Destination Discovery

With clear mason jars in hand, we headed outdoors on our appointed mission.

Soon, thanks to some local fireflies and quick hands, we delighted in the twinkling glow of our natural lanterns. Thus began another memorable summer of discovery in the Missouri Ozarks.

This is the stuff many childhood memories are made of—fireflies, cicadas and warm evenings filled with the sounds of tree frogs, katydids and whip-poor-wills—adventures galore in our own backyard.

For families with young children, getting acquainted with nature close to home can be an inviting and rewarding experience. Getting started doesn’t have to be complicated or require long treks over rugged terrain. Nature discovery can take place right in your own backyard, nearby creek, forest or nature center.

Backyard Safari

Television glamorizes exotic big-game locations, complete with lions, tigers and bears, but even the smallest backyard is home to wild beasts Among the blades of grass, hardy dandelions and flint rocks there are ant lions, tiger swallowtails and woolly bear caterpillars. Insects are everywhere, and there are so many kinds. Beneath rocks, among weeds and around gardens there is an awesome number of these crawling, jumping and flying creatures. Insect investigation is at the top of the list for many preschoolers. Add a magnifying glass and your little ones are sure to have hours of fun. Just be sure to watch out for insects that sting or bite. Help your children identify those that can sting, such as bees and wasps, and teach them to calmly give them space and respect.

Bushes, trees and gardens provide prime daytime birding. Watch for local and seasonal visitors as they go about their daily routine of bathing in driveway puddles, catching insects and feeding their hungry young. Even your 2- or 3- year-old can keep count of the different bird songs heard or nests found in trees. Colorful cardinals, beautiful bluebirds and cheerful chickadees are some classic favorites for both kids and adults. Put out some seed, fruit or suet and see who shows up for dinner.

At night, fireflies “talk” to one another using only their “taillight signals,” while bats, owls and nighthawks seek their prey on the wing. Many yards harbor at least one of these nocturnal creatures, and you may want to watch for them on a backyard camp-out, complete with tents, flashlights, sleeping bags and s’mores. Camping in your own home yard is also a great way