Imagine a world of industry right outside your back door. Not the noisy industry of hammers and saws, but the unhurried, methodical industry of the bugs and other small creatures at work in your backyard. This microcosm of nature can provide hours of entertainment and enjoyment for your family, especially for children. The trick is knowing how to slow down enough to enjoy it.
Most small children are naturally curious about the world of bugs and critters and with little prompting can be led outside to enjoy the wonders of the natural world. When we focus our attention on these smaller participants in nature’s cycle of life, we learn valuable lessons about how each piece of the puzzle is important, and we can pass that knowledge to our children.
How long has it been since you took the time to sit and watch the ants at work? It is time for some backyard exploring. Children are particularly good at spotting the ants at work, perhaps because their size puts them closer to the ground and the ants’ work, or maybe because they do not yet have the distractions of adulthood. Take time with your small children to look around your yard, near a flowerbed or garden, or at the base of a tree, and find some ants to follow. Once you have located the ants, follow them as they return to their nest/anthill. Choose a place nearby — but not too close — to the opening of their home where you can sit and watch them work. After you’ve watched for a while, about 10 to 15 minutes, ask your children to describe what they have seen, and then ask them to imagine what happens inside the anthill where you cannot see.
Next is trip to the bushes to look for a spiderweb. Thankfully our area has mostly harmless spiders, but always go with your children when looking for spiders. They need help discerning which ones they are seeing. In this part of Indiana, we do occasionally have brown recluse or black widow spiders, and we need to steer our children away from these. If you can locate a black-and-yellow garden spider or an orb weaver spider, you might be in for the treat of watching them spin or repair their webs. If they have caught prey in their webs, you may hear exclamations of “gross” or “cool” from your children.
Another area of industry happening in your yard is the world of earthworms as they keep our soil healthy. Our youngest daughter often finds them burrowing through the compost pile as they, and other decomposers, work to turn our kitchen scraps and dead leaves back into rich humus to spread on the gardens.
The long, lazy days of summer call us to be outdoors. Help your children learn to appreciate the tiny industries outside your back door and watch their wonder soar.
Carol Emmert lives in Anderson. She is a founding director of Heart of the River Coalition.