When a Child Wants to Share a Connection to Nature

Written by Guest Blogger
    Tuesday, 31 March 2020
When a Child Wants to Share a Connection to Nature

“You wanna see my fish?”

Eighteen participants sat in a circle of camp chairs looking at Ken, then at the small girl with the bucket. She was about five years old and on a mission.

Ken had not noticed her as she walked toward the circle. He continued to focus on the session-topic of volunteerism at the Urban Ecology Center. The group had gathered as part of a multi-day introduction to the model — connecting people in cities to nature and each other — pioneered in Milwaukee. The UEC staff was bringing their expertise as an urban environmental education and community center to people from cities across the U.S. and other countries.

In general, these folks took in the lessons eagerly. On this sunny Wednesday morning at Washington Park, however, there was this persistent distraction.

“You wanna see my fish?” The bucket appeared heavy as she carried it with both hands, not particularly worried if some water sloshed out.

Ken continued to talk about the importance of volunteers.

“You wanna see my fish.” It never was intended as a question. The girl had reached the edge of the circle. All eyes were on her by then, and Ken suddenly realized he had the attention of exactly no participants unless they happened to be glancing his way to see if he had noticed the girl yet.

“You wanna see my fish!” She said it this final time directly to Ken, as he stopped talking and she held the bucket out to him.

“Yes!” he joyfully said, then added, “Can I show it to my friends?!” She nodded but looked a bit concerned as he took the handle and carried the bucket around the circle. She waited as each participant “ooohed” and “ahhed” in turn.

The girl had walked to Ken. Maybe because he was the only one talking, she figured that he was in charge of the group and the one who might properly respond to her. She likely understood that he was the teacher, the person you report to first when you have something to show and tell. Of course, Ken also has a kind voice that reveals his enthusiasm. He draws people in as he tells a story, and he was telling a story when the girl came up to us. She had her own story to share.

The participants smiled at each other, amused and inspired by the approach of the girl. And there was something else. They realized they were experiencing firsthand what happens when children are brought into nature and given the guidance and attention to experience its wonder. The girl with the fish interrupting Ken’s lesson about volunteering was just something that happens. It also illustrated some key points about this work of connecting people in cities to nature and each other.

This work is full of surprises. It can and should be fun. People are full of surprises. And nature is full of surprises. Making connections heightens the suspense and amplifies the wonder. And sometimes you have to realize there’s a small voice telling you to stop what you’re doing and check out this fish.

Written by: Chris Young, Ph.D., History of Science and Technology

Chris Young is a professor of Biology at Alverno College, where he has taught since 2002. He teaches courses on global warming, evolution, natural history, and science education, in addition to introductory biology. For the past two summers, he helped coordinate UEC's Summer Intensive, a program to introduce the Urban Ecology Center model for visitors from around the world.

Photo Credit: Andy Bernay Roman
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