The mission of Backyard Naturalists is to inspire a lifelong appreciation of the natural world in children through educational programming that integrates science, art, and technology. The program will draw from the considerable educational resources of the Highlands Nature Center, where staff has provided hands-on science-learning opportunities to help educate the community and promote conservation for over 60 years. Backyard Naturalists has been developed in partnership with Meet Your Neighbours, an international photography project designed to help connect people with the wildlife in their own communities. Backyard Naturalists will utilize the images produced by MYN to capture the attention of a generation of children fully integrated in technology.
Backyard Naturalists participants will learn the essentials of how to be an amateur naturalist. The program will include eight weeks of lessons, one afternoon per week, structured to promote a better appreciation and understanding of the natural world by nurturing creativity and independent observation skills using:
- nature journals
- experiential learning
- the creation of a Wiki
Environmental education is crucial to establishing a connection with the natural world. Studies show that spending more time outdoors is linked to fewer incidences of behavioral problems in children and leads to a healthier lifestyle. In addition, experiential education supplements classroom learning and is a good way to explore different learning styles to see how your child learns best.
Each week will include lessons from a wide range of topics including: bird morphology, ecological principles, and plant identification. Students will also work together to develop a wiki, utilizing the images of Meet Your Neighbours in conjunction with their own work in order to inspire participants to focus attention on individual species and recognize order amongst the seeming chaos of the natural world. A wiki is a website that is collaboratively developed by a community of users, allowing them to freely add and edit content. Users become participants of the website instead of just visitors. A wiki is always under revision, encouraging collaboration and group consensus and discussion rather than individual opinion, as opposed to a blog.
Our objective is to instill an organic interest in nature among the students while embracing a technical world. As screen-based technology plays an increasingly salient role in our lives, it becomes evermore difficult to limits its use. Instead, we must find creative ways to maintain an interest in – and express the importance of – the natural world by incorporating nature into the lifestyle of 21st century children. Upon completion of the program, every participant will have increased powers of observation and a better understanding of the natural community in their own backyard.