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Everything that slows us down and forces patience, everything that sets us back into the slow circles of nature, is a help.

— May Sarton

The transition from working in a fabulous museum filled with boundless inspiration and wonder to my house (which has plenty of interesting objects, but nothing compared to the massive mastodon I greet each morning) was not easy to start. But, as each day comes and goes, I’ve started to gain a new appreciation for the magic hiding in plain sight right in my own backyard.

backyard bingo card with nature items
Use this Bingo Card to explore your own backyard! Save as an image, and mark on your own device!

I picked up the skill of observation early on in life as a quiet child who preferred to watch and listen rather than engage with the world around me. In high school, I picked up a camera and figured out how I could capture and record what I was seeing. I’ve continued both of these practices into adulthood but have since learned how to apply observation to learning and teaching science too!

As I sit at my desk typing this story, I can see all kinds of life and have begun keeping track of the happenings, like a scientist in the field but my field is my yard. Here are some things I have come to observe — There are two pileated woodpeckers that tend to swoop over my house to the west every few days just after lunch. There’s a neighborhood cat who stretches on my porch in the late mornings just as the sun starts to get higher in the sky. I know the garden I planted is in full sun until about 3 pm when the shade of the magnolia tree starts creeping over it. And speaking of the magnolia tree, there is a pair of cardinals and countless squirrels who seem to call that southern beauty “home.” I’d tell you about my lizard friends, but I think I’d be here all day!

When I teach museum camps, I find myself constantly reminding the campers to slow down and look around them. This is especially true when I help with the nature photography camp where the young photographers are always on the move looking for the next cool thing to focus their cameras on. Recently, on a bird photography adventure with a friend, he reminded me of this lesson of waiting and watching as I rushed ahead of him, bored with looking at the same creature for 5 minutes. When I finally slowed myself down, I got the perfect action shot! We laughed as I muttered, “Nature – the longer you wait, the weirder it gets.”

kids photographing nature from a boardwalk
Nature photography camp in 2017. Photo by Jeff Gage.

During this time of staying at home, I keep reminding myself that it’s not only okay to move slower than usual, it’s expected. I also have more time to observe all the wonder that’s always been around, I was just moving too fast to notice and appreciate it.

In hopes that others will also take this time to slowly explore their own surroundings, I created a Backyard Bingo game as a fun way to observe and log what’s in your own backyard. Please take a step outside and see what you can find and remember what happens the longer you wait…


This originally appeared in Wonder & Grow, a blog by Chelsea Collison, one of our former Museum educators.