Autism Nature Club at Home
Change can be particularly difficult for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder. We can’t wait to welcome everyone back to the Autism Nature Club, but in the meantime, we wanted to bring a little bit of the program to you, virtually, with nature-based movement and sensory activities!
1. Hang Out With the Horses
The horses at Mountsberg are Percheron horses, which originated in the region of Le Perche, France. Once upon a time, knights were known to ride Percheron horses, and later, they were used to pull passenger coaches and assist with agriculture and other work. Today, these horses are still used for farm work, recreation, dressage and riding. Percheron horses can grow between 16 and 18 hands (this is a common unit of measurement for horses) and weigh about 1,800 to 2,500 lbs. They are usually black or grey but can also be bay, roan or chestnut in colour. At Mountsberg, we have 6 Percheron horses, named Sally, Ruby, Ollie, Judy, Brooke and Odyssey. Odyssey is the largest horse at Mountsberg, standing over 17 hands tall and weighing more than 2,000 lbs, but he is a sweet and affectionate with his handlers.
The horses at Mountsberg are very strong and love to work, often pulling large wagons filled with people at the parks. Try some of these heavy work activities at home!
- Wheelbarrow Walk - Hold your child’s feet and have them walk on their hands.
- Laundry Basket Push - Place some heavy items in a laundry basket and push it up and down the hall.
2. Wander Through a Wetland
Mountsberg has a variety of wetlands, including ponds, marshes and swamps, which are home to many creatures. Let’s take a virtual tour into a wetland and see what we can find!
Invertebrates: Invertebrates are animals that do not have a spine. They can be single-celled or multi-celled and may be covered in a hard shell. Invertebrates are important in the wetland ecosystem as they are a source of food for other species and help with the process of decomposition. Some of the invertebrates you might find in the Mountsberg wetlands are Caddisfly Larvae, Fairy Shrimp and Water Boatman!
Frogs: When you wander around a wetland, you will probably find frogs in different life stages. Frogs begin their life as eggs, turn into tadpoles, grow into froglets and then become frogs! As tadpoles, they breathe through gills, swim with a tail and feed on algae. As the tadpoles grow, the tail and gills disappear, and their diet begins to change. As adults, frogs are carnivores and mostly eat insects. At Mountsberg, you might find Leopard Frogs and Green Frogs in the wetlands, and Spring Peepers and Wood Frogs in the swamps and forests. Often, you hear frogs before you see them, particularly in the spring when the males are singing, loudly, to attract a girlfriend.
Turtles: Turtles are members of the reptile family. At Mountsberg, we often find Painted Turtles and Snapping Turtles in the pond. Turtles are cold blooded, or ectothermic, which means that they use the environment around them to regulate their body temperature. This is why we often see painted turtles resting on a log, absorbing the warm rays from the sun. Turtles are omnivores and will eat both plants, such as duckweed, or animals, such as fish and tadpoles. Snapping Turtles are ambush hunters and are very talented at finding camouflage among wetland plants.
- Water Detective - If you can take a walk, safely, look for signs of water and how it flows in your neighbourhood. Where does the water go? Do you see any animals using the water?
- Virtual Pond - Fill a bucket or bin with water and small toys. Use spoons, tongs, scoops and sieves to examine the toys in the bin, just like an ecologist.
- Frog Run - Set up a start and end point. Hop or jump to the start point and back. If you have siblings, add to the game by making it a relay race.
- Frog in a Bucket - Use a bean bag or, if you have one, a stuffed frog. Set up a bucket and try to toss the “frog” into the “pond.”
- Hide and Seek - Painted Turtles have green shells with orange markings, which they use to hide. Create your own safe space to go when you need quiet time and decorate it. A large cardboard box works great if you have one!
3. Maple Moments
Mountsberg is home to a sugar bush, where we tap about 500 maple trees each spring, and turn the sap into maple syrup. The trees that we tap are Sugar Maples, which have rough, grey bark and leaves with five points. Before you can tap a maple tree, it should be healthy, and at least 25 cm in diameter, which typically happens around the time the tree is 40 years old. In the summer, the leaves of the tree create sugar through a process called photosynthesis, and that sugar helps the tree grow. In the winter, the sugar is stored as starch inside the tree. Then, in the spring, when the days become warm enough for ice and snow to melt, the sugary sap begins to flow. Sap is only 3 percent sugar and the rest is water. To create maple syrup, we boil the sap in a machine, called an evaporator, and as the water evaporates, the syrup is left over. Early in the maple season, we produce a golden syrup. As the season progresses, we have to cook the sap a little longer, and the syrup becomes darker, but it all tastes delicious!
- Tree Walk - If you can take a walk, safely, see how many different tree species you can find! Can you find the trunk, branches and roots of each tree?
- Bark Rubbing – Press a piece of blank paper against the trunk of a tree and rub the side of a crayon over the paper to get an imprint. Try this with different tree species to make a collection!
- Bucket Challenge - It takes about 40 buckets of sap to make one bucket of syrup and we still collect these buckets by hand at Mountsberg. Set out one large bucket of water and another large bucket that is empty. Then, use smaller cups to transfer the water from one bucket to the empty bucket.
4. Rock Detective
Many of our parks, such as Crawford Lake, are found along the Niagara Escarpment, which is a large cliff that runs through Southern Ontario from Niagara Falls to Tobermory. The Niagara Escarpment was formed 450 million years ago, during the Paleozoic Era, which makes it older than the dinosaurs.This part of Ontario was the rim of giant bowl, which was filled with a shallow, warm sea, known by geologists as the Michigan Basin. There were rivers that ran into this sea, and they carried mud, sand and clay, which settled in the bowl. These deposits formed the base of the escarpment. There were also tiny sea creatures and coral reefs that lived in the sea. When these creatures died, their calcium-rich skeletons settled on the bottom and, over time, turned into limestone and dolomite rocks. You can still see the fossils of these ancient creatures, preserved in the rocks along the lake and escarpment at Crawford Lake!
- Rock Walk - If you can take a walk, safely, see how many different types of rocks you can find along the way, and make sure to check for fossils. How do you see rocks being used?
- Rock Painting - Use water or paint to decorate rocks that you have around you. You can even use your painted rocks to decorate your home, balcony or yard!
- Fossil Discovery - Hide small pebbles in a ball of clay or play dough. Then, use your fingers or tools to dig the pebbles out.
- Sediment Sandwich - You can model sedimentary rock by layering food items to make something for lunch! Sandwiches, anyone?
5. Black-Capped Chickadees
Walk through just about any forest around here and you will probably hear the “chick-a-dee-dee-dee” of the Black-Capped Chickadee. Chickadees are a small but mighty bird that lives here in Canada, through all four seasons. Their diet consists mostly of invertebrates, but they also search for calorie-dense food, such as seeds and suet from bird feeders, during the winter. When it’s cold, they eat constantly and lower their body temperature by about 10°C at night, to conserve energy. Chickadees have an amazing memory! They store their food throughout the forest and are able to remember the location of a food stash even up to 28 days later! Chickadees like to make their nests in hollow trees and stumps, using small fibers, hair and plant material. To help chickadees, and other birds in your neighborhood, consider putting out a feeder in the winter, keeping cats indoors and planting native plants in your backyard.
- Bird Walk - If you can take a walk, safely, look and listen for birds. You can even use our Nature in my Neighbourhood sheet to create a bird watching journal!
- Build a Nest - Use materials that you have around you, such as clay, hair, yarn or plant fibres to create your own bird nest. If you have a stuffed or plastic bird, place it in the middle.
- Hide-a-Cache - Take several items and hide them through your house. Then, take a few minutes to listen to a song or read a story, and see if you can remember where you hid all of your items.
Children and Nature