Nature Q&A For Your Curious Kids
With these cool secrets up your sleeve, you'll be sure to spark a sense of wonder in your child
Kids are full of questions about the world around them, and they expect parents to have the answers. I've been stumped more than once by my kids' curiosity about nature. (And I'm a biologist!) So, it's time to get smart—and get ahead of the game. Here are the answers to some common nature questions that your kids might bring to the kitchen table.
1. What are clouds made of?
2. How do birds stay cool in the summer?
3. How do water striders “walk” on water?
Some clouds look like giant puffs of whipped cream, and others resemble feathers, pillows, or fur. Kids (and grownups like me) can't help but imagine how soft clouds might feel, if only we could reach high enough to touch them! But clouds are nothing but a fine mist of tiny droplets of water, so they really have very little “feel” at all.
Here's how clouds form:
1. There is always moisture in the air around us. This moisture is an invisible gas called water vapor. When water vapor rises high into the sky where the air is colder, it condenses and forms tiny water droplets. When billions of these droplets come close enough together, a cloud is formed.
2. Wind, temperature, and humidity (the amount of moisture in the air) help push and pull clouds into different shapes. They can be thin and whispy, round and puffy, tall and thick, and almost everything in between. Scientists have named clouds according to the many shapes they take. (Check out a guide book to clouds and see how many different kinds your kids can find!)
3. When water droplets within a cloud reflect sunlight down to your eyes, the cloud looks white. But in some clouds, the droplets clump together into larger ones, leaving lots of space in between them. These clouds absorb a little or a lot of sunlight instead of reflecting it. This makes the clouds appear different shades of gray, from light to very dark.
4. Cloud droplets can keep clumping together until they form drops that are heavy enough to fall as rain. In winter, the water droplets form crystals that fall as snow.
5. When a cloud forms near the ground, we call it fog. You can walk right through the cloud and feel only a bit of dampness on your skin.
Be Out There: Want to go outside and learn more about the clouds you see? Try this simple cloud tracking activity.
When summer temperatures soar, it's easy for people to retreat into air-conditioned places to stay cool. But what about wild birds, which don't have the luxury of air-conditioning?
Birds use several different tricks to beat the heat, taking advantage of their surroundings as well as their own instincts. Check out a few of these brilliant “bird brain” strategies:
Panting: Like dogs, birds can pant to cool down. When a bird pants, it breathes quickly, moving air across the moist surfaces of its lungs, throat, and mouth. This moisture then evaporates, which absorbs heat from the bird’s body. Each time the bird breathes out, some of this heat is carried outside, leaving the bird feeling cooler.
Feather Fluffing: Birds lift their feathers and hold their wings out so that air can reach their skin and carry away some of their body heat.
Resting: Birds will do most of their flying, singing, and eating in the morning and evening, when the air is cooler. During hot afternoons, they spend more time resting quietly in the shade.
Bathing: Birds like to wade in shallow water and splash around to cool off just as we do!
Be Out There : Host a “swimming party” for the songbirds in your backyard with this Splashy Birdbath craft.
Water striders, those slim-legged insects that skim across the surfaces of streams and ponds, may look as if they're performing a magic act. But there’s nothing magical about it. Instead, it’s all about the nature of water—and how the insects are able to take advantage of it.
The Water: Like most other things, water is made up of tiny structures called molecules. Water molecules cling to one another, forming a very thin but strong “skin” on the water’s surface.
The Striders: Water striders have tiny hairs on the tips of each leg, and each of those hairs has tiny grooves in it. These grooves trap even tinier air bubbles, which help keep the legs from breaking through the skin on the water’s surface.
Be Out There: If you'd like to go out and observe water striders in your area, look for quiet water along the edges of ponds, creeks, or even roadside ditches. Bring your camera -- but first read these tips on photographing insects.
Jennifer Bové, mom and former field biologist, is an award-winning contributor to Your Big Backyard® and the editor of three anthologies including Wild With Child: Adventures of Families in the Great Outdoors
. Jennifer's blog is filled with timely tips and family fun. Stop by for a visit at www.bovesboots.blogspot.com.