“Nature deficit disorder” is becoming an increasing concern these days as kids spend more time playing video games and watching TV than exploring and enjoying the great outdoors. Only a relative few will have the experience their parents or grandparents had of climbing trees, swimming in the creek, catching frogs and fish, and helping out in the garden.
In his book The Last Child In The Woods, Richard Louv documents this growing chasm between children and nature, citing everything from summer camps that involve no camping to a TV ad that “depicts a four-wheel-drive SUV racing along a breathtakingly beautiful mountain stream—while in the backseat two children watch a movie on a flip-down video screen, oblivious to the landscape and water beyond the windows.”
The good news is that many people are working to help restore children’s connection with nature. The Children and Nature Network has succeeded in passing “No Child Left Inside” initiatives in 27 states. On a regional level, people have created programs such as the Edible Schoolyard through which children develop “a deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us…by growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious, seasonal produce.”
In our own small way, we at Garden Harvest Supply also consider ourselves part of the solution by selling child-sized tools that enable children to garden from their earliest years, and insect kits that stimulate their curiosity about the natural world.
It doesn’t take much to get young ones interested in nature; in fact, scientists such as E. O. Wilson believe that children have “an innate tendency—an instinct if you wish—to affiliate with nature, to observe it, to live near it, to understand it, to have it within reach.”
What’s more, most children will enjoy gardening if a key Montessori principle is followed: “Child-sized, everyday objects and tools set children up to be successful in their projects, and build a more equal relationship between a child and his or her environment.” Montessori believed that “children have an innate desire to do the tasks and work of the adults in their environment,” but that they need to be comfortable to master these skills.
Child-Sized Garden Tools
That’s why we’re proud to carry Little Farmer Garden Tools. These tools are not like the plastic gardening toys you might see at Wal-Mart or Target: each one is made of steel with a sturdy hardwood handle. Children can really use them to garden!
The Little Farmer Garden Tote ($16.50) includes a spade, a short-handled shovel, short-handled rake, and a matching watering can. These all fit into a sturdy canvas tote which has two handles and seven pockets.
The tools in the tote can be used by children as young as 2, and will continue to fit their hands until they are about 4 or 5. (Of course, the manufacturer warns of a choking hazard for children under 3. But we’ve never heard of a child choking on a garden tool, even a child-sized one.)
We also carry the Little Farmer Kids Tool Set that contains a spade, a short-handled rake, and a short-handled shovel. At $5.95 it’s a real bargain.
For children ages 5 and up, you might want to get individual child-sized tools with long handles. In this category we carry hoes, leaf rakes, garden rakes, and shovels, all of which have handles that are about two and a half feet long. Each individual tools sells for $5.95.
We’ve also just gotten in the Seymour Junior Wheelbarrow ($30.45) which children as young as 3 will be able to manage, and yet which they won’t outgrow until they are eight or older. Here’s how one satisfied customer put it: “Most children’s wheelbarrows out there are too small for ‘big kids.’ This one is big enough for my 7-year-old and its sturdy construction has been put to the test. He loves it.”
Actually, the only bad thing we can say about the Seymour Junior Wheelbarrow is that it’s too bulky for us to ship it with any nice packaging. Just a wheelbarrow in a box—but what fun your little helpers will have with it!
We also carry educational kits made by Insect Lore that can be very useful stepping stones for getting children more involved with the natural world. Using these kits, children can get up close and personal with their favorite critters, whether we’re talking about ladybugs, spiders, ants, or earthworms.
For example, put the Garden Spider Web Frame ($11.95) outside in an easily observable spot and a spider will soon make herself at home on it—or you can simply find a spider and place her down on it. From the spider’s point of view, it’s just the right size to spin a web, and when she discovers the built-in hideaway that will protect her from predators, she might even lay her eggs there, just as Charlotte did in the barn doorway.
The great thing about the Insect Lore kits is that they allow children to closely observe an entire cycle of nature from start to finish. For example, the Earthworm Nursery ($20) allows children to watch baby earthworms hatch from earthworm cocoons, dig and grow in the multi-chambered greenhouse habitat, and then reach maturity, at which time they can be released outside. Likewise, the Butterfly Garden ($16) allows children to watch caterpillars metamorphose into chrysalises, and eventually become butterflies.
Children’s Books About Butterflies
Speaking of butterflies, we just got in the Little Butterfly Puppet Finger Puppet Book ($8.50), which features a loveable butterfly character, colorful art, charming rhymed text, and best of all, an adorable finger puppet that peeks through each of the 12 pages of this board book. Recommended for infants and toddlers.
For children ages 4 – 8, we have Butterflies and Moths ($6.75), a book that “excels in vivid color close-up photos, with an intriguing text” according to Children’s Bookwatch. 32 pages long, it is written in language that this age group will understand, and contains a good mix of photos, fun facts, and more in-depth information.
For the 6 – 12 crowd, we have The Life Cycle of a Butterfly ($7.45), part of a larger series that School Library Journal praised as containing “an abundance of clear, colorful, attractively bordered photographs and illustrations that enhance the fact-filled texts.” According to the publisher, “A monarch born in the fall has two major challenges. In addition to metamorphosis, these butterflies fly 4,000 miles on a two-way migration trek! This book explains butterfly metamorphosis and migration in simple terms.”
Children’s Books About Birds
Finally, we also have some great books for the bird-loving children in your life.
B is for Bufflehead contains an eye-catching and humorous photograph of a bird species for each letter of the alphabet. The photos, letters, and names are perfect for the earliest learners. The accompanying text is intended to intrigue young children with a few fun facts about each bird. For older kids there is a section that offers detailed information on each species, including range, habitat, and diet. Just this month, Birder’s World Magazine included it in their year-end roundup of “new books worth reading…that belong in your library.”
Bird experts making use of the resources of the world-renowned Cornell Lab of Ornithology have created an innovative series of hardcover titles about birdsongs each of which includes a digital audio player that faithfully reproduces the songs described in the texts. Though intended for adults, these books make great gifts for older children with a serious interest in birds and their calls.
Birdsongs: 250 American Birds in Song ($37.75) and Birdsongs from Around the World ($33.50) are the two most popular titles. However, if the child has a special interest in certain regional birds, you will want to consider Backyard Birdsongs Guide: East/Central Coast ($22.50) or Backyard Birdsongs Guide: West Coast ($22.50).
Finally, do you remember ever getting a colorful sticker of a cardinal or robin on your homework when you did a good job in elementary school? Well, those stickers are still around and, in fact, they gotten even better! The North American Birds Sticker Book ($8.50) will delight any child who loves both birds and stickers…in fact, you might want to get one for yourself and “time release” the 60 reusable stickers as rewards.
The reward for you when you give any of the gifts discussed in this issue is the knowledge that you are helping to nudge the children you love towards a greater connection with the natural world. The renowned pediatrician T. Berry Brazelton recently commented that, “The tragedy we are facing in this generation is that there is no time for children to explore, to play, to go outside.” But it doesn’t have to be that way. Even Richard Louv agrees that in order to counter the problems he describes in his book, “all you really have to do… is get your kid out in nature now and then—it’s not brain surgery. It’s actually fun, and it’s fun for parents.”