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Ideas for children, parents and teachers to explore and discover what lives in the New Zealand backyard


for children

You don’t have to go far to explore and discover wildlife, just step out the door of your house! Your garden is a wild place for insects and the other animals that live there. If you don’t have a garden or backyard at home, look in parks or in your school grounds to see what animals live there.

In our book, we have chosen a few of the most common animals you will find. Ned has drawn pictures of them to help you recognise them and to show you where they live. Gillian has written about the animals so you can learn more about them.


staying safe in the garden

  • know which creatures might sting or bite
  • keep away from garden sprays, chemicals and poisons
  • some plants can be poisonous, only eat plants that an adult says are safe
  • emergency 24 hour advice on poisons: National Poisons Centre – phone 0800 POISON (0800 764 7660)


look after the creatures in the garden

  • be gentle with living creatures, use a jar or container to look at creatures, then put them back where they live
  • remember that using poisons on pests might hurt other creatures in the garden
  • find out how to make your garden friendly for birds, bees and other wildlife

be a nature explorer

It’s easy to be a garden nature explorer.

  • dig in the ground to see what is living in the soil, turn over bits of wood or stone to see what is under them.
  • use a magnifying glass and get down on the ground or close up to flowers and leaves. What tiny animals can you find?
  • go out at night with a torch.
  • go out in the rain or just after it has stopped raining, which animals like the rain?


If your garden doesn’t seem to have many insects, birds or other animals, you could find out how to make your garden a good place for wildlife. You could build a bird-feeder, create a weta motel or plant flowers that butterflies and bees like.

for parents and teachers

Gardens, parks and school grounds are great places for children to explore and learn about ecosystems. Here they can see:

  • that living things have different habitats, and have certain requirements to stay alive (for example, sunlight, shade, water, a way of hiding from predators; certain kinds of food)
  • that there are important relationships between living things (for example, birds eat insects which were eating plants, worms help improve the soil which in turn is good for plants, insects and birds pollinate plants)bumble
  • changes caused by the different seasons; animal and plant life-cycles.

At the same time they can be learning to think like scientists by:

  • developing their observation skills
  • thinking about how living things can be named and grouped.


 A couple of things to note about this book

In the Garden introduces some of the most common animals that can be found in gardens. There are other things that you and the children will find that are not in this book, you could use the internet, library, botanical garden or museum to find out what they are.
In the Garden focuses on the animals that live in the garden, because the variety of garden plants means that there would be too many plants to cover. There are books on gardening for children which would help with plant identification.


readtoadstooling the book

Here are some ideas for re-reading the book, things to look for and talk about and games to play.

  • the text on page 4 starts with the sounds you hear in the garden. What things in this picture are making sounds? what sounds are they making? eg leaves rustling, bee buzzing, fantail chirping, starling singing.
  • page 6 suggests looking at the bees, butterflies and moths in the pictures and then using pages 18-21 to help identify them.
  • page 7 Ask what animals do they think will be living in the soil, the compost and decaying log – turn the page to find the answer.
  • page 10-11 there are some different birds in this picture, all eating different things, what are they? what do you think they are eating? eg sparrows eating seeds.
  • the pictures show the same garden in spring and in summer. What do you think the garden would look like in autumn? in winter?
  • boxes on pages 23, 29 and 31 pose questions ‘pest or helper’, ‘pet or pest’ and ‘what is a weed’. These questions provide opportunities to talk about how people might view the same plant or animal differently, depending on their point of view.



outdoor activities

Before you go exploring in the garden or park:

  • discuss staying safe in the garden and talk about looking after the creatures in the garden

Useful things: Magnifying glass, jar for viewing creatures until you put them back, binoculars, garden spade or fork, bucket, butterfly net, torch if you go out when it’s dark, camera, sun protection.

  • take part in the Garden Bird Survey held every winter, see Landcare Research website. Which birds visit your garden in winter? are they the same birds as the ones that are there in summer?
    who is visiting at night? Take a torch into the garden, what animals can you see?
  • make your garden friendly to birds, insects and other animals, see – for projects, such as weta motels, tracking tunnels, bird feeders, create a worm farm.
  • build a compost container and watch what happens to the compost. Who lives in the compost?
  • plant some seeds and watch the plants grow – preferably ones that grow quickly and are good to eat, such as radishes or strawberries.
  • work out what plants need to survive – do they need water? sunlight? soil? What insects visit its flowers? Which animals like the rain?


indoor activitieshedgehog

  • sometimes its easier to observe birds through the window – set up a bird feeder so you can see them all year round.
  • sprout seeds or grow plants indoors.
  • keep a garden diary, noting the weather and seasonal changes.
  • create a garden calendar for the next year that reflects the seasons.
  • make a board game or card game based on the garden.


more information about garden animals  Bug identification and Garden bird survey  Kiwi Conservation Club, quizzes and activities  Te Ara – The Encyclopaedia of New Zealand  The Monarch Butterfly NZ Trust  The NZ Herpetological Society  New Zealand Birds Online, bird identification



curriculum links

Te Whariki
Strand 5: Exploration
Goal 4: Children experience an environment where they develop working theories for making sense of the natural, social, physical, and material worlds.

The New Zealand Curriculum: Science
Nature of Science
Investigating in Science, Communicating in Science


L1-2 Living World
Students will:

  • recognise that living things have certain requirements so they can stay alive
  • recognise that living things are suited to their particular habitat
  • recognise that there are lots of different living things in the world and that they can be grouped in different ways.

L1-2 Planet Earth and Beyond
Students will:

  • explore and describe natural features and resources
  • classroom resources L2


For more information about the garden and for assessment and teaching ideas see: Building Science Concepts series: Book 3 Birds: structure, function and adaptation; Book 6 Soil animals: diversity beneath our feet; Book 25 Flowers, fruits and seeds: plants and their reproductive parts; Book 35 Is this a Plant?: introducing the plant kingdom; Book 43 Spring: observing seasonal changes; Book 45 Slugs and snails: investigating small animals; Book 62 Spiders everywhere!: silk spinning carnivores in our world; all published by the Ministry of Education.

gillian candler – author

Gillian-Candler-author-pgI have a wild garden at home. Stick insects, skinks and geckos love it. Lots of birds visit too, they are after the karaka berries, the flax nectar or the insects that live here. I like watching the garden to see how it changes with the seasons. In autumn, strange looking fungi appear as if from nowhere and in spring the tui builds its nest in one of our trees.

I write a blog about nature:


ned barraud – illustrator

NED-BARRAUD-NEWMy garden has a big vegetable patch and in the summer I grow all sorts of good things to eat, like peas, carrots, lettuces and lots more. I think it is fun to plant seeds and watch them grow. But I have to work hard to keep my chickens away, they want to eat the veges too! I have seven chickens, which (mostly) lay lots of eggs. We like to encourage wild birds into our garden.
My son Rory does this by hanging out fat in a net bag for the silvereyes and putting seeds in a feeder for the finches, blackbirds, thrush and sparrows.

If you want to see some of my other pictures you can visit my site


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