Kid Stuff and Nature

Many of us naturalists, I believe, have been in love with nature since childhood. My question is this, what did you love doing with nature as a kid? I grew up catching fireflies and grasshoppers, and raising butterflies with those mail-order caterpillar kits. My siblings and I also threw pebbles in the air at night to make the bats swoop down when they mistook them for insects. I’m curious as to what kids do in other countries.

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Growing up in a city, there wasnt too much access to a lot of nature areas, however I would frequent the school library for books about animals (especially dinosaurs at the time). Even though I couldnt read all the words I would just look over the pictures and compare them all together, organizing them based on certain attributes and what not, or whichever ones I liked the most. I was also a subscriber of Zoobooks as a kid! I had a mountain of them :)

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I also grew up in a city but was lucky enough to be in a city that also has The Bronx Zoo (WWF), NY Botanical Gardens, Museum of Natural History, NY Aquarium etc. I was enrolled in zoo camp as a little one and it definitely fostered a serious respect for all things conservation and research. In addition to visiting these powerhouses of NYC I also spent time looking for bugs (which I then may have been scared of at the time), and learning the names of cultivated plants. I definitely did things I regret now but didn’t know better then, like taking frogs home (and away from their habitats) or picking things I shouldn’t have. I also had a lot of books, maybe a golden guide or two, and relished the photos and/or artwork of anything that had an animal or plant. When I was at my grandmother’s house in Long Island, or at a camp somewhere suburban or rural, I would play outside a fair amount and climb trees, make “paint” out of what I now realize were poke berries, collect various seeds (if I only knew what kind of space my collection would need as an adult!), I liked to take marigolds apart and float the petals in water to see all the disarticulated parts, I also remember enjoying a subscription to Ranger Rick, a kid’s magazine that’s mainly about nature and being the youngest volunteer at the neighborhood plant sale.

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We did that too! (USA, North Carolina)

We also did this in the schoolyard at night (Victoria, BC, Canada)

I was also fortunate enough to grow up in the city but close to a park with 76 acres (310,000 m2) of Garry Oak meadows, woodland trails, and undeveloped natural reserve land that flanked the Strait of Georgia with rocky outcrops and sandy shores. Also nearby was a 150ft. floating barge that served as an aquarium where one could descend 15ft below the surface to view sea life. This was later replaced (1969) by Sealand of the Pacific which also held orca, seals, and seabirds - three Orca held here, which were involved in the death of a trainer, were sold to Seaworld - the story for the movie Blackfish started in part in my neighbourhood.

Times were different then and I was free to roam this environment on my own or with friends on foot or by bike (no bikes allowed in the park now). I would catch garter snakes and grasshoppers, try to chase down pheasant, quail and red wing blackbirds, and get surprised by raccoons. On the shore I would explore the tide pools, dig up ghost shrimp at low tide, fish for sculpins and small flatfish, poke at starfish and sea cucumbers, bring home limpets and sea urchins (which would die). I would go to the aquariums and watch the divers interact with octopus and see how high the Orca could jump.

There was a lot of time exploring nature quite freely but today I try to instill a different approach in the young around me. Now I don’t agree with the captivity that I was so fortunate to have witnessed then - it is hypocritical because I am not sure I would have gotten the same exposure and appreciation without those means. I had no idea then how precious life is and how much responsibility we can take to ensure the safe keeping of those organisms around us including not teasing or harassing. I’m sure more than one bat was injured by the size of rocks I threw in the air.

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Most of my childhood nature experience was from books. Despite being very interested in wildlife from childhood, I didn’t get seriously into the outdoors until college. As a kid I read a lot of nature books and magazines (Ranger Rick, National Geographic World), devoured facts about animals, and loved biology classes, but only infrequently went camping (and then it was very basic car camping). My mom tells me I used to turn over logs looking for bugs as a kid, which I honestly don’t remember, but I think I do so much more often nowadays!

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We’ve never hit a bat, to the best of my knowledge. We always threw them below the bats, so they’d swoop down.

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I’m still young, but when I was as little as 2, I liked to catch Gulf Coast Toads in my front yard.

I’ve been peed on by them countless times.

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When I was little my family would go to a property owned by relatives which had a pond and lots of nature areas. I really really enjoyed catching garter snakes, crayfish and all kinds of species of frogs there. We were probably slightly cruel with how many frogs we’d catch. You’d also have to watch out for black bears at night there and at a beach nearby we’d play in the lagoons with small schooling fish and mussels.

We’d also go camping at provincial parks quite often and go on hikes to look for snakes in the rocks, crayfish in pools, pileated woodpeckers in the trees, etc. I credit Ontario’s provincial parks for inspiring a life long interest honestly.

Back at home we’d spend huge amounts of time playing in the woods building forts from trees and stones, playing with the course of streams through building dams and things, etc. But there were much less animals about.

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I grew up in the suburbs of Fort Worth. So I had access to both the Fort Worth Zoo(https://www.fortworthzoo.org/) and the Fort Worth Botanical garden(http://www.fwbg.org/) which just this year is becoming a pay to enter facility. Surprisingly, Fort Worth’s Zoo is a better, by several different accounts, than the larger city, Dallas Zoo. It’s ranked 4th in the country and houses all 4 great apes.

I also camped a lot growing up in State parks(https://tpwd.texas.gov/state-parks/) along with fishing at the nearby Benbrook Lake.

Also a huge field existed between my home and Elementary School that had a lot of smaller mammals, amphibians, reptiles, spiders, insects, and crawfish. After describing the largest, bald-tailed, bug-eyed rat to my father, he said it is called a possum.

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I spent most of elementary school living on the Olympic Peninsula of Washington state and would often catch garter snakes and the occasional frog, follow bumblebees around, and make temporary terrariums out of peanut butter jars for the grasshoppers I could find in our yard.

I remember having a couple of school trips to the coast to explore tidal pools as well as at least one to Olympic National Park. When not playing outside I remember spending time reading wildlife magazines (Ranger Rick, Zoobooks) and going through my Illustrated Wildlife Treasury cards with the cool green carrying box.

I come from Africa, and the list is long. But the best was rescuing some river terrapin eggs that got raided and replanted them in a ceramic pot and watered them for about 3 months, I managed to hatch 36 of those cute little critters.

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I loved all creatures from when I was a toddler onward. I would grab any creature small enough to grab, and run and hug anything bigger than that. As I result I got stung or bitten by almost everything you can think of, from a bee to a horse. But it didn’t discourage me; it just taught me to be a bit more cautious in my approach. I would bring home anything and everything, from picked wildflowers and pine cones to rocks, shells, caterpillars, you name it.

In school, nature study was actively encouraged in my day, at least for small children.

I grew up on the very edge of the London suburbs in North Kent, more or less where the countryside began back then, and once a year we would go to my maternal grandmother’s house in North Devon for two weeks.

In Devon we would go to the nearest beach quite often, where I would be able to find pretty empty land snail shells in the dunes, and find a considerable range of species of shells of marine mollusks at low tide on the sand flats. Sometimes I would get to explore the rocky shore too, with its tide pools. One time we even caught a few shrimp and cooked them and ate them.

There were pretty wildflowers in Devon and back in North Kent too. My mother taught me the common names of the flowers that she did know. I was the younger of two daughters, my sister being eight years older than me, so most of the time I explored by myself. I would sit down in a nice patch of wild and be surrounded entirely by tall flowering plants, butterflies, bees, and other insects. Then I really felt at home, more than I even did in our house, which was tense and unhappy most of the time.

We went to visit Charles Darwin’s home in Downe, Kent, a couple times every year – it was a museum, but it was set up as if he still lived there. Once, when I was 12, the docent let me play the piano in his living room, something that would never happen now.

Every fall we picked wild blackberries and my mother would make jam and pies.

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I imagine many of us have had that same feeling. When I was nine (1950s), we built a house at the undeveloped edge of town in North Carolina. There was so much to discover in the woods and creeks! I used my allowance to buy all the little Golden Guides (at $1 each) so I could learn the names of what I found. Finding a hognosed snake that played dead and seeing little pond creatures like Cyclops in the microscope were unforgettable thrills. Like you, sometimes I would just sit and take it in and not want to go home. And now that I’m retired, I do the same thing. I think a big part of a personal conservation ethic is that sense of belonging in the natural world.

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I grew up near to the Roger Tory Peterson Institute in Jamestown, NY- this is where Peterson guides come from. When I was in elementary school there was an annual Wildlife Art festival at the institute, and in the leadup there would be programs where some of the artists would teach classes for the public. My mom would always sign me up and so I’d get to sit in a class of all ages learning how to draw or paint some wildlife subject, often in a new medium. Sadly I think the festival stopped happening sometime in the mid-2000s.

At the time the RTPI also gave away “Junior Naturalist Kits” with family memberships, that included a nice little waist pack, a Peterson guide of your choice, and a handful of other things like those folding binoculars and a little field scope. I chose the Insects guide. I still have that guide, and the waist pack. When I was maybe 10 or 11 I had worn it while collecting insects in the meadow next to the blueberry patch while everyone else was picking blueberries for pie, up near Lake Ontario, and was so excited to catch a Zebra Swallowtail (which I now realize was a valuable record for the area) that I left the pack and its contents on the roof of the car, which disappeared when we drove off. I was distraught. I put “missing” posters advertising a very generous 5 dollar reward all over the area. A few weeks later, my pack showed up in the mail- some folks vacationing from Vermont had picked it up on the side of the road and it was lucky that I had inscribed my name and address on the inside cover of the insect guide.

These kinds of experiences made such an impression. In the time since my childhood it seemed that RTPI went through something of a downturn, but recently they’ve really come back and are doing some great things especially with school-age kids and teens in the Jamestown area.

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