The further we get into this new century the more we hear about how disconnected children are becoming from the natural world. More and more children are spending long hours indoors with their tv’s, computers and video games, leading virtual lives rather then real ones. Long days at school are followed by after-school, programs, daycare or being shuttled from enrichment activities to home, homework and bed. There seems to be little free time for kids to just muck around, roaming the neighborhood discovering beetles and butterflies, listening to birds, smelling the air and noticing swelling buds opening into lovely blossoms. It’s heartbreaking to think of all the stumbled-upon magic moments that so many children won’t have to remember. Those little discoveries often become part of us, with the memory returning when needed to help shape our adult lives.
As gardeners, we can help a little. Do you have children somewhere in your life–your own, nieces, nephews, grandchildren? How about neighborhood kids, a local nursery or elementary school, brownie or cub scout troop? Is there some way you could become involved in connecting a nearby child or two to the natural world? Just think what a difference we could make if each of us tickled a child’s curiosity about the living, growing, ever-changing world outside the window.
Early spring is a perfect season to catch a child’s attention. The landscape is changing from grays and browns to greens and yellows and pinks. Leaves are unfurling, birds are returning from winter vacations and flowers are beginning to bloom. It’s not a video game—it’s real, complete with great sound effects and scents! You don’t have to click a mouse or punch buttons to watch the action. You just have to stand outside the back door and look, listen and inhale.
Children love stories, which makes reading or telling a story about a plant, bird, tree or gardens a handy device for quickening a child’s curiosity. If a child hears a story about a plant as they are seeing, touching and sniffing it, they usually remember the plant. The livelier and more exciting the story, the greater the interest in the plant and the stronger the memory.
Our literature is rich with great stories involving plants, gardens and nature, stories that can grab a child’s interest and lead them into the fascinating, totally-true world outside the window. Do the stories have to be absolutely true? Not necessarily. Myths, folk tales and fairy tales are all stories that contain elements of factual information that have become encrusted with fanciful details as they passed through the centuries. Fictional or factual, a story should capture a child’s attention and stir their curiosity about the natural world they are part of.
The children’s librarian at your local library will help you find books and stories kids love that have a nature theme. The following web sites will also provide you with great ideas and book suggestions:
* Take a child and spend 15 minutes hunting for spring. What’s beginning to grow? How come those plants are first? What are the stories about those plants? Where did they come from? Are they special fairy plants or health-giving herbs or both?
* Learn a bunch of silly riddles or knock-knock jokes with a nature theme, then learn more about the nature part. For example: What bird is a thief? A robin, of course!! or, What insect is a letter? B. How many robins have you seen this spring? Have a contest with a child. Who can see the most robins in a week? Keep a record and be sure to figure out the prize ahead of time. What do you know about bees? What’s their job? How do they sting? Why do they sting? Why do they make honey? What is honey used for?
* Can you find a bird’s nest or spot a squirrel nest? Keep an eye on any nest you see. What’s going on?
* As you work around the yard be on the look out for woolly bear caterpillars. It’s time for them to become Isabella Tiger moths. You and your favorite child can watch.
Whatever you do have fun, because it is!!