Yesterday was the KS Department of Wildlife, Parks & Tourism’s Annual Winter Canada Goose Count.  What is that you ask?  Well, a group of 40+ scientists drive prescribed routes all around Sedgwick County and count Canada Geese.

Why?  Because, in the 80s there were very few Canada Geese, and wildlife biologists wanted to increase the numbers to a healthy population.  Today, there are LOTS of geese.  Some only stop off here on their migrations north and south, but many stick around and live here all year.  At times, there are so many geese that they become a nuisance.  The Goose Counts help wildlife biologists keep track of populations and it helps them make decisions about how to manage so many or not enough Canada Geese.

Why am I tell you all this?  Well, I think counting and tracking things in your own backyard could be a great way to increase counting and observation skills while getting your nature-fix.


  • Throw out some bird seed.  Watch for birds.  Once they arrive to feast have your kiddo sit for 5 min (or 10-30 depending on interest and age level) and count the number of birds that come to eat.  Do it again the next day or next week and see if MORE or less come.  For older kids you could have them track temperature to see if that affects the number of birds. 
  • When doing the above bird count, children 7 and older can start using basic bird guides to identify the birds that arrive.  Are there new ones this week?  Who didn’t come that usually is there?
  • Watch for changes in the plants in your yard.  When do the first flowers start poking their green leaves up out of the ground.  Mark the date on the calendar this year, and see if it changes next year.  Check daily or weekly.
  • When do the first leaf buds start appearing on your trees?  Do different trees have different bud-dates?  Check daily or weekly. 
  • Take a picture of something (tree, plant, entire backyard, resident bird or squirrel) weekly or monthly and see what changes throughout the year.
  • If your child really likes computers, have them record their observations in a computer file.  Or, if they are more journal-writer-ish they can make a nature journal and record their findings in there. 

These types of activities may get some kids excited and others may have little interest.  Encourage the ones that LOVE this type of observation.  Don’t force it if your child isn’t excited about this activity.  Try it for a while, if they hate it, move on to something else.  This activity is for left-brainers.  If your child is a right-brainer this wont have much appeal.  So, try it and if it flops, no big deal.

The cool thing about this (obviously I have left-brain tendencies) is that if you keep these lists year to year, you’ll start to see changes and cycles in your own backyard.


Fall is a time of changes.  Our schedules change from lazy summer days to busy fall ones.  The leaves change color and start to fall.  The sun goes down earlier and earlier.  We even change our clocks (this year on Nov 6).

Take some time every few days for a Fall Changes Walk with your kids.  Here’s how you do it.

  1. Pick a certain time to go on this walk, at least once each week.
  2. Set a path or route that you will take each time you go on your walk.  Make sure that your path isn’t so long that it keeps you from sneaking in your walk even when things get busy.  A walk you can do in 15 minutes is perfect.
  3. On your first trip ask your kids to watch for the following:  What trees are starting to turn colors?  Are some types of trees already loosing thier leaves?  When you see a tree with green leaves have them predict what color the leaves will change and when.  How light is it?  Where is the sun in the sky?
  4. Then, the next time you take your walk see what has changed.  Are there more leaves turning color?  Did you predict the leaf color changes correctly?  Is it darker or is the sun lower in the sky this week?  Does it feel cooler?
  5. Other things to try:   Have the children keep a nature journal of what they “observe” on your walks (leaf colors, numbers of leaves still on a tree, where the sun is in the sky, etc).  Bring along a camera and let the kids take pictures in specific spots along the walk and compare them week to week.  Kids can pick up fallen leaves and start a leaf collection.  (Pressing leaves in old phonebooks helps preserve them.)

Don’t forget to come back to this post and let us know how your walks go and what you notice on your Fall Changes Walk!


Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to identify at least 3 of the birds in your backyard or neighborhood.

Winter is a great time to look for birds because they will be out looking for food. If you provide some bird seed in a birdfeeder that you can observe from the window, you will see lots of beautiful birds! But what kind of birds are they?

When you get ready to try to identify a bird that you see in your yard, you should get a good look at it first, before you start using a book or the internet to figure out what it is.

Here are some important things you should look for:

  • Size of the bird
  • Size and shape of the beak
  • Size and shape of the head
  • Body and tail shape of the bird
  • Color: overall color, any stripes or spots, color of beaks or legs, any other color you notice
  • Behavior of the bird (how it walks, flies, sings, or eats)

Sometimes it is easy to identify a bird just using the color, but it isn’t always possible. Practice looking very closely at the birds in your backyard to notice small details. Once you have several things you know about the bird, it is time to look at a guide book. You can find field guides for birds at the public library. There are also some good websites.

Visual Key for Bird ID

All About Birds

Mission Report:

1. What are the 3 different birds you identified in your backyard? Did you see both male and female birds of each type?

2. What features of the birds helped you identify them?

3. Take a picture of your favorite bird and share it with us!

Begin this weekend (or end this weekend) with creating a new tradition! Many of us have special holiday traditions – like Christmas morning cinnamon rolls, or pumpkin pie on thanksgiving, fireworks on fourth of july, boat riding on memorial weekend, camping on labor day and so on. How awesome would it be to create a new family tradition that happens weekly or semi-weekly?

What are some things you could do (at low cost or no cost) on a friday night or on a saturday morning or on a sunday afternoon that you could do every week? According to some research by the folks from Focus on the Family, building family traditions is crucial to the development of strong family relationships over time. Creating and sticking with family consistencies fosters a deep sense of place, and creates a memory (or a place) where children want to be and want to spend their time.

So, keep it simple for your first go around at creating a new family tradition. Find a book about the great outdoors (here are some good ideas) and teach your children about the moutains, volcanoes, nile river, dinosaurs, bears or whatever else you and your kids love – and read it every ____ night or ____ morning (or both!) Maybe your family loves to ride their bikes but the times that you ride together seem few and far between – make this Saturday morning a “ride our bikes around the park together” morning. Or, perhaps you live in the city and don’t have sidewalks or a big yard to play in – try making nature journals.

Try something new. Try to do something as a family on the same night/morning/afternoon every week for a month. If it is working, keep going 🙂 If not, re-evaluate, ask your family good questions about what they want to do and make a new tradition again. Most of all – have fun creating a new family tradition together! And for some wonderful ideas – click here!

If you head out for a family outing, don’t forget to pack a snack along with lots of water!   Snacks help to keep you fueled up and ready to have fun in the sun!  Here are a couple of snacks that are perfect to pack up and enjoy outside.

Chicken Feed 

A Snack to Take on a Hike!


  • 2 cups toasted oat cereal
  • 1 cup peanuts
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 cup small chocolate candies (such as M&M’s®)

Directions: Remember to Wash Your Hands!

1. Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir gently.
2. Serve in paper cups or small bags.

Helpful Hints:

Individual bowls of ingredients can be set up, and children can take one spoonful of the ones they want to eat in their cup. They may go through the line again after everyone has been through once.

Power Bites

A backpack snack!


  • 1/2 cup brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup applesauce
  • 1 egg
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3/4 cup grated carrots
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup oats (quick or old fashioned)
  • 1/4 cup chopped pecans, optional
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup raisins 

Directions: Remember to Wash Your Hands!

1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. and lightly coat 9×9-inch pan with cooking spray.
2. In a large bowl, combine brown sugar, applesauce, egg, vanilla and carrots.
3. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
4. Pour mixture into prepared pan.
5. Bake 20 to 25 minutes or until golden brown around edges. Let cool and cut into bars.

Helpful Hints:

Power Bites are low in fat and high in healthy ingredients. There’s
fruit — applesauce and raisins; vegetables — carrots; and whole grains — oatmeal and whole wheat. Individually wrap Power Bites to take on a hike for energy along the way.

Cooking is a math lesson right in the kitchen. How do you measure 3/4 cup carrots? (Use a 1/4 cup and 1/2 cup measure.) Stir flour before spooning into the cup and leveling off for accurate measure. Use a ruler to measure baking dishes to find one that is 9 inches square. This recipe makes 18 bars about 3×2 inches each. How will you cut the bars in the dish? ( Six bars one way by 3 bars the other way will make 18.)

Safety Tip:

Just as important as washing your hands before cooking is cleaning the countertops. The best way to sanitize the kitchen counter is to put 1 teaspoon bleach in a quart spray bottle of water. Spray the counter, wipe with a paper towel and then throw the towel away. Change the water in the spray bottle daily.

Grating carrots is a fun cooking experience for kids, but it can also be a real “knuckle-scraper.” Adult supervision and “how-to” instructions are important for kids.

You can find more Kids a Cooking Recipies at:

Looking for a clever way to get the kids to do some writing?  Try a nature journal.  No need to purchase something expensive – you can make one with a rubber band, a stick, a lunch sack, and some paper!

Nature Journal Instructions