You may be wondering, “What does she mean with the title of this blog?” So let me tell you what the phrase “Backyard Safari” means to me.
The beauty of a backyard safari is that you don’t need to be in the middle of a vast wilderness in order to experience nature! Any small spot will do, whether it is a favorite tree, a small creek behind your house, or an open field. In fact, author Annie Dillard wrote an entire book about a small patch of wilderness behind her otherwise suburban house called The Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1). Even though there was a limited amount of ‘nature’ around her, on the book’s second page she wrote;
“It’s a good place to live; there’s a lot to think about. The creeks are an active mystery, fresh every minute.”
Annie didn’t need a jungle or a mountain range, she found the magic in her own backyard.
In fact, it seems that even people living in a place the rest of us would pay to go visit are having a hard time getting their kids outside. In a moving article from October of last year, Jackie Borchardt showed that even kids living next to Grand Teton National Park don’t go outside as often as they should (2). As part of a collaboration between the Conservation Fund and local schools, students came to the park to help brainstorm ideas of how to get their fellow student soutside.
The two reasons the students gave that stood out to me the most were that 1.) school and homework took up so much of the day that there wasn’t much time to go outside afterwards, and 2.) they didn’t know where to go.
The students came up with their own solution to the first problem: “Every subject can be taught outside, if the teacher is creative enough.” They were especially interested in having art and poetry classes outside where they could be inspired by the natural world around them.
The second problem, however, the students will need some help with. There are many many children who would love to spend time outside, but they need someone to push them out the door. Which seems easier, going out alone to search the neighborhood for a wild spot to experience, or pushing a button and turning on the TV? This is where kids especially need our help! Help them find some local places that they could go. Go for a drive beside a creek and see if there are any good spots to explore. You’ll be looking for places where you can 1.) park without walking along the road too much in order to get to it, and 2.) get down the bank easily and have a small area to stand on/sit on before the water. If you want to go in the water at all look for places where the water is full of little ripples from going over small stones–beware of very calm water as it could mean the water is deep! Make sure to test where the bottom is before going in with your child.
There are also many resources available to all of us in the form of state and national parks. Put your child’s computer skills to work at this website and see what beautiful places might be right in your area.
You can also find some nice Pennsylvania hiking trails here.
You don’t need to go very far in order to find a wonderful, natural place that you can call your own, and you don’t need to live in Yellowstone in order to see amazing things and share them with those around you. Too often we focus on teaching kids how to save the environment (recycling, planting trees, etc.) without helping them cultivate the love of the environment that will answer the question of why.
If kids (and adults too!) have meaningful experiences outdoors, the desire to learn about how it all works and how they can help with always follow!
So what are you still reading this for? Let’s go out and have a backyard safari of our own!
(1) Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Harper & Row Publishers, Inc. New York, NY. 1974.
(2) Link to the article here