Sagan Brosius observing a pair of Common Yellowthroats at Bath Nature Preserve on June 22, 2019.
By Michelle Brosius
The title may sound noble, but enjoying the natural world with your children and grandchildren not only instills in them a love for nature, but also allows us to spend quality time with them and to share something of ourselves. My love for nature was nurtured as a child by my father, who would take my younger brother and me to enjoy the various parks that could be found within Lake and Geauga counties in the 1980s. I remember wandering along with him every weekend in search of our next woodland adventure. The key word is exposure. Expose children to nature on a consistent basis and love for it will follow. We protect that which we love.
Fast forward to seven years ago when I had my first child. How, oh how, am I going to grow this young person into a conservationist? Five years ago when I had my second child I asked the same question, not realizing I was doing what needed to be done all along—getting them out of the house. Outside. Following are some simple tips I have learned along the way:
- Install a bird feeder. I’m a fan of this option because, beyond the actual installation, it doesn’t require much mobility. If you or your child has difficulty getting to the birds, then bring them to you! This option also works well for hectic family schedules and lazy Sunday afternoon alike. My children can now identify, and have an appreciation for, “our” birds. They have also learned how to be respectful of wildlife; for example, tapping on the window scares them away. We don’t want to scare the birds.
- Allow children to find their connection. You can guide children in finding their connection by asking them simple questions: What do you think the bird is doing? How does watching the bird make you feel? Where do you think the bird is going? My children like to invent elaborate stories about the birds and other wildlife we see. Resist the urge to correct them if they get some details wrong. Cardinals don’t migrate and they certainly don’t migrate to Africa! Just let them dream and get excited about the connection they’ve made.
- Harness the power of the Internet. The power of the Internet can be used for good! Children may dream and invent stories, but they also want to know the facts. They will ask you questions. Where does that bird go in the winter? You may know the answer or you may not. If you don’t, consult this handy resource at your fingertips. My youngest son has the Audubon calendar hanging in his bedroom and every month wants to learn more about the featured bird. Audubon.org and AllAboutBirds.org (The Cornell Lab) are good resources. Thank you, Internet!
- Use eBird. eBird is an online database created by the Cornell Lab of Ornithology where you can record your bird observations, which provides researches with data regarding species distribution and abundance. They also have a mobile app to make it easy for recording observations while in the field (or forest). I’ve started recording my observations while out with the children, or even if we see something unexpected at the bird feeder, and now it’s a fun game to them. Put it in the app, Mommy!
- Use iNaturalist. The iNaturalist mobile app does not replace eBird in my opinion; however, it is a very useful tool for identifying species (animal or plant) in the natural world and teaches children about citizen science as it is used to map and share biodiversity across the globe. Snap a picture, upload the picture to the app, and you will be given a list of top ten species suggestions. You may be a bird lover, but one thing I’ve learned over the years is you can’t always count on the birds (or any animal) to be there. I always tell my children we’re going on a hike “to see what we can see.” If you don’t know what you are seeing, use the app. iNaturalist has a sister app called Seek that will not collect user data if that is a concern.
- Western Cuyahoga Audubon Society Events. My children don’t have the endurance for a three hour bird walk, at least not yet. However, taking the time for myself to enhance my own observation and identification skills has been invaluable and does help me when I’m out with my children. Also, just as importantly, attending the various walks and field trips has introduced me to beautiful locations that I can share with my children on a follow-up visit. I encourage you to join us or to seek out your local Audubon chapter.
This is by no means an exhaustive list of tips, but I’ve covered some big ones that I feel may be more easily overlooked. My tips may work for you and your children or grandchildren, or they may not. I’m interested to hear your tips to engage children with nature. What has worked for you? Please leave a comment!