What is a habitat? How does one explain what plants and animals need to seven year-old kids, most of whom have been inside lots owing to our string of cold days? Reading a story seems to do the trick more often than not. Or perhaps I'm just lucky that this group of Nature Clubbers seems to have a love for learning, whether it's after the school bell's rung or not. At any rate, I introduced the concept of habitat by reading the book, On Meadowview Street, by Henry Cole.
On Meadowview Street is the story about a family who moved to Meadowview Street, but there wasn't a meadow to be found...only well manicured lawns separated by fences. The heroine in the story, Caroline, finds a flower growing and asks her dad to mow around it. Soon there are two flowers, then four. And soon, the dad has decided there isn't much lawn left to mow and sells his lawnmower. The butterflies and bees who find the yard pleasant appreciate less noise.
The seasons change and summer's hot sun beats down on the rows of houses and Caroline's little meadow. Caroline observes there are no trees and soon a maple is planted with care, birdhouses are built, and a wren has moved into the neighbourhood. Then they dig out a spot for a little pond and make sure there are lots of nooks and crannies for creatures to call home.
The neighbours notice Caroline's yard, and appreciate it's beauty. Soon there are other families making their yards more friendly for the plants and animals who need a place to live.
Using the story, we talked about the plants, insects and animals that we saw in the pictures at the start of the book. We only saw people. Then we walked through the changes that Caroline made and what happened as a result. When the grasses grew long and the flowers bloomed, who moved it? Why did they move in - what was there for them now that there wasn't before? Was it food? Shelter? Did other creatures move in once the tree was planted? Why did they move in after the tree - what purpose did it serve? Why would the creatures need a pond?
From that, we put together the portrait of what makes an ideal habitat - food (flowers for the insects, insects for the birds), cover (shelter, a place to hide), water (to drink or bathe in). In order to have food, cover and water, there needs to be space - space for the animals to hunt or forage for food, space for the animals to move about, space for them to call home.
Taking all this knowledge, we then drew pictures of a familiar place. It could have been a schoolyard, a backyard, a park, or an imaginary place. Then we looked at the spaces the Clubbers created to see if it would make an ideal habitat for birds. Was there cover? Was there food? Was there water? Was there space? It didn't matter if they could say "yes" to all these questions - if they said "no", then we talked about what could be added to make it an ideal space for birds.
Finally, we attempted to take a short walk to check out potential habitats in the neighbourhood. But after being inside so much lately, they just needed space to play outside, with the crisp air freshening their spirits and colouring their cheeks. What a lovely way to end the meeting!