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kids and nature

The “Seedapalooza” exploration kit lets you lead your very own science class (no teaching or science experience needed) with optional field trips. (Photos by Molly White)

Take science outside with a ‘Seedapalooza’ kit from UW Botanic Gardens

This family had a great time learning and exploring with their nature kit.

It’s that time of the year when Nature starts to replant herself.

Burrs grab onto a wool sock and walk themselves across town before they are noticed and plucked off. Plump chestnuts and acorns strew themselves about, hoping to be gathered up by a tenacious squirrel and buried but not eaten. Maple seeds harden inside tiny helicopters, asking the wind to blow mightily so that they may travel a decent distance from Mother, whose shade can be overbearing. Verdant perennials who have been fertilizing their seeds by feeding happy hummingbirds all summer long, cry “last call,” and draw their nutrients into the earth, letting leaves and flowers turn flaccid and brown.

This is the season of the seed, and it is the perfect time to grab a “Seedapalooza” exploration kit to lead your very own science class (no teaching or science experience needed). My kids and I had a great time with our kit this past week. Read on to hear about our experience and learn how to get your own.

Kids and nature: exploration kits

The University of Washington Botanic Gardens has teamed up with Kubota Garden Foundation to run a fun, pandemic-friendly outreach program geared to families. For the first few weeks of each season there is a new “exploration kit” available for order. Autumn’s “Seedapalooza” kit is available through the end of October, and a winter kit will be available before the end of the year. Use the kit “on site” at the Arboretum or Kubota Garden, or “off site” in your backyard or local park. The kits are appropriate for ages 2 and up. Even the most knowledgeable of nature-mamas or nature-papas will likely learn a thing or two from these highly informed, well-designed kits. The kits are easy to use, and a great way to get children outside and have some low-key fun in the fresh air.

Kids and nature: Center for Urban Horticulture adventure

For our first adventure with the kit, my 2-year-old and 4-year-old and I headed to our favorite nearby open space, UW Botanic Garden’s Center for Urban Horticulture. We opened up our kit and enjoyed reading the comic book “Malik the Maple Seed: The Great Dispersal Adventure” within the perennial garden beds.

The kids thought the book was funny and informative. It was an excellent introduction to seed dispersal, and it set the stage for our adventure.

Next, we embarked on the scavenger hunt. The kit provides two versions for this — one that is more general (easier) and one that is more specific (harder). While the easy version was sufficiently challenging for our little group, we enjoyed referencing the more advanced version for extra information, including specific names for the plants we were finding. My kids also really wanted their own pieces of paper to hold, so that was an extra benefit to using both versions. If you plan to use one kit for several kids, it would be worthwhile to bring both versions or make color copies of these pages before you head out.

We took our time hiking the ¾-mile Loop Trail within the Union Bay Natural Area. Highlights included playing with cattail fuzz, which expanded like magic when we touched it; chatting with researchers who were setting up a new plant study in one of the fields (they helped us identify some of the seeds we found); watching a pair of mallard ducks bob their heads up and down to each other in what appeared to be a ritual; flocks of geese honking noisily overhead as they made their way south; dissecting snowberries and rosehips to investigate the number, texture and color of their seeds; and experimenting with our seeds to determine how they likely were dispersed: Could they stick to our sweaters, or float on the water, or sail through the air on the wind?

Kids and nature

Kids and nature: Washington Park Arboretum adventure

The second day we headed to the Washington Park Arboretum. This time my 7-year-old was with us, too. We started at the “Pinetum” — the section of the Arboretum that features a ½-mile trail through beautiful stands of conifer (cone-bearing) trees. Under a canopy of Western Red Cedars and Coast Redwoods, we re-read the comic book story. I glowed as my 4-year-old explained fruit-based animal dispersal perfectly to my 7-year-old. It turns out he was listening carefully the day before!

We then embarked on some of the other treasure hunts suggested within our kit. We searched for different types of pinecones and dissected them to find the seeds, and enjoyed smelling the intensely pine-scented resin on our hands. We found sticks and marched across the bridge to the Arboretum’s main path to explore further. We followed the map, searching for strawberry trees, acorns, bright-red magnolia seeds, black walnuts and Japanese witch hazel pods (which disperse their seeds through propulsion, meaning they pop open to shoot their seeds more 20 feet away!)

Once we were sufficiently tired, we headed back toward the bridge, stopping to make “seed-copters” with the paper cutouts and paperclips within the kit. There are enough supplies for five seed-copters per kit, and the children had a fantastic time throwing them into the air, competing over how high they went. Once they tired of that we made our way home, pockets full of seeds, planning to do further experiments in the house. We didn’t find everything listed within the kit, but we sure had learned a lot about seeds, dispersal and our local plants.

Kids and nature: How to get a kit

After registering an account with UW Botanic Gardens and paying a small fee (sliding scale of $0-$7 for first kit, $3 each for additional kits), you can arrange to pick up your kit at one of their locations, or for $5 they will mail your kit(s) to your door. The mailing option was ideal for us, but it did take two weeks to receive our kit (I ordered on a Friday and it turns out they only send them out on Thursdays). More details here on ordering a kit.

More on kids and nature:

Mount Rainier Institute has programs for all ages, all seasons

About the Author

Molly White

Molly White is a biologist and writer. She grew up in Washington, Alaska and Scotland. She currently lives in Seattle, where she and her three young children enjoy spending an uncivilized amount of time outdoors. On their adventures through the wild landscapes and waterways of the Pacific Northwest, they learn together about all the important things.