Connecting people with nature is one of the top conservation priorities of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. One of my most favorite and most rewarding duties as a biologist is working with and teaching young people about the natural environment. Recently I had the unexpected opportunity to share a meaningful outdoor learning experience with some children very dear to my heart – my six year old niece Amelia (Mia) and four year old nephew Max.
When my husband and I first agreed to watch the kids, we were a bit worried because we didn’t have television or any age appropriate toys or video games in the house to keep the kids entertained. Thankfully, the education and outreach coordinator at my office (Donna Allard) set us up with an assortment of fun ideas and activities for the kids.
When my niece and nephew arrived, we presented them with their very own magnifying glasses. The kids absolutely LOVED them! My niece didn’t set hers down the entire time she was at our home! Max and Mia had a great time looking for things to inspect under the glass. Some of their favorite “case studies” included: broccoli flowerets, garden spiders, a dead bee on the window sill and a scab on Mia’s leg – excellent gross-out factor!
After dinner the kids asked if they could watch some TV before bed. It was time to bust out the big guns – owl pellets. Another success! After some assurance that owl pellets were not poop, the kids literally dug right in. For over an hour we picked fragments of bone and separated bits of fur from tiny skulls and vertebrae. Max and Mia deemed this activity “very cool” and decided they loved to “explore” things. My niece even expressed her desire to become a scientist when she is older.
By the next morning, television was the furthest thing from their curious minds. After breakfast the kids sampled some of the first strawberries and tomatoes from the garden, helped us water the plants, created a number of stone pagodas or “castles” in the yard, looked for spiders and other creepy crawlies to inspect under the magnifying glass, collected pits from our cherry tree to plant at home and simply enjoyed playing outside. Who would have thought the kids would have so much fun simply observing and interacting with nature!
As an adult, connecting children with nature is an important, EASY and very rewarding experience. Whether it is sitting around a campfire, planting a garden, visiting a park, going fishing or taking a walk or bike ride together, sharing outdoor activities with children and encouraging them to explore and ask questions about the environment helps them develop an important appreciation for nature and nurtures a love for the outdoors that will last a lifetime. Who knows, you may even end up inspiring a budding scientist or future environmental steward in the process.
Although it’s going to be tough to top the owl pellets, my husband and I are looking forward to sharing many more outdoor adventures with Max and Mia!
For more information, Let's go outside!
Submitted by Jennifer Poirier.