As a parent of three children I’ve always wanted them to show an interest in wildlife and nature. 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.
ALL KIDS LOVE NATURE
It Is my firm belief that ALL children have an inbuilt love of wildlife and nature. 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
Encouraging Wildlife Interest in Children
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
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).
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, 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
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).
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
The following are a few links to national groups who will be a good starting off point. Some even have sections especially for youngsters
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.
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