Children get mixed messages when it comes to animals. They’re supposed to love things that are cute and fluffy, and squish things with more than four legs. Kindermusik celebrates animals through song, language learning games, role-play and listening activities, but the fact is that many of us don’t have access to thirty acre backyards teeming with wildlife.

Instead, we go to the zoo (or buy a fish – dogs if we’re lucky). An estimated 98% of Americans have been to the zoo at least once in their lifetime, according to this study by Dunlap and Kellert. When families were asked why they were visiting, the majority said they were interested in “family togetherness” or the fact that going to the zoo was a “fun activity.” Being in the presence of wild animals was not a hot topic. It’s not surprising, then, that a swath of cultural attitude studies have reported “generational wildlife amensia” and increasing “biophilia” among younger generations (Phillips & McCulloch, 2005). In other words – kids are scared of wild animals – domestic animals too. Since when has the llama evoked as much fear as the Loch Ness Monster?

This study by Gail F. Melson found many reasons for animal fear. Of course… parents are the central cause. Whether or not we mean to imbue our children with nature fear, our reactions to things like ants in the house, bluejays on the bird feeder, rats in the subway, a wasp in the car, are, increasingly, the only times many children see and experience wildlife. As your child’s #1 teacher, a peeved reaction to cockroaches in the kitchen translates into a general dislike of nature.

Naturally, our reactions to invasive creatures is unavoidable – not to mention, human behavior that began long before the technological age. What is REALLY important, is that we allow children to experience nature in the following ways:

  • in unstructured environments, where kids are allowed to stare, listen, touch, or follow animals as long as they want
  • without parents giving scripted explanations of certain species (i.e. “bluejays are bad,” or “snakes bite”) – but letting a child intuit the animal’s own characteristics
  • by letting the animals take central focus at the zoo or on a hike, though we may be motivated to do these activities for family togetherness time.

Kick off an animal weekend with dozens of KI songs for the car or bath time – then unplug and go for a silent walk to listen and observe the sights and sounds of early spring.

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