Helping your youngster become a Nature Tot

PUBLISHED: 11:30 02 June 2018

A love of the countryside can begin at an early age.... and last a lifetime.

A love of the countryside can begin at an early age.... and last a lifetime.


Ditch the soft play areas and leisure centre classes this summer and get outdoors with your pre-schoolers at a nature reserve, says Diane Church of the RSPB.

If you fancy a change from the usual round of pre-school activities, what better way to do this than by visiting an RSPB reserve this summer? Between now and October, RSPB Strumpshaw Fen is holding weekly Nature Tot sessions at its Discovery Zone and base camp, which have been developed specifically to appeal to families with young children.

So why not take a trip out to the beautiful countryside and join a Nature Tot activity where you can relax, explore and enjoy nature together? From story-telling to bug hunts; nest-building to nature trails; nature-spotting to treasure hunts: your little ones will have plenty to keep them occupied and entertained. As a parent, you’ll also pick up lots of ideas that you can follow up on when you’re back home.

After visiting RSPB Strumpshaw Fen with my young daughter, we both shifted our thinking a little and responded to the next ‘I’m bored’ moment in a slightly different way. Instead of putting on the TV or playing in the bedroom, we decided to go into the garden to find something to do. Since our visit, we’ve made mud pies, daisy chains and spotted bugs and birds. I could have done any of these activities with her at any time, but somehow having attended a Nature Tots session, it made us both more conscious and enthusiastic for the natural world on our doorsteps.

The sessions provide a perfect opportunity for your pre-schooler to run around, tire themselves out and have the freedom to get a bit mucky and have some fun. But Nature Tots is more than this too. It’s an opportunity for small children to connect with nature and learn a fact or two about the natural world. Show a small child a butterfly or a particular flower and tell them something about it – and they will be bowled over with enthusiasm and excitement. In turn, there’s a good chance that any fact they learn at Nature Tots will enhance their appreciation and enjoyment of wildlife in the future.

Connecting with nature is now recognised as having benefits for all of us, and this includes children. It gets us more active, enhances our mood and emotional wellbeing and improves our learning. In a nutshell, being outdoors makes all of us feel better, brighter and more positive about life.

In his influential book, Last Child in the Woods, the American author Richard Louv coined a term for those of us who don’t get out enough: nature deficit disorder. He defines this as “the human costs of alienation from nature” which can lead to “diminished use of the senses, attention difficulties, and higher rates of emotional and physical illnesses”. All sounds a good reason to me to get out more.

And finally, there’s one more reason why you should get outdoors this summer. Without appearing too full of doom and gloom, we all know that the natural world is in big trouble. With 60 per cent of species on the decline in recent years 30 per cent of these having declined strongly, we need to take action to help. What better way of helping, than by engaging the next generation with the natural world, so that they can better understand what is being lost and why it matters so much?

Nature Tots sessions run at RSPB Strumpshaw Fen throughout the summer on every other Thursday until October 11, but excluding school holidays. The next session is this coming Thursday, June 7. They run from 10.30am to noon and cost £6 per session, siblings £4, pre-walkers free (RSPB members £4.50 per session, siblings £3).

Discover, Learn and Play with your little one – a programme of events for under fives and their grown-ups!

Join us in the safe haven of the RSPB Strumpshaw Fen discovery zone and base camp. Relax, explore and enjoy nature together through stories, bug hunts, nature trails, sticks, nest building, potions, treasure hunts, listening, playing and seasonal nature spotting. Booking is essential - call 01603 715191.

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