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  • Writer's pictureAmai Palmer

Ponderings on how to cultivate a fascination for nature and wildlife in Young Children

How do we foster a fascination for nature in our children?

Growing up in Kariba, Zimbabwe my family’s Sunday afternoon activity was to take a drive along the cleared ground below the giant powerlines. This is where a variety of wildlife could be spotted easily. One of our favourite times of the year was after the first rain. It was as though all the wildlife held a party to celebrate. The sweet smell of the damp earth, the fresh, cool air, and all the vegetation washed clean created an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement and made all things seem new again. Impala would leap and dance with such energy flashing their white fluffy tails as they bounded here and there. One time we came around a corner to find plonked in a puddle, a hyena rolling in the mud with delight radiating from every part of his being.

My dad’s Fascination for nature and his scientific training led him to start collecting butterflies. This enabled accurate documentation of the species in the area. His four daughters joined him in this hobby. We spent many wonderful hours tromping around the bush, swimming in waterholes, and discovering new places while learning about the wildlife from him. These are very precious memories.

What memories are you creating with your family? Spending time outdoors soaking up the beauty of our natural world is hard to beat. If from an early age, we can expose our children to the restorative power of being amongst nature surely, they will have a richer and more grounded life.

 Here are a few ways our family has nurtured an interest in and appreciation for wildlife:

  • For my grandson’s first birthday, I gave him a birdbath and laminated pictures of birds that would visit frequently.

  • My granddaughter at three knows most of the names of our regular bird visitors. A Willy Wagtail decided that our front patio was his home. We nicknamed him Tux because he looked like he was wearing a tuxedo. Each morning at breakfast we would watch him wagging his tail while he chattered away.

  • My son-in-law takes my granddaughter for night walks in the garden to see what they can spot, last season there was always at least one Bandicoot. She tends to fall asleep quicker when she relaxes in her dad’s arms looking up at the night sky. Of course, this is followed by the obligatory bedtime stories about animals.  

  • Scavenger hunts that require them to spot points of interest that they might ordinarily miss. For example, What’s the bird's nest in the fork of the tree made from? For the two-year-olds finding a yellow flower, a brown leaf and 2 stones is a challenge.

  • My granddaughter loves pressing flowers.

  • Children go through fads of favourite animals. My granddaughter loves finding frogs and knows their usual spots, for example, the green frog that lives in the fence post.

Here are a few more suggestions I look forward to trying out;

Taking a magnifying glass or butterfly net along on a bushwalk can make it more interesting. This can be followed by drawing or painting something they have seen. With easy access to cameras these days, taking photos on the way and identifying what they’ve seen when they get home, is a fun challenge. Creating card-matching games with your photos and other pictures can be an engaging educational activity for little ones.

I would like to hear some of your ideas. Jump on my socials.

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We had a discussion recently with a few families who have little children, about where they would like to travel to around the world. The conclusion was that anywhere with water (even in its frozen form) is a good place for children for their fascination for nature takes them to a happy place. Who didn’t enjoy a holiday at the beach as a child? Didn’t we marvel at the amazing variety of creatures found in rock pools, delight with dolphins as they played in the waves, and watch seagulls and their endless antics?

As children get older their fascination for nature broadens. Visiting the natural wonders of the world is a preference over yet another city, for me and for many young people I know. Safaris and hikes in new places can be special family bonding times. Visiting zoos and conservancies to observe animals they might not otherwise see can be both a learning experience and inspire them to support wildlife conservation.

A fascination for nature has a very positive effect on our well-being. Fishermen will tell you that catching fish is a bonus, being out in the wide-open space surrounded by the calming effect of water is an excellent way to relax and recharge. A bushwalk through a forest of tall trees (I call it my cathedral) is an awe-inspiring experience. Snorkelling a coral reef is like visiting another world, the silence, the colours, the variety, I cannot help being astounded at the incredible beauty. All of this points to a wonderful creator. If from an early age, we can expose our children to the restorative power of being amongst nature and developing a growing fascination for nature, surely, they will have a richer and more grounded life.

fascination for nature

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