirt for the squirrel to drink). [I’ve collected plastic animals since I was a child, but you can get inexpensive animals at the dollar store or you can buy something like these.
- Pick your child’s favorite bug and make a good place for it to live. If it’s a beetle, get a bunch of fallen leaves for it to live under with rocks to hide behind/under. If you can find a beetle, great! Gently move the beetle to your mud pie to check it out. But, for the majority of bugs that are either impossible or not easy to catch to interact with, I use these (I never collected bugs…).
- For a long-term project, find two longer stick to poke up to the sky to build a great place for a spider to build a web (you may need to place rocks around the base of your sticks to keep the sticks standing up). Leave your mud pie outside and see if any spiders build a home!
- Create an ecosystem full of trees, fallen leaves, rocks, a pond (maybe place a plastic baggie in a hole to keep the water from going right into the soil) and anything else you can find to show your child how plants and animals interact (you can also use plastic animals for this one). Maybe add some bird seed to the soil to keep the tin at home to watch animals enjoy your nature creation.
Maybe your child is more into dinosaurs than animals – that’s ok! Build a habitat for your child’s favorite dinosaurs instead (whatever gets them out learning nature and having fun).
If you decide to keep your mud pie long term, make sure to cover the dirt with fallen leaves to add to your lesson on decay or for looking for bugs later!
I’m sure there are a lot of other things you can do with the Nature Discovery Mud Pie! Have any ideas? Share them in the comments!
About the Author:
Kristine is a stay-at-home-mom and mother of two boys (ages 3 and 7-months). With the motto “Parenting: a guessing game with a million handbooks,” she hopes to help moms with her best tips, stories and recommendations about parenting young kids. Plus, her blog offers free resources for kid activities, organization, meal planning, budgets and more to help her fellow mamas. Kristine has been featured on Scary Mommy.
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