Go Animal

Animals are an ever present part of a child’s world. Ants, snails, birds and butterflies are as close as the backyard. More exotic butterflies, frogs and other animals await at zoos, wildlife parks and farms that are open to the public.


Children seem to love the gentleness and beauty of butterflies. The 24 butterfly species commonly seen around Melbourne are more active on warm spring days, summer and autumn. Melbourne Zoo suggests that having a garden with the following can help bring in the butterflies:

  • Nectar plants (everlasting daisy, cut leaf daisy, daisy bushes)
  • Host plants on which female butterflies will lay eggs (lemon tree for orchard butterflies, sword grasses for sword grass brown butterflies)
  • Native and exotic plants
  • Brightly coloured, shallow-throated flowers
  • Differently sized plants which will flower in spring and summer and produce large masses of flowers
  • Flat rocks where butterflies can sun themselves
  • Mud puddles to give butterflies essential salt and rotten fruit such as banana to provide amino acids

More on butterflies can be found on Melbourne Zoo’s website


Plan a visit to a zoo, wildlife park or local farm that would welcome young children. Collingwood Animal Farm is a great place to visit locally. Some farms encourage patting and holding of baby animals under the close supervision of the child’s caregiver.
Chat to staff with your children and ask questions about the animals. How do they clear their teeth? How are they cleaned and fed? Is it possible for children to feed the animals?
Talk about the food different animals like to eat. Do the animals look friendly or fierce? Do they have fur or feathers? Are they big or small, mothers, fathers or babies?
Talk about the kind of tail, ears, feet, skin, eyes, wings or teeth each animal has and where they might live. How do they breathe? When and where do they sleep?
Take photos of any children feeding, patting, looking at or listening to the sounds animals make. Print them off and paste them in a scrap book.


Talk about what you did on your outing using the scrapbook in a cosy environment where animals might be found. Animal fabric could be hung from the ceiling as a backdrop. Add big cushions, quilts and big animal pictures books borrowed from the library.
Put out animal toys that you have seen so children can make a miniature farm or zoo in sandpits, on table tops or in the garden. Offer plastic or wooden toy animals to make paw prints in clay, playdough or shallow tray of sand. Offer small smooth pebbles, gum leaves and twigs in small baskets for children to recreate elements of nature.

Put animal puppets (borrow some from the toy library if you do not have any) in a basket. Slip one on your hand or finger and let children choose one.
Sing a song to suit the animal, for example Five Little Ducks, Five Green Speckled Frogs and Baa Baa Black Sheep or make up animal songs to well known tunes like Old McDonald or London Bridge.
Cuddle a soft toy while you sing: ‘I went to visit a farm/zoo one day, I met a cow along the way, And what do you think I hear him say? Moo. Moo. Moo.’


Get down on all fours and pretend to be an elephant- curl your arm up to be a trunk. Roar like the lion you saw. Let your child crawl under and over you. If you just cannot bring yourself to do it at playgroup, make sure you do it at home!

Noticing Nature:

Children love to explore the world around them and the great outdoors is an exciting part of a child’s expanding world. The world of trees and plants is as close as your backyard, a walk down the street or a picnic in the park.

As children explore the living world around them they develop an awareness and appreciation of nature.

Experiencing nature is best done spontaneously outdoors. Observe flowers and plants as you walk to the shops, playgroup or go outside to play. Watch the wind blowing leaves off the trees or blow a dandelion clock. Play hide and seek in the garden. Look to see whose home is in the plants around you- caterpillars or stick insects on the leaves, a chrysalis hanging from a twig.

Encourage your child’s interest as you watch butterflies and bees feeding on the flowers or notice lorikeets gathering nectar. See how many different shaped plants and leaves you can find.

Take time to observe the changing seasons together. Notice spring blossom growing into fruit and bright colours of summer flowers. Enjoy a shady tree on a hot summers day.

Growing things helps children understand the difference between growing things just to look at and growing things to eat. Encourage salad leaves and vegetables to eat. Encourage your child to garden with you. When planning a garden consider varied vegetation, trees for climbing, shade, fruit, scented foliage, flowering shrubs and vegetables. In limited space many plants and shrubs can be grown in pots and tubs.
Plant fuschias, grevilleas, callistemons and kangaroo paws to attract birds; buddelias, brachyscome daisies and kangaroo grass for butterflies; lavenders and herbs for scent; daisies, petunias and geraniums for colour. Many nurseries have leaflets on bird and butterfly attracting plants.

Be aware of dangerous plants for young children who put everything into their mouths. Oleanders, rhus trees, castor oil plants, deadly nightshade, toadstools are all highly toxic. Any plant with a strong smell, milky sap or berries could be poisonous. A complete list of poisonous plants can be obtained from your nursery, local council or Victorian Poisons Information Centre.


  • Draw a face on half an empty hard boiled egg shell. Fill with damp cotton wool and sprinkled with wheat or bird seed. Wait for hair to grow.
  • Grow carrot tops in a shallow dish with water.
  • Place an onion on top of a jar with water and watch shoots grow into the water.
  • Carve your child’s name on zucchini and watching it grow.
  • Cut a milk carton in half, fill with soil and plant.


  • Close your eyes and feel the bark on the trees. Is it rough or smooth?
  • Walk barefoot on the grass. Roll down a grassy slope (check for sharp objects).
  • Squash a leaf or fresh herbs between fingers and sniff.
  • Crumple some fallen leaves to your ear and listen.
  • Feel the texture of dried out leaves.
  • Smell flowers (watch out for bees) or pick some for a friend.
  • Lie under a tall tree and look up at the sky


  • Go for a walk. Tie a large sheet of paper around a tree trunk and make a group bark rubbing with crayons. Gather differently sized leaves, flowers seedpods and pieces of bark to take back to playgroup. When you return to playgroup feel, sort and create patterns with what you gathered; press into sand or playdough for a temporary collage, or thread large leaves.
  • Adapt well known songs and rhymes, for example ‘This is the way the flowers grow’ or ‘One potato (or tomato), two potato…’
  • Share stories about plants, for example, The Great Big Enormous Turnip, The Magic Mushroom or The Very Hungry Caterpillar.
  • Dance with scarves and coloured streamers. Pretend to be flowers or trees dancing in the breeze. Pretend to be a seed in the ground and grow and grow and grow.
  • Make a cubby with pieces of material under a shady shrub or tree. Use leaves and flowers in cooking play.
  • Pot up tomato seedlings to take home and grow. Bring back after the summer holidays.
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