Why connecting kids to nature is so important… #actfornature

Last week we introduced our series of blog posts that are building up to the General Election in May. Today sees the first of our themed posts: this week we’re looking at the importance of nature in the lives of children. 21% of children in the UK play outdoors. For their parents, the figure was 71%. Hear from our Education Trainee Jessie on the progress that she sees children making all the time at Nature Tots, our weekly sessions for two to four year olds.  

Nature Tots sessions. All images copyright Jessie Longstaff (WWT)
Nature Tots sessions. All images copyright Jessie Longstaff (WWT)

I remember the first time George came to Nature Tots, a shy little boy hiding behind his mum and baby brother, the last thing George wanted to do was say hello to me and explore the mass of plastic minibeasts hidden in amongst bean bags and Lego on the playmat. Karen, George’s mum, quietly hinted that he really liked books so I offered to show him where the books are kept in the classroom. He nervously took my hand and I showed him to the bookcase where he delved into the pile of picture books, pop-up books, animal fact books and story books. Armed with a spider fact book and Percy the Park Keeper story he quickly retreated to his mother’s side. Shortly we headed out onto the reserve where I showed George and the other children where real minibeasts like to hide; we explored the woodland before heading back to the classroom to make our crafts to take home.

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The following week George came back with his mum and brother. I was convinced that he hadn’t been interested in the last session, but much to my delight his mum said he had been talking about me all week. As the weeks and months went by, George came every week and started to bring his best friend Holly; by now he had come out of his shell and would happily approach me with questions and to see what else I had in my bag of activities! As with most 2 year olds, things don’t always go to plan, George likes to run on rather than look for the toys and pictures that I hide along our trail, racing anyone who’s up to the challenge.  Teddy bear houses are accomplished in minutes, binoculars get thrown on the floor and pond dipping is only fun if you don’t have to take it in turns. Whilst this may not match my plan for the session George has been developing his numbers, sorting techniques, developing his personal, social and emotional skills, learning to play outdoors, manage risks, understand the natural world around him and to follow instructions.

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It is now approaching George’s 3rd birthday and he has booked his party with us, under the promise that I can run the session for him. He has chosen to have a craft party where he and his 18 nursery friends can make leaf crowns, do mud painting and build Goldsworthy inspired natural art. It’s hard to believe how quickly the last 9 months have gone and how that shy toddler has developed into a confident and inquisitive boy who has connected with the nature on our reserve, knows the names and habitats of our animals and will use binoculars to look deep into the holes of oak trees in search of a sleeping owl. The other day our session was based on a Folk Tale “The Snowy Mitten” where the animals made their home in a little boy’s mitten. Between reading the story and walking to the arboretum George had remembered each of the creatures from the tale. More astonishingly, over an hour later when we had finished making our very own mittens to take home George said to me “can I hang my mitten outside please Jess?” When I questioned why he didn’t want to take it home as always he replied, “I want your animals from the park to live in them”.

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I has been an absolute pleasure watching the development of a child and the important part that nature has had to play in this process.

Jessie

If you’ve been inspired by Jessie’s work then please cast your vote for nature by signing The Wildlife Trusts’ e-petition urging MPs to pledge their support for a Nature and Wellbeing Act. Follow the campaign on social media using #actfornature and inspire your friends and family to do their bit for nature too!

Remember to return to this blog next Thursday at 8pm for the next installment in our General Election series. Or click the “Follow” button on the right of this post to follow our blog and receive a notification whenever we post.

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