By Felicia V. Gaddis
Summer has arrived, school is out and you are probably trying to find something for your young gifted child to do that will engage and satisfy their insatiable curiosity. May I suggest conducting a backyard safari?
Backyard Safari is a creative way to explore the natural world around you. It’s great if you can travel to exotic locations like the Serengeti, the Amazon or the mountains of Rwanda to see gorillas in their natural habitat, however, most of us don’t have the time or resources for this but we all have a backyard or local park with plenty of wonderful things for us to explore.
You can make it a real adventure for younger children by having them make some of the necessary safari gear. A pith helmet can be made from a paper plate, paper bowl and string. A safari vest made from a brown paper bag. Have your child decorate their items to make them look as authentic as possible as they embark on their safari adventure.
There are also safari kits available to purchase online with hats and vest pre-made but making them yourself adds an additional artistic element to the fun.
Once you and your child have the proper attire, you will need the tools of the trade. These are items every naturalist needs to explore the wild. Binoculars, a magnifying glass, flashlight, compass, a butterfly net and a container for the specimens you collect are the basics for your naturalist and there are plenty of kits available online.
You can also make most of the items needed yourself. Depending on the age and imagination of your child, you can make a simple or quite elaborate flashlight, magnifying glass, butterfly catcher and even binoculars. You can find links to instructions and pre-made kits below.
Now that you have your attire and your gear, it’s time to go out into the wild, but what exactly do you do once your out there? Part of the fun is learning how to identify and catalog what you see and there are some great resources out there teach you how to do this.
Storey is a book publisher and website host that publishes practical content for creative self-reliance, covering subjects from homesteading to natural health. Their article, “Ten Tips for Becoming an Observant Naturalist” is an excellent beginner’s guide to data collecting.
There’s also the Wenatchee Naturalist Teacher’s Resource Page, produced by Wenatchee Valley College in Washington state, which includes a link to a Field Journal Lesson Plan and Field Journal Exercises for 4th to 12th graders that you can download free.
John Muir Laws is a publisher that produces books, teaching materials and hold events and classes to promote nature stewardship through science, education, and art. Their curriculum, “Opening the World through Journaling: Integrating art, science, and language arts” is available for free on their website as well.
If you would prefer to use a high-tech method to collect and catalog your data, there are some new and exciting options.
iNaturalist is an app, available on for smartphones and as a website, that allows the user to take pictures of flora and fauna and with the touch of a button, the app will identify the specimen’s genus and species, give you it’s common name and allow you to upload your photo to its database which is accessible to amateur and professional naturalist globally. You can also create communities that are age appropriate for your child and confine the community to your local area (i.e., school, friends, neighbor) or connect with scientists globally who use the iNaturalist to collect data for research.
eBird is a website and mobile app that is dedicated to the study of birds. Hosted by The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, a division of Cornell University, eBird allows scientists to crowdsource information about birds from all over the world by using “citizen scientists”. It is the world’s largest biodiversity-related citizen science project, with more than 100 million bird sightings contributed each year by eBirders around the world.
eBird is an excellent resource for the older student. It is geared more towards the undergraduate student and even has online classes designed for beginner and advanced bird watchers through the Cornell Lab Bird Academy. The first course, “eBird Essentials” is free however other courses are available for a fee ranging from $29.99 to $239.99.
Regardless of whether your child is in kindergarten or college-bound, Backyard Safari is a fun and engaging way to investigate and better understand our natural world. I’ve included additional resources below to help with your exploration. Enjoy the safari!
Back Yard Safari Resources
Young Naturalist’s Explorer Kits available online
How To Make Your Own Tools
How to make a portable compass
How to make a safari (pith) helmet
How to make a magnifying glass
How to make a flashlight
How to make a butterfly net
How To Make Working Binoculars
How To Make A Telescope
(This could be adapted to make binoculars)
Data Collection Resources
Ten Tips for Becoming an Observant Naturalist
Which provides a Field Journal Lesson Plan and John Muir Laws: Nature Stewardship Through Science, Education, and Art as well as a host of other resources to teach your child how to be a good, responsible naturalist, regardless of their age.
Which contains a link to a free nature journaling booklet.
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