The kids are off school. People are working from home. Everything seems to be shutting down.

It’s unprecedented.

But is it an obstacle or an opportunity?

Let’s make that glass half full.

You don’t have to entertain the youngsters at a crowded movie theater or museum. There’s a ton of “edutainment” available right within the safety of your own backyard.

You just have to look.

So here’s a guide for families to do some exploring. You may just discover something about yourselves in the process.

There is one important rule going in, however: Except for use as a tool for exploration, cellphones are NOT part of the equation. Leave them in your pocket.

And while the possibilities are as varied as your imagination, here are some ideas to get you started.


m19 backyard fun tufted titmouse.JPG

A tufted titmouse perches on one of the writer's backyard birdbaths.

Who doesn’t love them? They fly. They sing. They remind us of spring. Get to know them a bit better and then introduce them to your kids.

Invest in a good bird identification book for our area. Peterson, Audubon, National Geographic and Stokes all make excellent field guides.

The guides help you identify any birds that visit your yard and offer a wealth of information and interesting facts about them — so you can amaze your kids with your knowledge.

Or if books aren’t your thing, download an app on your phone. Merlin Bird ID by Cornell Lab makes it easy to identify species you might be stumped on.

Spotted lanternflies in Manheim Twp

Spotted lanternflies are seen on a tree off the Heritage Trail in Manheim Township, in August of 2019.


Just because it may be ugly doesn’t mean a bug is bad. After all, as bugs go, the spotted lanternfly is a real beauty, and we all know how bad that critter is!

Take some time to discover the bugs that live in your backyard. Earthworms may be “eeewww slimy!’’ but they are a sign of a healthy ecosystem.

You and your kids can make a “bug trap’’ to inventory the creepy crawlies that call your yard home, and then try to identify and learn about what you find. has several suggestions for trapping bugs, but none is as easy as the “Beat Sheet.’’

According to the site: “Make a Beat Sheet by putting a white cloth under a tree or shrub. Beat or shake the branches. Did any bugs fall on the sheet? Scoop them up into your collecting jar. This is a good way to find cicadas, ladybugs, or beetles.”

So you don’t injure them, the site suggests using a paintbrush to scoop the bugs into the jar for identification.

Again, you can visit the app store for tons of bug ID apps at your fingertips.


m19 backyard fun clouds.jpg

How long has it been since you put a blanket on the grass and lay down on it? The world looks so different when you’re looking up.

Cloud watching is a fave of this writer, but the fun doesn’t stop there.

Challenge your kids (and yourself) not just to find shapes in the clouds, but see who can make up the best story about the shapes they find.

Of course you could take the opportunity to teach the kids (and again, yourself) about the types of clouds. Cumulus, stratus and cirrus are the main guys, but there are many others.

Personally, I think it’s a lot more fun just to watch.


Be sure, there are many treasures in your backyard. It all depends upon your perspective.

To a squirrel, an oak tree is a treasure for the acorns it provides.

Birds are happy for evergreen cover from a cold wind. A bee hits the jackpot when it stumbles upon a patch of clover.

Help your children see the treasures around them with a scavenger hunt.

This requires some parent time. You have to go out and find things in your yard first, and write them down on a list. The first child who finds all the items on the list wins.

But really, they all do.

It could be as silly as a blade of grass, or as hard to find as a four-leaf clover. Leaves, beetles, worms, water, a fence, a tree with bumpy bark, a pinecone, really anything at all that’s in your yard will work. It’s more about the spirit of exploration than finding the items on the list.

The point to all of these suggestions is to have fun.

Take the opportunity — however scary the times may seem — to slow down and discover the world around you. There’s a lot to see!