Want to know how to find the wildlife in your own backyard? Watch this short video to learn easy ways that you can discover all of the amazing animals living in your neighborhood.


Our Mission

© Clay Bolt | www.claybolt.com

The mission of Backyard Naturalists is to inspire a lifelong appreciation of the natural world in children through educational programming that integrates science, art, and technology. The program will draw from the considerable educational resources of the Highlands Nature Center, where staff has provided hands-on science-learning opportunities to help educate the community and promote conservation for over 60 years. Backyard Naturalists has been developed in partnership with Meet Your Neighbours, an international photography project designed to help connect people with the wildlife in their own communities. Backyard Naturalists will utilize the images produced by MYN to capture the attention of a generation of children fully integrated in technology.

This project was made possible through funding by The Eckerd Family Foundation.


Pilot Program: March 19th!

We’re pleased to announce that our pilot program will kick-off March 19 in Highlands, North Carolina as an eight-week after-school program for 24 local middle school children. The curriculum will introduce children to a new way of looking at the natural world in their own backyard and expand their knowledge of local biodiversity. Each lesson will have four components: a short lecture on nature, an outdoor discovery component, journaling, and an art project. Topics are wide-ranging, from bird morphology to ecological principles and tree identification. Students will also work together to develop a wiki, utilizing the images of Meet Your Neighbours in conjunction with their own work in order to inspire participants to focus attention on individual species and recognize order amongst the seeming chaos of the natural world.

Upon completion of the program, every participant will have increased powers of observation and a better understanding of the natural community in their own backyard. To learn more or to sign up, contact Michelle Ruigrok by email or by phone at 828.526.2221.


Pure Expression

Most children draw and it isn’t until about 10-11 years of age that they show any concern in regards to whether or not they are creating ‘good or bad’ art. These are the golden years of creativity, when everything that they show an interest in –or soak in from their environment- is played out on the canvas, paper, driveway, window and wall.

When my oldest son Adam was six, he became obsessed with penguins and began to draw, model and paint them daily. My favorite iteration to date was a scene that he created from tissue paper, which he then glued to his bedroom window. I am ashamed to say that my first reaction was to scold him, but before the words left my mouth I was suddenly struck by the detail and time that he put into it and so the scene remains there today (the image above doesn’t show the snow clouds sending down colored snowflakes!). He was so proud of it, and for good reason. Sometimes I am embarrassed of my ‘adult’ mind-set.

I wonder what visions we, as nature photographers and environmental educators, might offer the world if we were willing to be a little more daring and less concerned about what our friends, editors and colleagues might think?



Our Mission

The mission of Backyard Naturalists is to inspire a lifelong appreciation of the natural world in children through educational programming that integrates science, art, and technology. The program has been developed through a partnership between The Highlands Biological Foundation and Meet Your Neighbours, an international nature photography project designed to help people to learn more about the wildlife in their own community. Backyard Naturalists is made possible through the generous support of The Eckerd Family Foundation, which provides leadership and support for innovative educational, preventative, therapeutic and rehabilitative programs for children, youth and their families.