Originally written for ‘Growing Today’

Quotes from my Grandson’s journal, The Nest, Clive….’Teaching children about the natural world should be seen as one of the most important events in their lives”

“I hear-I forget

I see- I remember

I do – I understand’

I’ve been thinking about family patterns, passed down through the generations, & that there are many cycles in family life which are positive & nurturing. In my family for instance, we have all grown up with a passion for the natural world. My Grandfather was a keen gardener & a wealth of knowledge about the woods & hedgerows of England. We used to walk through Epping Forest & find all sorts of treasures, a rare Blue Jay’s feather, a glimpse of a shrew or Green Woodpecker, the first violets. My Mother is also an outdoor person, liking nothing better, even now in her seventies, than to go beachcombing, or potter in her garden. Needless to say I have picked up the same interests & passed them on, in turn to my children.

I’ve been pondering on those things that make us who we are, & how often it’s easy to be unaware of the messages we give our children or of opportunities passed by. I have three children aged 32, 29 & 22, I’ve worked in Pre- School education for over fifteen years, over this timeI’ve had plenty of opportunities to share my love of nature & pass it on. I’m saddened when parents inadvertently turn their children off, by showing disgust at an earthworm or spider, or treating living things with little respect. They are missing out on a wealth of opportunities to explore together the mysteries of life, to share their child’s wonder, to communicate together & to encourage their child to develop a life long respect & interest in, our World & it’s many, varied inhabitants.

The wonderful thing about children is that they don’t need grand gestures, they can spend hours, fascinated, watching a snail. I think, as adults it’s easy to forget how to slow down & see the smaller things in life. In the rush & struggle of daily living it’s hard to make time for outings.It’s easier than you think, a brief pause to stop & look, a plastic bag to collect leaves & treasures as you walk to the shops or in the park, or at the beach, a visit to the Library to look up information, a few minutes spent here & there can make a big difference.

I remember when our youngest son was about three, we read in a book about making a bug catcher. The simple directions told us to hollow out a half grapefruit & prop it up on a stick in the garden. We took our grapefruit & then went outside with a torch to set it up. Honestly, we only went about twenty steps from the house, propped up the grapefruit & walked home again. Our son was so excited, he said it was the coolest thing he’d ever done. We thought he was very sweet, but on thinking further we were amazed that we could create such an adventure so simply. I guess what I’m saying is that it’s not so hard to have adventures with your family, & thinking smaller is a good start, & as a bonus, you too might rediscover your sense of wonder.

O.K. now for some practical suggestions to get you started. Of course small children are a lot closer to the ground than we are, & there’s a lot to be seen at ground level, all sorts of bugs & creepy crawlies, spider webs to inspect, try looking under logs & pots to see what you can find. I f you are squeamish, try not to let it rub off on your children, maybe by learning a bit more about spiders, slugs, or whatever, you might feel differently.

Collect leaves & grasses, posies of wild flowers. See if you can learn their names together. Press them, or use in collage pictures, leaves can be threaded onto a string, with pieces of cut up straw as spacers, & hung up as decorations. Pieces of Toi Toi heads make great paint brushes, or you could try twigs, feathers or leaves.In the Autumn there are dozens of tiny fungi about, there are pods & other seed heads, old birds nests to investigate, just what have they used to make it? You might find some leaf skeletons , these are lovely & can be stuck onto works of art, used for print making, or hung up on mobiles. You could bring a pot of bulbs indoors from time to time to see what’s happening, even better if you have planted them together. In the early Spring cut a couple of branches of a deciduous shrub or tree, put them in water, indoors & watch the buds unfurl.

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One of my delights as a child was that sometimes, if we had a really heavy downpour, my parents would wrap me up & we’d go for a walk in the rain, I can still recall how exciting it was, more so because adults weren’t supposed to do this, we would slosh through the puddles, & admire the torrents of water flowing by. It’s great to go out in the elements, a wild storm at the beach, a howling gale, can be very exhilarating. Explore what happens to your garden after a frost. It’s fun to put some dishes of water, food colouring & water, salt & water, fruit, etc. out in the evening & then see what effect the frost has had on them.

A visit to the beach is always a treat, & as with all play, it also provides plenty of opportunity for learning.If you want to explore the rock pools, time your visit for low tide, often the most interesting creatures live in the pools at the low tide mark. If you are looking under rocks, turn them up gently, & make sure you put them back the way you found them. It’s better to inspect living creatures & let them go again, they never survive if you take them home, also check shells for occupants, often hermit crabs hide in seemingly empty shells in pools.If you collect treasures to take home, you can use them to extend maths concepts, simple counting, one paua shell, two sticks, three stones. You can make sets of objects that are similar, plant material, shells, edible, smelly, whatever you can think of, make it fun. Another good game is Kimsgame, where you lay a number of objects out, have a long look, then cover them up, trying to remember what is hidden. A variation is for one person to remove an item, then the others have to guess what is missing.

As your children get older it gets easier to find interesting things, because they can apply their own thought processes to what they see, they can absorb more complex information & ask more questions. It’s alright not to know all the answers, in fact, finding answers is a useful skill, you can teach your children. You can try your local school, library, the computer, maybe a friend or neighbour with knowledge on a certain topic.

We live in Hawkes Bay, in limestone country, we have a creek that runs down from the ranges & through our property. One of our children found a number of pointed, fossil like objects in the gravel on the side of the creek, at first we thought they might be shark’s teeth. We could not find out anything definite about them in books. So the next trip we made to Wellington, we went to the museum, treasures carefully wrapped in tissue, in a matchbox. There in a draw we discovered that what we had were Individual Corals, over three million years old. It made us think again of the tremendous upheaval it had taken to put those corals at the top of our range, & the journey down from there to our creek.

Did you know that plant juices can be used as indicators of acidity or alkalinity? Our son was studying science in the third form, & learning about Ph, I’m not sure how the connection was made, a combination of fiddling about with a pestle & mortar, & seeing the colours he could get out of poppy petals & other plant materials. We used vinegar as our acid, & baking soda as our alkali, & it was fascinating to see how different plants solutions reacted, red cabbage was especially sensitive.

Our youngest son still has a natural affinity to the sciences, I feel sure that his natural curiosity will help to sustain his learning through the years to come, & help him to find a meaningful place in the scheme of things. Our eldest son is very connected to Nature too, & he creates wonderful baskets from natural fibres, meanwhile our daughter has a young daughter of her own, & the cycle goes on. I hope that I have given a few ideas that you can use to encourage your children, or Grandchildren to embrace the world they live in, & to look upon nature in it’s many facets with wonder & respect. Who knows where it might lead them?

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