Confession: I am a giant nature nerd.
It’s ironic because as a child we used to secretly poke fun at “the naturalists” who came to visit a nature reserve near our cottage. They wore rubber boots and Tilley hats, and were loaded down with binoculars and scopes and field guides. They came to see lady slippers, warblers, and pitcher plants. My sister and I would run through the boardwalks and trails where everything was so familiar it was perplexing that these adults would drive for hours to be here.
Fast forward 20+ years (I’m not telling how many plus), and I am a biologist. I have a scope and three pairs of binoculars on my shelf (not counting the personal pair at home). I own two Tilley hats (excellent for shielding oneself from bird poop), and I have a field guide for everything (although it’s much easier now because there’s an app for that).
And that’s not all. I am doing my best to turn my children into nature nerds.
Respect and appreciation for nature needs to come from an early age. I have met too many adults who are afraid of the outdoors. Those who shy away from every flying insect with squeals that I reserve solely for bees that have landed on me (even biologists don’t really want bees ON them). Those who have no idea what species other than themselves use their backyard. That is why I started writing about my kids science and nature questions; I wanted to help parents talk to their kids about the awesome outdoors.
Kids ask questions. They ask a bazillion questions (FYI – I just looked up “bazillion” to see if it really was a number and it is defined as “an indeterminate large number,” which is quite accurate here). My two are at the peak question-asking stage, and I do my best to answer them all honestly. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make stuff up, so if I don’t know the answer, I admit it, and then we find out together. My seven-year-old is now a proficient Googler but back in the day I kicked it old school. My parents armed me with the entire Audubon nature guide series to drag around in that nature reserve.
It can seem overwhelming though, so where to start? For us there were a few simple keys to sowing the seeds of nature appreciation (see what I did there –seeds!):
Slow down and observe.
I know, I know, this is difficult when we are so scheduled and whirligig these days with school, activities, work and what have you. But taking five minutes after dance class to check out the all the worms after it rains or to watch the ants meticulously dismantle a goldfish cracker and heft it across the sidewalk is completely doable. So I don’t get dinner started as early one night because there was a super cool beetle in the yard we had to look up, not a big deal.
Nature is everywhere.
Forest—nature. Wetland—nature. Raccoon—nature. Mosquito—nature. That plant growing up in the sidewalk crack—nature. Just because you aren’t in some remote cabin doesn’t mean you aren’t surrounded by it. Sure if you are in a city it might be a little harder to find, but it’s there if you look for it. Or in the case of mosquitoes, it will find you.
Your kids will tell you what they are interested in. My oldest is fascinated by insects so we got her a field guide, magnifying glass, and a bug house for temporary visits. The little one loves plants so we’re making her a terrarium for her room. They are both learning the bird calls around the house so we know who is singing hello in the morning. Maybe your kid is fascinated by rain so you make a water gauge to track it. The key is to feed their curiosity.
Not all of nature is pretty, but it’s all cool and it all has a purpose. Even mould. Some of the best experiments come out of a desire to grow something gross.
Have fun yourself.
Seems like a bit of a no-brainer, but this isn’t just about the kids. I have learned so much since we started answering these questions together, and I now look forward to their questions instead of dreading the why (most of the time). Once you realize the countless resources—there a ton of kid-oriented science web pages out there—the answers are simple and fun to find.
So now that we are heading into some warm weather, it's the perfect time to go outside and take a look around. You’ll have nature nerds on your hands in no time, no Tilley hats required.
Follow our adventures on Beans and Bunny and get some nerdy nature answers.