Make Yourself At Home—Outdoors!
Tips to bring nature closer—whether you have a backyard, deck, balcony, or a window
With these simple ideas, your outdoor space becomes a natural extension of your home -- and a fabulous way to lure your family outside.
Nature from a window
- Open a “bird restaurant.” Hang at least one birdfeeder near a window to give your children a year-round opportunity to watch birds up close and personal. Make sure the window has a tree nearby so the birds have some protection. Try making your own birdfeeders out of an empty milk jug or a gourd bird house. Use a variety of seeds to attract different species.
- Make a pine cone hygrometer to measure humidity. Pick a mature pine cone (neither green nor dried out), attach a string to its top, and hang it outside so your kids can see it from a window. On humid or rainy days, its scales (or petals) will close. When it’s dry, they will open!
Nature on your balcony
- Plant a window box of herbs. Your kids can watch them grow and you can have fresh seasonings all summer and fall. Try planting parsley; most kids like the taste.
- Plant a few pots of tomatoes. You may want to choose a patio variety that grows to a limited height. But if you can attach some fine black mesh netting from your balcony’s railing to a roof beam, consider planting “indeterminate” cherry tomatoes. This more traditional type of plant keeps growing and growing like Jack’s beanstalk, up and across the netting. They need sun and lots of water, and occasionally you will need to tie the tomato vine to the netting. Your children—and you—will love this living wall of green leaves and delicious red fruit.
Nature on your deck
- Install a weather station. Add a thermometer, weather vane or ladybug windsock, barometer, even a rain gauge—so your kids can learn about the weather. Help them understand the signs and conditions that accompany sunny days, approaching storms, and so on. Consult this weather encyclopedia for kids to get the facts.
- Create a nature corner on your deck. You could set up a nature table or shelf, anything to encourage your children’s collections or ongoing experiments. This showcase sends the message that their interest in nature has an important place in family life.
Nature in your backyard
- Set up a water feature. Birdbaths are simple enough, and water gardens are much easier to install than you’d think, when using kits available at garden centers. Either will attract birds, butterflies, and other small critters. Another plus—the sound of splashing water adds music to any day.
- Place a section of log or a big rock in the yard. If your kids peek under it from time to time, they will discover a world of creatures living there, from worms and centipedes to salamanders.
- Start a compost pile or bin, an open one, so your kids can watch things decompose. Doubtless, they will also find fun surprises like pumpkin and potato plants beginning to grow. Or try this worm compost bin activity.
- Make a digging station. Set aside a part of your yard where your kids can grab shovels and get to work. Perhaps they’ll plan to tunnel to China, search for buried treasure or become amateur archaeologists. Chances are good that their fun will be dotted with many discoveries.
- String a hammock or buy a bench. Kids love being active, but sometimes the best way to drink in nature is just reading a book under a tree.
And don't forget, there are all sorts of ways to make your outdoor space a haven for butterflies, birds, and all sorts of wildlife. Learn how you can certify your outdoor space as a "wildlife habitat" with National Wildlife Federation.
Susan Goodman currently writes the Green Hour feature for National Wildlife Federation’s magazine, Big Backyard. She is also an award-winning author of nonfiction books for children, including All in Just One Cookie and On This Spot. To learn more about Susan and her books, visit susangoodmanbooks.com.
Get Outdoors with Your Family