Listen, can you hear cardinals talk to each other, chip-chip? Look, can you spot chipmunks scurrying through leaves as they search for food? These are our hardworking animal friends and neighbours, a new website for young naturalists explains.
If we can help kids think about wild animals as more than commodities, we can all boost our humanity, says John Drew, BA’02, BEd’07, a teacher, award-winning researcher and Western Education PhD candidate.
Toward that end, Drew and Brock University professor Kendra Coulter, Huron BA’02 (Scholar’s Elective), created Animal Neighbours, a new website designed to teach kids about the animal world around them.
“It’s interesting to see how close to nature children are. But as they rise through the age groups, they’re gradually weaned from that perspective,” Drew said.
Older kids lose the wonder of nature; the sense of being immersed in nature’s sights and sounds give way to facts and figures and dissection. “They’re facts to be studied, and there’s the idea that we’re in control over them, mastering them,” Drew continued.
The website aims to help kids become ‘travelers’ who respect and appreciate wildlife.
“We’re intentionally saying that animals are important,” said Drew, who taught high school English in Ajax, Ont., before returning to Western to earn a doctorate under the supervision of Education professor Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw.
The children are encouraged to observe robins and squirrels and other creatures as part of their neighbourhood travels, and to record on various worksheets what they see and hear.
The habits and habitats of wildlife are illustrated further on the site, with photos, videos, audio files and short descriptions.
“This is our attempt to feed many birds with one fruit,” said Coulter, Chancellor’s Chair for Research Excellence and Chair of the Department of Labour Studies at Brock. “We want to help parents, engage children and encourage curiosity about – and appreciation for – all members of our communities. Many adults don’t automatically recognize wild animals’ work as work so there will actually be many learners.”
Too often, people view wildlife through a lens of what they can do for us. But they are important in their own right, as co-habitants sharing the planet, Coulter said.
“When you start to pay attention and marvel at all the animals around us, and how hard they’re working, it’s unequivocally clear how we are all connected. And that’s never been more important for the wellbeing of other species, and for our own.”
She and Drew recently co-authored an editorial at TVO.org on ways to keep Ontario wildlife safe this spring.
Drew is focusing his doctoral work on designing teaching strategies and curriculum that help connect students with nature.
“We see that it’s something that enhances us, as well,” he said. “We feel better when we feel connected, when there’s a sense of balance with everything around us.”