How to Find & Appreciate Nature in Your Own Backyard
Nature is all around us. No matter where you live, you can find nature in your area. Exploring nature doesn’t have to be on a grand scale. It doesn’t need to be overwhelming or intimidating. Nature is accessible to all and there to help teach your kids about the natural world around them. Today, Creative Team member and Texas homeschooling mom of three, Lauren Cain shares tips for parents on how to find and appreciate nature in your own backyard.
Beauty in the big and small
I love visiting beautiful parks outfitted with amazing trails and stunning scenery. My family and I have no issues traveling some distance to visit National or state parks, whether it be in our home state of Texas or all the way up to Yellowstone in Wyoming. These parks provide a plethora of plants, a variety of vistas, and a bounty of natural beauty.
Isn’t it interesting how effortless it is to appreciate and be in awe of the nature surrounding us in these designated “nature areas,” but, so often we take for granted the opportunities to appreciate and be still in the nature literally in our own backyard?
We want to change that. Nature doesn’t have to be big and spectacular to be appreciated and respected. I have recently made it my mission to teach my kids (and myself) to stop and observe the natural world existing mere feet from our kitchen table. It’s made us so much more appreciative of what we have nearby and so much more knowledgeable of the world around us. I believe there are several ways to do this and to make it not only educational, but fun for the entire family. Let me show you how!
Identify the trees that you see
If you want to learn how to appreciate the nature in your own backyard, the first thing you can do is give yourself a little tour. Take a walk around your area and identify the trees that are in your yard. You can do this by searching online, or downloading a mobile tree and plant identifier app (Seek by iNaturalist is a good one).
Take plant identification a step further and turn it into a fun tree investigation game for your family. Discuss whether or not the trees that you have are native to where you are located. Can you tell if your tree is male or female? (Yes, that is a thing! And it will definitely make for a fun investigation.) Do your trees produce anything that is edible for humans? What about food/nuts for animals? You can see where I am going with this exercise. Trees can be incredibly interesting if you know their story!
Taking a step back to pause and notice the trees that you may walk by daily is definitely something that is worth doing. More importantly, this exercise is an awesome tool to aid in the discussion on the importance of trees — not only for the health of our bodies, but also in the health and wellness of the world.
Hands-on tree activities for kids
Another great way to explore the trees around your home is to make a botany tree exploration sensory bin using natural items. This activity is especially great for toddlers and preschoolers because little kids learn so much from hands-on activities. A sensory bin is easier to make than you might expect. And, there’s no right or wrong way to make it! Start by collecting fallen leaves, safe sticks, rocks, nuts, pinecones, and anything else that you find while foraging. Gather the materials and place them in a box for your child–it’s that simple!
For older kids, try a leaf rubbing exercise to get them talking about the difference in leaves from one tree to the next. All you will need is leaves, white paper, and crayons. Place a leaf underneath a sheet of paper and grab a crayon. Hold the crayon on its side (horizontally) and start coloring the paper. You should start to see the imprint of the leaf underneath the paper. This activity is simple and a lot of fun!
If you have a variety of trees in your area, try collecting as many different leaves as you can find. Then, using your deduction skills, match the leaf to the tree. Your kids will have to figure out which leaf belongs to which tree by matching the leaves still on the tree. As you find the match, identify the tree.
Get your hands dirty and find some bugs!
As a child, I loved (most) insects. I’d have fun collecting and observing pill bugs, butterflies, ladybugs, ants, and so much more. Insects and bugs really are fascinating to children and it is truly incredible to think about the diverse insect population right in your own backyard.
We can find bugs and insects year-round right in our own yard. The spring and summer months in our area are particular favorites, as we get a chance to identify visiting butterflies. No matter when you’re looking, with a magnifying glass and a little sleuthing, you can spot some of the more hard-to-find insects. This observation is a great way to open up the discussion on how the insects in your own backyard play a part in our ecosystem, and what we humans can do to be less harmful to them in the process.
When you’re out looking for bugs, insects, and mini beasts, don’t be afraid to get your hands dirty! As the saying goes “a little dirt won’t hurt”! As ironic as it may sound, playing in dirt is really an awesome thing for kids. It can help boost their immune system and supports sensory development. We’ve found some of the coolest and wiggliest worms while playing in the dirt. Grab a glass jar to put some insects in temporarily to observe them up close.
If your little one is scared or apprehensive about bugs or insects, check out our post on overcoming the fear of creepy crawlies.
Make natural art
Another way to discover nature in your own backyard is to get creative using natural things that you walk on and by everyday. Turning nature into art is usually so much fun for kids. They love finding things they can use for art projects and it’s so much fun to see their imaginations come to life.
If you have older children, hold a friendly competition for creating art from nature. Challenge your kids and yourself to create an art piece that reflects how they feel about being in nature, made using items they find outside. If you have smaller children, you can grab a piece of paper and have them create a picture using natural materials found outside (leaves, sticks, rocks, etc.). Make a paint “brush” by tying fallen leaves/shrubs to a stick. Paint a mud portrait using a little dirt and water. Draw faces on leaves or cut eye holes in them to make masks. Collect twigs and leaves and create a nest. The options to create art outside are almost endless.
Check out this post for more ideas on STEAM (science, technology, engineering, art, and math) outdoor projects, and crafts.
Don’t forget about the wildlife
It can be easy to forget that the undomesticated animals that we see regularly are actually wild animals. They are a part of the wildlife in our geographic region. Yes, even the pesky squirrel that eats your birdseed or the bunny that always makes your dog bark at 6 am. Wildlife is all around us!
Take a pause with your kids and notice the animals that you see and hear when you are outside. What types of birds do you notice? Many of these animals are creatures of habit. Are you noticing the same animals coming into your yard or general location daily? If you are in Texas, if you look around long enough you’ll likely find a frog. You may even find a snake (and in that case, use caution). Have a discussion about why you think these animals keep returning to your location.
Take your kids on a trip down memory lane and get a disposable camera (yes, they still sell them). Have them take the camera and capture their favorite nature moments. Once the film is developed and printed, work on a nature photo album or scrapbook containing all of their favorite discoveries made literally in their own backyard. This is such a great way to foster creativity, appreciate the little things, and to create an amazing memory.
Now, get out and explore nature!
The great thing about exploring nature in your yard or immediate area is that it can be so simple and low fuss! You don’t have to worry about travel time, packing lunches, paying park entrance fees. You don’t need fancy gear or expensive equipment. All you need to do is open the door!
No matter where you live, you are surrounded by nature. There is nature in the city, in the suburbs, in the country, in the mountains. You don’t need a national park to make you appreciate the beauty of nature. You just need a sense of adventure and a keen eye. As parents, it is so important to take a pause from the busyness of everyday life and just breathe it all in. Take notice. Show the kids. You’ll be glad that you did.
How will you appreciate nature in your own backyard today?
About the author
Lauren is a California native turned Texan, who loves to get out in nature and discover hidden gems all around the Dallas/Fort Worth area. She is a wife and homeschooling mama to three kids who definitely keep her on her toes. She truly believes in the value of homeschooling and that there are learning opportunities available all around us. In addition to homeschooling, Lauren is also an entrepreneur; she’s the co-owner of Crunchy Boutique (a natural-living/eco-friendly boutique).
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