Connecting Kids to Wildlife & Nature
By: Erin Kiefer-Rounds
Director of Education, Woodford Cedar Run Wildlife Refuge
If you’re reading this newsletter, the environment is probably your thing, but how do you connect others to what you love? How do you teach them to love it – and protect it – too? I count myself lucky to have the ability to teach with, and not just about, wild animals on a daily basis. I think the WITH part makes all the difference. Children just naturally love animals and the more we can reach them when they’re young the better. A connectedness to the animals can lead to a relationship with the world around them.
That being said, not all opportunities are created equal. Having them sit while you lecture about owls is going to make nowhere near the impact as seeing an owl up-close, no matter how dynamic of a presenter you may be. Unfortunately, not everyone has that luxury. So how do you reach them without a live animal in tow? I believe artifacts can make a huge impression too. The animal may no longer be living, but you are still teaching “with” them long after their bodies have gone.
Get hands-on with the kids and they’ll make the connection. Compare different bird wings. What do you think are they used for? Check out mammals’ skulls and teeth. Who’s eating what? Feel and examine furs. Why do they not all feel the same? Use magnifying glasses, measure, and even smell if you’re feeling adventurous! Take it a step further…what is that mystery object? What is it used for? Why do you think that? How can you find out more?
Though some kids might be taken aback or “grossed out” by a foot or a tooth or a bit of fur from a “dead” animal, I haven’t met a child yet that hadn’t changed their minds (at least a bit) after the experience. They make a connection with the objects and how they help an animal do what they do. By understanding an animal’s role in the environment, and the super awesome bodies they have, children can in turn respect that every animal has a place no matter how misunderstood they might be – I’m looking at you skunks. There is a purpose for that smell, or the thickness of their fur, or the long claws. Learning WITH the animals, no matter how, makes all the difference.