Kitchener natural areas program

Suburbs

Kitchener's Natural Areas Program (KNAP) is an environmental program that promotes the stewardship of our community's treasured natural spaces by:

  • Engaging the community in environmental stewardship projects,
  • Educating people about our natural areas, and
  • Creating opportunities for people to experience nature in the city.

We fund and deliver this important program, through partnerships with the Waterloo Region Nature Club, Waterloo Stewardship Council, Nature Connect and Humans in Nature.

Nearby nature in your neighbourhood - online learning resources and ideas

KNAP (Kitchener's Natural Areas Program) offers fun events and learning opportunities for people of all ages.

Check out our on-line programming options that will help you continue exploring and discovering nature in Kitchener while you practice proper social distancing during this time.

We will be adding and updating content on a weekly basis on Wednesdays. This content will include things to watch for in nature around your neighbourhood, as well as simple activities you can do to discover the nature in your city.    

Don't forget to check the wellness practices as well for ways to slow down and stay calm while staying safe in your neighbourhood.

Balconies, backyards, sidewalks - Weekly nearby nature activities for you to do

Whether from your balcony, backyard or nearby greenspace, these activities will help your discover more about nature in your neighbourhood.

Activities for week of May 25

Homes All Around (ages 5 and under)

Creatures make so many different kinds of interesting homes. Listen to “A House is a House for Me” by Fred Penner, which can be found in this video

  • Play a habitat sorting game. Decide what habitats you want to make - either as a drawing on a page or a 3D version in a box (eg. forest, swamp, farm yard, jungle, ocean, etc.). After you’ve created these habitats, sort stuffed animals or toy animals from home into the different categories. Many children are surprised to know that animals they commonly see on video (cheetahs, lions, elephants, sharks) are not found in the forests and ponds of Kitchener.

Toad Abode and Gnome Homes (ages 6-9)

If you have a backyard or front yard, create a toad abode to shelter amphibians. 

  • Try building a gnome home or fairy house out of natural loose materials like sticks, stones, bark, vines, etc. Be creative! There are many ideas online for inspiration. You could add signs to your house to welcome small creatures. You can also make a fairy door and place it somewhere in your neighbourhood to surprise people. 

Habitat Protection and Introduced Species (ages 10-14)

Every plant or creature has an ideal habitat where it lives and grows. Learn about invasive species and their potential impact. Watch this TEDEd talk about invasive species

  • Create your own “wanted” poster for an introduced/invasive species that we can find in Kitchener, and describe its impact.  
Activities for week of May 19
Friday, May 22 is recognized as the United Nations International Day of Biological Diversity. This year’s theme is: our solutions are in nature. This week, discover the biodiversity in your own city!

 

These are the Creatures in my Neighbourhood (ages 5 and under)

Make a mural or collage of the variety of creatures that you can find in your neighbourhood. Think of different categories and draw/cut and paste/paint/write about all of the creatures that you can think of. Here are some to get you started: insects like butterflies, bees, ants; mammals like squirrels, raccoons, skunks; birds like robins, crows, chickadees; mini-creatures like snails, millipedes and worms; water creatures like sunfish, turtles, and frogs. You could also add plants and trees to your art. 


Listen to this Biodiversity Song. What are your favourite creatures on earth?

 

Biodiversity Survey (ages 6-9)

Engage in a Backyard Biodiversity Survey, and use your observational and mathematical skills to calculate the biodiversity index. For extra assistance, read the instructions here. You could try to conduct this survey in different areas of your neighbourhood, or at a nearby park or natural area, and see what similarities and differences you notice.

Play Biodiversity Bingo (here is a video to get you started). See how many different plants and creatures you can find just in your own neighbourhood or yard!

Listen to this Biodiversity Rap, and make one of your own.

 

Biodiversity Festival (ages 10-14)

From May 22-24, Exploring by the Seat of your Pants is hosting an online Biodiversity Festival featuring scientists, explorers, and conservationists sharing their work from around the world. It’s free, and there are many topics to take in over the weekend. 

Take this short Biodiversity Quiz written by One Tree Planted. 

World Wildlife Fund has amazing resources for grades 6-8 that relate to biodiversity and various subject areas (art, science, language arts, math, social studies, STEM). 

Activities for week of May 11

This week, see if you notice any nest building that is happening in your neighbourhood. Watch to see what birds are carrying in their beaks, and where they go to build their nest. 

 

Birding (Ages 5 and under)

Make some bird binoculars using paper tubes. Look out your window and see how many birds you can count. What colours are the birds? Are they different sizes? What are they doing? 

Make some hungry birds and tasty worms. Decorate wooden or plastic clothespins with markers and feathers to make birds. Cut up small pieces of string, yarn or pipe cleaner to make worms, and try to “eat” the worms by opening the clothespin “beak” and closing it on a worm. Great fine motor skill development! You can make up a story about the birds and the worms. Here is another idea to use other kitchen tools as the beaks, or even your own fingers! 

Play this baby bird alphabet game with letters written on paper worms. 

Learn various bird songs in this video. Sing along with this song: Flap Your Wings Together

 

The Best Nest (Ages 6-9)

Many birds are building nests to lay eggs in right now. Can you spot any in your neighbourhood? What materials would be good for nest building? Find things outside, like sticks, moss, grass, etc. Make your own nest. Tweet in whatever bird language you prefer!

Learn about different nest-building behaviours of birds. Watch this hummingbird carefully create its nest. See how these majestic great blue herons fly up to their treetop nest. 

There are so many different kinds of nests! Which kind do you like best? 

 

Nest Watch (Ages 10-14)

Nest Watch includes a guide to many birds and their nests by region, nest shape, habitat, and substrate. If you see a nest, try to determine which kind of bird made it using the guide. 

Take a dandelion selfie by yourself or with your family members. 

Activities for week of May 4
 Froggy Fun (Ages 5 and under)
  • Sing some silly songs about frogs. Here is one of our favourites: Mmm-Ahh Went the Little Green Frog One Day. We often sing this song at our Tales and Trails program, especially in the spring and summer. 
  • Sculpt the stages of the frog’s life cycle using playdough or modelling clay. Include eggs, tadpoles, froglets, and frogs. You could model them after these photos of a frog’s life cycle
  • Play “1, 2, 3, Food For Me.” Have one person be the frog while the rest are insects. The frog can stand on a piece of paper or inside a hula hoop (lily pad). The frog does not move outside of its lily pad during the game. The frog says, “Buzz around” and then the insects run around, pretending to fly. Then the frog calls out “1, 2, 3, Food For Me!” When the insects hear this, they freeze. If the frog sees any movement with any of the insects, the frog calls them to join her/him on the lily pad. This continues until all of the insects are eaten, or until the frog is full, or until someone else wants to be the frog. 

Frog Fest (Ages 6-9)

  • Fold an origami frog and have a frog jumping contest with someone at your house. What type of frog is it? How does it survive winter? Where can it be found in the spring and summer months? 
  • Create a frog chorus. In the spring, male frogs call out to the females to protect their territory and to mate. The female recognizes the sound of her frog species - each species has a different sound. Here are some ways that you can make these local frog’s calls:
    • Western chorus frog: run your fingers along the teeth of a comb
    • Spring peeper: make the sound “Peep… peep… peep… peep…”
    • Wood frog: make soft “quack quack quack” sounds
    • Green frog: pluck a rubber band stretched over an empty box
    • Leopard frog: rub wet hands on a balloon

You can learn more about the sounds for different types of frogs by visiting the Toronto Zoo Adopt-a-pond Program.  

  • For some frog like fun, tell someone one of these jokes:
    • Q: Why are frogs always happy?

      A: Because they eat whatever bugs them. 

      Q: What happens if a frog parks in a bus stop? 

      A: He gets toad away!

      Q: What’s a frog’s favourite candy? 

      A: Lollihops.

      Q: What do you call a sad frog?

      A: Unhoppy.

The fly said to the frog, “Time flies when you’re having fun.”

The frog replied, “Actually, time’s fun when you’re having flies!”

Did you know?

A group of frogs is called an “army.” A group of toads is called a “knot.”

  

Frogwatch (Ages 10-14)

Do you know where the word “amphibian” comes from? It comes from the Greek words for “double” and “life,” reminding us that most amphibians have two settings to their life cycle: land and water. There are five families of frogs found in Canada: true frogs, tree frogs, tailed frogs, spadefoots, and toads. 

  • Research frogs and toads. What are the similarities? What are the differences? Show your findings through a chart or a piece of artwork, or even a song! If you’d like, share your research with us at knap@kitchener.ca and we’ll share it with others!

Frogs are known as an “indicator species” - they are generally abundant in number and indicate the health of an ecosystem. They are vulnerable to changes in the environment, such as pollution or climate. Frogs are an important part of our local biodiversity. 

  • Get involved in Frogwatch Ontario - a monitoring project that estimates and tracks frog populations. Spring is the perfect time to do a frog survey because the males are vocalizing in wetlands, especially in the evenings. By observing and submitting data about frogs, you can help scientists track populations, their range, and distributions. This type of tracking may also help scientists detect climatic change in Ontario over time. 
Activities for week of April 27

Squirreling Away (ages 5 and under)

  • SingGrey Squirrel, Grey Squirrel, swish your bushy tail.” There are many versions of this song. Find a scarf around the house to be your tail. Make up some actions, sing along, and pretend you’re a squirrel.

  • Play a game, pretending to be a squirrel “squirrelling away” food for the cold winter. Find about a dozen items to hide inside or outside your house (small rocks, plastic eggs, pinecones). These will represent nuts. Have one person (the squirrel) hide the items while others close their eyes. When the nuts are hidden, have everyone else try to find them and bring them back to the drey (squirrel nest). How many did you find?

    Can you find a place where there are two or more squirrels in your neighbourhood? Figure out some ways of telling these different types of squirrels apart - each one is unique!

Nuts about Squirrels (Ages 6-9)

  • Draw a map of your backyard or somewhere in your neighbourhood where you can observe a squirrel. Stand or sit very still, and watch the squirrel. Record the squirrel’s movement on your map, using a line to show where the squirrel travels. Check off any of the behaviours that you see on this list:

    • Climb
    • Chatter
    • Chase
    • Eat
    • Carry leaves or sticks
    • Run
    • Play
    • Poop
    • Jump
    • Dig
    • Rest
    • Groom

    You can also use this squirrel spying chart to track squirrel behaviours in your neighbourhood.

  • Play a squirrel habitat game. You will need 12 pieces of paper and someone to play music for you. This is a game like musical chairs. When the music plays, run around, pretending to be a squirrel hunting for food. When the music stops, find a “tree” (piece of paper) to stand on. Each round, the person playing the music will “cut down” various trees (remove some pieces of paper), and then the musical game begins again. As you continue to play, there will be less and less trees for the squirrels to live in. When the trees are “cut down”, try to think of reasons that they might be cut: wood needed for a fire, or furniture, or building; a storm has blown down some trees; a beaver has cut some down. Squirrels need homes just like you do! Where would they go if all of their homes were destroyed?

    Colour a picture of an Eastern Grey Squirrel. You could also colour this fancy squirrel. Name it! Hang it on your window! Introduce it to the squirrels who live in your neighbourhood. 

Project Kitchener Squirrel (Ages 10-14)

  • Get involved in a citizen science project! We’d like to know what types of squirrels are in our city, and how many you are seeing on a regular basis. Walk around your neighbourhood, and count the number of squirrels you see. Complete the Project Kitchener Squirrel survey and send it to knap@kitchener.ca.
  • Investigate! Do different species of squirrels favour different habitats? Where do you tend to see red squirrels in our city? How about grey/black squirrels? This video, called “The Great Squirrel Mystery,” documents some of the results of Project Squirrel in Chicago, and what they found about two types of squirrels living there: fox squirrels and grey squirrels. How do you think their findings could apply to the City of Kitchener?
  • Read the article on this page called “Delight or Headache.” What are the benefits of having squirrels as our neighbours? What are the “headaches”? Do you think squirrels are pleasing or pest-like? What do you think squirrels would think of you - pleasing or pest-like?

 Learn about squirrel communication. Teach your family how to communicate using squirrel language. 

 Activities for week of April 20

Listening walk (Ages five and under)

  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood with your family. During this walk, you can track all of the different sounds that you are hearing. After your walk, talk with each other about the sounds you heard. Was there anything you heard that you didn't know what it was? 

Sound map (Ages five to nine)

  • In the springtime, there are so many wonderful sounds around us. Birds are singing sweetly in the mornings, and some are starting to find mates for a new nesting season. Near wetlands, we can hear the sounds of spring peepers and wood frogs, calling out to each other.

    • Take a walk around your neighbourhood and listen for birds, people, cars, wind in trees, snow or rain falling. Write down your list of sounds and talk with your family about the sounds in your neighbourhood.

Nature journals (ages 10-14)

  • Journals can take many forms. You can make your own using recycled or blank paper, or use a notebook. 
    • Here are some possible prompts for a regular nature journal time on your balcony, backyard or a nearby sidewalk. Choose a spot where you can listen and look closely for several minutes. Use your senses: nose, hands, eyes and ears and heart. What do you notice? Draw or write about what you see/hear/feel/smell.
    • If you have spring flowers, sit by them. Draw one - slowly. What do you notice about the flower that you hadn’t previously? Imagine being that flower. What does its day look like? What does it see? 

 Earth Day @ Home

 Discover nature in your neighbourhood - What is happening in nature this week. 

While you are spending time outside in your neighbourhood, there are many different things that you can observe. Here you will find suggestions, ideas and encouragements to help you notice the changes that are happening. We will be highlighting different things that you might be able to see and hear.  

Week of May 25

  • Wildflowers like trilliums and jack-in-the-pulpits can be found in our woodlands this week. They both have “leaves of three” and can sometimes be confused with poison ivy. There is a rhyme that goes “leaves of three, let them be.” There are three main distinguishing features of poison ivy: 1) the middle leaflet has a much longer stem than the other two, 2) the leaflets droop downward, 3) at least one of the leaflets is asymmetrical. The oils on this plant produce an itchy rash. 
  • Seeds are spreading! Trembling aspens are releasing seeds, dandelion puffs are blowing in the wind, silver maple (native) and Norway maple (non-native) are dropping their “helicopter” seeds, known as samaras. 
  • Tadpoles are hatching from eggs in wetlands. Many insects are now busy, in the water and on land.

Week of May 18

  • Sunfish like pumpkinseed and smallmouth bass begin to spawn in late May. The males make the spawning nests by using their tails to create small depressions in the clay, sand, or gravel bottom of the water. After a female lays her eggs in the nest, she swims away. The male stays to protect and aerate the eggs, fanning water over them. After 2-3 weeks, the hatched fish are ready to leave the nest, and the male guards them for up to 11 days. 
  • Spring is a time for babies! Many mammals are birthing new young over the next weeks, like beavers, coyotes, foxes, deer, groundhogs, and skunks
  • The colourful and often sought after warblers (small tropical songbirds) are stopping by Southern Ontario on their long journey from South and Central America to their breeding grounds. Shorebirds like semipalmated sandpipers and semipalmated plovers are also passing through on their migration routes north.

Week of May 11

  • Tree swallows are building nests in cavities or nesting boxes in our City now. These beautiful aerial insectivores are important to our ecosystem to keep our insect population in check. They feed on insects as they fly, performing impressive dips and dives through the air. 
  • Canada geese are nesting and raising their young. Some goslings have hatched and are exploring the city. Watch for them when you drive and give them time to cross the road! Mallard ducks can also be found flying or walking around the city, and are also nesting. 
  • Painted turtles, snapping turtles, and Eastern garter snakes are waking up from their winter’s slumber. 
  • Spring ephemeral flowers that are blooming in our woodlands include bloodroot (almost done flowering by now), hepaticas, spring beauties, trilliums, trout lilies, and Dutchman’s Breeches. On lawns, dandelions and violets add colour.  
  • This is a great week to appreciate the sometimes under-appreciated dandelion plant. They are an “introduced” plant to Canada that has spread, and luckily there are many benefits! They are good for lawns because their roots aerate the soil, loosen hard-packed soil, and prevent soil erosion. Their deep taproots pull nutrients and nitrogen from the soil and make them available to other plants. It is also an important plant for pollinators like butterflies and bees, providing both pollen and nectar. 
  • Dandelions are seen as a pest plant by some, but a healthy “super food” to others. Here are some of its super powers: vitamin C, vitamin D, fibre, potassium, iron, zinc, magnesium, calcium, phosphorus, vitamin B complex vitamins, organic sodium, and more protein than spinach! Botanists consider this plant an herb. All parts of the plant can be eaten and have many vitamins and minerals that are good for our bodies. 

Week of May 4

What’s happening this week with our nature neighbours in the City of Kitchener? 

In our wetlands, there are several species of frogs that are calling out for mates (the males are the “callers”). Sometimes, people notice them and wonder what kind of bird they are hearing. Listen to the sounds of these frogs, and see if you can learn to identify them: 

See this Toronto Zoo poster of Ontario Frogs and Toads.   

  • Western chorus frogs, spring peepers, and wood frogs hibernate under logs and are freeze-tolerant. They become frog-sicles! They thaw themselves out, then emerge in the spring, heading toward the vernal pools in forests to breed. Watch this Smithsonian video called “Frogsicles: Frozen but Still Alive” about how wood frogs become “frogsicles” during the winter, and thaw out in the spring.   
  • Fairy shrimp can be found in vernal pools, which are small ponds in woodlands that dry up in summer and fall. They are tiny crustaceans (about 2 cm long) that have 11 pairs of legs that they use for swimming, eating, and breathing. Fairy shrimp are an important food source for waterfowl. In the spring, females lay eggs that are super resilient. They withstand the heat of summer (and the drying up of the pond), as well as the cold of winter, and hatch the next spring. Watch this video to see how fairy shrimp swim and learn more about their habitat. 
  • Vernal pools are essential breeding grounds for different types of mole salamanders. There are no fish in these ponds, so amphibian eggs have a better chance at survival. Mole salamanders in Kitchener include blue-spotted salamanders, (yellow) spotted salamanders, and Jefferson salamanders (endangered). Some roads in our area are closed during salamander breeding season to protect the Jefferson salamanders. Red-backed salamanders are also found in our city, but they are terrestrial and lay their eggs under logs in forested areas.  
  • In our neighbourhoods, insects are becoming more abundant. See if you can spot some! Bees are emerging from hibernation - look closely when you pass a flowering tree or plant. Buds on trees are beginning to pop with warmer temperatures. Watch for the leaves to magically unfurl.

Week of April 27

  • Mourning cloak butterflies are one of the first butterflies we see in spring. This is because they hibernate as butterflies! They don’t fly south like monarchs do, but hibernate in the bark of trees for the winter. When warmer weather comes, they fly out and look for tree sap to drink, often in holes made by sapsuckers. Eastern Comma and Compton Tortoiseshell butterflies also overwinter as butterflies, and emerge on warm early spring days. See if you can spot one!
  • Red squirrels are giving birth to their young in nest cavities or dreys. Dreys are squirrel nests, made of grass, leaves, and some sticks. Look for a drey the next time you go for a walk - they are more of a round shape than birds’ nests, and are usually found high up in the trees.

Week of April 20

  • Get outside at different times of the day to listen for birdsongs. What do you hear?
    • Sometimes I hear woodpeckers drumming on trees or telephone poles, robins chirping, chickadees calling out their mating songs, cardinals singing back and forth. Cornell Lab's All About Birds is a great place to start for bird song ID.
    • If you’re lucky enough to be near swamps, ponds, or wetlands, listen for the sound of the red-winged blackbird (conk'a'ree!).
    • Frogs have also started their chorus. Listen for the wood frog or spring peepers.  
  • Go for a walk around your neighbourhood block.
    • Can you see a nest in a tree that has been used?
    • What creature do you think created it?
    • If you would build your own nest, what materials would you use?
Nature detectives - Solve this nature mystery every Friday on Instagram

Become a nature detective! Join us on Instagram in our Instagram stories every Friday to help solve our nature mysteries! 

Friday May 29 - Who spit on that plant?

Join us in our Instagram stories on Friday, May 29 to figure out who the mystery animal is. The supporting photos to help you solve the mystery will be available on Friday on the City of Kitchener's Instagram stories

Here are some clues about the Nature Mystery:

  • Looks like someone has spit onto the plant.
  • Often appears in late May and early June on the stocks and stems of plants in meadow and fields.
  • The adult of this animal is called a “froghopper”.
Friday May 22 - Evidence from an underground creature

Join us in our Instagram stories on Friday, May 22 to figure out who the mystery animal is. The supporting photos to help you solve the mystery will be available on Friday on the City of Kitchener's Instagram stories

Here are some clues about the Nature Mystery:

  • This structure, also known as a chimney, was made by a crustacean and is often found near wetlands.
  • Most other members of this species in Ontario, live in streams, rivers or lakes. This one is different and does not. 
  • You are most likely to find this animal at night when it comes to the surface.
  • The presence of these animals and their burrows is a good indicator of a healthy ecosystem.
 Week 5 Mystery Revealed (open this tab to find the answer)
We discovered the chimney burrow from an underground chimney crayfish. Although the actual crayfish is not regularly observed, you can often find their chimneys left behind in wet moist soil near wetlands. 
Friday May 15 - What is this and Where did it Come from?

Join us in our Instagram stories on Friday, May 15 to figure out who the mystery animal is. The supporting photos to help you solve the mystery will be available on Friday on the City of Kitchener's Instagram stories

Here are some clues about the Nature Mystery:

  • You can see small bones and fur in it (it is not animal poo)
  • It once was a mammal but it came out of a bird of prey
  • This item tells an interesting story about an animals diet
 Week 4 Mystery Revealed (open this tab to find the answer)
  • An 'owl pellet' was found. This pellet is spit out by an owl and is made up of undigested bones, fir and teeth from the food item they have eaten. It is most likely from an Eastern Screech Owl. 
Friday May 8 - What is that sound that goes peep in the night?

Join us in our Instagram stories on Friday, May 8 to figure out who the mystery animal is.  The supporting videos to help you solve the mystery will be available on Friday on the City of Kitchener's Instagram stories

Here are some clues about the mystery animal:

  • I appear early in the spring season. Sometimes when snow is still around.
  • On warm evenings, you will hear me making loud sounds.
  • I spend part of my life on water, and part of my life on land.
  • I have flat, sticky pads on each of my toes that allow me to cling to trees and plants
 Week 3 Mystery revealed (open this tab to find the answer)
  •  The Spring Peeper frog was the one making all the noise.
Friday May 1 - Someone has been snacking! Who was here and what was their snack?

Join us in our Instagram stories on Friday, May 1 to figure out who the mystery animal is and what they were up to.  The supporting images to help you solve the mystery will be available on Friday on the City of Kitchener's Instagram stories.

 Here are some clues about the mystery animal:

  • Has sharp teeth and likes to chew.
  • Spends a lot of time in trees and has good balance.
  • Builds a drey.
  • In the City of Kitchener, there are two different species of this animal. Both can live near people.  

Here are some clues about the mystery snack item:

  • The mystery items were found in an area where there were coniferous trees
  • There is evidence of seeds found nearby. Most of them are eaten.
  • They smell nice.
  • There is a hardened core or centre piece that is leftover. 
 Week 2 - Mystery Revealed (Open this tab to see the answer)
  •  The Red Squirrel was the mystery animal that was snacking on a pinecone.
Friday, April 24 - Feathers have been found! Who do they belong to and what happened here?

Join us in our Instagram stories on Friday, April 24 to figure out what type of bird these feathers belong to and what happened to the bird. The supporting images to help you solve the mystery will be available on the Friday on the City of Kitchener's Instagram stories.

You could just guess, OR the U.S. Fish And Wildlife Service has a Forensics Laboratory and Feather Atlas where you can search feathers by colour, pattern, size, position, and type of bird.

Here's some information to help solve the mystery:

Colour

  • There are varying degrees of grey, some black and some white. On the far left there are some shades of brown

Size

  • The feather at the far right is 13cm long.
  • The all grey feather in the middle to the left of the one with white on its tips and left side is 9cm long.
  • The feather at the far left with some black, brown and a black spot on brown is 6.5cm long.

Habitat

  • The feathers were found in a backyard neighbourhood on the border of Kitchener and Waterloo
  • There is a bird feeder in the backyard
  • There is no water around (this means the bird is not a water fowl)

Use the information above and the images from our Instagram stories to solve the mystery over on our Instagram! Try to figure out what type of bird this was and what happened to it. 

 Week 1 - Mystery Revealed (Open this tab to see the answer)
  • The bird from these feathers was a Mourning Dove.
  • Although there were no direct witnesses, the most likely explanation was that a Coopers Hawk captured and ate the dove and left the feathers behind.

Creature feature - Learn about a new creature every Saturday on Facebook

Even in an urban area like the City of Kitchener, you can find interesting plants and animals that share our city.

In this section, you can learn about some of the creatures that live in your neighbourhood.

Creature features will be posted to our Facebook every week on Saturdays. You can find more details below about each creature feature.

Saturday May 30 - Snapping Turtle

This time of year (end of May and early June) is a great time to see snapping turtles as the female turtles start to leave the ponds, lakes and rivers in search of places to lay their eggs. Unfortunately they sometimes cross dangerous roads. Be on the look out for snapping turtles in your neighbourhood and help them safely cross the road (always in the same direction they were walking). 

Here are some facts about snapping turtles:

  • Canada’s largest freshwater turtle
  • During nesting season (now until mid-summer), snapping turtles travel overland to find nesting sites in sand or gravel. They lay between 40-50 eggs.
  • Its range is from Ecuador to Canada, and within Canada, from Saskatchewan to Nova Scotia.
  • It is considered a species at risk (special concern) because of wetland habitat loss and adult mortality when crossing busy roads to mate, eat, or nest. They are too slow to get out of the way of moving vehicles. It is also common for entire nests of eggs to be lost to predators or cold temperatures. Poaching and pollution can also be problems for the snapping turtle.
  • Predators such as raccoons, skunks, foxes, crows, mink, and opossums like to eat snapping turtle eggs.
  • It takes snapping turtles 15-20 years to reach maturity, and are believed to live well over 100 years.
  • Because of time spent underwater, algae grows on their shell. This helps the turtles to camouflage.
Saturday May 23 - Common Eastern Bumble bee 

The common eastern bumble bee is a pollinator of flowers and numerous fruit and vegetable crops, including tomatoes, blueberries, and cucumbers.

  • The eastern bumble bee is one of over over 800 native species of bees found in Canada.
  • Bumble bees have fur all over their bodies; these hairs collect and trap pollen, which the bees carry from one bloom to another.
  • It's often seen flying through the air in spring and summer near gardens, farms, and backyards.
  • Their nests are located in woodlands and fields.
  • They live in social groups or colonies with queens and workers.  
  • Bumble bees are important food sources for other wildlife.
  • You can help the bumble bee and other local native bees by planting pollinator friendly plants
Saturday May 16 - Red-winged Blackbird

These local birds can be found right now at marshes, ponds, and other local wetlands. Here are some facts about this bird: 

  • they are one of the first signs of spring with males returning ahead of the females so they can find a territory and begin building the nest. 
  • this bird is named after the male bird and its red “epaulets” on its shoulders
  • females are a brownish colour and are often mistaken for other blackbirds or song sparrows
  • they nest in wetlands such as swamps, marshes and ponds 
  • males will aggressively defend their territory during breeding season against intruders
  • they can hop backwards while foraging for food, called “double scratch”
  • their nests are woven cups that are usually strung between cattail reeds
  • they lay 3-5 bluish-green spotted eggs that the females incubate for 11-13 days
  • the main predators to eggs and nestlings are raccoons, mink, and marsh wrens. The main predators to the birds are hawks and owls.
  • they make this sound: red-winged blackbird (conk'a'ree!)
Saturday May 9 - Spring Peeper
  • This is Canada’s smallest frog!
  • Spring peepers are small tree frogs that are hard to find. We can easily hear them, but not so easily find them. They camouflage well, and usually stop their call when people approach. They are tan/grey in colour, and have a darker X marking on their backs. They grow to be no longer than 3 cm. 
  • The female is larger than the male, and can lay 800-1000 eggs. Tadpoles hatch in 6-12 days, and complete metamorphosis after 2 months. 
  • They can jump remarkable lengths - reports say around 17 times their own body length! That’s like a human jumping 30 metres!
  • They hibernate under logs and leaves in the winter, freezing their bodies. Their natural “anti-freeze” allows them to thaw out in the spring, then move toward temporary woodland pools or marshy areas to breed. After breeding season, they forage in woodlands near wetlands. 
  • A male spring peeper’s calls can be heard from up to a kilometre away.
  • This species is stable, but has declined due to habitat loss and urbanization. 
  • More information about spring peepers.
Saturday May 2 - Squirrels

We have many squirrel neighbours who live with us in the City of Kitchener! What colour are the squirrels that you notice? Red, grey, or black? See if you can get to know the ones that make their home in your neighbourhood trees. How many “regulars” can you count?

 Some information about squirrels:

  • In Kitchener, there are two species of squirrels: Red squirrels and Eastern grey squirrels (two colour phases - grey and black).
  • Squirrels are omnivores and eat a mix of plants (seeds, nuts, roots, leaves) and small creatures (insects, caterpillars). They also eat bark, tree sap, birds’ eggs, and baby birds. 
  • A group of squirrels is called a scurry. Is there a scurry in your neighbourhood?
  • They get ready for winter by “squirreling away” lots of seeds and nuts - more than they will need. They create hundreds of caches to hide their food. Squirrels have an excellent sense of smell which they use to recover some of this hidden food.
  • Squirrels stay active in winter, and rely on these caches of food to sustain them through the cold months.
  • They build nests, called dreys, out of leaves, grass, and sticks.
  • Baby squirrels are blind and are dependent on their mothers for about 2-3 months.
  • Tree squirrels, like red and Eastern grey squirrels, belong to the group called Sciurus. In Greek, “skia” means shadow, and “oura” means tail. Squirrels use their tails to communicate, balance, and also shelter them from cold or rainy weather. They are amazing acrobats - perhaps you have seen their tricks at a bird feeder!
  • By the mid-1850s, squirrels had virtually been eliminated from many U.S. cities. It was rare to see a squirrel in Central Park in New York City. Squirrels were reintroduced, and by 1880s, grey squirrels numbered around 1500 in Central Park alone. 
  • Predators of squirrels include coyotes, hawks, owls, and snakes.
  • You can hear them making clucking sounds and high pitched tones that can sound like birds. Watch and listen the next time you see one!
  • Squirrels are like nature’s gardeners, and play an important role in dispersing seeds each year. They move seeds from one area and “plant” them in other areas when they hide them for winter storage. Some of these get eaten, and others don’t, and they grow into new trees and plants.
  • There are more than 200 species of squirrels around the world.
 Saturday, April 25 - American Robin 

How many robins can you spot this week? This is a common bird in our city, and can be found searching on lawns for earthworms and singing sweetly in nearby trees. Keep track, and see if you can get to know the ones who live in your neighbourhood.

Some American Robin information:

  • They are a welcome sign of spring! However, some robins do not migrate and spend the whole winter in their breeding range. If there are berries and fruit for them to eat, they can survive the winter in cold climates.
  • A robin’s diet changes throughout a usual day. They tend to eat more worms in the morning, and more fruit later in the day. Their meals include worms, snails, insects, sumac fruit, juniper berries, chokecherries, hawthorn and dogwood fruit.
  • Robins are vulnerable to pesticide poisoning because they forage for food on lawns.
  • It is hard to tell male and female robins apart, but the females have a paler coloured head.
  • Females choose the nesting sites. They build the nest using dead grass and twigs, pressing them into a cup shape using the “wrist” of their wing. She uses mud from worm castings to reinforce the nest, then she lines it with soft grass. She lays 3-5 sky blue eggs.
  • Robins stare at the ground, head to one side, motionless, as they wait for a worm. Try it yourself! See how many you can find.
  • Listen to the variety of robin songs.
  • More information about robins

Nature-based wellness practices : staying happy and healthy in your neighbourhood

During challenging times like we are currently experiencing, it is important to take care of your mental health and find daily routines that help refresh your mind, body and spirit. These wellness tips, ideas and activities will help you practice mindfulness from your backyard, balcony or nearby nature space.

Mindfulness in nature techniques

Nature connection and mindfulness have many benefits and can enhance our physical, mental and emotional well-being.

Here are some techniques to explore:

 Breath awareness
  • Stand or sit still in a comfortable position so you can more easily focus your attention. 
  • Close your eyes and bring your attention to your breathing, noticing the flow of air in and out of the body.
  • Notice any subtle movements in the body as you breathe, notice the smell of the air and the temperature of the air as it flows in and out.
  • Watch the natural rhythm of your breath.

Our breath is always with us, making it a helpful anchor point for mindfulness and building present moment awareness.

Body awareness

As you become comfortable with your breath awareness, expand the practice to your entire body

  • As you breathe in, imagine your breath going down to your feet, and as you breathe out, imagine the breath circulating throughout the body.
  • On your next in-breath, imagine the breath going to your lower legs, and as you breathe out, imagine the breath circulating throughout the body.
  • Continue sending your breath to different parts of the body until you have expanded your body awareness from head-to-toe.
  • Begin practicing while moving slowing and walking. 

Nature helps shift our perspective so we’re not as absorbed by our minds, which can be very helpful as we take on new mindfulness practices.

 Mindful walking

Select a location that you are familiar with so you can wander comfortably without needing or wanting to get to a particular location – it’s about the experience, rather than destination. Small loops around your yard work great!

  • Noticing each footstep: focus your attention on the sensations of each step you take, the shifting of weight, the pressure on different parts of your foot and how the ground feels beneath your feet.
  • Maintain full body and breath awareness as you move and encounter different sensations throughout the body with each step.
  • Notice moment-by-moment changes such as the movements of joints and muscles, as well as how your body is holding itself up against gravity.

You can notice for yourself how practicing mindful walking indoors compares to mindful walking outdoors. Mindful walking can be especially enjoyable on your lawn or on an earthen or mulched trail. If practicing in your backyard, you can even try without your shoes!

  Watching clouds, water or wind (and watching thoughts)

Find a comfortable position from which you can view the sky, flowing water or wind (this can be from an indoor our outdoor location).

  • Allow these elements of nature (sky, water and wind), to be your mindfulness reminders. When you notice different thoughts or feelings come up, allow them to be carried along like clouds drifting in the sky, a leaf floating on the surface of water, or a small seed being carried by the wind.
  • If you are unable to have a view of the sky, flowing water or wind, this provides a great opportunity to use your imagination and allow yourself to view any or all of these elements in your mind’s eye.

    It’s also an opportunity to be creative – you can imagine your own nature sanctuary with whatever elements of nature appeal to you. 

Wellness practices for your neighbourhood

Take time during your day to get outside in your backyard, on a walk on the sidewalk, or to a nearby natural area and practice these simple techniques to help clear your mind and improve your wellness

 Taking a nature break

The simple act of stepping outside for as little as two minutes can help reduce mental strain and stress.

  • Take 2-3 nature breaks during the day, remembering no amount of time is too little, even short breaks can have powerful effects.

  • Have a nature break with nothing else required other than getting outdoors.

 Viewing scenery and using imagery

When we rest our attention on natural scenery it brings calm to the mind and allows it to rejuvenate. Resting our attention on natural scenery has been found to improve memory, concentration and creativity and reduce the stress response.

  • No need to travel far, your neighbourhood trees or trails will work. You don’t even need to leave your home since spending time gazing at a favourite nature image can also bring these beneficial responses.

  • Once (or more) a day, purposefully let your attention rest on your local natural scenery or on a favourite nature image in the home.
 Expand your senses

Nature offers a rich environment for nourishing your senses. It is full of sights, sounds, smells and other sensory experiences that are calming and restorative to the mind and body.

  • When we practice noticing what each of our senses is detecting, it not only reveals many wonders of nature we may not have otherwise noticed, but it also helps us live in the present moment, allowing us to welcome more calm and peace into our lives. 

  • When outdoors (or sitting by a window), take two minutes to tune into your senses. Stay still to observe each sense in turn. If you can comfortably close your eyes, keep them closed while you tune into your other senses.
  • Notice smells, sounds, and felt body sensations such as the wind or ground beneath your feet
 Savouring your senses

 With practice, your nature excursions can be enriched by noticing all the sensory input your senses detect. 

  • These experiences could be anything from hearing the song of a favourite bird, the warm aroma of pine needles in the sun, or the crunch of walking on freshly fallen snow.
  • On your next excursion, ask yourself: what are my senses enjoying? There’s no right or wrong answer. 
  • To help build a habit of savouring, find a way to reinforce the experience by telling someone about it or writing about it in a journal. 

 Self-Guided Forest Bathing Experience (From your yard, balcony or neighbourhood)

These nature connection prompts are intended to be used during a self-guided forest bathing experience to help inspire you to connect with nature in new ways and to help you direct your attention to your natural surroundings. You can follow this how-to-guide to learn about the Forest Bathing Experience.   

Although traditional forest bathing is intended for a forest setting, we encourage you to 'bathe in nature' from your own home.

Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Element of Air: Turn to face the wind. Open your arms to the wind, welcome it. Notice how it feels.
  • Element of Fire: bathe your hands in sunshine by turning your palms up towards the sunlight. How does the sun feel on other parts of your body? You don’t need to answer, just observe.
  • Element of Water:Treat yourself to a walk on a rainy day. Water brings renewal to all life forms and rain is known to help release beneficial plant oils into the air. Plan your rainy day walk for a tree covered area and practice slow, deep breathing along the way. If your attention wanders off trail, bring it back by noticing the flow of your breath and the scents in the air.
  • Element of Earth: Stand still and notice how the earth feels beneath your feet. Observe whether the ground is soft or firm, sloping or level, or if it has any lumps or bumps. As you stand still, shift your weight side-to-side and front-to-back to help detect the texture of the earth.  Continue to notice how the ground feels beneath your feet as you move along on your walk.
  • Light: Notice the play of light, how it illuminates plants and filters through the forest.
  • Darkness: Allow your curiosity to observe the dark places, the shadows and the mysteries of nooks and crannies such as tree cavities and the undersides of rocks. What do you notice in the shadows?
  • Space:When our minds are busy and full, it can be soothing to observe the night sky. Observe the moon and any moonlit clouds. If the sky is clear, observe the stars and the vast space between them.
  • Silence: Listen to the quiet in nature. Even in urban areas, the trees, rocks and other elements of nature have a silent presence. Notice what elements of nature are silent around you.

Wellness Found in the Garden – Indoor and Outdoor Horticultural Activities

Digging our hands in the soil and working with plants is one of the primal ways in which humans connect with nature. Not only has this been a practice for humans to grow plants for food, medicine and daily living needs, but also a wellness practice that improves our well-being by easing stress along with other ailments. Whether you can help your plants flourish, or you’re still developing your “green thumb”, the act of working and connecting with plants has many wellness rewards.

Check out this video and article to learn more about how we can improve our wellness through horticulture at home.

 1.Seed starting

Springtime symbolizes fresh starts and new growth, and it’s the perfect time to start some plant seeds. Waiting for a seed to germinate (grow its first shoot) and watching its growth is a simple and rewarding way to connect with plants from within your home.

 What you’ll need:

  • Container to start the seeds in: you may have something suitable in your recycling bin – yogurt cups work great! You will want a container that has at least 5cm depth.
  • A dish (or extra container) for the container to rest on and collect excess water.
  • Soil: preferably potting soil to better maintain moisture levels and avoid pests.
  • Seeds: any variety you have on hand – tomatoes and sunflowers are fun to watch.

 How to start seeds:

  • Check your container for drainage (holes in the bottom for excess water to flow through) – poke holes in the bottom if needed. Place the container on the dish or extra container.
  • Fill container with soil, leaving a couple of centimeters of headspace.
  • If soil feels dry, water until it feels moist but is not dripping wet.
  • Plant the seeds.
    • Follow the seed sowing directions on the seed packet, if available.
    • If your seeds don’t have sowing instructions, plant the seeds at a depth of ~2-3 times the diameter or width of the seed. Cover gently with soil.
    • Give the seeds a small, gentle watering making sure the seeds are not dislodged. If your soil dries out quickly, place a clear plastic bag (e.g. zip lock bag) upside down and over the pot to create a mini greenhouse. Remove the bag once the seeds have germinated.
    • The seeds won’t need sun exposure yet, so place the container where there is diffuse light or gentle morning sunlight.

 Taking care of the seeds and seedlings:

  • Check your container daily for moisture and any growth (most seeds germinate in 7-10 days).
  • Water the seeds as needed to keep soil moist, continuing to water gently.
  • Once your seeds have germinated, you can place the container by a sunny window and start giving the pot a quarter of a turn each day so each side of the plant has its turn with extra sunlight.
  • As your plant grows, you can consider transplanting your plant to a sunny location in the garden or a larger container either indoors our outdoors. Wait until the risk of frost has passed before transplanting your seedlings outdoors.

 Taking the activity further:

  • Enrich your experience by journaling about your seed starting process and noting different care needs and stages of growth.
  • Tell someone you know about your seed starting – they may have some helpful tips to share.
  • Observe your seedlings with your senses of smell and touch (carefully!) in addition to your visual observations.
  • Remember: Even if your seedlings don’t make it to full harvest, the attention you give to your plants alone will provide benefit!
 2. Houseplant TLC

Houseplants are such valuable members of a home. They help clean the air, provide soothing foliage for our viewing pleasure, and can help lift our spirits. Taking care of our houseplants does not only provide the plants with some tender loving care, but offers us a self care opportunity too!

 What you’ll need:

  • Your houseplants
  • Damp rag
  • Scissors and/or secateurs
  • Spare plant pots for repotting – Optional
  • Potting soil – Optional
  • Fertilizer - Optional

 Houseplant Care:

  • Bring your houseplant to a comfortable work surface. It’s helpful to move the plant away from its usual position so you can better inspect it from all angles.
  • Wipe any dust off of leaves with the damp rag.
  • Trim off any dead foliage – dead leaves will often easily pull away with a gentle tug.
  • Notice if the soil level has gone down – top it up if you have potting soil available.
  • Check for bugs or pests. More information about pest management can be found here.
  • Houseplants need nutrients that most potting soil mixes don’t provide, so if you have a fertilizer appropriate for your plant, take this opportunity to give them some plant food.
  • And of course, a drink of water.

  Taking the activity further:

  • Inspect how much the plant has filled out the pot – consider whether it needs to be repotted to a larger pot.
  • For plants that have overgrown their pots, investigate whether your plant can be divided (gently teased apart and repotted as two or more plants). You can find more information about dividing common houseplants here.
  • If you’re looking to grow your houseplant family, dividing plants (mentioned above) is a way to propagate your plants, as is taking cuttings from plants. Find out more on houseplant cutting methods and plant propagation.
3. Create an Indoor or Outdoor Container Herb Garden

Herbs are wonderful plants to grow at home. Not only can many be grown indoors or outdoors, their versatility includes their many uses such as for food seasonings, teas, and aromatherapy.

What you’ll need:

  • If growing from seed: one or more varieties of herbs. If growing more than one herb, try to select varieties that like the same amount of light and water. For example, basil and parsley tend to grow well together. 
  • If planting seedlings: one or more compatible seedlings. Similar to the above, select varieties that like the same amount of light and water. Another combination of herbs that grow well together is rosemary, thyme and oregano.
  • Note: aggressively growing herbs, such as mint, should not be planted with other herbs.
  • A container for starting the seeds or potting the seedlings. The size of container will depend on the number of plants you would like to grow. Check out this resource on container sizes.
  • A dish or tray for the container to rest on and collect excess water.
  • Soil: preferably potting soil to better maintain moisture levels and avoid pests.

 Starting your herb garden:

  • Prepare your container for seeding or planting. Make sure there are drainage holes in the bottom to drain excess water away. Alternatively, create a false bottom in the container to collect water and keep it from saturating plant roots. This false bottom can be created by placing a layer of rock in the bottom of the pot so water can drain into the spaces between rocks.
  • Place your container on a dish or tray to avoid messes when watering.
  • Fill the container with soil, leaving a few of centimeters of headspace (and a bit extra headspace if planting seedlings).
  • Check soil moisture. If soil feels dry, water until it feels moist but is not dripping wet. If soil drips water when squeezed, give it a few days to dry out so it no longer drips.
  • If growing from seed:
    • Follow seed sowing instructions on the seed packet.
    • Alternatively, follow the guidelines in our resource, Seed Starting.
    • If planting seedlings:
      • Give seedlings a gentle watering before planting.
      • Remove seedlings from their packaging. The soil around their roots should hold together.
      • Observe if there are many roots. Some seedlings will become “root-bound” from growing in a smaller container. Gently massage the roots to help loosen them up.
      • Dig holes approximately the size of the seedling’s root and soil clump and plant to a depth so that the soil/root clump surface is flush with the surface of the container soil. Be careful not to plant the seedling stem below the soil surface as it may cause the stem to rot.
      • Pat soil down around the seedlings and give a gentle watering.
      • Place your herb garden container in a location that meets the light requirements of the herbs you selected to grow.
      • Check the container soil moisture level daily until you have a good idea of how quickly the soil dries out. Water as needed to keep the plants happy.
      • Enjoy watching your plants grow and have fun finding new ways to use herbs!
      • Additional notes:
        • Herbs, like most plants, are more likely to thrive outdoors, so if you have the space, let them be in the open air when the weather conditions are suitable.
        • If you plan to use edible herbs in the kitchen, make sure you don’t treat your plants (or potential pests) with any harmful substances.

 Taking the activity further:

  • If you have herbs growing in abundance, try drying some of the plant material and storing it in an airtight container for use in the winter months.
  • Learn more about starting a home herb garden and how to use herbs in the kitchen here.
  • Explore your herbs with all of your senses. See our Expanding Your Senses with Herbs activity. 
4. Flower Observation and Arrangement
The appreciation and enjoyment of flowers is recognized all around the world. Flowers are celebrated in large festivals such as tulip and cherry blossom festivals, and are used to celebrate personal events such as a birthday or graduation. The inherent beauty of flowers is something we all recognize and when we take time to savour their beauty, they can also give a boost to our well-being.

 

What you’ll need:

  • Flowers: these can take the form of tree, shrub or herbaceous flowers in bloom in your yard, a flowering houseplant, a fresh cut bouquet (purchased or collected from your yard), or images of flowers in bloom like these.
  • Optional: vase, or multiple vases, for arranging cut flowers. Vases don’t need to be fancy (the flowers are the focal point), they can be a pasta sauce jar from your recycling or a mason jar.

 Flower observation:

  • Create a relaxing environment for you to enjoy your flowers. Consider what lighting you would like, whether you would like to listen to music or have silence, find a comfortable position to view the flowers. Consider what else you can do to make the flower viewing relaxing and enjoyable for you. Perhaps a cup of tea to sip while observing the flowers would enhance your experience.
  • Take a moment to centre yourself. Take a few slow, deep breaths to help calm and clear your mind.
  • Without any specific goal to be attainted, observe the flowers.
    • Notice their colours. What name would you give to one of the colours you most enjoy?
    • Feel the textures of the stems and petals.
    • Note any patterns or distinct markings as well as shapes.
    • How do the flowers smell? What would you call that scent?
    • Observe the tiny aspects of the flowers.
    • Take in the flowers as a whole.
    • Let your senses and attention go to whatever they are enjoying about the flowers.
  • Your flower observation can take as little or as long as you like. When you feel ready to move on from this activity, take a couple of more slow deep breaths to re-centre yourself before moving on. If you have fresh cut flowers available, you can move on to flower arrangement, if desired.

Flower arrangement:

After having some time observing your fresh cut flowers, you can consider how you may wish to arrange them. There are no rules with arranging, so have fun, experiment, and let your personal creative style shine! Some ideas and considerations are provided below. 

  • Unless your flowers have just been cut, you’ll want to give the stems a fresh new cut, taking off approximately 2-3cm from the bottom. It is recommended to cut the stem on an angle.
  • Remove the bottom leaves from the stem. None of the leaves should be contained within the vase or in contact with water in order to help avoid rotting.
  • Fill your containers with fresh clean water (and cut flower food if you have it on hand).
  • Try different groupings of stems.
    • Visually speaking, humans tend to prefer odd numbers compared to even numbers, play around with how you group the same type of flower stem.
    • Try different colour and texture combinations. Notice if you prefer a monochromatic palate or one with more variety.
    • If you have stems of greenery available, make sure you include these in your trial arrangements.
    • Remember: you can cut the stems to different heights for more variety and to help give the arrangement your preferred shape.
    • View the arrangement from different angles to catch any changes you may like to make.
    • You may want to cut extra length from the stems to help the flowers sit nicely in the vase. Alternatively, you could use string, wire, tape or elastic bands to hold the stems together, being careful that they aren’t too tight. This final touch can be done once you’re happy with your arrangement and have tested how the flowers sit in their vase.
    • Replace and replenish the vase water every couple of days to help keep the flowers fresh. You may also wish to periodically give the stem bottoms  a fresh new cut.
    • Keep your arrangement away from particularly warm areas of your home to help extend the life of the flowers.
    • Need some more ideas for inspiration, here’s just one of many online resources.
    • Take brief moments regularly to savour your flowers!

Taking the activity further:

  • Learn about the Japanese art of Ikebana or other style of flower arrangement.
  • Find new ways to savour your flower arrangement.
    • Consider where you can place the arrangement in order to get the most viewing pleasure.
    • Take photos of your arrangement.
    • Journal about what you enjoy about the flowers or process.
    • Share your experience with someone.
    • Make arrangements with someone else (either working together on the same arrangement or on separate arrangements at the same time) and appreciate each other’s unique style.
    • Give a homemade arrangement as a gift. 
 5. Expanding Your Senses with Herbs

Herbs are often recognized for their culinary uses and unique tastes, but they can enrich our senses in many other ways. You may be surprised by the sensory delights you find when you spend some time with a herb. Whether you are familiar with using herbs or not, this activity will provide a moment of calm, nature connection, and a new appreciation of herbs.

What you’ll need:

  • A fresh, edible herb. You only need 1-2 sprigs. Herbs that are often enjoyed with this activity include: mint, lemon balm, and basil.
  • You’ll want to make sure you have clean hands and that the herb sprigs have been rinsed and are ready to eat.

Expanding your senses:

  • Find a comfortable place to sit with your herb sprigs.
  • Leave your sprigs aside while you take a moment to centre yourself. Take three deep and slow breaths to calm your mind and help you connect with your body.
  • Pick up one of your herb sprigs, and take a moment to observe the herb. Have the intention of being open to connect with the plant.
  • If comfortable doing so, close your eyes. Feel the textures of the herb. Feel the stem, the leaves. Slowly draw the sprig across the palm of your hand. Explore the herb with your hands and sense of touch.
  • With eyes still closed, bring the sprig up to your nose for a sniff – notice its scent. Then, rub the sprig between your palms to help release more of its scent and bring your hands towards your nose to take in the scent again. Maintain calm, deep breathing. Repeat this step as much as you like.
  • If you can, still keep your eyes closed and take a tiny nibble of the herb. Notice the flavor and any sensations in your mouth. Notice if the herb tastes any different now compared to when you’ve had it before.
  • Open your eyes and take another moment to observe the herb sprig with your eyes. You may wish to use your second sprig for this part since most herb sprigs will lose their form when rubbed between your palms.
  • Notice if the herb sprig looks how it felt with your eyes closed, or looks how it tasted.
  • When you’re ready to end your sensory time with your herb, take three more deep, slow breaths and a moment of gratitude. Give thanks for something you enjoyed about your sensory experience.

 Taking the activity further:

  • Continue your sensory experience and connection with this herb by incorporating it into your next meal. Some herbs also make delightful teas.
  • Do this activity with a friend or family member and share your observations as you go along, and/or share your experiences at the end. Did you have any sensory surprises?
  • Read about the origins and traditional or folkloric uses of the herb you got to know through this activity.

 

  

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