You don’t need to go to a national park or a wildlife refuge to help your kids learn hands-on lessons about nature and ecology. In fact, you don’t even need a backyard! With these indoor nature activities, you can support a budding naturalist within the four walls of your home! Read on for curious indoor nature activities for city kids of all ages.
Paper Towel Indoor Garden for Younger Kids
Watching plants grow from seed is pure magic, especially when you can see every detail. Though it might be a little hard to get outside for exercise, gardening can be enjoyed from the comfort and safety of your own home. Let your tiny gardeners be amazed by new roots and leaves as they watch seeds come to life with a simple paper towel kitchen garden. All you need for this indoor garden is a package of alfalfa sprouts, a paper towel, a small dish you can rest the paper towel at the bottom of, and a sunny windowsill!
First, measure out 1 to 2 tablespoons of sprouts and soak them in a cup of room-temperature water overnight. The next day, you’re ready to drain the seeds; it’s okay to leave them damp! Then, have your kids fold a paper towel (in quarters is perfect, so that you have four layers of paper towel) and place it in the bottom of the dish you’ll use to grow the sprouts in. Next, add some water to the dish little by little to soak the paper towel. You want it to be fully saturated with water, but you don’t want extra water in the bowl; all you want is to soak the towel itself. You can have your kids add the water one spoonful at a time until it looks just right!
Place in a Windowsill
Your gardening dish is ready, and it’s time to add the plants. Sprinkle your soaked seeds in a single even layer across the top of the paper towel. Tiny fingers are great at doing this, though you might want to do a final check yourself to make sure the seeds are spread evenly. Now, it’s time for everything to grow! Put the project on a sunny windowsill and let nature do its work. Once a day, round up your kids to check the seeds and gently mist them with water. If you keep the seeds and towel damp but not drowned, you’ll start to see life emerging from the seeds within 2 days. Green shoots will pop up, and roots will anchor the seeds to the towel.
After only 4 or 5 days, you’ll have thick, beautiful sprouts just like the kind you’d buy at the grocery store! Trim them with kitchen scissors and put them on the family’s sandwiches for a special home-grown lunch. The fast results, small use of space, visual excitement, and tasty reward make this a perfect first indoor gardening project for city kids! You can use indoor nature activities like this one to explain that the sprouts “eat” the sunlight through a process called photosynthesis, and use it to grow. Then we eat the sprouts, and use them to grow! Younger kids love to learn that when they eat plants, they are getting their power from the sun!
Build a Biosphere or Terrarium With Older Kids
Kids in higher grades and middle school love the satisfaction of building something. A more complex nature project with lots of steps will scratch the same itch as a few hours of playing Minecraft, with the added bonus of a very rewarding end result. What could be more fun than to build a living miniature world? With a biosphere or a terrarium, your kids can create their own tiny underwater kingdom or their own private little forest that fits in the palm of their hand.
A “biosphere” is a water-based ecosystem; kids can make one with inexpensive supplies like algae and live micro-shrimp. You can buy a readymade biosphere kit online, or the materials are easy for you to pick up at any store that sells fish or aquarium supplies, or through an online retailer. A “terrarium” is a collection of plants in a contained jar that is like a tiny garden; as the ecosystem creates its own greenhouse heat, your child will be able to feel the warmth of the living plants through the jar!
Choose your terrarium
The simplest terrarium contains moss and rocks, but elaborate terrariums can contain multiple small plants like succulents or ferns. A quick internet search will turn up lots of terrarium kits for sale, or a call to your local garden center will also do the job. Most garden center employees will be happy to help you assemble everything you need for a fun, functional terrarium.
Whether you opt for land or for sea, older kids and tweens will love designing how to place the rocks and where to put the plants. Let them be in charge, but make sure you’re nearby and engaged to help them succeed with the project. The only thing kids at advanced developmental stages love more than mastering their own small universe is having your high-quality attention and support!
Another thing that older kids, tweens, and younger teens love is to show their knowledge by explaining things to other people. It makes them feel proud of what they’ve learned, and the process of teaching what they’ve discovered helps the information stick. So for added educational value, ask your kid to explain the different elements inside their tiny universe to a friend or sibling. You can even make a fun video about it to send to friends and family!
More Indoor Nature Activities for City Kids
We’re always itching for a summer idea or two for what to do with the kids! Just because you’re raising a city kid who might not be able to grab a dirt bike and explore a mountain range or go camping in a wildlife preserve doesn’t mean that you can’t celebrate nature together. While a biosphere or terrarium isn’t the same as a big backyard, it’s an opportunity for you and your child to observe how life works in cycles and how nature changes a little every day.
With a little assistance and supervision, your kid can create their own personal nature park to keep in their room so that they have a daily reminder of the great outdoors. The key to childhood nature education is to support curiosity and wonder, and a handheld ecosystem is a great way to do it! I hope these indoor nature activities are have peaked your interest. Now have at it!