One of the best things about having a wildlife garden is that you have a natural classroom right outside your door where you can teach children to discover the wonders of nature and get to know the wildlife that lives there.
And, truth be told, they will teach you, too. By seeing the natural world through the eyes of a child you’ll remember what it feels like to be filled with wonder. You will take delight in the simplest of things. And you’ll discover that you’re never too old to play.
C’mon, admit it, you’d really love to jump right into that pile of leaves right now and squeal with delight. Me too. Let’s do it on the count of three. One……Two……Three!
That was fun, right?
Children and leaves are a perfect playground. But there’s a lot of wildlife to discover hiding in those leaves, too.
A while back I gave my 4 year old, favorite nature girl, Libby a handheld magnifying glass and a pair of binoculars and we went exploring. She really loves to look at bugs, especially with the magnifying glass. And then when I showed her that she could look through the “wrong” end of the binoculars and see the bugs really close she was ecstatic!
We walked around my wildlife garden looking for bugs. We turned over rocks. We looked under the leaves on the plants. And we dug through the piles of fallen leaves.
We found salamanders, spiders, centipedes, millipedes, worms, and many other types of insects. With every new discovery, Libby exclaimed with delight. And my heart was full of happiness.
I explained to Libby why the leaves are so important for wildlife:
- There is a cycle of life contained in the leaf litter and we destroy many forms of wildlife every time we remove these leaves.
- Many butterflies find shelter in the leaf litter, either in egg, pupal, or adult form, to safely wait out the winter and emerge in the spring.
- Leaf litter provides food and shelter to an amazing variety of invertebrates who break down the leaves, which feeds the soil and other wildlife.
- The deeper the leaf litter, the more spiders are supported. Spiders are an essential element in keeping pest insects in balance.
- Leaf litter is also home to ladybugs, salamanders, toads, and other predators of pest insects. It is no wonder that pests like aphids thrive when we continue to destroy the habitat of the predators that would keep them under control.
- Every spring these leaves are covered with birds who pick through the leaves in search of a tasty meal.
And now every time Libby sees those paper bags lined up along the sidewalk to be hauled away, she cries. She’s so upset that people are throwing away the butterflies and salamanders.
But, I’ve found a way to help her not be so upset. She is so thrilled to know that I drive around and pick up those bags and spread them around my garden. She and I love to sit on the deck with our binoculars and watch the birds picking through the leaves in search of a tasty snack.
And here’s another great play outdoors fun activity with your favorite little ones by Kelly Senser at NWF: Make leaf animals. This looks like so much fun, I may have to go out with Libby tomorrow and try this out.
So grab your favorite child and go see what you can find hiding in the leaf litter. You’ll be amazed. I promise!
Carole Sevilla Brown lives in Philadelphia, PA, and she travels the country speaking about Ecosystem Gardening for Wildlife. Check out her new free online course Ecosystem Gardening Essentials, 15 free lessons delivered to your inbox every week.
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