By Sarah Yale

Kids can participate in fun botanical activities to welcome summer, both indoors and outside, in the neighborhood and beyond, building excitement, anticipation and a sense of awareness of the changes that occur at this time of the year. Children can learn about and appreciate local botanical treasures, explore their creativity, develop feelings of accomplishment, make memories, and have fun. Here are some ideas for activities:

1. Take the kids to a greenhouse, botanical garden, flower show or the floral department at the supermarket. Encourage them to discover flower varieties and colors. Bring sketchbooks and pencils for drawing and note taking. Ask the children to share their findings with you on the way home.

2. Buy some seeds or herbs to start now. Visit a garden center or the local discount store garden section. Pick up potting soil and plastic pots, or use containers from your recycling bin. Follow seed packet instructions for starting plants indoors.

3. Children can record the growth and development of the plants in their own hand-decorated gardening journal. The journal can be a store-bought notebook with cover artwork created by the kids. Inside they can make notes, draw pictures, attach seed packets, create collages from seed catalog pages, press flowers and leaves, and more.

4. Contact your local cooperative extension service (for a site near you in Alaska, visit uaf.edu/ces) to learn about local endangered species of wildflowers. Find out when they grow and where you can go to see them at a nature preserve. Mark your calendar and make plans to go when they are in bloom. (See 50 of the most common wildflowers found in Alaska’s forests at: fs.usda.gov/Internet/FSE_DOCUMENTS/fseprd529923.pdf)

5. Kids can design and color their own version of a seed package on an 8.5” x 11” sheet of paper. Have them create and name a new flower, or draw an existing variety.

6. Learn more about Alaska’s state flower, the forget-me-not (and other state symbols) on statesymbolsusa.org/states/united-states/Alaska. Notice the leaves and plant shape, as well as whether it grows in sun or shade. Maybe the children have seen it growing wild. Plan to go exploring for it on a summer hike when it has flowers.

7. Have the children pick out books at the library about flowers, herbs and gardening. Encourage them to design and color a garden or choose flowers to plant.

8. Kids of all ages love making bread art! Simply prepare the focaccia dough on a cookie sheet before baking and give the kids a variety of chopped herbs and veggies and see what they create. (Try making flower shapes using cherry tomatoes, sliced bell peppers or olives; leaves and grass using leafy herbs or green beans; little trees using pickled asparagus, etc.) Get creative and have fun experimenting.

9. 3D pom pom tissue paper flowers are fun to make and can be grouped to fill a centerpiece bowl or hang from the ceiling. Look for packages of multicolor tissue paper at the dollar store.

10. Take a walk through your neighborhood to see if any flower bulbs have pushed up after the last frost. Have the children draw what they see or make notes in their journals. Look up flower bulbs in your gardening library books. Crocus, dahlias, tulips and daffodils are some varieties of early blooming bulbs. The bulbs you see in your neighborhood may be available in several different colors. Mark your calendar and make plans to plant bulbs in the fall, so you can look for them next summer.

11. Children will enjoy decorating cupcakes with colorful, creative flowers and leaves using candy, sprinkles and squirt tube icing. Store-bought round and flower-shaped cookies are also great for decorating.

12. Host an indoor garden theme party on a cold afternoon. Tell your kids to dress in bright floral colors so they can be the flowers and plants. No matching outfits required. Turn on all of the lights to make it sunny inside. Ask them to sway like flowers in the breeze while they sing a favorite song together. Let them make up a flower story to perform or have them read flower poems aloud. Do some floral crafts and decorate some floral treats for added fun. Remember to take lots of photos to share with friends and family far away.

13. Handmake cheery cards with floral designs to send to relatives, to give to elderly neighbors, or to a nursing home.

Children can have fun now and plan activities to look forward to later on in the summer and in the fall. You will have encouraged the budding gardener in them, along with the nature lover, the artist and the explorer.