Do it Yourself Environmental Education with Backyard Skills

How the Backyard Skills book from The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano helps us all be a part of the solution
May 12, 2011 12:38 PM ET

Do It Yourself Environmental Education with Backyard Skills

From Glenn Croston's article posted at Teach Green site by GM

Our world faces huge challenges, and huge challenges require huge solutions, or so you would think. This year there will be 7 billion people on Earth that need clean food, water, homes, and energy. Challenges don’t get much bigger than these, but the challenges can seem so overwhelming, so immense in their scale, that it’s easy to feel overwhelmed. Kids and adults alike can feel as if they cannot possibly make a difference when facing problems like these. The great new book Backyard Skills shows us how wrong this is, providing simple, fun do it yourself projects we can tackle at home and at school to make a real difference in the world.   Backyard Skills was created by The Ecology Center in San Juan Capistrano. With its headquarters in a renovated farm house, The Ecology Center hosts exhibits like “Splash! How Good Water Works” that help to educate visitors about building more eco-friendly habits in our daily lives, and also regularly hosts hands-on workshops for projects like building a rain barrel, making pickles, making terrariums, building solar ovens, or creating chairs from shipping pallets.   Those who can’t join in the workshops at The Ecology Center can get the same lessons from the book the workshops inspired, Backyard Skills: A D.I.Y Handbook. Broken down into chapters about energy, shelter, waste, food, and water, Backyard Skills has 19 fun and rewarding do it yourself projects, each a valuable learning experience that spells out how to do it, how long it will take, what it will cost, and why it matters. Some of the projects like saving vegetable seeds cost as little as a dollar, while others cost a little more, but all of them have a big payoff. Well written and practical, the book’s also well designed and the projects are easy to follow.

Backyard Skills isn’t just for reading but for getting us into action, kicking learning into high gear. When you make a solar oven the lesson about solar energy is no longer theoretical; it’s right there in your hands and in your mouth with a tasty baked apple you cook in the oven. When you build a chair from a shipping pallet, you’re not dealing with abstract notions halfway around the world, but driving home a solid lesson in resourcefulness.

  Many of these projects will work at school, and what starts in the classroom can spread to homes and the community. The empowerment of taking action with projects like those in Backyard Skills is contagious, particularly for kids who very often feel that they have no power. We need opportunities for kids to see how easy it is for them to make a difference, to see that they do matter and their contributions are important for us all. The leaders of tomorrow will come from lasting lessons like these.   The experience of taking action and having a positive outcome shifts our mind from focusing on problems and getting stopped in our tracks to seeing solutions and making them happen. It shifts our mind from passive observer sitting on the sidelines, to participant, getting in the game. This shift in how we see the world is the most valuable part of Backyard Skills, and something kids will take with them for many years to come.   We have far to go to address the problems we face, and we’re all in it together. A little bit of education that changes how kids and adults see the world can go a long way toward drawing more people to join the worldwide effort to build solutions, starting in their own backyard and their own school.   To get a copy, go to the website for The Ecology Center and click on Backyard Skills   Glenn Croston is the author of “75 Green Businesses” and “Starting Green”, and the founder of Starting Up Green (, helping green businesses to get started and grow.


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