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Indoor activity teaches children about outdoor animals

Bright autumn weather is giving way to November's gray skies. And children who've been playing outdoors through summer and fall are now more house-bound. The traditional childhood complaint is never far behind: There's nothing to do. Parents can give them something to do and at the same time teach them about wildlife. Encourage them to create ``snacks'' for the wild animals and birds in your neighborhood. These will have more and more trouble finding food as winter nears. But there's a caution here: Once you start to feed wildlife, don't abandon it in the severe winter months or in early spring when greenery hasn't sprouted yet.

The first step is to help children discover what animals and birds are living in your neighborhood. Younger children can do this by looking out windows to see what wildlife shows up. Older ones can phone a local wildlife group and also take a trip to the library for books about local wildlife.

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Step 2 is creating the snacks. The following ones range from the fairly simple, like mixing Cereal Sprinkle, to the slightly more complicated, like baking Critter Cookies. Parents help by providing the materials. Leave sugar and salt out of the wildlife diet. Cereal Sprinkle 1 cup unsweetened breakfast cereal 1/4 cup raw, hulled sunflower seeds 1/4 cup raw peanuts 1/4 cup uncooked, rolled oats 1/4 cup raisins

Mix all ingredients together. Scatter some of the mix on a clear spot in the yard or on the sidewalk, visible from a window so children can watch as it's eaten.

If you plan to sprinkle the mix on a sidewalk, you might want to omit the raisins as it's easy for them to get stuck on shoe bottoms. Critter Cookies 1 1/2 cups powdered milk 1 1/2 cups wheat germ 2 (3 1/2 ounce) jars strained baby food meat 2 large eggs

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease two cookie sheets. Mix all the ingredients well. This makes a very stiff dough and may have to be mixed by hand. It is also a good idea to shape it by hand. Roll dough into walnut-sized pieces and flatten them slightly on the cookie sheet. Bake for 20 minutes. Let cookies cool before you offer them to any animals who like dog biscuits -- including your family dog. Stuffed Pine Cones 1 large pine cone Hard cooking fat (bacon fat, for example) or solid vegetable shortening Wild-bird seed

With a dull knife (a butter knife is ideal), spread cooking fat under the scales of the cone. Roll cone in wild bird seed on a paper towel. Thread a length of dental floss through the top scales of the cone and tie it in a knot on top. Add a bell at the bottom. Hang the cone from a branch near a window. Popcorn/Cranberry/Raisin Strings 4 cups stale popped corn 1 cup whole raw cranberries 1/2 cup raisins

Let popcorn sit a day or two to get stale, since it's much easier to string then. Separate the raisins and let them dry out a little, too. Then string the popcorn, cranberries, and raisins on a long string of dental floss. (Use a needle just big enough to take the floss. Too big, and the needle will split the kernels.)

These strings of popcorn and fruit can be used to decorate your Christmas tree first or they can be put out to feed wildlife right away. Dried Fruit Hang-ups 1 large navel orange 8 dried apple slices Dental floss or yarn scraps

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Slice orange into eighths, making little orange boats. Eat the inside. Poke a hole through each section with a fork tine. Set the clean rind sections on a counter out of the way to dry. Thread six inches of dental floss through the hole and tie it in a knot at the top. You may want to add a small jingle bell on the other end to attract your attention when the snack is being nibbled.

Thread six inches of yarn through the hole in each dried apple slice. Tie it in a knot at the top. You might want to hang a bell from these, too.

Hang both orange and apple sections from a tree or a large bush near a window.

This sharing is an ideal activity: It's quiet, educational, and ongoing. Keep a pad and pencil by the window so family members can keep a record of wildlife visitors. And remember to keep feeding once you've started.

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