Keep children engaged with nature during lockdown
PUBLISHED: 16:00 14 April 2020
Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserves officer Robert Morgan believes it is vital that we re-engage children with the great outdoors during lockdown – and offers some ideas for how we can do just that.
A few years ago, the Oxford Junior Dictionary dropped several words as they were seldom used by children and, as such, did not merit inclusion. Astonishingly, more than forty nature words were omitted, including ‘bluebell’, ‘dandelion’, ‘kingfisher’ and ‘lark’. These were replaced by modern words that occurred more frequently in our children’s vocabulary, such as ‘blog’, ‘broadband’ and ‘bullet-point’.
Prompted by these exclusions, author Robert Macfarlane and illustrator Jackie Morris produced an exquisitely illustrated book of “spells” entitled Lost Words. Starting at ‘acorn’ and ending at ‘wren’, it is a volume of beautiful rhymes, descriptions and wordscapes that endeavours to reintroduce childhood with nature.
As a naturalist myself, being confined during springtime is frustrating, particularly as I know what I’m missing. Worse still is the thought of children on a sunny morning in front of a computer screen having no concept of what they are missing.
This period of confinement and restriction presents an opportunity for us all to try to encourage our children to become absorbed in the natural world: a festival of sights, sounds, smells and touch. This doesn’t necessarily require a long journey to wild places. Gardens, parks, verges and paths all contain something of interest. There is as much wonderment in the small and commonplace as in the mighty and rare.
Norfolk Wildlife Trust has always worked hard to encourage young people to enjoy and value wildlife. But we also understand how hard it can be to motivate children to occupy their time usefully. With that in mind, read on for some ideas to amuse and inform children this spring and summer during the coronavirus lockdown.
Learning about birds is a great way to get children engaged with the natural world and they are found even in urban environments. Spending time quietly watching in the garden or from a window, a child can easily spot ten or more species of bird.
If you live in the city centre, the local churchyard or cemetery can be a great place to go birdwatching, and at this time of year many migrant birds use urban green spaces like these to rest and feed.
You may also want to watch:
In spring, birds are active collecting nesting material. With patience you can work out where your garden blackbird, robin or starling is nesting. Leave some hair from a brush or a pile of dried grass for the birds to find and use. Wet clay left in the middle of the garden for nest building will be used by lots of different birds. But remember: please don’t disturb them or approach the nest, even for a quick peek.
A beginner’s spotter guide is available on the Norfolk Wildlife Trust website, where you can also find our webcams. The live stream shows rarer birds including stone curlews at Weeting Heath and the fascinating common terns at Ranworth Broad.
Set an art challenge
An art challenge is another way of rewilding the kids – perhaps a collage of natural items collected from the garden or during a walk. Remember, please don’t pick wildflowers. Instead have your child photograph them and set a challenge for the family to find out their names using the internet or our spotter’s guide.
You can press leaves and place them in a photo album or glue them to paper, along with your photographs. Use this as an opportunity to learn the names of trees and plants and write them down as part of the collage.
Explore nature at night
Explore the garden at night and listen for snuffling hedgehogs and hooting owls. You’ll likely also hear frogs and toads – they can be pretty vocal at night!
With 900 species of large moths in the UK, a bright lamp on a white sheet laid on the lawn on a still, warm night will attract a bewildering array of moths. Failing that, the kids could convince you to spare a splash of red wine to make wine ropes. A short piece of thin rope soaked in a solution of wine and dissolved sugar which you can then hang in a tree proves irresistible to some of the more discerning moth species.
I believe the desire for us all to live on a clean, green planet is inspired by nature play in childhood. Although stopping the decline of our natural world is clearly our generation’s job, turning it around will be the responsibility of the next generation. The need to engage children through education is important, but enchanting them through art, words, mystery and wonder is more vital than ever.
Find out more at www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk.
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