Great American Backyard Campout Blends Outdoors, Family Fun and Science

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Memorial Day is the kickoff to the summer and where is the best place to spend the summer? Outside, of course, and family camping is one of the most popular summer time actitivites. On June 25, 2011, the National Wildlife Federation is asking everyone to go camping! The Great American Backyard Campout is a grassroots initiative to Leave No Child Indoors! The National Wildlife Federation is raising awareness and also trying to raise funds for more outdoor youth programs. They are also encouraging families and communities spending time together outside camping. And while you're spending time outside - in the fresh air - why not explore nature (and science)!

So get your family and neighbors together and go camping - at a local campground, state or national park, or in your backyard. Being outdoors is a perfect time to connect to science. You can explore biology, conservation, ecology, astronomy, geology, geography, environmental science, and more.

To get you started in your science exploration while camping, COPUS is recommending these Citizen Science projects and activities:

Firefly Project - Remember catching fireflies as a kid? Well, re-live the fun and help scientists learn more about fireflies. Count the number and type of firelflies you see the night of your campout and throught the summer.

CitizenSky - Sleeping out under the stars? Help scientists track changes in the constellations. At many locations, local Astronomy clubs will be bringing out the telescopes and watching the night sky.

Geocaching - Take scavenger hunting and orienteering to a whole new level. Using GPS technology, you can use your smart phone make the night a bast. Search out and find hidden treasures nearby and leave a little note or token for the next explorer. Geocaches are literally everywhere! Or you can create your own geocaches, submit to the website and let others discover the, Hiking Checklists - I spy with my little eye...Go on a hiking scavenger hunt - through the woods, along the creek, in the park or in your neighborhood. Create a checklist of things to see such as anything in nature that begins with each letter of the alphabet or that's the same color as the T-shirt they are wearing.

And more! The Network for Citizen Science Projects and Resources has a website that lists dozens of projects from counting birds, watching flowers, to games you can play that help scientists learn more about the weather, DNA, and diseases. Check it out and sign up for updates.

The fun doesn't stop there! There are countless numbers of ways to summarize your camping, outdoor and nature experiences from the night. Explore the Art of Science.

Dramatic Interpretation - Act out your favorite plant, animal, or insect encountered or write and recite a poem about nature at the campfire. Host your own Campfire Nature Talent Show. Let everyone shine and howl to moon.

Magic Bracelets - This activity is a favorite among scouting groups. Give everyone a strip of duct tape to tape on their wrist, sticky side out. Collect small little things that have naturally fallen to the ground - like leaves, blades of grass, petals of flowers, fallen seeds and fruits and create a beautiful bracelet. This can also make a great hiking activity if you put the tape around your ankle. At the end of the walk have everyone remove their ankle bracelets to see all of the things that natural stuck to the tape. It's a perfect way to discuss plant and flower ecology and how different kinds of seeds disperse.

Nature Journal - Create your own masterpiece that's part science notebook, part memoir, part art, and part literature. All you need is blank paper, a stick, a rubber band and a hole punch. (A piece of cardboard for weight and stability is a nice touch, too.) Write down your observations of the night - while on a hike or at the camp site. Note the different things you see, feel, or hear. Where did it occur? What time of day was it? How did you react or feel about the experience. Then draw a picture or write a poem or short story about the experience.

Create a Science Zine - Using a regular sheet of black paper, your imagination, and crayons/pens/markers/pencils and whatever you can write your own mini-story book of your camping and outdoor science experiences.

The Great American Backyard Campout is perfect for experienced and new campers alike, but we certainly understand how overwhelming the idea can be if you're really new to it. Nothing can dampen an experience like high expectation and low returns. So don't let your grand adventure suffer from boredom or lack of preparation. Check out this list of 100+ Things to Do Outside (from Urban Science Adventures! © for additional inspiration and this Checklist of Camping Essentials from Outdoor Afro.

So, sign up for the Great American Backyard Campout and let us know how much fun you had sleeping under the stars and exploring science.

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About this Entry

by Danielle Lee published on May 31, 2011 12:28 PM.


Danielle N. Lee is an Outreach Scientist who studies animal behavior, behavioral ecology, and mammalogy. Her outreach efforts emphasize sharing science to general audiences, particularly under-served groups, via outdoor programming and social media. She authors a blog, Urban Science Adventures! ©, that introduces inner-city young people to urban ecology, environmental science, and STEM opportunities (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics), as well as writes about science and research news for other online communities.

PhD Biology
MS Vertebrate Zoology
BS Animal Science

What COPUS Stands For was the previous entry in this blog.

COPUS Clarion December 2011 is the next entry in this blog.

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