As the weather heats up and we head outside more frequently, it may be tempting to plan all of your nature adventures away from home. Don’t overlook the world that’s right outside your door, however—your backyard can be full of exciting surprises and opportunities to explore nature close to home. If you need some inspiration to help your kids get started exploring the backyard, here are four simple and fun ideas for a backyard adventure.
Make a Map
A great way to get your kids to explore your backyard in a new way is to ask them to make a map. Provide pieces of grid paper so that they can draw everything to scale and set them to work! Depending on their ages, you can suggest different levels of detail and accuracy, but the important part is helping them learn to observe and then document. If you have a large yard and multiple kids, consider splitting up the map-making project into zones so that everyone is free to explore and draw their own maps in their personal style. Not only will they have fun exploring the backyard, but they’ll be practicing several important life skills at the same time! Have them make a map every year so that you can see how your backyard (and your kids) has changed over time.
The best way to get kids interested in a game is to make them powerful – superheroes, community helpers, you name it! For this backyard exploration activity, tell the kids that they’ll be “yard detectives” trying to uncover the “unseen” in your backyard. Give each one a magnifying glass (this adventure kit is a great set to have on hand for each kid!) and ask them to examine the backyard for clues about various things. Depending on the ages of your kids, the particular investigation will vary, but here are a few ideas: find evidence of 3 different animals; find evidence of a human presence; uncover the world beneath the flowerpots and detail what you find; dig a hole as big as your foot and note down what you see during and after the dig. By specifically asking kids to use their magnifying glasses for this detective work, you’re encouraging them to see the backyard from a whole new perspective. The littlest kids will love looking at nature through the eyes of a bug!
A backyard scavenger hunt is always a fun activity, but if your kids are old enough for something a little more complicated, try this Alphabet Scavenger Hunt. The premise is simple – find something outside that starts with each letter of the alphabet. Completing the puzzle is what’s truly challenging! Your kids will have to get creative with their observations, and you can use this opportunity to learn new words for familiar things (try learning the specific species of bird or flower!) or to dig deeper into corners of your yard that were previously unexplored (perhaps there are some yucca leaves hidden back in the brambles?). If your kids are coming up short for several letters, encourage them to use clever adjectives to meet the requirement instead – Quiet caterpillar, perhaps?
For some backyard exploration that extends beyond one afternoon, try having your kids start science journals. Go out back and find an interesting natural process or item that each child would like to learn more about—this could be a bird’s nest, a worm in the compost heap, a rock beginning to erode—anything! Have them take notes on the item, including drawing pictures, and then spend some time researching together. Over the coming weeks, pick one or two days a week to go out back and check on their items; has anything changed? What have you learned that makes you see this object differently now? If your kids would like more direction or just want a space to observe lots of different things year-round, then try this Journaling a Year in Nature book. With several prompts for observation during every season, your kids can note down their discoveries over time; they’ll have a whole new appreciation for the world right outside your door.
After looking at the backyard through these different lenses, your whole family will have a whole new appreciation for this slice of nature close to home!
Parenting Today is presented by the Minnesota Department of Health.