Children are naturally curious. From the moment they start exploring their own toes to the moment they dart on their own, curiosity is one of their driving forces. But somewhere between childhood and maturity, curiosity is replaced by cynicism. We went from wanting to look around every corner and see what’s on the next horizon to being there, doing that, and seeing it all.
Between curiosity and cynicism is life. It becomes difficult and tedious. The days are too long and the nights are too short. Too many trials turn into heartbreaking mistakes. Hopes collapse in despair. Dreams become what is relegated to irresponsible dreamers. The wide-eyed wonder becomes the thousand-meter gaze. Somewhere along the way, we forget what it’s like to be in awe. Surprises stop being pleasant and begin to be something we fear. Kids say they love surprises, while trail-worn, gray-haired adults say they hate surprises.
To develop a lasting interest in nature, one must nurture the parts of oneself that are open to surprise, wonder, and the ever-developing mystery of the unknown and unknowable. It is difficult for children to retain these items into adulthood. Here’s how you can help.
Make it real
One of the reasons one’s interest in nature wanes is that at some point, it feels more like a child’s interest than anything that can amount to an actual way of spending life. It is presented as an after school special and not as a career option. When your teen is starting to think about college, don’t limit your options to the Northeast or the West Coast. Make sure they visit at least one of the veterinary schools that Chicago offers among its many excellent options for higher education.
Caring for animals is not just in the interest of a child. It is the work of many high-level professionals who also enjoy a very good life in the process. It’s not just about puppies and kittens. It is also about marine science, forestry and the protection of endangered species and their habitats. The next time you take your children to the zoo, be sure to let them know that it is possible to work at the zoo, too. They can have a satisfying career that begins long before college. It starts with you as their father making nature vibrant and real to them.
Take them with you
It can be difficult to deal with tired and hungry children after a long day. But there are still errands to run and the children require attention. Instead of leaving them at home, you must learn to have a successful outing with your children so that you can take them with you on more of your field trips. They will never fall in love with nature if they don’t experience the great outdoors and different times of the day. Even if you just get in a car and go to the store for a little weekend shopping, you can see some of nature as you pass by.
It is also worth noting that a store is full of nature. The produce section of a well-stocked grocery store is a classroom unto itself. Just naming the different fruits and vegetables is a fun challenge. You can increase that interest by taking them to more ethnic stores with very different types of products than your main supermarket might not have. There is nature wherever you go. And call your children. Help them respond to that call with the right curiosity and encouragement.
Make it fun
Nature offers more than an opportunity to learn. It also provides the opportunity to have fun, and a lot. Bird watching is a fun activity that requires little more than a pair of binoculars. A bird feeder right outside the window would also help. Hiking is fun and spending a weekend camping with family and friends is even more fun. Fight the temptation to try to force nature lessons every time you go out with the kids. Let them experience the fun and come to love it for themselves. If you want them to love nature, give them the opportunity to enjoy it first.
We need veterinarians, zoologists, marine biologists, rangers, and more. Your children can grow up to be part of that great tradition. Help them along the way by making it happen, making it available and fun.