I’m always looking for creative ways to teach my kids about our environment, and although it usually leads to an outdoor activity, sometimes we bring the outdoors in. This summer, we rescued a handful of tadpoles from a local pond, raised them, and released some of them back into their native habitat once they were big enough to fend for themselves.
I didn’t know the first thing about how to raise tadpoles, so don’t worry if you’re in the same boat. Nonetheless, I was surprised by how much we learned, how fun it was, and how much discussion it generated among friends and family. Most importantly, I saw my kids develop a true concern for froglets that wouldn’t otherwise have had a chance to reach adulthood in their natural habitat.
Here’s what you’ll need, what to do, and how kids and nature will benefit from this awesome activity.
Step 1: Prepare the Habitat
Visit the local library and find kids’ books about the lifecycle of a frog. Keep in mind that knowing how to raise tadpoles means knowing the different types of frogs that are native to your area, and how they grow. This preparation is the most important step.
Choose a location in your home where older kids can observe but toddlers cannot reach. A transparent container is best for allowing little conservationists to observe in this way. I chose a shallow glass baking dish and put a screen over it to prevent any ambitious amphibians from escaping. One of the best learning activities for kids is to collect rocks and sticks for the tadpoles’ habitat—a tactile reminder that when their gills turn into lungs, frogs need a way to climb out of the water so they don’t drown.
Now is also the time to set out a few glass rainwater collection vessels for cleaning and replacing your little animals’ water. Do not use water from a gutter or roof—only what falls directly into your containers. You may also need a small aquarium net to transfer your tadpoles from one living space to the next.
These preparations are often the most educational. So, when talking with your kids, see what they’ve learned: Why does a mother frog lay thousands of eggs? Because the eggs of tadpoles are so prone to disease and nourishing to predators, their chance of survival is extremely low. Why use pond water instead of tap water? The algae living in a pond is great food for the tadpoles, whereas tap water is treated with chlorine—of which even a small amount is unhealthy to baby frogs. You may discover something yourself during this step!
Step 2: Collect
Although you can send away for tadpoles to raise, you may not have to look far for frog eggs or tadpoles in your area; just head to the nearest pond. By now, kids will know what they’re looking for, and how to spot the eggs and babies of native frogs. This is when the activity comes alive for children: In addition to book knowledge, kids are now able to see tadpoles in their natural state. And ideally, they’ll be saving them from an ecosystem that isn’t conducive to proper growth.
Dip a glass jar into the water wherever you’ve spotted a tadpole community, being sure to collect plenty of their water as well. You’ll need some of this pond water to use once the tadpoles are inside, so gather about a gallon.
Step 3: Care
Now comes the fun part. Each day, add at least one-half cup of pond water to your tadpoles’ home. To keep things cleaner, cut it with fresh rainwater as well, being sure it’s the same temperature as the tadpoles’ pond water.
Tadpoles are vegetarians, and only need a bit of leafy vegetation each day to thrive. Boil a few leaves of lettuce and let the kids feed the tadpoles around the same time each day with dime-sized portions. Whatever pieces of lettuce your tadpoles don’t eat immediately, they’ll enjoy using for hiding places.
What you don’t use right away can be frozen in ice cube trays for single-serving portions to be thawed as needed. Just remember that every few days they’ll need a change of water; be sure to use a mix of pond water and freshly collected rainwater. After feeding and handling your aquarium, always wash your surfaces, tools, and hands thoroughly.
Step 4: Observe
Every aquatic pet-owner needs to have patience, especially with tadpoles—which can take months or years to metamorphosize. Some, however, will surprise you and begin sprouting legs not long after hatching. As you care for them, see whether the kids can identify the species using the books you have.
Once you know the type of froglet you’re raising, you’ll have a better idea of your timeline.
This summer, we had a few that matured quickly, and released them into the same pond where they were born. We also have six bullfrog babies, which means we’ll be waiting around a little while longer. While they grow, however, we’ll be checking back here for your comments and Tweets @TomsofMaine! What’s your experience been with aquatic pets? Have your kids reached their frog-catching age yet?
Image source: Bethany Johnson
This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.