While listening to the Today programme on Radio 4 this morning, who should pop up but the naturalist Chris Packham? He was deploring what he and David Attenborough see as a loss of interest in nature study.
To begin with Packham was saying how unfortunate it was that today’s children seemed content just to sit back and enjoy what’s served up on television instead of getting out there in the wild and experiencing it for themselves. Aside from the influence of the box, he also put this down to the current obsession with health and safety.
Although teachers are still in many early years environments encouraging their charges to go digging for ‘mini-beasts’ and what not, there seems less often to be an appreciation of the value of collecting things – leaves, nuts, berries, and so on – for the purpose of categorising and classifying.
I have often remarked on this phenomenon on many of the teachers’ courses I’ve taught. Teaching children to look closely at something and to differentiate it from something else that is very similar but subtly different is a vital skill. Similarly, taking, for example, a leaf, examining it and drawing it combines a number of useful skills that will be of indispensable importance in learning to read and in differentiating letters one from another.
And it’s not just skills and knowledge that are nurtured through the collection and classification of objects in nature study. The practice can also, carefully developed, help to promote the growth of simple scientific concepts, which play such a vital part in the child’s mental development.