Measuring, Mapping, Making: Free Educational Activities for Spring

Libby Kane
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For a child, everything is an opportunity for learning … even the changing season.

We know that instilling a love of learning in children at a young age helps lead them to success later in life (which is why you should get the most from your child’s teacher). And we know that, for girls especially, young kids aren’t always exposed to math and science the way they should be.

To help you foster and teach these skills at home, we consulted an elementary school teacher to create three mini-lesson plans to help your child learn using the natural changes going on in spring. And no matter how old your children are, there’s something here for them: We’ve modified the activities for three age ranges and included ample opportunity for both verbal and artistic expression.

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All you’ll need is paper, crayons, a few inexpensive materials and a little outside space.

Try these activities on for size, and your kid will be saying, “What TV show?”

Measuring and Charting Rainfall

Your child will learn/practice: Measuring, graphing

Materials:

  • Rain gauge with clearly marked measurements
  • Posterboard or paper and markers

The Lesson

Set up a cheap rain gauge (it looks like a test tube with a base and is available for around $2 at your local hardware or home improvement store) on the patio, balcony or table outside.

Ages 3-5: Have your child help you pick a place for your gauge (where it will gather rainfall), and choose how often you’ll measure the rain. Every rainfall? Every day? Talk about the differences between days of rain: When was there more rain? Less rain?

Ages 6-8: Talk with your child about why you empty the gauge before the next rainfall (because you always measure starting from zero). Examine the unit of measurement, whether centimeters or inches, and show them how to read the gauge accurately by crouching down until it’s at eye level. Don’t shy away from some simple addition: If it rained three inches on Saturday and four on Sunday, how many inches did it rain this weekend?

Ages 9-10: Draw five or six rain gauges on a sheet of paper, then have your child color in each gauge according to that day’s measurements. Ta-da! It’s a bar graph. Discuss the results with your child: Which day had the most rain? The least? Was there more rain over time, less, or no pattern? Older kids can even add the X and Y axis, with the day and rainfall in inch or half-inch increments.

Mapping the Garden

Your child will learn/practice: Observation, mapping, research

Materials:

  • Posterboard or paper and crayons or markers
  • Pencil with eraser
  • Clipboard or other firm, portable surface
  • Possibly a camera or camera phone (to remember the flowers you see)
  • A sample map

The Lesson

One of the most fun parts of spring—for kids and us alike—is the flood of color that comes from blooming flowers. In this activity, your child will map a garden, either the one in your backyard or the one in a local park.

Ages 3-5: If your child is under the age of five and likely unfamiliar with maps, show her a basic, child-friendly example well before starting. (You can even draw one if you need to!) Then place a piece of paper on a clipboard. Draw the boundaries of the garden, along with reference points like benches or playgrounds, before handing it over. Have her color each group of flowers the appropriate color and note observations: Are they big or small? Do they have yellow centers? Are they bushes?

Ages 6-8: Talk to your child about how she would begin mapping. Should she start at the front? Should she do the perimeter first? Should she start at reference points? Accompany her through the mapping and ask questions about her thinking, like, “I notice there are way more pink flowers than purple. How can we show that on the map?”

Ages 9-10: Have an older child write her observations on the map, then take pictures of each type of flower. At home, re-draw the map onto a larger piece of paper with more detail. Use those observations and pictures to figure out what kinds of flowers you saw through online research, then note the names on the map. To make it even prettier, print out the photos you took and affix them next to the appropriate spots on the map. Older children who have covered maps in school can even add a key and scale.

Identifying Birds

Your child will learn/practice: observation, scientific method

Materials:

  • An ornithologist’s guidebook or reference website
  • Paper
  • Scissors (optional)
  • Posterboard or paper and markers or crayons
  • Bird feeder (optional)

The Lesson

One of the best parts of spring is hearing birds chirping in the morning, and the idea of baby birds in nests appeals to just about everyone. In this lesson, your child will learn more about the feathery friends in his backyard.

Ages 3-4: Create a tried-and-true bird feeder by rolling a pinecone in peanut butter, then in bird seed, and hanging it on a visible branch. (If you’re going to a park, you can forgo the feeder.) Depending on your region, identify the most common birds you might see. Create a graph, drawing the outline of a bird in each row. Have your child color in the outlines, using images of your most common birds for reference, then print the name of each bird below the image. Every time you or your child see a bird, make your best guess at what kind it is, then add a tally by its picture. Talk to your child about the results: Why do you think there are more of a certain kind of bird? What are the birds you see doing?

Ages 5-7: Have your child create the chart himself, with your guidance. Put him in charge of looking for birds each day at a certain time, and talk to him about migration. Explain that most birds fly to warmer weather, which is always south, for the winter, then return home in the spring to have baby birds and enjoy summer. Ask your child what else he notices about the birds he observes: What are they eating? Why does he think they’re singing? Write his observations on the chart.

Ages 8-10: Talk to your child about theories. Have him create his own hypothesis on why he sees more or less of a certain kind of bird. Does it have to do with food? With the weather? Is there just a flock of one kind of bird that happens to live near you? Accept multiple hypotheses and then ask: What would we have to do to prove that it is or isn’t true? Note his ideas on the chart, decide together whether to pursue any, and what does or doesn’t make them feasible.

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