Encouraging Wildlife Interest in Children

My kids enjoying a walk in the woods (2012)
My kids enjoying a walk in the woods (2012)
As a parent of three children I've always wanted them to show an interest in wildlife and nature (as I am sure have you readers, if you have kids) but often I feel I have failed my two eldest (Owen 14 and Toby 10) when it comes to wildlife. Owen has absolutely no interest in going out to look at wildlife (although he still likes the documentaries) and Toby, although often seeming keen, usually would rather stay at home The lure of computer games wins too often! My daughter (Bo, 4) on the other hand loves all things wild and is often the one to suggest we go out, so I have not failed completely. (DISCLAIMER - Very Long post!).


All kids love nature

It Is my firm belief that ALL children have an inbuilt love of wildlife and nature, from a very young age, and it is us adults (their parents, teachers and role models) that either teach it out of them or (hopefully) more often do not encourage them to get involved and keep going. We need to remember that going out into the wild is not only healthy for our bodies (exercise and fresh air) but also our souls so we should encourage the children in our lives more.

Bo Birdwatching at Dungeness
Bo Birdwatching at Dungeness
Before I carry on let me explain what I mean by teaching it out of them. There are two things here (one I have witnessed first-hand) that will teach children not to love wildlife, firstly (and sadly this is often the case) a parent would rather stay at home than explore the great outdoors themselves (we all lead busy lives so I do understand), so if a child asks to go feed the ducks or look at something they will put them off, I’m sure all of us as care givers have done this at some point, but if it is continued at all times then the love that child had for the activity will fade. Secondly there are the parents and/or teachers that actually tell kids that wildlife is not good, I have heard people saying why go out, it’s dirty out there, or in the case of my daughter she was actively discouraged by a teacher at her pre-school!

I’ll explain that last part more as I feel strongly that this was VERY wrong. Bo loves bugs, she finds them fascinating (I hope this will continue but it is hard to keep girls liking these things as they get older due to them being seen as scary!) anyway one day she found one at her school, and excitedly told her teacher, who replied “err bugs are yuck, I hope you got rid of it”, believe me I was NOT happy when I heard this and did mention it. But it goes to show what I mean about teaching it out of them. If the teacher in question reads this I hope you know who you are and feel ashamed, you should encourage all children in what THEY like not what you do!

Lack of encouragement


Owen with my Bins
Owen with my Bins
The other major issue will come from a lack of encouragement; when kids love something, as parents, it is our responsibility to encourage it, we should nurture that love for something (anything it really doesn’t matter) and help them to learn, if this means us getting down and dirty with bugs so be it, or donning a tutu and learning to dance with them, then we should. But all too often if we do not understand or know an answer we palm the child off.

It is here I feel I failed my boys, you see I am a “want away dad” OK, not quite, I see my boys plenty (not enough but what is enough?) but their mum and I split up many years ago, and so I wasn’t there to encourage any sparks of love for nature 24/7, I’m sure their mum did what she could but as the birder, the wildlife photographer and the naturalist I should have done more. This is NOT a failing I will have with Bo, and I am fortunate that her mum, although lacking in my knowledge and enthusiasm in this field gives Bo everything she can to encourage her love of wild creatures (even going so far as to get over her fear of spiders in order to be able to show them to Bo).

Bo holding an Elephant Hawkmoth
Bo holding an Elephant Hawkmoth

So what can we do?


Bo and Zoe Pond dipping
Bo and Zoe Pond dipping
It’s a tough question, how do I encourage my child’s love of wildlife? But my advice is if you do not understand wildlife or have knowledge to pass to your kids, then learn with them, grab a book and see what you can both discover together (it doesn’t have to cost most, local libraries will have something to get you started). If they show an interest in birds, join the RSPB, visit reserves, find locals who do have knowledge and use them (believe me most wildlife enthusiasts love to talk about it). If your kids like bugs, there are groups who can help, and documentaries or books available for all levels (Nick Baker the wildlife TV presenter does some great Bug stuff), buy a pond dipping kit (just be careful with children near water, safety first!). There are local and national groups for all types of wildlife from birds to butterflies, bats to mammals, a little research on the internet and you will find something or someone who can help.

My boys (Owen & Toby) Rock pooling
My boys (Owen & Toby) Rock pooling
One of the best (if not the best) way to start to build an interest in wild things in your children (or you for that matter) is to attract them to come to you, put up birdfeeders, build nest boxes or bug hotels, if you see hedgehogs or foxes around try tempting them to stay with some dog or cat food (NEVER BREAD AND MILK!!), plant insect friendly flowers, create a garden pond (insects will very quickly find it). Or if you don't have a garden visit your local park, feeding the ducks is great (I'd advise buying some special food for this rather than using bread as it can be harmful to ducklings at times). If you are lucky your local council or parks trust may even run special events like moth nights (you can see my own stuff on moths on Mothin' in the Garden) or pond dipping events (take a look, I know our local parks trust do loads!).

Away from the home (and your own input) try to encourage your children’s school to look after wildlife more (if they don’t already, many do), by putting up feeders, or creating wild areas (I am lucky my daughters current school has a whole area dedicated to this, with a hide, loads of feeders and a real wild feel to it) or a pond. I strongly believe schools really should do more to encourage these things and teach children about the natural world around them, more (I remember wildlife clubs when I was a child).

Urban Wildlife


Don't think you have to go far though for wildlife, you don't have to live in the country or visit nature reserves (although many cities now have them as well) wildlife is all around us, I live in a large town and as you can see from this blog there is plenty there. People like David Lindo (The Urban Birder) extol the virtue of urban birding in their work, and there are often segments on TV programs like Spring watch or The One Show about urban wildlife, so never be put off to go out and see what you can find (in fact one species that is very commonly found in urban areas in winter eruption years is the Waxwing, you couldn't hope for a prettier site than one of these punk birds and they are very often seen by shopping centres or in car parks!).

Zoe & Toby picking through the leaf litter
Zoe & Toby picking through the leaf litter

Useful links:


The following are a few links to national groups who will be a good starting off point. Some even have sections especially for youngsters




Hope for the future?


Bo visiting local swan nest
Bo visiting local swan nest
There are still kids who love nature and all its wonders, some even blog about it (I was pointed to a young lad Alex, 10, who writes his own wildlife blog http://appletonwildlifediary.blogspot.co.uk/)

One thing that would help here is more kids role models coming out as wildlife lovers, birdwatchers etc. There must be some pop stars or film stars who like these things (I know there are a few who do but most are not seen as cool by the youth of today) and their encouragement would surely help.

Building on our children’s love of wildlife should be our number one goal, getting out into the wild is healthier for them than sitting at home, will make them happier, and in the long run will help create a better planet, as their love of the environment will encourage them to conserve rather than destroy, and it doesn't have to cost huge amounts either..

I hope I haven’t come across as too preachy but I wish I had encouraged my boys more and I wish all parents would engage with their kids more and teach them that the outside world is a huge fun adventure that we should all explore, share and enjoy, there is mystery and excitement around every corner and under every log.

EDIT:


While doing some surfing I came across a cartoon series being developed aimed at young kids to encourage wildlife http://wildlifejack.com/ have a look and support them if you can.

Please feel free to leave me a comment, I really appreciate the interaction and will reply as soon as I can. I apologise for any issues with posting comments, but sometimes Google's blogger platform plays up.

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CONVERSATION

14 comments:

  1. Great, get them when they are young, I believe that.

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  2. I was brought up in bogs, back fields, river banks and rock pools from birth and thank my parents for that. I wasn't allowed video games but I didn't care. I spent my evenings building tree houses, collecting caterpillars and training my chickens to balance on my shoulder. I think it helped that I dint have a sibling at home with me. My sister is 12 years older so moved out when I was 4. I didn’t have a sibling to compete against in games and trends. My friends had little interest in playing outside so I would spend most my time playing alone. I was also very lucky to have parents that let me wander alone for miles in the countryside around the village. These days some parents won’t let their children in the back garden without being watched! My parents also let me bring home a menagerie of animals; actually they encouraged it. My step dad brought me home a fallen crow chick to rear at the age of 8 and lizard to put in a tank and watch for a week before letting it go at the place he found it. We fed it spiders and watched it chase them around the tank. I understood like and death quickly. I believe my love of nature was naturally in me, like you suggest, and it was my parents who encouraged me to develop me knowledge and interest in the natural world.
    Jenni
    The Thrifty Magpies Nest

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    1. It seems such a shame that kids these days have less roaming space than previous generations.

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  3. You are so right too many children don't even play in their own gardens since so many techie toys are now available. There is nothing better than fresh air, outdoors and nature.

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    1. I hate when my kids would rather stay inside than go and enjoy the world in all it's glory.

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  4. My parents were keen bird watchers and they used to let me play around in the wild. They say discovering bugs, flowers and the curious ways of nature was the best baby-sitter for me. I can't imagine a childhood without dirt in your finger nails :)

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  5. what fabulous pictures weldone on those, i totally agree , with aving 7 lil ones we can not afford to go to theme parks, cinemas and play shacks , so we often enjoy the nature reserves, beaches and outdoor parks , fresh air and getting muddy in the woods, wet in the streams is most fun anyway x

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    1. There is little better than splashing in puddles with my kids :)

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  6. Wonderful observations. As you emphasize, it is our duty to "bring out" the interest that lies within every child. According to the dictionary, "educate" is derived from Latin educatus, past participle of educare "bring up, rear, educate," which is related to educere "bring out, lead forth"... My own late father was such a model for me by taking interest in my inclinations to walk in wild places, which we did almost every weekend when I was a youngster. Some of my grandchildren have shown avid interest in the natural world, but as you have experienced, others seem to have succumbed to the lure of the world inside the four walls.

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    1. I understand kids want to stay home and play games, there were times in my youth when I was the same, but it is when that is the only choice that I worry. I often think I am from the last generation where exploring the great outdoors was positively encouraged (obviously there are exceptions) from a young age we would be out from dawn till dusk messing in mud or even just kicking a ball about, I remember a ditch near my house was where I lost many a star wars figure to the flow of water (so must have been around 10), coming home muddy was pretty much the norm, cut grass was a fort we enjoyed what there was out there (and I was an avid fan of computer games as well) yet I go for my wanderings in the middle of Milton Keynes, a largish town and I never see kids outside without their parents, I don't think I have seen a teenager away from a park or shops either, I really worry for their health both physically and mentally.

      I'm not a fan of the mail but Adding to an earlier post about encouraging wildlife enthusiasm in kids I have posted about how it doesn't have to cost huge amounts http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-2307431/Children-today-read-chores-HOMEWORK-play-outside.html interesting reading.

      What worries me is why this happens and what can we do?

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  7. Brilliant post, thank you for sharing in the Nature Study Blog Hop.

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    1. Sorry missed your comment, thank you for your comments.

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