Eyes wide-open, fascinated and listening, our children, even before they can utter the first word, are interested in the animals, insects, reptiles, and birds which occupy our world. We point, and combine our teachable lesson with facts. Through the tone of our voice, our child understands some creatures come with rules and warnings!
The Greatest Lesson: Walking Outdoors
I can still hear my son say, “Oohhh!” in curious intonations when swishing his feet through leaves, or desiring to turn over almost every rock. He rarely lingered, unlike his sister, who often stopped to admire a new object flittering, flying, or inanimate. Children want the freedom to stop and investigate at their own pace. Without even knowing it, they are learning. Encourage children to repeat the name of the creature, if possible. With age, children who can identify objects both good and bad with a specific name and recognize distinct colors can take the education to the next level: What to do when encountering an unknown animal?
Lesson One: Keep Calm
Animals, insects and birds often lurk undetected in their hiding places, unless the game becomes hide and seek. While the immediate human instinct in finding a black snake or grass spider is to flee and quickly, such a reaction can often scare your child away from any future outdoor experiences. And frighten the snake and spider, too! Help children understand what may be living in a certain location, not to avoid it, but to encourage caution and good judgment.
- Dogs:Most adults and children cannot detect a dog’s disposition. A tail wag is not necessarily evidence of friendliness, nor is size or breed, especially if the dog is similar to the family dog. Permission is always the first step to greeting. Teach children always to treat animals calmly and with gentleness. And, never hurt, tease, frighten, surprise or corner an animal.
- Cats: A great conversation involves teaching the difference between wild and domestic animals. While wild animals are not always ferocious, they are wild. Another key term to teach is “feral” in connection with cats. Children should learn not to approach a feral cat and to tell an adult where they saw it.
- Geese:In most children’s stories, there usually is a goose who achieves friendship with the other barnyard animals. A kind character indeed in a story, geese are not friendly animals, especially if they are caring for young goslings. In fact, the gander, the male, will intimidate anyone by flapping his wings, honking, following for great distances, and attacking. The best solution is to admire from a distance, and remind children never to roll down their car window if traveling near a gaggle of geese.
- Bees and Wasps: Not all bees are heard first. Sometimes, a swarm can be in an undetected location such as a fruit tree, garden, underground or in tall grasses. Insect repellants can help deter bites and stings for children over one year old; however, the best solution is to offer to distinguish between a variety of bees and wasps. Children should never agitate bees. It is best to not swat, but simply to avoid confrontation. In 95% of cases, stings come from honeybees and yellow jackets.
- Snakes: It’s rare a child will come across a snake when walking through the yard or a populated location. Even in the woods, snakes want to be hidden and left alone. Teach children to leave the area at once if they see a snake and not try to prod or kill the snake with a stick or rock.
Signs of wildlife are everywhere. We can hear the call of crows and birds, the odd scream of a human, indicating a coyote may be near, and the evidence of animal tracks and feces. Every sign, whether positive or negative, is a teachable opportunity to learn more about recognizing tracks, when not to touch, and reminders of good hygiene practices. Wonderful books can further your child’s exploration by learning facts about our wildlife. By teaching our young about the wonders and dangers, we can further their education while keeping them alert, and safe!