Being a Backyard Explorer

I may have earned my camping merit badge when I was a Girl Scout, but the last time I slept in a tent was circa 1989. (Please don’t do the math!) I’d rather be sleeping underneath fluffy covers than in a sleeping bag. While some of you may head to the Smokies every weekend with the kids, this is my truth: I’m not outdoorsy. With that said, teaching our children about nature is important to me even though it doesn’t come naturally. It turns out stepping outside of your comfort zone isn’t too tricky if you just have to step out your back door.

With my enthusiastic four-year-old daughter Madeline at my side and my 18-month-old son Bennett toddling behind, we strike out and explore our backyard, and along the way we’ve discovered some fun activities.

1. Collect Nature Stuff

Like many kids, Madeline collects sticks, rocks, feathers, and more. All these treasures from nature used to end up in my pockets or purse to be forgotten. A trip to a nature center while visiting Grandma and Grandpa inspired me. My daughter stood over a tray with a magnifying glass examining all kinds of nature stuff. When I got home, I found a small wooden tray in a closet and our nature tray was born! Now there is a new level of excitement (and education) when she rushes home and examines her finds. We’ve even expanded beyond a magnifying glass and added a kid-friendly microscope to the mix.

2. Feed the Birds

This may seem like a no-brainer, but what I’m about to tell you is going to change your bird game. There are acrylic bird feeders with suction cups that attach to the exterior part of your window. We purchased ours at a local garden center but they can be found online for less than $20. Ours is hanging right by our kitchen table. We don’t use any fancy birdseed, just the basic stuff. It doesn’t seem to matter because we dine with birds on the regular (and the occasional acrobatic squirrel). Madeline presses her face against the glass and she’s practically nose to beak with them! There is an awesome app to help you identify your feathered neighbors, called Merlin Bird ID. The Cornell Lab of Ornithology is behind the high-tech bird tool. Merlin is designed for beginner and intermediate bird watchers. It’s simple to use, allows you to listen to various calls and shares some educational tidbits too.      

3. Raise a Bug

I’m about to start a side business as a caterpillar farmer. I’m only half kidding! A year ago my daughter was gifted a butterfly kit. All the essentials arrived at our door including live caterpillars. Amazingly, we managed to keep most of them alive through their metamorphosis. Madeline was amazed as the caterpillars shed their skins, made their cocoons and finally emerged as butterflies. When she released them into the wild (aka our yard), it was magical! A few even flew around her as if to say goodbye. I got a little misty eyed! Just a few weeks ago, we noticed the exact same species of caterpillars in our herb pot. Coincidence? I think not! So, here we “grow” again! Besides butterflies, you can also raise ladybugs and even do an old-school ant farm.

4. Plant Something

Vegetable gardens are all the rage, but maybe you’re too busy raising tiny humans to care for another living thing. I totally get it! Madeline loves picking veggies when she’s visiting both sets of her grandparents. She nearly ate every pea off her Papaw’s plant the last time we were there! I toyed with the idea of doing a big raised bed this year but realized we should start with something simple, so I bought a tomato plant from Home Depot designed to thrive in containers. From the planting to the watering, the kids have done it all, with my supervision of course! Their little faces beam when they discover another red tomato ready for picking. I can barely get them into the kitchen to wash them when my daughter bites into them like an apple. We’ve also planted the seed of an idea in our children: the idea that all our food comes from somewhere. It has really resonated. Now Madeline asks at nearly every meal where the different things on her plate came from.

How do you explore nature and your backyard with your kids?

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