The Young Naturalist

naturalist- an expert in or student of natural history.

Synonyms- life scientist, wildlife expert, biologist, zoologist, ecologist, environmentalist…

Children, given the opportunity, are often intensely interested in nature, how it works, who lives there with them, and how all the pieces interrelate. For many, they only need a little support to spend hours watching ants or birds, to follow tracks through the snow or mud, or to monitor the growth of a garden plant. They like to learn the names of plants and insects and birds, noting who eats whom. Given simple tools, they will enjoy tracking the weather or the rainfall, and then they will begin to notice how this impacts their favorite patch of nature.

As parents, we can help foster their curiosity by making time and space for their explorations and observations. When we take the time to walk home slowly or to spend an hour lolling on the grass with them, we give them the chance to observe and ask questions. Be prepared to discuss what catches their attention, even if you cannot answer a question; willingness to ponder it with them validates their interest.

We can also arm them with a little notebook and pencil as soon as they’re ready. We can sit with them and make drawings of what we see or write notes. When they have an observation, we can write it down for them, creating a journal and modeling a way to remember and celebrate the diversity in nature. They can take over their own journal as they are willing and able.

As they get closer to school age, a magnifying glass and leaf press can be good additions to their toolkits. You will have to be a monitor their and add on only as their interest grows. Sometimes, tools can feel more like an assignment than a gift, and the goal is to foster their curiosity rather than to do a forced march through nature.

Finally, allow yourself to be open and engaged with nature. Our love of the natural world and the time we spend in it is perhaps the best way to give this gift to the next generation.