a peek inside the fishbowl

18 Mar, 2015

Discovering nature: We’re all in this together (a guest post)

Posted by andrea tomkins in: - Ottawa for kids|Fishbowl patrons|Guest postings

Hello Fishies! I’m doing something new at the Fishbowl this week. I’ve asked each of my amazing Fishbowl patrons to write a post on a topic that is important to the parenting community. This one is by Pamela Kirk, Science Educator at the Canadian Museum of Nature.

Photo by Emma Kirk for the Canadian Museum of Nature

(Photo by Emma Kirk for the Canadian Museum of Nature)

When I’m asked to describe how I approach my work, I think of Ms. Frizzle.

Yes, the “Take chances, make mistakes, get messy!” one.

To me, there is no better way to understand something than to immerse yourself in it.

People are generally a curious bunch—myself included. There is so much joy in discovery! As a facilitator in a natural history museum, I have the privilege of guiding people in their discovery of the natural world. My reward is seeing the look on a person’s face at the “Aha!” moment.

I grew up in the city, but managed to find little patches of “nature” to play in. My parents encouraged this by taking me on camping trips and promoting outdoor play. They fostered my love of nature by sharing theirs.

It became apparent to me at an early age that my experience was not the norm. Few of my friends knew the names of the trees, if they even noticed them at all. Fewer still were allowed to dig a hole, or pry open a rotten log to see what lived inside. Their parents didn’t understand that tactile exploration and immersive play are essential parts of well-rounded childhood development. It is summed up by Rachel Carson this way: “If a child is to keep alive his inborn sense of wonder, he needs the companionship of at least one adult who can share it, rediscovering with him the joy, excitement, and mystery of the world we live in.”

Children are conditioned to not touch things that don’t belong to them. While this is a necessary social skill, it limits the ways in which they can explore and understand their natural environment. If you are never allowed to pick up a stick, how will you know what the bark feels like? How will you experience the sticky sap of the new leaf buds? How would you ever get to marvel at the industry of ants if your fear of grass-stained pants is greater than your curiosity?

My parents didn’t schedule my free time. I explored my world at my own pace. Watching clouds, racing the autumn leaves in the wind, and walking in the woods. I loved the feeling of independence. It gave me the confidence to explore the things that interested me.

People seem to think of “Nature” as a place, or a thing, when really it is everywhere and everything! I have had people say to me “I don’t like nature.” and then tell me how much they like watching hummingbirds, or seeing a rainbow.

We, as a society, have become disconnected from our environment. We are separated from each other, from our food sources, from our natural resources. This separation inhibits our understanding of our interconnectedness, and of nature as a whole.

I see my work as finding ways to reconnect people with their natural environment in ways that are relevant to them. That’s the really important bit. A person can think sharks are cool, and seals are cute, and bees are weird, but if they can’t see how the existence of these creatures impacts THEM, they aren’t going to really care. One of my mentors shared this saying with me: “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught.” (Baba Dioum, 1968.) Teaching, guiding, and facilitating discovery are some of the best ways to encourage “big picture” thinking about our world as a whole.

Nature is vast and intricate and complex—and can be intimidating. I like to see what I do (and what science educators, Parks workers, bird watching clubs, mineral collectors…do) as opening a door on to a manageable, relevant aspect of nature, and guiding people through it. I have gotten people to put dirt in their mouths to differentiate between textures. I have put fossilised dinosaur poop in my mouth to drive home the fact that it REALLY IS A ROCK NOW. I have held a child’s hand so they would feel secure enough to have a Northern Walking Stick climb up their arm. The experiences are impactful and empowering. Because knowledge is power.

I like nothing better than when one of my children asks me the whys and wherefores of the local flora and fauna. My favourite answer is: “Let’s go find out!”

My children (a.k.a the Horde) love Polar Bears, so I took them to an exhibition on Canada’s Arctic (since we can’t easily go there ourselves, it’s the next best thing). While there, we saw a video of Belugas. My son remarked that they were fat. Then I saw his light go on. He said “They’re fat—just like Polar Bears so they can stay warm in the ocean!” “That’s right,” I said, “and they use sonar to help them find their food—just like bats.” (Well that took a minute to process LOL).

My oldest daughter and her friends once spent the afternoon watching a beaver build its dam. They had gone off for a few hours of unsupervised, unstructured play, and came home bubbling over with stories of their adventure.

Sometimes, with the Horde, it really isn’t about the learning. A fond family memory is of an afternoon that we spent chasing butterflies. As my daughter put it: “Just peaceful interaction with the planet.”

I think we could all benefit from regular afternoons of butterfly-chasing.

I agree. Thank you Pamela!
p.s. You can read other guest posts right here!

1 Response to "Discovering nature: We’re all in this together (a guest post)"

1 | binkee

March 18th, 2015 at 1:46 pm


I heart Pamela Kirk !

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The Obligatory Blurb

My name is Andrea and I live in the Westboro area of Ottawa with my husband Mark. We have two daughters: Emma (19) and Sarah (17). I am the managing editor of our community newspaper, the Kitchissippi Times. I am a longtime Ottawa blogger, and I've occupied this little corner of the WWW since 1999... which makes me either a total dinosaur or a veteran, I'm not sure which! The Fishbowl is my whiteboard, water cooler, and journal, all rolled into one. I'm passionate about healthy living, arts and culture, family travel, great gear, good food, and sharing the best of Ottawa for families. I also love vegetables, photography, gadgets, and great design.

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