On most summer evenings, we walk on the path in our backyard. The path runs through the uncut portion of our lawn, which you can read about here.
We see spiders, praying mantises and caterpillars. The kids touch the seed pods on the Jewelweed and watch as the seeds are released into the air. There is a sense of calm as we walk that is absent during other parts of the day. The path is a continuous loop. We walk it over and over, discovering new things on every lap. For the kids, it is a time to run and a time to discover. For myself and my husband, it is a time of peace in an otherwise chaotic day. Walking there, where the air is noticeably cooler than the rest of the yard, clears our heads and calms our pulses. The stress of the day doesn’t reach into the tall grass and some days the solace it provides is crucial.
Giving even a tiny piece of your yard back to nature can be a valuable learning experience for you and your children and can also provide escape and a place to connect with your family after a long day.
So, how do you create your backyard classroom/oasis? Here are three easy steps to backyard bliss.
1. Stop Mowing! Well, that sounds easy and might upset your neighbors, depending on where you live, but it really is that simple. We are lucky enough to have a substantial yard. Mowing the entire thing took a lot of time and resources and we didn’t use any of the mowed space in the very back of the yard. For us, it was simple. Take a portion of our yard that we never step foot in (except to mow it down), stop mowing and see what happens. You may not have a big yard and you may live somewhere where not mowing is frowned upon. You can likely still find some space in your yard that you are not using which can be turned into your own private nature preserve. You will be surprised by how much life can emerge if you give it a chance.
2. Plan and cut a path. Our path meanders through our uncut area creating blind turns (which make great hiding spots for hide and seek) and maximizing the walking distance available. Mark out your path with stakes and try to look at it from a higher vantage point, like an upstairs window, to make sure it is the path you want. Mow your path and watch the grass around it begin to grow.
3. Observe. When we first stopped mowing, we noticed the wide variety of grasses in our yard. Before that, grass was grass, and it was all under an inch or two in height. It was amazing to see the different sizes, colors and textures now displayed in our yard. See what grows naturally and what is drawing interesting birds, bugs and other wildlife to your yard. Early on, we added some young trees to the uncut area in our yard. We also added a few bird houses. Depending on where you live, you may want to add different types of native plants and trees to your path to make it an ideal habitat for whatever you are hoping to observe in your yard.
These three steps are enough to get you started. The idea of not mowing was foreign to me having grown up in a suburban neighborhood. I now see vast fields of mowed grass in my community and everywhere I go and wonder why. I see the time and energy spent on mowing pieces of land that no one ever steps foot on except to mow them down and it no longer makes sense to me. I imagine butterflies drifting over that space and birds building nests and spiders spinning webs and I see the possibility of life rather than dead space.
We do still have lawn (though we could do with less) that is a great space for our kids to run and play. I have to say that we don’t use it as much as “the path,” as our kids refer to the uncut portion of the yard. Maybe we all crave the peace that comes to us when we walk on the path, immersed in a living, breathing environment we had a hand in creating.
- Longwood Gardens in Kennet Square, PA
- Literacy-Your child’s connection to the world