Leave No Child Inside: Nature in your back yard

The Four Rivers Environmental Coalition, in concert with the national Leave No Child Inside campaign, is committed to ensuring the children of this region will grow up with a strong connection to nature, and, as a result, be healthier and motivated to become its caring stewards. This column is one of a bi-weekly series contributed by Four Rivers Environmental Coalition members to raise public awareness of the importance of access to nature for healthy childhood development, and to encourage families to explore our member organizations’ wondrous places and programs, such as camping, learning projects, and programs for schoolchildren. Visit www.fourriver.org.

By Jessica Vandeboom; CPESC

Resource Analyst, Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District

In September 2008, the U.S. House of Representatives passed legislation called the No Child Left Inside Act that strengthens children’s environmental experiences.  The plan addresses the need to train educators and to improve environmental literacy plans.

Importantly, children should experience nature outside of a formal education setting,, so that they may learn to be stewards of natural resources in different settings.

An ever-increasing majority of children live in urban or suburban areas and require travel to visit a designated natural area. You and children around you can experience nature at home without making an outing. Simple plans done at home to enhance wildlife habitat can bring nature to life in your own backyard.

Attracting birds to your home is as easy as providing food, shelter and water.  Birdhouses and feeders made from household materials include milk jugs, coffee cans and pie tins. These provide opportunities to watch birds such as chickadees, bluebirds, and wrens at close range. A pine cone feeder can be made from pine cones, peanut butter and seeds, which provides a tasty treat for hungry birds.

Gourds make excellent natural bird houses. A special,  bright-colored feeder out of the sunlight filled with a four-parts water to one-part sugar, boiled,  attracts the amazing hummingbirds, an important pollinator.  For 10 good humming-bird-feeder tips, got to: www.associatedcontent.com/article/1574324/10_hummingbird_feeder_tips_pg2_pg2.html?cat=32

Some bird feeders and houses are mounted on windowpanes; others hang in tree branches or from poles. Of course, birds of all kinds benefit from birdbaths for bathing and drinking. Birds fascinate any attentive watcher. Be sure to construct feeders and houses and choose seed that accommodates the birds in your area. To determine which birds are in your area, visit www.audubonathome.org/birdstohelp.

Native plants including trees, shrubs and flowers can be placed around your home, enhancing bird habitat and the aesthetics of your home. Native plants are well adapted to local conditions, requiring little water and maintenance. Native plants maintain our natural heritage and community’s character. A butterfly garden provides food for caterpillars and attracts butterflies and bees, which are principal pollinators. Flowers attract butterflies and bees with nectar which, in turn, are pollinated by these insects. If large native plantings are not conducive to your surroundings, flower pots or hanging baskets can be placed around your yard to attract birds and butterflies. Leaf rubbings can reveal the beauty and design of plants in your backyard. Plants that have varied heights, bloom times and colors attract a variety of species and provide color and habitat throughout the growing season.

Children should be encouraged to journal their observations of the natural world in their own backyard. Journaling can help children learn and retain the knowledge gained through observations of nature. By looking back on past journal entries, students can recognize patterns of nature. Field guides can be utilized to identify and learn more about the nature in your yard or community.  Children should be encouraged to observe nature using a combination of senses.  Simple activities that enhance nature in your own backyard delight and enlighten children to the wonders of nature which, in turn, provides children resources to be stewards of nature.

This information was brought to you by the Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District. The Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District is a locally-operated unit of government functioning under Illinois law.  Our mission is to promote the protection, restoration, and wise use of the soil, water and related resources within the district. We provide technical and educational resources in the areas of soils and land use, water quality, soil erosion in both urban and agricultural land uses, conservation program needs, wildlife habitat and native ecosystem restoration and management.

Contact us at Winnebago County Soil and Water Conservation District, 4833 Owen Center Road, Rockford, IL 61101, (815) 965-2392, fax (815) 965-2447 or www.winnebagoswcd.org.

From the October 7-13, 2009 issue

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