Meadow Restoration-themed Activities
These activities aim to answer three general questions about meadows.
- What lives in a meadow? Early Learners (K-2nd)
- Why are meadows important? Upper Elementary (3rd-5th)
- How are meadows created? Middle and High School (6th – 12th)
(Many of our resources extend beyond the specified age group. Feel free to venture outside of your age section.)
What lives in a meadow?
Meadows are locations dominated by native grasses and forbes. These plants are the foundation for the ecosystem as the primary producers. They support the higher levels of the food chain as the first nutrition source for organisms. Many animals such as songbirds, rabbits, and insects rely on the plants in a meadow to survive.
- Draw the creatures that live in a meadow as you read. If you are creating a nature journal, you can add these drawings to your journal. (See more about creating a nature journal here.)
- Try to find all the plants mentioned in “Over in the Meadow.”
How do plants grow?
Plants grow just like you and me! To learn how plants grow watch this video of seed sprouting in slow motion.
All plants go through a life cycle. The cycle of most plants can be broken down into growth phases.
Seed Germination - The seed produces its first sprout.
Vegetative Growth - The sprout grows larger and develops leaves and branches.
Flower Production - The plant produces flowers to be pollinated.
Fruit production - The pollinated flower produces fruit.
Seed Release - The fruit holds seeds to be dispersed to create new plants.
Plant Death - The plant reaches the end of its life cycle
Now act out the life cycle of a plant yourself!!
- Roll your body into a tight ball and stick out a finger to germinate.
- Begin to extend your limbs and grow taller and taller until you are standing reaching upwards toward the sun.
- Create a flower form with your hands and reach them upwards.
- Ball your hands into a fist as your fruit ripens.
- Quickly open your hands pretending to release seeds from your fruit.
- Become limp and slowly come back to the ground as you return to the earth.
It’s Time to... GET OUTSIDE!
Go outside and look for plants in your backyard or local greenspace.
- Draw a few of the plants you see.
- Did you find different stages of plant growth outside?
- Do the growth stages of different plants look the same?
- Label the different growth stages on your drawing.
How do seeds travel?
Seeds can’t get up and walk around so they need to find other ways to move. Some have wing-like projections, some float, and others explode!
- Check out this document to learn more about how seeds move.
- Draw imaginary seeds that would move by water, wind, fur, or animals (eating, burying).
Now it’s time to investigate your local seeds!
You will need:
- A white sock
- Piece of white paper
- This seed investigation sheet (or another sheet of paper to copy it)
- A bag or bucket to gather seeds
- A pen/pencil
- Put your white sock on your hand and run your sock hand through grasses to try and pick up hitchhiking seeds!
- Look for seeds that disperse in other ways (wind, water, and animals) and gather them.
- Pick the seeds off of your sock and place them, and all other seeds you found, on a piece of white paper to see them clearly.
- Use your seed investigation sheet (here) to decide how your seeds travel. Draw the seeds you found in the correct dispersal section on your sheet.
What do plants need to survive?
Check out this fun song about plant survival needs to find out.
Now it’s time to use what you learned!
Plant the seeds you collected in a cup with soil or in your yard/local green space and see what grows! Use this worksheet created by Project Wild “Getting Little Feet Wet” curriculum, to record what you provided for your seeds to grow.
- This worksheet also provides space for plants that do not receive water. To emphasize the importance of water for plant growth you can see what happens when you don't water some of your seeds. Record your observations with drawings or notes.
Craft Activity: Create a rain stick and do a rain dance to encourage the rain to water your new plants. Water your plants with water from your sink as well.
- You will need: A toilet paper/paper towel roll, paper, tape, scissors, aluminum foil, beans/rice/or beads
- Follow these easy steps to create your rainstick. (Photo instructions created by Project Wet curriculum guide).
- Cut slits around the perimeter of a circle of paper.
- Tape the paper circle to the end of your paper tube.
- Roll a piece of aluminum foil into a long snake and then wrap it around a pencil to create a coil.
- Insert the coil and any assortment of beans/rice/or rice into the tube.
- Tape another paper circle to the open side of the tube.
- Decorate your new rainstick and enjoy!!!
Why are meadows important?
Meadows provide many beneficial services. Try to find all the reasons meadows are important in this document and keep a list of what you find.
One of the services you many have found is filtration/ absorption! The Anacostia watershed is approximately 22.5% impervious surface, which means rain water is not able to absorb into the ground and continues to move toward the waterways carrying pollution with it. This is known as runoff. Meadows, like wetlands, are great natural filters. The vegetation in the meadow absorbs and cleans runoff from rain events and inhibits polluted water from directly flowing in the river. In order to demonstrate the power of meadow absorption we will have a Water Race!!
You will need:
- Two cups filled with an equal amount of water
- A paved surface and a grassy surface (preferably sloped)
- A measuring tape or string
Pour one cup down the paved surface and one down the vegetated surface. Measure how far the water traveled. Which cup of water won the race!? Think about why one traveled further than the other. How does plant life help reduce runoff?
Another service provided by meadows is Habitat! A habitat is the natural home or environment for animals, plants, and other living organisms. Meadows provide essential habitat for many animals including bird species such as Northern bobwhites, common yellowthroats, rose-breasted grosbeaks, American woodcocks, and yellow-breasted chats.
Although not all bird species find a home directly in the meadow, many birds will gather meadow grasses and plant fibers to create their nests. Nesting season for many local birds is from late February though late June. From mud and grasses, to spider silk and lichen, every bird species uses different materials and techniques to build their nests. Watch this video of a nest dissection to understand how birds build their homes.
Try to build your own bird nest!
- Go outside and gather any natural material that you think a bird might use to build its nest.
- You might choose to gather grasses, twigs, leaves, or mud for example.
- Once you have your natural materials, get to work building a nest for your very own bird. Your bird can be a real species or an imaginary species.
- Optional: Draw the bird who would inhabit your nest.
While some birds such as the Woodcock require early successional meadow habitat, there are many other birds that can be seen enjoying your own backyard habitat.
Now it’s time to do some bird watching!
You will need:
- This worksheet created by the National Wildlife Federation
- A writing utensil
- Optional use of apps such as Merlin and Audobon or bird guides in your home
- Find a nice place to sit outside and watch the birds around you.
- Use the worksheet to identify common birds near you. Watch their behavior. Are they looking for food? What are they eating? Are they perching or flying?
- Record what birds you see and how they are using your local habitat.
In addition to habitat, Meadows also provide food for an abundance of organisms from the largest bobcat to the smallest ant. Insects are by far the most abundant group found in meadows. In fact, meadows would not exist without the help of the pollinating insects who call the meadow home.
Insect pollinators such as this Tiger Swallowtail rely on the nectar of meadow flowers such as this milkweed.
But How does Pollination Work?
Through the process of drinking nectar, the pollinator gathers pollen produced by the flower on its body. When the pollinator lands on a new flower some of that previous flower’s pollen is left on the new flower. This allows the flower to become fertilized and produce seeds for a new generation of plants.
Just as pollinators are attracted to the sweet nectar of flowers growing on meadows, many insects are drawn to the flowers growing in our yards or even the foods we have in our homes.
But, not all pollinators are insects! Bats and hummingbirds are also pollinators.
What is an Invertebrate?
One main thing makes bats and hummingbirds different from insects...they have a backbone!
Feel your back. Do you have a bumpy hard backbone as well? Yes! All animals with a backbone are called vertebrates and all those without one are called invertebrates. Does a butterfly or an ant have a backbone? No! They must be invertebrates!
Invertebrates such as ants, butterflies, bees, and flies can be placed in another special group who all have specific things in common. Insects!
All insects have:
- Three body parts (head, thorax, and abdomen)
- A hard exoskeleton made of chitin
- Six legs
- Compound eyes
- Two pairs of wings
We can tell if an invertebrate is an insect by considering these characteristics. Would a spider with eight legs be considered an insect? - No, all insects have six legs. Many of the pollinators that we depend on to pollinate our food and meadow plants are insects.
Investigate your local insects!
You will need:
- A plate
- Food scraps, especially foods with a high sugar content
- An outdoor space
- Paper and pen/pencil
Put your food scraps on a plate and set the plate outside for a few hours. After time has passed, return to your plate and see what critters took interest. Check out each of the invertebrates on your plate and decide- Are they insects? Use what you know about insect body parts to decide. Keep track of how many insects vs. other invertebrates come to check out your food.
Take a Mini Hike!
Now that you have learned about the many things a meadow provides, it is time to investigate your own backyard “meadow”. To do so you can go on a “mini hike”.
You will need:
- A piece of yarn cut to about the length of your arm
- A piece of paper and writing utensil
Lay your yarn out in the grass. Now.. lay on your stomach and pretend you are the size of an ant climbing through the tall grasses in search of food. Start at one end of the string and look on either side to discover what grows and lives in your mini meadow. Draw or write down what you find on your hike.
How are meadows created?
Meadows are an important and increasingly rare habitat on the East Coast, which is now dominated by forests and agricultural land. Meadows naturally form as early successional habitat in locations with infrequent rain events, wildfires, flooding or grazing disturbance. Watch this video for an introduction to meadow function and formation.
What is Forest Succession?
Natural lands on the east coast have dramatically changed since the years before European settlement. One highly impactful change is the loss of early successional habitat or meadows. This habitat change underwent a process known as ecological succession. Ecological succession, or more specifically forest succession, occurs after a disturbance and is followed by stages which can be identified by the vegetative material present. There are two types of ecological succession:
Primary Succession - The colonization of an area with living organisms and soil for the first time. This occurs after a large disturbance such as lava flow or meteorite impact.
Secondary Succession - The re-colonization of an area which already has rich living soil and begins with the re-growth of forbes and grasses. This occurs after a small disturbance such as a drought or flood.
In the early days before European settlement the Anacostia Watershed meadow habitat was maintained through subsequent small scale disturbances such as floods, droughts, or Native American land management. These events kept the land in the early stages of secondary succession and provided early successional meadow habitat.
Read this document to discover what altered the presence of meadow habitat in the Anacostia Watershed. The Anacostia Watershed Society has a goal of increasing the amount of meadow habitat in the Anacostia watershed. Early successional habitat is managed through large woody vegetation removal, native plantings, and education. If more than half of the canopy cover is more than four inches in diameter the habitat is no longer early successional, it is considered a woodland.
Meadows are not only an important habitat here in the Anacostia Watershed. Meadows are found all over the world and many people are fighting to sustain the early successional meadow habitat in their area. Watch this video to learn about the meadows in Yosemite National Park and how they have changed.
- What you think early successional meadow habitat should look like
- What early successional meadow habitat looks like if we do not manage it
Next.. look through these pictures (anacostia watershed forests and meadows) of meadows and forests in the Anacostia Watershed and make any necessary changes to your drawings.
What are Nonnative and Invasive Species?
One of the major inhibitors to healthy early successional habitat are invasive or nonnative species. Nonnative species are defined as organisms not native or naturally occurring in the landscape. Invasive species are not naturally found in the landscape and alter the ecosystem. When considering meadows and early successional habitat, the most dangerous invaders are plants.
- Investigate an invasive plant! Visit this database created by the University of Georgia to see invasive organism distributions. Choose any plant or organism and see how widespread it is across the US!
What Nonnative/Invasive Plants Live Near Me?
To learn more about the nonnative plant invaders here in the Mid Atlantic, check out this book of invasive and nonnative plant species created by the US Fish and Wildlife Service.
Now it’s time to..GET OUTSIDE!
Use this document and investigate your yard or local greenspace. Inspect the plants in your greenspace and see if you can find any of the common nonnative or native species on the investigation sheet. Do you expect your greenspace to have more native or nonnative/invasive plant species? Why? Write down your hypothesis.
Circle or write down each of the native or nonnative/invasive plant species you find outside.
After you have investigated your local green space, count to see if you found more native, or nonnative/ invasive plant species on the list. Was your hypothesis correct?
Because many of our green spaces are manicured, there are usually many nonnative or invasive species involved. Nonnatives are chosen over native for reasons such as ease of management, color/ aesthetics, or hardiness. Nonnative species often take over native species because they are very adaptable and can survive in harsher conditions than the native species.