A child sitting in a wheelbarrow, along with vegetable and other plant cuttings

RSPB’s Morwenna Alldis shares why connecting her toddler to nature is the most important passion she wants to pass onto him. Hannah Page and Natasha Laverick, RSPB new mums too, also share how gardening and discovering nature with their children has been a lifeline when parenting in a global pandemic.

Growing a love for nature in childhood

When my now two-year-old son Bran was no bigger than a seed growing inside me, I knew that helping him to develop a love for nature was one of the most important passions I wanted to pass on to him. I vividly remember how my own childhood was made magical by exploring nature with my dad, it was a playground for both of us. One of my earliest memories of this was gardening, helping dad dig up potatoes in our veg patch. I can still feel the flutter of excitement in my chest as we unearthed these hidden treasures, and the thrill of eating them for dinner just an hour later with mud still under our fingernails.

As a new parent in a pandemic, my garden and local green spaces have been a daily lifeline for my wellbeing. Becoming a parent is challenging, but doing so without the face-to-face support of friends and family, or a consolidatory smile from another mum who can see that you’re about to burst into tears like your toddler…it’s been very tough. Venturing outside with Bran in all weathers to explore the nature on our doorstep together and the wildlife that calls it home, has made me feel like I’ve helped my son have valuable early experiences, even in these difficult times.

Last week, knelt in a patch of long grass with Bran, I pointed out a ladybird balanced on the tip of a stem. The moment when his eyes recognised the red with black spots, I watched pure joy and wonderment ripple up through every muscle in his face. It was utterly beautiful; he was beaming and so was I, rediscovering awe for a simple ladybird through Bran’s new eyes.  

Hannah's son touching leaves

Gardening in Lockdown

RSPB’s Hannah Page, mum to her nearly 3-year-old son, said: “Our garden became our lockdown project in 2020. I’ve never grown veggies before, but I thought it’d be a fun thing to do with my little boy. He has pulled rhubarb with me, picked raspberries off the canes (straight into his mouth), dug for potato ‘jewels’, and checked every day to see if the strawberries are red yet.

We treated our son to a bug hotel this week and he spent the first thirty minutes walking around the garden, showing the bees their ‘new home’. As our garden grows, it feels as though it’s becoming our own mini reserve and sharing that with my little boy is wonderful.”

 

Any green space will do

The beauty of connecting young children to nature through growing things, is that you can do it anywhere – you don’t need to live in the countryside, you don’t even need a garden. Whether you have a single window box in a high rise flat, a pot of cress on your kitchen windowsill, raised veg beds, or a patch of soil where you scatter wildflower seeds, for children the result will be magic. It’s the alchemy of little hands prodding something into the soil, watering it, and watching it grow because of their care.

Top five tips for encouraging little green fingers to grow:

  1. Plant quick growing seeds: salad leaves, cress, sunflower seeds – fast results are a great way of keeping short attention spans engaged.
  2. Select sensory plants: perfumed flowers and herbs to excite smell. Different textures for little hands to touch, a variety of colours, and plants that make sound, like rustling grasses
  3. Grow veg: most veg can be grown in pots. It can help promote healthy eating and encourage little ones to try more veg because they’ve grown it themselves. It also teaches them where food comes from and about life cycles.
  4. Involve them in the nurturing: watering the plants, making a label, weeding the garden, even singing songs to help the plants grow – give children their own task to look after the plants. This helps toddlers feel that sense of independence and ownership that they’re desperate for.
  5. Wow children with the World of wildlife: Help little ones discover the wildlife that calls their window boxes, gardens and greenspaces home. There’s a huge world of mini beasts, bees, butterflies, snails and wiggly worms to be explored. Install a bug hotel if you have the space or make a stick pile in a quiet corner of your garden out of the many sticks our toddlers seem to gather on walks – all manner of creepy crawlies and maybe even a hedgehog will thank you for this snuggly nook.

 

For more inspiration on how to connect your children to nature in a fun way, checkout our Wild Challenge activities – you can even earn awards as you take part.

Wren holding a gardening fork, reaching for herbs in a basket 

RSPB’s Natasha Laverick, mum to two-year-old Wren, and a keen gardener, describes: “I can’t think of a more precious gift to bestow on Wren than a connection to nature. Whether that’s making mud pies, splashing in puddles barefoot after the rain, planting seeds and tending seedlings, popping fresh peas, plucking strawberries and gobbling them down, and catching dewdrops on our fingertips first thing in the morning. The gifts that nature provides are abundant and priceless. I believe there is no material ‘thing’ in this world that will remain singing in Wren’s heart for her entire lifetime, like I hope nature will. I look to nature and growing things for inspiration, guidance, healing and to learn almost all I need to know – it’s where I find myself, it’s where I feel I belong, and I hope that’s what Wren finds too.”

 

I love watching Bran actively engage with nature; proudly announcing, “honeybees make honey and bumblebees make new flowers,” when he spots the bees on our garden lavender. And his hands snatching up the trowel as we sow carrot seeds: “I do it mama. I digging”. These are some of the most rewarding moments of my life and I feel instinctively that as Bran discovers nature and a love for growing things he is growing too, at deep root level.

Our online and reserve based RSPB Shops have lots of ideas to help you connect children to nature, including bee biomes, nature books for children, and wildlife attracting seeds to help kickstart your gardening adventure.

What’s more, enjoy our exciting range of Big Wild Summer family events across the school holidays at many of our UK reserves and find your nearest events here: rspb.org.uk/bigwildsummer

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