Sometimes the lives we lead can make it difficult to get outdoors and realise the importance of playing out in nature and learning about our wildlife. Children of course love to be outside but as we live in suburbia they are often not exposed to wildlife that generations past were. Children love animals, that much is clear, but its often hard for children to relate to concepts like being gentle, observing but not touching, not being afraid, animals that do not live in their immediate vicinity and understanding that animals have jobs in the gardens and farms etc.
Whilst reading books are a wonderful way to introduce animals to children, some children can find the concepts hard to cement in their minds, particularly as books are often read at bedtime when they are sleepy or winding down for the day. There are easy ways to help children identify with these concepts. The first is to point out animals in nature that children may not be paying attention to and helping them realise that whilst the animal looks like it is just 'sitting' it actually has a place in the ecosystem. Things like 'look at the spider sitting in the web! Do you think he's getting all the bugs out of grandma's garden?' or 'those chikens pecking the ground are so funny aren't they? They are eating their food to eat to give them strong eggs'.
If you live in a highrise building or more urban area this can still be taught by introducing animals that are lifelike and small, easy to store and fun to play with. The Schleich range of animals are a fabulous way to create interactive story times and realist play. Using a story like our Story Of The Month, Monkey Puzzle by Julia Donaldson and Axel Sheffler, alongside play animals can help children who are kinaesthetic learners (tactile or 'doing' learners) relate to the various animals and takes the book from two dimensions and expands it into three dimensional. Using the Folkmanis Butterfly and Monkey finger puppets, the Schleich Snake, Parrot, Elephant and Frog, and the miniland spider and caterpillar and a cardboard bat you can have children acting the book and interacting as you read. It makes it easier for children to grasp concepts about a hanging bat for example vs a flying bird.
When children (often) ask obscure questions regarding wildlife it is often easiest to just reply 'I don't know' but turning the question into an exploration for knowledge teaches children that when you don't know an answer you can problem solve and work it out. Google what an Antelope eats, search for a snake shedding its skin on Youtube or go to the library and find a book about underwater creatures. These techniques are also helpful for teaching children about animals which you find fear inducing without passing that fear on.
Older children can also be introduced to the concepts behind habitat destruction and threatened species. This is not a doom and gloom exercise rather a forward thinking and problem solving opportunity and a way to get older children thinking about cause and effect.
If we are able to encourage a love of animals in our children we will be raising the next generation of adults to be more empathetic, kind and aware of the wonderful role that wildlife plays on our planet.