By Ranger Steve Mueller
The average child can recognize 1,000 corporation logos but is unable to identify 10 plants and animals native to the region where they live. I have seen statements similar to this repeatedly during the past few years from research surveys. I have not tried to check the validity but it does raise concern. Kids get exposure to tremendous advertising. The question I pose is whether they get tremendous exposure by parents and grandparents to plants and animals that live in their neighborhood.
Check with your own children, grandchildren, neighborhood kids, and others to see how much exposure they get on their own or from you. It is likely that those reading this column expose youth to nature. Those children probably recognize plants and animals better than most kids do.
Those that do not read the nature niche columns probably associate with youth that are more likely to reflect the statistical normal. I suspect I am “preaching to the choir” with my writings. That is valuable because many readers tell me they learn new desired information. How to reach others is a dilemma that requires parents, grandparents, and friends to solve. Most people learn best by doing.
When my daughters were very young, we lived five miles east of Manistique, in the Upper Peninsula. Our home was one mile from Lake Michigan. We regularly walked a gravel road to a County Park on the shore. Along the way, we explored everything of interest and spent time discussing tree species and associated animals. Before the girls learned to talk, they clearly soaked up great knowledge.
We pulled a wagon so the girls could ride when they became tired of walking. At the beach, we found much to explore. Shorebirds ran on the wet sand and found food morsels by staying close to the coming and ebbing of waves. Gulls and terns were common. Occasionally we would see a Bald Eagle.
We stood on flat rocks surrounded by water. We each selected a special vantage point to search the water for life. When we did not desire to look for wild creatures, the kids played on the slide, swing and teeter-totter. It was joyous time outdoors where we built a meaningful relationship with our kids.
Some memories of experiences the girls had from ages one to four years might be recalled. Most are lost in the hidden recesses of their brains but I am confident they are still there and they played a vital role in their development.
At home, we played a form a concentration. Using picture cards of birds and mammals, I placed them face down on the floor and would ask for an animal. When they selected correctly, they got to put it in their pile. With each picture of a bird or mammal, I would make a sound and motion to associate with the animal making it more fun and interesting.
Before they could talk, they could recognize over 100 birds and mammals. The girls could recognize many tree species we saw on our walk to Lake Michigan. On camping trips, they were great observers and saw things I missed. Maybe this was because their eyes were closer to the ground but I think they simply learned to observe creatures that shared the world with them. They developed good observation skills.
It was fun to play wildlife concentration, walk to Lake Michigan, and explore outdoors. Of course, they would tire and we found other things to do when we were growing weary. Today they appreciate the multitude of life and try to live lives that promote sustaining a healthy environment for humans and other creatures. I still expose them to nature. Help children exceed the norm for wildlife recognition and keep it fun. The best learning comes from one on one experiences between adult and child.
Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at firstname.lastname@example.org Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433 or call 616-696-1753.