One of the questions I get asked most frequently at the end of talks is this:
“Do you have any tips for getting kids more interested in connnecting with nature?”
It’s a big subject and I have broad approaches in the books I’m working on, but here is one fun ‘trick’.
If you set out into the countryside with the bland aim of interesting kids in something like ‘wildflowers’, you will likely fail to arouse their curiosity. If, however, you teach them a trick that actually has some bearing on their experience of the wild then you will probably succeed.
Here’s a very simple example. Find an area with both stinging nettles and white dead-nettles – very easy to do in many places at this time of year.
Now ask the kids what the white dead-nettle is. They will probably answer ‘stinging nettle’, which is one of the few wild plants that almost all kids can identify – unsurprisingly, because it has a big impact on their experience of the outdoors.
Now show them how brave you are by running your hands up and down the white dead-nettle. Then dare them to do the same. Once they click that stinging nettles are not the same as these white nettles and only one gives nasty stings, they take an interest. Not only that but they take an interest specifically in the white flowers as these are the clue to identifying the plant that doesn’t sting.
The real test comes in whether they remember this and use this tip and in my experience they do and for a good reason: they love showing it off to other kids.
Nature appreciation that leads to fewer stings AND the ability to show off, now there’s a recipe for getting kids interested.
Navigationally speaking, the nettle family are interesting because they only thrive in areas that are rich in nutrients, specifically phosphates. This means that they are a clue to human influences, eg. fertilizers, or present or past civilization of some kind. In other words, if you are walking from the wild to a town or village, nettles are a good clue you are getting warmer.
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