The countdown has begun!
The international Backyard Nature Challenge is less than two weeks away. We are hoping that many members of the Irvine community will become involved, either by documenting nature found in their own yards or neighborhoods or by helping others identify what they’ve found.
Much has been written over the past decade or so (since Richard Louv’s 2005 classic Last Child in the Woods) about the growing disconnect between American youth and the natural world around them. Ever since Louv first coined the term ‘Nature-Deficit Disorder,’ environmental scientists, conservation groups, concerned parents, and educators have been vocal about the dangers of raising a generation that knows almost nothing about the species that inhabit their own backyards. The many benefits to children who explore the outdoors freely and often–greater creativity, improved cognitive function, an inquiry-and-discovery approach toward solving problems, reduced anxiety, improved social skills, lower levels of aggression, physical fitness, and more–are well documented and, quite frankly, the basis for our Nature Preschool. And yet, an alarming number of children today spend most of their unstructured time in front of a screen. In fact, in one recent study (see NatureofAmericans.org), social scientists found that the average 12 year-old spends over 19 hours per week on electronic media but less than 6 hours per week playing outdoors. Obviously, this isn’t healthy for children and it certainly doesn’t bode well for future generations’ concern for the environment and willingness to take the difficult steps necessary to preserve it. As British broadcaster David Attenborough has wisely stated, “No one will protect what they don’t care about; and no one will care about what they have never experienced.”
It’s easy to point the finger at other families and suggest that their children are the ones missing out on an abundance of natural experiences. But how much does your family know about our local habitats and the species that dwell within? Can you identify the more common critters in your yard? Do you know a little about their life cycle, diet, and daily habits? The upcoming Backyard Nature Challenge–coupled with the fact that most of us are currently quarantined with family members and can’t attend any large-gathering events whatsoever–presents us with a perfect opportunity to focus on learning more about our local flora and fauna, to become ‘Amateur Naturalists,’ if you will.
To that end, please join in the fun by tuning in to this blog daily for the next ten days and ‘audit’ a little ‘Natural History 101’! I will be posting daily ‘ID Quizzes’ made up of a variety of photographs taken from the iNaturalist website. Almost all of the photos were taken right here in Baltimore County over the past few years; many of them were actually taken on or near Irvine’s property. See if you and your family (adults and kids alike) can identify what species is shown in each photo. The answers will appear in the next day’s blog, for you to check how you’ve done. The identifications will become increasingly difficult with time; today’s first round should be generally easy, but things will step up a notch with each passing day. Why not give it a try? Feel free to confer with field guides you may have at home, websites you may occasionally rely upon, or your friendly neighborhood snake expert. Just DON’T look on iNaturalist, as that was the source of most of the photos!
Click here for your first chance to see . . . are you smarter than a fifth grade naturalist?!?