The spread of the Covid-19 virus is having an unimaginable impact on our lives. In an effort to stave off this dreaded disease we are being asked to practice social distancing. We are told that this will help blunt the rapid spread of the disease.
As a result, during the foreseeable future our families will be spending the majority of time together. This is going to be hard on adults and children alike. I am certain we will be looking to fill the void created when we can no longer spend our leisure time away from home.
With that in mind, I would like to suggest a worthwhile endeavor that you and your family can do together. For decades, those of us that are interested in the natural world have lamented that studies show children are rapidly losing touch with nature. Experts feel one of the major contributors to this disconnect with nature is that young people spend little time outdoors.
One study revealed the average American youngster spends in excess seven hours per day with their eyes glued to the television or other electronic devices. In comparison, they spend only four to seven minutes outdoors.
One of the ramifications of this disparity is the inability of young people to identify the plants growing in their neck of the woods. This is the conclusion of researchers who found the average 10-14 year-old youngster cannot identify 10 native plants growing nearby but can recognize 1,000 corporate logos.
If you are concerned that your children have what conservation educators often call nature deficit disorder, why not use some of the extra time we will be spending at home during the coming weeks fostering an appreciation for nature? If so, there is no better place to begin this journey of discovery than in your own backyard.
The typical Monroe County yard is home to an amazing variety of plants and animals. Fortunately, spring is an ideal time to be outside. The weather is pleasant, and populations of biting or stinging critters are low. In addition, a lot is happening in both the plant and animals worlds.
Some plants are just emerging from their winter slumber while others are blooming and/or are just beginning to leaf out. Birds that wintered alongside our resident bird neighbors are leaving while birds that spent the winter well south of our borders are just beginning to arrive. With each passing day, more wild pollinators and other insects are emerging. Each of these organisms is truly fascinating in their own right.
It is important that you approach your role as mentor brimming with enthusiasm. You should not be concerned that you cannot identify everything you will encounter on backyard forays---nobody can. Just be forthright and tell your children we are going to explore this amazing diversity of life together.
More than likely you already have everything you need [e.g. a pair of binoculars, notebook, camera (cell phone cameras work fine), and magnifying glass.
I cannot over emphasize that when it comes to wildlife, it is important when you are trying to find wildlife to move slowly and silently. Refrain from making rapid movements. Stop often and look closely all about.
When searching for plants, keep your eyes peeled for even the smallest plant. For example, currently violets and bluets are blooming in yards throughout the country. Although both plants have breathtakingly beautiful blooms since they are so tiny, they are often overlooked.
Encourage children to photograph the various plants and animals they encounter. I am amazed with the quality of photos that can now be taken with smart phones. These photos will be helpful when trying to identify your discoveries later.
If you are looking for some activities that might be of interest to your children, the Internet is awash with sites that offer an amazing list of activities to be carried out in backyards. Here is a brief sampling of such sites:
GoExploreNature.com (10 teachable moments in your backyard.)
www.massaudubon (Our Feathered Friends -a guide for teaching children age 2.9-5 years about birds).
cpw.state.co.us/thingstodo/Pages/KidsFamily (Nature activities for families offered by the Colorado Department of Parks and Wildlife).
BugGuide.net - Using photos submitted by the public, insects are identified by experts around the country.
Cornell University’s Laboratory of Ornithology’s Merlin ID app. This free app can be used to identify birds in two quick steps.
When it comes to identifying wild plants, visit www.southeasternflora.com. Here you will find photos and information regarding over 2,000 wild plants of this region of the United States.
Nobody knows how long the corona virus threat will last. However, while we are doing our part to stem the spread of the disease by practicing social distancing, the time we spend with our children trying to foster their appreciation for the natural world could enrich their lives and help them become better stewards of the world in the not too distant future.
Terry Johnson is retired Program Manager of the Georgia Nongame-Endangered Wildlife Program. He writes the informative column ‘Monroe Outdoors’ for the Reporter. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.