We previously wrote about the amazing benefits of nature for children and we’ll now continue the nature theme with a guide to making gardens wildlife-friendly for kids. From bumble bees, blue tits and butterflies to hedgehogs, lizards and mini-beasts, there are a myriad of fascinating little creatures that will come to visit if the conditions are right. And kids can help!
You Don’t Even Need a Garden
It’s important to note that you don’t really even need a garden. Many of the suggestions below work for those without gardens too, so long as there is access to an area outdoors that’s unlikely to be disturbed by other humans. Even just a windowsill, window box, balcony or area of common ground will potentially do. Allotments are also perfect, so long as there are no pest-controlling chemicals or measures being used there as these might harm unintended visiting creatures. Any of these areas can be used to attract wildlife so that children and parents can enjoy the sight, sounds and fascinating behaviour of a variety of delightful little creatures visiting through much of the year.
The Benefits of a Wildlife-Friendly Area
Simply put, getting regular visits from little creatures will bring joy and wonder into children’s lives. As well as learning about the different creatures living nearby, children will get to learn about nature itself and the world around them. With encouragement perhaps from adults, they’ll also learn to respect the visiting wildlife, recognising that each is an individual being, with its own character, feelings, preferences and needs. Exposure to such little beings may even help children to understand the importance of ecological matters and greener lifestyles. That in itself is becoming ever-more important as the Earth warms more with each passing year.
Children will benefit from nature in so many other ways too. They’ll get exercise, build up muscles and improve coordination skills when they work the soil etc. They’ll reduce stress being out in the fresh air too. Making the outdoors wildlife-friendly will also get them away from screens like the TV, tablets, phones or computer games and that’s virtually always a good thing.
Of course, it’ll also benefit the little visitors themselves, in the form of much-needed food and, indeed, that is the real key to attracting the most wildlife.
How to Attract Wildlife
After a long, often cold lock-down, Spring is pretty much here at time of writing. What better time, then, to start attracting wildlife to gardens and nearby spaces, however small some of them might be. Birds are returning from foreign lands, other animals are coming out of hibernation and more bees and butterflies will soon be travelling from flower to flower in search of nectar.
Food and sustenance is the real key to attracting most wildlife …
Bees, Dragonflies & Damselflies
Bees will love it if children leave out a little dish of water among any flowers that they regularly visit. It’s important to put something like pebbles and stones in the water so the bees have somewhere safe to land, where they can then sip at the water slightly beneath them. Without the landing stones, the water will be a real danger to them, so that’s an important detail. If they’re lucky, children may even find that dragonflies and damselflies also visit the watering holes that they’ve left out.
Butterflies & Moths
Similarly, butterflies and moths and maybe bees too, will be delighted if children do something similar to the above except, this time, mix water 50:50 with sugar and the resulting sweet-tasting solution can be drizzled over pieces of ripe fruit or spread over a clean piece of sponge. Either of these can then be placed into a small dish which can be left in amongst flowers outside. If you don’t have access to a garden, a windowsill or balcony will be just as good so long as there are flowers in bloom there.
One of the most popular shrubs for butterflies is ‘Buddleia’, which is available with white, deep purple, pink, blue and even yellow flowers. Butterflies absolutely love Buddleia and most Buddleia bushes will attract some amazing-looking butterfly varieties. These can be fantastic photo opportunities for kids as well as a chance to learn the names of the different species and perhaps build up their own wildlife photo album. Buddleias are relatively inexpensive shrubs and are available at most nurseries. They can be planted and will thrive virtually anywhere, although sunny spots will attract the most butterflies. Parents should usually hard prune them (well, most varieties) in early Spring, in mild weather.
For those with smaller spaces for plants, poppy seeds or mixed wildflower seeds are easy and fun for children to grow too, and will also attract butterflies, bees and many other insects to their pollen once they flower. Wildflower and poppy areas can also look absolutely beautiful too.
Birds will love it if children/parents put up bird boxes around the garden or on outside walls of buildings and so on. Watching birds pair up, move into bird boxes and raise families of babies is one of life’s joys and can be quite magical for children to witness. It’s even wonderful when the babies finally leave the nest and children can watch them learning to fly and subsequently being taught how and where to feed out in the natural world.
Care needs to be taken, though, as to exactly where to put the bird boxes. They should be out of reach of predators like cats and foxes and also never be in a south-facing position. The reason for that is that, if they face South, they will become too hot in the Summer and babies will not survive under such heat.
Nursery centres usually have a great variety of bird boxes, some for specific species such as blue tits or robins, and they come in a variety of different forms, many of which are inexpensive. Alternatively, they can be made out of scraps of wood — under close supervision of an adult, of course, or purchased online.
Birds will also love bird baths. Here, they’ll be able to bathe (which is enormous fun to watch) as well as to drink. The water should be shallow and children should be encouraged to change the water regularly, for the health of the visiting birds. It’s also a great idea to put a rock of upturned pot or pot base in the water so the birds have somewhere to land safely and to sit if they don’t want to be in deeper water.
Bird feeding stations are also a huge hit with visiting birds. They can be purchased or fabricated from scraps of wood and suchlike (again under supervision of an adult). Birds will prefer it if bird tables or stations are placed under the canopy of an overhanging tree branch as they’ll feel safer from possible attack from above, from birds of prey. There are also some bird feeding stations that will stick to the outside of your window using little suckers; those are a great way for kids to see birds really close up. Whichever style is used, parents or carers can encourage children to refresh the bird food regularly and to keep the feeding station clean, to protect the health of the birds.
Hanging ‘fat balls’ or ‘seed cakes’ are another convenient option. In our own garden, National Trust branded ‘Robin Peanut Cake‘ continues to be an enormous hit with not only Robins but also with Blue Tits, Cole Tits, Long-Tailed Tits, Starlings and Great Spotted Woodpeckers. We buy ours through our local supermarket delivery service and, considering how much the birds adore it, it’s reasonably inexpensive. For those on a tighter budget or who are more creative, fat balls and seed cakes are easy for children and parents to make from scratch. Indeed, we may follow up with a separate guide to making those in the future.
Insects, Reptiles & Mini-Beasts
Compost heaps and piles of rotting logs are great places to attract insects and mini-beasts like woodlice, bugs, centipedes, millipedes and even the more unusual types of slender wasp, which like to burrow holes into rotting logs and, by the way, are absolutely harmless if left in peace.
Wilderness areas with long, uncut grass or sewn wildflowers will be a great haven for shy slow worms and lizards — or frogs and toads if it’s a damp area.
Hedgehogs will hibernate in undisturbed piles of autumn leaves, under sheds, compost heaps or undergrowth and even beneath unlit bonfire stacks. You can also make or buy hedgehog houses to nestle in quiet, secluded areas outdoors. You stand the most chance of having hedgehogs visit if your fences and boundaries have occasional gaps underneath, where hedgehogs can enter and exit your garden. Seeing hedgehogs, particularly baby hedgehogs, is an absolute delight for children and adults alike. They really are the cutest of garden visitors. Parents or carers need to ensure that children know not to feed hedgehogs milk or bread — it’s very bad for them.
Don’t be put off if wildlife doesn’t come straight away. Animals are rightly timid, particularly around humans, and sometimes it can take a week or two before they begin to trust any new addition to the neighbourhood.
These wildlife opportunities for your garden, windowsill or balcony are just the tip of the iceberg — there are many other ways to attract wildlife for the benefit of both children and the creatures themselves, but we hope this article gives parents and children some ideas for making a start.
We are Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham
This guide was brought to you by Leaps & Bounds Day Nursery in Edgbaston, Birmingham. As well as offering weekday childcare, we are a Forest School setting, which gives children lots of experiences surrounded by nature. That’s especially important for those children who do not have gardens or nearby outdoor spaces to play in. Learn more about Forest School in our complete guide, here. If you are interested in a place for your child at a nursery, pre-school or Forest School in Edgbaston or near Birmingham, Harborne, Ladywood, Bearwood or Smethwick, call 0121 246 4922, contact us, or book a visit here. We’ll be delighted to tell you more and to meet you and your little one(s).