Welcoming and Celebrating Spring with Children
Updated: May 1, 2021
Ah, March! You coax us out of our wintering shells and woo us with your promises of warmer weather to come. March is a time of change, its decree carried on its winds and manifested in those little signs that tell us, to be sure, that spring will come soon. Here, in March 2021, I feel that a lot of us are still reeling from the happenings of last March. Quite a lot of change came from that month. But time marches on (ha!) and change is necessary. Celebrated, even!
As I sit here typing, the yard is still covered in snow, though a bit has melted. I've started to notice a few more things. The birds at the feeder have been regaling me with more joyful and spirited songs. The farm over on the hill has their buckets and tubing all set up among the maple trees, getting ready for the rush and flow of the sap in the warmer days. The willows have a brighter, greener tinge to their branches. Soon we'll be welcoming the crocuses and forsythia, the robins and peepers, and longer days as we head toward the Spring Equinox. I know that March, and perhaps even April, are likely to gift us with another snowstorm or two where I live, but we're ready to start the celebrations of the vernal season.
In our family, we have a few customs to help us un-winter ourselves and enjoy the rejuvenation of the spring days. From the earliest, still-kind-of-winter spring days, to the most beautiful and perfect days of May, here are some of the ways we celebrate the return of life.
Bring Nature Indoors
Whether its potted daffodils, hyacinths, and tulips, or cuttings from flowering trees forced in water, bouquets from the market, or a new plant, having living greenery in our homes brings a freshness and lightness to our living space and helps us to develop our sense of hope for the season ahead.
For children, you might force a bulb in a clear vase so that they can see the root system as well as the greens sprouting from the top. Starting seeds in a bright windowsill is also a wondrous and productive past-time. Once the danger of frost is over, you'll be ready to plant your baby zinnias, tomatoes, peppers, or jack-o-lantern pumpkins outside. This doesn't have to be an expensive endeavor, either. Last year, we saved seeds from everything that makes them and put them in dirt. We tried growing mangoes and lemons, even!
Celebrate the Spring Equinox
On March 20th (sometimes the 21st), the Spring Equinox officially marks the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere. The sun crosses over the Earth's equator and day and night will be exactly the same length. The length of the days will increase and the length of the nights will decrease until we reach the day of the Summer Solstice, the longest day and shortest night of the year.
We usually like to have a fire outside if the weather cooperates, which is a great way to clean up the yard of fallen branches from over the winter. We'll also spend a good amount of time outside, either in the yard or on a nature walk.
Get Outside - Go on a Nature Walk
The weather doesn't have to be perfect to enjoy a good walk in the fresh air. As I mentioned in previous posts, I'm not the biggest fan of cold winter weather. That being said, I don't wait for the perfect 75°, sunny day to get outside, either. You'll never get out if you do that! We all thrive when we can get out and take a quick walk, either in the neighborhood or in our local forest. Often, in early spring, I find that a drive to the seacoast to walk along the beach is perfect, as we don't have to contend with snow or mud on the trails (Just sand! Lots of sand!).
I like to take the opportunity on these walks to have my son search for the small signs of spring emerging. We might see a few insects, the beginnings of buds on the trees and bushes, skunk cabbage in the swampy woodlands, or hear the chorus of spring peepers in the roadside vernal pools. Another great activity to incorporate into outside time is kite flying. Not only is it fun, but flying kites teaches the basics of the physics of flight, and can also lead to talks about wind and weather.
Take Care of our Feathered Friends
We like to keep our bird feeder full throughout the winter, but it's especially important in the early spring when the migrating birds start to return and join their hardier cousins who overwintered here, but wild food is still scarce. My son and I like to watch for and identify the varieties that visit our feeder - Northern Cardinals, Purple Finch, Eastern Bluebirds, and Chickadees are some of our favorites.
Another idea to help any nest-building birds is to provide nesting materials for them in an easy to access spot. Natural materials are best, as things such as yarn or cloth strips can be harmful for them. Of course, they can find most of these in the wild, but why not give them a hand? Put out some natural materials such as cattail or milkweed* fluff, sphagnum moss, feathers recycled from an old down pillow that is ready to be thrown out, or even dog hair. Place it inside an old kitchen whisk or a suet feeder and the birds will be sure to pull bits of the materials to help build or line their nests to get ready for their new young.
*Go a step further and allow milkweed to flourish in your yard/garden. Milkweed is essential for supporting monarch butterflies, as they lay their eggs on them and it is the only food source for growing monarch caterpillars.
The egg is an ancient symbol of new life and has long been associated with spring festivities in many cultures around the world. Ancient pagans in Europe decorated eggs as they observed the Spring Equinox and the return of the sun god and the emergence of life. Iranians decorate eggs as part of their celebrations of Nowruz, the Iranian New Year, that falls on the Spring Equinox. Of course, as most are familiar, Christians decorate eggs as part of their celebrations of Easter. I like to make sure to get natural dyes for our eggs. You can also make your own using foods! Red cabbage will yield blue eggs, yellow onion skins will get you orange, beets for pink, and turmeric for yellow. Have you ever tried dying eggs naturally? Tell me how it worked out!
Go on a Picnic
It doesn't have to be fancy. Just the simple act of taking lunch outside can be thrilling for the little ones. PB&J's in the playfort? Sure! Turkey sandwiches on a blanket in the back yard? You betcha! Of course, you can dial it up and make it as fancy as you want. Even incorporate the "Poetry Teatime" ritual into it, reading from your favorite works as you sip lemonade and lay on the big swing together in the sunshine. Go a step further and take your picnic on the road, which leads me to...
Take a Daytrip
One of my absolute favorite places to be is in the car with my husband and son, on our way to somewhere fun. The anticipation of the fun we'll have that day, the cool morning air as we drive down the road, tunes playing, watching the trees zip by, all add up to genuine bliss. One of my favorite places to go in the springtime is up to the mountains to go on a waterfall tour. In the spring, when the snow has been melting off the mountains, the waterfalls are spectacular! I love a warm late-April or May day up in the mountains, lazing by a rushing river while basking in the sun on a big rock. The rush of the waterfall gives off negative ions - the feel-good, electric-charged molecules that float around in areas near crashing water, such as waterfalls and the ocean shore, that research has shown to help with depression and seasonal affective disorder. Sometimes we'll go to visit several falls, some with short hikes to them and some nearly roadside. All of this makes for a great day. Where are your favorite places to visit in the spring?
I got my son a Butterly Kit from insectlore.com for the first time when he was a pre-schooler and we've been doing it every year since! The kit comes with a mesh habitat enclosure, a cup of tiny caterpillars and their food, and everything else you need to raise the caterpillars into butterflies. It's so much fun every year and my son loves to watch them in wonder. After a couple weeks as caterpillars, they'll crawl up to the top of the cup and attach themselves to the lid and build their chrysalis. In a little over a week, the butterflies emerge from their chrysalis and a few days after that, on a warm day, we release the butterflies!
Celebrate Earth Day
I've long held the belief that, while teaching stewardship of the Earth to young children, one should first begin with teaching them a love and appreciation for the world around them, rather than diving headfirst into everything that is going wrong with the world. All of that is important, yes, but not yet. Let them feel the joy and delight of discovering all of these wonders while still unaware of what we've done. For, how are we to convince them that it's worth saving if we don't teach them to love it first? The plight of our planet is far too overwhelming to begin there. Begin with the love. With the wonder and discovery and delight. Explore, connect, love. The rest can come a little later.
With that said, I do feel that it's important to teach children a sense of stewardship of the Earth and even their own, immediate surroundings. Teach them how good it feels to plant a tree, to pick up after themselves and even to instill in them a love for a simple, sustainable life, free from over-consumption of resources.
To celebrate Earth Day, we often spend time in our own yard, cleaning up and doing some planting and generally getting dirty.
Check out my post on Our Favorite Spring Themed Nature Study Books!