Introducing Children to Nature

It’s well known that children are born curious. New parents learn this quickly when they watch their child study its surroundings. Initially they stare, and soon they are touching and tasting. As soon as they can crawl, they go on exploring trips.

It’s important for parents and teachers to encourage childhood curiosity, for that is how they learn about their surroundings. Unfortunately, the boundless curiosity of infants and toddlers can be extinguished if not nourished.

Alexander Graham Bell, who founded the National Geographic Society, once wrote in the pages of its magazine (Prehistoric Telephone Days, National Geographic Magazine, March 1922, pp. 223-241) about how his visits to the natural world inspired him far more than school classrooms:

“My poor standing in school was, I think, the result of lack of ambition rather than of real lack of ability, for I excelled in the unusual studies I pursued out of school hours and in which I took a real interest.”

Those out-of-school activities led to extensive collections of plants, shells, birds’ eggs, butterflies, beetles and skeletons of small animals, about which he wrote:

“I can see in these natural-history collections a preparation for scientific work…. My father encouraged me in making collections of all sorts and in arranging the specimens in accordance with my own ideas rather than in conformity with the ideas of others. I am inclined to think that the making of these collections formed an important part of my education and was responsible for my early bent toward scientific pursuits.”

Parents can give their children a taste of what young Alexander experienced by taking them on nature hikes and visits to fairs, aquariums, zoos and animal parks.

Simply walking along a rural road or visiting a city park will provide a wide variety of things for a curious child to observe. My wife Minnie and I did this with our three children, and the results speak for themselves. We started with Eric, our first child. He’s shown here as Minnie points to an insect on a sunflower on Sandia Mountain near Albuquerque, New Mexico.

Eric’s curiosity stayed with him through his teenage years, when he taught himself to program computers. His most notable science fair project was a novel optical fiber seismometer that detected many earthquakes and two underground nuclear tests in Nevada from his bedroom in Central Texas.

Vicki, our second child, became infatuated with animals. She once raised a baby mockingbird that fell from its nest after a windstorm. That tiny bird matured and learned to fly under her care. For months after she released it, it would fly to our back porch to greet us. Vicki loved our pets and sheep, especially Shadow, which she is shown here holding.

Vicki never lost interest in animals, and today she has two dogs, a cat, a parrot, several rabbits and a few dozen fluffy feathered chickens called silkies. Her three home-schooled children have learned much from her enthusiasm about animals and assist her in taking care of their many animals. Recently Minnie and I took Vicki’s family on a visit to a drive-through wild animal exhibit that none of us will forget.

Our youngest child Sarah also developed a close relationship with the natural world. Here she is shown using a magnifying lens to inspect a cicada emerging from its shell.

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Like Eric and Vicki, Sarah enjoyed hosting giant walking sticks that reside in Central Texas. These creatures are among the world’s largest insects.

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All our children were intrigued by monarch butterflies during their arrival during the spring and fall migrations. Sarah even raised monarchs from eggs she found on milkweed leaves in our field. She made sure the caterpillars had plenty to eat, and she tagged their wings when they reached adulthood.

Flashing fireflies also intrigued our children. Sarah is shown here twirling her butterfly net filled with fireflies she captured. After I made the photo, she released the fireflies.

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Going Further

Go online to check out the parks, zoos, animal parks, aquariums, museums and other opportunities near your location. When my daughter Vicki discovered the Franklin Drive Thru wild animal park, Minnie and I arranged to visit the park, place Vicki and her three children in the back of our pick-up truck and take a tour. I’ve never been so close to zebras, camels, giraffes, deer, buffalo and other animals, and neither had they. Isabella managed to feed each of these species. It was an experience none of us will forget and that we plan to repeat.

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Photographs are by far the best way to preserve memories about the curiosity of children. When our children were young, digital cameras were very expensive and not very good quality. Now digital cameras are widely available and easy for even young children to use. As proof, consider my granddaughter Lilly using a digital camera to photograph me during a hike through the woods on our place. That’s her photo of me on the right, straight from the camera. Not bad for a three-year old.

 

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[Rights: Photos are copyright by the author. Intelligent Education is granted non-exclusive rights to publish this blog with the photos anywhere they like. Some of these photos may have been previously published in my newspaper columns.]