GUEST COLUMN: Let kids learn about nature by exploring fields and forests

Michael Kent

Can your children name more animals from Africa than they can from their own backyard?

I am only in my late twenties but can remember growing up in Corunna when nearby fields, woodlots, and wetlands were our backyard.

Michael Kent

I remember lunging into ponds to search for frogs, flipping boards for snakes, and catching crickets to feed to praying mantises. Now, many of those fields, woodlots and wetlands have succumbed to human development.

Nature deficit disorder may be a coined phrase but the symptoms are real. Today, children are spending half as much time outdoors as they did 20 years ago with much of this time now devoted to viewing digital media. Time spent playing outside is correlated with increased physical activity, mental creativity, better concentration, decreased aggression and stress in children.

Recent research has also shown that children who have positive childhood experiences with nature are more likely to protect it as adults.

Little did I know the impact those positive childhood experiences in nature would have on my life. Like other families, we got a home computer in the mid ‘90’s and I played Nintendo 64 and used MSN. I still maintained my interest in nature, regularly hanging outside and swimming in the St. Clair River, but aside from plant biology in high school and nature documentaries on TV, there weren’t many sources (I thought) for building nature knowledge.

It wasn’t until the passing of my father when I was fifteen and dealing with the family complexities that followed did I become more seriously interested in the environment.

Outside, I had a positive stress outlet and became amazed by biodiversity. Different species, colours, forms, and relationships all at play, awaiting to be understood by science, was comforting and exciting. I attended the University of Guelph and had the opportunity to take amazing invertebrate and natural history courses that reignited my interest in nature near and afar.

Since then I’ve travelled to the Ecuadorian Amazon Rainforest on an insect field course, drove and camped across Canada, backpacked Australia, followed grey whale migrations in Baja California, worked at a butterfly and insect education centre in the Costa Rican cloud forest, safaried in Namibia, searched for orangutans in Borneo and worked as a naturalist at Algonquin and Killbear for Ontario Parks.

Yet throughout my time abroad, a soft spot for Lambton County remained.  I have become more involved with the local naturalist history club, Lambton Wildlife Inc., and as the new co-ordinator of the Young Naturalists and Junior Conservationists Club (ages 6-16), I am hoping to reach out to our younger generation and provide them with positive outdoor experiences in the surprisingly biodiverse natural areas Lambton County has to offer.

To learn more about the club and upcoming events visit www.lambtonwildlife.com or contact m.kent@lambtonwildlife.com.
Michael Kent is a board member for Lambton Wildlife Inc. and the Young Naturalist and Junior Conservationist Club