Oklahoma's number one blog for natural and cultural history.
Summer is upon us, boys and girls. And that means it’s time to unplug your headphones, close your laptop, put down the Wii remote and GET OUTSIDE!!!
I return to this theme at this time each year because I cannot stress enough how very important it is that our children, and ourselves, get out into nature. Our planet is approaching a major environmental crisis – what some scientists are already calling the Sixth Great Extinction. Honeybees are being decimated by Colony Collapse, Bats are falling victim to White nose syndrome, and frogs around the world are afflicted by the devastating chytrid fungus. Animals are disappearing from our planet faster than our scientists can discover and name them all. Now, more than at any time in our world’s history, we must get back in tune with nature.
I don’t mean just going out and wiggling our toes in the invasive Bermuda grass of our suburban lawns, either. We need to get out there and see what it’s really like. That doesn’t necessarily mean a trip to the Amazon, but it does mean a trip to the forest, a neighborhood stream, or native grassland. We need to educate ourselves, and more importantly, we need to educate the next generation about the importance of maintaining the fragile and unbelievably complex web of life that sustains us. The scientists of the future – the ones who may be able to stop the downward trend in species diversity – are quite probably in grade school right now. Yeah, that kid on the sofa with the remote and the bag of Cheetos: potentially the next Darwin.
Can a generation so removed from nature that they do not know the difference between a mammal and an amphibian be expected to chose ecology as a course of study? There is a real push in schools and families for kids to go into technology… computers are the new “plastics” so famously touted in the 1967 film “The Graduate.” And yes, computers are and will continue to be central to our civilization. But our civilization is itself built upon a planet that has complex and delicate “systems” of its own… ones upon which all our lives are dependent.
The Earth’s ecological systems are so rich and so diverse that scientists have been studying them for over 100 years and are still only dipping their toes into the amazing scientific wellspring of information they hold. But we will need scientists – biologists, ecologists, paleontologists, and all the other natural history ologists – to decode this information. The IT crew won’t be able to do it alone.
So get outside with your kids! Go see how many different living things you can discover in a square foot of your back yard. You’ll be surprised. Take a net to a local stream or pond and see what you can catch. Look at dirt under a microscope. Discover the world anew and you will come away refreshed, amazed and richer for having done so. And so will your kids.
This summer, as every summer, the Sam Noble Museum offers a series of summer programs for children ages 4 to 14. In subject matter they range from outdoor survival skills to paleontology, aquatic biology and entomology. They are geared to give kids hands-on experience at the excitement and wonder of scientific inquiry, using real objects from the museum’s educational collections. Most of the classes also take the students outdoors to explore and learn under the tutelage of museum educators.
I’ve followed along on these trips from time to time, and it is always a thrill to hear the moment a child engages and gets really curious. They go from squelching merrily through the mud to suddenly standing transfixed with a dripping net in their hands, amazed that they actually caught something! Something alive! A tadpole! A crayfish! A water beetle! And then the questions begin.
"How does it change into a frog?""Is a crayfish a lobster?""How does it walk on water like that?"
Ahhhhh! That’s the moment. Each summer, from these sloppy, wet, grubby groups of children with squelching sneakers and red faces, it is possible, just possible, that a brilliant field biologist will be born. One of them might just save the world.
So go on… get out there!