Backyard Science Camp

I saw a post on the NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) blog about setting up a science camp. My two granddaughters have developed an interest in science, and I thought perhaps this summer I could do a weekly backyard science camp for them! So the first thing I did was to order two Brock microscopes (not necessary, but nice!). They are a bit pricy, but they are virtually indestructible, and can “grow” with the children by adding eyepieces with greater magnification as the child grows. The child can easily make “slides” by taking a slide-shaped piece of cardboard and cutting out a diamond shape in the middle. They you put a piece of transparent tape across the opening, and you have a sticky surface to put a fly’s wing, flower petal, or whatever else the child wants to explore.

Since this is a backyard science camp, backyard science sounds like a good theme. What kind of science can you do in a back yard?

  • Plant a garden—what effects do water, fertilizer, type of soil, etc have on the plants? Even the littlest ones like to garden!


  • Observe flora and fauna—identify birds, plants, animals, insects, etc. living there—discuss the ecosystem—how are the plants and animals dependent on each other? Use the microscopes or hand lens to look at small things. (Go to your library for bird, plant, and animal identification books; look on the internet for identification sites; also see below.) (Watch out for poison ivy or other hazards.)
  • Observe the weather—set up a weather station (they can make their own weather instruments), make daily weather observations, make weather predictions, take turns being a TV weather personality!
  • On a sleepover, if it is a clear night observe the moon and stars! What other planets are visible? Catch the meteor shower in August. A lot can be observed with the naked eye. If you have them try binoculars or a telescope. Some astronomy clubs offer public viewing with their telescopes. Take a field trip to your local planetarium!
  • If it is a rainy day, do some kitchen chemistry (use goggles and aprons for safety)
    • Make a purple cabbage acid/base indicator—test it on various liquids you might have in the refrigerator—milk, orange juice, lemon juice, vinegar, water, carbonated water
    • Do a “white powder” experiment—mix white powders from the kitchen (flour, sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt) with water, vinegar, lemon juice—observe whether a reaction takes place or not, and what happens. Add 3 drops of the purple cabbage indicator to each solution and mixture. What happens? Why?
  • Take a field trip to a pond (there’s one in our local park), and collect a sample of pond water to observe with the microscope. You might want them to have a real slide for this. What do you see? Why are the organisms there important? (Wear disposable gloves when handling the pond water.)
  • Collect rocks from your garden, if you have any, or a creek bed, or buy a small bag of river gravel at your home improvement store. Identify the rocks. Do they look different when they are wet? Talk about the rock cycle. Why are the rocks rounded? Paint them and make an animal! (Remember pet rocks?)

They already have aprons and goggles for safety, and I have a good supply of disposable gloves! I think we are good to go!



Brock microscope (Magiscope) web site

How to make purple cabbage indicator. Use strict supervision if the child uses any household cleaners. Make sure they wear goggles, aprons and gloves.

Shows how to make your own weather vane, anemometer, and rain gauge.

This weather site also includes how to make a barometer.

 Beginner’s guide to the night sky.

Lots of kids gardening ideas!

Lots of info on identifying minerals, including how to make a simple identification kit, Identification key, and more!

 Weed identification through photos!

Insect and non-insect identification for kids

 A mammoth list of web sites for insect identification

Backyard bird identifier from National Geographic (great photos!)

You can click to hear the bird’s song!

 Animal tracks identifier with photos.

Backyard animals

Tree guide to identification poster. You can also check with your state conservation department for plant and animal identification aids.



K-LS1-1 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.

K-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time.

1-ESS1-1 Earth’s Place in the Universe

Use observations of the sun, moon, and stars to describe patterns that can be predicted.

2-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.

3-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

Represent data in tables and graphical displays to describe typical weather conditions expected during a particular season.

4-Earth’s Systems: Processes that Shape the Earth

Make observations and/or measurements to provide evidence of the effects of weathering or the rate of erosion by water, ice, wind, or vegetation.

5-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

5-ESS2-1 Earth’s Systems

Develop a model using an example to describe ways the geosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere, and/or atmosphere interact.