TEACHABLE MOMENTS: Nature is a teacher, especially with parental help

Tommy Fairweather
Tommy Fairweather

The Northwest Daily News recently ran an article about a four-year-old boy finding a 94 million year old dinosaur fossil. The boy, Whiley Brys, was fossil hunting with his dad, Tim Brys, when the discovery was made. Many skills were needed to make this discovery and his dad taught him those skills instead of him learning them in school. Parents can effectively teach children to love nature better than their peers. This article provides examples of parents who taught their children to love nature and how this love of nature provided them with skills that are rarely taught in school.

Whiley had to learn what constituted a fossil. "We commonly go collect fossils as something we can do together to be outside. Wiley enjoys coming with me on my trips," Tim Brys told The Huffington Post (4/8/15). Whiley’s father taught him exactly what to look for and took him searching often enough for these skills to be cemented. The primary skills were in the area of visual thinking. He had to distinguish between the common rocks and fossils. Having searched for fossils myself, I know this is not an easy task.

“After lunch, Jean took one of her mother’s sticky buns and climbed on top of a boulder at the river’s edge. These rocks were her own fortress, the perfect place to listen to the Potomac and watch trees that lined the riverbank like castle walls. There was always something to see: a hawk soaring overhead or a perch darting below the water, its silver scales reflecting the sunlight like a mirror.” (Jean Craighead George by Alice Cary © 1996) This quote is a typical description of experiences Jean Craighead George had as a child in Rock Creek Park. 

Rock Creek Park in the Washington, D. C. area was a wonderful place to expose children to nature. E. O. Wilson, noted naturalist, often visited this park with a friend. They pretended they were on safari. Instead of “catching” lions, and tigers, and bears, they caught butterflies and other insects. Both of those boys grew up to become entomologists. Margret Kennan Rawlings, author of the beloved story The Yearling, visited Rock Creek Park and wooded areas near a farm that her dad owned in Maryland. As a child she learned the skill of observing just like Whiley, the dinosaur discoverer, but her other skill was the ability to insert her observations of nature into her writing years later. This early exposure to the observing of nature allowed her to observe nature in Florida and create one of the outstanding books in children’s literature.

Carl Linnaeus’s father loved flowers. His father and mother had a huge garden and were always working in it from the time he was young. They placed flowers in Carl’s crib for him to look at when he was a baby. No wonder he grew up to be fascinated with plants and went on to create an organized method for scientists to use when classifying these plants. Planting and tending gardens are good for the environment and will help your child begin to notice interactions between birds, plants and insects. Helping your child plant a butterfly garden will provide a place for you to enjoy nature close to home.

One of my former fourth grade students told that he spent hours watching and training anole lizards. His parents did not have cable TV or pry him with video games, which upset him at that time. But, being outside all the time developed his passion for nature and the diversity of life. His parents helped him figure out what to feed the critters he caught but did encourage him to let the critter go after a short while of observation. He is now a graduate school as a marine biologist. You can follow the example of these parents and proved your child “time” in nature for his/her sake and maybe the world’s.

 Tommy Fairweather is a retired Walton County teacher and educational consultant who lives in Destin.