What’s in your ‘naturehood’?
By Nick Baumgart
The warmer days have seen in increase in the amount of people spending time outdoors. This is good, to be sure, and warmer days are still to come. There are lots of sights to see and do outdoors and many places to go. However, you don’t need to go beyond your neighborhood to see nature up close and do some discovering that is both exciting and enlightening.
The Forest Service has an ad campaign called “Discover the Forest,” encouraging youth and adults to get outside to local forests, trails, parks and waterways and other outdoor locations. In this promotion, observers are urged to find their “Naturehood.” There are plenty of parks, rivers and public lands to enjoy the outdoors. This campaign encourages viewers to find some spots and go out to enjoy them.
Many beautiful and enjoyable spots can be found at these public locations. However, you don’t need to travel far to enjoy the beauties that nature has to offer. In fact, you don’t need to drive at all. Begin by taking a look right outside your front door. If you look close enough, you may see things you never saw before. Here are some simple ideas for a nature hike in your neighborhood.
Begin by looking in the grass. There may be tracks, animal scat or signs of insects and worms. Look in the trees and bushes. Can you see any signs of animal homes, nests or other markings? Next, walk to the back yard or to the alley. Be sure to walk slowly and be still, using all your senses to be more aware of your surroundings. Look up, look down and be sure to look beyond to see further ahead.
Now is time to take a walk around the “naturehood.” Try to identify the different trees you see. How many different kinds are there? How old are they? Can you find leaves on the ground that belongs to each of the trees? Continue to look for the things you sought when you first started. How many are the same and how many are different?
Don’t forget about the weather. In Michigan, it seems like the weather is always changing, so it can be a lot of fun to watch it regularly. What is the weather like? Is it cloud, sunny or a little of both. What direction is the wind coming from? What is the temperature? How high in the sky is the sun for this time of year? These are all good things to ask and record.
If you have time or want to, you can go to a nearby park or “greenspace.” Once there, you can continue the same type of activities on your hike or simply sit and enjoy some quiet time. Either way, it is good to be outside.
Writing down your findings is a great way to log your activity and to look back and compare differences you find over time. You may even want to start a phenology calendar of your own. Youth will find this a rewarding experience that will improve their observation and writing skills.
Any time is a good time to explore the outdoors. You don’t need to go far, so grab a jacket, put on your boots and go.
Michigan State University Extension encourages participation in new experiences that are safe and expose youth to science involvement with 4-H Science: Asking Questions and Discovering Answers. Science is everywhere, with many questions to ask and discoveries to make.
Contact Nick Baumgart firstname.lastname@example.org for ideas on spending time outdoors with youth or contact your County MSU Extension office for 4-H learning opportunities.