Introducing your child to nature is as easy as going into your backyard, according to biologist and Second Nature president Heather Hinam.
Hinam, nicknamed Dr. Hoo for her research work on the northern saw-whet owl, recently spoke to a group of early childhood educators attending a conference at Camp Manitou in Headingley.
The aim of the Sept. 14 conference was to give attendees practical advice and personal experiences they can use to help children explore nature.
"People want to be able to relate to nature, so our messages need to be positive and encouraging," she said.
Much of what we now hear about nature is discouraging, with negative effects of global warming and the disappearance of animal species being two common issues, Hinam said.
"We need to get people excited about nature," she said, adding that using scare tactics doesn’t encourage people to care about conservation. They need to have first-hand experience to gain an appreciation, and the sooner they start, the better, she said.
Hinam said parents and caregivers should provide children with a chance to develop positive memories of nature so they form attachments and become environmental stewards.
The first step in the process can be a small one: simply taking your child outside, she said.
"You don’t need to get out of the city or your own backyard," Hinam said, adding that families can look at everyday things such as the weeds growing in sidewalk cracks or fallen leaves.
Adults don’t need to worry about being experts when they help their children explore nature, Hinam said, as children’s natural curiosity will keep them interested. But small experiments like collecting different types of leaves or rocks are easy to do.
She recommends that adults try to engage all of a child’s senses because smell and taste are often ignored. Children will naturally want to touch things and should be allowed to get their hands dirty.
Parents shouldn’t be afraid of failure when they try an experiment with their children. If the seeds they planted together don’t grow well, that also provides a learning experience for the children since not everything works out perfectly the first time, Hinam said.
Drawing or writing about what they discover helps children to form long-term memories, she said.
Simply having fun outdoors is essential, Hinam added.
Local facilities such as FortWhyte Alive, Assiniboine Park Conservancy, Living Prairie Museum and Oak Hammock Marsh, as well as organizations like the Canadian Wildlife Federation, offer experiences and resources for families wanting to explore nature.