The weather outside is frightful. Downright frigid in fact. School has yet to be cancelled in our district here in New Jersey but we have friends in cities as geographically diverse as Chicago, Washington, DC and Atlanta whose kids are staying home so that they won’t risk frostbite — or worse — in the sub-zero wind chills that are whipping the country.
It only makes sense to keep our children appropriately attired during this cold snap, but what about our backyard friends like the chickadees, cardinals, wrens, blue jays and squirrels? They all have adaptive strategies for keeping warm but need a proper supply of food to fuel their bodies. High-fat nuts and seeds, along with treats like slices of oranges and apples, can go a long way to helping them survive and thrive in this cold snap.
If you enjoy the flora and fauna in your yard as much as we do, here’s a simple craft that will supply some much-needed food for the outdoor critters while providing house-bound kids with something to do when they aren’t in school. Plus there’s a little science lesson in this too: you can talk not only about what animals do in the winter to stay warm, but you can learn something about the water cycle to boot.
This little craft looks pretty, too — like stained glass sun catchers, only not quite so permanent. Our girls loved making these and were thrilled when the birds took interest after we hung them around the yard. The only thing I’d do differently next time is to add a couple of branches or sticks that could serve as perches after the water has frozen.
Here’s how we made our sun catchers. You could use just about any fruit you’d like — don’t feel limited by the list below. You could also sprinkle in some birdseed or sunflower seeds if you have some on hand.
Have fun with this one. Just don’t spend too much time outside deciding where to hang yours without hats, gloves, and a good winter coat. (But hey, you can always warm up again with our mulled orange and pomegranate tisane!)
Frozen Fruit Sun Catchers: Another Bird-Friendly Craft for the Kids
Pie plates or cake tins
8-inch lengths of string or twine
1/4 – 1/2-inch thick slices of fruit, like oranges or apples
Cranberries, grapes, or other berries
Unsalted, roasted, shell-on peanuts or other nuts or seeds
Popped popcorn, if you have some on hand
Let the kids arrange the fruit, nuts, seeds, berries and popcorn — or whatever wildlife-friendly fare you’re using — in the cake tins and pie plates. Fill with water to cover (things like cranberries will float, and that’s OK), and then drape the ends of the string into the water to create a hanger.
If you’d like, add some sticks that extend beyond the tins to serve as perches for the birds. Freeze in the freezer or outdoors if it’s cold enough. Un-mould by putting the pie plate or cake tin in a little warm water or simply bringing into a warm room for a little bit. The ice disks will pop out of their containers pretty easily and you’ll be able to hang them outdoors from a sturdy branch or shepherd’s hook where birds and other wildlife can easily get to them.
Bonus points if you do this in “layers,” progressively adding more fruit and water after one layer has frozen to create deep, fruit-filled ice disks.
The birds will pick at any exposed goodies and as the weather warms the disks will melt, providing not only food but fresh water as well.
Kid rating: five stars of fun. Our girls got into arranging peanuts and fruit in intricate patterns in their sun catchers. Not really sure that made any difference to the blue jays and squirrels, but it kept them engaged!
Parent rating: five stars from mom and dad too — these teach good humanitarian lessons, give us something to talk about as we’re building them, and they look cool hanging in the yard. Definitely recommend this project for a chilly winter day.