PAWS Magazine

Issue 36, Winter 1998

Teach Your Children Well

by Jeanne Wasserman

Take a child outside. Turn over rocks, look up in the trees, feel the bumpy underside of a fern, listen to the varied sounds of bird calls, park yourself on a piece of driftwood and watch the water’s edge. If you start doing these things with children from an early age they will develop wonder, love and respect for nature and all things wild.

Children have a natural sense of curiosity and an affinity for animals as evidenced by the beloved stuffed ones sharing their beds. As a parent, aunt, uncle, or friend you can draw on that curiosity to teach them about wildlife. Activities like bird watching and bug watching are a lot like detective work: what kind is it? what does it eat? where does it live? what kind of nest does it make? It’s a natural game of discovery. If you notice and take interest in the natural world around you, so will they.

On Christmas day, I saw a father and daughter walking up the beach at Golden Gardens, dog-eared field guide in hand, figuring out which of the birds bobbing in the surf were grebes and which were scoters. They seemed to be having a marvelous time. Based on my own past, I can predict that young girl will appreciate wildlife as an adult.

Much of my childhood was spent in Michigan woods and beaches. I gathered mushrooms and berries with my father, a hunter and fisherman, who pointed out the sound of a pheasant, the sight of a cottontail rabbit, a hawk circling, and deer tracks. He explained why Canada geese fly in a V-formation and why monarch butterflies were gathering on the milk-weed pods in the fall. But mostly, he just got me to notice and wonder. My mother pointed out the sound of a cardinal’s call, and taught me to make a wish on the first robin’s arrival in spring. With her I watched the daily progress of newly hatched bluejays in the oak tree outside a second story bedroom window. But mostly, she got me to notice these things.

If you don’t know much about wildlife yourself, it’s ok. All you have to do is start noticing the plants, animals, and insects in your yard, in the park and at the beach. You and your child can discover the wonder of nature together. Turn over that rock, handle that crab gently, and put the rock and crab back carefully when you’re done watching. Observe the animals in their natural setting. If you catch an animal for closer inspection, whether it’s a butterfly or a turtle, release it before it’s harmed. Teach your children about nature and you will provide them with the gift of a life-long connection with the natural world. That’s a gift that benefits all creatures great and small.

Resources for teaching children about nature:

Sharing Nature with Children, by Joseph Cornell
Sharing the Wonder of Birds with Kids, by Laura Erickson

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