What better way to get your little one excited about exploring nature then to go on a wildflower hunt. Identifying wildflowers with a toddler is the perfect way to enjoy nature together.
Wildflowers are easy to come by and you can find many growing in your own yard, green spaces, or your local Audubon society.
If you live in a climate with long snowy winters, spring blooming wildflowers are a welcome addition to the landscape. Observing and identifying wildflowers with a toddler can take place in spring, summer, and fall.
Finding Cheerful Color When the Landscape is Still Waking up From Winter
Most gardens and landscapes are void of green leaves, colorful flowers, and sunny annuals in the spring. Heading outside to identify wildflowers is a fun way to get excited about the upcoming growing season.
Bring along a guide book, use the internet, or rely on your prior knowledge to identify what you find together.
In this article, I will give you ideas for places to visit when finding and identify wildflowers with your toddler. Including several resources that you can use to identify unknown plants and flowers.
Along with what types of wildflowers you can expect to find blooming in the Spring up in Eastern United States. Don't worry if you live outside of that range, I will provide you with resources were you can flowers that bloom where you live.
Then I give you actionable tips for making this a fun activity, perfect for toddlers. Including a list of common wildflowers that are safe for toddlers to touch and observe up close.
The list of toddler safe flowers is divided into flowers found growing in open fields and ones found in woodland settings. Knowing which flowers are safe to touch is important, as many wildflowers are poisonous.
3 Places to Explore Together
- Informally Explore Your Own Yard
- Walk Around a Local Park or Green Space
- Visit an Audubon Society Center in Your Area
Informally Explore Your Yard Together
Go outside and explore your yard with your toddler. Explore the area and see what you can find. No special resources needed if you want to make this an informal activity.
Chances are you, as the adult will be able to identify a few of the flowers that you find together. Common flowers include wild strawberries, bluets, common blue violets, and dandelions.
Typically, wildflowers start to appear before people begin mowing their lawns in the spring.
Walk Around a Local Park or Green Space
Many towns and cities offer green spaces for families to explore. Visit your towns website or ask around to see if there are any close by to where you live.
Parks and green spaces typically offer areas in both the sun and the shade. If you are looking to identify woodland wildflowers, green spaces are a great option if you do not have woodlands on your property.
Visit an Audubon Center in Your Area
Audubon Centers offer many outdoor learning opportunities for the community for free. Easily marked walking trails, information stations placed throughout the grounds and wild habitats make for a fun and educational trip.
Our local Audubon Center offers free parking all year long. Walking the trails and exploring the gardens are fun and again, free.
Since Audubon Centers promote and protect wild habitats, chances are you can find more wildflowers blooming around the center than in your own yard.
Find your local Audubon Society by checking out this link to the Audubon Society's main website. There you will be shown a map of the United States.
Find your local society, or see where they are located in other states. Visiting a center can be part of a family camping trip or vacation.
Resources to Use to Identify Wildflowers
The National Audubon Society's Field Guides are wonderful resources. If you do not own one of their two wildflower guides or a regional field guide, call your local library to see if they have them on hand. Many libraries carry books on plant identification. Libraries are a wonderful resource because they carry books specific to your region.
Inter-library loan options make getting a book that your library doesn't carry possible. Libraries are part of a local network which allows you to sign out a book that a library within their system carries.
If you are interested in purchasing the book, it can be found on the Audubon's website. They offer wildflower specific field guides for both the Eastern and Western United States.
Along with regional field guides for different climates throughout the United States. The regional field guides contain information about plants, animals, fungi, climate, constellations, etc.
I purchased a New England themed field guide for our family because it can be used to identify a whole variety of species found in my region not just flowers. Being a science and nature enthusiast, I also enjoy flipping through the pages in my free time.
Is it Actually Worth it To Use a Paper Based Field Guide
That is up to you to decide. However, from a person who is passionate about nature with a science teacher's prospective, I can say, yes.
Guides are often small enough to carry inside of a backpack if going on a hike or camping trip.
Many guides contain color photographs with an easy to read blurb about the specimen. What I like about a paper guide is that even without having any idea about the name of the wildflower, you can scan the color photographs until you find the exact match.
The pictures are actual color photographs which makes comparing them to a wildflower you find in real life easy.
Virtual Field Guide for Identifying Wildflowers
One website that I found for identifying flowers is called Wildflowers of the United States. At the bottom of the about me page, there is an option to search for wildflowers by state.
Type in your state and you will be given a list of online resources that have guides to the wildflowers found in your state.
Or for your selected state, you can search through thumbnails of wildflower photographs that contain the plant name along with a description.
Another website, Discover Life allows you to search for wildflowers by characteristic or location. Searches can be filtered by main color, petal count, leaf arrangement, and range. Along with six other filters.
Both of these sites are based out of the United States. If you live outside of the US and know of wildflower guides or websites for your area please leave a comment below to share that information with others.
Using Google Lens to Identify Wildflowers
The power of the internet always amazes me. At times, I try to be low tech, but you can use apps like Google Lens to identify unknown plants and flowers.
If you are interested in finding out how to use Google Lens for identifying the wildflowers you are finding, this article from Business Insider explains the process. Blows my mind that Google can identify what you find in your yard by analyzing a photo that you take!
I personally enjoy using an paper based guide book, but I guess I'm old school when it comes to certain things. However, it is really convenient to use the internet when you have made a discovery and you do not have your guide book with you.
How Early do Wildflowers Begin Blooming in Spring
On average, you can expect wildflowers to begin blooming around the middle of April in New England. Depending on your growing zone and location will determine when flowers begin to bloom. By the beginning of May many wildflowers can be identified throughout the region.
As spring continues, new species will begin blooming while others will begin to fade. The blooming of some woodland species such as trillium are short lived. While others, including dandelions start in spring, then bloom for many months.
Where Can Wildflowers be Found Growing
Sunny locations including laws and wild spaces can contain wild flowers. Woodlands and shady spots also have spring blooming flowers.
Wetlands and marshy areas are also perfect habitats for wildflowers. You can even find wildflowers growing up between rocks at the coast.
Plan a few day trips or spend a few hours at different locations throughout the growing season to see how many different species of wildflowers you and your toddler can find.
Exploring Sun Loving Wildflowers
There are many different species of spring blooming wildflowers found in the Eastern United States. The most common being the dandelion. Bright yellow dandelions along with their wispy spherical seed heads are a toddler favorite. Growing in lawns, sidewalk cracks, and even in your flower bed, these wildflowers are easy to identify and find.
Bluets are another toddler favorite. Small white and blue blooms with yellow centers can be found growing in open woodlands and fields. On our property they are found growing in a mossy patch of our lawn which receives full sun before the maple trees leaf out.
Growing up, I was told that bluets will change from white to blue if you squeeze the stem after picking. Not sure if this is true, but it would be fun to try with a toddler. Bluets are one of my favorite spring blooming wildflowers because they take me right back to my childhood, whenever I see them blooming.
Wild strawberries are another common spring blooming wildflower found in part sunny locations. Look closely and you may even spot tiny yellow versions growing in a sunny spot.
Wildflowers that Bloom in the Shade
There is nothing more magical than going into the woods with a toddler and identifying wildflowers. You many not think to hunt for them in woodland settings. However, forests provide an amazing and ever changing habitat for wildflowers.
Lady slippers, Canada mayflower, and purple ground ivy can all be found in woodland settings. Delicate white bunchberry are common in woodlands and are part of the dogwood family.
When looking closely at bunchberry's flowers, the resemble miniature dogwood blooms. When these flowers first emerge, they are the same tone of green as their leaves. As they develop they will turn white.
Toddlers will find so much joy from spotting flowers growing in woodlands. At times, you truly have to hunt to find flowers growing in the woods.
Unlike bright yellow dandelions, woodland blooming wildflowers are more hidden. Looking for them adds to the fun and excitement.
Top Tips for Creating a Fun Activity Perfect for Toddlers
Identify Colors Together
Toddlers love identifying colors. You can practice by stating the colors that make up the flower. Describe the yellows, blues, purples, and whites together.
If you are hunting around an area, try to spot more than one species of a specific color. Two different white or purple flowers can grow in one patch of lawn in your yard.
Let Your Child Pick a Bouquet of Beautiful Wildflowers
Since most wildflowers are identified by their flowers. Picking a bouquet of wildflowers growing in your lawn. Preschoolers love picking dandelions and bluets. I love how little ones pick clumps of bluets by uprooting the entire clump from the ground.
However, never pick a flower that you do not know in case it is not safe for a toddler to handle. When in doubt, observe them together but leave them untouched.
This is why identifying them together using a paper based field guide or the internet is important.
Let Your Little One Use a Camera to Take Photographs
Using a camera to snap a few photos is a great way to get your toddler excited about plant identification. Anytime I help my toddler use my camera, he is engaged.
Not only are taking pictures a fun way to capture the experience, but toddlers feel special when trusted with an important device such as a camera. Let them be the ones to take the pictures instead of you taking pictures of them.
Create a Wildflower Inspired Painting
What better way to capture a child's attention than to let them make a painting. As you paint talk about the colors you see and the different shapes.
If you do not want to pick the flower, bring your paints and paper along with you. Children love being out in nature while they learn new things. As you paint talk about the different flowers that you discovered together.
Or simply enjoy the moment together without discussing the science.
Join in on the fun and create your own painting. Do not stress if the art work looks more abstract than exact. Having fun and relaxing together is part of the experience.
The Importance of Knowing Your Flowers
Believe it or not, but there are actual laws in place to protect some wildflowers. Which makes picking them technically against the law.
A common myth is that the spring blooming lady's slipper is illegal to pick in NH because it is a rare woodland growing flower. According to New Hampshire Public Radio, NHPR, it is actually not illegal to pick this wildflower.
However, in Massachusetts, NH's southerly neighbor you should not pick lady slippers because they are endangered.
Also according to the USDA Forestry Service, PDF found here, you should not pick wildflowers growing on Federal Lands. Many of the species growing even in abundance, are protected to ensure their survival.
If you are unsure if there are any wildflowers that you should not be picking do some research before you pick a bouquet of unknown flowers. When in doubt, take a picture, make a painting, or simply enjoy the flower as it grows in its natural environment without picking it.
Always Practice Safety When Observing Wildflowers with Young Children
Before adventuring out together it is wise to familiarize yourself with wildflowers that may be poisonous or have poisonous lookalikes.
A fun activity can quickly turn scary if a toddler or adult experiences issues with a poisonous plant. Unlike adults, toddlers are quick to pick and bring flowers close to their faces and noses.
If a plant has irritating sap, a toddler can touch their mouth or eyes in a matter of seconds then have a problem. I know this may sound extreme, but many flowers are toxic if ingested.
While others can cause severe reactions when contact is made with the sap they produce once picked.
List of Toddler Safe Spring Wildflowers to Observe
Thankfully, there are some safe wildflowers. These include dandelions which are a common weed and are safe to let your toddler pick.
These flowers are safe to observe and hold. Individual toddlers may be allergic to touching specific plants. In general these are safe for toddlers to observe and touch.
They all can be found in the eastern United States in the spring starting in April or May.
Sunny Open Fields
- Dwarf Dandelion (Krigia virginica)
- Common Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
- Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)
- Bluets (Hedyotis caerulea)
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
- White Clover (Trifolium repens)
- Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
Shaded Woodland Settings
- Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense)
- Wintergreen (Gaultheria procumbens)
- Canada Mayflower (Maianthemum canadense) flowers, not berries
- Wild Strawberry (Fragaria virginiana)
- Canada Violet (Viola canadensis)
- Common Blue Violet (Viola papilionacea)
- Downy Yellow Violet (Viola pubescens)
Benefit of Using a Field Guide and Google Search
As I created the list above, I found many flowers should not even be touched due to the irritating qualities. If you want to properly educate yourself and your child, I strongly suggest doing some research.
When learning and exploring through nature with toddlers, having fun is top priority along with being safe.
If you are looking for a fun and engaging way to get your child outside this spring, summer, and fall consider identifying wildflowers together this year.
Additional Nature Themed Activities to Do with Your Toddler
- Exploring Maple Tree Blooms and the Life-cycle of a Maple Tree Activity
- Observing Sprouted Potatoes Activity
- Learning Shapes with Backyard Chickens
- Starting Seeds with a Toddler the Easy Way
- Literacy in Science Seed Packet Activity