by Nicola Davies
I’ve been talking to children about the natural world for a terrifyingly long time. In over forty years and thousands of conversations with children, I have rarely met a child who didn’t want to know how big a blue whale’s heart was, how many teeth a shark has or how high a swan can fly. But the enthusiasm that burns so bright at seven years old can fade if it isn’t nurtured. So how do you nurture your child’s inbuilt delight in nature and make sure it doesn’t fizzle out like a rocket on 6 November? Here are three things that you can do to help.
You don’t have to fly to Africa to see animals. There is plenty of exciting wildlife to be seen if not on your doorstep then really close to it. It doesn’t matter if you as a parent know nothing; you can discover the wildlife in your area with your kids, even let them take the lead. If you don’t feel confident enough to do this alone, then check out your local Wildlife Trust. They will have all sorts of activities for families that can get you started with identifying birds, beetles, butterflies. Make being outdoors and noticing nature – everything from what the clouds are doing to what the birds are singing – part of the culture of your family. You will find your mental health and your family relationships will benefit too.
It’s incredibly easy when you live in an urban area to think that nature is an optional add-on. It’s really important that we all understand the job that nature does for us. So encourage your children to find out where their food, air and water come from. You don’t have to be all eco warrior about this and you don’t have to have all the answers either. Encouraging curiosity and questioning is the first and most important BIG step. Start by reading the labels on your food. Where was it grown? How did it get here? Where does your rubbish go after it’s collected? How does water end up in a tap? Where does the poo go when you flush it away?
The Realness of the World
Once you’ve helped your kids to connect with nature for real and to think about the impact of simple things like the food on their plate, you’re ready to build their awareness of the whole planet on which they live. Maps, atlases and globes are great for this. You can pick any of those up on eBay or borrow books from the library. You can even make a pretty passable globe from a balloon and a felt-tip pen. Then use these resources to explore the world together. Pick a spot on the globe at random and find out what lives there and what time it is at that very moment. Is it dark while you are still in the light? Is it winter while you’re in summer? This is where our book can help. It’s a snapshot of the Earth, giving readers a glimpse of what’s happening all over the planet as it strikes midnight in London. Every moment of every day, incredible things are happening all over the planet: whales swim, sharks bite, albatrosses spread their wings. If you can imagine this and help your children to do so, they will grow up feeling connected, knowing that they are a part of the net of life that encircles our beautiful planet. And you don’t destroy the net that holds you up.