Nature offers an abundance of inspiration for your child’s creations, from inventions to art to culinary concoctions. Enjoying nature also gives your child the chance to build their observation skills, investigate interesting STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) concepts and practice open-ended exploration. Making STEM connections to the world around us can be as simple as observing the ecosystem in our own backyard.
It is easy to notice the sights and sounds of nature during the day when the world is bright and is lively, but don’t forget that some creatures are just getting up when the sun goes down! Read on for some ideas your family can use to spend time together understanding the importance of nocturnal animals – crucial creatures that too often are overlooked or misunderstood.
Research Your Local Nocturnal Animals
Before you begin your observations, we encourage you to learn about local nocturnal critters and why they are vital to the ecosystem around them. Nocturnal animals that you may find in your neighborhood include species of:
From pollination to pest control, these animals play a key role in the ecosystem! For example, racoons, skunks and opossums feed on certain pest species – some of which can carry disease. By helping remove these unwanted guests from the area, they help people, pets and gardens alike. Similarly, owls and foxes have diets that aid in regulating small animal populations. Additionally, some species of both moths and bats help pollinate various plants at night. Bats also assist in insect control and the dispersal of certain seeds.
These are just a few fun facts, but there is so much more to learn! Make sure to help your child research the nocturnal animals native to your neighborhood.
Safely Attract and Observe Wildlife at Night
Once you understand these creatures, you can begin to study and identify your nighttime visitors while remembering to keep a safe distance and treat them as wild animals. You may want to start with keeping note of what you typically see around your home at night, but there are also ways to make your home appealing to specific kinds of nocturnal animals! Below are a few ideas to consider as you investigate appropriate ideas for your area.
- Provide Shelter for Bats – The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service gives several tips for creating a welcoming space for beneficial bats! Bats prefer dark environments, so try to limit light pollution by turning off unnecessary outdoor lights in the area where you hope to conduct your observations. You may also want to install a bat box or leave dying trees so they can roost.
Tip: For additional STEM fun, help your child build their own bat house to proudly display in your yard! The National Wildlife Federation shares guidelines for creating and mounting a bat house.
- Identify Moths – With just a few simple supplies, the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County explains how you can set up a lightsheet to attract and identify moths. They also share a few helpful bits of information to record as you later search for the names of the insects you discover.
- Provide a Safe Space for Wildlife – One simple way to notice more night life is to lend a hand to these friendly visitors. Small changes to your yard can make a big difference to wildlife. Start by providing fresh, clean water for drinking and bathing, creating safe spots for animals to hide or rest, and keeping pets such as dogs or cats indoors at night.
As you help your child set up their lookout space, encourage them to keep a journal in which they document their observations. It can help them identify various species, learn new things about the animals they see, understand creatures’ characteristics and find patterns in animal behaviors.
Explore More at the Zoo
Even in areas that lack green space to safely view nighttime critters, there are options to learn during the day and in real time – at your local zoo! A trip to the zoo can give your child insight into the daily lives of many animals in habitats imitating that of the wild. For example, you may get to peer into a pond of amphibians, watch an owl preen its feathers or get a glimpse of a tarantula emerging from its burrow.
Even if there is not a zoo near your family, many of them offer live cams of popular habitats!
- The Connecticut Beardsley Zoo shows off the indoor and outdoor habitats of its red pandas – you probably won’t see these in your backyard!
- If you’re batty for flying mammals, the Woodland Park Zoo offers a night vision camera to see what their colony of male fruit bats are doing both day and night.
- Have you ever heard of a spotted genet? Well, the Chattanooga Zoo lets you follow this little creature’s daily adventures live from your computer screen.
Bring STEM Learning to Life
For more engaging ways to introduce fun STEM concepts to your child’s life, we invite you to visit our blog.